Friday, July 31, 2009

So Chic en Belgique (Part I)

The Eurostar's newest passenger

Yes it's that time again - the summer itch has come to haunt us all in our office cubicles (or living rooms, as in my case). Taunting pictures of happy families and couples lounging and swimming at the beach, or exciting city scapes with delicious restaurants are dangled before us by every imaginable form of communicatory portal out there. And suddenly the stifled wanderlust once more rears its ugly-only-because-it's-expensive head: it's summer. And we're all dying for a vacation.

In order to squash the proverbial traveling bug, this year we are doin
g a series of mini trips for our vacation - the first of which took place this past weekend. Living in England does have one benefit: it's close to the rest of Europe. :) As you can guess from the title of this post, we sojourned to what I would definitely consider one of the continent's underestimated destinations: Belgium. Matt had a pair of free Eurostar tickets and we figured it was time we blew this proverbial joint, if only temporarily.

This particular trip was momentous and highly anticipated not only because it is one of the first places Matt and I have visited together where neither of us has already been, but also because it was Master Roman's first adventure abroad. And what an adventure it was.

This will be a two day post - there's just too much to share. :)

* * *

The Chicness That is Belgiqueness
(in anecdote form):

Parts I-III
or, how and why Belgium won my heart one July weekend

I. Brussels: the Place that is Grand.

We made the decision to stay in Brussels for several reasons: it looked like a nice city, I'd read about a million articles calling it Paris' gastronomic rival, and finally, because everyone seemed to say it "wasn't worth" traveling to (Bruges is better according to most) and I had a bizarre feeling that probably wasn't the case. Luckily for us, I think I was right. From the time our cab picked us up at the train station, to the very moment we walked out onto the Grand Place for the first time, we were smitten with the place.

And speaking of cab drivers, I don't know if we just got lucky or if all cab dri
vers are like this in Brussels, but the guy was the nicest most informative one I've ever had (and I live in London - the land of informative, well-educated cab drivers!). He gave us a running tour of the city as we passed landmarks and sites of interest on our way to the hotel. He also recommended restaurants, dishes worth trying, and beers worth drinking. He put up with Roman screaming his head off because he hated the car seat, and even put a little classical music on to try to "sooth the savage beast." He gave us brief and interesting history lessons on the relations between the French, the Dutch and the Belgians, and had a self-deprecating humor that made his obvious national pride endearing.

Roman, hating his car seat.

Shortly after arriving at the hotel, we made our way through the Galerie de la Reine, onto the main attraction in Brussels (in my opinion): the place that is grand. The Grand Place, that is. :) The architecture and atmosphere is enchanting in a way that is Italian-piazza, French-place, and English-square all in one. And at night people gather and sit on the cobble stone square to chat, embrace, and admire the surroundings. Our first night there we were treated to what appeared to be a totally random / impromptu light and music show focused on the main building in the square. It was a romantic reminder of why we love Europe so much: cities are old but very alive. People use their buildings, their awnings, their squares in ways that Americans tend not to. All that plus the fact that the Belgians like Abba enough to have no qualms about blaring "dancing queen" at full volume across their main square completely justifies any patriotism they want to have in my book.

The place that is grand - night and day.

* * *
II. Sceltema vs. Chez Leon: A Moule-Frites showdown at sunset

The national food of Belgium is Mussels & Fries, and they are very proud of their renditions of both. According to the cab driver (extremely reliable source, I know), Belgians consume nearly 80% of the mussels produced in the Netherlands which is apparently one of the biggest, if not THE biggest commercial producer of mussels in the world. I am a fiend for all shellfish, so I was more than a little excited to "get my moule on." Armed with a list of possible restaurants to try in Brussels (sadly Michelin starred places generally don't allow strollers), we narrowed it down to Sceltema and Chez Leon.

The first I had read a single review on and it was recommended by the hotel's concierge, while the second was so ubiquitous on all Brussels tourism websites that I thought surely there was a catch, but I made a reservation anyway. Ironically, they ended up being across the street from each other. We ate at Sceltema on Friday night and Chez Leon on Saturday, the former a well-known seafood restaurant and the latter an old touristic spot with "reliably good mussels."

Each day at sunset we headed over for our moule frites and an appetizer of "Crevettes Gris" or "Gray Shrimp." After the second night, it wasn't hard to choose which mussel house we liked best.

Sceltema was classy, clean, had deliciously plump and fresh mussels, and two of the waiters were twins, so it always felt like the waiter was everywhere you needed him at all times (until you realized he was the twin brother, which took me a disturbingly long time). I'm not a big fan of celery and at Sceltema they served the mussels in a celery, onion and white wine sauce (which Matt loved), whereas at Chez Leon I got
my favorite: Moules Meridionales (tomato, onion, bell pepper and white wine). On the other hand, the frites at Sceltema were served with a sauce made of cream, mayonnaise, and the mussel broth which cannot be praised enough. Oh and at Sceltema you get all you can eat baguette to dip in the delicious mussel juice at the end.

Moules Frites at Sceltema -
a little too much celery for my taste, but still delicious.

Sadly, at Chez Leon the service was terrible, the place felt like a Dave & Busters with its touristy gimmicks and branded beer glasses, and on top of all that, the mussels were puny and there were about a million cracked shells in my pot. Chez Leon can keep their star-studded guest list.
I would rather go back to Sceltema any day.

Chez Leon: Roman Polanski once sat at our table.
Odd and slightly disturbing coincidence.

* * *

III. Belgian Beer: Officially Brenda's Achilles' Heel

Thanks to the above mentioned friendly cab driver, Matt and I knew to order a "trappiste" or "monk
beer" when we finally sat down at a local beer bar for an impromptu tasting. Feeling adventurous, I went for a dark beer and Matt went for a blonde (typical male ;) ). He followed his first with a Kwak - a beer that comes with its very own wooden stand and looks as fallic as it sounds.* I'm glad I only had one as my beer was officially 11% and his 8%. These Belgian monks are not kidding around.

badass Belgian monk beer: no wussy budweiser 'round here.

Official verdict: Belgian beer rocks. Rochefort and Westmalle dark were the first two dark beers I have geniunely liked in my life. And the Westmalle blonde, which one waiter claimed was "the best beer in the world" with "no equal," wasn't bad either, but more to Matt's taste than mine.

Interestingly, Roman also prefers "blondes." What a gentleman. ;)

Real Men Drink Kwaks.

*We first tried a Kwak at our local pub in NYC (David Copperfield's on 74th and York) with friends Sandra and Jed and it has been a long standing and rather puerile joke ever since.

* * *

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Wahaca: Not just an awkward phonetic spelling of "Oaxaca" anymore.

the sleek interior at Westfield Mall

When I heard about the new Mexican place in (London) town last year, I was skeptical. It's fair to say I've become callaced and embittered by the pitiful selection of "Mexican" food locales on the London culinary scene -- and it's not because I haven't tried to see the good in it.

* * *
Me Trying to "See The Good"

Maybe it was pyschological - a toxic combination of my Mexican blood and ridiculously (ludric
ously) high expectations and hopes - and maybe it was legitimately bad food (it was definitely bad tasting), but the first time we ate at La Perla on London's infamous Charlotte Street, Matt and I were both sick to our stomachs. And after years of indulging in shady but delicious street food everywhere I travel, let me tell you, I have a stomach of steel.

that we made our way to Crazy Homies near Notting Hill (think Nacho Libre minus Jack Black): quirky, full of holy santos, and just a little too weird to be realistically Mexican. The food is fine, and they make this crazy version of a Tequiza that is hotter than hell - I am, of course, a big fan of hotter than hell things, so that works for me. :) Oh, and the churros rock. But sadly, Crazy Homies is a little out of the way for me and not so decadently delicious that I would make that trip with an infant.

Taqueria, which bills itself as a "taco cafe" and is also in Notting Hill, is the closest thing to authentic I'd found in London. They house the only tortilla making machine in the UK (sadly the corn tortillas are like cardboard - something is definitely off in the masa), and make delicious salsas, guacamole, and carnitas. But the place is a little disorganized and doesn't take reservations (maybe this aspect should also count in their favor with regards to Mexican authenticity :/ ), which means you end up having to wait too long for food and it comes at random times. Shame.

Back to the point, after all the disappointments: when I heard about "Wahaca" I was annoyed and skeptical. First, annoyed that it was called "Wahaca" and spelled "Wahaca" instead of "Oaxaca."
Second, that it was run by a British chef. It seemed like my two worst nightmares: bad spelling and bad food. But good old Olive voted it "best cheap eat in London" and it looked kinda cool in a "super-spruced-up-market-taco-stand-in-El D.F." kinda way, so we went. Again. And Again.

* * *

Me Seeing (& Tasting) "The Good(s)"
The Top 5 Reasons I Love Wahaca

and therefore forgive the kinda lame tongue in cheek phonetic spelling

5. Good Story
So, my preemptive discrimination against the British chef is something I regret. Turns out Thomasina Miers won the BBC's MasterChef in 2005 and legitimately spent time in Mexico.
Wahaca is her first restaurant ever and she must be proud - the first week they were open, so many people came they actually ran out of avocados. (I love that story. :) )

(Good) Location, Location, Location
The first Wahaca was opened near Covent Garden - one of the craziest, most touristy, but fun
parts of town. The second location at Westfield Mall has a more sophisticated feel with an open-air patio on the mall's Southern Terrace.

Surprisingly the full-to-the-brim restaurants have a relaxed vibe; they are tastefully decorated with heavy stone and Mexican beer bottles, and are full of tourists AND locals. You know it's good when the line is out the door. And it always is.

3. Good ingredients.

The other good thing about Thomasina is the way she takes Mexican food and makes it her own. The dishes you get at Wahaca look pretty authentic, but you may notice a slight difference once you actually taste them: they are made mostly with locally sourced ingredients. That's right - British habanero peppers from Devon,British avocadoes, and locally made cheeses rather than imported ones. I still like my Mexican cheeses better - and no, Monterrey Jack is NOT a Mexican cheese - but Thomasina's choices are pretty darn close. :)

2. Good Price
Amazingly enough, of all the sheisty Mexican places I've tried in London - this is by far the best and LEAST expensive. A gigantic bowl of delicious (though a little too thick) tortilla soup with actual roasted chiles and delicious tortilla strips will only set you back around GBP7.00. The plates o
f 3 mini tacos are under 4 quid. Hey, I'm there.

1. Good (Corn) Tortillas
I judge all Mexican restaurants - especially outside of Mexico, Texas and California - by the taste and quality of their flour and corn tortillas and how they use them. It drives me NUTS to see enchiladas made with flour tortillas or to pick up a taco and have everything fall out from underneath because the corn tortillas are like cardboard. Wahaca has very good tortillas and even serves the little ones you get in the market or at taco stands in Mexico. My only complaint is that when you order extras they come spread out on a plate rather than wrapped in a towel to conserve their hea
t and pliancy. Well, I guess it is still the UK after all.

* * *
The last cool thing about Wahaca

If you're observant you'll notice what appear to be little blue packets of matches at the entrance to the restaurant. I always take matches - for the hell of it - but on this occasion I was particularly glad I had.

Look a little closer and you'll see that far from mini fire tools, what Wahaca gives out are far fire-ier and tastier: serrano chile seeds with planting instructions! Grow your own chiles! How cool is that?!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Interrogatory Addendum to Yesterday's Mullet Post


Does Jim from The Office have a mini mullet?

She hasn't said it yet.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Business in the Front, Party in the Back: Red Mullet Madness

The only "tasteful" mullet out there: the red mullet.

Inspired by a previous entry which, only in passing, referred to one of my favorite "mulleted men," and the fresh summer weather, I have decided to devote a post to all (or as many as I can think of) my favorite and, IMHO, the most noteworthy of mullets.

First off, no, I don't know whether "mulleted" is a technical term, but I'm going to continue using it, and if it catches on, I'd like to take full-credit. :)

Secondly, in writing this entry I also came across several sites I find worthy of passing on (mainly because they are borderline disturbing):

Mullet Madness: Where terms like "Tennessee Tophat," "Kentucky Waterfall" and "Canada Passport" are thrown around with respect and knowledge.

Rate My Mullet: Where real people go to have their mullets rated. (Seriously?)

Mullet Junky: If you can make it past the introductory warnings about being a true lover of mullets, you'll enjoy the pics. My personal favorite is the "Animull."

Finally, and most tastily, today's recipe is inspired by the madness of the mullet. As mullets go, my favorite by far is the Red Mullet, or a delicious little red fish once regarded as a delicacy in antiquity and still prized as a good catch today around the Mediterranean. It is also known as the "Woodcock of the sea" because its liver is considered an especially delicious treat left in the fish when cooked, unlike most other fish where all innards are removed (why the term "woodcock" would refer to that is beyond me, but I'll just roll with it and pretend I understand).

* * *

My Top 10 Favorite Mulleted Men Out There
(or the ones that come to mind, anyway)
because, apparently, you're never too rich, too famous, or too talented to go there

10. The guy on the Mungo Jerry video.
Yeah, THAT guy.

9. Jerry Seinfield
Like it or not, that definitely qualifies. Sorry Jerry, your hilarity cannot excuse the shameless weirdness of your hair. And yet, you own it. I salute you for that.

8. Andre Agassi
I bet you forgot about that one eh? And if you didn't, then admit you at least tried to (God knows he did). Now that I see it again, I feel like he kind of resembles an elf in the Lord of the Rings. Odd.

7. Patrick Swayze
Hot. Sexy. Sweaty. Patrick was all this and more. And let's face it, we all had "the time of [our] life" watching that mullet spin as Baby got tossed in the air. That fact cannot and will not mask the reality that Patrick had a mullet. Worse than that reality, however, is the reality that we all loved it and wanted to grind with it - err, him. :)

6. Angus McGyver
Nothing do-it-yourself about this professional-grade mullet.

5. Chuck Norris
This just confirms two things: a) that Chuck Norris is nasty looking in every way imaginable and b) that Chuck Norris is so much of a badass that even with a mullet people still devote time to writing long lists about why Chuck Norris is a badass.

4. Michael Bolton
"For my money it doesn't get any better..." than Michael Bolton's mullet. :) I'm not ashamed to say I am a fan of that "no-talent-ass-clown's" music too. Bonus points for the mullet a) being curly and b) for him being half-bald. Both things add to the "grotesque aesthetic" I believe this gets categorized under.

3. Slater on Saved by the Bell
Sexy Latino Mullet? Check.
Amazing how he looks incomplete without it and the trademark ringlet curls covered in gel that used to flop around tantalizingly while he did his signature dances wearing MC Hammer pants...

2. Billy Ray Cyrus
This definitely gets the prize for nastiest mullet of all. A couple of issues contribute to this: the length and yet ratty thinness of his mullet, combined with its high ratings on the "ubiquity of the mullet" scale. Billy flaunted his party like nobody's business. Sorry Billy, you broke my achey breaky heart when you cut that thing off.

1. Romanorum Master of the Forum
Yes, you read right: shockingly enough, my own darling-of-an-offspring is currently sporting a mini-mullet of sorts. Certain other-halves insist we should not cut it off because it's his baby hair. I sometimes have to reference mulleted man number 2 on this list for Continental Europeans to understand what I mean by the term "mullet."
That fact alone is starting to get the old husband to admit perhaps it is time hair met steel...

My favorite mulleted man; 3 days old and rockin' it.

* * *

Baked Red Mullet with Oregano and Garlic
in the spirit of delicious mullets

Serves 2

Red Mullet to me is a summertime fish. Bright, red, and delicately tasty. It's best when small, so serve two small ones per person or one medium sized one. The skin is thin and not too fishy, and if you're brave of heart, eat the liver too.

Because the red mullet was popular among the Romans, I've invented a recipe as a small ode to my favorite ancients. It uses oregano, a very mediterranean herb and white wine (a little nod to Bacchus there ;) ), and is perfect on a warm and dusky summer eve, with a dewy glass of pinot grigio and the ripest of tomatoes in the mix...

3-4 small to medium red mullets, gutted, cleaned and scaled (with tail intact - head too if that's how you roll)
3-4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced finely
4-5 tbsps (a handful) of fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tbsps good olive oil
1 lemon, juiced and zested
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) and take out a large oven-proof casserole dish or baking pan.
Lay two layers of foil in the middle of the casserole dish and create a "pouch" with sides raised, so mixture will pool around the fish.

2. Place the fish in the ovenproof dish, within the open foil pouch, about an inch or two apart. Salt and pepper the fish on both sides, and inside and place a bay leaf in the cavity.

2. Mix the oil, garlic, lemon juice, zest, wine, oregano and 1 tsp of salt together in a bowl and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so.

3. Spoon the mixture over the fish evenly. Salt and pepper again over the mixture.

4. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the mixture looks browned and the fish is tender.

Serve with white rice and a nice zucchini and tomato bake with feta sprinkled on top!

feta-y-goodness :)

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Ode to the Green Olive: Atún a la Vizcaina

just like abuelita used to make

I don't know how it started or when (definitely before I was in school), but somehow my childhood memories are littered with many a green olive with pimento satisfyingly being munched on in my mouth. Whenever my mom took us to the grocery store I was sure to voice my desire that she purchase one of those skinny tall jars of my favorite treats.

I guess maybe olives weren't that common in the US back then because I happen to recall that only about 30 olives fit into one of those jars and so it was inevitable that in a day or two I was already looking for the next excuse to go grocery shopping.

In addition to that, I maintain that at least a small part of the reason I consider Matt my soul ma
te is that he shares my love for the green olive and consequently takes his martinis dirty, verrry dirty :) Even before we moved in together, Matt had his own jar of green pimento'd goodness in the fridge. Gotta love a man with a penchant for olives. :)

* * *

Top 5 Reasons I Love those little Green Olives That Come in a Jar
or Any Other Kind of Olive for That Matter
(And yes, I do eat the nasty little pimentos in the middle)

5. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

The trees are monumental. The fruits make oil, and cured or preserved, a great snack. You can
make tapenade, caponata, cure them in oil, salt, vinegar, put them in sandwiches, eat them alone - there are a million ways to sing (and eat) the praises of the versatile olive.

4. There is nothing quite so breathtaking as an olive grove.
I have an olive tree topiary in my living room that Matt carried home on my vespa last year. I also have a small seedling growing on the window sill. I aspire to one day have many more on a piece of land somewhere. :)

ok so it was his scooter, not mine.
And in this picture it was our Bay Leaf topiary, not the olive.


3. There is something life affirming and wise about olive trees.
They always look so pleasantly alive,and seem to breath fresh air into any room while adding a touch of sophistication to any garden. The young ones are little classical promises and the old ones are the mediterranean midget equivalents of JRR Tolkien's Ents. There are a couple in the Med dating back to the Greek and Roman Empires. Mind-boggling.

A wise old (1500 year old) olive tree in Greece.
For more info, go here.

2. They are Highly Aesthetically Pleasing.
Or at least evocative of things that are aesthetically pleasing, such as: olive groves in Sicily, the first time I squeezed oil out of a raw olive in Italy between two fingers, curing olives with nothing but salt in Greece, the small beautiful display of olives at the market in Trieste - in oil, in brine, in vinegar-, buying homemade vinegar soaked elies (olives) in Ancient Corinth and admiring their unique purpley-green color...

1. They take me back.

Which is appropriate since the greener the olive, the younger it is.
They take me back to: grocery shopping with my mom, the youthful joy of feeling so utterly exhilirated about a small jar of cheap olives, unabashedly licking salty little fingers after plucking them straight from the jar, breakfasts at the Sheriff's, cooking Atún a La Vizcaina with my Abuelita Anita...

* * *

Atún a La Vizcaina: Abuelita Anita Style

Serves 2-4

We recently finished off our most recent giant jar (Matt has been eating them by the spoonfull after work quite a bit lately), and the last thing I cooked with them is today's recipe. It is evocative of a lot of things for me, but most importantly it is a dish that really showcases the green olive, IMHO, and was the perfect swan song for our most recent and duly appreciated jar of olives.

There are several different recipes for
Atún a La Vizcaina but this is the one I used to cook with my grandmother and it is therefore, by default, the best one. :)

2 tbsps olive oil
10-15 small new potatoes, halved
10-12 Roma Tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
2-3 tbsps tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium onion, sliced
3 tbsps small capers in vinegar

5-6 heaping spoonfuls of pitted green olives (pimento or not, it's up to you)

2 tbsps olive juice (from the jar)
1 can of tuna in water or olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


1. Place oil, garlic cloves and onions in a hot pan and allow the garlic to flavor the oil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

2. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and allow them to cook for 5 - 10 minutes over medium-high heat, or until they start to break down.

3. Add the potatoes and 1/4 - 1/2 cup water, olives, capers and season with salt and pepper. Cover pan with lid and allow to simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes.

4. Finally, add the tuna and mix gently so it doesn't completely break apart. Cook for another 5-10 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is semi-thick and well-seasoned.

Serve with white, unsalted steamed rice. Some fresh pineapple makes a nice dessert. :)

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Life Coaching & Douche-baggery Continued.

It's been a while since I added to what has now become an unintentional but critical segment in my blog: Life Coaching & Douche-baggery. (I realize some may take issue with my choice of adjectives and nouns here, but why write a blog if I can't indulge in using my favorite, albeit sometimes inappropriate, slang terms on it?)

Life Coaching

Every month or so Matt and I bother to pick up the latest issue of our local borough newspaper: The (Wandsworth) Guardian. It generally boasts funny local anecdotes, random historical information about the borough, and announcements for goings-on such as food festivals, D-grade concerts, and random business openings. It also, however, has a classifieds section.

It was with equal glee and shock and plenty of cynical sniggering (snickering?) that Matt shoved this little doozy under my already preemptively flared nostrils:

Yes, the Guardian does actually have a special section devoted entirely to Life Coaching. Am I missing something here?! What the hell is a "Life Coach"!?!


One of my (many) sinful indulgences is reality tv. The most recent butts of my (and Matt's) reality tv obsession, and therefore also our merciless criticism, are none other than the unlikely stars of, well anything, but this time "Date my Ex": ex-fiances Jo "the ho" De la Rosa and Slade Smiley. Yes, that is apparently his real name. What gives, right?

Jo & Slade;
in the words of my favorite mulleted man:
how can we be lovers if we can't be friends?

If you don't know the plot, I won't bother explaining it - just go here. If you've seen the show, then chances are you probably already know what I'm about to tell you. It doesn't make it any less funny. I will probably have to devote a separate entry itself to Jo (Matt pronounces it in Spanish: "ho." Yes, that is ironic.), but Slade definitely falls under the category of D-baggery, and so here we are.

Top 3 Reasons Slade Smiley is a Douche Bag
I almost feel bad...but you know you were thinking it too.

3. Because Dave says so, and it takes one to know one.
(See comments on second link.)

2. Because Lucas says so, and Lucas (despite appearing somewhat vapid) is kinda hot.

1. Because this blog says so, and it's freakin' hilarious.
(See comments at the end as well.)
* * *

And just because it's a great video...

What can I say? We all need a small dose of power-balladery every once in a while. :)
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Friday, July 3, 2009

In the Summertime when the weather is high...

my London mini-shrimp shrimp-boil;
still scoring rather high on the yummers-scale.

...I've got shrimp boils, I've got shrimp boils on my mind!

**Apologies to Mungo Jerry for bastardizing his classic song, but it's just so apropos. For the record, though, I don't know how the song is any more "bastardly" by substituting "shrimp boils" for the word "women." Yeesh Mungo, you sure got a way with a hell of a lot. For starters, your name, the boots, your moustache-toting-mulleted band members, mesogonistic songs about getting laid...but really your unbelievable luck at not being run out of town can all be summed up with two words: mutton chops.

For the past, oh, lifetime, I've been telling every single person that will listen and is likely to buy me a present that the only thing I ever wanted for my birthday was shrimp. Big, juicy, delicious, gigantic shrimp.

I think I've mentioned before that I had a small obsession with everyone's favorite seafood chain (besides Long John Silver's, of course - because who can get enough of those crunch extra bits that come with the fish and fried clams?!) Red Lobster (please, enjoy that commercial just one more time!) as a child. That, coupled with my lack of proximity to the seaside, my mom's claim and directly correlated unwillingness to cook shrimp because "cooking seafood stinks up the house," ensured that by the time I was 18, I had a full-blown obsession with eating shrimp. And once I was old enough to have my own income, I felt no guilt whatsoever going to my favorite fish monger Kenny at the awesome Agata & Valentina in the Upper East Side for the extra jumbo shrimp that cost $30.00 a pound.

After the first time I ate those shrimp I told Matt that my new birthday wish was no longer going to Red Lobster, but getting a gigantic bucket full of those extra jumbo shrimp, boiled and ready to peel given to me. And then eating them all in one sitting and not sharing a single one with anybody else. (Yes, I do know I'm a brat.) This has still not happened (ahem).

I find summer in London a time of particular difficulty in the shrimp department for a couple of reasons all leading to the ultimate conclusion that summertime is the perfect time to break out the spices and make a damn good shrimp boil, or else life is just not worth living.

* * *

Top 3 Reasons Why Summertime in London is Difficult in
the Proverbial "Shrimp Department"
because I apparently have a shrimp department in my head

3. Where the hell's the seafood?!
For an island, there's a surprising lack of good seafood here (maybe because they ship it all to France?!). Unless by "good seafood" you mean battered and deep fried cod or tiny "prawns" slathered in mayo. *gag* As far as shrimp, er, prawns, they are small. Small, small,small. I don't care how you change the name - king prawns, tiger prawns, jumbo prawns, they all boil down to one thing: crappy quality and inferior size. And they cost an arm and a leg.

2. Where the hell's the fishmonger?!
Unlike in New York, London seems to have a sad lack of fishmongers. Yes, you can find the odd fishmarket here and there - either in ethnic parts of the city or in extremely high end ones - places where there's a real fishmonger who knows what's what and is willing to explain it to you. But in general the fish departments at supermarkets offer old, pre-frozen glazy-eyed fish. Or worse yet, they don't sell raw shrimp! Yep, almost everything is pre-cooked. What's with that?!

1. Where the hell are the shrimp boils?!
Ok, so I'm not that shocked that they don't exist here, but I still have to complain. Given that most people in the UK think food with a dash of paprika is "spicy," I'm not surprised the Louisiana-spicy-as-all-hell-yumminess hasn't caught on in this neck of the woods. Nevertheless, I have made it my business to take advantage of the summer deals on raw prawns at Tesco by declaring Fridays Shrimp Boil Day. Hey, I'm a good Catholic girl. And besides, what's a little more heat in a heat wave? :)

* * *

Shrimp Boil Yumminess
pronounced "Shrimp Bowl" if you're from Texas

Serves 2

8 tbsps (or to taste) of Louisiana Crawfish, Crab and Shrimp Boil Spices
*you cannot buy this in the UK!
1 to 1 1/2 lbs jumbo shrimp (peeled or unpeeled)
2 ears of fresh corn, halved into 4 cobbettes
1lb baby new potatoes, washed
4-6 cloves garlic, whole unpeeled
2 medium yellow onions, quartered
4 tbsps butter
Tabasco sauce, to taste
2 lemons, halved

1. Place the garlic, onions, potatoes, butter and spice mix into a large pot and fill with water until all ingredients are covered with extra broth on top. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and mix until the spices are dissolved.

2. When the potatoes are almost tender, add the corn and leave to boil for another five minutes.

3. Just before you are ready to eat, add the shrimp to the pot. Allow to cook for five to eight minutes (don't overcook the shrimp!) and then immediately remove from heat.

4. Using a collander, drain the ingredients. Roll out some newspaper, get a roll of paper towels and pour that spicey goodness out straight on the table!

Serve with lemon wedges, tabasco sauce, some crusty bread and a nice cold beer.

Best eaten with greedy, grubby little hands and followed by a nice big slice of fresh watermelon or some scooped out cantelope, in the true spirit of summer.

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