Friday, September 5, 2014

Back in the kitchen

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There’s always a recovery process when I return from weeks on the road: getting back into the 5:2 regimen, regular exercise, and a reasonable bedtime. I don’t eat out often when I’m home in Poole or Maastricht, staying faithful to making breakfast and dinner.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up trying new recipes or learning different techniques (or, in the spirit of Lebovitz' My Paris Kitchen,  getting friendly with my local butcher, baker, roaster, and fishmonger in Ashley Cross).
Two recent experiments are particularly worth sharing.
DSC07787 (1300x959)When I need a light summer dessert, I turn to panna cotta as an alternative to winter’s chocolate fondant. The recipe uses gelatin leaves for thickening, though, derived from animal collagen and not to everyone’s taste.  So I’ve been experimenting with alternative thickeners,  Vegeset and Xantham gum, before settling on agar powder from the Oriental food store.
The recipe uses three gelatin leaves, which suggests that two teaspoons of agar powder works.  DSC08611 (1300x1245)However, the panna cotta set rubber-hard when I used 2g in one envelope, so I cut the agar by 1/3.  This wasn’t enough, the forms slumped across the plate.  I’m finding that about 1.7 grams, a packet with a bit shaken off from it, gives just the right set. 
The other trick is to dissolve the agar in thoroughly in a quarter cup of boiling milk: the agar clumps if it isn’t well-blended and can precipitate onto the bottom of the molds.
Finally, it’s nice to make a less processed coulis for the topping:  berries heated with a tablespoon if sugar and juice of half a lemon, then simmered to thickening.  I’ve been adding a splash of white wine and cooking only until the berries burst, skipping the straining, and get a more interesting result.
The Times published a complex recipe for Indian Butter Chicken a few weeks back, and a rainy Sunday was perfect for giving it a try.
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It actually turned out to be less stress than it looks: the spices and chicken go together quickly in the  morning, then into the ‘fridge for a few hours.  The rest is an exercise in progressive one-pot cooking that is all chopping, stirring, and tasting over the course of an hour. 
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Served over rice with bread, salad, and a good wine, it’s a fun group meal.  It also ages amazingly: like meat loaf, it seems to get better over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Amsterdam overnight

DSC08374 (1300x959)My core legal and banking activities still base in Amsterdam, 2 hours train ride from Maastricht, but the ride north is always a welcome break.  In this case, the visit started with a dusk flight capping a Director’s Meeting in Hungary, but  the t’huis feeling returned on landing, seeing fading Dutch light reflected from the wet fields and incandescent greenhouses.

My colleague signed us up for a night in an AirBnB apartment ear the Centraal Station: the scruffy suite turned out to be a block off the Red Light district along a busy back street of bars and head shops.

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No matter, the late summer evening was warm and still, the strolling crowds good-natured, and the borrel conversations  (bierje en bitterballen) were relaxed and insightful.

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The morning light, the reflections in the canals while strolling across town to the accountant’s offices, was exceptional.

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We arrived 10 minutes late for meetings, but who wouldn’t understand?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hither and Yon

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While August was  quiet month for the blog, it was a busy month for business and travel.  Product development, clinical trials, and fundraising took up all of each day, every day, we scored some solid accomplishments. 

There was a brief break to see family back in the US, checking in with friends and catching up with stories.  ‘and a little baseball.

IMG-20140809-WA0004 (1258x678)It was Lou Piniella night at the park, as my favorite coach got ind9ucted into the team’s Hall of Fame.  A bunch of former players came out and Lou told some good stories: it was a nice piece of nostalgia for the glory days when the team came from behind to win their division.

And there were some most excellent craft beers and views over the Sound.

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DSC07983 (1300x975)After a brief touchdown in Boulder to see my parents and my son, I headed back to the Continent, with my usual bag of ‘you can’t buy that in the UKNL’ expat goodies for my cupboards and my friends.

A week later, I was in Hungary for a clinical site visit in Debrecen, a couple of hours drive southeast of Budapest.  Like Arnhem, it was almost totally destroyed late in the second world war during a pitched battle,but was then further dismembered by the communist government that followed.  Today it is rebuilt and prospering, but little of the historic city seems to remain.

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The University is first-class, and the hospital was modern and well-organized in the research project.  We enjoyed some excellent food and wine (I opted for the local cuisine throughout)

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There’s been very little time off this summer; I’m hoping for a better break at October half-term after fundraising finalizes.  But it was nice to get a couple of days out to break the long periods at the desk revising documents and cold-calling.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sighting royalty (and the food fair)

DSC08260 (935x837)The Dutch Anniversary event was a good one, all sunny skies and broad smiles filling the Markt Square.  The Royal Bus delivered the entourage at midafternoon beneath the gantry’d gaze of Dutch televising, relayed to a jumbo screen along the perimeter of the Square.  For most of the ceremony, it seemed that the crowd had it’s back to the event, preferring the grainy images on the Big Screen.

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There was a brief signing ceremony in the City Hall, then everyone took their seats for the fashion show and musical performances.  It was hard to see much: the Royals were seated well down in the Orange Box Seats.  Maxima was easiest to spot beneath her enormous hat, King Willem-Alexander, similarly, beneath his big-handed wave to the crowd.

A presentation coach once advised me to watch how professional politicians give a speech, the way they use their hands and gaze, how they switch from factual to personal modes of connecting.

There is similarly an art to working a receiving line and a crowd: Does each person’s anticipation yield to satisfaction, had how is the trick turned?  It’s a study of how the King pauses, smiles, makes a remark, shakes hands, moves on.

Of course, as king, he is shielded by protocol and security.  There will be few hostile encounters, nobody in line who wouldn’t be elevated by their moment alongside royalty.  Unlike a politician facing a mixed crowd, the King is assured of friendly passage, he likely becomes more panda than panther within that bubble.

The pageant continued, twirling gowns and singing schoolchildren behind layered rows of security watching the crowd’s every movement.

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A few signs advocated abolishment of the monarchy, and a burst of red, white, and blue streamers tangled on the speaker system, but otherwise the event was postcard perfect.

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I have to admit that I was wrong about the military vehicles arrayed along Kesselskade.  They were part of an armed forces exhibition put on in conjunction with event, evident when children started crawling over the troop carriers and a specialist showed off the gyrations of the bomb-disposal robot.

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DSC08291 (1300x975)After festivities, the Royals briefly visited Preuvenemint the annual food festival in Vrijthof Square.  A few booths closest to the Theater were cordoned off so that the entourage could sample a couple of items.  But most of the event was undisturbed, a festive mix of music, fashion, nibbles and drinks.

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I didn’t try much food this year, instead favoring a couple of cafĂ©’s closer to my apartment.

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But I still like taking advantage of late summer evenings to get out and mingle, to see how much Dutch conversation I can understand while eavesdropping, and to look for a good bottle of wine to share with friends at their ‘mix ‘n mingle’ dinner.

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