18 September, 2006

The Long Goodbye to Chiara & Other Endings

Tuesday I was invited out to the local Thai restaurant, Sala Thong, for lunch. Just a few minutes walk from where I work, this is a firm favourite as a lunch destination. The food is arguably the best Thai cuisine to be had in Cambridge and the special lunch menu is extraordinary value for money. Lunch was on Anya, one of the Faculty's departing graduate students, who (having completed her PhD in Japanese studies) will be swapping one Cambridge for another when she takes up a job at Harvard in the near future. On this occasion I opted for the lentil curry and the expected high standard was upheld. The company at lunch was every bit as enjoyable as the food.

Our charming Neapolitan friend Chiara departed this week too, having finally submitted her PhD (also in Japanese studies). On Tuesday she made a farewell visit a casa nostra. Home-made pizza was again the dish of the day and Chiara contributed a special Neapolitan touch to one of the three. The base of Pizza Chiara had a raised rim and the topping consisted of Lisa's tomato sauce, a sprinkling of dried oregano, chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese, anchovies, and torn leaves of fresh basil from our garden. Trust me, it tasted every bit as good as it looks!

Farewell to Chiara continued on Thursday with dinner at Lady Patricia's home in Shelford. Lisa and I met up after work and caught the train to Shelford together, joining the others the "Stone House". Our hostess cooked us all a stunning West African dish of chicken in a peanut sauce accompanied by pasta, runner beans and a dish of shrimp and vegetables. We ate out on the terrace in the early evening and then repaired to the kitchen for coffee. To round out the evening we moved to Patricia's "white" room to watch the 1978 film of "The Thirty-Nine Steps" with Robert Powell and a host of other British stars. The film was tremendous fun, the pace never flagging for a moment and with high tension perfectly balanced by moments of humour all the way up until the climactic scene at Big Ben which was brilliantly done. At last the evening was over and we all caught the train back to Cambridge.

On Friday evening, Lisa, Xavier and I paid our first visit to the revitalised "Castle" in central Cambridge. This is an example of the trend that turns basic pubs into lounge bars and was so recently re-opened that the smell of fresh paint was still very pungent. The service and food were great until we tried to pay our bill and leave, at which point chaos reigned as there seemed to be no record kept of what we'd eaten or drank.It rather spoiled the otherwise very pleasant effect but no doubt the staff will get the kinks in the system ironed out promptly.

For the first time in longer than we can remember, Lisa and I spent the entire weekend a deux at home. Our bikes stayed in the shed and the shops on Mill Road had to survive without our custom for once. Towards the end of Saturday we roused ourselves to action in the kitchen and concocted a "store cupboard" Indian meal of lamb keema, a green bean & sweetcorn korma (created by yours truly) and basmati rice. The combination of the dry keema, the wet korma and the plain rice went very well together.

Sunday continued the low key approach to the weekend. I watched the last two stages of the Vuelta a EspaƱa (a bicycle race of some note, m'lud!) on Eurosport and was gratified to see riders from my Fantasy Cycling Team continue their domination of the race through to the final stage sprint in central Madrid. An hour's strenuous gardening left us feeling hungry so we set to on the pizza trail yet again and treated ourselves to the same thing we've so recently served our treasured guests chez-nous.

The musical background to most of the weekend was an album by Turkish singer Sezen Aksu which was a gift of Chiara and which seemed to match the prevailing mood perfectly.

11 September, 2006

Blackberries & Brice

Our culinary week included large quantities of curry left over from Emma's visit and a reprised moussaka, by yours truly, which was a big hit with the lady of the house. On Saturday, Lisa's colleague from Rheims, Xavier, visited for an evening of home-made pizza and a movie. The pizza dough was made using our bread machine and Lisa made a tomato sauce using tomatoes from our garden. The toppings of the three pizzas all began with the tomato sauce and grated mozarella cheese. To these we added (1) Spanish chorizo sausage (2) Greek feta cheese and olives (3) French goats cheese and red onions.

After dinner we settled down with a few beers to enjoy the movie Xavier brought over with him, the hilarious "Brice de Nice" by James Huth starring Jean Dujardin as the eponymous hero. This had us all in stitches, even though Lisa and I were often dependent on the English subtitles. Knowing and loving Nice as we do, we enjoyed the settings and the humour of a surfer dude waiting for his "big wave" in that most placid of bays. I'd highly recomend checking this out on DVD.

Sunday, we reprised last Sunday's ride, into Cherry Hinton along Coldham's Lane and then through Church End and Fulbourn Old Drift up into Fulbourn itself from where we took the Shelford Road over the Gog Magog hills. We paused for a while to collect blackberries for jam and to take some photographs, then continued down into Great Shelford and back up to the Babraham Road and Addenbrooke's. Our way back was then up Mowbray Road and along Coldham's Lane home.

04 September, 2006

Food & Bicycles

Reading these entries, you might be forgiven for wondering if there's anything much else in our lives!

This week isn't going to offer much in the way of contradiction either. Early in the week Lisa created a chicken, mushroom and spinach gratin which proved a big hit, served with brown basmati rice. On Saturday we pulled out a lot of curry stops to entertain our Changchun friend, Emma, to dinner. I contributed my masala bhindi and fragrant basmati rice, Lisa cooked the Keralan dish Kochi chicken curry from Atul Kochhar's "Indian Essence" and made a sublime dal tarka with split red lentils, Emma prepared a cooling cucumber and tomato raita, and the feast was rounded out with paratha bread and pickles from Al Amin. We had mango kulfi (Indian ice cream), also from Al Amin, lined up for dessert but Emma pleaded a full stomach so that stayed in the freezer. As usual, the talk continued long after the food was finished and Emma returned home, clutching her share of the Kulfi, a dinner's worth of left-overs from the meal, and a sea bass long after midnight.

The sea bass was one of two that we got from our local East Asian superstore, Cho Me, on Saturday. We enjoyed ours on Sunday evening, baked in foil with herbs from the garden, served with some variety of choi (also from Cho Me) accompanied by a home-grown salad of mixed leaves and tomatoes.

Prior to the sea bass, Sunday had been a bicycle day. My hopes of travellin to London to see the final stage ofthe Tour of Britain and supporting events in the flesh were scotched by our very late night on Saturday but we did watch the BBC coverage of the race on the TV and enjoyed the spectacle of seeing the reigning world champion, Tom Boonen, win the final stage with veteran Brit Roger Hammond second and rising British star Mark Cavendish third. Watching this on the box inspired us to get out on our own wheels and go for a ride. After our exertions last Sunday, we wanted to see how we felt with some local undulations so, after we rode into Cherry Hinton along Coldham's Lane and then through Church End and Fulbourn Old Drift, we climbed up into Fulbourn itself and, from there, took the Shelford Road. This led us over the Gog Magog hills and down into Great Shelford. Our way back was through Trumpington, along Long Road and Queen Edith's Way into Cherry Hinton, then back through Church End and along Coldham's Lane home.