Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seared Duck Breast with Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce, Poached Pear and Watercress Salad

Well I'm in London now and very excited to be here. These next few weeks are scheduled to be quite busy so I'm not so sure how often I'll be able to get on here. Still some things have to be done, like figuring out how to eat in a new country! Learning not only how to cook, but also how to shop for ingredients in each country is a real learning experience. Today for instance I was looking for nuts and dried fruit, and apparently I needed to be heading over to the baking section....who knew? Also it seems, at least at the market I was at, that sausage and milk make a convenient aisle. Who knew? 

One of the things I am tentatively most excited about here is that there appears to be a rather common selection of what Americans would consider specialty game meat; venison, pheasant, goose, quail, duck etc. I love game birds especially and have been craving duck for weeks, so when I saw it was about half of what I'd pay in the US, I knew what I was having for dinner.  
Red fruit, pear, shallots, greens, winter herbs,  Stilton, duck breast

Ingredients

Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce
1 Shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
3 Tbsp Butter
1+ tsp flour
5 cherries
10 cranberries
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary
1/2Tbsp fresh thyme
1+ Cup red wine

Poached Pear
1/4 cup Sugar
1.5 cups water
1/2 cups Orange Juice, Fresh squeezed
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
1/2 Pear

Pan Seared Duck 
1 Duck Breast
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Garlic clove, Diced
1/4 Onion, rough chopped
2 hand-fulls of spinach
1 chunk Stilton, Crumbled
2 leaves of fresh Sage
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped

Watercress Salad
1 Hand-full Watercress
1 Tbsp Almonds, Sliced
2 Tbsp Cranberries, dried
1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Pinch Chopped Thyme
Pinch Chopped Rosemary
Dash Salt
Dash Pepper

Cherry & Cranberry Red Wine Sauce

Add the garlic and shallots to a sauce pan with just one Tbsp of butter, Cook until the shallots begin to become translucent and then add the chopped herbs. Continue stirring until the garlic has started to brown, then add the red wine, cranberries and cherries. Add the remaining butter to a saute pan and once melted stir in the flower, set aside. Once the wine has reduced by more than half, stir in the butter-flour mixture. Once fully incorporated remove from heat and set aside.

Poached Pear

Add water, orange juice, juice from half a lemon, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves to a pot on high heat and bring to a boil. Bring to a simmer and reduce by half. Cut the pear in half and using a paring knife cut out the pit/seeds. I like keeping the stem for display. Cook the pear for just about five to seven minutes, flesh down. After removing the pear, continue to cook the liquid until it begins to thicken a bit and then remove from heat. Slice the pear lengthwise a few times and drizzle a spoon full of poaching syrup over it. Garnish with the cinnamon stick.



Pan Seared Duck

Now I had made a salad with the other breast the night before and stored this breast in garlic, olive oil, rough chopped onion, and fresh rosemary and thyme. You don't need to marinade the breast overnight, but it should be rubbed down in oil, salt, pepper, and herbs.

Duck can be a bit tricky to cook. Overcooked duck is almost a crime, but it's easy to do if you're not familiar with it. Word to the wise, it's better to have under cooked duck than overcooked, besides you can always cook it a bit more. Duck breasts have one side with fat and skin and the other side will be bear. Start cooking the skin side down. It will take a bit for the heat to break down the fat and get to the meat. The skin is good when cooked to be a bit crisp, so it's easy to add heat from this side. Once you do flip the breast pay very close attention to how firm the meat is getting. You never really want to cook duck more than medium rare in my opinion, but some might disagree.

Once the duck is ready, place it on a cutting board and discard the remaining oil until there is just about a tsp or two of juice left. Add the spinach and saute it in this oil (it's flavored with the duck now) and throw in a pinch of salt. Cook just until wilted and then place on the plate. Slice the duck and place it over the spinach. Crumble the Stilton around the base and pour a few spoonfuls of the red wine sauce over the duck. Garnish with rosemary and a cherry.

Watercress Salad

In a bowl mix the vinegar, oil, herbs and salt and pepper. In another bowl mix the watercress, almonds, and cranberries. Just before plating toss the dressing into the greens, and then plate.

Thoughts on this dish

What I love about this dish it that it's rather light but it has all of those warm winter flavors. This blog could almost be called cooking with cranberries so far, but I really do love them this time of year and they add a great flavor to a myriad of things. For instance they are used to completely different effect in the red wine sauce here compared to the salad, and are great in both. Cherries go so well with duck, and the combination of both with Stilton is just one of my favorites. This contrasts really nicely with the very light salad with a nice contrasting vinegar that cuts some of the heavier flavors. The pear is almost like a desert, but again it's another good compliment to the duck and it's something I try to sneak onto many of my autumn and winter dishes when it fits.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Bye America, Hello England- Some Thoughts Before Leaving

It's been a busy couple weeks getting ready for departure, this Friday I'm finally flying into London. I've had a bunch of topics I had wanted to talk about but every time I went to write about them I was drifting off to sleep after a long day. So here is a compilation of some thoughts and observations before heading out as well as a rough guide to what is coming up.

Thanksgiving

People outside America don't seem to understand what Thanksgiving is and why it's really a great holiday. I think Hermione referred to it sounding like a warm up for Christmas. Independence day and Thanksgiving are my two favorite holidays because they involve food and friends and/or family. They're simple, fun and enjoyable holidays. Both happen to also be a bit more secular, don't have too much ceremonial crap built up around them and for people that like to cook both holidays offer a great opportunity to share that with other people.

Getting the chance to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner was a great way to finish up this stint in the US. Something I got in a habit of doing in Nepal was cooking everything fresh and from scratch, and it's a habit I've been happy to keep. That said it is more time consuming and without staff or Hermione to do prep work I spent a serious amount of time cooking everything. Although only cooking for twelve I think I made enough food for closer to twenty. Turkey with herbs and butter, filled with stuffing made with cranberries, apple, pear and, and roasted with a mix of tons of vegetables. For sides there were french beans with almonds, roasted butternut squash, sauteed corn fresh off the cob, cream brushed biscuits, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, fall orchard salad, and pumpkin soup. I also took the opportunity to make spiced cider served optionally with spiced rum and home made eggnog with fresh grated nutmeg. Yum.

Good food, good people, football (the entertaining and strategic American version, not the scoreless flopping version), and a theme that focuses on making us more aware of the good things in our lives and being thankful for what we have, and not what we don't have, makes this a holiday I'll always try and celebrate no matter where I am.

NFL in London

I'll certainly write about this in more detail, possibly as we approach the Superbowl, but the NFL really seems to want to expand into the UK. There's simply no other reason they would host so many games over there, given the difficulty. Will it work? Maybe. If the British saw it as their own they would undoubtedly love it. It's a strategic, subtle and complicated game, all things the English like and can appreciate. It is however American, and thus it will always be inferior to things that are "English". While I don't really care that hardly  a player on the Patriots are actually from New England, I feel that the English would like to see English players take on the Americans at their own game- but this is not going to happen any time soon. A London team would be rostered exclusively by Americans for some time I believe. Then there's teaching an overly complicated sport to people that don't understand that just because a ball isn't moving doesn't mean interesting things aren't happening. Once people understand it's a rather violent game of chess they may come around.

Watching the English

I picked up this book about six weeks ago and have been consistently entertained by it. It's been great to settle down with before going to bed. It also has been quite helpful in confirming that indeed the English are some of the more quirky people on this planet.

Many Americans very mistakenly believe that we are much more culturally similar than we really are. Reading this has really shown just how large the gap is in certain places. That said, being from New England, I feel the gap is far less than if I were from a place like Texas. But then Texas might as well be its own country.

I'll certainly write a more extensive review of this down the line, but it's a really fun and interesting read and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys this kind of thing.

7 Months in America

When I first got back here in late April I really had a bad case of reverse culture shock. I would say that it was far worse than going from America to Nepal. I still do to some point. When Hermione and I went to New York for a weekend we ended up staying in China town, because simply put it was more our style, and we just felt more at home there. I have enjoyed getting to work in a culture again where deadlines are met, people get done the things they say they'll get done, and any kind of food can be prepared because you have access to just about anything you might want to cook with. I've readjusted to the scale of America, where everything from the cars, to the landscapes are big. But I miss the eccentric parts of Asia. I miss some of the chaos, and I miss the lack of total predictability. I miss the fun, America is in many ways a bit more boring, and it's been a long time apart from a lot of my good friends. 

Some Time in London

If the above book reassured me of nothing else it is that England will be in many ways a foreign adventure, possibly not on par with Nepal, but quite a different place. My first few weeks are busy mix of catching up with old friends, getting settled in and celebrating the holidays. Hermione and I already have reservations to check out a really great looking cocktail bar I'm looking forward to write about, and London has a number of great restaurants, bars and clubs I'm looking forward to also visiting. There's trips to Hermione's home town, trips to Oxford, and other places around the country as well. What I'm really looking forward to is just the massive list of really great things to do, it seems that we could keep ourselves quite busy doing things for months and never really get bored. 

Some Time Further Afield 

Despite all that London has to offer, we're already planning a few trips outside of the UK while I'm visiting. In January it looks like we'll be traveling to the French Alps for some skiing. I haven't skied in about twenty or so years, so this should be interesting. In February we are hoping to pop down to Algiers for a long weekend to visit a friend of ours that we met in Nepal. Aside from some of the Roman ruins there I know next to nothing about the country, so that should be interesting. Finally in March, when we've had enough of winter and want to get some nice warm weather and rediscover the beach it may be time to hop over to Thailand. All of this I hope will give me a chance to write about some non-English traveling.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bison Sage Burgers with Wild Mushrooms & Truffled Chèvre Sauce

Now I do eat things other than burgers, bu I am of the opinion that this is a class of food that is under valued and not generally done nearly as well as it could be. Larger meals also contain more parts and thus more writing, and sometimes at the end of the day I'm just too lazy. So anyway on to this very tasty burger!

Ingredients-
     Ground Bison Meat
     Assorted Wild Mushrooms
     Black Truffle infused Chèvre
     Fresh Sage
     Garlic
     Red Onion
     Butter
     Mayonnaise
     Garlic Powder
     Tomato
     Baby Spinach
     Burger Roll 



Making the Truffled Chèvre Sauce

Take about  a third of a small log of chèvre and mash it with a fork. Add about 2 Tbsp of mayonnaise (highly recommend making this yourself as opposed to using crap from the store), a couple dashes of garlic powder, a pinch of pepper and few finely chopped sage leaves. Whip it all together until it smooths out a bit (there will still be some small chunks of cheese). Refrigerate and let it sit so that the flavors mingle.

Making the Burger Patties

Chop up a couple cloves of garlic, less than quarter of a cup of finely diced onion and four or five good size fresh sage leaves. Add some butter to a  sauté pan over medium high heat. Don't be afraid of using real butter and using plenty, in this case a Tbsp or two should work. Once melted mix everything in and continue to stir it, cooking it until the garlic begins to brown slightly and the onions are translucent. Place all the contents into a bowl and let it cool for a bit. Add just under half a pound of burger to the bowl and thoroughly mix the contents, remove and form patties. Generously add salt and pepper to the exterior of the patty. 

Cooking & Putting it All Together

Before you put the burgers on the grill chop up the wild mushrooms, a little more garlic & onion and a few more leaves of sage. I used Cremini, Shiitake, and Oyster mushrooms which was a nice mix in my opinion. In a pan over medium high heat sauté this mixture in butter as well.

Bison really shouldn't be cooked more than medium. Well done bison is even worse than well done beef. If you're going through the trouble of making food worth eating don't over cook the meat. Anyway with that said, grill the burgers until done and place on burger burger roll (also best toasted with butter). Top with the mushroom mixture, then add the chèvre sauce, baby spinach, and some sliced tomato. Additionally I put a slice of the truffled chèvre and a whole sage leaf on top.

You can stuff this into our face anytime you'd like now!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ménage à Trois; Seven Guidelines

This is my first post on a slightly racy topic. I have no problem discussing this stuff with close friends or even acquaintances or apparently total internet strangers- but the thought of my relatives reading this is a bit odd. So if you're a direct relation to me and continue reading beyond this point, please just pretend you didn't. Thanks!

I can't speak for everyone else, but my goal as an adolescent male was a threesome. Surveys have repeatedly shown that one of the mot common male fantasies is engaging with multiple partners at the same time, but are threesomes really the be all and end all the juvenile male mind makes them out to be? When they're good it's exciting and can be a lot of fun. I'd be lying if I said that a few mornings waking up between two woman wasn't something that stroked my male ego a bit and let me start the day with a smile on my face. That said, they are riddled with pitfalls and when they go bad they can cause serious problems in otherwise decent friendships or relationships.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but they aren't necessarily all they're cracked up to be. In the wrong situation they are just worse than sex with a single other person, as it loses all the intimacy and can turn into a competition for attention where peoples feelings get potentially hurt. One of my absolute worse experiences I ever had involved multiple woman and ended with a rather drunk upset girl saying something like "I love you, why don't you love me?" (please note I had met this girl that night- it wasn't exactly love). This was followed by her puking into a trash can. Not exactly exciting or a turn on. I may not be an expert, but I've seen enough from things myself or others have been involved in them to make some rather general remarks. So below are a few words of wisdom to avoid the most common pitfalls and make sure that if you do decide to actually proceed past the fantasizing threshold you're aware that the reality is often very different and there's a lot more to take into consideration.

Also I feel that I should note that the arrangement I am almost exclusively familiar with is that of multiple woman and a guy. Not just me personally, but anecdotaly through friends, both male and female. Men and woman for the most part just tend to find woman more attractive, and generally speaking in western woman at least there tends to be more causal acceptance of girls casually fooling around together once in a while. In Asia it seemed both men and woman were more comfortable with the same gender, though this was rarely vocalized but became readily apparent when situations presented themselves. While I realize that this arrangement certainly doesn't have a monopoly on things, I don't have a lot of insight or things to add to a discussion about the others.

1) Everyone Needs to be Comfortable All the rules below basically come back to this one, the golden rule. Sex, especially for woman, is about head space and making sure everyone involved is comfortable with you, their surroundings, and themselves. When things are distracting people, when they aren't comfortable with a component of what is going on, then they are not into the moment and often any chemistry or mood will fall apart. Add another person to the equation and this can get quite complicated as it's not just a matter of how comfortable people are with their own boundaries, but how comfortable each person is with a myriad of potential interactions. The very fact that you might be keeping track of what is going on and are unsure how the other people involved may respond to certain circumstances can be distracting and off putting in itself. While the context of the interaction will be a huge variable in this (see #2 below), it's essentially the golden rule of sex anyway, and it goes double for any interaction that involves more than one partner.

2) Context is Everything Not all threesomes are created equal, and they vary greatly in the people they are made up of and the reasons those people have for engaging in this kind of arrangement. Sometimes it's a couple people falling into bed together as an extension of a party, sometimes it's a married couple adding a bit of something extra to their sex life, or maybe it's a birthday present. The reasons and settings can be varied and they dictate a lot of how the situation should be approached, and specifically what annoyances or dangers are posed by the circumstance at hand. If it's a no strings attached romp it will be easier to manage and there are generally fewer pitfalls, but that said, rarely are there no strings at all and chances are that you have some background with some of the people involved. If it's a couple bringing in a third partner then things can be much more complicated depending on the motives of the people involved.

One thing I would like to say here is that threesomes really shouldn't be used as a context to sleep with someone else while giving your partner the illusion of joining in. I say this as someone who firmly does not believe in enforced monogamy, if you want to just sleep with other people, then just come to terms with that, don't put on a show because when the event happens it will be rather clear to all involved what's going on. Now if there is no pretense, and everyone is ok with that kind of arrangement, then power to the both of you- but be honest about it.

3) Know Your Role Going into this you should have an idea of what your role is. Are you a couple? Are you the third wheel that's there for a little fun? Are you all just having a bit of fun? When people compete over their place in the hierarchy of what's going on it can immediately ruin everything.

If you're in a relationship with someone then you should try and work out what your partner would and wouldn't be comfortable with prior to engaging in any kind of activity like this. If you're the third wheel, it's probably best to follow the lead of the people who do have a relationship in order not to step on any toes.

It's also important to realize that gender differences and sensitivities do exist. Look if your a guy and it's two woman it's probably best to let the woman set the pace and context. Woman are often more comfortable with other woman, and if they are the ones initiating then it most often creates a more comfortable environment for everyone involved.

Some people prefer certain roles over others. Personally one of my favorites was when I joined in two girls who were clearly very familiar with each other- I was essentially a third wheel in this one. The essential thing to understand in these situations is that to the other people involved you're essentially a living sex toy- something they've brought in for some extra fun. You aren't there to get close or form lasting bonds, and if you try to breach that gap you're asking for either trouble or disappointment.

In a case where there are no real arrangements between the people involved, try to make sure that attention is kind of distributed evenly. People are amazing social calculators and can very quickly pick up on how evenly these kind of things play out. Be generous and be equitable- this helps ensure that everyone has fun and no one feels left out, because really having someone feel like they started out involved but end up like someone on the outside looking in can be incredibly uncomfortable.

4) Know yours and your partners limits Everyone has their own lines they don't want to cross. Me, for example, I'm just not into guys. If that's your thing, that's cool I don't really care, but personally I just don't get turned on with other guys around, and I'm just not bi-sexual. At this point someone might start claiming it would only be fair if you expect your partner to be with another woman- and you'd be right- but that isn't my expectation. My expectation is for everyone involved to be doing things they want to do. If I'm with a girl that has absolutely no interest in fooling around with other girls, then I wouldn't bring it up or pressure her to do things she isn't interested in.

Sometimes people have limits as to just how intimate they feel comfortable with other people getting involved. Someone you're with may have fantasized about bringing a third person into the equation, but they aren't comfortable with that person crossing a certain line. For instance it's rather common that guys don't really have much of an issue with a girl fooling around with another girl, but that girl might want to limit just how involved the guy she's with gets with the other girl. Those are things that people in some kind of relationship need to work out prior to engaging in these kind of things. It's also best that you have some kind of word or signal to put a stop to things in the event that people aren't as comfortable as they thought they were. I can't stress enough that fantasy is one thing, seeing things play out in reality for many people is quite another, and on some occasions people just aren't as open about these things as they would like to believe. Being honest about that ensures a better experience.

5) Don't Bargain & Compromise Don't agree to do something you're not comfortable with in the hopes someone else will do something they aren't comfortable with. This is simply a recipe for disaster and hurt feelings. It breaks the first rule and even if people agree to it it's bound to almost certainly create an environment that is tense and uncomfortable. If people decide that they could possibly push boundaries on their own, that's one thing, but when it's done as a point of coercion it really ends up being a rather selfish act and doesn't benefit anyone in the long run.There's a big difference between a playful "I'll do X if you do Y" and really pressuring someone into things that cross mental lines for them. Simply put don't pressure other people and don't let other people pressure you into doing things you're not comfortable with.

6) Be Extremely Careful with Friends Having sex with friends always has the chance of screwing up a friendship. Again, it's easy to say that you can do the no strings attached thing, but the truth is that biologically sex is designed to attach strings. For couples I would almost always recommend that if you bring in someone else that you bring in someone that you will not have future repetitive contact, or that if you do it's very casual. Some people I know have incorporated a friend and never really had too many issues, and when that happens that's great, but you'd be foolish not to recognize the potential problems and awkwardness this could create. If you do decide to go down this route make sure that everyone involved clearly knows their role and don't leave this even remotely ambiguous. If you're friends with someone who is very comfortable with some fun fooling around that's fine, but really carefully consider future interaction with this person before letting them into a situation like this, even if it seems to just be falling together in front of you without any planning. As hard as it might be, sometimes the correct, and very unfun thing at the time, is to put a stop to it before things get out of hand.

7) Have Fun This seems like it should go without saying, but believe me, it's easy to get caught up in everything going on and not relax and enjoy the moment. With another person involved there are a lot of moving parts, and it can be surprisingly distracting. Let go, relax and have fun with the people involved. Sometimes its this most simple thing that we can forget to do.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Northern Maine: There's Lots of Trees

Part of this blog is about travel, and though that should be focused mainly on the UK in the future, I'm not quite there yet. Since being back in the US I've actually gotten to move around a bit. First I became reacquainted with Portland, and then I spent some time in Connecticut, Hermione and I got to spend a weekend in New York city and Boston and now I've spent the last few weeks up in northern Maine.

As someone who grew up here I took a lot of what Maine is for granted, but it's really unique in quite a few ways. For one, this is really one of the few areas in the developed world that is just so vast and untouched. I had always considered Bangor to pretty much be the last post of civilization when heading north, and one will notice looking on a map that Bangor is barely a third of the way up the state. From there it's another couple hours up I-95 to Houlton which is on the Canadian border. Houlton, where I've spent the last couple weeks, still isn't even really at the top of the state, there is still hours of travel time to get to the far north. in fact looking at a map it seems that nearly half the state, essentially everything to the north-west of I-95 is just a rather massive very sparsely populated mass of trees. In a minimalist kind of way, that mass of nothing but trees can be breathtakingly beautiful.

Just to the Right of the Sun is Mt. Katahdin, Maine's Highest Peak 
One thing about northern Maine is that it's cold. It was only November 2nd and I was wading in 3 foot snow drifts. Now this was record setting early snow fall, but the amount of snow they get up this way and the length of the winters in not to be underestimated. This also brings opportunities for those who enjoy winter sports, and I spent a good chunk of tie this last week wearing snow shoes, the only way to avoid sinking up to my crotch in fresh snow. Aside from snowshoeing through the wilderness one could also do some cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or if quite intrepid some winter camping. One can combine any previously stated mode of transport with winter camping, trekking through the wilderness. I've tried this, and though the sites can be quite amazing I'm really not a big enough fan of the cold to put up with it.


Snowshoes are a needed form of transport when you would otherwise sink over your knees in snow,

Fresh November snows cover the pines in Maine's north woods
Though I didn't get a chance to snap any photos there's also abundant wildlife up this way and even working up in an area with blasting and many large trucks constantly passing through I still managed to see a fair share of animals. I managed to spot a mother moose with a young one, a number of deer, rabbit, hawks, bald eagles, and a number of other bird species and plenty of signs of black bear. Traveling to places like Baxter State Park or Moosehead lake almost guarantee some good animal watching if you know where and when to go. There is also some great chances for hunting if you're into that kind of thing, and deer season just opened last weekend up that way and plenty of hunters were seen out on the trails.


Other options for getting around include riding jeeps, ATVs nad other vehicles down the massive network of old logging rads and ski-mobile trails that crisscross the north woods. Although the truck I was in can get down some fairly tough terrain we swapped over to the above pictured Rhino for when the roads were a bit too small, and a bit too uneven. Although this thing can get over just about anything it did meet it's match and on a mud and snow covered hill and I spent a bunch of time trying to get the back tire out of a two foot deep mud hole. Despite this, getting deep out into the middle of nowhere in a vehicle that can handle the conditions (well most of the time) can be fun and gives you a chance to see some things most people never get out and see,

The towns you stop in aren't going to offer the best food, the accommodations might be over priced and underwhelming, but the people are mostly friendly, good and honest folk that make even the small towns decent enough stop over points while you stage your travel out to other points of interest. All in all Maine's north is a rather unique setting and its rugged landscapes and wildlife make it worth getting up to see.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Duckfat Burgers With Cranberry Relish

I'm still stuck in New England, but at least it's one of my favorite times of the year when there is some really great stuff to cook with. Seasonal variations on some of my favorite simple dishes are among my favorite things to make, here is an autumn version of the summer burger, that has hints of sweetness and the tartness of the cranberries with nice gooey brie cheese melted over bacon.

Ingredients-
Hamburger
Rendered Duck Fat
Bacon
Brie Cheese
Apple
Cranberry Relish*
German Pretzel Roll

Making the Cranberry Relish

First thing is first, we need to make cranberry relish. My measurements on this are going to be a bit sloppy approximations, because I simply don't bother measuring as I know how I like it, but it should get you near where you want to be and flavors can be adjusted to your own liking rather easily. 

1 Cup+ Fresh Cranberries
1/2 cup Crushed Walnuts
1 Large Orange (Will be juiced & zested)
2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Apple Diced
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 Cloves
1+ tsp Worcestershire Sauce 
1+ tsp Jack Daniels (or other Bourbon Whiskey)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black Pepper

Juice the orange, removing any large seeds or solid pith that might mix, then mix in cloves, brown sugar and vinegar. Bring to a boil and reduce by about a third. Bring heat down to a simmer and remove the cloves and add cranberries, apple and about two tsp of orange zest, nutmeg and black pepper. We don't want to make cranberry sauce, so just cook the berries until tender, not until they are slush. Mix in the walnuts, Worcestershire sauce, and whiskey as you remove from heat. Set aside and let this cool.

Making the Burger

First let's cook the bacon, to some Brit that might be reading this I am of course referring to streaky bacon, not slab or what we would call Canadian bacon. Two or three good sized pieces per burger, cooked until crispy and if you can manage it looks better if they are not flat. Make sure to retain the fat.

Now let's get to the patty. Normally I like higher fat beef, like 25/75% mixes. The fat is where the flavor is, and contrary to popular opinion fat isn't what makes you fat. Sitting at a desk all day and eating like you just ran a marathon is what gets you fat, but I digress. For this burger we will use a leaner beef or you could use bison meet, both would be great. For about a half pound burger I mix in some of the bacon fat, maybe a bit less than a table spoon and then mix in just over a table spoon of duck fat. This gives the burger a really nice flavor in my opinion. If you don't have ducks rendering in your kitchen you can occasionally buy it at the grocery store, and it may be worth hitting up some upscale restaurants and asking if you could buy some from their kitchen, as any restaurant with duck on the menu has rendered duck fat in its kitchen. Generously season the outside of the burgers with salt and pepper.

While the burger is grilling heat up some of the duck fat and place about four or five thin slices of apple in it. Fry it until it starts to brown, but before it's crisp or burnt. I also am of the opinion that rolls should be buttered and grilled, and a nice hearty roll like a German pretzel roll is perfect for a burger like this. Bacon and brie can be placed on the burger as soon as it's been flipped once. Brie can get really gooey (one of the reasons I love it on this burger, so start it off on top of the bacon in the center of the burger. As soon as it starts to melt it will cover the whole thing. If you place it close to the edge at the start a bunch of it will just fall into flames. Once off the grill top with the cooled cranberry relish and the fried apple slices  on top. This is best served with fries cooked in duck fat as well and possibly spiced cider or mulled wine.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Completely Avoidable Disaster- My Thoughts on the Annapurna Tragedy

I lived in Nepal for over four years and have been on over a dozen treks in the Himalaya, including two around the Annapurna circuit, so when nearly fifty people died and it was all over the news I had a lot of people asking me about it. I've had fairly lengthy discussions about the region, about what trekking is like in Nepal and I've had a lot to say about how there was no reason this should have happened.

Project Himalaya has written something rather close to my general thoughts on the whole episode that can be read HERE. I really encourage people who are curious about things to take a quick look, because I also won't duplicate many of their points, but will expand upon a few of them.

One of the biggest contributors to the tragedy in my opinion was complacency and a lack of awareness by foreigners as to what they were getting into and very possibly how qualified their guides were. While the above article makes some very well thought out suggestions on things Nepal's government could do to avoid these kind of tragedies, the simple unfortunate truth is that they won't and traveling in a place like Nepal you have to assume that any preemptive safety measures you might assume to be in place either aren't or do not work. This isn't bashing Nepal, it's simply the reality of traveling there. The implication of this is that you need to be responsible for your own safety. This means checking the weather, checking trail conditions, having some basic knowledge about where you are going, and the dangers you might face.

The above list of things you should know are things that many people expect from a guide. Nepal has some of the best and most experienced mountaineering guides in the world, but they are not walking around the Annapurna circuit for $20 a day. The average "guide" most foreigners will work with are not professionals in the common use of the word. They are great people who have learned some English (or appropriate foreign language), can tell you about cultural things you observe, can translate for you, book a room at a lodge up ahead and answer basic questions. They may have even been over the trail a few times. They are however not necessarily trained in any kind of survival techniques, can't read the weather, are not any more experienced with high altitudes than your average experienced climber, and probably aren't very computer or gadget savvy. This means that the instinct to just trust people that you assume to be professional experts would be misplaced, and from a number of stories I've read, it got people killed. I'm no more placing blame on the guides as I am on the people that chose to follow them. I simply stating the conditions that lead to a very bad situation.

There are a lot of questions for me about how things ever got so bad on the Thorung La pass. The pass when approached from the East (the vast majority of climbers come over this route) is ascended from either Phedi (at the passes base) or from high camp (which is about a third of the way up). Some people even stay the night at Phedi and High camp for additional acclimatization. More than a few articles I've read have made a big deal out of the ascent being too fast and people not properly acclimatizing, and the only thing I have to say to that is- if that contributed at all it was because people were too afraid of altitude sickness and made poor decisions over valuing the actual danger it posed. The fact of the matter is that the Thorung La is high, but at 17,500 ft it isn't terribly high. If you've done a rest day in Manang, and then a few more nights before going over the pass most people are going to be absolutely fine. Certainly staying up at the tea shack on top of the pass even if you had gone slightly higher than normally recommended would be safer than braving blizzard conditions in feet of snow. That people were scared enough of altitude sickness speaks well to the campaign to make people aware of it, but also speaks to the possible danger of exaggerating it.

More to the point, as the storm hit hard apparently around noon, I'm unsure why people were up at the pass at this time at all.Internet and phone service is available at Phedi, and I believe at high camp as well. While Nepali weather forecasts are barely existent and lack accuracy often due to what seem like micro-environments where weather varies greatly over short distances, this was a case of a major weather feature that covered a huge area. Anyone paying attention should have noticed this. Even if it was missed, the snow would have hit the southern Annapurnas first and been clearly visible to anyone who recognizes distant falling snow. By the time anyone who had decided to head up from Phedi that morning, by the time they reached high camp I can't understand why they would move on given what should have been clear weather signals. You simply don't attempt high passes in impending inclement weather. I say this as someone who has twice been turned back from passes I wanted to cross due to weather conditions. If you had left from high camp in the morning, I have to wonder why you were still near or at the top of the pass come noon if you had decided to set off. If the trail conditions were so bad that you had barely gotten over the pass in five hours from there, I have to wonder why you would have kept going even an hour in, especially with an approaching storm to the south.

Again I think that many foreign tourists either didn't check the weather or know how to read the signs of what was coming, or relied on a guide that didn't have any clue about the dangers of these kind of storms. What many people don't realize is that many of these guides are not necessarily from the mountains- many are from the lowlands of the Terrai, or grew up in the cities of Kathmandu or Pokhara, and thus don't have any more understanding of mountain weather patterns than anyone else. Even the staff at many of the lodges share this background, because the owners are not always present adn have made enough money that they hire staff from outside to run the business. You simply don't attempt these kind of things in those conditions, and there is no reason someone at some point shouldn't have recognized them.

So what to take away from this. The first thing is that high altitude trekking is an inherently dangerous activity that needs to be approached seriously.  Second is that in any place or activity you are responsible for your own safety, but this is especially true in a place like Nepal where there are no functional safety nets. You have to do your own homework; check the weather, learn about the route, and if you're going up into places like this being familiar with a few survival techniques should you get caught out in the elements is probably a prudent thing to do. You also need to really understand that when you are in a foreign country that you can't assume too much, especially you can't assume that things work in anyway similar to where you are from.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gin & Tea Cocktails- Tea Time with Earl & Dragon's Milk

When I think of England I think of tea. Tea is so important to the English that they have a standard appliance that the we don't even bother with- the kettle (here is a link for confused Americans, see Electric Kettle). When I think of liquor with the English I think of Gin, which isn't really my favorite type of spirit, but on some summer days I don't mind it with tonic. Gin however I find is much more tolerable when it is infused with tea. One of my favorite cocktails I had at my bar, and kept the English theme, was Tea Time with Earl- which was Earl Gray infused gin mixed with lemon a splash of simple syrup and a sugar rim. The drink itself is incredibly simple to make, and tea infusions take far less time than other flavors. Generally I would use four tea bags per liter of liquor and let it seep for just over two hours occasionally turning the jar upside down and then setting it back down.

Tea Time with Earl

Glass Type: Martini
Garnish: Lemon wedge
2oz Earl Gray Infused Gin
1oz Fresh Lemon Juice
1oz Simple Syrup

Chill the martini glass. Place the gin, lemon juice and syrup into a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Drain the martini glass and wet the rim with a lemon wedge, and then coat the rim with sugar. Strain the mixed contents into the glass adn garnish with a lemon wedge.



When I got back to the US I went to a local Chinese restaurant and bar named Empire who did a really cool Asian twist on the tea and gin combo. The drink I'm about to describe here is my take on their cocktail, called Dragon's milk. It's a mix of green tea infused gin, pandan syrup, coconut milk, and Thai basil. I experimented with a few different ratios and found that I liked a version that had a bit of green tea also added to it. Before we get to the drink I may need to explain some of the ingredients. Green tea infused gin I made in the same manner as the Earl Gray gin mentioned above. Pandan syrup and Thai basil should hopefully be available at any local Asian market. For me unfortunately I could not find pandan syrup, but did find the leaves- which Google assured me I could make the syrup from.
Pandan Leaves & Mortar & Pestle
 To make the syrup you chop about 120g of leaves into small pieces and can either use the traditional method of pounding them into pulp with a mortar and pestle, or you can use a food processor. Once this is done let the pulp seep in about a cup of simple syrup mixture for a couple hours. For those who don't know, simple syrup is made by mixing equal parts water and sugar, then bringing it to a boil and removing it from heat as soon as the sugar has been fully absorbed into the water. This seemed to work fine for me.

Dragon's Milk

Dragon's Milk

Glass Type: High Ball
Garnish:  Thai Basil
6-8 Thai Basil Leaves, thinly chopped
2oz Green Tea Infused Gin
1 shot Coconut Milk
1/2 shot Pandan Syrup
Additional coconut milk or green tea as desired

Place the chopped leaves, gin, pandan syrup, and coconut milk in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Pour into highball glass and top off with any combination of additional ice, coconut milk or green tea. Too much coconut milk made the drink a bit too creamy for my liking, and a little extra green tea I found quite nice. Some may prefer more coconut however, and if I had made my own fresh coconut milk as opposed to canned, I probably would have added more. Either way the classic play of pandan and coconut is great in this drink. 

As a short bonus, I had a lot of extra green tea infused gin lying around after making these and decided to play with it a bit. I muddled a couple leaves of Thai basil with palm sugar, added the juice of half a lime and 2oz of gin. This was a good drink, and I'd recommend it if you happen to have the ingredients lying around.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fit is Sexy

I was lucky to be born with a certain natural talent for athletics, which as I got to be an adolescent was improved by countless hours of running and sport training. One of the upsides of this was that in my youth many of the girls I interacted with were also athletic. People who have always had it good, don't know how the other half live- and sex with people that are quite sedentary is just simply not as good. Although woman tend to think that men want "skinny" girls, this isn't necessarily the case, smart men (and most men anyways) find athletic fit woman most attractive. While not all woman want muscle bound hulks, a woman that says she dreams of flab probably isn't being honest with you.

Now before I go any further, there are a lot of factors that play into good sex and this certainly isn't the biggest.  You can be the fittest person in the world, but if you don't have any idea what you're doing or what's going on in the head of the other person or any chemistry with them, then it just doesn't really matter. If she's a trained gymnast who can preform a perfect triple full layout, but she's a starfish in bed none of that skill is doing anybody any good. The same goes for men, he might be able to run up and down the soccer field all day, but the ability to physically endure longer may just mean you're preforming poorly longer if you don't really know what you're doing. 

That said, assuming you've got a handle on the basics, the ability to actually preform as desired can take some physical strength. For men this can be as simple as having to hold yourself up and over her for the duration of fairly standard missionary, and many other positions require quite a bit more core or upper body strength.Flopping on top of her with some lame excuse about wanting to be closer isn't getting anyone in the mood. More importantly though people that are in better shape have better body awareness and control, and that counts for a lot. Increased agility, coordination, and flexibility can lead to much more satisfying encounters.


People in better shape also tend to have healthier sex drives in general. Studies have shown that people in their 60s who have regular exercise report sex lives with the same frequency and satisfaction as people in their 40s. Cardiovascular health has a large impact on the willingness and readiness of  both genders as well. The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that athletic woman showed better clitoral blood flow and over all better sexual function in terms of arousal, lubrication, and orgasm. Blood flow is obviously important for men, and if you want to stay away from the little blue pills making sure you stay active has shown to reduce the risk of ED by around 30%. All of this also means that getting all hot and sweaty together at the gym can also lead to a little rolling around in bed (or wherever you deem best) after the fact. It's been shown that woman are more sexually responsive after moderate exercise and show increased levels of arousal.

All the boring numbers aside, there are the intangibles and the stuff hat really impacts the act itself. While not as often a problem for men as woman, people who are in good shape more often have a positive body image of themselves giving them more confidence while in the buff and a confident partner is a partner you're going to have a lot more fun with. Fit people can make marathon events out of it, and actually follow through on the tantalizing whispers of going all night.

What about all that sex dampening your athletic prowess? I know I was always told to stay away from my girlfriend and wear boxing gloves to bed the night before a race, the idea being that sex before a big game or race would reduce performance. Science apparently doesn't back this idea up. I was a little surprised by this because anecdotal evidence would suggest that indeed sex does seem to drain that well you go to when you need to dig deep, but apparently studies so far have not indicated this to be true. Only sex within two hours of athletic training shows any adverse affect on performance. So even if you've got a half marathon in the morning, no need to forgo a little healthy tumble in bed apparently.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cranberry & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken with Butternut Squash and Poached Pear

While I really am not a fan of winters in New England it's possible that Fall is my favorite time of year. When the weather is crisp but warm in the sun and the trees have changed to brilliant reds and oranges this really is a great place to be. Another thing I love is the food. There are all the different types of squash, plenty of fresh apples and pears, pumpkin and then there are cranberries. Cranberries are great for spicing up stuffing, roasted with vegetables, or for making real cranberry sauce and I always look forward to cooking with them when I can get them fresh. I even had them shipped or brought in to Kathmandu the years I was there.

This is a rather simple dish that uses plenty of seasonal vegetables and fruits that embody the season for me.

Cranberry & Chèvre Stuffed Chicken

1 Chicken Breast
An easy simple dish with many of my favorite Fall flavors
1/2 Cup Cranberries
2oz Chèvre
1/2 Tsp Fall Spice Mix
2 tsp Brown Sugar
Salt & Pepper

Roasted Butternut Squash

1/2 Butternut Squash, cut lengthwise & seeded
2 Tbsp Butter
1/2 tsp Fall Spice Mix
1/2 Stick of Cinnamon

Poached Pear with Feta Cheese & Spiced Balsamic Reduction

1 Bosc Pear
1 Cup water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp Fall Spice Mix
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Some crumbled Feta 


Make the Fall Spice mix: Combine a cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, 1 raw nutmeg, and 3 cardamom seeds in a grinder and turn them to dust. If larger pieces remain just run them through a fine sieve to separate them out.  

Start the Squash: Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small pan place the squash skin side down. Place the butter over the section where the seeds had been and place the cinnamon stick there as well. Dust with the spice mix. Place this in the oven.

Cranberry & Chevre: Combine the water, cranberries, sugar and spice mix over a high heat. Cook until the water is essentially evaporated off and the mix doesn't run. Let it cool a little. Mix in the chèvre until it forms a nice even creamy semi-solid mix. 

Prepping the Chicken: Pound the chicken breast flat and trim any fat. lay it flat and place the cranberry & chèvre mixture on it, and then roll it shut. You can use toothpicks to help the chicken keep its shape and stay closed. Add a bit of oil to the outside of the chicken and add a dusting of salt and pepper. Remove the squash from the oven and place the chicken in the pan beside it (if the pan isn't big enough just put it in another one.) Bake for about 25 minutes.

Poach the Pears: Combine the water, lemon juice, brown sugar and spice mix over a high heat. Cut the pear into three equal sections down the center. I think leaving the stem looks good. Once the mixture comes to a boil place the pears in it for about 7 minutes or so, just long enough that they soften and absorb the flavor. The pears should be mostly submerged the entire time. Remove the pears and place on a plate to cool. Dump all but about 1/2 a cup of the mixture in the pot and then add the balsamic vinegar. Continue to heat this over a high heat until the mixture reduces by around half. Remove from heat and let it col for a minute.

Plate it: Place the feta over the pear slices and drizzle the reduction over it. Remove the chicken and squash from the pan and discard any cinnamon sticks and toothpicks you may have used. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Death in the Afternoon

Staying in theme with the last post I thought I could jump into one of my favorite cocktails invented by American author Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon. The original recipe penned by Hemingway was as follows;
"Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

First a word of warning; unless you are a professional drinker three to five of these even if you have them slowly will leave you at least more than a little buzzed. While the exact alcohol content of Absinthe varies by brand, it's universally rather strong, generally hitting around 140 proof or so. Combine this with the champagne and you are going to get hammered if you throw these down too quickly; and they can go down quickly as it's a rather smooth and refreshing drink. 

So it's a rather simple cocktail to make, and the big question is to what absinthe or champagne to use. In regards to the absinthe, I am in no way a connoisseur, but there are some rather big differences out there in what's available. In the US the brands I've been happy with have been Vieux Carré, Mephisto, and Pernod. I actually like Mephisto in this cocktail because it's a little lighter on the anise flavor and find it creates a little lighter drink, which I think is nice. 

As for champagne- I am certainly not a purist here. In fact I think a lot of people get caught up with labels and where things are made. As much as it benefits some to really play this up, the reality is that you can get some really drinkable stuff fairly cheaply. Since the effervescence will get eaten up shortly in the mixture, there's no need to waste really expensive champagne here. A good sparkling wine or Prosecco is just fine.  More important will be balancing the flavors of the chosen sparkling with the chosen absinthe. While I normally prefer brut or other dry champagnes, for this drink a little sweetness isn't a bad thing. If you only have dry champagnes, you can also shake a little sugar into the absinthe before adding it to the champagne flute. Following that frame of thought I have also on occasion added a bit of lemon zest for a slight citrusy flavor. Floral accents also do this drink justice, so a touch of lavender mixed in or a rose petal as a garnish really add to the cocktail in my opinion.

Below is the recipe I had used in a proposal for a club;

Death in the Afternoon 

Glass: Champagne Flute
Garnish: Rose Petal
Ingredients:
30 ml Mephisto Absinthe
Sparkling Wine (Seco)
1/2 tsp fine Sugar

Procedure
Place the sugar into a mixing glass and pour the absinthe in with it. Swirl the absinthe until the sugar is absorbed. Pour the sparkling wine into a champagne flute until about three quarters full. Pour the absinthe and sugar mixture into the sparkling wine. Float a single rose petal on the surface for the garnish.

One more drink for the Road

Another take on this is one of my favorite shooters, The Green Pixie. I had this at my restaurant in Kathmandu and it is my shot of choice on a night where you don't care if you get up before noon the next day. It's a smaller version of death in the afternoon done in a shot glass, instead of the sugar being in the drink, I would do it with a sugar rim. This gives it a nice contrast and it's in my opinion a very easy shot to put down. Almost too easy.

Green Pixie

Glass: Shot Glass
Garnish: Sugar Rim
Ingredients:
22 ml Mephisto
Top off with Sparkling Wine (Seco)

Procedure
Rim the shot glass with a freshly cut lemon wedge, then rim it with fine sugar. Pour absinthe into shot glass and then top it up with sparkling wine. Wait for the mixture to emulsify before shooting.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

YOLO- So the Kids Say These Days

Here is something that every single person should really spend a little bit of time thinking about every single day- some day you will die.

That's right.

You.

Let that sink in for a moment.

This isn't something that's up for debate, and I'm not really concerned with anything that may or may not happen after that fact. As people on this planet we only get to play for a certain period of time, and then we've got to pack it up and cash in our chips. Thanks for playing, hope you had a good time.

Modern people in well organized countries (developed countries if you will- but I hate that term)get to push death into a bit of a corner through most of their lives. It's something that happens, but it comes when your old and anything less we consider being cheated. We tend to approach life in a manner that treats it as something that will go on forever, like we have all the time in the world and we will never die. By ignoring the fact that we will die, we mislive because we act as if we won't. We don't give things affected by this fact their true worth. Simply put, time and each opportunity to do the things you really love in life are the most precious commodities in the possession of any of us and they are very much limited. If you don't really understand that you're going to die then you don't truly appreciate this.

Some would think that dwelling on your own death (or expanding it a bit- the time and opportunity you have with other people you love as they are all mortal as well) a morbid act, and possibly it is but only if you dwell on it as a negative thought. We can turn this around and let the undeniable fact of mortality instruct us in how to live as well. It turns out that it has a lot of lessons for us.

First we are reminded not to take a single day for granted. You've got the opportunity to do something amazing any given day. Maybe you think amazing is too high a bar for your average day- but you can settle for at least interesting right? The point is that even if you make it to a ripe old age, there's a good chance a good chunk of your life has already been lived, and you aren't getting any younger. The prime years of your life are slipping out from underneath you, what are you going to do with them? What things have you done, what are you doing and what things do you want to do? Understanding that you've got a limited amount of time to work with lets you focus on using time as the precious resource that it is and gives more value to making sure that we fit in the things that we claim matter to us.

We aren't the only things that are going to die either. The one thing about every living thing in the world is that at some point it won't be alive. That means your interaction with any of it is limited. Stop taking that interaction for granted. Say the things that need to be said, and do the things that need to be done with people, because you may not get the opportunity if you keep putting it off. Or I suppose if you really dislike someone take comfort in knowing that they end up as dead as the rest of us and can only be the horrible person they are for so long.

It also reminds us that no matter how good or bad things go, we do all end up in the same spot. Play hard, take things in your life seriously, but at the end of the day you can only take it so seriously. After all none of us are getting out of here alive. Like a game of football (American or British!) the ball can be the most important thing in the world and all effort can be focused on it for purposes of the game at hand, but when the game is over, it's just a ball and nobody cares about it. Many of the stuff in our lives, be it work, money, competitions, or whatever you're in to should be seen like a ball in a game. When its time to play, feel free to play hard, but remember at the end of the day it is what it is, and you aren't taking it with you. Our mortality should help keep in perspective what is actually important. We often lose sight of the experience mistaking the objects themselves as what is really important.

I bring this all up because some people have asked me why I'm going to London, when I've got a rather decent life here and could live quite comfortably given some time. But being comfortable isn't high on my list of important things to accomplish in life. I'm already 37, I don't have forever. To me life is too short to spend it all in one place when there is an entire planet to see and experience. It's also about recognizing a good thing when you see it, and having been in plenty of relationships over the years I recognize how good the one I currently have really is. It would seem to me incredibly foolish to let it wither away because of something as simple as an ocean being in between us. When you lay dying you won't wonder what would have been if you played it safe. You know exactly what you probably would have got. You would have probably been comfortable, but at least in my case I'd be unsatisfied. You'd wonder "what if". Or at least I know I would. Lucky for me it doesn't look like I'll have to because I know that some day I'm going to die, and I'd rather take a few chances and go after the things I love than sit by and watch life pass me by.

This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time.

Remember to act accordingly.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Introduction: An American in London.....Well That's the Plan Anyway

Before the invasion of Normandy, during World War Two, England was over run with well over one hundred thousand American service men. Not having suffered through the war in the same manner as the UK, the American soldiers were paid far more than their British counterparts of similar rank, they received better rations and it was observed that they were a little too eager with the ladies (to be fair it seems that this enthusiasm was reciprocated). This lead to a common quip during the friendly occupation of Britain that the problem with the Americans is that they are overpaid, overfed, over-sexed and over here.

Well it so happens that I am an American who, if things go according to plan, should be arriving in the UK sometime in December and some of my favorite things to discuss just happen to be food (and cocktails!), sex and travel. So it could be argued that I too am overfed, over-sexed and hopefully soon over there. Now overpaid I am not (at least for what appears on this blog), this blog is just my little gift to the world and thus that part of the saying was dropped from the title.

Now just about a year and a half ago I was living in Nepal, running my own restaurant, and generally enjoying a pretty decent life. My old blog, Mr. Smith Goes to Kathmandu, in fact ends with a headline Mr. Smith is Home in Kathmandu. Well clearly I'm not now, so what happened? Well a lot. In fact so much that I should probably write extensively about it some time, but the short version is that a marriage that had been spiraling the drain finally came to an end and this was followed by a possibly over exuberant lifestyle that included a goat named Mr. Gibbles, dancing midgets, pinup girls and models, more "secret" affairs than I care to count, North Korean Karaoke bars, and eventually a falling out with business partners who essentially hold to that old tried and true Asian business model of let the foreigner build the business and then steal it from them. Not that I'm bitter, (I'm not really) as thanks to me you can still get home made salsa in Kathmandu, and they import Patron tequila now too- and that kind of makes it all worth it. You're Welcome!

The upshot of all of this is that your humble narrator found himself back on the shores of his homeland, the grand ol' US of A. The problem with this is that although I was raised here, this is not the place for me. It's too regimented, too organized, and it gets up too damn early in the morning. So the obvious question that would come to a reader's mind, is that this is all good and well, but why then would you choose to go to the UK, or London in particular?  Surely it's a regimented, overly organized place that almost gets up as early as America. And you would be correct in this assertion.