Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Fry Up

The traditional English breakfast consists of eggs, sausage, British bacon, fried mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, toast and some sort of hot caffeinated drink. Variations abound. You could fry the tomatoes, substitute black pudding for one of the other meat products, or, my personal favorite, at least linguistically, add on some "bubble and squeak," which sounds like it should involve strangely processed animal bits but is in fact just refried vegetables. British bacon is much like Canadian--back rather than belly--but either the British dig into some fattier cuts or their pigs sit around all day eating Twinkies and watching Jerry Springer. It is good.

Yes, you can feel your arteries hardening while eating this. Even the "lightly buttered" toast could be reused to grease a few French omelet pans. I would not recommend attempting to run immediately after polishing off a fry up. For that matter, one might want to avoid attempting to step over any particularly high curbs. But it's sustaining and can be quite a good value by London standards.

Prices of the full breakfast range from £3.95 in the urine-scented alleyway beside the Holborn tube station, to about £8 in the cozy restaurants near my home, and upwards of £20 in London's many posh hotels. For the record, the alleyway fry-up was every bit the culinary equal of the one served in my well-regarded local joint. I think the urine really brought out the flavor of the bacon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fisch & Chips

Just when I promised to get all nasty, I'm going to post a bit of happy talk about London food. Yes, you read that right. Happy talk about London food.

A week ago, I discovered this amazing restaurant in Covent Garden, a few minutes from my office. It's called Food for Thought, a cute vegetarian nook on Neal St. just around the corner from Scoop, a gelateria that compares favorably to Perché No in Florence. And let's be fair, I discovered it in much the way Europeans discovered America. One of the women in my department has been eating there for almost forty years. Much as I want to colonize this restaurant, I did stop short of leaving small pox blankets for the staff, so perhaps the analogy is imperfect.

Food for Thought is a friendly little place where aside from two or three standards most everything on offer is “Today’s Special.” On the first of my four visits in this discovery week, I had a spicy stew of chick peas, potatoes, shredded beats, peppers, onions, green & black olives, incredibly bright green parsley and almonds. It was AMAZING! I wish I could have disentangled the spice combination because I’d love to try a version of this at home. So I went back the next day and had a stellar butternut squash and sage gnocchi served with a fennel, tomato, green bean, black olive, walnut and aubergine salad (I'm making the UK linguistic conversion to recipe) that deserves to be made often. I skipped the next day, but only because I was nowhere near Covent Garden. I seriously considered making the nearly six mile bike ride just to eat. Holy crap, it's good.

The days of bad English food are so long gone. I’ve eaten incredibly well since coming to London. Yes, I’ve been eating out almost every night as my stuff is still on a boat crossing the Atlantic. Check that, my stuff is now in a customs warehouse where underpaid (but health insured) agents and drug dogs are curiously pouring over my spice collection and the boxes of Levis I hope to resell in order to delay organ harvesting as a way to manage the extortionary cost of living in this city.

I’ve been trying to suss out small (and reasonably inexpensive) places and have had remarkable success. Even Thursday night’s nicoise salad from my local pizza place was a delicious riot of beautifully fresh vegetables, chunks of Italian white tuna, and fat white anchovy filets rather than those fuzzy black disasters most places use. My local Thai place also understands the meaning of the word "spicy". Actually, to be more precise, one of my local Thai places, O's, understands the meaning of the word spicy. The other, the sadly closer and aptly named Thaitanic, seems to understand the meaning of the word "microwave".

I’m also very fond of the near absence of high-fructose corn syrup. Even sodas here are made with actual sugar and generally a lot less of it. OK, even made with sugar, a Coke is pretty much still a Coke. But, for example, Pret’s ginger beer is actually spicy and refreshing rather than a can of concentrated simple syrup over which someone has whispered the word "ginger."

More on food later. As you know, I like to eat.


Greetings from London. Celebrating the one year anniversary of my tepid entry into the blogosphere, I decided to make my triumphant return. This was motivated the many promises I’ve made to start writing about this new life in London as well as a certain laziness that prevents me from typing out the email addresses of you, my wonderfully procrasturbatory friends.

Blogging does have its disadvantages. As I’ve demonstrated in the past (, I lack the skill to entertain with warm and fuzzy travel stories. However, with some sarcasm and acerbity I might be able to keep you interested. Or at least sufficiently interested to take a few minutes away from filing your expense report or writing your dissertation. Who am I kidding: mean can be funny. But blogs are awfully public and internet caches live forever. Someday, someone somewhere may consider hiring me for a position of authority—more than this university professor gig, which is really just a lark—and they’ll stumble across my views on the fecal slurry that seems to cover half of India or the tight-arsed smugness that greeted me in Moscow and think, “Do we really want this guy’s finger on the button?”

But after careful deliberation, laziness trumped caution. I considered the possibility of censoring myself—treating the amusing idiocy around me with kid gloves—but then why bother reading? Or writing for that matter?

No. The truth will set us free. And so truth it is. As goes the joke about Australian foreplay: “Brace yourself, Sheila.”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Hello, Internets!

Greeting to anyone who stumbles across this page. Like my inspiration, almost Dr. Chris Smith, whose excellent-if-still-budding music blog can be found here, I suspect "anyone" will include fellow grad students looking for another way to pass the time while hoping (or praying if that's your gig) for inspiration to strike. And with nothing but that by way of introduction, I myself return to writing...and hoping. Although pretty soon praying might just become my gig.