Monthly Archives: August 2012

Tips from a wedding attendee

Chocolate fountains and pasta with red sauce only go so far. Both are great in theory, but not together and both place unnecessary stress on your guests freeloaders friends. I’ve been to a few weddings in my time (this advice goes for funerals and baby parties too), so I’ve built up a number of helpful observations. While everyone’s eyes light up at the flowing chocolate, the reality is that chocolate is damn hard to get out of party clothes. And those gi-normous, gorgeous looking strawberries that you dip in the fountain? Do you know anyone who can eat them without getting chocolate on their face and still look dignified?

Tip #1 The buffet stations (not the long table where everyone has to line up) is great. It lets the vegetarians pick out their stuff and the guests can wander around to their hearts content.  Sub-tip 1b – don’t put the vegetables in the middle of the meat dishes cuz then you get a whole bunch of vegetarians/pescatarians/vegans fighting the omnivores to get the last asparagus stalk and hey, they’re missing all the delicious steaks already, don’t frustrate them any more!  Guest-tip 1c – if you pick up some of the grilled zucchini for your vege-friends, don’t let it touch the chicken.

Tip #2 Long noodles are yummy, but they splash. I’m a super fan of all types of noodles, but I avoid them like the plague at business meals, job interviews – basically anywhere I’m not wearing jeans and a t-shirt. And, if it is Alfredo sauce, it has to be a white T-shirt and if it’s red sauce, it has to be a black t-shirt.  Just think of all the lovely white shirts and suit jackets and pretty dresses….oh, this rule can be thrown out if your guests are wearing clothes with a busy pattern in strong colours – the splashes will just blend in. Guest-tip 2b – if you get oil stains on your clothes that won’t come out – put some baby powder on them, let them sit for a few days, brush off the powder and wash again. The powder soaks up the oil. However, just as a side note to wedding planners and brides the long noodles do provide entertainment for the other guests 🙂

Tip #3 Your guests will entertain themselves so use decorations that you aren’t worried about getting back and that are easy to take apart. The latter is so that your guests won’t hurt themselves when they start poking at things and so that they can get creative with things and keep out of trouble while you’re making the rounds of the tables or they are waiting to be called up for the buffet.

Tip #4 Be the best sport on the day. Things will go wrong. Things won’t happen on time. Things will get spilt and broken and who cares? You’re married, the money is already spent and you have dozens of witnesses! If you enjoy yourself, your guests will too!

Some examples:

This is what you see just before it goes wild – only calm on the surface:

That sparkly collar used to be on the chair coverings – luckily it was only velcro holding it on

But all is good if the Bride participates

Until the dancing starts (don’t worry! They were just doing an x-rated kissing demo!)


Ackee means love

It was a common joke to say that I treat my Dad’s house like my grocery store – specifically the Chinese and Jamaican goods that my Uncle always stocks. (And the day I learn to tell one preserved mustard green in a vacuum pack from another, I will stop this practice.) So, the other night, when it was late and the family were chatting away and the subject of how Dad cooked Jamaica’s (unofficial) national dish came up, I got the inevitable teasing that I wanted to know if that was breakfast and if it was worthwhile my staying over for the night. I maintain that it was NOT a self-serving question, but a genuine exchange of information that is a cornerstone of our national and familial culture.

Food is always a good topic to discuss for Chinese and Jamaicans and if you put the two together (Chinese Jamaican or Jamaican Chinese), you double the subject matter available to you! In fact, I guarantee that if you mention this blog to a Chinese or Jamaican, you have enough conversation to last minimum 45 minutes and if you are in the person’s home, you will be offered at least a package or something to look at if not to taste.

We had just gotten a bit of breadfruit (don’t use the wiki site to look this up – go to this one) and the natural thing to go with this is ackee and saltfish.  My Dad said he would cook that. Now, I can’t recall my Dad ever cooking ackee (the “and saltfish” part is understood – leave it off to sound more native). EVER. He usually cooks North American foods – BBQ, ribs, lasagna, etc. My mom always did the Chinese cooking and my uncle did the Jamaican cooking. So, naturally, I had to ask if he knew HOW to cook ackee. With two of my uncles sitting right there, this led to a discussion of everything from which brand to buy (at $10 a tin, you have to make sure you get the right one), to how to rinse the ackee to how to marry the ackee with the saltfish. There was also a revelation and instruction to Uncle L that no, not everyone mashes up their ackee so it really does matter what brand you buy, thank you very much!

I certainly learnt a lot in the conversation not the least of which was that the men in the family did most of the cooking and were quite serious about it. They weren’t really talking about recipes; they were saying to me “here’s our culture. This is what we know and who we are. Don’t forget. And p.s., we’re family” – no hugging required.
And for those who are detailed oriented:

Brands of ackee – usually we bought Grace’s because their ackee held together well, but now they white label their products, so the firmness is pretty much the same as the others, except my uncles don’t buy Mr. Goudas for some reason and butter ackee can get mixed in with others so be prepared for it to fall apart

How to rinse – range of techniques; if you boil your saltfish instead of just soaking, you can use the same water after taking the saltfish out – either keep it boiling and blanch the ackee, turn off the stove and just drop the ackee in the hot water or pour the hot water over the ackee

How to combine – after sauteeing the saltfish with onion (all agree), tomatoe (disagreement there) and/or bacon (options available here for availability and vegetarianism) in a little or a lot of oil, you can add the ackee and turn off the stove and mix; pour saltfish mixture over ackee in dish and mix; add ackee and saute further; add ackee, turn down heat, cover and let simmer

So, you see why it was even later when the conversation finished and I had to stay over (I tend to crash my car when I’m tired) and have breadfruit and ackee and saltfish the next morning?

British Museum and Other Attractions

Lists are fine, but they don’t really tell the whole story. You can stick to my short post about London, but here’s some details on one of the things I loved about the city. The museums! They’re almost all free!! Just think of all the time in history that the British empire had to pillage appropriate collect fascinating things from all over the world! It is absolutely worth it to make your museums free (end of public service announcement).

I didn’t think I would love the British Museum as much as I did. It’s big. It covers multitudinous years. All the stuff is dusty stuff from long ago that we were forced to study in school. But oh, it’s so captivating. From the architecture in the rotunda to the antiquities from more places than I’ve ever been to. Looking at dry history books isn’t enough and if you don’t have the budget or time to visit dozens of archeological sites around the world, then in this museum, you can get close enough to hear history whispering at you from the corners of your eyes.

Then there’s the Tate Modern – again, not my cup of tea. I see 3 straight lines and I don’t think “hey, I’d pay a million dollars for that”, but it’s worth it for the 4th floor cafe view (I think the cafe has moved to 3rd floor or restaurant on 6th). On a clear or semi-clear day, you have a wonderful of the north side of the Thames and some of the great historic sites of London.

All time fave for traditional museums is the Natural History Museum or maybe the V&A. Can’t decide. I mean how do you decide between Darwin and bones and the most coolest structure within a gorgeous 200 year old building versus iron scrollwork and Mesopotamian sculptures and design galore?? The behind the scenes tour at the Natural History Museum is one of the best things (actually giant squid here!!!!) but the V&A has rooms where you could spend all afternoon in just one room!

And there’s smaller, not so well known museums – the Sir John Sloane and the Wallace Collection – these are more treasured gems that are wonderful to seek out and explore. They are tiny museums but Sir John Sloane’s (the guy that collected enough to start the Natural History Museum) private collection is chock full of curious pieces. And the Wallace Collection is just in a home, but is a gorgeously manageable small bite of paintings and a great conservatory restaurant.

I haven’t even touched on the Portrait and National Galleries! The tours at the National Gallery (also free) are amazing. If you can’t do anything else, do a tour.  They aren’t long and you learn more in the hour than you would if you wandered around the gallery for days. The tour guides are absolutely top notch too. Just be prepared to keep up with them because they cover a lot of ground artistically and physically!

And I have to mention Chiswick House and Gardens. There’s a museum there too, but just walking around the grounds was lovely – and this is in London! There are bike paths and a stream and mini-waterfall and lovely lawns for lazing around and kitchen gardens and on and on. Seriously, I couldn’t believe we were still in London.



















Happy museum-ing!

Love London, Love London Not

Ever play that game where you pick petals off of flowers and each one is a vote for or a vote against and wherever you end up, that’s what you have decided? no? well, maybe it was just me. My years in London showed me it was a city you either loved or hated, but noone was indifferent to it. My first taste was in a cold drizzle in Kensington and roast chicken and salad in a bag from Waitrose. Sure, everyone in North America has salad in bag now, but back then, this was a brilliant improvement!

Here’s a listing of the things I loved about London (that I can remember right now):

  • Neighbourhoods – distinct characters, various offerings, fascinating rhythms
  • Restaurants – when you find a good one, it’s pretty good
  • Museums – whatever you want to see, there’s a museum for that
  • Stuff – you want it, someone will have it!
  • Cool places to hang – coffee shops, wine bars, tea places, high tea places, underground clubs
  • Transit – the same air since WWII in the tunnels

And here’s a listing of things we all loved to complain about:

  • Internet service providers – all of them
  • Estate agents – all of them
  • Transit – the same air since WWII in the tunnels
  • Tourists – they just don’t walk at the same pace
  • Restaurants – it’s hard to find a good one!