29 December, 2007

Out and about between Christmas and New Year

Yesterday we took the train out from Cambridge, two stops to the east to the delightful market town of Bury St. Edmunds. As you can see from the photo, we spent some time looking over the famous Abbey ruins. Before this, Lisa bought me a new overcoat, as a belated Christmas present, at a gentlemen's outfitters in the town. We also checked out a couple of cookware shops in the town centre. Before heading for home, we called in for a couple of beers at the Grapes, a pleasant and welcoming pub.

Two days earlier (that's Boxing Day, a.k.a. the "Feast of Stephen") we spent the afternoon walking along the river Cam. We headed north on the west bank from Water Lane and walked up as far as Baits Bite Lock where we crossed over and made our way back south as far as Fen Ditton. By then we were ready for a rest and so sought out a pub. We wound up in the Blue Lion which seemed like a nice place in spite of initially serving us two undrinkably sour pints. Suitably refreshed after an hour or so, we continued home.

23 December, 2007

On the Threshold

Phew! It's finally up and decorated. Allow me to introduce El Gordo: Steve & Lisa's Christmas Tree 2007. He's a big boy (hence the name) so we have to hope he won't encroach too severely on the kitchen door. Regardless, he's a big part of the Christmas atmosphere that I aim to (re)create each year. Along with "paper chains" (made of metal foil these days), lights in the window, the crib/creche and other decorations. This year (as last) glass tree ornaments have been held back for fear of the havoc Robbie might wreak but our annual special ornament has pride of place, as ever.

As anticipated last time out, on Wednesday evening we had a wonderful time at the Pharmacology Christmas Party in the great hall at Clare College. A champagne reception was followed by a sit-down dinner of smoked salmon terrine followed by honey glazed duck breast in a peach sauce and then another terrine, this time of chocolate and Cointreau. You'd better believe it tasted as good as it sounds! The evening was rounded off in the College cellars with music and dancing until the wee small hours. What better way to confirm that the season of celebration is well and truly under way!

17 December, 2007

Christmas starts here!

Friday marked the start of the Christmas season. Lisa was invited to join the rest of the lab where she worked until this summer as they marked the end of the year with a meal in the Riverside restaurant at the University Centre (or "Grad. Pad" as many of us persist in calling it). As often in such circumatsnces, I tagged along too. The relaxed atmosphere suited the occasion perfectly and the food was much better than I'd had there before. A good (but not stupid) time was had by all.

It says much about the current morale in my own place of work that we'll have no such meal this year, for the first time since I started working there. To compensate, we have a very special Christmas meal to look forward to next week: a party at Clare College organised by Lisa's current Department. More about that, I'm sure, in a future posting.

Saturday was Robbie's first trip back to the vet's in almost a year, to get his vaccination boosters and an anti-flea shot. Later the same day we brought home this year's Christmas tree from the local greengrocer's. For the time being it's parked out in the garden but yours truly has been nominated to get it set up in the house so digits will need to be extracted in the week ahead!

03 December, 2007

Stew and Stewarding

Lisa beat me to the punch in blogging yesterday's dinner: a Greek-style octopus stew inspired in no small measure by a dish we enjoyed immensely when we lunched at Taverna Eraina back in August. Read her entry on A Cook's Journal for the details but I have to say that, this time, we really did crack it and achieve the combination of deep, dark flavour and juicy tenderness that (for us) is the essence of this dish. Our friends from London, the ones we expected to be entertaining this weekend and who failed to show up, missed out on a treat and I capitalised by taking the left overs into work for lunch.

On Saturday, Lisa and I were once again stewarding at the Mill Road Winter Fair. This annual event, now in its third year, celebrates the incredible diversity of this corner of Cambridge with businesses and community groups taking the opportunity to present themselves to the ever-increasing numbers of attendees. Lisa and I love living in this area and feel we benefit tremendously from its multi-cultural and local community focussed character, so the least we can do is give up a few hours each December to stand on a freezing street corner in a Hi-Viz vest handing out leaflets and telling folks where the Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers may be found (I kid you not!). This year, our stint on duty was relatively early in the day so we had time after knocking-off to wander the length of Mill Road and, in particular, enjoy the open studio at the Cemetery Lodge, the Salsa Drummers performing in front of the swimming pool and (most deeply affecting of all) the guided tour of the local Mosque. In the difficult, dark depths of Winter, a little determined effort netted us a sparkling catch of jewel-bright memories. At this time of year that's hugely helpful, like a hill-top cairn in the mist.

15 November, 2007

Coq au vin

Just a short note this week to mark the occasion of Sunday's dinner dish. Coq au vin holds a special place in our gastronomy as it was the signature dish of Lisa's beloved Uncle Jean. Several times his version of this dish, always saved for a special occasion, was the high-point of a visit to Nice for us. And, for Lisa, the association goes back very much further. That this was the first time we'd dared cook this dish since Uncle Jean passed away was highly significant. That we unconsciously chose to do so on the day (11/11) that, here in the UK, goes by the name "Remembrance Day" was, I suspect, not coincidental. Not at all. The food was good. The memories powerful and positive. Such are the pathways of grief.

08 November, 2007

New Wheels - All Round

After several months of indecision, Lisa finally settled on the new bike that she wants. She's opted for a new “everyday” bike to take her to work and back and for riding about town and made her choice last Saturday in Howes Cycles on Regent Street, Cambridge: our cycle suppliers of choice. Her new steed is a Specialized Globe Comp the successor in the Specialized range to the Crossroads bike that Lisa rode for many years. This particular model has an 8-speed hub gear: a technology we’ve both come to love over the last few years for its reliability and ease of maintenance. We picked up the bike yesterday morning (the photo was taken in the shop as Lisa was about to ride off to work) and already I can report that the Lisa is enjoying the new bike's lightness and responsiveness so much that I've got my work cut out to keep up!

On Tuesday we had a serendipitous dinner of rabbit stew. We're both quite partial to rabbit so an unexpected opportunity to come by a freshly-killed carcass wasn't one to pass up. Lisa has detailed the recipe we used in this entry in A Coook's Journal. As you can see, the presentation was straightforward with boiled spuds and plain vegetables to foreground the meat. The outcome was wonderfully tasty and probably the most tender dish of rabbit we've ever had.

A big feature of our dining this autumn has been slow cooking. This has proved a great way for us to enjoy long-cooked food on mid-week days when we don't have the time to spare in the evening to let something cook for hours. Monday's dinner was a case in point: a slow cooked brisket joint that we put in the oven on a low heat on Sunday to cook overnight. In the morning we just turned the oven off and left the pot undisturbed then, when we got in from work, all we has to do was warm the pot up again (on top of the stove) and prepare some fresh vegetables to go with it. The depth of flavour is completely out of proportion to the minimal effort involved and particularly suits the dark autumn evenings. Delicious!

29 October, 2007

Culture-Crossing Couples

It's a cliché to say that the British and Americans are two peoples divided by a common language but often enough Lisa and feel like the living embodiment of this fact. We both claim to speak English but our cultures are much more different than is generally supposed. While this is most often a source of enrichment and expanded horizons, it can also lead to surprisingly difficult frustrations. For that reason we take special pleasure in the company of other cross-cultural couples, whether Anglo-Chinese, Indo-Norwegian or, as in the case of our dinner guests on Saturday, Italian-Korean.

Our Neapolitan friend, Chiara, introduced us to Clemente from Northen Italy last August but it took to now for us to meet his lovely Korean wife Myung Hee. As this was their first time as our guests we subjected them to our signature appetiser of escargots and the main course was pizza, partly contributed by Clemente. Much of the conversation was taken up with comparing notes on our various experiences in getting hooked up with a partner from another culture and how we manage the tensions that cross-cultural living throws up.

Our menu for the evening was conspicuously missing any contribution from Myung Hee's part of the world, so we quickly agreed that our next get-together should rectify that and focus on Korean cuisine. We hope it won't be very long at all before that comes off. As always the talk ran late into the evening and so it came about that, in the photo (taken right at the end of the evening), Lisa is checking the times of the last bus home with our guests: it had already gone, so a taxi was summoned forthwith!

01 October, 2007

Once More Unto the Breach

Tomorrow is the first day of the Michaelmas Full Term at Cambridge, the start of the new academical year. The nature of my job (IT support to the Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies) differs radically between term-time and vacations and Michaelmas is always the most intense and stressful of the three. I had last week off work to take a deep breath before diving in. For most of that week, Lisa was away in New York City visiting her sister and four young nieces and nephews she hadn't previously met. The photo shown was taken from the Staten Island Ferry looking back at the southern tip of Manhattan.

The house here seems very empty when Lisa's away and I find it hard to motivate myself to do more than the basic minimum. I did, though, manage to complete one project that's been pending for more months than I care to think about and put up a new lighting unit in the kitchen to replace the unflattering single fluorescent strip light with a set of six directional halogen lamps. I must be one of the least "handy" people in the country so this simple-sounding task was a major accomplishment in my book!

Lisa returned to the UK on her birthday but was too tired from travelling to celebrate, so we went out to dinner the following evening. The chosen location was Café Adriatic up on Mill Road, one of our favourite local haunts. It didn't disappoint: a low key atmosphere coupled with uncomplicated but well cooked and beautifully presented food and well-judged service was just what we wanted. A relaxing and satisfying evening that, even topped and tailed with Prosecco and Sambuca, didn't cost an arm and a leg.

10 September, 2007

Barbie-pink pop-up tent

"It's very pink!" I said. And so it is. But, hey, if you want to buy a pop-up tent in September you can't afford to be too choosey. The idea is that it'll extend our use of the garden into the early autumn as the weather cools. As you can see from the photo, the WiFi from the house reaches out here so we can e-mail, Flikr, blog or Facebook or just read the paper and listen to TheJazz on the DAB radio Lisa got for my birthday.

Talking of birthdays, yesterday Robbie (our youngest feline) celebrated his first birthday. We're not certain of the actual date but, counting back six weeks from when we first got him (based on how old he appeared to be), we hit on 9/9 as a memorable date to fix as his "official" birthday. Having rescued (in one way or another) all our cats we don't have accurate dates of birth for any of them but we celebrate Thomas on May Bank Holiday and Sofia on 17th January.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, earlier this evening I uploaded a note about Malcom Saville's Mystery at Witchend to by books blog. Yes, I finally plucked up courage to read to first of the Lone Pine books; almost a year after our inspirational trip to Church Stretton and around forty years since first reading the books. I'm delighted, and not a little relieved, to discover that it was every bit as readable as I'd hoped and remembered. Now I can go on to seek out some more of the titles with confidence that I'll enjoy reading them.

30 August, 2007

From Physiology to Pharmacology

On Tuesday, Lisa started her new job. She now works in the Pharmacology department and, for the first time in her scientific career, has a permanent position. As a big part of her new job is to help prepare the teaching labs for the students’ practicals, her work will now follow the rhythm of the academical year closely, just as mine does.

On learning that her contract in the Physiology department wouldn’t be renewed, Lisa immediately started looking for a new position even though there were still several months to go. Fairly soon, she got fixed up and the new job is based just a few hundred yards down the road from her old lab. Lisa finished work in Physiology on Friday and is desperately sad to be leaving such a great bunch of work mates. We all went out to lunch together on Friday, at the Eraina Taverna in Free School Lane where Lisa was presented with a farewell card and gifts from her erstwhile co-workers.

More farewells that evening at our regular Friday night pub session with the nucleus of what is no longer "Lisa's lab", though I imagine Lisa and I will still show up to keep in touch. Friday was Mei Hua's birthday and (although she'd tried to keep it quiet) we ambushed her with a special ice-cream dessert in the pub. Saturday was business as usual around the house, plus a trip to the vet for Thomas and Sofia for their six-monthly anti-flea injections.

On Sunday we were due to visit the art exhibition at Gravelly Barn to reprise last year's trip but poor weather prospects and a lack of cycling miles in our legs kept us home and we ventured out only as far as the river for a few hours gentle stroll and for Lisa to take some photographs of the wildlife to be found in that vicinity (including yours truly!).

And so to Tuesday, and an early start to get Lisa to Pharmacology to begin her new job on time. It was a huge wrench for her to find her self in unfamiliar surroundings but early indications are that it's a good place to work and there's every chance Lisa will settle down there at least as well as she did in Physiology.

22 August, 2007

Lousy weather & great company

We enjoyed our first camping weekend in Willingham so much that we re-booked before we left the camp site to return for the weekend just gone. We set off on Friday with high hopes of repeating the thoroughly pleasant experience of three weeks before. Leaving at 4pm we again rode via Coton, Madingley, Dry Drayton, Oakington, Longstanton and Willingham to Roseberry Tourist Park 1.5 miles out on the Earith Road, arriving at around 6.30pm having covered 16.7 miles in 1:35:42. The weather was cloudy and quite breezy all the way. Our welcome was again very friendly and we quickly pitched the bug and our stand-alone porch. Dinner was grilled lamb kofta patties (which Lisa cooked at home that morning) and basmati rice with shitake mushrooms, peas & mangetous (left over from Thursday night's dinner). We listened to the evening's Prom on the radio during and after dinner. Retreated to the bug and played some dice cricket, Steve finally got Lisa all out for 361 and reached 48 for 1 after 10 overs. And so to bed.

On Saturday we slept late. There had been quite a lot of rain during the night but it was not too wet when we surfaced around nine. I journalled for a while then made coffee in blustery winds under grey skies. Lisa prepared grits for breakfast (on the Trangia) which we ate with eggs fried on the Coleman. Around noon we rode into Willingham to get some food and the Guardian. As the weather was unsettled, we rode straight back to the shelter of the bug and clocked up just 3.15 miles in 18:57. After a lunch of cheese and ham sandwiches, we spent a rainy and windy afternoon in the bug reading the paper. Lisa made us some popcorn at some point. At dinner time we braved the elements to cook some stir-fried beef and vegetables and some basmati rice with mushrooms and spring onions. In spite of the cooking conditions, both huddled under the stand-alone porch at our respective stoves, the food came out well and we enjoyed a very tasty dinner. As night fell and the rain continued, we returned to the bug and listened to some music (Jacques Loussier's Play Bach) while Lisa read her book (Bill Buford's "Heat") and I journaled. When the iPod's battery ran out we set the alarm for 8.00am, turned out the lights and settled down for the night with the rain drumming on the tent.

It was not raining when we awoke but cool and very cloudy and it started to rain again while Lisa was on her weekly Sunday morning call to France. We partook of coffee and then ham & cheese sandwiches for breakfast. Eventually the rain eased of and we set to to break camp and head home after a thoroughly dull weekend. We left the camp site around 3.30pm and retraced our route out from Roseberry Tourist Park, via Willingham, Longstanton, Oakington, Dry Drayton, Madingley and Coton back to Cambridge. We were home by 5.30pm having covered 17.59 miles in 1:44:52 (an average speed of exactly 10.0 mph). Our cycling total for the trip was 37.41 miles ridden in 3:39:31.

We had Monday off work and dried out the bug and porch before stowing them away with the rest of the camping gear. Then we set to and prepared to receive two guests for dinner. This is Lisa's last week in her present job and Monday evening was our chance to say farewell to April, a veterinary student from Korea who's been working in Lisa's lab over the summer.

She came over in the early evening with our great friend (and frequent kitchen guest) Mei Hua and we made pizzas together using Lisa's home-made dough and tomato sauce. We prepared three different toppings: the one shown here featured three types of cheese and fresh basil from the garden, the other two pizzas were topped with goats cheese and red onion and pepperoni with anchovy. Before the pizzas we served a mozzarella and tomato salad and a selection of antipasti. The assembled company made short work of the food on offer and the conversation flowed in full flood well into the night.

13 August, 2007

Art and Sushi

Friday we again skipped off work in time to be on that 4:15pm Cambridge Cruiser train to London. This time our destination was more central as just five stops on the tube brought us to Piccadilly Circus where we surfaced and strolled along to the Royal Academy (of Art) to take a look at this year's Summer Exhibition. With the best part of a thousand exhibits this annual extravaganza is pretty much a case of Art Overload but great fun for all that. Apart from some amusing and witty video installations, the vast majority of my favourites were among the flood of paintings in the first few rooms. The obvious "star turn" of this year was the 50-canvas Hockney behemoth, Bigger Trees Near Water, that filled an entire wall but there was lots more to appreciate: too much to enumerate and, frankly, probably too much to remember properly, even with the help of the RA's illustrated "Best Of" guide.

Before heading for home, we wanted to eat and soon settled on sushi at a branch of the Yo! Sushi chain of "conveyor belt" sushi bars. This was the first time in several years that we'd had sushi in one of these places. When we lived in Harlow we were often to be found in the Moshi Moshi Sushi bar in Liverpool Street station which was my first introduction to the conveyor belt principle. It was fun to do it again and we piled the plates high as we tucked into a selection of favourites!

06 August, 2007

Barbecue triple whammy

I can't quite believe I have no photos from this weekend just gone. I guess there's no enforced correlation between the significance of events and the number of supporting images. Of course there's no reason on earth why there should be but in this case it's particularly a pity.

Friday we left work early and 4:15pm saw us seated on the Cambridge Cruiser non-stop service to London. Two hours later we were knocking on the door of a house in Eastcote on the north-west reaches of the Metropolitan line. We were excitedly greeted at the door by the reason for this trek into parts unknown: my pen-friend of thirty-three years, Louisa. Originally from Singapore and now settled in up-state New York, Louisa was making a visit to these shores with her family and generously invited us to dinner at her sister's house where they were all based.

You can't correspond with someone for over thirty years (even if contact has become sporadic, and mostly electronic, in recent years) without some kind of bond developing and Louisa and I have known each other much longer than either of us has known their respective spouse. I met Louisa in person a few times in the early eighties but this was the first time we'd seen each other in more than twenty years, it was my first chance to meet her husband and kids, and Lisa's first chance to meet any of them. Suffice to say we had a great time: they are all really cool folks.

Surrounded by the sister's eight West Highland White Terriers, we sat out in the extensive back garden and tucked into a seemingly never-ending flow of delicious food, much of it grilled by Louisa's husband on a brand new gas barbecue. All too soon it was time for us to make our exit and retrace our steps to Cambridge. We spent as long travelling as we did at the party but we both agreed it was more than well worth the effort.

Saturday, we were the barbecue hosts as Lisa's friend and sometime colleague, Sandro, paid us a visit. Among other talents, Sandro is a trained Reiki Healer and several years ago Lisa designed a web site for his Reiki work. Having not seen hime for some time, there was much to catch up on and the talk continued all afternoon and on into the evening. At some point it became apparent that the only sensible thing to do was to have dinner together and Lisa set to to work on the barbecue. So, for the second day running, we had grilled dinner al fresco with great company.

And so to yesterday evening, when, as guests of our friends (and my sometime colleagues) Kate & Makram, we completed the hat-trick. We cycled over to their place and were immediately plied with Makram's famously wonderful Hummus and other introductory delicacies while Makram cranked up the barbecue to start grilling kebabs. The food was tasty and authentically middle-eastern so Lisa frequently pumped Makram for details of how his culinary effects were achieved. There seems to be something about eating freshly grilled food in the open air that stimulates conversation and brings on a tremendous sense of well being and comradeship. Not until some time after sunset did we finally take our leave and ride home and head for bed ahead of another working week.

30 July, 2007

Weekend Getaway

We had a great weekend away, camping in a village called Willingham just sixteen miles by bike from home. We'd camped here before, seven years ago, when the campsite (Roseberry Tourist Park) was far less well developed than it is these days. Back then, we really did camp in a pear orchard but now the few remaining pear trees are more ornamental.

On Friday, we packed up all our camping gear and loaded up the Galaxies for the first time in almost two years. We left home at 3.30pm and after a little shopping in Cambridge (gas cannisters & bike light) rode via Coton, Madingley, Dry Drayton, Oakington, Longstanton and Willingham (where we shopped for food in the Co-Op) to the campsite 1.5 miles out on the Earith Road. We enjoyed pleasantly warm sun and a gentle breeze all the way and arrived at around 6.30pm having covered 18.79 miles in 1:54:51.

We were treated to a friendly welcome. The tent pitch cost £10.00 per night plus £2.00 extra to leave after noon on the last day. We found a spot and pitched the bug and our stand-alone porch then checked out the immaculate toilet and washing facilities. Dinner was Bachelor's beef flavoured rice to which Lisa added fried minced beef and a chopped up omelette. As the evening was getting cloudy and cooler, we retreated to the bug and played 21 overs of dice cricket, leaving Lisa on 123 for 3, while listening to some music on the radio. And so to sleep. During the night, we spent a while admiring the stars in the cloudless and very dark sky.

On Saturday, we woke to warm sunshine at 8.30am and I journaled for a while, while Lisa snoozed. We breakfasted on fried eggs and bread & butter with tea & coffee and listened to some of the morning's play in the test match (England v. India, second test at Trent Bridge, day two).

Then we got out on our bikes and rode a circular route around some of the local villages. From Willingham we rode to Rampton along a very badly surfaced road. We were intrigued by a thatched house at Rampton with thatch fox on the roof ridge. From Rampton to Longstanton along a near unrideable byway, now split in two by work on the execrable guided busway. We broke for a picnic lunch at Longstanton opposite All Saints' church.

We enjoyed much better roads from here on. From Longstanton to Swavesey and on to Over where we stopped for a while to watch a game of cricket being played on the village green. From Over we rode back to Willingham. After a little shopping in the Co-Op we returned to campsite. The day's trip totalled 15.88 miles, covered in 1:46:41 of riding.

After some downtime with newspaper and popcorn we started on dinner. Tonight's meal was spaghetti (actually Amoy "straight to wok'' thread noodles) with a home-cooked meat sauce we brought with us. Dinner over by 7.30pm we settled down in the bug with tonight's Prom concert on the radio. Finished the evening with some more dice cricket, leaving Lisa on 329 for 7 after 50 overs. And so to bed, with heavy rain falling throughout the night.

The rain cleared up early on Sunday morning and we breakfasted on egg fried rice and scrambled egg under clear skies. We made peanut butter sandwiches for the ride home then began packing up. Sooner than we expected, both Lisa and I had our bikes loaded and ready to go. Stopping at the office on the way out to book a pitch for our next long weekend (in August), we set off for home at 11am. We retraced our route out from Roseberry Tourist Park, via Willingham, Longstanton, Oakington, Dry Drayton, Madingley and Coton back to Cambridge. Back by 2pm (including a shopping stop on Mill Road). Covered 16.67 miles in 1:40:36.

Out total for the trip was 51.34 miles, ridden in 5:22:18.

23 July, 2007

Perfect Day Out

Yesterday we made our second trip to Lord's to see a Test Match, just a couple of months after our first visit. We made great efforts to be at the ground for the start of play this time, in spite of the trains being up the creek as usual on a Sunday. What trains there were out of Cambridge were packed with cyclists and their mounts because yesterday was also the date of the annual London-Cambridge cycle ride, something Lisa and I aim to do one of these years. We'd made up our sandwiches and boxes of salad the night before and were able to make a prompt start which, combined with knowing what we were doing, gave us a much less stressful journey.

We arrived with plenty of time to pass through the thorough but very friendly and polite security checks and do a bit of shopping in the Lord's Shop before settling into our seats well before play was due to start. England resumed their second innings on 77-2, 174 ahead, and we got to see the rest of the innings (including a big knock of 134 from Pietersen) which ended on 282 all out. Coming into bat after tea, chasing a score of 379 to win, we saw India get to 137-3 by the close. The cheer when Monty Panesar again claimed the wicket of Tendulkar was almost as loud as that for Pietersen's century!

Throughout the day, the weather was good, the atmosphere great and the cricket competitive. Just the perfect way to spend a summer's day. Lisa often likens going to the cricket as being like going to the beach for the day, in the sense that it's a full day relaxing in the open air with no intrusions from one's everyday routine. We hope to do more of this next year!

Enthusing with a colleague, from Dehli, at work today about how much we'd enjoyed the day I was delighted to learn that he'd been there too: ensconced among the Indian supporters directly across the ground from us. Of course we were each hoping for a different conclusion on today's final day but honour was shared as the match ended in a draw; yes, it's true, cricket really is a game where you can play for five days and still not get a result!

09 July, 2007

Le Tour comes to town

Whew! That was the tour that was! For the first time ever, this weekend, the UK hosted the start ("Grand Depart") of the Tour de France with team presentations on Friday and a 7.9km prologue in the streets of central London on Saturday followed by a 203km road stage from London down to Canterbury on Sunday. It's estimated that over a million spectators turned out in London for the start but there was no fairy tale home victory as neither Bradley Wiggins nor David Millar (both much touted prospects beforehand) made it onto the podium.

Sunday's stage was especially interesting to me as the day's race route passed right through the centre of my hometown of Rochester and even within less than a kilometre from the house in Strood where I was born and lived all my childhood. I was glued to the TV throughout the two stages and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the race running through such familiar surroundings and the massive turn out in Kent was great to see. Millar went on a long solo breakaway on stage one which was fun to watch but a crash near the finish meant that again the fancied Brit. (this time, Mark Cavendish) wasn't in contention for the stage win in Canterbury.

Of course I'll be following the race over the next three weeks, as I always do, but this was an extra special few days and I hope the huge (and overwhelmingly positive) media coverage will inspire lots of folks to take an interest in the sport and, more importantly, get out on bikes themselves.

04 June, 2007

Sampire & Ceramics

Friday, after our regular lunchtime visit to the fishmonger on the market, Lisa set to work to put together a very classy meal of tuna, salsa sampire and rice. The tuna steaks were marinated and then briefly char-grilled, the marsh sampire (also bought from the fishmonger) we blanched and tossed in butter and Lisa made a tomato and onion salsa. These elements were composed on the plate as you see, and served with a pot of basmati rice flavoured with fresh garden herbs and cooked in chicken stock. Quite a lot of work for a Friday evening but well worth it!

Saturday we were back on the art trail in Cambridge, this time visiting the small gallery at Kettle's Yard to see an exhibition of ceramics by Edward de Waal that had been featured in the national press. These were delightfully engaging and occasionally slyly humourous works each consisting of numerous ceramic objects (mostly plates, cups and bowls) arranged and placed in the various gallery spaces to wonderful effect. Far, far more rewarding than the disappointing Hodgkin paintings we saw last week. Even better, we learned that there were a few more de Waal pieces that had been installed in the Kettle's Yard House so we went next-door and spent an engrossing couple of hours there enjoying the house as a whole and the de Waal installations in particular. A very fine way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Today (Monday) Lisa had a pre-interview "informal chat" at one of the research centres in the University where she's applying for work. Yes, she's on the job-hunting trail again as her contract in her current post isn't going to be renewed due to funding difficulties. We met up briefly afterwards and, over a coffee, Lisa described a pretty intensive one-to-one grilling by the place that left her feeling shattered; and this is before the panel interview in a few weeks' time. Whew!

30 May, 2007

In our own backyard

Saturday we met up with Mei Hua and spent the afternoon in town with her. We started with lunch at Teri-Aki a Japanese sushi and noodle bar. Lisa was especially impressed with the sushi but it was a good thing we weren't in a hurry as the service was surprisingly slow. Mei Hua then gave us a guided tour round the grounds of her college, Magdelene, which has a series of secluded and peaceful gardens along the river.

Then it was off to the main objective of the afternoon: the Fitzwilliam Museum. It's such a cliche, but true, that neither Lisa nor I had set foot inside in spite of passing close by every single working day whereas we happily go to London or abroad to visit places of no greater distinction. What finally drew us in was an exhibition of paintings by Edward Hodgkin which looked and sounded very interesting from the publicity. We found the reality distinctly underwhelming: unusually, the paintings looked much better in photographs than they did in the flesh and none of us could find anything to respond to in the works. We decided that since we were in the museum, we should take in some of the permanent collection and spent quite a while looking mostly at paintings and drawings. There was plenty to enjoy there, including a strong representation of French impressionists. We left vowing to return and see some more.

21 May, 2007

Cricket at Lord's

We had a very full day out yesterday. Friends who were unable to use them had given us tickets to see the cricket match at Lord's, the "headquarters of cricket" in North London. The match was the First Test between England and the West Indies, yesterday was the Fourth Day (of five). Much as we both love the sport and keenly follow the major matches on the radio, neither of us had seen a Test Match before. The weather was kind to us, the atmosphere at the completely full ground was buzzing and we discovered our seats were in near perfect position to enjoy the action on the pitch.

The trains were less kind to us, with engineering works forcing us to take a bus from Stansted to Liverpool Street. One way and other we managed to miss the entire first two hours of play which was the only downside to an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable day. For most of the time we were watching, England were batting and building on their first-innings lead of 116. Kevin Pietersen top-scored with an impressive 109. Once they were 400 in front, England declared and we got to see a couple of overs in which the West Indies scored seven without loss.

Lisa took a ton of photos, of which the one shown is a typical example, and we enjoyed ourselves so much that we immediately resolved to repeat the exercise as soon as possible. As it happens, England are playing the First Test against India at Lord's in two months' time and there are still some tickets available for the Fourth Day (again a Sunday) so I put in our order straight away!

14 May, 2007

Celebrating 49

As I entered the last year of my forties, Lisa orchestrated a weekend of celebration meals. On Friday we enjoyed a very special dish of skate wing poached in court-bouillon and served with capers and black butter. This is a recipe from Rick Stein's Seafood book and is our favourite way to prepare skate wing. The longest part of the job is to make the court-bouillon but once that's ready the rest is quite quick and the taste is superb!

On Saturday I was treated to dinner out at Café Adriatic, a favourite restaurant of ours in nearby Mill Road. And on Sunday, the day itself, Lisa put together the intricate oriental dish shown here. I don't know what it should be called as Lisa dreamed it up herself. It's based around the thick Japanese Udon noodles that I love and serves these with just about everything that's good to eat with noodles: chicken, prawns, tofu, and more kinds of vegetables than I can keep track of. To bring it all together, there's a soup that's poured over the whole and the entire meal is thus served in a single bowl. Delicious!

23 April, 2007

Brilliant brill, bicycles and barbecue

Friday lunchtime we visited the local market to se what the fishmonger had to offer. Particularly attractive this week was a beautiful brill, not a fish we know well but, on this occasion, irresistible. We adapted a turbot recipe out of fish guru Rick Stein's Seafood book and braised the brill whole in white wine, adding a sauce of herbs and capers in melted butter once the fish was cooked. Served with asparagus (delicious local stuff, also from the market) and baby new potatoes it made a refined and delicate composition.

We got our leisure cycling off to an early start this year with a gentle ten-mile spin over a favourite local loop via Fulbourn, Teversham, and Cherry Hinton on Easter Sunday. Yesterday we went a step further and extended our route out over the Gog-Magog hills for a rather lumpier twelve mile ride. We enjoyed beautiful weather again, for the third weekend in a row; sunshine always makes life seem more joyful.

After the cycling it was time to get the barbecue fired up for dinner. We'd bought a baby chicken from the local halal butcher on Saturday and Lisa spatchcocked it then rubbed it with a mixture of oil, garlic, herbs and spices. We then set about preparing a batch of Lisa's wonderful coleslaw which was dispatched to the fridge. Once the coals were ready, the chicken was quickly cooked over the hottest part of the fire then brought inside to rest while Lisa cooked corn cobs and more asparagus (it's not at its best for long, so when it's at its peak we can't have too much of it!) on the cooling grill. All assembled it was quite a feast to see out the weekend in style.

And tomorrow the Easter Term begins: tea-break over, back on your heads!

16 April, 2007

Sunday at Ally Pally

We spent the weekend visiting our accountant friends Antony & Chris at Muswell Hill. On the Sunday afternoon we walked to nearby Alexandra Palace (familiarly known as "Ally Pally"). This impressive looking building is mostly used as an exhibition centre nowadays but Tony, sorry! ANtony, tells us there are plans to expand the usage.

At one end there is the famous BBC television mast that beams out TV to a wide surrounding area and from where, in 1936, the first public television broadcasts were made. Along one side there's an impressive colonnade and inside, under huge arched glass ceilings, there's even a palm tree growing!

Having admired the building, we spent a pleasant few hours enjoying the sunshine and admiring the views looking out over North London to the City centre skyline. Summer seems to have started nice and early this year!

28 March, 2007

Flying visit to the Med.

Back to work today having just got home yesterday from a week-long visit to Nice. No time to re-adjust, just "bang!" straight back in harness. We try to get to Nice each year to see Lisa's Uncle who lives on the Port. As usual, we flew out by EasyJet from Stansted and stayed at the "guests" apartment of Lisa's Uncles on Boulevard de Cessole. Each day we took the bus down to the centre of town to do our usual routine of shopping in the old town, walking on the promenade and visiting Lisa's Uncle for lunch. I didn't keep a detailed journal this time but the one I posted after the first of our two trips in 2004 gives a flavour of how we spend our time.

I also didn't take a whole lot of photos this time but, again, there are plenty online from 2004. The one day I did use my camera was on a day trip by bus from Nice to Menton, close to the Italian border. The highlight of our quick visit there was the museum of works by Jean Cocteau housed in a 17th century fort on the sea-front where Cocteau at one time worked. Wonderfully arranged and packed full of typically strong paintings, drawings, ceramics and more it's a concentrated feast of fascinating work. Lisa was more active with her camera, as can be seen here and here.

We normally expect to see plenty of the sun when we visit Nice, even in March (a time of year when we've often visited). This year we hardly saw the sun at all and, though it was certainly warmer than the UK, the cloudy skies did not give us the contrast with home we normally enjoy. That didn't undermine our pleasure in making the visit: we feel very at home in the city and are always assured of the good company of Lisa's Uncle. We'll be back!

12 February, 2007

How quickly they grow up!

It only seems like a few weeks ago that we first met Robbie. Actually, it was almost five months ago now and he's grown tremendously in that time. Although he'll still be a "kitten" for another six months, it's got to the point where we're ready to let him roam the great outdoors. Or nearly so: first the little chap has to take a trip to the vet to get his shots updated, get a microchip implanted and have a little snip done. Then it'll be time to get him trained on the use of the cat-flap and reassure ourselves that he'll come home of his own accord. And all this has to be settled before we head off to Nice next month: we'll be leaving the kitties at home while we're away and they'll be looked after by a friend who'll call in once a day so they'll be on their own recognisance as far as comings and goings are concerned.

A little while ago was the ninth anniversary of Thomas joining us. He was four when we rescued him from the shelter, so he'll be 14 (in May) this year. That hardly seems possible either: on the one hand it feels like he's been around forever, on the other he doesn't strike us as being a senior citizen. I read somewhere that 14 for a cat is something like 70 for us, so he's not doing so badly. Madam Sofia, the third of the menagerie, turned five a week after that and a right grown up little Miss she is too! Sophie joined us when she was about the same age Robbie is now: funny how these things work out.

On the food front we've been enjoying more authentic Chinese home cooking chez-nous thanks to our policy of setting guests to work in the kitchen when they come for dinner. My colleague Emma (Wu Lejun) was here last weekend cooking duck and dumplings and this weekend we again welcomed Mei Hua who constructed the complex but undeniably delicious dish shown in the photo.

05 February, 2007

Blogging all over the world

Just a quick note to say that I created two additional blogs this evening, to run alongside this one. I did consider mixing them all in together but decided their style and subject matter wouldn't sit comfortably alongside these more general ramblings.

First up, I've debuted a blog recording my thoughts on books I've been reading, this is called Nightwol's Books. It continues the similar notes I used to record on the Books Pages of Nightwol's Perch. I'm hoping the blog format will make it easier to add new entries as and when I finish reading each book.

The other new blog will record the fortunes of the Fantasy Cycling Teams Lisa and I have selected for the forthcoming European road racing season. Again this is an offshoot of something I've been keeping track of for some years on dedicated pages of Nightwol's Perch. Last year I maintained a season-long blog of our results using Apple's iWeb component of their iLife suite but that software became desperately unwieldy to use for a blog with over two hundred entries so I won't be using that anymore, big fan of Apple though I be!

29 January, 2007

Burns Night Dinner

Now, I'm English (from the far south-east of the country too) and Lisa's a black American so why celebrate Burns Night? After all, what's Burns to us or we to Burns (to mangle Shakespeare)? Hard to say really. Certainly I have fond memories of Burns night celebrations with Scots friends when I was in my twenties and Lisa acquired a taste for haggis and whisky on our honeymoon in Edinburgh. Whatever the source of our enthusiasm, we've made it our custom to dine traditionally on 25th January each year.

This year we enjoyed the best haggis either of us can remember! Brought down from Edinburgh by Lisa's colleague Harry, it had a wonderfully rich flavour and delightful texture. We made our champit tatties (mashed potatoes) and bashed neeps (for which we use swede, which we like to cut with carrot for colour and flavour) but we passed on the bagpipes. Nonetheles, the cooked haggis was brought ceremoniously to the table by the chef and yours truly gave it the traditional address. The Selkirk Grace was said and we tucked in with great gusto. The pungeant haggis is perfectly complemented by the milder tasting vegeatbles and, of course, all is accompanied by many a "wee dram"!

22 January, 2007

Mei Hua cooks duck

Lisa's work colleague, Mei Hua, came over on Saturday to cook a duck (Chinese style) with us. I say "with us" but in truth Mei Hua ran the show and Lisa and I were her more than willing sous-chefs. To begin with much attention was lavished on the duck itself then, while the duck was roasting, Mei Hua concocted a delicious accompanying dish of mackerel on a bed of sliced vegetables topped with sliced omelette. Not content with that, she whipped up a truly home-style Chinese soup as a starter and then tossed off a dozen pancakes in which to wrap the main course. Stunning food that was matched by the fun and laughter that filled the kitchen all evening long. We can't wait to do it again!

08 January, 2007

Entertaining Joyce

Lisa's great friend, Joyce, came over from New York on a visit to spend New Year with us. She did the same last year, so we must be doing something right as hosts!

Lisa has written up the New Year's Eve dinner in A Cook's Journal but that was far from the only culinary highlight of the visit. The Genoese minestrone in the photo was prepared by yours truly as a relatively easy-to-eat dinner the day before for Joyce's first (and consequently jet-lagged) evening here. A huge pot of vegetables is gently cooked down to an intensely flavoured soup, laced with pesto and topped with lashings of parmesan cheese.

On New Year's day we worked up an appetite with a stroll across nearby Coldham's Common and then went to work to prepare Jamie's "Incredible baked Lamb shanks", yet another stunningly successful dish from "Cook with Jamie". As Lisa and I were back at work the following day, Joyce turned the tables on us and treated us to dinner out on her. At our suggestion she took us to the Wok & Grill in Trumpington: a pan-East Asian restaurant that
features a deliciously tasty buffet together with a chance to have your own choice of ingredients and sauce stir-fried in front of you by one of the restaurant's chefs. Great fun and hugely popular.