Category Archives: You Tube
In the pre-Christmas rush to reach loved ones, we’re not having a lot of success here in the UK. A bit of snow has sent everything into chaos – flights have been cancelled or delayed, roads closed, warnings to stay at home issued, and trains stranded mid-line. The snow has also caused Eurostar to restrict the speed of trains on both sides of the Channel, adding at least two hours to journey times, with the knock-on effect of a great many train cancellations.
And so, Monsieur and I have been watching developments with interest, as we wonder whether or not we’ll reach our French famille for Christmas. With queues like the one in the film below, we expect it to be quite hard work. Since the chaos ensued on Monday, tempers have frayed, Eurostar staff have reportedly been rude and unhelpful (not the best P.R. at a time like this, Eurostar!), and it’s only through the goodness of the Salvation Army that people queuing in freezing conditions for hours on end have been fed and watered. Some poor folk have suffered hypothermia, St John’s Ambulance has therefore been on hand to treat the effects of standing for long periods in sub-zero temperatures, and if all that weren’t bad enough, yesterday the transport police were called to deal with travellers who’d had enough of being mucked around in what we’d all call the most amateur of company responses to their many thousands of stranded customers.
What is it about snow that we don’t seem able to deal with here?
And what is it about so-called customer service that allows so many thousands of travellers to be treated with such lack of care or respect when all they’re trying to do is get home for the holidays?
Eurostar has had no clear plan of action this week apart from cancelling services, cancelling pre-Christmas ticket sales and telling ticket-holders that they’d be dealt with on a first-come, first-serve basis. For simply OBVIOUS reasons, that was a big, fat FAIL, (a case of early bird with the pushiest elbows catches the worm) so today they’ve decided to try honouring tickets and getting their customers onto the next available train. Estimated waiting time? It still stands at a horrendous 3+ hours. I’ll be interested to see what happens when we try to travel. Will we make it or won’t we? The suspense is killing me. (Not really. The cold outside St Pancras will probably take care of that).
From what’s been said, things aren’t much better in the freezing cold station that is the Gare du Nord. Angry travellers + Gallic policemen do not make for a happy mix. Add a few truncheons and the picture becomes very, very messy, indeed. In fact, at the rate they’re going, Eurostar will be subjected to annual pre-Christmas service failure enquiries. Remember this time last year? I’ll give you a clue: trains. Stuck. Under the Channel. Services cancelled. As our friends in France would say: plus ça change. With that, here endeth the second Eurostar ranting.
Landing at Palermo airport is not for those who’ve failed a fear of flying course. The runway is bordered by the sea, and the final descent goes something like this: fly along a bit, drop a bit, along a bit, PLUMMET, bump, bump, reverse thrust and breeeeeeathe. It’s the PLUMMET part which feels truly life-threatening, especially as the passenger’s eye view makes you think that you’re going to miss the runway and fall splat into the water below. Even I, who’ve been flying since I was five, found myself white-knuckled and promising all sorts of good acts to the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael when Monsieur and I flew to Sicily for a New Year’s break.
The adventures which taunt us on every trip commenced immediately. Monsieur goes to fetch rental car. I wait for our bags at the caroussel. Monsieur’s bag appears immediately. Mine does not. After watching an empty caroussel go around and around and around for some time, I finally snap out of denial and go to find out if my suitcase is lost. Luckily, it just ended up on another caroussel from somewhere else in mainland Europe (I think it was Munich, OBviously). Then, all bags retrieved, Monsieur collects me in a cappuccino-coloured Lancia with a temperamental gearbox that switches between automatic and manual at will. And so, stop-start, we set off for Palermo.
Following our Michelin instructions from the airport to the hotel seemed straightforward enough at the start of the drive into Palermo proper, but once we’d left the autostrada, the instructions malfunctioned. Italian traffic can be unpredictable. Sicilian traffic is a bit worse again, added to which the one-way systems and bus lanes and squares and a general lack of geometry to the town planning meant that we were soon lost. Even when we found ourselves NEAR the hotel, we couldn’t reach it because we’d invariably be at the wrong end of one street after another marked Senso Unico (one way). So close and yet so far and very, very hungry.
Having snailed around in circles for a Sicilian age we finally found a successful approach to the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, one of Palermo’s historic hotels, parking in a bay at the front with a tandem sigh of relief. But this is Italy, remember; things are never straightforward.
“You cannot leave your car there,” said the Adonis-like check-in clerk with a frown. Farts. We’d been afraid of that.
“Does the hotel have parking, then?” we asked,
“Oh, yes. The hotel have parking but eet eez not open now. Eet open at 4pm and close at 8pm so eef you want leave car all night, hotel parking eez fine.”
“So where can we park now?” It was barely 2pm. “Can’t we just leave the car at the front until 4pm?”
“Unfortunately, no.” this Adonis could win an Oscar in regretful eye-batting.
“You can leave thee car on thee street, and you pay for thee teeket at thee Tabacchi.” Adonis pulled out a map of the area and started marking tabacconist shops for us. “and for later, here eez thee parking.” A nice, big cross marked the location of the parking building a good 15 minutes walk away. And it had a curfew. If the car wasn’t parked up by 8pm, we were on the street.
The mere theory of arranging parking worked up our already large appetites, but first we had to drop off our things at the room. We followed a greying porter bedecked in a braid-laden uniform, into a lift that was fine for two people but a little cramped with three of us and two suitcases, and up to the second floor. There, my heart sank. The carpet was tatty, the walls were peeling, the naked ends of cables hung in knots in dark ceiling corners. We’d read on Tripadvisor that the hotel was in the process of being refurbished, so I just hoped they hadn’t stuck us in one of the older rooms which had inspired unfavourable reports. Then we rounded a corner and the wallpaper was fresh, the door finishes smooth and creamy, the light fittings bright with polish and the walls hung with attractive antique prints of Sicilian scenes. Relief. Now we could eat.
It was well past 2pm, the time when most Italian eateries stop serving lunch. Meanwhile, from 4am to now Monsieur and I had existed on no more than a small in-flight snack sandwich each and a small pack of crackers. Famished only begins to describe it. Back in the cappuccino-wagon, our first task was to find somewhere to park it until the parcheggio opened at 4pm. Eventually we found a spot near the Teatro Politeama Garibaldi, dangerously close to McDonald’s. In fact, we were so incredibly hungry that Monsieur tried to insist that we grab a burger because all the restaurants had already closed. May I add that the whole time I’ve known Monsieur I’ve never yet seen him eat McDonald’s, so this might indicate just how desperate we were for food. Luckily, instead of chowing down on a universal burger in Italy, home to such incredible food, we found a pasticceria that was open and serving snacks. There we inhaled squares of doughy pizza, mine with potato and pancetta; Monsieur’s with pepperoni, and at long last we felt human again.
There was still space in our stomachs for a cheeky treat on the way out, so we bought two cannoli from the sweet pastry counter. May I admit here with red face that I’d never, ever had one before? I’d seen them, heard people compare them, read about them but I’d never yet tried one. Out came the camera to document this historic occasion, as poor Monsieur groaned with embarrassment and moved away from the mad food photographer, but this is one photo I’m thrilled to have taken. The cannoli shell was crisp and sweet, lined with chocolate and filled with creamy, sweet ricotta. The first mouthful was one hundred per cent Heaven. There and then I began to understand why so many people love that Godfather quote: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” Only we’d left the car, instead.
When I was about eleven, I started home ec classes at school. My classmates and I then spent the next two years fighting over ingredients in these core classes as we perfected the mangling of simple dishes such as scrambled eggs and kedgeree. The worst part of these classes, however, was post-cooking when we had to sit and EAT what we’d just burned, undercooked or over-salted. At this key time in my culinary development I learned precisely how not to cook in class; conversely I learned how better to cook at home, where I’d help in the kitchen and sit with my mother in front of afternoon TV shows of Julia Child slamming food around her studio kitchen amidst what could only be described as a slightly awkward, inelegant presentation. Part of me loved watching her infectious passion for food and admired the results, wishing she could visit our dated home ec kitchen to inspire our prematurely-jaded attempts at food preparation; another part of me sat glued to the set in awe of the hulking woman who obviously knew her onions when it came to food, but whose booming voice and giant stature were more than a little intimidating. In case you need reminding, here’s a clip of La Child in action:
Cue a bout of Julia Child amnesia, until last year, when I bought Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, written in conjunction with her great nephew, Alex Prud’homme. I’m embarrassed to say that it sat in my ‘to read’ pile for some time until recently, when I quite literally devoured it. Once more, I was mesmerised by this towering doyenne of cuisine as I learned that there was so much more to her own personal history than is first apparent when you think of an acclaimed author of cookbooks. For a start, she wasn’t born with a wooden spoon in her hand, nor could she bake soufflés before she could walk. Au contraire; Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was 37 years old, when she moved to post-war France with her adored husband Paul. Once there, her love of eating and a fascination with French food led her to the Cordon Bleu school, where she studied food and its preparation. Julia also spent time getting to know the local market vendors, finding the best produce, learning French and experimenting in her own kitchen in an odd apartment on the ‘rue de Loo’, as she called the rue de l’Université. On top of all of the above, the tireless Julia somehow found the time to socialise with Paris-based foodies. She taught, gave dinner parties, helped a couple of new friends with their attempt at ‘cookbookery’, and it is this latter activity that eventually developed into Child’s weighty mega-oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), which brought truly French methods and cuisine into the American kitchen and subsequently revolutionised many kitchens all around the world.
This new-found passion for French cuisine changed Julia’s life, but not without hard graft did she become a published household name with her own TV show. I dare not give too much away, as this book is filled with such characters and surprises and inside knowledge of famous restaurants, critics and foods (I yelped with delight at the part where she visits the original Poilâne bakery in the name of breadmaking research) that it demands a reader’s first-hand attention, rather than a second-hand account. However, to whet your appetite, I will say that the complex politics of the time does not escape mention and honest accounts of strain on a workaholic’s interpersonal relationships, a quite unexpected picture of Julia in the bath with her husband and the down-to-earth description of universal frustrations and disappointments can only add to the admiration which Julia fans will feel on reading what she referred to as ‘The French Book’.
My Life in France was the sort of book that pained me to finish. There was only one thing to be done: I’d been bitten by the bug and now simply had to read more Julia. So, as you do, I popped onto Amazon, where Julie and Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell came to my attention. I’d heard of it; in fact, one of my grub-loving friends had recommended it to me; I just hadn’t bought it yet. One click later and the book was delivered to me at the end of last week, just in time for the May Bank Holiday weekend – a blissful three days of Nothing Planned. Julie and Julia arrived with impeccable timing because on commencing to read this book I experienced the startling result of waking up well before I would normally have roused myself on a long weekend. Why? To read The Book, of course, and for once I’m not complaining about waking early. Not at all.
So, every morning for the past three days, as Monsieur slumbered on next to me, my first waking thought was “I wonder what Julie does next?” as I grabbed the book and read as quietly as possible so that Monsieur wouldn’t wake up and disturb this precious reading time. You see, this Julie Powell person had decided on a whim to cook every single one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a mere 365 days. AND she had a full-time job, AND a tiny kitchen AND lived in Long Island City, which isn’t the best place to find some of the more unusual ingredients commanded by such recipes. To call this book entertaining is quite the culinary understatement. Refreshingly, there’s zero pretension. If the aspic doesn’t set or if murdering lobsters keeps Powell awake at night, we hear about it. Some recipes work, others don’t, and at times Powell enlists a search party to track down some strange foodstuff or other. Oh my Heavens, how I am loving this book, right down to the plumbing issues and day job and the strain that an obsession with cooking can place on a relationship.
As veteran Googlers tend to do, I’ve also spent some time reading the Julie and Julia Project blog, which is the unwitting inspiration for the book. There’s also the current Julie Powell blog to salivate over and on You Tube, there’s a trailer for THE FILM (see end of post), starring none other than Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as frustrated cooking-by-night-to-save-own-sanity government agency temp, Julie Powell. Now we just have to wait until it’s released on 7 August (I’m counting the days and if you know someone who can donate preview tickets to this particularly enthusiastic fan, then please please pretty please would you let me know?).
Believe it or not, you can also follow @Julia_Child on Twitter, only it’s not REALLY Julia (unless there’s a new app allowing us to tweet from beyond the grave), because she passed away in 2004, aged an astonishing 91. Following this sad date on the Child fan’s calenday, The Smithsonian was lucky enough to be given her kitchen, copper pans, units, books ‘n’ all and it’s now a crowd-drawing exhibit. (The Smithsonian has been added to my Bucket List. )
So, to sum up, unless I’m mistaken, it would seem that we’re in a mid-Julia Child revival and we just might have former government drone, Julie Powell to thank for that. Personally, I love the fact that courtesy of Powell I’ve now learned what a gimlet is and have added kattywhompus to my vocabulary.
In the meantime, here’s the trailer for the film of Julie and Julia:
Andy Bargery at Londonbloggers.net has done it again. He has secured generous sponsorship for our bloggers’ meetup tonight, from Bacardi Breezer (the 100 calorie version) and House of Fraser. Epic Brother will be joining me at the meetup because I’m encouraging him to take to his keyboard and blog. It should be interesting for him to mingle with the blog-erati of London, whilst enjoying a low-calorie Breezer or two from the folk at Bacardi.
In anticipation of tonight’s festivities at Verve on St Martin’s Lane, Andy posted a competition. This time we had to say our most enjoyable methods of losing 100 calories and needless to say, because it’s a family-rated site, no indoor games of an adult variety were appropriate, not that I’d know any.
When I racked my brain, I don’t really have FUN losing calories, especially as the Epicurienne waistline has grown since co-habiting with Monsieur, due to our shared love of all things gastronomic and therefore I’ve been working hard recently to lose those extra pounds. None of it has been particularly enjoyable, although I’m happy to say that it’s working and I’ve dropped more than a dress size. My tips? I highly recommend coordinating the move of a large office, working 12 days straight, developing a chest infection and eating sea bass for Christmas lunch in order to kick start any weight loss plan. After that, eating less in the evening and swimming three times a week should work wonders along with a bit of Wii to combat the bingo wings.
When I thought harder about fun ways to lose 100 calories, I could have said that the achievement of climbing Ben Nevis was fun, but it wasn’t. It was bl**dy hard work going up and we got lost on our way down and my group included Little Miss Moany-pants, whom I dearly wanted to kick down the side of the mountain at one point. To make it worse, once we’d checked out the summit, which was freezing and looked like the moon, we realised that going DOWN the mountain hurt our legs more than going UP. It was a complete ankle-cracker. No, it was not fun. The best part of climbing Ben Nevis was the last 200 metres when we could see the pub.
Then I thought of kayaking. I love kayaking and so does Monsieur, but there’s a good reason why they call a tandem kayak ‘the marriage wrecker’. The last time we stepped into one of these boats, Monsieur and I had been engaged for a mere 48 hours. By the end of our little trip down the Dordogne, I think we could both have burned a further 100 calories by beating each other over the head with our paddles. No, I couldn’t put that down as fun.
I don’t ‘do’ gyms, apart from swimming, which I love. I no longer have the stamina for clubbing but I do like dancing around the living room. I can do certain Wii games but I’m embarrassing at others, and when I tried to play PS3 at the weekend, Monsieur got so frustrated with my lack of skill that he had to leave the room. (I think my somewhat vigorous abuse of the console may also have contributed to his exit.) How else can we kill those calories? Well, I heard once that housework burns them off, but I’ve never enjoyed shaking a feather duster or vacuuming, so cross those off the list. However, in the course of my research I found that pretty much everything I do during a typical day contributes to burning those calories, from blogging to cooking. Yes, my friends, you can even lose weight whilst whipping up some dinner.
So that’s what I decided to write in my entry – a Day in the Life of Epicurienne. I also had fun playing around with my avatar and the Paint application. Hmmm. I may not be a whizz at Photoshop but you just may see more Paint-ed pictures here soon. Here’s my entry:
Here’s a music video that caught my eye when we were in Sicily at New Year. Even if you don’t understand Italian, I’m certain that you’ll enjoy this clip. It gives choreography a whole new meaning.
Splendid Becca did the unexpected: this afternoon she sent me a bottle of José Cuervo’s Margaritas with a stunning glass from which to consume this Christmas cocktail. Now, that’s what I call the incentive to drag me out of my pre-Christmas illness wallow-hollow and back into the festive spirit (no pun intended). Then, with superb timing, The Epic Brother called to say he’d be popping by tonight, so I’ll have a Margarita Partner-in-Crime for the tasting session.
The back of the bottle informs me that:
The Margarita Cocktail was created in 1938 in honour of a beautiful Mexican showgirl named Rita de la Rosa. A bartender, inspired by her electrifying performance, improvised a cocktail to capture her heart with Cuervo and the flavour of Mexican limones. Ever since then the Cuervo Margarita continues to capture the hearts of so many around the world.
Well, then. I know what they say about the effects of tequila, and I admit to having had some interesting experiences with it myself, but the question in my head now is whether said bartender succeeded in capturing Rita de la Rosa’s heart with a little help from Señor Cuervo? Intrigued by the tale and being a true Google-r, I visited Wikipedia to find that there are various theories on how the Margarita came about. No news on Rita de la Rosa’s cocktail shaking suitor, but in the end it doesn’t really matter who was first to create this tequila-lover’s staple; thanks to Becca, I have a bottle of Margaritas that’s begging to be opened and poured over ice in a Splendid-ly salt-rimmed glass. That’s far more important.
While I’m waiting for the Epic Brother to arrive, here’s another sort of Margarita to keep you entertained – Margarita Pracatan. In case you weren’t a fan of Clive James’ TV show in nineties’ Britain, Ms Pracatan is a Cuban singer with a boa wardrobe to beat that of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and a delivery that can only be called unique.
PS José Cuervo Margaritas contains José Cuervo Gold Tequila, natural triple sec and lime-flavoured spirit. Heaven help me!
PPS Epic Brother and I have thoroughly enjoyed the Margaritas. Thank you José Cuervo and Merry Christmas!
Following on from my recent experience with a sniffer dog who got it wrong, I thought I’d look into the success rates of these working dogs.
In Australia, they’re not convinced. Following research into sniffer dog accuracy a couple of years back, it was found that only one quarter of positive sniffs yield drugs. I don’t know why that should be a surprise, after all, no matter how much positive reinforcement you use to train a dog to recognise drugs on a person, they are still going to be interested in their own favourity doggie smells – food, bodily fluids, insect repellant (apparently). Here are some articles about when the sniffer dogs who bark up the wrong tree:
From Australia…, this report card for Downunder’s sniffies includes a lot of Ds and must sniff harder.
This post is from a chap who was stopped on the way to a legitimate meeting in Camden Town. The comments on this post are almost as good as the article! It would seem I’m not alone…
In Canada, they’re arguing over sniffer dogs and the infringement of civil liberties. Sniffer dogs should not be allowed to search for drugs in schools or public places – a recent ruling has decreed this to be the case – however, as the threat of explosives in airports is a more serious threat, sniffer dogs will still be allowed to operate there. I get it, but it is somewhat confusing. If an airport is a public place but I’m not an explosive, then why search me? It’s like those philosophical exercises: if a pig is pink and Maxine is pink then does that make Maxine a pig? It’s not exactly a yes or no answer. Besides which, in my experience, those bits of material that can be sniffed by a machine seem to be way more accurate than the dog (who’s probably more interested in food and people’s more delicate parts).
Without boring you with the other articles I’ve found, I can summarise by saying that sniffer dogs are far less accurate than we assume, so the next time you see someone being hauled off for further questioning by a customs official and a Sniffy, you should NOT presume they’re transporting illegal drugs. It could just be that the dog hasn’t had dinner yet and wants some of that duty free chocolate in the nice person’s backpack.
Meanwhile, Natasha Cloutier, my friend from Blog08 in Amsterdam, just sent me the link for a song about sniffer dogs. Can you believe it? Get those heads banging and enjoy (if you can). Personally, I think these guys need a spliff or something to calm them down…
The song’s called ‘I wanna be a drug sniffing dog’ (in case you can’t quite make out the lyrics). It’s by LARD.