6th August 2010
After a week of relaxing, cooking and laughing, Mr B flew home this week. Some of you have asked me who the mysterious Mr B actually is. Am I related to him? Married to him? And where can people get their own Mr B?
Mr B and I met at university almost 30 years ago. We have been friends (and only ever friends!) over that time. We get together usually once a year, sometimes more. We have spent a couple of Christmases together here in France, and Mr B was the first visitor to our current home in France. Ironically he will probably also be the last!
But your questions got me thinking about “friendship”. It is all too easy to be “friends” on Facebook or YouTube, but that isn’t real friendship. I guess real friends not only like one another, but respect one another too. They make no demands, expect nothing, but know that the friend will be there for them in times of need. Friends can be honest with one another and not feel threatened by what a friend may say. Friendship is an amazing connection between two people which cannot be broken by time or space. I’m proud to call Mr B my friend!
One of the problems with having Mr B to stay is that we tend to eat a lot. Normally I cook on a weekend, but with Mr B it was EVERY NIGHT! We enjoyed all sorts of delights – a couple of curries, a paella (which we didn’t video because we were too tired), Moroccan Fish Tagine, Pakora, Chapattis, and some Beef Stroganoff.
Some of the videos I’ve uploaded already, and I’ll upload a few more over the coming days. Look out for Mr B’s spectacular performance in “Beef Stroganoff”. I’ve also taken the opportunity to create a video of out-takes. Oh yes, my friends; I keep all the footage including the bits that didn’t quite go according to plan! You see the end-product, but just this once I’m going to show you that I’m not perfect.
Next week marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan. I will be fasting during the day along with my Muslim brothers and sisters. At this latitude I will be taking breakfast at around 4 in the morning, and breaking my fast at just before 9 in the evening.
That may seem like a long time, so for those who don’t know I should explain that fasting starts at daybreak, which is around an hour and a half before the sun rises, and ends when the sun sets below the horizon. The breaking of the fast occurs with eating a simple meal referred to as “Iftar” which invariably contains dates. This is a time of joy and not to be delayed!
I may have mentioned this before, but I happened to be on a flight from Lahore to Karachi a couple of years ago during Ramadan. The flight was due to take off at around sunset, so all passengers were presented with a box of Iftar as we boarded the plane. The plane taxied to the end of the runway, and just as the pilot pushed the jets to full power everyone started eating! Being in a plane full of people eating as it bounces down the runway is a cultural experience I’ll never forget.
I’ll end by wishing you all peace and a Blessed Ramadan.
13th August 2010
Ramadan Kareem to all my brothers and sisters, and Peace to everyone whatever your beliefs. The holy month of Ramadan is upon us and will continue until around September 11th.
One of the challenges of Ramadan is what to eat when breaking the fast. I have been present in both Pakistan and Turkey during Ramadan in previous years and have witnessed for myself how people seem to pile food onto their plates once the sun has gone down. Possibly worse than that is the amount of fried food that can get consumed. We all want a “carb-kick” after fasting for 14 hours or more, but please try to eat balanced and healthy foods for Iftar (the meal of breaking the fast)
I am planning Iftars of grilled fish with steamed vegetables, vegetable stir-frys, grilled chicken with rice, the occasional curry (mainly to kickstart my disturbed digestive tract!), and some samosas and pakoras from time to time. Please try to eat healthily during this time of fasting!
People are very strange. Some may say that I’m the strangest of the lot, but I seem to have a subscriber who doesn’t like my videos!
What usually happens is that I upload a video and then some of the keener YouTubers watch it and comment and maybe vote it up. But there is almost always someone who in the first two- or three-hundred viewings will vote my video down. It happens so regularly that it must be someone who is notified whenever I upload a video – either a subscriber or a “friend”.
It doesn’t bother me that there may be some people who don’t like my videos. To misquote someone famous, “I can please all of the people some of the time, and I can please some of the people all of the time, but I can’t please all of the people all of the time”. That’s the way it is. But if you are that subscriber or friend who continually dislikes my videos please answer me one simple question. Why do you subscribe????
Keen observers will have noticed that a number of my videos underwent subtle changes this week. My older videos still have the old theme tune, so at the end of May I re-uploaded many of the HD videos. The new uploads have the new theme tune. However swapping out each video for its latest version is a mammoth task, so I kept them hidden from you for all this time! (Sneaky Titli!) This week I completed the changeover and I hope that all the videos are synchronised to this website.
Unfortunately all the comments from the old versions are lost, together with the ratings and number of views. Somebody even commented “how can this video have been here since May and only had 3 viewings?”
Over time I hope to remake all the low-definition videos in HD. I’m still working on putting together a DVD and accompanying booklet (Titli Nihaan’s Little Booklet of Cooking?) which I hope may bring cooking help and inspiration to those who may not be so internet savvy.
I’m off to Kiev on Sunday night for a couple of nights. I wonder what culinary delights lie in wait…
20th August 2010
The main event of the week was a trip to Kiev (Київ). Even though I was flying on Sunday evening I decided to fast for the day as I knew I could break my fast on the flight. I stocked up at the airport with a Mars bar, some mixed nuts and half a litre of liquid as I wasn’t sure whether dinner would be served before or after the sun went down.
I’ve flown Ukraine International Airlines before and found them to be quite acceptable. But when the dinner came out… oh my word! The entire cabin filled with the smell of buttered mashed potatoes! I didn’t dare look across at any of my fellow passengers to see what they were eating, choosing instead to keep focussed on an email I was writing. The smell was so enticing and my stomach started to make strange noises.
Dinner was over and everything cleared away before sunset, so I pulled my snacks out of my bag and settled down to my feast as the light started to fade from the sky.
I like Kiev. It is a very “pretty” city with lots of interesting architecture. I also find the Ukrainians to be a lovely people – very hospitable and more relaxed than, say, Russians. My opinion about Ukrainian “chill-ness” was confirmed by a Russian lady who is also part of my team and happened to be in Kiev last week.
My colleagues were very accommodating on Monday evening, respecting my wishes to eat a little later than normal. I went to dinner at the Pantagruel Italian restaurant with Vladimir (a colleague from Moscow) and two local managers – Sergey and Valodymyr. There are only two men’s names in Ukraine – Sergey and Valodymyr. And Igor. There are three men’s names in Ukraine – Sergey, Valodymyr, Igor and Alex. Four! Four men’s names! Sergey, Valodymyr, Igor and Alex.
And Viktor. Amongst men’s names in Ukraine are Sergey, Valodymyr, Igor, Alex and Viktor. Nobody expects the Ukrainian Inquisition…
I digress. The Pantagruel restaurant is quite well known and next to the Golden Gates. Dinner discussions were wide-ranging, but we got onto the subject of YouTube. In Ukraine there is a new phenomenon where motorists are using their mobile phones to record the conversation they have when they are pulled over by the traffic police. If the motorist feels victimised they post the video on YouTube. A handful of traffic cops have been dismissed as a result of this. But the cops are fighting back! They are also using their mobile phones to record the conversation. Imagine the scene; motorist and traffic cop discussing some possible traffic violation while pointing mobile phones at one another.
All of this hearty discussion was accompanied by a hearty Italian meal of bread, salad, pasta and… er… Apple Strudel. OK, the strudel was my choice but I adore strudel!
I flew back on Tuesday. The very early breakfast, a change of aircraft in Vienna together with flying west across a time zone would have made for a challenging fast, so I decided to defer the day’s fasting for later. This allowed me to sample the excellent breakfast buffet at the recently constructed Intercontinental hotel. I helped myself to some fresh fruit and steamed vegetables. Then I spotted something called “curd cakes”. Vladimir assured me that these were traditional Moldovan curd cakes made with cream cheese, eggs, flour, butter and milk. I just had to try one and found it to be rather tasty. I’ll try making some at home and if they are any good I’ll post the video.
For logistical reasons I flew back on Austrian Airways. Their colour scheme of pastel blue aircraft trim, sea-green seats and harlot-scarlet cabin-crew uniforms makes for an interesting combination. Colour schemes aside, the food on this airline has never disappointed me. Especially the cakes! Catering is provided by the Austrian company Do&Co who also provide other European airlines. The food always seems to be tasty and well-presented.
The flight was mid-afternoon so only a snack was available. But what a snack! Two deliciously light cakes with real fruit chunks – one plum, one apple – washed down with a decent cup of coffee. I can’t wait for an excuse to fly Austrian Airlines again!
Next Monday I have to go to Warsaw for a few nights. I can’t wait for the lovely food on LOT Polish Airlines… Not! You never know, they might surprise me…
27th August 2010
I took to the skies once more on Monday, but this time my destination was Warsaw in Poland. It was an early flight courtesy of Lufthansa and I had to change planes in Munich.
Shortly after take-off the trolleys came out to serve breakfast. I had already eaten, but I heard the stewardess offering egg sandwiches. A thought came into my head – I could take a sandwich and keep it for my early breakfast on Tuesday morning! (It’s hard to get breakfast in a hotel at 2:30 in the morning.) So I held out my hand expecting to receive an egg sandwich neatly wrapped in plastic.
Wrong! I was presented with an unwrapped and large crusty roll oozing with egg mayonnaise. What to do? I found some loo roll in my handbag – I always keep a small loo roll in my handbag for emergencies. Well, you just never know when you might need to wrap an egg sandwich. Unfortunately there wasn’t quite enough loo roll to wrap it properly and it was rapidly turning quite soggy with the mayo.
So here’s the situation: I couldn’t put the sandwich in my handbag because there would be crumbs and egg mayo all over the inside of my bag, and I couldn’t give it back to the stewardess because it now had bits of wet toilet paper stuck to it. Oh the embarrassment! Oh the shame! My solution? I just had to leave it on the seat when I got off the plane. Sorry Lufthansa.
I spend most of my working days with people who speak English as their second language. Occasionally my colleagues will use a word which is not quite right and I can’t help myself from laughing.
Sona is from Pardubice in the Czech Republic and part of my team; I love her to bits. We were in a taxi and she was describing how she had locked herself out of her house the day before. Native English speakers might say, “sometimes I feel completely useless” to describe how stupid they feel, but Sona didn’t quite say that. Instead she said, “Sometimes I am completely unusable!”
It reminded me of a time a few years ago. I was sitting having breakfast in a hotel in Istanbul with a Russian colleague, a super guy called Anton. We were working together on a project there and he started asking me when I was planning to go to Moscow. I told him I had no plans, but he encouraged me to go. In his deep, Russian accent he said, “When you come to Moscow I will take you for barbecue.” (Great) “There is beautiful place with river a few hours from Moscow.” (Sounds nice!) “There is river there.” (I’m booking my ticket already…) “Many people there catch cancer.” (WHAT???) “The river is full of cancer.” (Er… Maybe I’ll stay at home) “It is so easy to catch cancer there.” (Is this river filled with toxic waste from a factory?)
“Have you ever had cancer?” I replied that by the Grace of God I had never had cancer. Anton looked a little surprised, then continued… “The best way to cook cancer is in boiling water for 10 minutes then eat them while still warm. There is little flap to pull underneath like opening a tin of coke.” A small light bulb went on in my brain. CRABS! He’s talking about crabs! Cancer the crab!
Back to Warsaw. Pork and veal feature heavily in Polish cuisine, but I did get to try the local cabbage-stuffed dumplings called Pierogi on the first night. I also smelled Sona’s Zurek. For clarity, Zurek is a traditional sausage soup and not part of Sona’s anatomy. I’m tempted to create a halal version of this dish.
The second night we went to a delightful restaurant called Tradycja. It’s like going to Granny’s house for a meal! There were flowers and ornaments everywhere, crocheted table cloths, and the grandfather clock next to our table chimed every half hour. Wonderful place! Click on the link then click on “galeria zdjec” to scroll through the photos.
I chose potato blinis for appetiser and carp fillet for main course. It’s a fish I’d never eaten and to be honest I’m not sure I’d have it out of choice again. It was pleasant enough, but I prefer fish like perch or bass for their flavour. I must say that the orange pavlova dessert was one of the nicest I’ve ever had.
I flew back from Warsaw on LOT airlines. I wasn’t fasting so I thought I would take the afternoon snack of a sandwich. LOT wrap their sandwiches in plastic, but I didn’t bother opening it. Processed pork meat. And what about the vegetarian option?
No more travel plans for the moment, so it’s back to the Busy Kitchen for me…