In the air – on the ground – the expectations are the same

Maple-Leaf[1]It is no surprise to my friends and colleagues to hear that once again I am in the air again. More often than not it is for work but on this occasion the reason for my flight and quick nip across the Atlantic and continental north America is to retrieve my youngest for a rare gathering of the immediate Jones clan in London of all places.

My journey started with trading in some hard earned US Airways air miles and coughing up another $250 or so for a round trip ticket. Part two of the marathon involved scouring ticket aggregators like momondo and hipmunk as well as the individual airlines  to try and secure the best possible deals in terms of tickets. Those who travel frequently on their own dime will know these tools well but likely have their personal preferences.

Because you’re dealing directly with the airline, trading in air miles for flights is easy with US Airways, far more so than British Airways because there are no apparent black out days and they seem to have few or no restrictions on reward flights.

The second and third leg flights comprising two passengers presented some issues despite the fact that the flights were to be fully cash funded. The first challenge was dealing with the holiday season crisis pricing madness and the second aspect was dealing school term dates and not wanting to be flying for 24 hours or more.

Again, the aggregators do a pretty good job of describing the relative pain associated with certain flights, delays in transit and of course very importantly departure times. With certain flights there was an expectation that you would be quite happy to depart at 6am, lurk around an airport for 5 hours with a groggy and crotchety 8 year old in tow and then spend another 10 hours happily holed up in a flying cigar tube.

The best I could do in terms of flights was an incredible three leg pair of tickets from Seattle to London via Chicago and Washington. Actual flying time will be close to 14 hours but importantly the flight involves three airplanes and 4 airports. Fortunately all the flights are with the same carrier and no borders are crossed except that of the us and UK. Accordingly border crossing and international transit are not a challenge as it is when traveling through Canada say.

The carrier in question  is united airlines, one of the largest carriers in the united states. The tickets were bought via a discount site and while it is possible that I could have bought them directly through the united website, my searches on there didn’t reveal the levels of pricing that I ultimately managed to secure through the discount site. At any rate, the tickets were hardly what i wold describe as a bargain coming in at over £1000 each..

Despite the continuity in carriers, trying to actually reserve seats proved to be a little more challenging as it appears the airline wants to, or rather makes more out of charging a premium for the privilege of seat selection. As a consequence, despite traveling with a minor and having booked more than one seat at the same time getting seats together was a challenge. It seems too, that i was not the only person with this problem as there were plenty of other passengers with the same challenge.

United has one of the better passenger boarding procedures and the technology that they use on their website and at check in is amongst the best I have used. Cabin crew for the most part are reasonable but the ground staff in Seattle at least are a mixed bag varying in effectiveness and customer service. I couldn’t help feeling that if there was a little more sense to the seat assignments, he whole process would be a lot easier and result in happier customers.

Certainly for myself, I am glad at this stage that I have almost never flown United and when I have had the experience it has largely been a sub par one.

Passengers like me choose airlines and flights using basic criteria – carrier affinity, route convenience and almost certainly price. Price is likely to be the most dominant one when the passengers are paying out of their own pockets. As a consequence for private domestic travelers (who may be in a minority) unless you’re offering something really special, travelers don’t care but it is easy to piss them off.

If it should be

If it should be that I grow weak
and pain should keep me from my sleep.
Then you must do what must be done,
for this last battle cannot be won.

You will be sad, I understand.
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day more than all the rest,
your love for me must stand the test.

We’ve had so many happy years,
what is to come can hold no fears.
You’d not want me to suffer so.
The time has come, please let me go.

Take me where my needs they’ll tend
and please stay with me until the end.
Hold me firm and speak to me,
until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time that you will see,
the kindness that you did for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
from pain and suffering I’ve been saved.

Please do not grieve it must be you
who had this painful thing to do.
We’ve been so close, we two, these years.
Don’t let your heart hold back its tears.!

Is our perception of ideal food ruining us?…just say no to chicken legs

My mother grew up in the 1930’s, she would regale my brother and I with stories of hardship and how she and her siblings would have garments made of old cotton flour bags, soap was handmade and staples were hard to come by.


As I grew through my school years and into my teens, we rarely seemed to be without anything. Yes, there were shortages of certain products because we grew up in an era of sanctions bound colonial secession and we didn’t keep alcohol, fizzy drinks or cigarettes and we also lived far from any significant oceans or lakes, but our needs were largely met.

Visits to other countries or locales revealed delicacies like different flavoured potato crisps, sweeties and foodstuffs and the bread was divine. Our bread at home was supplemented with corn flour and consequently made great French Toast and hot buttered toast but made miserable dry hard sandwiches.

The hardships that my mother lived through translated into hearty, tasty, nutritious and considered meals based on what was available and as the grande dame of the house Mother would do what mothers do, she would serve us our meals. Meals were held around a round table in the evening and at the kitchen breakfast table in the mornings and sometimes at lunch time. If there were 4 or more of us in attendance meals would be at the round table.

A table cloth was laid, cutlery was placed and for hot meals piping hot plates would be used to serve meals up. A heating plate near the table was used to keep the food warm and there was always water and the option of toast as an addition for lunch times or breakfast time available.

The expectation from my mother’s side was that we would eat every scrap of food on our plate and meals were orchestrated in such a way that there was pretty much always at least two green vegetables, a starch and a yellow or white vegetable to accompany every meal that involved a cooked meat. Balanced nutrition was aspired to at almost every meal. Cooked oatmeal or cornmeal breakfasts in Winter, cereal or fruits in the Summer and occasionally a fry up especially on Sundays, all year around.

Fish Friday

Fish was a rare visitor to the table but Mother would make an effort to try and secure something appropriate for a Friday even though we were neither C of E nor Catholic. Two starches were never served simultaneously so being served pasta and potatoes or potatoes and rice never happened and was considered terribly infradig.

If you ate everything and there were left overs you could likely have some more but a lot depended on the type of meal and whether mother felt more would be gluttonous.

wingsAlthough in my tween years I shied away from eating the hard sought fish, my Mother seemed to understand and for some years I remember having something different from everyone else. It was only in later years that I came to respect a nice piece of fish cooked in an appealing way  – not necessarily batter dipped and deep fried, but grilled, poached, simmered and baked as well as pan fried and of course crispy beer batter dipped!

Lamb and beef appeared occasionally, as did pork and a frequent visitor was chicken – we lived near a poultry farm and hatchery and part of the Saturday ritual involved picking up eggs and at least a broiler every time we visited. The poultry farm was the last visit we would make on a Staurday grocery expedition before returning home.

I don’t believe we ever bought chicken pieces. I daresay they were available, but I don’t remember ever seeing them in the refrigerator or served up at home. What I would occasionally see is walkies and talkies or heads and feet, in the refrigerator that we kept in the laundry as an overflow from the kitchen fridge which by today’s standards would probably be considered incredibly tiny.

Media tells you what you should eat

The TV and media notion of chicken drumsticks was unknown to us, a novelty, a quirk of consumerist society where the white meat of the chicken was considered dry and dull and only good for making chicken mayonnaise sandwiches or chicken a la king. If chicken was to be had, it would be delivered as a whole chicken. It would be roasted whole and perhaps be dissected for inclusion in some other dish like a curry or for barbequing but I don’t recall ever seeing a pan of drumsticks or a pot of drumsticks being cooked in the kitchen and I spent a considerable amount of time in there for it was considered the heart of the house even though my mother delegated much of the cooking and baking to our cook.

So imagine a fast forward thirty years, to a 1st world country where you can buy pretty much anything you want as long as you are prepared to pay the price. Well, a trip to the grocery store offers up a great many choices to the cook – you can buy pre seasoned raw whole chickens and pieces, pieces pre categorized for you, fresh, frozen or even cooked. You can buy packages of just wing tips, just thighs, just drumsticks, just breasts and even drummettes, the top part of the wings.  You can buy not just chicken in this format but turkey, duck and a flock of other fowls too.

I am a breast man

My preference is to buy breasts for curries and stir fries and thighs for almost everything else. I will occasionally buy a whole chicken but when the cost differential per kilo is miniscule between pieces and whole, my preference is to go for the pieces because I feel such a waster by buying whole chicken and then not converting the carcass to stock. So to assuage my guilt I avoid having to throw out carcasses by simply rarely encountering them.

Although there is little cost difference between drumsticks and thighs, thighs are the better deal. With little or no bone, you get the advantage of the dark meat flavor without the handy but hassling aspect of drumstick ‘meat on a stick’. One of the reason I draw attention to this, is the inclination to always cook drumsticks with the skin on. For the most succulent meal, the skin should be kept in situ to avoid drying out the meat in the cooking process. Cook it insufficiently and the meat still clings a little to the bone, overcook it and the meat falls to bits and becomes difficult to serve. With  chicken thigh you have the same possibility, but ordinarily there is no likelihood of landing in that zone of cooked but not cleanly falling off the bone – or at least in my experience that is a rare problem.

chick filetThe inability to remove all the flesh from a drumstick however is a challenge especially if the gourmand refuses to pick up the bone and pick the remaining pieces off. This is the challenge we live with. Given the choice of drumstick or thigh, tweens will almost always choose the drumstick. Is this because it is the piece they most recognize or is it genuinely because they prefer it over the thigh. I think it is the former, it is recognizable and has been set up on the pedestal of ideal chicken portioning.

I would be ok with this predisposition towards the drumstick if I could be confident that all that would be left behind on the plate would be naked bones, but alas that is not the way it works, no, fussy eaters will eat the easy parts but leave the bone littered with perfectly good pickings. Returning to where I started this piece, my Mother would turn in her grave at the site of suc disrespect and abuse of the chicken and perfectly good food.

If you have a similar challenge, here’s my proposal, simply stop buying drumsticks. There are only two of them per chicken and they are the most sought after premium pieces and they are not worth it. While I don’t actively avoid them I certainly don’t actively buy them and don’t plan to change this habit any time soon.

Words that contain all the vowels!

Word  of the day – Eunoia – the goodwill a speaker cultivates between himself and his audience, a condition of receptivity


and words that contains the five vowels (a, e, i, o,u) in the right order

  • abstemious
  • facetious
  • arsenious
  • abstentious
  • acheilous
  • anemious
  • caesious
  • annelidous

Word of the Day : Churrasco

In 1508 alone – 16 years after Columbus first arrived in the Americas – 45 vessels crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean islands, bringing settlers and supplies.  They introduced new crops, especially sugarcane, and new animals, including cattle, mules, sheep, horses, and pigs, and remade the already fertile environment that Columbus described.

Settlement and the taming of the land was seen as essential to a good conquest. And conquest was seen as an essential pre-requisite to conversion of the natives. The conquest of nature and the domination of natives, then, worked reciprocally.

Cattle were brought to the Pampas from Paraguay in 1580, by the colonial expedition of Juan de Garay.[2]In the 18th century, the gauderios, who lived by hunting wild cattle, were recorded, most famously by the travel writer Alonso Carrió de la Vandera, when he passed through what is now northern Argentina.[3]Commercial cattle ranching began in the second half of the 18th century.

After the importation of 7 cows and a bull by the Spanish in the mid-1550s, Paraguay’s s cattle herds swelled to some 3 million head by the time of the WWI. , the largest herds in the Southern Cone. As with every other sector of the Paraguayan economy, the war devastated the country’s livestock sector, leaving only 15,000 head.

More than 400 years ago therefore ,  cattle ranching was introduced to the Rio Grande do Sul region of Brazil. Cowboys, called Gauchos herded these cattle, and like the cowboys of Texas created a new style of cooking. They called it Churrasco, which is Brazilian Barbecue. Though this style of Barbecue wasn’t based on smoke like that of the United States, it has all the traditions and elements of an American Barbecue. Churrasco started in the 16th and 17th centuries and spread throughout all of Brazil in the 1940’s as the Gauchos spread across the country.

Originally the standard formula for Brazilian style barbecue was to coat meats in coarse salt. The meat would then sit for about 30 minutes to absorb the salt and then was placed over the fire. Later a salt-water baste was used to keep meats moist during the cooking. Beef was typically never seasoned. Poultry and lamb, however are spiced with a rich marinade the night before cooking. Meats are places on long sword-like skewers and cooked over an open fire. Now days with the growing popularity of this style of grilling you can even buy a churasco grill.

Churrasco is much more than a way of cooking in Rio Grande do Sul it’s a way of life. The Barbecue capital of Brazil is the city of Nova Brescia which has a statue of a man cooking barbecue in the central plaza.

Read More at : Churrasco

The Peninsular Background of Latin American Cattle Ranching by Charles Julian Bishko

The Children of the Owl and the Pussy-cat

Our mother was the Pussy-cat, our father was the Owl,
And so we’re partly little beasts and partly little fowl,
The brothers of our family have feathers and they hoot,
While all the sisters dress in fur and have long tails to boot.

We all believe that little mice,
For food are singularly nice.
Our mother died long years ago. She was a lovely cat
Her tail was 5 feet long, and grey with stripes, but what of that?
In Sila forest on the East of fair Calabria’s shore
She tumbled from a lofty tree — none ever saw her more.
Our owly father long was ill from sorrow and surprise,
But with the feathers of his tail he wiped his weeping eyes.
And in the hollow of a tree in Sila’s inmost maze
We made a happy home and there we pass our obvious days.

From Reggian Cosenza many owls about us flit
And bring us worldly news for which we do not care a bit.
We watch the sun each morning rise, beyond Tarento’s strait;
We go out before it gets too late;

And when the evening shades begin to lengthen from the trees
as sure as bees is bees.
We wander up and down the shore
Or tumble over head and heels, but never, never more

Can see the far Gromboolian plains
Or weep as we could once have wept o’er many a vanished scene:
This is the way our father moans — he is so very green.

Our father still preserves his voice, and when he sees a star
He often sings to that original guitar.

The pot in which our parents took the honey in their boat,
But all the money has been spent, beside the £5 note.
The owls who come and bring us nows are often
Because we take no interest in poltix of the day.)
[from The Faber Book of Nonsense Verse, edited by Geoffrey Grigson; first published in 1938 in Davidson’s Edward Lear.]