This blog post will focus on one of my favorite aspects of living in North Carolina. I am referring to North Carolina barbecue. So, if you don’t like pork, don’t read any further.
I subscribe to the local newspaper, the News and Observer (of Raleigh)and read a story recently that Food Network’s Bobby Flay recorded an episode of his “Throwdown” challenges against a local pitmaster, Ed Mitchell of The Pit in Downtown Raleigh.
I think now is a good time to say that I detest Bobby Flay. Maybe because he’s a ginger though I suspect my disdain for this TV cooking celebrity goes deeper than just his hair color. He’s comes across as a cocky SOB from New York. I like southwestern US food too so it’s not his style of cuisine either. It’s simply him. However, I will watch the Throwdown episode featuring Ed Mitchell.
Fortunately, the article did not state who won but I have made a mental note that the show will be broadcast in May. This leads me to get my proverbial skates on to make a beeline to eat at The Pit before the show airs.
The restaurant is relatively new. I think it’s only about two years old and the main reason I have not eaten there yet is its location. It’s in downtown Raleigh so the only possible days I can get there are realistically the weekend. At least the place is open at the weekend.
I’ve read the blurb on The Pit’s website and I do see that the barbecue is cooked on both charcoal and wood. This means this is not true North Carolina barbecue because true NC barbecue is cooked on wood alone. I guess the location, downtown Raleigh, excludes the establishment from cooking solely on wood because of pollution issues. There was also a picture of the Pitmaster, Ed Mitchell at the “Pit” but it was a long outdoor grill (probably on wheels) so this confirms my suspicions that this is not true NC barbecue.
Irregardless of the outcome of the throwdown, I’m sure The Pit will experience more business after the show has been broadcast so I urge any interested diners to eat there before May!
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 - Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!!!
Fortunately, that was not a greeting addressed to me today but throughout the US, no doubt, people were greeting each other using these very words.
So, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by me and many British expats/emigrants that Americans make a big deal of the patron saint of Ireland.
Even in my restaurant, we offered a Saint Patrick’s Day themed special (all day). Fish and chips. Yes, fish and chips. It’s not a dish I associate with the Republic of Ireland but my sister-in-law does say that the best fish and chips she ever had was in Ireland. So there! My part in providing the St. Paddy’s Day themed foods was I made St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes. The décor on the cupcakes was Irish themed. Pale green mint flavored chocolate “jelly beans” with dark green sugar sprinkled over the frosting. I know they sold well during the day.
Some of my coworkers remembered to wear green. One coworker wore a t-shirt with some slogan on it. Something about “Irish girl”. I don’t think she’s at all Irish but isn’t the case with most of the people in the US who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Another coworker made a better effort. She showed me her green socks and said she had green pants/panties on. I said I didn’t need to see those but I know someone who would! That’s a personal joke between me and her.
There’s music playing in the restaurant during opening hours and I suggested to a third coworker that we maybe we should have considered playing Irish music all day. I received the rolling eyes look and “I don’t think our boss would care for that…” I know what he means. Fortunately, we don’t play Christmas music in the restaurant at Christmas either.
Thus, another year has passed and I’ve avoided the green beer.
... I have to report that this past Thursday, March 5th, I visited the mega mall near my home for the first time this year. I’m not much of a clothes shopper. I admit that I don’t follow fashion. Therefore, I have no desire to wear the look of the season or even the colors of the season. Thus, there’s very little reason for me to ever shop at any mall, especially in my area.
The original reason for going to the mall was to visit the optical department at Sears but that was a complete waste of time because there was a very limited selection of what I was anticipating to buy. I imagine the sales person who greeted me on entering the store may have been a bit puzzled as I walked back out only two minutes later.
As I was already in the mall, I thought I’d look for an evening skirt to wear when I go out dancing. Of all the things I hate shopping for, it’s clothes. Any time I go into a clothes shop where I can scan the whole store at a glance, I can immediately tell if it’s worth taking any further steps forward into the store. I almost never browse in clothes shops.
However, Thursday was not one of those days because I stopped by the Macys. I ended up in the “Designer” department because apparently there are no skirts in the Ladies departments of the store (petite, woman, etc.). That’s a little strange. After flicking through racks and racks of skirts that were floor length or simply too long for my needs, I found a skirt that I was prepared to try. The only problem it was a size too big. Having tried it on, I decided I’d buy it anyway because it was heavily discounted and I would see how much it would cost to both shorten the length as well as bring in the elastic waist.
The most common reason I visit that particular mall is to drop off or pick up items for alteration at the tailor/dry cleaner there. I took that skirt there straight after making the purchase. Even after alterations, the whole cost of this skirt will be less than $40.00. This is a good bargain to me. It may be just for a skirt but it’s a black skirt with endless possibilities to coordinate with many colors. It won’t go out of fashion but I suppose I might “grow out” of it. Maybe but probably not.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 - Dawn of a New Era Begins Today
It is an historic day in the US. For those living outside the USA, this particular January 20th is the inauguration day of Barack Obama.
The significance of this President's inauguration cannot be underestimated. Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States of America. He will become the first black man to be elected as leader of his country.
It is my opinion that regardless of any political achievements he may accomplish during his first term as President, Barack Obama will more than likely bring his country closer to unity. By this I mean he will bring together the black and white populations of this country. Watching the TV coverage today of the inauguration, one cannot help notice the hundreds of black and white faces among the spectators in the Mall area. As the new President is a man of color , I hope this will help black Americans learn to respect themselves and each other. I also hope that non-black Americans will respect their new leader, despite not looking much like the previous forty three predecessors.
By the end of this day, the new President will be in office with the "First Family", residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The road ahead for President Obama is long. He has much work to do, in particular inheriting ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I wish him well as my first President, especially representing his country overseas. May he do a better job than his predecessor.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008 - My Christmas Cookies Experience
After having found a great Christmas cookie cutter about a month and a half ago, I decided I'd make a full scale attempt at making Christmas cookies, which seems to be very popular in the US.
I'd been searching for a penguin shaped cookie cutter for a long time and found one online, only to discover that the store was in fact a local kitchen/cookware shop in Chapel Hill. I picked up two from the shop, just in case one was rubbish or it got destroyed while being handwashed.
I made sugar cookie dough. To get from making the dough to the finished, iced and decorated involves many steps so I did this over a 24 hour period (including overnight). It's basically:
1) make the dough
2) chill the dough
3) cut out the cookies from the dough
4) bake the cookies
5) cool the cookies
6) make the icing (American style royal icing. I'm sure this is not the recipe my Mum uses).
7) ice the cookies with the white royal icing. I don't think I need to tell you that penguins are black and white.
8) before this white icing sets, pop the eye on the penguin. I didn't mess around with tweezers as my recipe book suggested. I think there's some leeway about the exact position of the eye. It's not like I'm going to stick its eye on its wing.
9) let the white icing set hard and dry.
10) I cheated with the black icing. Post-Halloween, a local grocery store was selling off pouches of black icing at a knockdown price so I picked up two pouches for the sole purpose of making these penguin cookies. Finish off icing the penguin with black icing.
11) let this black icing set. This took a good few hours.
Here's some of the finished penguins. No two look alike:
I had a large amount of this sugar cookie dough so I made some star shaped cookies and decorated them with mini and full size dragees. Here they are:
I'd had much positive feedback on the Andes mint chunk cookies I made last year so that was one was recipe I was going to use again.
I made the full batch and ended up with 48 cookies! They're only about 1.5" in diameter so they aren't that big really. Here they are:
I've heard of friends who spend all night baking their Christmas cookies. I don't do that. I just break up the baking into manageable parts.
The next entry should be about getting the cookies to recipients. I certainly did not bake all this for myself!
Thanksgiving is over and it's December so it's time to look forward to Christmas. Not the "Holidays" but Christmas.
Just to drive home the point that Thanksgiving ended on Thursday, November 27th this year, I received my first Christmas card the following day! It was from a family friend in the UK. She usually sends me a Christmas card early but never as early as this. I'm grateful for the card because she's having a very rough year (her daughter is dying of breast cancer in the UK). I spotted the penguin amongst the characters on the front of the card. It would seem word gets around.
Today, I received my second Christmas card. This one was from my in-laws and my MIL wrote the message inside that included, "see you in three weeks." Yup, point taken.
As for me, I've had a first look over my Christmas card list. I've removed some people and added one or two. I'm sure I'm not alone as an expat who mails many Christmas cards overseas. In fact, I probably send more overseas than I do inland and not just to the UK but to friends in three other overseas countries.
Saturday, November 8, 2008 - Veggies in the Dessert
I blame the other half. He forwarded me an article by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from the Guardian in which there were several recipes of his that incorporated veggies in sweet recipes. Being the adventurous type and having most of the ingredients on hand, I made the beet(root) and chocolate brownies. Here's the recipe:
Funnily enough, the only ingredient I had to buy were the beets themselves and I could only find the organic variety in my local Kroger.
Prep was easy enough because I have nitrile gloves so I didn't get my hands stained beet red when peeling and grating the cooked beets.
I'm pretty good at making brownies now because I make them at work so I'm familiar with exactly when to pull them out of the oven. The trick is to check the center with a toothpick or similar and they're done when there's just a few crumbs sticking to the stick. The center should not be fully baked through. That would result in dried out brownies.
However, my brownies did not take even the maximum 25 minutes that Fearnley-Whittingstall writes of. Mine took closer to 40 minutes but I think I know why. Ever since moving to the US, I've noticed that US produce has a noticeably higher water content than UK fruit and vegetables so I expect even the organic beets have a higher water content and thus, a longer baking time.
Nevertheless, they were removed from the oven at the right time and once cooled tasted just great. The other half claims he can taste the beets but I can't. I also gave a quarter of the pan of brownies to my next door neighbors whom we had dinner with this evening and they love beets so I await their remarks on these unusual brownies.
In appearance, there is no difference to regular brownies, even down to texture. If anything, they're just a little more moist than other brownies I've made.
For those living in the US who may want to try the recipe, I used Trader Joe's 72% eating chocolate. It's the big bars they sell in the red wrapper.
Overall, the brownies are delicious and the recipe is one I'll be keeping and using again.
Last Saturday, I got tattoed for the first time. It was not a spur of the moment decision. Since 2006, soon after I became a naturalized American, I wanted to get a tattoo (to reflect become a dual citizen). However, on Saturday, the tattoo I did get has nothing to do with being a dual citizen.
I didn't go to just any old tattoo shop. There are quite a few in the Durham-Chapel Hill area but I chose one that a coworker has been to and had at least one tattoo done. I went into the shop prior to making the appointment to check it out and most importantly look at the tattoists portfolios (they're just photos of tattoes they've done).
At the time of the preliminary visit, I didn't know that I met the owner, Glenn. He was helpful and recommended Paulie as the tattooist who should do my tattoo. The tattoo shop and the employees have non-typical business hours so I made note of Paulie's working hours.
Fast forward to October 11th and I'm probably the first customer in the shop. I know I'm Paulie's first appointment. Paulie introduces himself and he looks like a tattooist. He has many tattoos himself and his ears pierced. I don't find his appearance intimidating or odd.
We went over the design very carefully. It's my own design based on a picture of a penguin I have. Initially, I just wanted a very simple image with no color but I realize it'd look a lot better if the black areas were filled in.
Paulie brought back the final sketch and once I'm happy with that, he made a transfer that he applied to my skin. He basically tattooes along the lines and fills in the black areas.
I didn't ask about what it feels like when the needles are in action and he didn't offer a description. It wouldn't deter me from going ahead with getting the tattoo anyway.
While Paulie started working on the tattoo, I looked to my left and noticed a weird looking rat character on a skateboard, stil in its packaging. Paulie explained that it was "Rat Fink", a character created by a 60s artist who wanted to create a non-stereotypical animal character. Here's a picture taken of Rat Fink.
Listening to the story about Rat Fink and its creator kept me occupied for a few minutes but Paulie kept talking about this and that. In fact, he was a fan of pet rats himself and described the next tattoo he wanted for himself. It would be a rat tattooed on his ribs.
The question that most people ask about tattoes is, "does it hurt?" The answer to that question depends on a lot of factors. One is where the tattoo is being put. Mine was very high on my left arm. I don't think the tattooing procedure really hurt. The needles don't go in that deep anyway. I've had people attempt to and draw blood from me (for medical reasons) that have caused more pain (because I have deep veins apparently). The size of the piece might lead to varying degrees of pain. My tattoo is small. It's only about 2 inches tall and less than 1 inch across. If I'd asked for the penguin to be four times bigger, I probably would've have felt a little more pain.
Also, going the dentist is more noisy. When Paulie was using his tattoing equipment, it hardly made any sound. Neither Paulie or I had to raise our voices when speaking. Loud equipment can make for an unpleasant experience (like being inside an MRI machine).
About 25 minutes after Paulie began, he'd completed the penguin tattoo. He explained that the shading he'd done wouldn't really look as it should for a few days yet because my skin had to heal for the effect to become clear.
Otherwise, I could pretty much see how the penguin would appear. The entire area of the penguin was raised. That was just swelling which was natural. My arm wasn't bleeding and I wasn't feeling nauseous. I was just overjoyed that I'd finally got my tattoo and it was of my favorite animal. It was an obvious choice.
Monday, September 29, 2008 - Questionable Use of Psychiatrists at Guantanamo
I heard a story last week on the radio that caught my attention. We've all heard of Guatanamo Bay and have a pretty good idea of who's imprisoned there.
It turns out the Pentagon has backtracked on a promise not to use psychiatrists in interrogating detainees at Guatanamo (and at other detention sites). This is not exactly surprising. However, my objection is psychiatrists using their particular skills in interrogating.
The radio story became news because the President of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates stating that "the use of psychiatrists to aid in interrogations is a serious violation of medical ethics and should be discontinued." There is a link in the NPR story to the letter itself.
I agree with this professional organization as well as lawyers, medical ethicists, and lawyers. Akin to physicians having the Hippocratic Oath, psychiatrists and psychologists should not be using their professional skills in a subversive way to interrogate detainees. It may not against professional ethical guidelines but it's clear that this is not how society would like to acknowledge mental health professionals making a living.
As the President of the APA says, "It's not the role of psychiatrists to figure out people's weaknesses and try to prey on them." That almost sounds like a definition of a criminal, doesn't it?
If this were happening on US soil, this would probably be a huge news story but with the 9/11 anniversary having passed recently and with Presidential Elections approaching in November, many Americans may just turn a blind eye and allow this to behavior to continue.
In the last month or so I've been listening to a lot of my albums and many of them have been from the 1980s and 1990s. So, I thought I'd compile my favorite albums from the 1980s.
Here's the list in no particular order:
Scritti Politti: Cupid and Psyche '85
Prince: Sign O' the Times
The Pixies: Doolittle
Kate Bush: The Hounds of Love
Talking Heads: Remain in Light
New Order: Technique
Peter Gabriel: So
Robbie Robertson: Robbie Roberston
Pet Shop Boys: Please
I tried to narrow it down to ten but I just couldn't decide on which album to knock off the list. I have all of them except one (but I have heard it numerous times).