Sunday, February 27, 2011

London - Little Japan and the Phantom of the Opera

Originally I wanted to go to the Natural History Museum but I didn't expect the incredible queue in front of it. It is half term school holidays in England and obviously everybody took their kids to the Museum. I was told it would take up to 60 minutes to get in and so I decided to do some sightseeing and shopping instead and postponed the museum trip  for the time being.

It was a beautiful day and so I walked towards the Thames and Buckingham Palace (with the London Eye in the background). And this is the so-called cenotaph, a WW I memorial:

After enjoying St. James Park, I returned to Piccadilly Circus

39 Steps is still running...I watched it a couple of years ago with P and C. We enjoyed it a lot.

I also wanted to visit the Japan Centre which moved from Piccadilly Street to Regent Street, just around the corner. My favourite place to have a look for japanese books and magazines. There is now a Mitsukoshi (a Japanese department store) on top of it.

Amatou from Wagashi Maniac also told me about Minamoto Kitchoan, a wagashi shop in London. So it was on my must-see list :)

Wagashi are Japanese sweets or 'sunkissed goodness' as they are called on Minamoto's website, and are traditionally served with green tea. Made from natural ingrediences and with a much lower calorie intake you can indulge without guilt :)
Here some photos of some of their wagashi; first a seasonal one, Sakuranbo, Japanese cherries in a jelly, unfortunately it is jelly made from gelatine, so I couldn't buy those. But they do look pretty.

Of course I couldn't resist and bought a selection :) but you will have to wait till I'm back home to see photos of the wagashi I bought. If you meanwhile want to try your hands on them and make them yourself, you should visit Wagashi Maniac's webpage with loads of recipes and instructions.

For the evening I got tickets for the Phantom of the Opera.

I've loved this musical for long, but never had the oportunity to see it on stage. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's music was great, but I already knew this since I have an excellent recording at home. Maybe that was the reason I was a tiny bit disappointed. The character of Christine was brilliant, with very nice voice, but the male leading actors were not really that good or just not at their best on this evening.
The special effects were ridiculous, maybe they should go and watch a performance at the Royal National Theatre to know what can be done on a stage. When the phantom threatened the lovers he threw flashes of light towards them .... they looked like duds of a firework, just some pityful yellow blobs that fell down right where the phantom stood. As Raoul I would have laughed my a... off.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

London - Petrie Museum and a Tower twilight tour

The Petrie Museum was a must on my list, after all, I spent so much time in it when I was studying at the UCL. Back then I didn't have a digital camera to take photos in the badly illuminated Petrie Museum. So I hoped I could get my hands on some pieces I really liked back then, like the magic wands. Of course the exhibition had changed since then and the magic wands were not on display. No reason to despair, since it was filled with beautiful artefacts from all time periods to compensate for. Here are some objects I thought to be very interesting.
Since I especially like the Amarna period, here a limestone piece from the central palace in Tell el-Amarna showing Akhenaton, Nefertiti and one of their daughters:

This painted wooden stela is exceptionally well preserved. It belonged to Neskhons, the wife of the high priest Pinedjem II (21. Dynasty). Note the high tech in the Petrie Museum, if you have a reader for this bar code you can get all the information on your blackberry or i-phone or whatever.

This figurine appears very modern but this red pottery figurine with tattoo from Qua cemetery 100, is dated to 5020-2835 BC:

Naqada I pottery is always enjoyble because of their beautiful motifs especially the boat scenes:

But also late Period faience hedgehogs do have their charm as you can see with this globular perfume bottle (aryballos):

Although there were no magic wands, they at least had a lot of other ivory objects on display like this jackal headed clappr from Diospolis (6th or 7th Dynasty):

A most fascinating object was this serpent tripod (Naqada II) from a predynastic tomb:

It was also a highlight to see a fragment of the pyramid texts of Pepy I from his pyramid in Saqara (6th Dynasty). You can see the name of Pepy in the cartouches; his name appears quite often:

This bead-net dress made of faience beads is one of the finest objects in the Petrie Museum. Whether it was actually made for a dancing girl or not, it is at least the earliest surviving example of a bead-net dress at all. It is from the 5th Dynasty and was found in Qau.

I had a quick linner (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) at the Carnevale, a vegetarian restaurant with mediterranean cuisine. Their tomato-fennel soup was delicious and I will try to re-create it at home. The potato cakes with vegetables provencales weren't bad either.
Thus invigorated, I was ready for a twilight Tower tour. A Yeoman Warder, a beefeater, guided us through the nightly Tower of London.

Of course he told us all about murder, treason, and torture at the Tower. However, he refused to tell us about the ghosts of the tower, since he personally hasn't seen a single ghost although he has been living on the Tower premises for quite some time. But then, Arbella Stuarts ghost (Arabella was murdered at the Tower in 1615) seems to concentrate on haunting women anyway.

After we made it safely through the Tower and without encountering a ghost I went to the tube station to get back to my B&B. So here a last photo from the art at Tower Hill station, the Tower ravens:

Friday, February 25, 2011

London - Hunterian Museum and Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales in the Lyric

Although I spent quite a lot of time in London, I've never been to the Hunterian Museum before.

I should have gone there, it was an astonishingly interesting museum and overall a very positive experience. William and John Hunter were both Scottish medical men, one (William) an anatomist and obstetritian and the other (John) a surgeon and a scientist. Not only did John Hunter collect rare animal species and dissected them, he was also keen to collect pathological samples which he also prepared for his scientific studies. For this, he had a copper pot in an underground house where he cooked animals an men alike if he wanted their bones or whole skeletons. It was here where he cooked the body of Charles Byrne, the Irish Giant.
Knowing that in the 18th century bodies were sold to surgeons, Byrne, the nearly 8 foot tall young man paid a lot in his life for a funeral on sea but Hunter obviously outbid the undertaker and obtained the body of the 'giant' since you can see his impressive skeleton on display in the museum:

The Hunter brothers collected everything from Tasmanian Tigers to Dodo Skeletons

from H.E. Strickland, The Dodo and its Kindred, 1848
 from American mastodon fossils to fossilized shark teeth of the Megalodon shark, who was 60 feet in length
from gall and bladder stones to skulls with Paget's disease or syphillitic skulls

You can also see Newton's death mask, the so-called Hey's saw for trephanations of skulls
but one of the most impressive objects were the Evelyn tables, the oldest European anatomical preparations from 17th century Padua. Here the artery system:
After all these grim stories about death and body snatching an evening with 'Twisted Tales' from Roald Dahl seemed a fitting end for this day. The Lyric theatre in Hammersmith adapted some tales (mostly known from a tv series called 'Tales of the Unexpected') for the stage and it was a very enjoyable performance even though a bit short. You would have wished for an additional story or some of them a bit more detailed. In this scene here, a young American bet his little finger against a cadillac.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A culinary tour around the world - sixth stop: Egypt

Sadly I missed last week's stop Thailand. What a great opportunity for veggie curries I missed :( ....
But well, life goes on and after fighting a really bad cold and a pyelitis I'm nearly fit to go anywhere. Well, nearly.
But let us have a look where Joan from foodalogue is taking us this week for our culinary tour around the world:

Can you guess? Right, it's Egypt!
I was twice in Cairo, and although this might not be reflecting any knowledge about the rest of the country, I at least did eat some original Egyptian food in my life. Strangely not a lot kept in my memory. We still remember Umm Ali, a sweet and heavy desert which the boys devoured in great quantities. But I'm still working on my own veganised version, so this takes a little bit more time.
I know that I loved Karkadeh a lovely hibiscus tea which you can drink hot or cold. And I of course remember ful nabed, the Egyptian fava bean stew. I couldn't get either hibiscus or fava beans, and I still wasn't well enough to drive to the next greater town to look for the ingredients, so I decided on something simple. A soup, since soups seem to help in all matters of bad health.
I decided on a cauliflower soup with cumin and fennel from

North African Cauliflower Soup with Cumin, Chives and Fennel (source:



2 1/2 cups chopped onions

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups diced potatoes

5 cups chopped cauliflower

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel

4 cups hot water

2 vegetable bouillon cube

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

salt & freshly ground black pepper

chopped tomatoes and chives


In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, saute onions in vegetable oil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until translucent.

Add the potatoes, cumin, and fennel; cook for 1 minute.

Add the hot water; cover, turn up the heat and bring to a boil.

Add the cauliflower and bouillon cubes and return to a boil.

Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until the vetetables are tender.

In a blender, puree and vegetable/broth mixture until smooth.

Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Reheat the soup, being careful not to scorch it.

Serve warm; garnish with chopped tomatoes and chives.

It was a good soup, but to say it reflects the spirits of Egypt is going too far. So in the end I was a bit dissappointed. For a little bit of comfort, here some photos of Cairo I took two years ago (obviously with an awful camera):

Overview over Cairo

Homes for the poor along the Nile (I can only hope that this will now change for the better)

Pyramid of Khufu, but have a look at the sign for the perfumery 'Ramses'
on the right-hand side, it is written in Russian!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A new fashion trend seems to be emerging: the beard-hat!

You can't ignore it anymore, if you want to be fashionable, you have to wear a beard-hat this season.

It is suitable for all ages:

It doesn't bow to sexism, not even speciesm:

you can wear it irrespective of your nature:

It will be a hip trend in sports, I can already see other kinds of sports enter the movement

even the toughest Viking must yield to this temptation

When will you have your beard-hat? Don't wait too long, it could be scratchy in warmer weather.

PS. Photos from various sources from the Internet.

Monday, February 07, 2011

You are what you eat

What do these things have in common?

Euthanized cats and dogs, road kill, Styrofoam, chicken manure, animal hooves, and feathers.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists1, all of these things are legally allowed in conventional livestock feed.

Photo and text from:

Saturday, February 05, 2011

One can't get enough of Japanese food

I'm back! We have changed our internet provider and now I'm back online, only our telephone still doesn't work, oh well, I don't like calling people anyway. It's much more fun to have a cup of coffee with a friend than talking for hours on the phone.

But I wanted to post some super easy and delicious Japanese food. While testing some recipes for the culinary tour for which I -of course- made more recipes than entries I can make, I found so many which are worth blogging about. But these are the ones I did for our dinner, so I present you the second meal with Japanese food we had in this week. 

It consisted of sato-imo with sesame, natsu-don (eggplant bowl), lotus root kinpira (simmered lotus roots), quick-fix kyuri tsukemono (pickled cucumbers) and of course (brown) rice.

Shizuoka Gourmet  had a recipe for sato-imo (taro) which I wanted to try for a long time. This was the perfect opportunity. The recipe is so simple and yet so tasty, it is really worth trying it out. But let's get a bit nostalgic about taro first ... with a waka poem by Muko Kokushi:

on the leaf of a taro

a white dewdrop lingers

and then falls off -

yes indeed this is

a tear of joy (of the Buddha)

Here are sato-imo, cooking in the pot:

This is how they look cooked and peeled. Yes, you can already guess that they are a bit slimy. But sliminess is an important tactile feature in Japanese cuisine. You should alway try to have different textures in your meal to stimulate your tactile sensitivity. Thus sliminess is very important! It took me a while to appreciate slimy food and I still can't stand tororo (white slime from grated tororo imo) on my soba noodles. But with time ....

But in the end the sliminess blended perfectly with the sesame and it was my favourite this evening, so if you want to impress with a very Japanese dish which is actually not time consuming at all but rather done in a jiffy, try this recipe.

Next the lotus root kinpira; I love lotus roots because of their crunchy texture. You can find the recipe here. don't they look beautifully?

And the finished version together with the natsu-don, for which you can find the recipe on Vegan Ronin's blog. She included a nice photo tutorial.

An equally easy dish was the quick-fix cucumber tsukemono. There is no real recipe, but I try:


2-3 mini cucumbers (or Japanese cucumbers, or any variety with small seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar
crushed sesame

What to do

Wash and cut the cucumbers fist in halves and then in very fine slices, massage in (important!) salt, let sit for at least 15 to 30 min. Then gently squeeze out the water and add vinegar. Sprinkle with crushed sesame (not gomasio, that would be too salty, you can use toasted whole sesame seeds instead). That's it, you are already finished, so lean back and enjoy!

And, just for the fun of it, I want to add a random friend photo. This is Gottfried, the little kitten from my friend K in Austria: