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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Rustic Lemon Coconut Pie

Some have asked about my cooking process. Short answer:  eclectic at best. And rustic.  Rustic covers so many short cuts. The godsend for a sloppy cook.

Here are the lyrics and the melody from my Saturday afternoon pie making:

1. Suddenly decided I wanted to make a pie.
2.  What kind of pie filling do I have?  Ah, lemon and cherry.
3.  Lemon sounds good, but I need to doctor it a bit.....hummmmmm.... 8 oz.cream cheese?  And I can add some grated lemon rind for freshness.....and I think I'll toss in some sweetened coconut flakes.....feeling a bit tropical today.  Sun is out.  Add a half-cup of sugar.
4.  Many recipes call for a couple of eggs.....ok, no problem.
5.  Wait a sec!  I need to make a pie crust.  Ok, I can do that, but no way I'm going to let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour.
6.  Easy pie crust in the food processor:  2.5 Cups flour, 1 stick chilled butter, 8 oz of Crisco, 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Think I'll add a couple of Tablespoons of sugar. 3-4 drops cold water.
7.  Hit the button.  Done!  Roll it out.  Put it in my oversized pie plate.  Make room and slide it in the frig while I make the filling.  
8.  Using the same food processor, but rinsed and dried.
9.  Bam!  Pour the filling in the pie. Paint the crust with some egg yolk and slap it in the preheated 350ºF oven for 35 minutes.

Out it comes, but too hot to cut…..well dang!  My mouth was already aquiver.  Ah, well, cooked pie goes back in the frig…I can wait, I think.

Wine is open.  That’ll help with the waiting…Should have had a yen for cookies…woulda been quicker….eat ‘em straight from the oven.  Don’t even need a plate.  How long has that pie been in the frig???

Friday, March 29, 2019

Four Great English Pubs

Blackfriars Pub

Four Great English Pubs

I’ve often written about one of the great English institutions, the pub.  Few towns don’t have one and the cities are clustered with them.

Those unacquainted with the institution will immediately comment:  a pub is just another name for a bar.  Oh, how wrong you are!   Something you must do immediately is buy a plane ticket to London.  But, first read a few of my scribblings and acquaint yourself with what you’ve been missing.  After that, the necessity for a London trip will flash in bold print at the top of your mental list of things to do before you’re too old to drink.
London Pubs:

Oxford Pubs:

That’s enough to give you a glimpse of what’s to come.  Now for a couple of misconceptions I need to clear up. FIRSTLY, a pub is not a bar, it’s a place of comfort for social gatherings and a social leveler.  Men in suits and men in scruff of paint splattered pullovers and scuffed boots sit side by side to calmly sip a pint. Ladies of a certain age, dressed to the nines, may be at one table, while young things with tattoos and piercings may be at the table beside them. In a society known for levels of social order, the pub offers freedom in its clearest form.

As I saw on a sign in one pub:  Beer isn’t a matter of life and death.  It’s far more important than that!

A pub has a certain homey feeling, as though you’re sharing drinks and telling lies in a private club that anyone can join.

Now, about the beer:  I prefer the hand pulled variety, straight from the cask.  For my taste buds, it’s smoother and more flavorful.  British beers are neither flat, nor warm.  Casks are stored in the cellar, where it is always between 50 and 60 degree Fahrenheit, and when the beer is brewed, a natural fermentation and carbonation occurs, giving the beer a very light head when served.  Not the very fizzy carbonation of most German and American beers.  Brit beers go down smoothly, with an abundance of flavor.  Alcohol content is roughly 3.5 to 5.5%.

Now that we’ve gotten the preliminaries squared away, allow me to introduce you to four wonderful pubs: In London, BlackfriarsThe George, and The Footman.  In St. Alban’s,Ye Olde Fighting Cocks.

Blackfriars: One of London’s oldest pubs and certainly its interior is the most striking, with a profusion of marble, tiles, and large bronze bas-reliefs of monks doing their chores.  In short, from history and interior, it’s unique.

By the way, another misconception, this one in the English language, is that unique can be modified, as in very unique, or most unique.  Au contraire, mon ami, unique cannot be modified for the simple reason that it means one of a kind.  If something is one of a kind, it cannot be the most one of a kind.  There are other words like this, but let’s get back to Blackfriars.

Although it dates only from 1875, it was built on the grounds of a former Dominican friary (Dominican monks wear black cloaks).  Above the bar,  the monks are fishing and the accompanying saying is: Tomorrow will be Friday. At the entrance to the grotto, there’s another relief titled:  Saturday afternoon, with a portrayal of monks gardening. Dominicans are also called The Order of Preachers and the order dates to 1213.

Some other pithy saying accompanying other monks on other walls:  Don’t advertise, tell a gossip, with monks doing wash.   A good thing is soon snatched up, depicting monks carrying a trussed pig.  Another pithy saying is:  Haste is slow.
Now you know more than most of the patrons, so settle in, let the atmosphere penetrate and enjoy a pint….make that two.

The George: Be careful, there’s more than one The George, but the one you seek is London’s last surviving galleried coaching inn, in Southwark, near Boroughs Market. First mentioned in 1543 and rebuilt after the fire of 1677, it was also known as an inn-yard theatre, where Elizabethan theatrical productions were performed.  Not known if Shakespeare performed here, but we do know Charles Dickens stopped in for a coffee on several occasions, and included it in one of his novels, Little Dorrit.

Do grab a copy of a Charles Dickens novel and settle in for an afternoon of soaking in the atmosphere….or getting soaked in this atmosphere.  See, that’s another thing about an English pub.  You can grab yourself a pint and fritter away the time in dreams of greatness, for as long as you want.  Read.  Write. Draw. Let your imagination rip!

The ground floor is divided into three parts. The Parliament Bar was a waiting room for coach passengers, and the Middle Bar was a coffee room.  Upstairs is a restaurant.  Only half the Inn remains.  The gallery that faced the remaining part of the building was torn down to make room for a railroad warehouse. 

We went to Boroughs Market right before we ambled to The George.  We may have even stopped at another pub. Could have happened. 

You dare not miss the Boroughs Market.  It’s a stroll and eat affair.  Fresh oysters, salted beef sandwiches, best salted caramel ice cream I’ve ever lapped from a cone, and a huge variety of ethic food stands.  But, at the end of it, a man must have his pint! 

The Footman: Located in the Mayfair, in one of the most upscale areas in London, The Footman has a long history, dating to 1749 and has thrived under a long list of names to include The Running Horse, The Running Footman, and I Am the Last Running Footman, by which it was known when I first visited in the 1980s. So, what is or was a running footman? Those of the English wealthy class had any number of servants and lived in fine mansions and were driven places in luxurious carriages.  A running footman’s job was to run ahead of the coach, to pay tolls, and clear the way, which in old London was essential.  To tell the truth, new London is worse.  Traffic has only increased, now that even the drinking class has a horseless carriage.  Come to think of it, there are probably as many chauffeurs now as there were running footmen back then.

It was quiet when we visited; in fact, we got our pints, chatted with the friendly barkeeper, and pretty much had time to sit at the window facing the street and slosh beer as we watched a parade of Rolls Royces and Bentleys and a few Ferraris arrogantly drive by. Porches didn’t merit a second glance.  They really didn’t belong here.

Which brings us to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, in St Albans, about 20 minutes by train from Paddington Station.  Why go there?  First off, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is reputed to be the oldest pub in England.  I say ‘reputed’ because several pubs make that claim.

Reputed is a strange word. Does it come in a singular form. If the pub was reputed to be the oldest, did someone repute it? Anyway, this one’s only solid date is 1756.  But oldest or not, it’s well worth a visit. And, if you’re tall, prepare to duck and weave.  The old blackened beams overhead are a threat to anyone over six feet.  Also, it’s a country pub, which is a wonderful difference from spending the day dashing through the streets of London, dodging cars and cabs as you try to remember whether to look left or right when crossing.  If it had been a sunny day and a mite warmer, we would have parked ourselves outside.

We also made the pub a lunch stop and the food was excellent.  Not quite totally English, but my taste buds came from a family of serfs, and they begged for a burger and fries.  I tried to resist, but now that the taste buds were free, they did what they wanted.

St Albans

Much more to see in St Albans.  I found an antique shop and bought a lovely 19thCentury, cut glass pitcher for $20.  Try and do that in London.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, St Alban’s has an open market.  And near Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is a huge park, which was once the site of the third largest Roman city in Britain.  Many of the old walls remain.  As you tour Europe, you quickly see why the history books refer to The Roman Empire and damn well mean it!

The park and site of the Roman city

Are you getting an inkling of why I like pubs so much?  Fabulous beer, yes, but also history and literature and markets and adventure. Pubs bring life to life!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Three London Bars

Three London Bars

Recently, I went to London with three companions.  To be more precise, I went to London with three guys who enjoy a good glass or two of booze.  To be even more honest, I share their interests, as well as an abiding love of the London theatre.  If I want to shop or view a few canvases at any of the outstanding London museums, or perchance to stumble on a fabulous London bookstore, there sure as hell better be a nearby pub for these guys to water their horses.  Their interest in books is a dark void and if you keep them in the dark too long, they get testy.  Museums are to be tolerated only if I’m buying the next two rounds.

Two rounds in London can ruin your purse.  Pints of beer run about $6, but if you go where we go for late night exquisitry (don’t waste your time on a Google search, I made that word up, but what the hell, so did Shakespeare.   Time for your spritely comeback, yes?  “Stroud, you’re no Shakespeare!”  You’re correct.  I don’t write plays.  I also don’t wear tight stockings, or use 16thCentury words.  BUT, I do make up a few words of my own.

Speaking of Shakespeare, why did he write with a pen instead of a pencil?  Because he couldn’t decide to use 2B or not 2B.

But, it’s time to cut the gab and get back to some hard currency drinking.

I had a Manhattan at the following celebrated drinking establishments:
The Bar at the Connaught Hotel
Duke’s Bar at Dukes Hotel
45 Jermyn Street (pronounced German Street)

Yes, these dealerships were in the same part of London as the upscale bars.

By the way, in many London upper crust watering holes, be sure to dress well, and as a minimum, for men, proper shoes, proper slacks, and a sports coat. 

Connaught Bar

Numerous accolades, most recently ‘Best Bar in the World,” an award the bar has won a number of time. The décor is extraordinary, and set in a world-renowned hotel.  The bar was crowded the night we wandered in, and no doubt celebrities were randomly strewn in groups here and there, but who can notice when standing back to back at the bar, and when you’re led to your drinking nook, there’s a good deal of privacy. 

The barmen were friendly and efficient. We ordered a mojito, a dirty martini, and two Perfect Manhattans. By the way, PERFECT is not a comment on the quality of the libation, but the name of the drink.  I’ll give you recipes further down the blog.

This is a blog about Manhattans, so I won’t vouch for either the martini or the mojito, but I heard no complains from my friends.  My Manhattan was very very good.  A strong, sipping drink, with just a twinge of sweetness.  Total cost for four drinks:  $145, tip not included.

On to Duke’s Bar

It may interest you to know that Duke’s Bar is where James Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming went to quench his thirst.  And, Duke’s bar is the place to go for a Vesper Martini.  At a bit over $27 per martini, you may want to write several best sellers before you go.   Also interesting is Duke’s martinis are neither stirred nor shaken.  I wrote earlier about Duke’s, so I’ll give you a link and move on to Manhattans.

The chief barman is Salvatore Calabrese, an Italian, well known as the best barman in London, and a celebrity in his own right.  Yes, Duke’s has won ‘Best Bar’ also!

Our Manhattans were smooth and very sippish.   No criticisms noted by any in our drinking party and I noticed none of the other customers smashing glasses or grabbing waiters by the lapels.

Finally, we get to 45 Jermyn Street.

Unlike the other two, which had the feel of ladies and gentlemen’s clubs, 45 Jermyn Street is a bit more relaxed, the place you’d go after an invigorating haircut and beard shaping at Trufitt & Hill, the world’s oldest barbershop, located in nearby St James.  

Perhaps, a few of the 45 Jermyn Street customers just had a flock of shirts made by famous ‘bespoke’ shirt maker, Turnbull & Asser (also on Jermyn Street).

Mustafa and the Perfect Manhattan

We sat at the bar, mainly because I like it there and I also like to chat with the bartenders.  Ours was Mustafa, a Turk raised in London.

It’s worthy of note (or I wouldn’t note it!) that London is not just a melting pot, but a crossroads of east and west, north and south.  Walk down any London street and you’ll hear the nearly silent whispers of Japanese, the raucous sounds of Italian and Spanish, or languages I’ve never heard before, imported from across Europe, Africa and the middle east.  What a delight!

I’ve had my hair cut by a man from Cyprus, but just as Londonish in speech and manner as anyone London born.  Italians run many of the posh bars, including the one I mentioned, Duke’s bar.

Mustafa is the same.  I asked where he was from, but not because of accent or outward appearance.  Oh,no. Mustafa is a London gentleman, pure and simple.  

And now we come to Manhattans at 45 Jermyn Street, of which I have written before.

Mustafa made the best Perfect Manhattan of the lot.  I’ve tried to copy it at home and came close, but not quite point on.  Barely sweet, but strong and most of all delicious! Sometimes a drink, like an exquisite meal, lingers in memory. Mustafa’s Perfect Manhattan is like that.  For my taste buds, it’s heaven in a goblet.

Best of all, Mustafa gave me his recipes for three types of Manhattans:  Sweet Manhattan, Perfect Manhattan, and Dry Manhattan.  I have to add, he used Four Roses as the base liquor.

See what gifts I’ve given you?  A tour of some spectacular drinking establishments and a recipe for an evening of heaven in a glass!

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Monday, March 11, 2019

Brussels in the Budding Springtime

Brussels in the Budding Springtime

This was only an overnight visit with friends, but fabulous enough to make me yearn to go back.

Getting there:  German autobahns are not always what you’d expect. The Germans keep their roads in near perfect shape, but that means constant roadwork, which often adds time to a trip. “You can go as fast as you want,” is the common misconception.  Yes and no, is the reality.  On our way to Brussels, we’d go fast for a spell, then have our speed gradually stepped down from “Blur the Countryside Lamborghini Style” to 60 mph, to 50 mph, to 35 mph, and sometimes to 25 mph.  And if there’s an accident, may mercy guide you and I hope you packed a lunch.

Trucks are restricted to 60 mph, but on our way, that didn’t stop two eighteen wheelers from flipping to their sides and straddling a few lanes.  Police and fire trucks held a convention, fortunately on the opposing lanes. 

Our trip to Brussels lengthened from three and a half hours to four and a half.  We arrived in the city to face Friday’s rush hour traffic, hampered by unruly bicycle lanes and plagued by an impossible number of non-coordinated traffic lights.  It’s not that Brussels’ drivers are bad drivers, but that the roads and oddly timed traffic signals promote a suicidal determination to get home or die trying. Capturing the right of way on city thoroughfares requires nerves of steel and obedience to one rule:  Don’t make eye contact.

Tired, but satisfied, we finished the journey.  Fortunately, the friends we were visiting have spots in a parking garage, a gift so rare as to bring tears of joy, kisses on both cheeks, and promises to the almighty to never sin again.

Those are the inconveniences. And now for the wonders of a city I refer to as the Small Paris.  The streets are perfect for walking and walk we did.  As you may know, Brussels is famous for two things:  Beer and Chocolate.  Every other store offers one or the other.  And no matter which beer or chocolate you choose, rest assured it will be a bit pricy and unbelievably delicious.

Cobblestone streets are common in the shopping and drinking and chocolate areas of the city. But, that doesn’t prevent the curvaceous, lavishly attired Belgian ladies from strutting the cobblestones in high heels.  This must take practice, but no more than riding a unicycle, while juggling silk scarves.  Men, too are rather well dressed, but lack the unicycle skills.

On to the outdoor antiques market, with stall after tented stall of every rarity imaginable.   Full sets of silver, the finest crystal goblets, luxurious fur coats, ornate walking sticks, and art of every description. Oddly enough, my companion found three sets of clip earrings at a price much lower than she would pay in a departments store, and also more beautiful, and at no extra charge, she can wear them remembering the romance of having earrings from an antiques market in Brussels. 

We visited a very special chocolate store in Les Galaries Royales Saint-Hubert. This mall rivals London’s Burlington Arcadein elegance and price, although Burlington ArcadepredatesLes Galaries Royalese Saint-Hubert, 1819 vs 1846.

 Mary’s Chocolatesis somewhere in the middle of this justly famous, enclosed shopping street. Les Galariesis home to every pricy brand, including half a dozen chocolate stores, some wonderful cafes, antique stores of the first order, bookstores, furniture stores offering wonderful designs, glove stores, jewelry stores, and so much more.

But, even in this royally priced area, Mary’s Chocolatesstands out. Prices are listed in ounces of gold……only kidding, but I walked out with a small bag full of chocolate and with my Visa Card melting in my hand, not in my mouth.  This is chocolate to savor and remember and drop to your knees to thank the heavenly father for.  The original Mary opened her store almost exactly one hundred years ago, in 1919.

The shop ladies are extraordinarily helpful and speak every language in Europe and the Far East. They also pass out samples that allowed us to taste almost everything in the small, brightly lit shop.

The range of confections is boundless and runs from the familiar truffles and filled chocolates, to real egg shells filled with soft chocolate, tall and slender confectionary roses.  The rose flavored white chocolate truffles are heavenly.  Mary’s confections are not just different, but sensationally delicious. Yes, we sampled the candies and drank large paper cups of rich hot chocolate.  We left the shop poorer, but richer (pun intended) for the experience, and with a fierce determination to return.

Ok, we’d finished with chocolates, so it was time to trot across the road from Les Galaries, for a visit to my favorite Brussels beer hall, La Mort Subite, the name meaning sudden death, is named after a card game.  I’ve written extensively about La Mort Subite, so I will give you a link and right now you’ll have to settle for newly taken photos.

Your immediate question may well be:  What about the food???  You damn well better mention the food!!!!

Ok, I will, but sadly, I did not bring my camera to table.  The bistro where we ate was in the old city, on a cobblestone walking street and carries a succinct name:  C’est Bon C’est Belge!  (It’s Good, It’s Belgian), featuring Belgian specialties, such as chicken in a rich cream sauce, and beef stew cooked in dark beer. 

We’re led to a table, then order beers and talk awhile.  There is no rush.  We’re brought a tin tub of dark, grainy bread and a deliciously creamy butter.

The delicious aroma gets to the table before the main course.  My stewed beef is in a sauce as dark as chocolate, but with a perfect melding of herbs and beer and beef.  Magnifique!

Meal over and it’s back to the streets for a long walk home.  Orange streetlights guide our way past massive stone building, a palace and the palace garden.  A pleasant ending to a most pleasant evening.

I know I used the description “cobblestone “ a lot, but once you’ve seen the old part of the city, you’ll know why.  In most older cities I’ve visited there have been a couple of stone streets, but only enough to offer a polite bow to the past.  Not so in Brussels!   

And if you want to blend, have your clothes tailored and dress well!  I told you, it’s a small Paris.