Category Archives: 1
To read part 1 of this series, please click here.
After weeks of waiting and wondering and harassing Monsieur for information, which was not forthcoming, we had finally reached the surprise destination where we’d celebrate The Wedding that Wasn’t. As we drove off the road, through pairs (plural) of gatehouses and up a drive snaking smoothly through immaculate surrounds, I spotted golfers with carts and clubs to the right, a little church and a bridge and a long, glassy lake to the left. Then, before us rose a big white building in colonial clubhouse style. This was Stoke Park Club. This was the surprise.
We drove across crunchy gravel between the clubhouse and a putting practice green punctuated by lots of holes marked by little red or white flags, and into the car park, which was like a Who’s Who of luxury car manufactury. There were at least five Range Rovers in the first row, various Porsches, in both Carrera and Cayman styles, BMWs with windows tinted for anonymity, Mercedes large and Mercedes small, a Ferrari, a couple of Astons (I had to bite my knuckles, so beautiful were the Astons) and so on. Picking a spot that wouldn’t give our own car an inferiority complex, we walked back to the clubhouse, which strangely enough reminded me of a wedding cake in its whiteness, to check in. I suppose I had weddings on the brain.
Once inside the ‘wedding cake’, the staff were consummate professionals, evidently seasoned in dealing with the demands of the super-rich; we could tell. We had two people dedicated to checking us in and two different porters insisted on helping us with our bags at different times, in spite of the insignificance of our luggage in both size and weight. Following the second porter we passed through a bar hung with impressive artworks, a couple of guests therein looking like advertisements for Pringle as they sipped on post-golf refreshments.
Along a dim corridor with life-size portrait staring at us from its end, we climbed a narrow staircase to our room named after a long-dead soul called Hastings. A little ante room with antique armoire of ancient mahogany gave onto the bedroom in one direction and bathroom in the other. As I checked the bed for bounce Monsieur shouted to me from the bathroom – “It’s bigger than the bedroom! Come and see!” And heavens, so it was. There was room enough between power shower and bathtub to play skittles, should one ever consider that a good way to pass the time.
Back in the bedroom I threw open the window to find the fifteenth hole just yonder. Yes, this was a golfer’s paradise, and novice golfer though I may be, my hands were itching to grab a club and give this lush course a whirl.
Not wanting to waste too much time indoors, in spite of the plumpscious cushions and armchairs-with-a-view, we trudged back to the car to retrieve our golf bags, heading across an expanse of perfect grass to the driving range. This was no purpose-built range with partitioned areas from which to fire our little white balls. No, this was an open-air driving range at ground level on real grass.
There stood a column at the far end of the range, making a suitable target for our shots. Alas, it was too far for me, for Monsieur and even the pro practising next to us did not possess drive enough to do that column damage. We later learned it was dedicated to a certain Sir Edward Coke, a lawyer of some note in his day, yet a column of such grandeur looked quite odd in its setting of trees and undulating landscape, the green below spotted with range balls; such a monument would surely look more usual mid-square in a market town or at the end of a street of Georgian terraces.
Sir Edward WHO? And well to ask for this former tenant of Stoke Park counts among his many achievements the prosecution of the gunpowder plotters, including the infamous Guy Fawkes. Their crime of treason saw them hung, drawn and quartered for conniving to blow up the Houses of Parliament, such were the gruesome punishments in the England of 1605. Nowadays this legal great is remembered by a column in a golf course in a park in a home county in England but really he should stand proud in Westminster where law is made.
Back on the range Monsieur and I were off centre in more ways than one as we fired our little white balls at Sir Edward. Something was off. I couldn’t get my shots past the 150 yard mark and some were embarrassingly shy of achieving any sort of respectable distance. Apart from learning how to position my feet and back when driving down the fairway, I’m also learning that some days, no matter how hard you try, all golfing technique escapes you and it doesn’t need to give a reason why. Today, in the beautiful Stoke Park, Monsieur and I were experiencing one of those days.
The sun was fast-disappearing now, a slight chill developing, so we ditched our clubs to try a different sort of relaxation – in the spa. Housed in a modern building next to the car park, this was one serious pampering operation. No fewer than four uniformed staff met, greeted and guided us on entering. I was led past counters of softening potions and lotions to the ladies’ changing room while Monsieur was taken in the opposite direction. Inside were rows of oaky lockers, more country club than gymnasium, and pile upon fluffy pile of fresh sunshine-yellow towels. There were hairdryers aplenty and Molton Brown body products, tissues and cellophane-wrapped shower caps and spacious limestone shower cubicles in which to wear them. It was official: Monsieur and I were in our very own episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. How wonderful everything was.
I was reunited with my Frenchman at the heated indoor pool, looking out towards the golf course through tall, arched windows running the entire length of the pool. The rear wall was pleasantly interrupted by a built-in aquarium filled with yellow fish that matched my towel. As we lapped and tried to avoid the Splashmonster, a man old and hairy enough to know better than belly-flop water all over his fellow pool-mates, I watched the French couples frolicking at one end of the pool. The men were attractive and the girls so slim that I wondered whether they ever ate solid food or simply existed on Slim Fast. Suddenly I felt very fat, even though I’m more curvaceous than fat, the by-product of which is that I grew my own breasts and didn’t have to buy them in. Those girls were practically flat-chested but somehow, on them, even that was sexy. Still, I needn’t have worried myself with body-type comparisons because, as I’d later discover, there are some things you just can’t fix, no matter how fat your wallet or silthe-like your figure. But first, Monsieur and I would eat.
U2 (and my youth) Revisited…
Seeing U2 at Wembley Stadium last Friday night was a revisitation of sorts for me. I’d first seen U2 live in New Zealand when I was a teenager, with many of their songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday and tracks from the Joshua Tree album becoming anthems that still bind a faithful group of friends. Wembley Stadium is a place where I’ve seen Elton John in concert and attended one of those positive thinking seminars where you finish a day of mumbo jumbo by walking on hot coals, but that was the old Wembley. I hadn’t yet been to the new Wembley Stadium.
So what about Wembley Stadium?
Last Friday saw me there with Monsieur, who’d decided that a concert date was in order – how right he was. The new stadium was state of the art, with a great sense of space achieved through the wraparound glass exterior. Uniformed greeters stood everywhere, almost overwhelmingly present and annoyingly chirpy “enjoy the concert!” “thank you for coming!” “do you need help?” “let me see your ticket so I can direct you,” and so on. It might sound surly because in the States this sort of behaviour is expected, but here in service-challenged England, it’s such a Stepford-style oddity that it made me wonder where in the world I’d woken up that morning.
As for the food…
There were eateries everywhere, including champagne and seafood bars, snack stops and take-away counters. We opted for a quick turn-around mass service-style brasserie where we ordered at the bar and ate very expensive yet average food whilst watching the crowds continue to arrive from our table by the neverending glass perimeter of the building. But £32+ for two mains that, although good, didn’t warrant their £12.50 price tags, and a couple of pints of lager. I could have sworn I heard Monsieur’s pocket scream OUCH!
No queues for the loos!
A quick pit-stop impressed me because there were no queues for the loos, everything was spotless and those faster-than-the-speed-of-sound hand-dryers practically blew me into the next century. This was one efficient venue.
No later than they ought to be…
More importantly, finding our seats was easy, thanks to a surplus of the Stepford Staff to help us. But did U2 keep us waiting? Nope. They kicked things off right on time. How refreshing, given the number of prima donna acts who turn up more than a little late, not giving a monkey’s about their faithful fans’ patience wearing thin.
The stage hits a bulls-eye.
The stage was supposed to be visible from all sides, hence the name of the tour, but one area of seating remained empty as visibility from that bank of seating was impeded by a tower covered in Blackberry signs. On stage, its open nature with a pair of movable bridges linking to a full circle of track, allowed the band members to interact with the audience in more parts of the stadium than a regular stage, especially benefitting some super-keen fans who’d bought tickets for the space in the midst of the bull’s eye created by the 360° stage. Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton took full advantage of the track’s closer proximity to fans by crossing the bridges to play on the track at different times throughout the performance, making this stage, with its massive 4-pronged claw, something completely different. This didn’t change the fact that the band members still looked like grasshoppers from a distance, but it didn’t matter because we were really there for the music and the screens helped keep the eyes busy.
But it doesn’t come without criticism.
No, the ‘Claw’ with what looks like a radio tower at its zenith and a jigsaw of LCD screens at the centre, uses a lot of power for the various lighting and effects that it creates. Not the greenest option for a ‘green’ band, but The Edge has promised that U2 are arranging to carbon offset all their concerts and the fact that a modest 200 lorries are required to get their kit from A to B to C and on to Z. There are 44 international dates for the 360° tour, after all. That’s one heck of a lot of carbon offsetting bills.
Ready, Mister Music?
I admit I wasn’t crazy about the first few songs from U2′s recent album No Line On The Horizon, which really hasn’t done it for me (in my humble opinion I think it sounds lazy and repetitive), although the fault could well be mine judging by the possessed bodies gyrating madly around us from the start. Then again, they may well have been born without the Taste In Music gene.
Things for this particular groupie kicked off with Beautiful Day, a feel-good song that never fails to lift ailing spirits. Then old favourites like Stuck in a Moment and I’ll Go Crazy got the crowd well and truly pumping. One chap in our row was very tall with a Midnight Oil approach to individualistic dance style and a pair of girls in front were Very Well Behaved with their Much Older Boyfriends until the music started. Then their arms jabbed at the air as they shouted along to every word of every song in a Very Excitable Manner. By the end of the evening, the boyfriends looked knackered and a bit bewildered, as if they had a new appreciation for their former wives and quiet dinners at home.
The Complete Set:
Breathe, No Line on the Horizon, Get on your Boots, Magnificent, Beautiful Day, Blackbird, Elevation, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Stuck in a Moment, Unknown Caller, The Unforgettable Fire, City of Blinding Lights, Vertigo, I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (** FANTASTIC remix), Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride (In the Name of Love), MLK, Walk On, Where the Streets Have No Name, One, Mysterious Ways.
Ultra Violet (Light My Way) – with everyone in the audience waving their mobile phones to create starry starry night effect, which was absolutely beautiful,
With or Without You, and Moment of Surrender.
My all-time favourite?
Was and is and probably always will be Sunday Bloody Sunday, which had a few lines of Rock the Casbah by the Clash worked into it for this concert. It worked very well.
But do you know why?
I’m so old that I can tell you that Sunday Bloody Sunday and Rock the Casbah were released around the same time – 1983 and 1982 respectively. For such seniors as myself, this was a clever mix, transporting me instantly to an era of legwarmers and shoulder pads. (The first time around)
Politics, anyone? Who was mentioned this time?
Well, there was a bit of Nelson Mandela, some Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a plea for women’s rights in Iran and Martin Luther King is an inescapable U2 presence thanks to the success of Pride. But the main focus of U2′s attention was Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician being held under house arrest because she’s such a threat to the current government of Myanmar that they dare not let her out, lest she win the next election. I have mixed feelings about mixing politics with pleasure, though. Fair enough, the people U2 choose to support are worthy individuals and it’s better that U2 do something positive with their fame rather than snorting it up broken septums whilst trashing hotel rooms. And fair enough, some of U2′s best songs concern politics. But I’m not sure I feel comfortable with their politics being force-fed to a crowd of 88,000 people. It’s not exactly as if you can turn it off until they’ve finished preaching. Perhaps their tickets should be sold with a political content warning? Or perhaps they should pick one cause as a theme for each concert tour and stick to it, that way they’d avoid sounding like a charity pick ‘n’ mix.
Speaking of which, who were all those people in black tees emblazoned with ONE and smart red netbooks? ONE is a charity co-founded by Bono, and the black tee brigade were signing up new supporters. I loved their red netbooks. SO smart. Must remember to tell Weldon Kennedy, ONE blogger and BLOG08 buddy, next time I catch up with him, which could be a while, given that he’s following the 360° tour in the name of ‘work’ at present. What a great job!
Time to leave
On leaving, the layout of the Stadium was impressive as it allowed people to exit their respective areas without the usual elephant stampede. The crowd was orderly, not worthy of the attentions of mounted police stationed at regular intervals. Successfully avoided all horse manure, reaching the tube within minutes. There we found the expected crush with smelly armpits and the opportunity to study the nasal pores of fellow concert-goers at closer proximity than their dermatologists but, once moving, we were home well before the hour of pumpkin metamorphosis.
A really good night out. U2 are getting older, as am I, so this concert understandably lacked some of the va-va-voom of the Joshua Tree Tour that I caught as a teenager, but I still wouldn’t have missed it. Result? Overall, in my eye’s, success.
What did the critics say?
In one of this week’s free evening papers, U2 were slated as being overrated. Possibly there’s an ounce of truth in that, but nobody can deny that they’re still excellent performers with a great catalogue of music. Now if we could just lower their concert tour’s carbon footprint, lose No Line on the Horizon and stick with a maximum of one charity or idol per tour, we just might be onto something. Then again, that would be so very UN-U2.
The Epicurienne weight-loss regime was going quite well until the day a certain someone at Edelman PR (you know who you are) gave me a voucher for a mixed dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. In a flash I found myself at a Krispy Kreme outlet, handing over the voucher on exiting a sugar-free daze and entering a sugar-filled phase of doughnut testing. However, the fear of regaining those few lost wobbly bits meant that instead of scoffing the full dozen all by my lonesome in a dark corner somewhere, I had a moment of unusually lucid wisdom, choosing instead to enlist the tastebuds of colleagues and friends to share the calories and help rate the round puffs of mix-n-match naughtiness.
In doing so, I was about to gain far more in dough-naughty knowledge than I would ever lose by donating my doughnuts. One American colleague told me that where she comes from (New Orleans) there is a Krispy Kreme variety called The Sour Cream Cake Doughnut. We don’t get the Sour Cream Cake in the UK apparently; she’s sought it out and failed to find it. “It’s my all-time favourite, made with sour cream!” The American enthused in a fit of pre-doughnut munching nostalgia. I can’t quite imagine how a doughnut would taste when sour cream is a key ingredient, but as it’s possible to make to-die-for chocolate cake with the surprise component of mashed potato, I’m willing to jump on a jet to the States and try one of these special Sour Cream Cakes. Any. Time.
“What about the ‘Hot Now’? Did you get a ‘Hot Now’?”
“A Hot What?” I replied, now thoroughly convinced of my novice status in the world of all things doughnut.
“A ‘Hot Now’. Gosh, I can’t believe you got all these free Krispy Kremes but you don’t know what a ‘Hot Now’ is!” Knowledgeable friend grabbed a doughnut and left to savour it.
A bit of googling later and it appears that a ‘Hot Now’ is a free doughnut that you just may be lucky enough to receive if you’re in a Krispy Kreme ‘Hot Now’ store, where they make their own doughnuts on-site and dough-nate the freshest to those at the front of the queue when the sign flashes, indicating that the latest batch is ready for sale and consumption. (If you live in London, a Hot Now concession is located in Harrods and a stand-alone Hot Now store with live doughnut theatre in Enfield and I have a sugary feeling that there may be more on their way.) Sounds good to me. I just may find myself regaining those lost pounds faster than I thought.
So what did we doughnut-tasters extraordinaire think of our dozen?
- Original glazed doughnut. Nice, simple, not too sugary.
- Chocolate iced doughnut with custard flavour filling. Custard AND chocolate? One of these babies is definitely enough. Share with a friend if you’re watching your waistline.
- Chocolate iced doughnut with kreme flavoured filling. A little less sweet than the previous example. You can probably do this one on your own. One of my favourites
- Chocolate iced glazed doughnut. The dough is very chocolatey and the glaze makes it look like something from Miss Haversham’s dining table but it certainly does give an extra-sugary bite.
- Chocolate iced doughnut with sprinkles. This one is perfect for children’s birthday parties.
- Maple-flavour iced doughnut. Not bad. Not bad at all.
- Glazed doughnut with raspberry filling. An absolute classic and my overall favourite. Just make sure you have enough paper napkins when trying this one, in case of the unexpected OOZE factor.
- Powdered doughnut with strawberry filling. The strawberry is just so strawberry! Ideal for Wimbledon.
- Powdered doughnut with blueberry filling. Not our favourite, although pleasant enough. The strawberry was far more yumptious.
- Powdered doughnut with apple and cinnamon filling. This would be lovely with a cup of apple and cinnamon tea. Winter warming.
- Glazed chocolate cake doughnut. This is choco-central for the chocaholic. Better than…shopping.
- Glazed cruller. What’s a cruller? My, we’re learning a lot now. A cruller is a twisted doughnut shape that looks vaguely like a lethally-spiked Frisbee weapon from a sci-fi film, although far less able to injure. Simple cake, simple glaze and tasty.
The bad news? Calories. For the original glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut we’re looking at 217kcal. For the choc iced with crème flavour filling it’s a mighty 339kcal that you’ll be ingesting. However, for a birthday treat or a post-London Marathon binge session, it’s a lot of fun to get a dozen of these wicked treats and share. I think Krispy Kreme already has my office covered because we certainly see a fair number of them appearing in the staff kitchen on birthdays. If you’re not hungry after reading this post-Freudian analysis of doughnut-dom, I suggest you take a look at the Krispy Kreme website. It’s filled with tempting fun and facts you may never before have known about doughnuts. There are even anecdotes and fan photos, like the one of a guy who accessorised his snowman with Krispy Kreme hat and carry bag. (This one missed his calling; he should be styling for Vogue…)
On a more serious note, Krispy Kreme helps support charities by selling its doughnuts at a charity price so they can be sold on at recommended retail for a charitable profit. Charities to have benefited from this method of sugary fundraising include Christopher’s Smile and Children Helping Children.
Nutritionally, it’s interesting to note that Krispy Kreme doughnuts are Halal, Kosher and Vegetarian-friendly. Historically, they have survived wars and depressions plural, having been founded in North Carolina in 1937. Statistically, it’s estimated that Krispy Kreme is responsible for the manufacture of around 2.7 billion doughnuts per year. Yikes.
I think we can officially conclude that I am now THE Epicurienne Doughnut Expert Extraordinaire.
I don’t know how people found out that I like cocktails. I do, of course, but until recently I hardly ever drank them. First up, they’re expensive and I hate going home after a Big Night Out, only to wake the following day with drums in my head and an empty wallet because paying a tenner for a cocktail seemed like a good idea at the time. Of course there’s the Catch 22 that once you’ve had a couple of mojitos or mai thais, then shots, glorious shots are the obvious way forward, but it’s really just the fastest way to incredible pain the following day. The last reason behind my not drinking cocktails on a regular basis is the fact that I adore grape products (read ‘wine’).
Having said all that, I have certainly enjoyed some wonderful times with cocktail in hand. There was the university pal who paid his way through his degree by shaking cocktails at a popular bar in Auckland, where I grew up. He was a handy person to know in holiday time because he’d blend us the most wonderful drinks as we chilled out on beanbags overlooking beautiful New Zealand lakes, or as we decadently lazed on beaches or by friends’ pools. This particular cocktail shaker had a full repertoire but, in my opinion, his best concoction by far was the Mississippi Mudslide – a dangerously tasty frozen chocolate milkshake made with Kahlua and Baileys. Years later, when abandoned on Mustique (there’s a long story there) the barman at the boutique Firefly Hotel didn’t know how to make me a Mudslide, so I taught him and thereafter it was on their menu, named after me. Then again, that was a while ago. They may well have changed the cocktail list by now. What a fabulous excuse to go back and check.
Now, it would seem Epicurienne is undergoing a cocktail revival. When I signed up for the London Bloggers’ Meetup, ‘Blogology’, last year, I never knew I’d end up with my very own personalised cocktail named after my blog AND a whole bunch of New Best Friends at Splendid Communications. That night, my fellow bloggers and I were treated to bespoked cocktails and different variations on the Moscow Mule theme. On leaving, our Smirnoff Red goodie bag contained a kit of everything we needed to make our own Mules at home. All I can say is I’m lovin’ it like that and the kit didn’t last too long.
Then, just before Christmas, another Splendid Communications care package came along: a bottle of Margaritas and a super-swish cocktail glass. Epic Brother and I thoroughly enjoyed working our way through that. But now, dear readers, we move on to something a bit more sophisticated: an evening with Smirnoff Black at Plateau’s Ice Bar in Canary Wharf.
Rebecca Graham is the Splendid-ly Bad Influence who invited me along to this particular event, and it was special indeed. For a start, it required me travelling from my workplace in West London all the way across town to Canary Wharf of tall tower fame. In all my years in London, I’d never set foot in Canary Wharf until now; I’d never had any reason to go there. Quite simply, I don’t work in The City, I don’t socialise at Canary Wharf, and I don’t have much interest in visiting at weekends when tumbleweed rolls through its streets. But on this particular evening, the promise of cocktails lured me away from my regular beat and into the warren of activity beneath that beacon of the London skyline.
We met at Plateau, a smart restaurant overlooking Canary Wharf’s ice rink, passing through glass doors into the Ice Bar, a covered terrace that would be home to Smirnoff Black for the night. Behind the bar, top UK mixologist and Smirnoff Black brand ambassador, Tristan Stephenson, shook his stuff. I later learned that he’s one of the foremost cocktail bloggers in the UK. Perusing the list of possibilities, I couldn’t resist something called a Choccochilli which was nothing short of wickedness in a glass, comprising Smirnoff Black, chocolate and fresh chilli. Fellow blog-buddy, TikiChris, raved about his Butterfly Martini, a refreshing blend of Smirnoff Black, elderflower, apple juice, basil and mint. I was even lucky enough to steal a quick glug from his glass and was so pleased I did because it tasted of summer.
Next on my list was a Smirnoff 74, which is termed a shot but which Tristan poured into a champagne flute. This, too, was quite special, consisting of Smirnoff Black (no surprise there), lemon, gomme and house bubbly. TikiChris went for a Strawberry and Basil Mule, made with our New Favourite Vodka, strawberry, basil, lime and ginger beer, and when Monsieur joined us, he tried the Lemon Drop shot of Smirnoff Black, cointreau and lemon juice.
All the while, Plateau staff passed around platter after platter of delicious hors d’oeuvres, my favourite being the mini fish ‘n’ chips in a cup. And just when we’d decided which cocktail to try next, Tristan closed the bar to give us a vodka lesson. By this time, it was really quite chilly so some of the group were huddled under furry rugs on the sofas. Monsieur and I were happy to stand, numb feet and all, as we first sniffed at shots of a Major Russian Vodka Brand and then tasted it. To this ill-educated palate, it tasted just like a shot of vodka should, but when the Smirnoff Black came along I was surprised at how subtle and smooth its aroma and taste were by comparison. In fact, the difference was so severe that on sniffing the Russian shot again, it seemed to reek of something very chemical indeed. In fact, engine fuel sprang to mind.
You can see more vodka fans reviewing Smirnoff Black here… Like one fan on that site I’d recommend trying it neat, because that way you’ll definitely be able to tell the difference.
The evening at Plateau was certainly an interesting exercise, but this was a school night, so we had to get home, and from the outpost of Canary Wharf home seemed like a long way away. As we left, the Splendid folk gave us each a Russian doll with a bottle of Smirnoff Black inside. After all, tonight was Russian New Year (according to the Eastern Orthodox Church and Gregorian Calendar), so clinking shot glasses filled with vodka was certainly an appropriate way to celebrate! Only next time, we’ll have to insist on caviar… dahlink.
Photos by TikiChris (thanks for saving the day – my camera was misbehaving… )
The Smirnoff Black Collins
40ml Smirnoff Black vodka
20ml Fresh lemon juice
20ml sugar syrup
Shake Smirnoff, lemon juice and sugar, strain over crushed ice and top with good quality soda water
Units of Alc.
It’s now a couple of days after Christmas, that day that so many of us dread because of the pressure to buy, to wrap, to send (on time), to give, to receive, to avoid our bank balances and to steel ourselves for potential familial undoing. I am happy to report that, apart from the uphill time I experienced leading up to Christmas, this year the presents seemed to work nicely and all family members were happy. That’s a lot to ask, given that Monsieur and I have three families to visit in total, so thank you to all the Christmas angels for seeing us through.
Until this year, I had always spent Christmas with my family, whilst Monsieur visited his in France, and we’d all get together before and after, but this year Monsieur and I saw everyone as a united front, and while I was explaining New Zealand customs and English traditions to the French in-laws, I thought it might be timely to explain some of my Christmas experiences here in a seasonal post. I know it’s late, but actually, that’s quite typical of me, so we’ll call it part of the 12 days of Christmas, meaning I’m in time for once.
I was born and raised in New Zealand, where it’s midsummer at Christmas. That means lots of greeting cards bearing Santa Claus in fur-trimmed scarlet-red board shorts, riding the surf, and the native pohutukawa, which blossoms red in summer, becoming the national Christmas tree. As a family, we’d try to observe tradition, with turkey or roast chicken and all the accoutrements on the table for a festive lunch, but this was particularly hard work when it was hot outside. That sort of food was intended to warm the frozen on a snowy day, not warm the already sweaty chefs when it was sunbathing weather outside. By the time I was a teenager, we’d dispensed with tradition, choosing instead to pack the sort of picnic that you could feast on all afternoon, taking it to a nearby island and enjoying it with friends between swims and plastic flutes of local bubbly from the chilly bin (a.k.a. cooler) . Now THAT’s what I call Christmas.
When I moved to Australia for a year, I worked on Christmas Day because I thought triple-time was a worthwhile pay-back. My parents came to visit, so we all enjoyed a feet-up Christmas buffet at a stunning hotel. Some people don’t understand this sort of fest, but if you could see the seafood spread, you definitely wouldn’t complain. There were no dishes to worry about and we could wander about Circular Quay in a stomach-satisfied stupour before chilling out for the rest of the holiday. This was yet another good Christmas.
In England, we’ve been restrained by the chilly weather but have also enjoyed many interesting Christmases, especially those with an Armenian family friend who celebrates Christmas Eve with us. Usually, we go to her place, where Christmas crackers are pulled and the cuisine is East-meets-West; layered, creamy salads, beetroot and marinaded fish all feature, and vodka gets us all off to a flying start before moving on to drink the grape and devour the turkey. At least in England, all the Christmas Carols make sense. They talk about the holly and the ivy? Well, there’s holly growing in a hedge just about everywhere.
This year, Monsieur and I celebrated Christmas with my family before the big day, moving across The Channel to France for Christmas Eve. Here, we enjoyed blinis and foie gras, courtesy of Monsieur, with a Magnum of champagne that a certain someone had given me for helping him out with HR advice when he was in the process of losing his job. We dined at a local gastro-pub, where the food paled into insignificance as we laughed from the belly about silly stories from the year now past. Then, in France, Monsieur and I exchanged gifts and enjoyed a multi-course dinner at home with his mother, beneath a Christmas tree and German four-candle display for a familial Christmas Eve, before moving on to visit yet more family on Christmas Day for another feast and more gift-giving. There were no crackers; apparently that’s an Anglo-Saxon tradition. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have understood the corny jokes had they been in French; they’re bad enough in English. Meanwhile, Jingle Bells played in French on the stereo – the words of which made me smile:
Vive le vent, vive le vent, vive le vent d’hiver… otherwise translated as
Long live the wind, live the wind, live the wind of winter…
(On a cold day, some may disagree with that sentiment, including this Kiwi bird!)
There have been other festive adventures, such as waking up on Christmas Day in Munich, ready to tickle my teenage tastebuds with a Continental breakfast which, although second-nature to me now, was then an exotic treat. All those cheeses and cured meats sliced wafer thin, with some black bread and soupy hot chocolate? I had died and gone to Heaven. Or going to Midnight Mass in Bethlehem, presided over by Archbishop Desmond Tutu? only for my brother and me to be parted from our parents by the crowds, giving Mum and Dad panic attacks on the way back to Jerusalem. Luckily, our buses passed each other en route to the hotel, so we waved at them, calming their fears that they’d lost their kids in the Holy Land.
I hope to spend Christmas in more foreign lands as time goes by because it enriches the experience to learn about how other people spend their holiday.
However, when one supplier called me during the Silly Season, he asked if our Christmas tree was up at work.
But of course! I replied. We may have been busy with moving offices and all that, but we’ve still found time to put up a Christmas tree. What about you? I asked.
We’re not allowed a Christmas tree, he replied. Why on earth not? I asked, only to be told that Christmas trees in his company were seen as potentially offensive to other faiths.
Sadly, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard such rubbish. I embrace other cultures and their holidays as much as my multi-cultural friends and associates do. All I can say to those who might live in a Christian country and who expect us to forget our roots is: how about living and let live? We were Christian before your faiths came here and to many other Christian countries. I wouldn’t expect you to change your ways if I lived in your homeland. How about letting the locals enjoy their own religious festivities, as we allow you to enjoy yours? There are mosques and temples everywhere you look in the UK. It’s such a multi-cultural society that I find it amazing that the religious basis of this country is being severely undermined by the people from other faiths who are welcomed into it. I know that not everyone believes in being P.C. to a fault, but I personally am sick to death of hearing that Christian children should not have a nativity play because they might offend their playmates. Honestly. And we call this season the season of goodwill. How about the goodwill of the incessantly politically correct towards us? End of rant and MERRY CHRISTMAS.
I’m afraid I have to take a short break from posting. We’re moving offices and I’m one of the team in charge, so that means I’ll be at work all through the weekend and then some. Forgive me. If I had my way, I would be posting every day. In the meantime I have to go to bed because the alarm is set for early tomorrow. Meanwhile, Monsieur is out on the razz with his best mates. I only hope they don’t have TOO much fun!
A comment from Grassroots Gourmet really got me thinking this morning. She wrote that Anthony Bourdain once stated that if he were on Death Row and had to choose his last meal, it would be Osso Bucco. That made me wonder: what would I choose as the last meal of my life? I’m still struggling to find the answer. Fresh sashimi and creamy Veneto cheese clash a bit. I’ll have to come up with a last-meal-menu from one cuisine type and one only.
While I’m pondering what that will comprise, how about telling me what YOU would feast on as your last meal on the planet? I’m intrigued to hear what you all love to eat.
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave
Fax: 212-869-4398 Menu link click here.
To visit The Red Flame Coffee Shop in Midtown, Manhattan is to have the quintessential New York diner experience. Monsieur and I have visited this bastion of weekend brunch each time we’ve been in Manhattan and on each occasion we’ve left a little breathless; it’s like dining in a washing machine on a fast spin cycle, only without the dizzy spells.
I would say that you shouldn’t go to The Red Flame if you’re not prepared to wait for a table. Having said that, the wait shouldn’t be too long, such is the speed of table turnaround. This diner is especially packed on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and the all-you-can-drink coffee is practically splashed into your cup (bring a bib!) because the staff are so incredibly busy that pancakes seem to fly out of the pan and across the room – think edible frisbee.
Monsieur likes the Red Flame pancake stacks (not for the carbo-phobe) which are likely to beat you unless you have an insatiable stomach, but they’re still worth trying, especially as they come with bacon AND maple syrup. It’s an unusual combo, at least to me, but the sweet-savoury thing works well. Personally, I prefer the bagels – the classic lox and cream cheese option is simple and not too overwhelming; portion sizes are FLAMING big here.
Gastronomes won’t get much out of The Red Flame other than local atmosphere, so don’t expect truffle oil on your omelette or sculpted vegetables on the side, but the food is hearty and tasty and energising for big days in the Big Apple.
Drinks-wise, the chocolate milkshakes are worth a splurge, but don’t expect the coffee to be anything other than instant and definitely don’t look for smiley, happy service. The wait-staff don’t have time for all that schmalz. In spite of that, it’s definitely worth the time to brunch here, just for the people-watching and buzzy vibe and you certainly can’t complain about slow service.
Lastly, I have to comment on the How To Help A Choking Victim poster in a corner by the door. I know they’re a health & safety requirement in New York, but it isn’t the most appetising of wall art to be faced with whilst eating. It’s also odd how that poster sticks in my mind so that whenever I think of The Red Flame, I remember Choking Victims. You wouldn’t want to play word association games with me, that’s for sure.