Friday, December 12, 2014

A little bit of London

DSC00317 (975x1300)‘More investor meetings and visa documentation Friday,  so I needed an early trip back from accountants to immigration folks, Amsterdam to Heathrow.  Dates are now set for the review with the Home Office, fees paid and the detailed evidence in preparation.  The Activity Log alone took a day to complete: I needed to account for every coming and going from the UK for the past five years, matched to passport stamps. 

With luck, this will be the last time and I can start to settle.

DSC00313 (1300x962) DSC00332 (1300x962)DSC00367 (894x1300)DSC00322 (975x1300)DSC00357 (973x1300)

I lingered in London into the week end, a chance to get some shopping in and enjoy the displays.  London is happily unpredictable at Christmas: a street may suddenly fill with bicycling Santas’s,  or a sooted passageway can open onto a courtyard filled with lights.

DSC00348 (938x1300) DSC00349 (1300x971)DSC00351 (1300x974) DSC00352 (975x1300)

Fortnum and Mason has some of the best windows in the city, this year a cottony fantasy built around seasonal foods and drinks.  Inside, the store was absolutely packed, a lot of expats picking up take-home items alongside Brits decorating and cooking. 

DSC00359 (975x1300) DSC00360 (1300x893) DSC00365 (975x1300)DSC00361 (1300x912) DSC00362 (1300x965)

Its easy to feel the urgency settling in with less than two weeks until Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Magisch Maastricht 2014

DSC00237 (1300x1008)

The Christmas Market is open in the Vrijthof this evening under clear skies: nice to revisit the Gluhwijn and Krakauer, skaters and SkyWheel again.

And a Cedar Falls Expat in a reindeer sweater.

DSC00247 (1300x1040) DSC00281 (1300x975)DSC00246 (1300x1155) DSC00239 (1300x964)DSC00230 (1300x975) DSC00245 (1300x975)DSC00249 (1300x973) DSC00252 (1198x1300)DSC00272 (1300x1035) DSC00276 (1300x942)DSC00305 (1255x1300) DSC00311 (1300x1020)DSC00300 (1300x958) DSC00289 (1300x974)DSC00290 (1300x962) DSC00286 (1300x975)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back across the Channel

DSC00215 (1300x898)‘back in the apartment in Maastricht for the week, Christmas  Ball out and the Dutch Star lit.  Beyond the star, lights are shining along the ‘skade and across the Stone Bridge.  There are few signs of Christmas Markets outside of the Vrijthof, but workmen are bringing in huts and decorating trees, so there may yet be celebrations.

DSC00191 (1300x947)DSC00195 (1300x973)

The clock is running down towards my visa conversion, so I flew into Amsterdam to meet with the accountants and attorneys who would be documenting my case. Official stamps, company letterheads, original bank statements, current uittreksel: I know the drill.  The upside is that I get a little time to walk Amsterdam’s canals, too early for the Festival of Lights, but the still waters and reflected townhouses made for a good stroll.

 DSC00193 (974x1300)DSC00192 (1040x1300)

Central Maastricht is filled with sparkle and colour, despite the rain and freezing temperatures.  I’ve been out for zuurvlees and herfst bier with business associates, putting final touches onto plans and partnerships for the coming year.  I need cards and gifts from the department stores, Dutch Christmas treats for the folks in the UK and US.  I want time in the main square for Gluhweijn while watching the skaters.  I wish there was time to go to Aachen or beyond, but it will need to wait for another year.

DSC00201 (1300x957) DSC00212 (1125x1300)

Mostly, though, its nice to be back among familiar scenes and people, the city’s movement and warmth.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It takes a little cheek…

DSC00179 (1300x975)An ox cheek, to be precise, lying beneath the fragrant red marinade.

I’ve been drilling through Masterchef Pro on BBC, and had been admiring how the cooks are able to make something wonderful out of nothing.  Courage and Confidence, I observed.  Be bold.

Skip ahead, the butcher at Tesco, a feast of alternatives.  What haven’t I tried, wouldn’t I try to cook.  Fats, offal, trimmings….ah, cheek.  CoolDSC00175 (1300x919)I buy a happy half-kilo of oxen, along with the makings for a Tomato Tagliatelle, just in case…

…and score Double Points at check-out.  I’m on a roll.

Jump forward: I’m on a stool in the kitchen, a glass of wine, thumbing the recipes for ox. ’never seen a recipe start like this one:

I am a cheek man. Pig, cow, skate, doesn’t matter to me, its cheeks are the nuggets I most adore. They appeal to my lazy side, being easily portionable and neat, and they appeal to my Yorkshire side, being cheap.

In the panoply of meat cuts, ox cheeks are among the finest – outrageously flavoursome, spectacularly gelatinous (and thus most gleefully slow-cooked), and extraordinarily handsome. So handsome you could bung a creepy old man wig and mid-90s rocker beard on one and call him Brad Pitt.

It would be a weird thing to do.

DSC00180 (938x1300)I take a good swig of wine and pour a generous portion of the rest over the meat.  I take out the days frustrations on the chopping board while the ox bathes: carrots, onions, green beans, herbs, chilis (from our plant, thriving in my window), lots and lots of garlic.

I gather everything expectantly and launch into the second section of the recipe.


DSC00181 (1300x900)DSC00182 (1300x973)

Brown, sauté, sweat: it all proceeds nicely.  Decant everything into a pot, add the marinade and stock.  Bake in a slow oven for four hours.

DSC00183 (1300x974)I glance at the clock, already striking 10 pm.  Not a good sign for eating this evening (and too late to start the Tagliatelle).  I give the oven a goose for 20 minutes to warm things through, then drop the temp and head to bed.

DSC00185 (1300x973)Morning.  The house smells like fresh meaty ox-tail soup. I’m glad all of the girls are away.

Remarkably, everything is firm, flaky, rich with flavour, just as the recipe promised.  I add the tomato to the stock, reduce a little, and pour it all into a bowl.  It makes enough for, well, one meal.

DSC00188 (1300x1041)But a King’s meal.  I finally make the pasta and get everything together.  Not the greatest presentation (needs some colour), but it smells and tastes delicious. 

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly, notes the Guardian, awarding the humble ox a place on it’ top ten slow cooked dishes.  I’m not sure that it’s anything that could be sped up. 

But it works very well, given its own time.  No ‘tongue in cheek’ jokes needed.