owlfish: (Fishy Circumstances)
2015-11-01 11:03 pm

The night of bad jokes

My sister tells me that telling jokes to earn one's treat for Halloween is a Des Moines thing. People in the DC area don't do it. Really?

[Poll #2026710]
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-10-18 11:02 pm

Tasting chocolate

One of the highlights of going to the Chocolate Show today was a panel called "Judging the Judges".

The award winners of a raft of major chocolate awards were announced this weekend at the show; this panel was intended as a light-hearted way of letting some award-winning chocolatiers get their revenge by reviewing chocolate created by the people doing the judges. The confections were all created fairly last-minutely - not works of long love and labor the way the real competition's entries are.

I learned that chocolate competition judges
* recalibrate their palate periodically by tasting the same non-competition chocolate they started with and comparing their current tasting notes for it with what they noted at the start of the day
* they refresh their palate by eating little cubes of plain, unsalted polenta
* when judging the World Chocolate Awards, a jury has to taste and assess about 80 chocolates over about 8 hours, every day
* A judge I spoke with longed for salty foods at the end of a day of judging.

Particularly wonderful comments, by chocolatiers, assessing the real judges' creations:
* "This chocolate tastes like three things I put in my mouth by accident."
* "It's an idea. It should have stayed as an idea."
* Host: "What was your favorite part of this chocolate?" Chocolatier: "The polenta." (palate refresher afterward)
* Host: "What was your favorite chocolate from the tasting?" Chocolatier (likely the same one): "The breadstick."
* "This has a particular blandness which is hard to achieve." (an actual judge from the audience)
* An anti-Belgian chocolate chocolatier from Belgium: "We use Belgian chocolate for biscuits, not for production."

In an interesting moment of historicity, the session's host told us that Nutella originated as a Napoleonic war product. (Instead of the WWII product that it is.) There's a very long tradition of people assuming/arguing things are older than they actually are. It was nice to document one in the wild.
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-09-06 04:37 pm

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental

For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-08-13 12:50 pm
Entry tags:

A bun-worry

The phrase "bunfight" has been in avid use today, apropos of UK university Clearing, the process by which would-be university students go shopping for last-minute university paces, this year run on an unprecedented scale. (For example, in this THE article.)

I've assumed from long-casual reading that it meant "a conflict over something relatively trivial." But today's ubiquity prompted me to go digging a bit further.

The OED fails to mention this meaning, which briefly made me wonder if I had it all wrong.
bun-fight n. a jocular expression for a tea-party (cf. tea-fight n. at tea n. Compounds 3).
1928 R. Campbell Wayzgoose 7 It [the wayzgoose] combines the functions of a bun-fight, an Eisteddfod and an Olympic contest.

But it was baffling to think my friends were calling Clearing an expression of civility.

Collins does better with meaning #2 being "a petty squabble or argument".

More historical synonyms for bunfight in the tea party sense... )

A bun-fight Ngram: the rise of "bunfight", although without distinguishing between its senses.

Another person to briefly look at the subject observed the nineteenth-century terms "crumpet-scamble" and "muffin-worry" as synonyms for "bunfight", in the sense of "tea party".

It's not clear than anyone has bothered digging back to exactly where the argument meaning was first documented, but presumably it was post-'20s.
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-07-07 05:13 pm

Have your cake

The first few times Grouting was sent forth from a child's birthday party with a slice of cake wrapped up in a paper napkin, I assumed it was an oversight. They'd forgotten to bring wax paper or tin foil or whatever for wrapping the slice of decorated sponge cake.

But no. Clearly this is ensconced tradition. With a single exception where the grandmother made sure we were all offered cake to eat at the birthday party itself, Grouting has consistently been sent away from her cohort's parties with cake wrapped in a paper napkin.

I knew about being sent off with slices of fruit cake from weddings, but fruit cake lasts in a way that sponge - especially iced sponge which sticks to paper napkins - does not. Marzipan holds up better than the frequently-encountered buttercream on birthday cakes.

This is a baffling tradition to someone who'd rather just eat the cake at the party when it's fresh. Unless a gift bag with bonus paper+cake is excavated promptly, it goes rapidly stale, and is already sticky. And it's really easy to forgot to do it promptly if, for whatever reason, one's offspring is not inclined to lead the way on doing so that particular day.

How long as this been a tradition in England or further afield? And WHY?
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-04-09 03:25 pm

Hibiscus 2: Too creative to impose

One advantage of doing a formal celebration with a very small number of people is that, several years ago when it happened, we felt we choose a really nice restaurant for it. I was initially leaning towards Hibiscus: creative, high reviewed, private dining room. Only on further reflection, I started to think that Claude Bosi's cooking might be a little *too* creative to impose on my extended family. I wanted them to enjoy the meal a little less critically than the truly unexpected might permit.

In the intervening years, the restaurant has, from all accounts, only improved. Last year, Bosi bought the restaurant back from its backers, and with full oversight, has pushed the cuisine in new and interesting ways. It was very pleasant; but one of the first tidbits to arrive reaffirmed my certainty that we had made the right choice in going somewhere else for the wedding meal.

Arriving in dark wooden block holder, two svelte, crisp ice cream cones looked gentile, but were, in fact, revelatory. As introduced by our waiter, they held smooth, fairly delicate, light fois gras ice cream, with an underlying, hidden layer of blood orange jelly - gently tart, brilliantly, glowingly, red - filling the bottom of the cone, slowly oozing out through the small shatters of narrow cone. Creamy ice cream, sweetly tart orange. It was delicious.
owlfish: (Feast)
2015-04-07 02:16 pm

Hibiscus, part 1: Comes with kumquats

A post of [livejournal.com profile] desperance's on kumquats reminds me that I've been meaning to start writing about our meal at Hibiscus. I'll be writing this in likely-erratic installment. Thanks to Chaz, I'm starting with the cheese course.

The cheese course was a sumptuous lump of melted Mont d'Or cheese partially smeared across a plate, a modest quantity to keep us comfortable in the midst of the installments of a tasting menu. A little bit of well-cooked leek added nominal vegetative fattiness to the cheese's well-rounded unctuousness. Black truffle shavings were applied, as they were to many dishes, with unnecessary abandon and, oddly, more coarse texture than flavor.

But the leek and truffle played supporting roles. The thin slices of lightly candied kumquat were the real contrast to the Mont d'Or, their distinctive sharp bittersweetness assertively balancing the smooth richness.

It was an evocative moment for me, one which put me on the edge of tears, because kumquats - a fruit of which I am not especially fond, but can work well as a condiment - are the fruit which reminds me of Louise Noun.

My family were over at her apartment for a rare dinner there (my memory is that she didn't really like to cook), her amazing collection of artwork by female artists on the walls. I was probably a high schooler at the time. After the meal, she served a bowl of fruit for dessert, and I tried my first kumquat: small, hard, bitter. It was so small, I thought I surely could finish it, and did. It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, although obviously I grateful for the introduction.

The bittersweetness though wasn't just from the fruit or the largely pleasant memories of that dinner. It's Louise herself. She said she would commit suicide when sufficient age incapacitated her to the extent that she was in danger of becoming more burden than benefit. And she did.

She was in her 90s, she lived an amazing, accomplished life, and she ended it on her own terms. It still took away from my mother one of her best friends, and from the rest us, a well-loved family friend. One aspect of her work lives on the Chrysalis Foundation, which works to help girls and women be safe, secure, and educated.

So that was the cheese course.
owlfish: (Feast)
2014-01-15 03:41 pm
Entry tags:

Fine dining with babies

High-end restaurants bring out the highest expectations and the worst of dismissive snark. Even running into that snark second-hand often puts me off discussing restaurants. (But it's annoyance with snark which inspires this post.) Because, you see, I really like to go to intensely creative, experimental, highly-recommended restaurants even if they are expensive. I don't do it all the time. It's a treat. It's a long-term hobby, if you will. It's an education. And it's a financial choice; other people are most welcome to choose to spend their money on things I don't. (I very much appreciate that I have the luxury of being able to make this choice.)

Alinea is in the news currently for its chef, Grant Achatz, insulting the crying baby who dared join its parents for dinner recently. (via [livejournal.com profile] aliettedb) They had a last-minute baby-sitter cancellation, and nonrefundable tickets for the currently very, very hard to get into restaurant. He reacted in horror at how a crying baby was likely disturbing all his other customers. I hope everyone else had a good evening that night, even if Achatz did not.

The good news it that not all restaurants competing in the creative, high-end league that Alinea is in, are like that. Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons makes its own fresh purées for babies with vegetables fresh from its garden. Toddler food is given equal care. It's in a hotel, it's true, but it's not alone.

We had lunch at L'Enclume the other week, taking advantage of familial childcare. It's currently rated by the Good Food Guide as the best restaurant in the UK. It was a gloriously wonderful, creative, largely seasonal, twenty-two course meal. Two other tables had each brought a young child. The parents of one, not quite an independent walker yet, handed over a supermarket ready meal for the staff to heat. The parents of the other fed their slightly older baby with food from their plates. The two high chairs the restaurant was using were very different from each other, so clearly they requisitions one from elsewhere for the reservation.

Especially having left Grouting behind, it was a delight seeing the other babies running around. When one because unhappy, one family member sacrificed the quality of their food for a happier child, taking them outside for a break. There aren't any changing facilities, but improvising changing places is an ongoing issue when out and about with a very small person.

One of the things about Alinea's food is that much of it is very time-dependent. If the mouthful isn't served with a minute or three of intention, it won't necessarily work. The hot/cold contrast will be lost. The broth-filled dumpling might be a little more underwhelming at the wrong temperature. It's a conflict between eating the food as the artist/chef intended, and caving to the realities of serving actual people. It's also a conflict over the roles of children in society, and whether or not "fine dining" should be a sphere in which young people grow up comfortable. It's also the endless conflict over parenting styles, tolerance of and reasons for a crying child.

I've eaten at Alinea, one of the very best meals of my entire life. It was years ago, before it was quiet as expensive as it is now, before the non-refundable ticketing system came into effect, valid only for quite of two or four. I called the week before and got a table for one.

Much as company is also good, one of the things that made that meal for me is that I was by myself. It just me and the food and my thoughts and people-watching. It was a meditative, as well as delicious, experience which I could take entirely at my own pace. I enjoyed eating the occasional thought-provoking, whimsical, humorous meal by myself.

Achatz may worry about saddling the baby's fellow diners with their company; but whether they want it or not, they're obliged to have company of some sort, in their multiples of two and four, quite apart from the lottery of whomever else has happened to buy tickets for that meal.

Edited to add: More concrete details on the story. The problem wasn't a baby at Alinea, but parents who weren't actively parenting.
owlfish: (Fishy Circumstances)
2013-10-07 12:50 am
Entry tags:

The Larder at Butler's Retreat

"Better than Belgique" read the recommendation from someone I don't know. Belgique's a chain of Belgian patisserie/cafés in NE London and Essex; they're not bad. The Larder's website shows heaps of pastries and bread. I was looking forward to those. The problem was, I think, that the advice came from someone talking about their Wanstead branch.

Really good ingredients, mismatched expectations... )

The Larder at Butler's Retreat has a really pleasant location whose design made the line to order often look more intimidating than it probably was. Food was fresh and well-considered, with very good ingredients. I just wish I'd gotten off to a better start: between expecting pastries from the website and our own fault in mis-guessing the end of breakfast service, it took a while before I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy all the positives which the place did offer.
owlfish: (Feast)
2013-07-05 10:22 pm
Entry tags:

Oxford Symposium, Day 1

I missed the first plenary, the introductions, registration, and part of the reception, but that I am here at all is testament to C's generosity. It's my first weekend away since Grouting was born.

What I did arrive in time for - what I was trying to arrive in time for - was the first dinner of the symposium. Steve Parle's Spice Feast... )
owlfish: (Labyrinth - Maze)
2013-03-22 11:31 pm
Entry tags:

Nibbles and sneads

A word in a NYT article threw me right out today. The women Senators of the US congress dine together once a month. At a recent dinner, they "nibbled on bread pudding".

Would men have "nibbled"? Or is the author emphasizing dainty feminine eating?

What does "bread pudding" connotate for US readers? Is it exotically British? Is it homely and comforting? Is it currently trendy? I have no idea.

Is "nibbled" even a good verb for a squishy dish? I was so uncertain that I turned to Webster's second international for help. (The answer is that yes, of course one can nibble on bread pudding. It's not a drink.)

A "nib" is, among its other meanings, a synonym for a handle on a snath. A snath can also be a snead. But, just to be confusing, a snead can also be a whipsocket. Happily, a whipsocket is exactly what it sounds like it should be: a socket for a whip.

All that was from a dictionary, but an online post clarified the relationship between snath and snead:
The scythe, without the blade is the Snath
The snath without the handles is a Snead
The handle on the sneed which make it a snath so it can become a scythe
is a Thole.

So a nib can be a thole, at least when it's on a snath?

Somehow, I doubt the grain which went that senatorial bread pudding was harvested by using the snath of a scythe. But the Senators tholed the pudding (since "thole" is also a verb meaning "to endure"), and hopefully enjoyed it too.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-10-08 11:35 pm
Entry tags:

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

We celebrated Thanksgiving this evening with two kinds of protein, three kinds of starch, and cranberry sauce. We had turkey, sweet mashed squash, roast potatoes, and roasted parsnips, with chopped cooked chestnuts, cranberry sauce, and gravy. It wasn't the most coherent or colorful of Thanksgiving meals, but it made me happy. (I know: parnips are interlopers. But they're good.) There's pie for dessert, but I think we'll be eating it another day.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-09-14 10:51 pm
Entry tags:

The Main Cooker

The annual Heritage Open Days were last week. Our ambitions were low: we considered various nearby venues open for them, and made it to one. But I'm glad we did, getting to know a local building, its history, and the way it fits in with other aspects of the town.

At some point, if they get a grant to fund it, they're going to remodel their kitchen so as to have a modern catering kitchen. Currently, they have this gas cooker:

Main stove with Mainstat

Which, fantastic as it is in its way, is currently a hazard and is off-limits for actual use, after an accident with an unwitting would-be user, poor labeling, and too many gas rings. Our tour guide said they didn't know when the stove was from, and I offered to look into it. I haven't gotten too far.

The ovens are controlled by a "Mainstat", a control advertised by the Main company which sold stoves and cookers with advertising primarily in the 1930s and 40s, so far as I can tell from online advertising copy and the tie-in cookbook, The Main Cookery Book, by Marguerite K. Gompertz.

Surely, this photo is of a label from the same company, in which case it's R&A Main Ltd, which amalgamated with Edmonton (London)-based Glover & Co by 1899, although the companies continues to produce stoves under their respective brands in Falkirk and Edmonton, so that's no help to dating. (But here's the Falkirk factory, seen from the air in 1939!)

The factory had a horse named "Bob" apparently. Also, an interesting locomotive history. An article on last year's Tottenham Riots tells me this about the factory:

Almost every gas cooker used in British homes after World War II was made by Glover and Main at the Gothic Works in Angel Road Edmonton, which closed in 1983. The land was derelict for over twenty years until an IKEA Store opened in Glover Close (named after the factory) in 2005.

So if you visit the Edmonton IKEA (as I have a number of times in past years), pause a moment and think of the Glover & Main factory, with its interesting locomotive connections.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-03-11 11:31 pm

Mall tourism/Cabana

We made our first trip to Westfield City Stratford yesterday, aka what will be the Olympics gift shop, in effect. Restaurant magazine has been covering interesting new concepts there since it opened, and it was a chance to try out a new movie complex.

The mall was very crowded but functional in the late afternoon on a Saturday, but information-gathering while waiting for a transit-delayed C meant I found how to navigate much of the mall from the much more tranquil exterior. The interior has a decent number of comfy seating clusters, especially at the end furthest away from the main entrances; although these are in places that look like they may yet be rented out to stalls and kiosks once the still-fairly-new-mall has filled in more of its space gaps. Waiting, I appreciated the cluster of coffee shops and quick food places right near the front.

Amusingly, there's a "2012 Viewing Platform". I think that would be a fantastic place - symbolically, not in practice - to spend next New Year's Eve, seeing in the wrong year. Really, it's a view out toward the Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Olympics.

Cabana is in one of the cluster of shops outside the main building of the mall (Chestnut Plaza). Two layered, busy, and people-intensive, it's a Brazilian barbecue place, food on skewers, plus sides and starters. It's casual sit-down dining, expeditious and decent. I had a lovely, refreshing coconut drink which was, as C put it, more than the sum of its parts. The starter packet of melting cheese was made interesting by smoked chili oil.

The parmesan-coated pork tenderloin was a taste highlight for me, as were the sweet potato fries - fluffy within, crunchy without. The grilled corn-on-the-cob was negligible, and the sticky short back ribs - C's highlight for their falling-apartness - were well-flavored, but my portion was too gristle-intensive to be much pleasure. Chili cumin lamb offered decent depth of flavor.

A major point in Cabana's favor is that everything we ate had sufficient flavor of its own that the provided house sauces added nothing we needed - spiciness which overwhelmed the flavor range already built-in. We had a very leisurely dinner in all of 45 minutes, in the quieter upstairs section which only has room for tables for two or four.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-03-02 01:25 pm
Entry tags:

Collating measuring spoons

We're thinking of getting another set of measuring spoons*, which is why I was looking at them online last night. There isn't that big a range of features they tend to come with. Melamine or metal. Flat- or round-bottomed. Round or oblong. Number of spoons and how small the set goes.

One feature they all advertise, however, is a way of keeping the set together. Handy loop or chain. Magnetism.

C. looked at the images I showed him with astonishment. We can't get those, he said. They're chained together. Use one, and they'll all get dirty!

We keep our spoons loose in a container in a drawer, unchained, although they arrived years ago with loop to secure them.

[Poll #1823399]

* Spice-intensive meals involve going through a lot of them very quickly, and spices require re-used spoons to be both washed *and* dried, which is fiddly when measuring lots of things quickly.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-02-04 12:12 am

Castle House

Location: Castle House hotel, Hereford. Near the cathedral.

We came for a leisurely dinner and didn't get off to the best start. We were set enough on leisurely that we started at the bar, for pre-dinner drinks and loitering. The menus had barely arrived before someone first tried to take our orders. The nibbles were plated elegantly, but not intelligently, with the crisps prone to migrating out of reach underneath the dish containing olives and nuts. In the heart of cider land, the bar only stocked Westons.

Our drinks followed us to the table, since we were seated before we finished them. There, a selection of bread arrived - but no introductions to their variety were given - and immediately after, our starters. Mine was a homey, beautifully-balanced pear and celeriac soup, sided with a dull little herb scone. C's was all good looks and general disappointment; dry pork belly, bland layers of apple, adequate black pudding, plus slate is much easier to deal with as a dish for finger food than anything requiring cutting, or where edges would be convenient.

In retrospect, we should have tried beef variants for our mains, as I now know that's the restaurant's specialty; but neither menu or our uninformative waitstaff told us so, and we'd both had beef for lunch. The lamb dishes were okay; the meat itself was excellent, if not cooked into the tenderness I'd have liked. The carefully-layered potato was very much over-salted.

By this point in the meal, we were both seriously questioning the Good Food Guide rating as being overblown, a rare point of major disagreement for us with it. But then there was dessert.

One dessert between us, one more chance for the kitchen to redeem itself. And oh, did it ever. This dessert was sublime, exciting, a thrill for my tastebuds. The coconut pannacotta arrived as two thick semi-circles of dense, creamy pannacotta, rolled in toasted, shredded coconut. It came with mango sorbet, which was topped with what tasted like essence of mango, an intense, delicately-thin, transparent layer of chewy mangoness. In between were two tiny little marshmallows, passionfruit-flavored and topped with sesame seeds. That doesn't sound like much, but they were amazing, even better than the rest of the dish, hits of flavorsome intensity which we divided into smaller and smaller pieces to make it last.

So that was dinner. Our would-be leisurely dinner took about an hour-and-a-half of efficiency. A perfectly pleasant, be-linened dining room, a spectacular dessert after a lackluster dinner, haphazardly-functional plating, and staff going through all the right motions but without nuance or brain engaged. I blame the management and their training, not the young staff members personally.

Currently, I'd go back for dessert. I'd be willing to consider beef. But for anything else, I'd be interested in seeing what else there Herefordshire area had to offer instead.
owlfish: (Feast)
2012-01-19 10:34 am
Entry tags:

Restaurant disconnect

As you probably know if you've been reading my posts here for very long at all, I have a food hobby. An occasionally rather high-end food hobby. I would rather spend quite a bit of money on a truly amazing meal than, proportionately, quite a few other things.

This sometimes leads to a disconnect between who I am and who high-end restaurants expect me to be, as one of their customers. I had two reminders of this in the last week.

Yesterday, I received an email from a high-end London restaurant, advertising its new "affordable art" project. Now I know a certain, modest amount of the buying of artwork, having grown up the daughter of a printmaker and museum curator. And nothing in that experience would lead me to believe that "affordable art" prices should begin well into the four-figures in pounds. They're not targeting me.

Last week, in Geneva where everything is expensive anyways, we went to a one-star Michelin restaurant in one of the city's many five-star hotels. The waiter, settling us in, asked if we were staying in the hotel. I said we were staying nearby. "Ah, perhaps in the Four Seasons then? That's a very short walk." No, a little further away than that.

Then, having established that he expected us to have been staying in one of the five-star hotels, he asked us where we were staying. And was discombobulated into conversationlessness when I answered with our highly-rated and much-less-pricy three-star hotel.* He might well never have heard of it. In retrospect, it was, frankly, somewhat rude, and not at all what he clearly intended as a comfortable welcome.

So - dear high-end restaurants: some of us really do come for the food and a pleasant meal out. It's not necessarily indicative of our lifestyle more generally. I know I am allowed to eat your food and enjoy my evening at your venue if possible, but it's a kindness if you too make me feel I belong there, having that meal.

* Hotel Kipling. Good ratio of price to value, if on the edge of an occasionally problematic neighborhood, conveniently close to the train station. Most of the more affordable Geneva hotels are located around there. Not only would I happily stay there again, I already have.
owlfish: (Feast)
2011-11-16 10:20 pm
Entry tags:


C. called to say he was coming home, and did I have any thoughts on dinner? I did, for once. "Lemons!" I said. He laughed and came home.

He said, "I thought you said we were having lemons." He was hoping we might be having, say, meat and potatoes with our lemons. "What's this baking in the oven, then?" I gestured for him to look. How I treasured the expression of chagrin on his face when he looked in the oven to discovery, baking away.... slices of lemon.

Fortunately, that's not all we ate. [livejournal.com profile] marzapane sent me the link for a 101 Cookbooks recipe for red lentil soup with lemon juice. I also made the rather tart roasted lemon "chutney" with which she originally photographed the soup. It's very much a condiment - intense, but flavorful, and best eaten with other things. We ate it with rice and yogurt.
owlfish: (Shiny Astrolabe)
2011-11-09 11:37 pm

Vikings at sea + Jam

It is a source of great satisfaction when a major news venue runs an article on a medieval topic the same week I have proposed a session related to it. This week's coincidence was particularly good: my proposed session is (in part) on Viking navigation - and The Economist ran a news article subheaded "Viking navigation", about the feasibility of Icelandic spar as a navigational tool usable for tracking the sun even under heavy cloud cover.

In an unrelated moment of context, I went to a history of jam event earlier this week. I had far better jam there - raspberry with lime, blueberry with black pepper - than I did at my afternoon tea venture. I also learned, satisfyingly, that Girl Scout/Guide badges were real, valuable, meaningful qualifications before the 1960s. Not just collect-them-all accruals as they have, in part, become. It was also one of two occasions this week that the role of the Women's Institute in jam-making in the UK came up in conversation.

If you ever require an approximate rhyme for "almanac", may I recommend to you the obsolete word "quidaniac"? It's a fruit syrup or jelly, often made from quinces, where "often" is "probably not since the seventeenth century, at least, by that name". Known use from the OED:
1655 T. T. de Mayerne Archimagirus Anglo-Gallicus (1658) cxlviii. 100 To make Quindiniackes of an Apricocke Colour.
owlfish: (Feast)
2011-11-08 10:15 pm

Afternoon Tea at the Chesterfield

Location: Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair. London. UK.

Why do so many London places go through the motions of serving afternoon tea, their heart so clearly not in it? Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, proved yet another of these places, who have so lowered my expectations of adequacy in a full afternoon tea that I was rating this one as vaguely averagely mediocre while K was totally slating the food.

Front-of-hotel service was excellent, with staff volunteering to check away our coats and bags voluntarily, organizedly giving us a cute little envelope with our coat claim numbers. The atmosphere where we ate was pleasant, a greenhouse roof over white linened tables, and a mini-courtyard just outside the window, complete with running fountain. The chair covers were a bit awkward, but forgivable on the whole.

The service was very well-intentioned, although clearly operating without sufficient management guidance. The good was that we were regularly offered refills, of water and anything else we might want. The oversights were intrinsic to afternoon tea: no milk was provided along with our teapots although one of us was on black tea, and the teapots were placed on our table the wrong way around, such that when K tried pouring herself a refill from the nearest pot, it turned out to be my tea instead.

Another sign of the lack of thought given to this period of food service was my tea. The peppermint had lots of fine leaf particles floating in it, the sort which would ideally be strained out by the provided strainer; only all the particles were finer than the holes of the strainer.

The food... well, it went through all the right motions. There were finger sandwiches, scones with good clotted cream and jam, and little pastries. The scones had a good crumb, although they were rather bland; the chocolate eclair was decent, and the orange cupcake was practically a highlight because it had a decisive candy orange flavor, full-bodied in a way nothing else was. The fruit in the tart was good, but I've had better pastry cups from any number of supermarkets. The sandwiches were a wash. The only one which tried was bland chicken salad overpowered by incongruous toasted almonds which prettily edged it. Salmon, ham, and cucumber (there was a fourth, blanking on it) were bland and uninteresting. Most supermarkets do better sandwiches. It is entirely possible to do tasty little proper afternoon tea finger sandwiches; I have eaten them elsewhere.

I had a lovely afternoon with K, and staff were good about letting us loiter, but food-wise and tea-consciousness-wise, it wasn't worth the effort to have gone there.