November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day 2010: Great-Uncle Alistair

We were lucky enough to spend some time with Keith's great-uncle Alistair recently. We pressed him for stories of what he did during World War Two and he was very generous to us, answering our endless questions directly and giving us a real understanding of what it must have been like to be young and swept off into a world gone quite mad.

Alistair very kindly scanned and sent us some photos taken during his years in the Armed Services. We have included his own explanatory text, which says it all far better than we could.

Great-uncle Alistair, with his niece Morag and great-niece by marriage, Aya.
October, 2010

It is still hard to grasp the immense magnitude of the war, and the innumerable lives that it affected. Our modern world is the direct result of those years, and yet where is our sense of connection to those events? Aya's and Keith's grandparents were literally each others' "Enemy" but only two generations later this Canadian boy and Japanese girl got married with only the warmest welcomes from both families.

This pic is In Takoradi, West Africa also historically known as the Gold Coast, and now Ghana. Date was early 1942.

Each family has its own stories of how they were affected: Aya's father remembers running from American fighter planes that strafed his town with gunfire, and he saw the mushroom cloud rise over Nagasaki; Keith's grandfather Barry was a leader in the Local Defense Force in neutral Dublin and his grandfather Wem was a Major stationed in Singapore, India and Kenya, managing supply lines.

This is Palestine 1947 with friend Jack on the right, at RAF Station Aquir.  For 10 months of the year Palestine weather is exceedingly hot, and tropical kit is worn. November and December however have a UK type of chilly and cold weather which is why we're wearing UK dress.
We found this little waif and stray puppy dog nearly starving to death, on the road from Jerusalem.We fed him well and christened him Bruce - he stuck to us like glue and became a great companion. His tail had not been docked as is usual for new-born pups, and quite soon it had grown just short of 2ft, and if he got into too long spells of happy tail wagging, his tail swing momentum would roll him over!

Grandfather Wem's youngest brother, Keith's great-uncle Alistair, spent a total of 14 years in the Armed Services. Home in Scotland on a two-week leave, he managed to track down his grade-school sweetheart, Margaret. They were married and had two children and seven grand-children.

After the handover of Palestine to the Jewish settlers in 1947, British forces moved back to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, minus dear Bruce who had to be left behind. This pic was taken in Ismailia, Egypt aro September 1947 - still had another year to serve before returning to UK, and when I did, within a month I was in Germany on the Berlin Air Lift. No rest for the wicked, my old grandmother used to say.

We see these photos of a young man, doing what he was compelled to do and making of it what he could, and we ask ourselves which fourteen-year stretch of our lives could we imagine giving up to such toil and turmoil. It is a completely foreign concept to us, but only because it was reality for great-uncle Alistair, and so many men and women of that generation.

Thank you, Alistair.

Outside my tent (sandbags in background) at Gabel Hamzi, Egypt, 40kms. west of Cairo. Bit of a khamsin (hot sand and fly-laden wind) blowing.

Looks like I needed a barber.

November 9, 2010

Turkish Coffee Grinder

Many years ago, Aya bought a brass coffee grinder in Istanbul. She only used it once and we have had it on the shelf for ages. After reading more about how important it is to have a proper grind for a good cup of coffee, we decided to give the thing a try.

In a nutshell, a consistent grind means the hot water acts on each grain more or less equally, drawing out ("extracting") just enough of the good stuff.
A consistent grind helps achieve a consistent extraction.

Our whirling-blade grinder gives a very inconsistent grind. Sometimes there are large bits, even whole beans, remaining while some grounds are too fine. We have also read that the blades can overheat the grounds, giving a burnt flavour.

The Turkish grinder is a beautiful thing; good heft and a lovely, warm colour.

Beans in the top.

Cap and handle on; first grind.

The first test was far too fine, since the grinder is naturally meant for Turkish coffee. These grounds may look big, but are actually clumps of extremely fine coffee powder. This would jam up our little stove-top pot.

There is a big nut at the bottom, so we gave this a turn and tried again.

Second grind.

After a few tests, turning the nut back and forth, we got a nice fineness.
The grind is very, very consistent.

The grounds are packed in and gently tamped down. If tamped down too hard, the grounds will expand as they get wet, jamming the flow of hot water and activating the pressure valve.

Screw on the top.

Onto the fire.

Mmm, coffeecoffeccoffeecoffeecoffeecoffee.

Foam from a jar of hot milk which has been shaken energetically.
More on this in another post some day.

A thing of beauty.

We have tasted this coffee a few times already, but this time it was very different. The flavour was deeper, richer and had a cocoa-like finish that carried on for a startlingly long time. There was no bitterness at the end of a sip. We wouldn't have guessed it was made from the same beans.

Pursuing the variables that go into making a good cup of coffee can be taken way too far. See, for example, some of the contributors to this very informative site. Having a proper grinder, however, now seems a necessity.

November 7, 2010

Never Do This

When Tim Horton's Donuts moved into a building at Main and Broadway, we weren't very happy. There is a feeling to the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood and it comes from the creative minds behind the independent businesses that have made it an interesting and vibrant place to live and visit. It doesn't come from franchise operations. But they are here to stay, and full of high-school kids every lunch hour. Well, at least it's a Canadian company.

Taking advantage of their deep fat fryers, we tried a salt/sweet flavour combination experiment that we are almost ashamed to post here; bacon sandwiches. On donuts. Seriously.

We fried up some extra-crispy bacon and stuffed it into warm donuts; sour cream glazed, toffee glazed, and French crullers. We had lovely scrambled eggs with cheese and spinach, and coffee (our own, not from TH), too, but they didn't completely undo the evil.

Don't do this.

How was it? Very good, but way too sweet. Sorry, TH, we won't be regulars.

All Souls Night at Mountain View Cemetery

What to do on Hallowe'en when you're an adult? You could do worse than to wander through Mountain View Cemetery, where there are little tents with musicians, torch-like burning logs, and lots and lots of candles and lanterns.

A gentle, misty rain was falling and there was a wandering choir providing an gentle, contemplative ambiance.

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2010

Aya planned and we prepared a full-course Thanksgiving dinner for eight, a week after the official date.
The menu. It is supposed to be "smoked pork jowl", not "smored", obviously.

Stuffing the oregano pesto down inside the turkey, between the skin and meat.

Injecting stock into the meat.

While there are no good photos of the roast bird on the table,
the meat was full of flavour and juicy.
The pesto saturated the whole thing with aromatic intensity.
A selection of some of the appetizers.
  • Sautéed Pork With Apple
  • Octopus Tentacles
  • Chèvre And Dried Persimmon Spring Rolls
  • Smoked Pork Jowls
  • Egg Nog Pudding Spice Cake With Cranberries
  • Pear Tart In Roast Nut Pastry With Chocolate
  • Missing, Presumed Devoured: Pumpkin Cream Roll Cake
The wines, many of which came from our generous guests, included:

November 2, 2010

Duck Dinner

With Keith's father in town a few weeks ago, we decided to sautée some duck from the always-excellent Windsor Packing Co. on Main Street.

Creamy green pea soup with fried Parmesan cheese biscuit.

Whole wheat pasta with blue cheese and walnuts.

 Slow-cooked giambotta.

Breast and thick legs of duck, getting some salt and pepper before cooking.

Duck leaks so much fat that it very soon becomes like deep-frying.

Cherry clafoutis.

What did we drink? Hmm... We'll try to figure that out and add it later. But we finished with Islay whisky, of course.

Trip To New York #2: Fantastic Food

We were able to keep our heads long enough to grab some photos of our meals, but most were so delicious that they were demolished before the camera came out.

A fantastic breakfast at Bread Alone in Rhinebeck, NY. From their menu: "Country Scramble Three eggs scrambled with baked ham, Old Chatham camembert, scallions, grilled tomatoes and organic French Sourdough toast."
"Huevos Benedicto: two poached eggs with saffron hollandaise and merguez sausage on a corn muffin, with plantain mash."
It's hard to overstate the deliciousness of the sweet corn muffin with the spicy merguez.

Massive chicken wings with blue cheese dressing, pulled pork, and a half-rack of ribs, all cooked to perfection and drenched in barbecue sauce at Max's Memphis BBQ just north of Rhinebeck, NY.

A New York Strip steak (but in New York they just call them Strips) grilled rare with sautéed spinach, and a plate of fresh gnocchi under arugula at the beautiful Park restaurant in New York City.

These meals were shared with family from far and wide, but the warmth of the company and the wonderful conversation is best left un-blogged, we think.
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