Saturday, October 5, 2013

Early autumn comfort food

DSC00408It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with the businesses, the verhuizen, and the scattered meetings all contributing.   Fortunately, the October calendar is mostly white-space, with experiments and court cases proceeding on autopilot, colleagues vacationing and marrying, and only a little travel in my forecast.

A good thing, too: I need to get life slowed again, take the longer view, and put time back into things that matter.  One of the weekend’s tasks is to divide the month into large chunks of time in Dorset and Maastricht.  Another is to compose a short list of “want to do” pleasures,  replacing the  “have to do” bustle.

DSC00352 (900x1200)But first, I want to make some comfort food to set my mood.

With colder temperatures and shorter days, autumns ingredients replace summer berries and greens.   I’m thinking of thicker, heartier dishes with woody, earthy flavors based on mushroom and squash, harvest fruits like apples and nectarines, warm cheese breads and strong dark herfst beer.

The first thing I tried was to extend my coulis methods to fall fruits.  I got a nice bag of ripe nectarines, peeled and cored them, sliced and diced, then layered them in a warm pan with a tablespoon of sugar and juice from half  a lemon to stew.  DSC00403 (1197x1200)I peered,  stirred, and tossed, waiting to reduce the mixture, then sieve, cool, and parfait.

This did not go well.  There isn’t enough liquid in nectarines, so they took forever to soften and melt.  I ended up needing to add some white wine (tried both sweet and tart alongside the peach essence) to get the consistency right, but it ended up more of a compote than a coulis

Not bad, mind you, just different.

DSC00413 (1200x900)I had better success with the butternut squash recipe (for those learning Dutch: flespompoen recept).  The preparation that I thought would be hardest, getting the skin off, turned out to be easy using a regular peeler.  DSC00402 (1200x843)The part that I expected to be easiest, dicing the squash, was very hard:  the only knife that worked was a bread knife under full body pressure.

But  once everything was tossed into the broth, the cooking and pureeing was trivial.  The soup had a good balance and nice heft,  a dollop of Greek yogurt and aromatic chopped herb accented the bowl nicely.

DSC00414 (1200x900)Last fling was with Gougères,  a French cheese puff.  It’s a simple recipe, even though a bit strange in the handling of the dough (warm the dough over low heat until firm; blend in the eggs one at a time until smooth) . 

It benefits from a very slow cooking, at the low end of recommendations so that the centers puff up and firm around the air core.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

‘not the smoothest trip back

DSC00349 (897x1200)My third and final load of household goods and disassembled furniture filled the car, destined for Maastricht.  ‘Up at 4:30 and on the road at 5 am from Sandbanks, sure to  beat the M25 commuters.  Despite my caution, traffic was heavy and early squalls made the drive difficult, but I still arrived at Dover by 9.  A rough crossing put me into Dunkirk late at 12:30  (‘s middags).  I hit the road east, hoping to make up a bit of time.

And it was all good until I approached Veurne, not far into Belgium.  There, the big-rig truck that I was following suddenly swerved right.  Like a curtain opening, it revealed a road full of debris directly in front of me. 

I glimpsed a flatbed with the driver running back along the road, phone to his ear.  The road was littered with big red-and white-rods, everywhere like pick-up sticks.  Each  was sized like a speed bump: long, narrow, and rounded.

I didn’t have any time to react and the Fiesta hit the rods and beams hard.  My entire carload lurched and shifted as the car pitched, I kept control but there was clearly going to be damage.

On cue, a whup, whup started.  The car shook in rhythm, and the steering started pulling to one side. No doubt I was losing air, the question was how far I could get before the car became undriveable.  I punched the TomTom, easing right and slowing.  An exit 1 km ahead; a petrol station 0.6 kilometer further.  It beat being stuck on the E40 for the next four hours.  I drove onward.

The engine sounded fine and nothing was dragging or grinding on the road, but the alarmed expressions of the drivers passing me suggested I had a serious problem.  ‘Around the random road art (a gigantic mixer bowl with beaters) and the petrol station appeared on the right.   I angled in and jumped out to assess the damage.

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The left rear tire was, well, gone.  Remnants fringed the rim, but nothing more.

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Any chance you can change a tire? I asked the owner.  He pointed across the street: “Try the Firestone center'”.

‘lucky break.   I walked over and asked again.

“Sure, just drive it in.”

I have no tire…

“Drive slowly.”

I pulled gingerly into the garage; he eyed the full load of household goods.

“’Running away from home?”


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This was my lucky day: he had the tire, the rim was intact, and he wasn’t busy.  45 minutes and the job was done (would have been 30 but he was chatting up a young lady having four tires swapped on her Rover).

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It could have been a lot worse.  An hour’s delay, aDSC00375 (900x1200) hundred euros, and I was back in business. 

My everyday enterprises should be so easy in the face of crisis.

And now, just the unpacking left to be done once all of the boxes and boards have been lugged up to my second floor aerie.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Sarah Palin Test

PalinYou can’t just judge people that easily, I commented, stuck in rainy traffic on the M25 north of Heathrow.  The car speaker crackled and cut but I could just hear my friend make their point; a single, well-chosen question could tell you a lot about someone’s outlook and character.

What question would you choose to ask?

Five words to describe Sarah Palin.

The way that someone aligns themselves with or against an extreme personality like hers would, inn fact, reveal a lot about their political and social views.  An answer like “She’s just what we need,” predicts opinions on a lot of other issues.

It wouldn’t necessarily rule anyone out as a friend, but agreement would certainly raise a yellow flag. (unless, of course, I was in a mood to push a few buttons to liven the evening).

And I do have very close friends with conservative views who think Ms. Palin is just fine, thank you.  I’m otherwise very fond of them, but I’ve needed to put some topics off-limits.  Otherwise, the subsequent conversation goes “Our intelligent friends hate Obama.  You’re intelligent.  Why don’t you hate Obama?’

Before you know it, I have to be >Tightly Smiley<.

As a filter, then, the choice of Ms. Palin may work for some and not for others.   “Does that extend to objectionable racial, misogynistic, homophobic views?”  No.  Alignment with, for example, Geert Wilders would be a  ‘walk-away-now’ offense for me.  Ms. Palin skirts that  line, but I take the point that the question should be tailored to suit individual tastes.

DSC00346 (1200x900)These interpretations only filter outlooks, though, and I really need a test that gets closer to character.  It’s here that Ms. Palin may be the better choice. She is, as a person, cruelly intolerant of people who don’t share her views.  Her insults are straight out of junior high-school social circles: there was always someone, backed by a giggling chorus, who made sure that everyone knew exactly who was socially worthless and explicitly why.

So, my five word reflect character rather than politics:

Loath her sarcastic simplistic mouth. 

Anyone who finds her personally inspiring or high-fives her put-downs, likely has severely attenuated genes for empathy and compassion.

I would run, not walk, to meet a different face at the party.

We wrapped the the conversation as I pulled off the M25 with the latest car-load of household goods to drop offDSC00348 (1200x875).  I’ve recently lost some confidence in my ability to gauge people’s character, failures at building judgments based on first hand interactions through conversations and activities. A simple filter that works more quickly and sensitively would definitely be nice.

'Probably impossible ... but definitely nice.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wednesday links

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I came back up to Cambridge this morning for a Board meeting and to pick up the last of the moving stashed in the office.  Autumn has started to arrive at the fringes, red and yellow leaves flashing in the morning sun and a first dusting of color on the grass.

‘A few links to share today, between prep sessions for the meetings:

FBThe Faces of Facebook  What d over a billion faces look like on a page?  You get something that looks like colored snow on the television.   But it contains all of the profile pictures on Facebook, in chronologic order.  Click anywhere to see an expansion (privacy preserved)  or put in your login to find out what your what your ‘number is (I am 3,367,707, a relatively early arrival)

AverageThe Average Man  in America looks, well, different than the average man in the Netherlands, France, or Japan.  This  page compares the various physical characteristics of men from the four countries.  No surprise that Dutch men are tall of the American has the largest waist.  No corresponding page for average women (there may be no such person….)

Unseen Amsterdam  The annual photo fair shows little-known works by lesser-known artists. Unfortunately, it ended last weekend but the photographers still have their bio and photo pages on the site.  It’s fun browsing: I especially liked works by

kelly richardson  Lina Scheynius

               Kelly Richarrdson                                 Lina Scheynius     


        Noemie Goudal                                      Katrien Vermeire       


and…Ranking the Star Trek Movies  It’s a generational thing, but they mostly got it right..

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hello, Awesome

DSC00319 (1200x871)It’s like solving a “the ferry, fox, goose, and bag of beans across the river “ puzzle.  The Fiesta won’t hold everything, so I’ve had to move in stages to the office at St. Johns, then on to the south coast.  Traffic on the M25 Orbital was surprisingly light for today’s run; I kept good time with the first load down through Southampton, Poole and finally into Sandbanks.

I’ve rented the third floor of a family home a block from the beach, close enough for some good walks and seaside coffees.  There’s a big furnished bedroom, bathroom, and study for half what I paid in Cambridge, kitchen privileges and fast Internet, a busy family downstairs for company, and a new region of the country to explore.  I’m looking  forward to comparing the New Forest to the Lake District, seeing Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, and getting to know Cornwall better.

Even though it’s 3 hours from Cambridge, it’s much closer to our clinical trial sites in Southampton and the operational work in Bristol, and not much further from London investors or cross-channel ferries.  Most of all, I need the change of scenery and some new people to be with for a few months while I figure out my life’s next stage.

It’s grey cloudy and warm, blowing drizzle today: my hair is vertical after minutes on the beach.  'Really very different from Cambridgeshire (or current home-base Maastricht).  I got a wrap and a coke from the Tesco Express and sat along the seawall, just watching the waves and listening to the gulls.

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A Seattle-based friend suggests that I’ve come full-circle; it’s not particularly different than Puget Sound this time of year.  Brit-buddies all comment that it’s the most expensive postal code in the country.  Everyone seems to think it’s a good move, though.

It will be an experience to watch the seasons unfold , the interplay between sea and sky, how the wind tosses the treetops and paints patterns with sand.  I hope to do more biking or sailing, have evenings for reading and writing (and the new season of the Amazing Race).  DSC00330 (1200x847)I’ve already got a few invitations to come to neighborhood events to meet a few people.  There’s even the possibility of pool access at the house next door.

‘Hello, Awesome: I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One lap around Cambridge

DSC00250 (1200x884)I checked out of the apartment this afternoon, early enough to try to catch the evening light light around town before locking things up.

Cambridge was wonderful and transformative – it  will always  be a touchstone.

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