Sunday, 29 November 2009

My Cuppa Tea

Lily, my English boss, teasingly told me to drink up my tea as I may be contributing to global warming by letting it go cold. There are enough cows farting around. We couldn’t afford to melt more ice bergs, British tabloid says, or as everyone amusingly interpret it.

I think here in England, the tea automatically freezes as soon as you put it down, as if the magic wind sweeps through and takes my heat away to Antartica. Prolly Santa Claus is working too much that’s why Antartica’s melting. Oh, where does he live again? Damn, Im old.

Better drink my cuppa before they blame me for destroying the earth or blaspheming Papa Santa.

I stopped ashort and start to think how many ways could a tea be done?

Do you put the milk and the teabag together before pouring in His Hotness? Do you take the teabag off or do you let it mull and procrastinate its way into caffeinating your senses? I wonder if its illegal to put sugar on my English Breakfast Tea. Not many I know do, oh well half I know are vodka drinkers, quarter on beer supplements, but everybody seems to have their own cuppa.

And the most interesting part is that the array of creative reasons why people have tea. Default and obvious are to make them warm, to go with their scones and shortbread, and of course to take a break.

Also unorthodox reasons, amongst hearsay is to cut an awkward conversation. Eg: “So you’re gay?” Dad asks, Mummy cuts in and dutifully asks everybody “Anybody wants a tea? (pats Daddy on the back) its getting a bit cold here my love. Everybody could use a tea”. Wouldn’t it seem weird if she asks if anybody wants a coffee, as if she would be putting the whole awkwardness into overdrive with a Starbucks. But with tea it seems calm and polite, it seems like a very sociable and graceful way of saying let’s drop the topic.

Also, I think tea is more engaging, remember when people used to drink from one big teapot small and stout, here is the handle, here is the spout? I think even though that people now drink in separate tea cups individualized into skinny, decaf, white or chai, the idea of having a tea takes us back to tea parties and nursery rhymes of big tea pitchers parallel to partaking, sharing, mingling and socializing. Hence when you asked somebody for a cup of tea it’s more of an occasion to chatter, catch up or probably tone down a pace of a situation. Sometimes when you asked somebody if he wants a coffee, its either he thinks you’re seeing sleep in his eyes or you want a cigarette break buddy. That’s our code in college when we’re all at the library. Once my bestfriend says Im getting coffee downstairs, I go in my autopilot “me too”, and another smoker echoes a “me three” as coffee meant ciggie break too. But that’s just for me, or for us.

Tea meant a lot of things to a lot of people, I think it had become our sweet little deed of kindness in the pub, it’s our code for “are you ok, I’ll make you a cuppa so you’ll feel better”. She makes tea for me after a hard shift or early on to give me a break after prep up, I make tea for her when I think she’s having those knee problems again or when the sales are not good, or when we have a hard day. Maybe the tea ethos is about the effort not the drink, it’s about the offer, it’s prolly just about having somebody remembered that you could really use a break. So you want a cuppa?

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Dressing Britain (This is not about fashion)

Dressing Britain (This is not about fashion)

English cuisine. British culinary. What comes to mind?

Fish and Chips? Full English Breakfast? Steak Pies and Cornish Pastry? Slow Cooked Stews and Heavily worked out oven with our long list of roasts dinners. And a country full of potatoes- Crisps, Chips, Mashed, Roasted, and Adored.

Some regarded it as unassuming bordering on uncreative, sidelining on boring(quoted), others say its nonexistent. Look it up on the wiki and comes a snappy and nonchalantly short article turns up.

I beg to disagree with boring and uncreative. It’s probably just too practical, too convenient, and too sensible. But it’s not synonymous to nonexistent and nonapealling.

Imagine all cuisine coming to a gala. The French comes in the exuberance and elegance of a tuxedo with a Champagne that magically tops up itself, Italians on loafers and Armani, Americans come in a dressed up Abercrombie and Fitch, Indians come in their beads and spiced colored sarong and kurta, and Thai comes, well, in Chilis, no Thai comes in their zen outfits. The English Cuisine comes in a simple coat and black tie, not forgetting his overcoat/mac as it might rain or snow, or probably it’s just one of those days we have 4 seasons in 24 hours. It’s neither showy, nor luxurious.

He’s one of those who you know have weathered a storm or a hail. He’s reserved and simple. He’s not without depth, but he reacts to certain situations, and when he opens his mouth it’s of something very important and salient. He’s not the life the party, but he’s the season of the crowd. And I lost you there didn’t I. Now you’re thinking of an Englishman than my roast dinner metaphor.

The English cuisine have to battle great depression, recession, and rationing, not that the rest of the world didn’t, but the rest of the world have better climates, more choices of ingredients, and a less destructive weather. Raw ingredients, food, and wine have been more generous to other nations, they have it at default. They inherited it. They have trust funds of ingredients, and vegetations, and vineyards, and plantations, and rice terraces.

But Britain dig deep and cultivated cuisine based on its means, not on the glorious expectations of the world to an Imperialist. A Cuisine that specializes on food that is filling, succulent, and supplementative, flexible and durable to the whips and lashes of mama nature. Hence comes, the substanstial and stodgy stews and steak and ale, bangers and mash, full English and monty. Hence comes the fish and chips wrapped in newspaper for practicality and mobility of a workforce behind a country that fought for peace and for pride. Hence comes the beautiful cocktail of summer greens and vege and the warming and then comforting winter roots. Hence come the Jersey new potatoes at the start of the season, and the big sister maris piper of the colder months.

We change dress for the weather, but not as sensitive as the British cuisine. It is in their blood, in their markets, in their household talks, it’s in the paper, in the pub. And it stays, “it’s indeed passed on, love” as what a kind Englishman would say. It may have had adopted the curry as its co-national dish but this is an exemplification of its good nature to take steward of a foreign food of a country it helped developed.

The British cuisine in a gala is the one you go to when you need something reliably stuffing and fresh, one that you would eat with unassuming appetite but with grace. Whether it’s chips in your hand or curry in a naan, or roast on your fork.

The charm of the British Cuisine is in its heritage, reliability and its dignified weathered stance, it has provided for a country and a culture a food ethos that would definitely weather a hundred more recession, great depression, and rationing. It is a veteran. And with that British Cuisine indeed deserves respect, recognition, and a longer Wikipedia entry.

Comes the end of the gala, the French are elegantly tipsy, Italians have 2 buttons down their gorgeous Armani, the Americans on their Hoodie, but the English Cuisine is still Dressed in Crisp White and Black Tie, a trench coat on its hand in case his darling needs the shed from the storm. Even though the Gala is in Africa.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Living it 'Thai

Living it 'Thai.

One of the trio of jobs Im juggling involves weekend evenings of phone stuck on my ear, getting orders for a thai takeaway that my former workmate opened a few months ago.
I actually adore that job aside from the homey feeling of being with fellow Southeast Asians, I endearingly and teasingly call my boss Mom, she worked in the first restaurant I worked with in which our other boss there had been eventually my boss in the third medley of my working life - the office.
Small world.

Anyways, I got a few hilarious orders for the past few months.. and underneath each is my invisible replies, double underline invisible, cos I gotta hold on to my mouth and just smile my way through if I still want my job next week.

“Can I please have a portion of Chicken Cashew Nut without Cashew”
–Can I please take the order, without you saying the order? Prolly sign language would do?

“Can I please have a Nugget and Chips”
– Right we do that best, since we’re a thai takeaway

Three people came in, me jumping for joy for extra business, one of them call out the order: “Can I just have one portion of chips please?”
-I think the chicken shop next door do that better.

“Can you please just knock softly on the door and don’t ring the bell? My baby’s sleeping
-Maybe we should start whispering on the phone too.

But sometimes, I get the lower hand.

Me: Can I take a name and a contact number pls?
Customer: Mr Ascot. 077********
Me: Ascot? Like the Royal Ascot? (Royal Ascot = Royal Horse Sprints/Races)
Customer: Yeah, you made that joke last week.
Me to my mind: Glad to know you’re a regular sir :)

Holy Chutney.
Anyways, Chef Thaibool (my endearment for him) usually makes this homemade salad for everyone, it's not on any of the restaurants menu, rather, it’s an authentic salad from Northern regions of Thailand, and its damn good. And so easy. It’s a chutney of some kind. I call it Holy Chutney because I reckon its so healthy and its really tasty.

Aubergine, Garlic, Tomatoes – originally best to roast in a tandoori oven, but I don’t have a restaurant in my backyard so the grill/oven would do. Usually, I slice the auberigine/tomatoes horizontally first to exposed a lot of flesh to give it color/caramelization. Authentically, Thaibool would pound it on mortar/pestle to make it as a mach but then you sliced or mashed according to choice. I like mine strips.

Ground Green Chilis

Fresh chopped Coriander Leaf

Lime Juice

Nam Pla/Fish Sauce.

It got this sweet and spicy feeing playing in your mouth with different textures from the vegetable (crunchy and nuggetty from the roasted skin, and mushy from the flesh), the roasted garlic makes it more rustic, and the coriander leaf aromatize everything to freshness, the lime juice cuts through and gives the fish sauce a good marriage. Love Living it’Thai.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tesco Treasures

Tesco Treasures
2 years in UK and I was trying to prove to myself that I could sort HEALTHY recipes out of the shelves that wouldn’t hurt my pocket. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on starving myself, its actually cheaper and easier to buy junk and ready to go. But I don’t like junk and ready to go. I like food that stares at you and the flavours are just jumping. Bloody ambitious isn’t it.
The thing with this challenge is that you sort of get the most basic one, its cheap and basic, its up to you to do the makeover. You gotta see the white swan in the ugly duck. Blimey.

So my Top 5 Tesco Treasures.

Tesco Lights Baked Beans - 25 pence per 150 gram small can. With its lower sugar content, low GI, its definitely a filler. I have it with wholemeal toast, then lay my half fat cheddar slice on it, and let my 2-minute microwaved beans melt the cheese on top. Topped off with drips of hot sauce to wake up my tastebuds.

Spices-Oregano,Basil,Parsey,Rosemary, Five Spice, Garam Masala. Nitrate. Sulphur. Oxalic. Lover’s Quarrel. Cold wars. Name it they have in this tiny cute little bottles that would make a battalion of a spice if made to stand in a line. I actually like investing in spices. It’s quite cheap at 50-80 pence a bottle.

Olive Oil- EVOO says Rachel Ray. Whether it’s a branded one or just the generic Tesco self-named one which its still a good buy from £1.80 for the goddess of oils.

Balsamic Vinegar – here I draw the line of my frugality. It’s my Achilles heel. I love proper Italian Balsamic Vinegar as it definitely takes roasted aubergine, roasted courgettes, and salads from commoners to Buckingham-goodness. You could get a decent one from £2 or less.

Basil Infused Tomato Sauce Packs – at 50 pence for a medium tetra pack, its not bad at all. It’s a good base for making Ratatouille or any red pasta, or any red sauce, or well you could have it as a soup. Liven it up with your spice rack, served with wholemeal toast dipped in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. Then shave an invisible white truffle over it. There goes my Pobre Molto Mario Recipe. Who says you cant have gourmet below £1?

Brown Wholemeal Wheat Spagghetti – 80 pence per 500 grams. King of Bargains. Its carbs, its non perishable, but considering it’s made from durum, hence protein-packed it would have lower GI than bread, and it taste good with a nutty undertone. It cooks al dente, and its, say "one second thinner" than the usual spaghetti (pardon me for measuring it by seconds, my bestfriend back home influence this rascal mathematics)

Pub: Christmas dejavu

Yesterday I was a food magnet. I was working in my shift at the pub, when at the end of the day I realize I have amalgamated a goodie bag that would qualify as a Christmas Dinner (Crab, Prawn, Christmas Pudding, and a plateful of stirfried prawn with side of vege, all-star appearance except for the turkey that ran off to the gym for last minute work-out before its Christmas Premiere. Gratitude to Greg and Sonia (my regulars) , and the hidden Santa elves that were working pre-season Christmas. For some reason, people were giving me food that day. I know Im a bit tiny but I know I am far from looking malnourished, don’t get me wrong I love foodies and freebies. It was just weird to have it all thrown at you all on the same day

Anyways Lily, my boss made my lunch a tad more special too= Mushroom/ Cherry Tomatoes Omelette with a Salad Side. Recipe at the bottom after my blabber. I think my good fortune that day came from the day before, I made brownie points for staying after my shift to wait for her to come back from a party, and since it was market day I completed my sucking up with a homemade chocolate cake for her from the Wednesday baker. Well, I was late coming in so I figured to sweeten my entrance, and keep her mouth busy from telling me off.

What I love about the omelette is the fact that the cherry tomatoes are from the little shrub/vine(cant figure what) that miraculously sprout out from our serendipitous kitchen window wherein one tomato must have fallen off and started seeding. Talk about unexpected pregnancy.

I always hear Lily say that cooking is having the best and freshest ingredient available, and here in England, seasonality of ingredients is taken seriously. It takes second place to discussing the weather. And probably one rank higher than discussing Gordon Brown.

Anyways my hypothetical recipe of the Omelette I had yesterday.
Mushrooms (Normal Open Button Mushroom, yeah the flirty ones)
Cherry Tomatoes (cut in Half)
3 eggs (I saw what looks like carcass of 3 eggs at their final moment, sub egg whites if you’re keeping chole down)

What Lily usually do is cook it on the hob on a small frying pan (same size as the omelette) just to coat the other side, then finish it off on the grill to give the top side a lovely caramelization, which would be evident with the cherry tomatoes. Gives the omelette a good shape too

Greg my Japanese elderly customer had been going about gnocchi, roux, and hob hop, and every imaginable cooking method known to men. But I came across a few worth noting and probably a bit enlightening for me.

Roux – Greg reckon that the best way to make “proper roux “ is to drench chicken bones with flour then stow in the oven till it’s almost powderized and then mix it with boiling water until reduced to roux consistency. He was discussing this in between his 2nd pint of Carlsburg, so I guess I would still vouch for the credibility of this theory.

Egg Shells sentenced to a pulverizing at the oven would make clear soup. Greg said this at the 3rd pint so I would probably hang on to my ready to go sachet of supermarket clear soup powder till I ask for reaffirmation from him of this next time.

We were like Karate Kid and his Master whole afternoon, I must have been a good student because apart from the small bag of prawns and crab he gave me from his Wednesday market rounds, he came back 2 hours later for me to try on a plate of stir fried prawns with a side of cauliflower, and brussel srpouts. Spare half of it for Lily. More brownie points wouldn’t hurt

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Flashback Flat 3

Flashback: Flat 3.

My Flat in the Uni has 12 bedrooms, representing 12 nations or 11 (I have a fellow Filipino Friend on the same flat). Our kitchen during dinner time is almost identical to a United Nations Global Security Meeting. And the Smell would probably confuse even Pentagon Intelligence. It doesn’t help that it’s not sound proof much more smell proof. I never complained. I always like the diversity and I always get a spoonful of whatever they’re cooking.

Then there’s the question of Fridge Security. Marking your territory. Until when could somebody use your pan and fork? Until they graduate? And would that be the bachelors, masters, or until their doctorate degree?

I have a flatmate that never wash the dishes she used from Freshers week onwards, I still saw some of her stack lying around as I was hauling out of my room after graduation. Don’t get me wrong, school sent cleaners to clean common areas, but they don’t send nannies, and nobody from my flat bothered to clean up somebody else’s stuff just for the sake of social utility and world peace.

And the bin, of course. I hope they would invent a bin that would walk out automatically to the skips once they’re full ‘cause that would have saved so many friendships and marriages.

And then come people burning food. Flat 3. Burned Egg. Seriously? But then I forgive him. I am not sure if the absolution of the sin is because he’s drunk or he’s a HE. It caused a fire alarm, and that means 20 minutes of whole building residents out in the cold, while security officers assess if burned egg causes idiocy.

And the Flat specialties. Each Building/House consists of about 15 flats and each is usually known for something. There was a flat that is soooo popular for kitchen parties that when security tried to ban them for noise, they started the silent party- meant Shut up and Drink. In my building, Flat 1 is our Starbucks, nice group of guys that invite you over for a cup of hot chocolate. It does help that they’re on the ground floor and closest to the main door. It does help that they’re good looking too. I think anything taste good when you’re looking at something nice.

I miss smelling flatmate’s cooking cause it’s a smell of a year of carefree laidbackness, recklessness, and ignorance. Pre-recession days, back when I don’t pay the bills yet, back when my only worry is to hand over my 2000-word report and the world will be ok.

Spagghetti ala Uni

this recipe must have been the quickest pasta recipe Ive ever came across. We'll unless you're like the 5-year old me that eats raw spaghetti sticks when mama's not looking ( I still do, i nimble on the first spagghetti pencil of the pack before I sentence the rest to the pot of boiling water, its for good luck that I may not forget Im cooking).Anyways, at the Uni, we had Italian friends that live 2 floors down from us, we used to go out with them or load up (pre-club drinking) at their place. One fine night after a 2hour mission to the the school bar/pub, we went back to their kitchen soooooooooo hungry. Locomotive skills hampered by alcohol, our culinary abilities are dwarfed to NIL. But one Italian boy saves us all. He heroically plunges a pack of spaghetti to a pot of boilee, 10 minutes later, our soberiety coming back, he drained it, and shaved Parmesan on it.

and thats it. No olive oil. No basil. No anything else.

Then comes our French friend, tossing Knorr Seasoning (Far East Soya Sauce) on to his plate.
(Count on the French to be culinary upperlip)

Then comes me, putting pieces of Pringles to my heap (Count on me to make croutons out of Pringles).

I dunno if it was starvation or alcohol but it was good. Parmesan and Spaghetti = Spaghettia ala Uni.

Rewind 1 year ago. My Baby Days in UK

wrote this when I was in Uni. never fail to drag me back to memory lane. oh pardon my ignorance, and unsophistacation (though, I am still ignorant and unsophistacated but at least i got a bit more to share forward 1 year on). Anyways enjoy.

The Tesco Diet.

Or Asda, or Morrissons, or whichever is your preference of the Super 4.

I aim to present the simplest diet plan and the cheapest, as both adjectives is very specific to allowance-limited students like me. Simple and Cheap- fairly easy. Simple, Cheap, and Healthy. That’s what I had been up to instead of courseworks. Discovering the market trends, the five forces of my personal economics and my demand to be able to discover the best mix of products that fits those three adjective and that would actually be edible, at least to my 20-year old palate.

The Tesco Diet
Its simple because it is assumed that everything in here was outsourced from the very best, the finest, and the most convenient shelves of the top UK supermarkets. Easy to access, as my vertically-challenged self had come across it despite the fact that most of the good ones in the groceries are above my reach level(with even tiptoeing)

Its simple enough to be discovered by an international student with just a year of England. Cheap enough to be afforded by my home currency that was delivered, and devalued by Western Union. Spare me the royals of the Far East, I think they have curry or nasi lamak delivered by courier everyday to their dorm rooms. But for commoners like me, college is a culinary adventure.

Why am I doing this.

Feeding yourself was once upon a time a quick decision.
Supposedly it’s a quick decision.

Half your allowance went to booze, party, and a stock portfolio of Aspirin afterwards. A quarter of which you seclude for the Chinese buffet, Chinese delivery, and your Chinese girls; or boy for my instance. Then all you are left are some pennies that could afford you 4 course dinner of microwavable, or the products which are the result of the Super 4 narcissism. Self-labelled generics are always the cheapest one and most of the time the shi**est as well. But then you actually get some salvation at times. Yet 10 months and 3 stones later, you found yourself clamouring for gym membership, or a quick fix to the college fat that comes with your diploma.
Cheap and Good. Win Win. Cheap, Good, and Healthy- Miracle.

We have to start from the beginning. Clean Slate. Imaine you arrive at uni for the first time. Jetlagged, Lucid, Lost, and uber hungry. My first meal was a Walker Crisp and a pint of milk to soothe my complaining ulcer. Not exactly a welcoming feast. Then for the next 10 months I gorge on every sausage pizza, chocolate, Walker crisps I could find. Its cheap and easy, and filling. I fell in love with the Full English Breakfast, had a quick affair with the pizza and curly fries, haven’t gotten over Fish and Chips, and I think I will be marrying Wines for the rest of my life. 2 extra stones later, I think I must have gone into a sort of culture shock, British culinary for me is too refreshing liberated and new , and I just set my eye-and-culture apetite and curiosity to prison break. I love British cuisine, and this is not an insult to the culture but an insult to my ignorance. That is why I am doing it. Because after all, I found the British grocery and the British lifestylye more fairly easier to get along with if you’re trying to live healthy- and when you’re really trying. Really Really trying.

So there is no quick fix. Just a good start.

First Trip to Asda. Or Tesco or whatever

Things I should have bought:
1. Water Filter – Drinking from Tap is zero-maintenance BUT it does taste weird at times, and £5 of taking extra care of the most important liquid coming into your body is WORTH it. Do the math, its just 2 smirnoff ice in exchange for Clean water for the rest of the year.

2. Set of Decent Cooking Pan- 1 Casserole, 1 Frying Pan, and probably an extra tefal pan if you could spare the extra pounds.

3. Microwavable Plastic Containers- so you could store pre-made soup, marinated veggies and meat, and where you could hide all those leftovers chic and turkey that could be reincarnated into a sandwhich filler in their next life.

4. Invest in a Rice Cooker(All Asians are nodding in chorus with me)- its good to keep homesickness blues down as rice feels more homely than chips, also it is good for STEAMBOAT(SHABU SHABU) or steaming vegetables. Talk about Healthy. But there’s always the microwave or there’s always starving yourself to death.

5. Roasting Pan- cost u less than £1(Morrisons). Baking roasting or whatever, as long as u put it in the oven, and reserve the oil and butter for those Comfort Food 911 Nights, it sets you to a healthier method of cooking. Ultra Easy as well. Pop in a chicken marinated with lemon chilli sauce, salt, and pepper. Watch an Episode of Friends (20 mins) and its all good. You could even sequel it with homemade baked baby potatoes with herbs as a 2nd course in between Ross and Rachel then Rachel and Joey.

Other equipment worth acknowledging for. The Oscars goes to…
Toasters- best and quickest. Ciabbata, Pita. Or good ole bread. Do your heart a favour and stick with wholemeal. THERE IS A WORLD OUTSIDE WHITE BREAD. Wholemeal malted, seeded, half brown, drunked, and taken for granted. And the best place to get bread? Market place. Wednesdays and Saturdays, freshly baked

Microwave - did they ever gave Mr. Microwave a Pulitzer? I sure hope they did. Cos this had absolutely been my best mate. Not all microwaved food are appaling. It depends on what you put into it. If you had plonk a ready to go sausage and mash, DO NOT expect caviar to come out after 7 minutes. Microwave is a tool, not a lifestyle. Take advantage of its ability to cook fast without oil. I normally cook white eggs in it (there is such a thing as an egg microvable plastic cooker 99p Morrissons), I steam veggies in it. I thaw my rock frozen meat, and I rejuvenate my past with it- past chicken, 2 day old tomato soup, way past curry, and past-a. Trying to be funny here. It would take a lot of humor to get through this huge advocacy.

Oven – oven is the most taken for granted siblings in the kitchen family at least for uni students. It is always overshadowed by Big Brother Hob. What most didn’t realize is it is far easier to cook in oven than in anything within 2 mile radius. It is also more flavourful, as goes with the convention of slow cooking.

Ab Initio

Ab Initio
Uk is my playground.
The world is my classroom.
Lived. Laughed. Drunk. Shivered and Cried. Frozen Cold Anatomy, Warm Memories.
UK Diaries.

I went to uk to run away.
I felt Im Huckelberry or Hazelberrry Finn, my laptop is Tom Sawyer, and the British Airways is my raft.
And probably Thames River is my Mississippi.
Forgive me Mark Twain, I know you had better adventures but I can’t help the metaphor.

This a chronicle of my adventures and misadventures, funny, endearing tug of war between British Immigration, English rainy days, my 3 jobs-a-week-life, and nostalgia of homeland I will never forget.

I didn’t come in the usual working channel, I am not a nurse, neither a wife of a local. I came legally though as a legit student, and remaining to do so with my extension. I don’t have any family here, and my core community is half of Southeast Asian (Thai, Indian) and old English locals.

Im a nutter for writing and an audience wouldnt hurt (hence the blog). But I'd like to think that this is more of a diary rather than a showbook but nonetheless, come with me as I peel off the different characters of British life, food, culture, and living, that you would never thought happens in the grounds of Queen Elizabeth as we battle recession, MP expenses Scandal and the bitter coldness of long winters and 2-day indian summers. All in the backdrop of 3 jobs in the food industry, and a 1 year in past tense as a student.

3 jobs. 3 bosses. 3 lives. Thrice the adventure.