Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pamcakes (AKA Shrove Tuesday)

I had a post written about Shrove Tuesday and pancakes and how it was a distinctly British custom when I had the good sense to ask my mother whether she knew about 'pancake Tuesday.' Turns out yes, she did, and in fact it is celebrated in many places in America with large Catholic and Anglican populations.

I was raised Catholic - and I mean, went to church every Sunday and went to CCD and everything until I moved out - and I somehow had no knowledge of Shrove Tuesday. I knew about Mardi Gras of course, but not a day where you pour your leftover butter and eggs into pancake batter to make pancakes.

So anyway, I celebrated Shrove Tuesday today by going to McDonald's and eating some pancakes for breakfast. I need to apologize to my UK-based readers: sorry guys, but most of the pancakes here are not up to this American's snuff. Pancakes should be massive, the size of your head if possible, and a half-inch thick at minimum. They should be drowning in real maple syrup and have a light coating of butter on each 'cake.

What you guys have - and I respect this - is closer to a crepe. That's fine, it's just that we don't see eye-to-eye on this particular issue.

Someday, when I want to get rich, I'm going open an IHOP branch here in London.

Oh yeah: I'm giving up something for Lent, but I'm not going to tell you what it is in case I crash and burn miserably.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Neighborhood Love

The other day while driving to St. Pancras station I passed a building on North Road I've never seen before: a white clock tower set far back from the road. So on my way to another destination today (which I never reached) I decided to check it out. Here's the tower:
Clock Tower in Caledonian Park
The tower stands in the middle of Caledonian Park, surrounded by council estates and a few ageing buildings. Turns out this was the site of the Caledonian Market, opened by Prince Albert in 1855 and built on the site of Copenhagen House, a tea room and 'pleasure garden' (no, not like that) [update: actually, it may have been exactly like that - thanks MiddleWay!] that was on the site since the 1600s. The market is long gone, having departed after World War 2. It was originally a livestock market as it was on the terminus of the Great Northern Railway, and there were several pubs in the area named after livestock. I passed by one, The Lamb hotel, which has been (recently, it appears) boarded up for refurbishment.

The park is a nice and fairly hidden slice of forest and grass, for Islington anyway. The clocks still seemed to be keeping perfect time. The tower was nifty and these little mysteries are part of the reason I love London so much: how else can you find out that a park by your house was a 17th-century tea room that became a cattle market?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Waiter, There's A Toad In My Hole

Toad in the HoleIn my continued quest to learn more about my new home and its various gastro delights, I took the opportunity to experiment a bit while the Beautiful Competition is out of town by making Toad in the Hole, a dish that sounds like some kind of vague innuendo. There is some debate about what Toad in the Hole actually is: I used the UK definition to mean 'sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding.' Which, for my fellow Yanks, is not actually pudding, it's a kind of roll or bread made from something very similar to pancake batter.

I went with BitchBuzz's Toad in the Hole recipe altering it slightly: I used a pre-made Yorkshire Pudding batter, and I think I screwed up the measurements a bit and made more than I should have. But it's not hard: brown the sausages by baking them for 25 minutes, then pour your batter in the pan and bake it for another 25 minutes. Bam. Toad in the Hole. Serve with mash(ed potatoes) and some gravy - I used a pre-made beef gravy - and pair it with something British. I opted for a medium dry Somerset cider for its sweetness.

Learnings: I don't think I left it in long enough - it's supposed to look a lot more brown than it ended up being and it's not 'crispy' as much as it is 'vaguely pancake-like.' Also, I'm going to mix some salt in with the batter because it's pretty bland without it.

My next British cooking adventure - whenever that might be - will feature partridge, because I want to cook something that's basically a pigeon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

London Twestival

It was the original, it spawned a worldwide Twestival movement and tonight it's back. I'm heading out to Shoreditch with other bloggers, social media people, social media bloggers, online miscreants and a while list of people I've never met in person to meet up and talk all things Internet - and for charity!

I love these kinds of events: the London Bloggers Meetup is something I look forward to every month, even when I can't make it for whatever reason. Twestival's going to be like a massive version of that and if last time is any kind of comparison it will be a hell of a party.

I'll be the tall Yank in a Hellboy t-shirt. Hope to see you all there!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Toot Toot! Here Comes the Censor-ship!

I don't watch a lot of television as a rule, but the other day I had The Simpsons on in the background. The episode was the 9th season classic "The Cartridge Family," where Homer buys a gun to protect his family. In typical Homer fashion he gets a little extreme: shooting the TV to turn it off, shooting the lights to turn them off, shooting a can of beer to open it, and so forth. Marge ends up taking the kids and leaving after Homer fails to get rid of the gun. The end of the episode has Homer handing her the gun and saying he can't get rid of it himself, so he asks her to do it for him.

She goes to put the gun in a trash can, sees her reflection in the can's shiny lid, likes what she sees - and decides to keep the gun, placing it in her purse and walking out.

At least, that's how I remember it ending.

The version that airs here, Marge opens the can - and the show (awkwardly) cuts to her walking out of the room.

What. The. Hell.

It is clearly intentional censorship; I've noticed pieces of it before - for example, the episode of Futurama where Bender becomes Santa Claus, there's a scene of a kid writing about how his dead grandfather is starting to smell, and the camera cuts to a dead old man's body - but the cut was missing from the version I saw, sanitizing the joke slightly. That kind of censorship I can at least understand. But "The Cartridge Family" kind took it to a whole different level.

It changed the entire meaning of the episode. Marge's decision to keep the gun after being so adamantly against is a powerful statement about the allure of owning a firearm, and is one of the more morally ambiguous statements in any Simpsons episode. (In fact, I remember not liking the episode the first time I saw it for that very reason - ah, youth.) Removing the scene completely also removes that moral ambiguity. And I cannot think of a legitimate reason why it would be cut apart from a censor deciding to change what the artist created. There are no laws (that I know of) restricting showing guns - Homer clearly had one and shot at household items all throughout the same show. Crime dramas are available on nearly every channel. No, this was insidious and intentional censorship to alter the meaning of the episode itself, and it is disturbing on many levels.

I've noticed a trend in the UK to simply put your trust in the government. They will do the right thing for you, they have your best interests at heart, they exist for the welfare of the people. Right? No. This is a clear example of why that isn't the case. People don't need to be protected from art or satire. People don't need to be told what to think, or worse, have their thinking manipulated through some nameless government (or commercial - this was on a commercial network) scrub imagines they know what's best for everyone.

To put it in Yankee terms: Fuck. That. Noise.

Seeing such a blatant display of censorship, especially of a thought-provoking piece of satire, very much ruined my faith in old broadcast media here. Not that my faith was terribly high in the first place, but I have to think: if they're willing to cut a few seconds out of The Simpsons to change the meaning of the episode so that people may not consider why gun ownership isn't as simple as a buffoon shooting at a beer can or throwing a gat in the garbage, then what else is being changed?

It's not a pleasant thought.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Little Green Street

Save Little Green Street!

We're kind of museumed out (we hit the Natural History Museum last weekend, which I meant to write about but never did) so were looking for something a little different to do this weekend. Along came Diamond Geezer's post about Little Green Street, one of those little hidden London gems you hear about and say 'hey, I should go see that sometime' and never get to. It is, in DG's words:
    a rather special Georgian terrace called Little Green Street. It's a very short road, only about ten families live here. It's very old, dating back more than 250 years to the early 18th century. It's pretty much intact, untouched by the Blitz and modern development. It's rather photogenic, indeed you can imagine the BBC shooting a costume drama here (so long as they painted over the yellow lines and covered the bollards). It's Grade II listed, as you might hope and expect. It's cobbled, and you don't get a lot of cobbles in Camden. It's also very narrow, less than three metres wide.
Cool, but worth a weekend trip? Well yes. I first heard of Little Green Street a few months ago when its story hit another blog (although I can't recall which one, and my Google Reader is being persnickety.) Little Green Street is facing what so many other slices of historic London face - progress. Little Green Street is the only access to an old slice of road that also has an old slice of undeveloped property, where a developer would like to put in some houses.

The problem is that Little Green Street is so narrow that the construction equipment wouldn't leave room for people to walk as it drove down the street, or it would require that the houses be knocked down (they're Grade II listed so I doubt that would happen.) The residents have their own website and blog explaining their ongoing struggle with the Camden council to save Little Green Street, and there is a massive banner with their website facing Highgate Road.

The street itself is one of those blink-and-you-miss-it little alleyways London has so many of, and there is definitely a different and quiet vibe there despite the massive council estates right next door and the busy street on the other side. I wish the residents all the best luck in fighting the development; the PR does seem to be on their side, which is good.

For us, it was close enough to make a Saturday jaunt - between our flat and Hampstead Heath, so only about 20 minutes away. It also offered a good excuse to check out nearby Kentish Town, which turned out to be a really hip and vibrant community - surprising, since it was known just a few years ago as being rife with gang warfare and drugs. It's practically a model of urban renewal in London and we both had neighborhood envy just from walking around. We found a nice pub, had a pint and just talked away the afternoon. Then walked back to Camden Town to catch the bus home.