Tag Archives: Food

Caribbean Cruise

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Caribbean Cruise

When is a pirate not a pirate? When it’s me and Eddie in silly pirate hats. Not the look I’d usually go for, but Eddie had two of these costume pieces, so I had no choice. And we had matching green T-shirts with ‘Sun’s Out, Rum’s Out’ on the front, with a Hoola dancing girl on the front. Fake pirates of the Caribbean in Hawaii. Why not eh? Be that as it may, the event we were attending had a Caribbean theme and so, well, the Hoola girls were imports.

Haven’t been on one of those Caribbean cruises. I hear they’re a lot of fun. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean unlike most Canadians and Brits. But that didn’t stop us at our little marina from having a Caribbean night near our boats and beside the canal the other night. Even Cap’n Jack Sparrow and Smee showed up. That would be me and Eddie.  All good stuff.

I’ve written about our boat community before. It’s pretty solid for the most part. Most of us get along. But like all communities and families, personalities can clash and people fall out as they say over here. But enough of reality, let’s go to one Saturday night when the boating community, much of it, came together to celebrate the end of summer in a Caribbean spirit. Rum included.

The evening was the brainchild of the famous Jools who, you may recall from an earlier Blog, had us move her boat up the Cut to get painted. But Jools is a busy gal and so the bulk of the organising fell to the rest of us. And in the true spirit of community, the gang came together to make it happen. But, to her credit, Jools made an excellent rum punch, in a pink bucket no less. Lovely.

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The evening begins.

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The evening gathers momentum. Good neighbours and good food.

Another couple from the Dark Side took care of the BBQs and all the cooking with the help of a young man also from that side of the marina. My neighbour Eddie gave it that name a number of years ago. He says it’s because we get more sunshine in the day than they do over that side. But now it has taken on a more sinister interpretation as being the side where the nefarious and the no-goods reside. They aren’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a higher turnover rate over there and we of the Residents’ side don’t get to know those folk as easily. To be honest, we don’t really make the effort.

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Our chefs, Phil and Andy.

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The Coy and the Bold gather to eat and drink….especially drink.

So, those Dark Side folk become somewhat of an unknown, mysterious bunch who gather over their side every so often….probably to look over to the Light Side in envy and who knows what other dark thoughts they utter. The Caribbean Night dispelled all those ideas we had of the Dark Side folk. Fine bunch of people they are too. In fact, Jools is from that side and she’s nice. The Duck Lady I wrote about way back when comes from there too. The newly married couple have their boat on that side. They’re fine and so, as a matter of fact, are most of them. But there are those mysterious ones you never see and  who skulk about when it gets dark. I occasionally run into one of them in the marina laundry room. They say nothing and neither do I….then I never see them again.

But, anyone who is anyone was there, including some good neighbour friends from the local apartments. Even Keith and Lynn came back from boat retirement to join us. The weather cooperated, much to Keith’s delight. He always had a lot to say about the weather when he lived in the marina and we had missed his daily meteorological comments. Our side was well represented.

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Lynn and Keith (far right) and others.

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The 3 Beauties….Maria, My Best Friend and Jools.

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The 3 Stooges….Eddie, John and Some Guy.

A few were away. One couple decided to go to Prague instead. How dare they! But the dad was there. He had been painting their boat all week and deserved to party. Another couple, our resident actors, were visiting family in Dorset….the nerve. In all, over 50 of us gathered to eat, drink, talk and, after a few, limbo our way through the night. Yours truly thought it best to abstain from the limbo. I feared ending up in traction for months.

Because of the potential numbers, a discussion had gone on for weeks where to hold the event of the summer. In the end, we settled for the area over by the pump-out. That’s where boats go to pump out the human waste that is in a holding tank on their boats. We have a cassette toilet, like in a trailer or caravan, and use what is known as an Elsan Point to get rid of our waste. The couple who did the cooking with the newly married chap (from the other side) parked their boat there. This served 2 purposes. 1st, we could have electric and 2nd, when people had lots of rum punch or whatever, they wouldn’t fall into the marina….not there anyway.

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Apartment friend Sandy and neighbour Mimz.

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Rasta Man, Graham, from the Dark Side.

We couldn’t all fit on the jetty, so we set up, illegally, on the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the towpath folk from our marina. We put up tables, chairs and the booze table on that side. I say illegally because we are not supposed to have alcohol in public outside of the marina. Probably not allowed to have a gathering either. Oh well. But we argue that drug deals go on out here all the time, anti-social behaviour and other unsavoury dealings, including a murder last winter….so a party seemed harmless in light of all that.

We did worry a little about the music we had blasting out from a big speaker loaned to us by our Bouncy Castle owning neighbour who moved into the marina not long ago. We had some Bob Marley and other music related to the Caribbean, all provided by Eddie’s Spotify account. By late evening, Eddie got tired of looking for theme music and moved to his own playlist. Everyone was feeling quite mellow by then and so no one seemed to notice the switch. Besides, the limbo had begun and the hardy were preoccupied with becoming pretzels in public. A good time was had by all.

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AAArrrrrrrrrrrrr

 

Chilli Day

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Chilli Day

Let’s talk all things spicy. Perhaps not all things, just those related to food. Specifically, let’s talk chillies. All kinds of chillies from everywhere. Whether you are a person who loves your food hot and spicy or as plain as boiled rice, sometime in your life one chilli or another has shown up in your food. If you’ve ever eaten chilli con carne, you’ll have had chillies in spades….unless you’re like my best friend who likes her chilli (not her favourite meal) mild as can be. Chilliless.

So, on the heels of the Sausage Sizzle, here we are in Eddie’s BMW, top down on a hot August afternoon, heading for Benington, a small village 4 miles east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. We were going with Eddie, Mimz and two other friends, Sandy and Graham. Graham took his Porsche with its top down too. Regal travel and all. The destination was The 2017 Chilli Festival held at Benington Lordship Gardens, featuring 7 acres of gardens, a carp pond, an old Georgian Manor House and the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle. So very English wot?

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The Norman Gate.

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Castle wall ruins and gardens

I remember years ago in Canada, some Italian guy I worked with on the Eaton’s (like John Lewis in Britain) delivery trucks gave me a pepper from his lunch and dared me to eat it whole. Poor naive me did just that and paid the price. I can’t remember what variety it was but when it took hold, it nearly killed me. I have been wary ever since. But my interest was piqued during the finale of the Chilli festival when the annual chilli eating contest was held.

9 brave or reckless souls sat at a table with a beer and a bucket in front of each of them before the contest commenced. The MC had been running the show for years and educated us as the event wore on as to the name and effect each pepper would have on the contestants. Chillies are rated by their SHUs (Scoville Heat units). The New Mexico green Chilli, for example, can be anywhere from 0-70,000 SHUs. That seems quite a range, but most of us, except for my best friend, can handle them.

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Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

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Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

From there, we go up the scale until we get to a chilli known as Dragon’s Breath from Wales of all places. It has a SHU of 2.48 million. The chemical produced by the pod of chillies is capsaicin. If you swallowed a vial of that, you’d be ingesting 16 million SHU and you’d be dead. But then even eating a whole Dragon’s Breath can kill you. It was developed not to be eaten but to be put as an anaesthesia on the skin for people who can not have normal anaesthetic.

The competitors started with chillies at around 100,000 SHU and it went up from there. By the time they got to the Scotch Bonnets at around 500,000 SHUs, only half of the group remained. Then it was on to around 800,000 SHU and more dropped away, using the buckets provided to….well, you know. Red Cross folk were on hand to provide aid to contestants who were overcome by their chillies. They had milk and sugar cubes to counter the effects. Interesting.

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Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

One young man who began foaming at the mouth and dribbling profusely hung in there despite his anguish. The audience began to chant ‘Dribbler, Dribbler….’ but Dribbler had enough and off he went. Two remained. They had to eat a whole pepper at 1.6 million SHU and did so. It looked for a moment like the contest would end in a draw, but one of the two decided he couldn’t go on and took a sip of the beer….which meant he capitulated. The winner got a case of Budweiser beer as his prize. No thanks.

Meanwhile, a Chilli Festival was going on….60 pitches (booths) with everything from chilli cheeses to chilli chocolate, fudge, chutney, sauces, pickles, seeds, plants and, naturally, booze. These were the top echelon of independent chilli traders. Very nice and all but a bit samey after a while. There was a carp pond and lovely gardens as well as views of rolling countryside. A very satisfying way to spend a holiday Monday. My life is full. But not of chilli. The only thing we ended up buying was a non-chilli  butterscotch, spicy liqueur. Hot enough on its own.

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Chilli stalls and Manor House.

We wandered about in the heat after arriving and getting something to eat first. The food vendors were from many cultures. There was Greek, Texan, Italian, British, of course, South American and South African. I had a South African steak sandwich with chakalaka….some spicy tomato, onion and pepper mix. Yummy. Then it was on to the Chilli festival and all that I described. What a treat. I must say I tried to sample at least the sweet stuff. Loved it. And I do like some chilli in my chocolate.

Started in 2006, the Festival has grown in size and popularity. It runs for 3 days over the Bank Holiday weekend. They even have entertainment for the whole family. This year it was the famous Bruce Airhead (never heard of him) and his big green balloon. But the hit of the show was the young lad Mr. Airhead picked from the audience who, much to the surprise of even the Airhead, actually entertained us with an array of gymnastic routines while the famous Bruce prepared his balloon. I think the lad was supposed to be a flop, but fooled us all. Even Bruce admitted that perhaps he ought to step aside and let the kid do the show.

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Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

Just before the chilli eating contest, my best friend and I found a shaded spot beside the marquee where the contest was to be held. A man, dressed in those khaki shorts with millions of pockets, an unironed T-shirt and a pair of well-worn brown trainers (sneakers) sat in a chair just in front of us. A woman came from the audience and introduced herself to this chap as the wife of someone he knew. They spoke of food preparation or something. Turned out to be Richard Bott, owner of the place. Unassuming, charming and so very English, right down to the shoes.

Part way through the proceedings, I just happened to look up into the wide, blue yonder and there, flying right over head was the beautiful sight of a Second World War Spitfire. Made my day as the next contestant headed off behind the marquee to empty his insides into a bucket.

 

 

Sausage Sizzle

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Sausage Sizzle

This is not a pornographic Blog. I don’t do those. I could, but I don’t. I know sex sells. But I’m not selling anything and at my age, I think it best that I stick to safe subjects. Like this one, a good old-fashioned Sausage Sizzle where the only sex involves males and females working together to raise money for a worthwhile organisation.

It all began, the charity stuff I mean, a year ago at Halloween. We decorated the boats and the marina perimeter wall behind the boats with scary things and put out a donation box for people to give generously to our charity of choice. It happened to be an End-of-Life Hospice where our neighbours Eddie and Mimz work and volunteer. Then at Christmastime the displays became Mega and the money raised greater still. Easter rolled around and eggs, bunnies and the rest became the theme and more money came in.

We were on a roll. Every season and celebration have become an opportunity to keep the donating going. Gardening season provided the needed impetus to keep the ball rolling. And it has. For over 4 months now. Things started slow but have evolved into the jungle madness I Blogged about not long ago and turned Mimz into the Bubble Lady of our marina. She was forever blowing bubbles. The locals, children and adults, loved it. Any time a child passed by the boats, Mimz was up to the wall, turning on the bubble machines we had purchased from hither and yon and waving the large wand to make monster bubbles.

Then a new shop came to town. Well, not so much just a shop as a Megashop, another Australian incursion into the British Isles, Bunnings Hardware, a DIY fanatic’s fantasy come true. They took over from Homebase and boast 20 locations by the end of the year. Brits don’t own anything anymore and don’t seem to want to run things or open new ventures (nothing big anyway), so they leave it to foreign investors to rescue the economy.

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Eddie and the Bunnings lady conferring before the event.

Be that as it may, Bunnings has done its best, so far, to fit into the local community. Apparently, they are nothing like that in Australia, just about money. I’m sure the same will happen here once the dust settles. Anyway, for the moment, all goes well. Every weekend, Bunnings runs a charity Sausage Sizzle outside its premises, one on Saturday and a different charity on Sunday. Bunnings was supposed to provide everything. That was the deal. All they asked was for volunteers from the sponsored charity to run the event.

That’s where we come in. We thought it would be a good idea to do one for the Hospice. After some strange negotiating with the Hospice and Bunnings, our day came. Bunnings provided nothing like they said they would. We had to buy all the goods. But we were determined to go ahead and do this thing. It was for a good cause and we had talked about doing it for a long time. The day came. We were loaded with bread, sausages, napkins and the rest and off to Bunnings we went on a fine, hot August morning.

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Three Amigos ready to work.

They had already set up the gazebos and the grill….at least. But the people running the charity the day before had used up all the oil and so we had to go back to the boat to get some. Hard to sizzle sausage without the oil. Kind of essential. The Bunnings person who supervised the event went through a bunch of rules, the dos and don’ts of sizzling sausage, most of which we ignored, and off we went. Eddie cooked, I served and the ladies ran the money side of things and the raffle table.

Good team work. It had to be. We were there for 8 hours in the heat, standing the whole time. Eddie was stalwart. He cooked in the heat, over the heat. He and Mimz had cut up the onions the day before and paid the price. Now Eddie was grilling them to perfection. By the half-way point of the day, he had those sausages sizzling like a master chef. Not one customer complained about the product and more than one gave us the thumbs-up after consuming the goods.

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Mimz and Andrea at the Raffle table.

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Team work at its best.

No matter what you do in public, especially for charity, there are those who are simply grumpy. We had our share. Rude people who react like children when spoken to by a stranger in public. My best friend simply asked if passersby were hungry and got all kinds of rude remarks and gestures thrown her way. I did too. To one couple I just happened to say, “Now then, you look like a hungry couple. Sausage Sizzle?” A harmless remark really. Except that my best friend pointed out that may have been construed as rude as they were persons of a certain girth that said, ‘do I look like I need another sausage?’ Well….

Generally, things went well. We survived the day and made a goodly sum of money for the Hospice. The womenfolks did a tremendous day’s work on the raffle table by selling lots of tickets The draw was at 3pm. Some good boat neighbours, who had come over during the day to support us, won a few of the prizes.

All in all, everything went well. Eddie’s OCD kicked in right at the end of the day. The Bunnings lady who was in charge of the event said of all the groups they had the pleasure to work with so far, we were the cleanest. That’s down to Eddie. The grill looked good as new, but Eddie insisted that every nook and cranny had to be spotless. The Bunnings lady tried her best to dismiss our Eddie from duty, but I knew better. He would leave when he was satisfied that everything was immaculate. Oh, and by the way, the Bubble Lady (Mimz) was there all day doing her thing. No event is complete without her bubbles.

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Eddie and me. The perfect team.

 

Donut Frenzy

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I love sweet things. I mean by that I have a sweet tooth. I love women too, but in this instance I am talking about food. Above all else, I love food. My girth proves it, though I am presently on a lose weight regime that does not include many sweet things. A lot of men my age understand what I’m talking about. Diabetes and other related diseases are quite common among my generation. Much of it has to do with poor eating habits. By that I mean everything tasting good is bad for you and everything tasting like straw is good for you. So, we ought to be eating the tasteless stuff to live longer or at least feel better.

I know that other foods, the non-sugar variety and the nutritional ones can taste pretty good. Some are quite excellent. I dabbled in Vegetarianism for a while and still return to it from time to time. Last summer I went completely Vegan (detest that term) and lost weight and felt great. But living an alternate lifestyle, especially where food is concerned, can be very expensive and time-consuming in preparation. And who among us has a food Dehydrator I ask you? Who among us can afford such a luxury? So some people (not I, of course) end up turning to the cheaper alternatives….like donuts.

Not only donuts mind you, spelled doughnuts here (North Americans are lazy spellers). But in the UK this is National Doughnut Week. The campaign raises money for the Children’s Trust, a charity for kids with brain injuries and their families. It was started 30 years ago. National Doughnut Day was begun in 1991 by baker Christopher Freeman in support of the Children’s Fund. Since then, the campaign has raised nearly £800,000 and sold somewhere in the vicinity of 14 million donuts (Doughnuts) in the UK.

Now, I hear your brains working overtime at this point. Where do doughnuts come from originally? Thought you’d ask. They’ve been around for a long time, since ancient Roman and Greek times. They looked a little different back then….yeast dough fried into balls and coated with something sweet or filled with something else, anything really. The fried balls were introduced to England in the 1400s and were often filled with fruit and sprinkled with sugar to taste sweeter. Just shows you most people have a sweet tooth. The fried dough is never enough on its own. They were known then as deep-fried cakes.

In 2013, new information about the doughnut came to light. An American Dutchman named Captain Hanson Gregory had claimed to have invented it aboard ship and taken the concept to America. That was in the mid 1800s. But he may have been the first to create the holes (more on that soon). What we now think we know is the modern doughnut was created by Baroness Elizabeth Dimsdale (wife of Baron Thomas Dimsdale the smallpox pioneer) at her home, Cowbridge House in Hertfordshire between 1800 and 1810. Her recipe was found in a recipe book that gave the date as 1800. The ingredients she used were sugar, eggs, nutmeg, butter and yeast. The dough mix was cut into nuts, fried in hog’s lard and then put by the fire to rise. Yummy. I think. Rule Britannia.

The holes came from necessity. When egg yolks were added to the mix, they fried from the outside inward. By the time the frying process reached the middle, the outside was done, leaving the centre raw. Best way to fix the problem was to eliminate the centre. Cut it out et voila, donuts with holes. Not all donuts have holes, but those are the most popular, though I do love my Boston Cream donuts at Tim Hortons in Canada (hole less). Timmy’s (as it is known affectionately by Canadians), like Dunkin’ Donuts in America, fry the centres and sell them as little round balls (Timbits at Tim Hortons and Munchkins at the American one). Mahvelous dahling.

I’m not one to follow special days usually. Every day and every week is another national this or that day or week. I’m seriously considering starting a National Absolutely Nothing Going On Week to counter all the special days. But I happened to be reading the News Shopper the other day. That’s a free local paper delivered to my door once a week. You can tell by its name that it has a lot to do with selling stuff….everything from houses and cars to rubbish (garbage) receptacles and eyeglasses. Pages of adverts, job postings and local events announcements. It has a brief sports section at the back, never good news about local teams, and a couple of pages for entertainment, mostly gossip. The news articles, such as they are, mostly contain sensational stories (like all newspapers) about anti-social behaviour in Thamesmead or muggings in various parts of Bexley Borough and this or that thug sentenced for fraud, GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) and even murder. “Isn’t there any good news?” I yelled (to myself).

There, on page 4, top right, was a very tiny article about a local baker, one Steve Balfour who also owns the shop. He was selling donuts and donating 10p (8cents Canadian) per donut to the Children’s fund. When interviewed he said, “Anything that helps children is important.” Yes indeed. No one can argue with that. He added that this is something he has wanted to do for a long time and finally got around to it. Procrastinaters take note. But good on you, Steve. You finally did it. His establishment is called The Bakery (sexy) and is on Pickford Lane in Bexleyheath (next door to Welling).

That in itself may not be interesting to you the reader except that The Bakery is on the way to the train station where I walk my best friend when she goes to work in the city. I go right by it on the way there and back, twice a day. I am not allowed to go in because I need to lose the girth I carry from storing up all that fat over the winter (and especially at Christmas time). My best friend worries about my health, so I hear and obey when she says, “No sweets!”. But this was a one-off, a special day and for the children. I picked up my friend from the station as usual (we always walk the 15 minutes back to my place), but told her about it being National Doughnut Week and we ought to at least do our bit for the kids. How could she resist. I got a chocolate one with a hole and my best friend got a jam filled doughnut. Never tasted better.

Carrots and celery tomorrow though.