Tale of Christmas

The carrot and star anise puree was behaving more like an indoor firework than a vegetable dish to accompany the mandatory brussels sprouts. It had taken a long time to heat up because it was focusing all the heat I gave it on the core of the gloop where it was attempting nuclear fusion. A popular activity with all orange masses. So it was that, despite its unthreatening demeanour, when I removed the glass lid it to give it a stir it spat a blob of superheated orange puree into the air which then described a graceful arc before landing on the overworked and frankly rather stressed out index finger of my right hand where it burned its way through at least eight layers of skin before I got it under the tap.

“Daddy, your turkey is looking very burnt.” was also something of a low point despite having an unburnt goose in the next-door oven. I needed meat for 12 hungry people (at least that was the original brief) and a 5.3kg goose was not going to be enough, hence the 4.5kg turkey. Cooking the turkey in the steam oven promised to be a great idea until the water tank failed mid roast. I pulled the tank out to fill it up and the plug thingy was hanging out on a spring. Something had broken and it wouldn’t hold water so the second half was just hot air and a bit too much of it. Beneath the blackened exterior there was some good meat but there’s no getting away from it, it was not what I’d hoped for. First time I’ve cooked a turkey so it was a bit of an experiment. Will be better next time, if there is a next time.

The goose fared better but after hours of roasting the plump, firm, proud bird that had entered the oven had taken on a slumped and beaten attitude and had been screaming “Okay, I give in!” for at least 30 minutes.

Brussels turned out well, as did the spuds roast in the goose fat and also, surprisingly, the stuffing which had been lovingly prepared using minced meat, cranberries soaked in port, fresh cooked chestnuts (impossible to peel), breadcrumbs and spices.

The birds both rested for the whole time it took to cook the roast spuds and stuffing, about 40-50 minutes, and I was surprised how well they held up. The importance of resting meat is something I’m starting to appreciate more and worry about less.

After a day and a half of preparation and cooking the eating itself took perhaps 20 minutes and maybe half of it was actually consumed. The ravenous teenage boy was not there because he was at home sick. Numerous others were at least partly sick or generally not hungry and one guest had turned vegetarian since we last saw her although she did suspend her sentence to try some of the meat, God bless her! I enjoy cooking a Christmas dinner and there was much praise but I have to say that I do understand why so many people just don’t bother anymore. It is a ridiculous amount of work to provide a gigantic meal at a time when most people just aren’t that hungry. Next year I’m doing something simple like beef bourguignon and mash followed by christmas pud. I can do the whole thing a day ahead of time and on the day I only need to warm it up and mash some spuds.

It was babcia who delivered the coup de grace to Christmas day at our place. We’d rolled in our awning on the terrace weeks ago to protect it from the winter weather. It’s been annoying not being able to use it on the sunny days but better than leaving it out and getting it covered in snow and ice. Mid festivities, babcia decides to pop out for a smoke and rolls out the awning to protect her from the light drizzle, which, before there’s any chance of drying it out and rolling it back in turns into a proper downpour followed by snow and then by freezing temperatures. It’s still out now, frozen stiff and sagging from the weight of snow laying on it. Brilliant!@#$%! Next year I’m removing the handle.

The day before, Christmas Eve had been the Polish version held at B-I-L’s place. A bible reading, wafer breaking, felicitations, the bloody stupid carp, pierogi with cabbage, herrings, vegetable salad….. I waited until we got home and it was after midnight to have myself some proper food, a ham and mustard sandwich!

Boxing day – leftovers followed by Christmas pudding with brandy cream sauce.

Pictures – babcia and kids posing in front of B-I-L’s tree, our table for twelve in preparation, winter balcony views.


London – Street scenes and views

In the last of this London photo series is a collection of views and street scenes taken while walking around with the family as well as from the 40th floor of the Cheesegrater (Leadenhall Building), which was part of my two day business conference. Unfortunately, it was early morning on a miserable day so the views could have been better. It was fun getting up to the 40th floor though. The glass lifts hang off the back, straight side, and travel at 6 m/s which is slower than their maximum speed but plenty fast enough. Similarly to the Eiffel Tower, the higher you go the less there seems to be holding the lifts up!

Other things depicted in the photos are:

The Golden Hinde, a galleon in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world between 1577 and 1580 bringing riches back to Queen Elizabeth I. He attacked and captured a Spanish galleon off the coast of Ecuador and seized six tons of treasure, which was enough for the Queen to pay off all her foreign debt and have plenty to spare. Drake was knighted and every investor in the voyage had a massive return. It is such a small ship, displacement of 100 tons, it is hard to imagine such a voyage.

A tour of Westminster Palace, Houses of Parliament. Highly recommended.

Clink Street. Originally this part of London was not the best place to hang around and was full of prisons, brothels and other such places. The use by Londoners of the word clink to mean jail comes from here, as in “Where’s Pistorius?” “He’s in the clink!”.

SantaCon 2014. Seems to be an excuse to get drunk while dressed as Santa, or an elf.

Southwark Cathedral has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years. We need to go back here as it was a lovely place but we only passed through. Had to negotiate with two officials to be allowed to take two photos without paying for a pass.



London – The Globe and The Marquee Club

The penultimate London post features two very different venues for entertaining the folks.

The Globe Theatre is where many of Shakespeare’s plays were first performed. Built in 1599 from the timbers brought across the river from an older theatre, burnt down in 1613 and rebuilt with a tiled instead of thatched roof. Finally closed in 1642 because of a puritan administration and then demolished in 1644 to make way for housing. Skip forward to around 1970 when Sam Wanamaker founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust, the beginning of the re-emergence of the theatre on a site a few hundred yards away from the original location on the south bank of the Thames.

We took a tour, which was short but fun. Unfortunately could not take pictures inside because, we were told, some children were rehearsing. They weren’t children and whatever they were rehearsing was crap anyway but still, no pictures. The exhibition is also worth seeing, even without the tour.

If you walk a short distance around the back towards Southwark bridge you can easily find the original sites of the Globe, now under a block of listed Georgian flats and the Rose theatre, which predates the Globe.

The Marquee Club must be London’s equivalent of New York’s CBGB, a small shitty place that was home to tons of great music. It opened in 1958 on Oxford street as a venue for jazz and skiffle acts. Its most famous period, and the one during which I visited many times, was between 1964-1988 when it was at 90 Wardour Street, Soho. My pictures show it as it is today, converted into swanky Soho Loft apartments, the only sign it was ever a famous music venue being the blue plaque about Keith Moon playing there with The Who in the 60’s.

Aside from the fact he’s dead and was a nutter I have no idea why they singled out Moon for the plaque. The 60’s saw Alexis Korner, Cyril Davies, Chris Barber, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, The Who, King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Pink Floyd as well as The Manish Boys featuring David Bowie and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac who gave their first performance there in 1967.

The 70’s saw a leaning towards punk acts like The Boys, Eddie and the Hot Rods,The Stranglers, Generation X, London, The Police, XTC, Skrewdriver, The Sinceros, Buzzcocks, the early Adam & the Ants, The Jam, Joy Division, The Sound and The Cure amongst many others.

In the 80’s it became popular with British Heavy Metal bands including Def Leppard and Iron Maiden as well as Marillion and many others.

Aside from any of the more famous names, two gigs I remember as being a whole lot of fun were by these bands:

Nine Below Zero

Eddie and the Hot Rods

It looks like both bands are still going strong. Good for them!

Here are the photos:

London – Markets & Chinatown

In the third of the London series we’ll take a look at markets. We visited four;

Borough Market – located at the south send of London Bridge and first mentioned in 1276 but thought to date back to 1014 or earlier. Present buildings from mid 1800’s. Traditional role, along with Covent Garden, was selling fruit and veg wholesale. Nowadays it sells speciality foods to residents and tourists. Some great places to eat here and a Neal’s Yard cheese shop I’d love to have in Warsaw. They export to many countries but not Poland.

Old Spitalfields Market – east of Liverpool Street station and has been a market since 1682 when King Charles II gave a license for flesh, foul and roots to be sold on Spittle Fields. Used to be a wholesale fruit and veg market until that was moved out of town in 1991. Now a mish-mash of proper shops and markets stalls selling fairly mainstream tourist stuff.

Brick Lane Market – a little further east than Spittalfields. Originally a farmers market back in the 17th century when the area was predominantly Jewish it is now a hotspot for curries thanks to the Bangladeshi immigrants of the 20th century. There are stalls the length of Brick Lane but also numerous offshoot markets in buildings that were part of the old Truman Brewery that dates back to 1666. Definitely the most interesting market of the ones we visited with an eclectic mix of vintage clothes, food and oddments.

A Christmas Market – by the entrance to the Tate Modern. Can be seen in the photo with view of St Paul’s which was taken from the balcony of the Tate Modern. No history worth speaking of. Had a decent bacon roll.

Everyone knows London has a Chinatown so not much to say. We wandered through on the way to the theatre.


London – Art & Entertainment

Second of the London photo series, these feature the Tate Modern, which is on Bankside in Southwark and Tate Britain, which is over by Westminster Palace. You can catch a river taxi between one and the other.

The Tate Britain is better in our opinion as it has a good collection of mainstream modern and older paintings as well as sculpture – meant to display the full range of British art over the years. The Tate Modern is a huge barn of a place with a few good things but also a lot of stuff you need to think REALLY hard about before you give up trying and move on. It has the same kind of stuff you will see in the Palace Ujazdowskie in Warsaw. Videos of toenails, bits of artistically arranged string, white cat in a snowstorm….etc

For entertainment we went to see Jersey Boys at the Piccadilly Theatre and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Really super show. Outside the theatre we bumped into three of the stars, left to right – Jon Boydon (Tommy De Vito), Matt Nalton (Nick Massi) and Edd Post (Bob Gaudio). The guy who played Frankie Valli was nowhere to be seen.

London – Christmas Lights

First of a few posts featuring photos taken in London on a trip between Dec 3-8th. This one shows the Christmas street decorations – Oxford Street, Regents Street, Bond Street.

Museum of the History of Polish Jews (POLIN) – photo gallery

Warsaw’s most recent museum is located at Ul. Mordechaja Anielewicza 6, on the green square close to the old monument to the ghetto uprising and is dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland.

The whole venture was funded partly by the government (construction of the building) and partly by private individuals and institutions (the exhibitions). The building opened in April 2013 but the exhibitions were not completed until late this year. We visited on November 15th.

Both the building and the exhibitions are very interesting. We had a tour, which lasted nearly two hours and was a good introduction. I’d recommend doing the same and then going back again to wander round at your own pace and get into more detail of the parts that interest you.

Here is a gallery of photos: