Christmas in Belfast 2009

ChristmasInBelfast.jpg
Christmas in Belfast 2009 with big wheel in background.

A recent travel write-up noted how much Belfast has changed since peace began.

“When I first visited Belfast in the early 1980s it was an uninviting destination by day and a ghost town by night. The Provos were blowing up the place and their Loyalist street rivals were retaliating with murderous intent. Dickens once described Belfast as “a fine place with rough people”. He was wrong. Belfast people are supremely friendly but the place used to be as dangerous as a tin of Spam left out in the sun.”

On a more recent visit, he found the place well worth visiting. Belfast is born again. The City Hall commands views over grand hotels, smart shops, handsome public buildings, an ice hockey arena, waterfront apartments with jetties and scores of hip restaurants. Shoppers are everywhere. Gunmen, police and soldiers are nowhere to be seen. Salmon have returned to the Lagan. The normality is surreal.

During his trip around the city, he went to where Titanic was built and noted: “Unexpectedly awestruck, I’m looking into the massive dock on Queen’s Island where the Titanic was built: 39 metres wide, 259 metres long, 13 metres deep. Belfast once led the world in shipbuilding, linen manufacturing and rope making. There were 49,000 ship workers alone.”

The picture at the top is from the Belfast City Council and shows the 2009 Christmas celebration. One bit of discord is that big wheel you see there. It blocks entrance to the Titanic monument there, which has caused a row between the local Titanic group and the city leaders. You can read about it at the news side of the site. Hopefully the next time they put it up they are more mindful of not blocking the Titanic memorial that likely tourists will want to see. After all that is what they are spending millions of pounds for in the first place.

Titanic Cliche of the Day-Times Online

I never knew that there was a coffee problem in Britain until I read Chloe Lambert’s Cup of coffeearticle. She laments that British coffee was not up to snuff when compared to what you find elsewhere in the world.

“I love my country. I love our sense of humour, our pubs, our theatre and I don’t even mind our weather. But when I fly back home from a holiday, there’s one sight that makes me want to jump into the luggage hold and wait until the plane turns back. That is the brightly lit, maroon colours of a Costa Coffee. It’s the beleaguered businessman queuing up to pay £2.50 for a weak, lukewarm “cappuccino” with enough froth to sink the Titanic.” (“Coffee: Are We Finally Up To World Cup Standards?,” Times Online, 8 Dec 09)

I must give the writer credit for using something different with the cliche. Normally it is about rearranging the deck chairs or how (whatever the subject is about) is steering into the iceberg. I believe this is the first cliche that uses cappuccino and froth in relation to Titanic. In case you are wondering, the writer has found hope for coffee in Britain. Starbucks and other high end coffee shops are bringing real coffee to the populace. 🙂

Titanic Cliche of the Day-Huffington Post

The Titanic Cliche is really popular these days when talking about the economy. Cenk Uygur over at the Huffington Post recently blogged about the renomination of Fed Chief Ben Bernanke. And once again RMS Titanic makes an appearance:

“I had large misgivings about Ben Bernanke before his hearings began. He’s given credit for steering our economy to safe shores after we hit an enormous economic iceberg. First, I would argue we are nowhere near safe shores. Second, why are we rehiring the guy who steered the Titanic into the iceberg in the first place?”

Poor Captain Smith. Not only the captain of a ship that collided with an iceberg and sank, but now tied to sinking an economy as well. 🙂

St. Paul Man Makes Marriage Proposal Aboard Science Museum’s Titanic

Science Museum of Minnesota’s Titanic exhibition recently had a bit of drama reports KARE 11. Andrew Langbehn decided it was the place to ask his girlfriend, Kristen Lodgaard, to marry him. According to KARE 11:

So when Andrew decided it was time to pop the question, he could think of only one place to do it. KARE 11 was there as Andrew got down on one knee in front of the grand staircase inside the Titanic exhibit. Kristen said “yes” and the exhibits’ guests were treated to the couple’s first kiss as an engaged pair.

Someone could make a Titanic joke about a wedding proposal amongst Titanic artifacts, but for now I wish them all the best.

Titanic Cliche of the Day-WalletPop

“In remarks that sound faintly like what the first mate might have told the shocked captain of the Titanic, the secretary of housing and urban development, Shaun Donovan,tells the New York Times, ” We recognize there is a possibility that the reserves go below zero and stay there.”

(WalletPop,FHA going broke? How to qualify for a home loan anyway,16 Nov 09)

Ghostly Titanic?

This story did not come out on Halloween, which would have been fitting considering the subject. According to Ozarks First the Wichita Paranormal Research Society  (WPRS) recently examined the Titanic Museum in Branson for signs of paranormal activity. Said founder Shane Elliot, “I think there’s some really interesting claims here.” The claims are of apparitions being seen, ghostly voices and other weird things.

WPRS is investigating and used all kinds of monitoring equipment. According to the news account, “WPRS spent about six hours investigating the museum. Every person of the seven member team had some experience with voices or shadows.” This vague tease is likely a precursor that, of course, the exhibit is haunted. The findings, one suspects, will get some print space in the local newspaper and likely a mention on television (and quite possibly a segment on one of those television ghost hunter shows).

One thing I have learned from reading and studying on the paranormal is how easy it is to fool ourselves. All kinds of things can make us believe we are seeing or hearing things we attribute to the supernatural but are not. Distant voices or sounds can sometimes be from air vents or pipes. The normal contraction of wood (caused by heating up and cooling down) can sometimes be alarming with loud popping sounds. I once thought I heard someone walking about upstairs in the living room in my father’s house but no one was there. It was caused by the growing coldness of the night and the wooden floorboards contracting.

We can be easily fooled by our senses and the power of suggestion. Hopefully the ghost hunters will bear that in mind in tracking down the “ghosts” that allegedly hang around the exhibit.

Top Chef Rules For Cheftestants

Okay so this is not related to Titanic per se (although gourmet food was served about the ship) but I happen to be a fan of Bravo’s Top Chef.  In watching the many seasons of the culinary contest, there are some rules that become evident that will either make or break a cheftestant on the show. So here are a collection of rules, in no particular order, for aspiring cheftestants. Obviously others may be added as needed. By no means it is inclusive; I doubt I thought of everything. 🙂

1. Going to culinary school goes far on Top Chef
It is a fact that on Top Chef that those who go to culinary school usually do much better than those who do not. The reason is that most cooking schools, especially the well known ones, teach a lot of important techniques that being self-taught you might miss out on.  A self taught chef can produce good food but is at a serious disadvantage to someone who has mastered the art and cooks like it is served in a fine upscale restaurant.

2. Never Over Salt! Ever!
Perhaps one of the biggest hits on a dish is to make it too salty. In most cases, it is a death sentence for the chef who prepared it. Usually they ask if you knew it was too salty. If you answer no, they question your palate. If you answer yes, they question why you sent out the dish in the first place. Either way it is bad and puts you on the top of the list to be eliminated.

3. Light touch on seasoning fine; Under seasoning bad.
If too much salt is bad, under seasoning a dish is just as bad. The result is bland tasting food that just needs that extra dash of something to zing it up. It is not as bad as oversalting a dish but if it is combined with lackluster presentation and food that ought to have been better, your now on the list to be eliminated.

4. Do not make something you have never done before.
One thing that sinks aspiring cheftestants is deciding to cook something they have never done before. Unless you are familiar with the ingredients, it is best you stick with what you know. Otherwise expect the judges to be very tough in making you defend the dish if it turns out wrong.

6. Check your food for doneness.
Serving raw seafood (unless sushi or a cerviche), raw poultry, or too rare a meat will get you a fast ticket to the bottom. Likewise overcooking will end you at the bottom as well. Never assume it is cooked right by merely looking at it.

7. Avoid complicated dishes unless you tie it all together.
All the components of a dish must go together. Do not, repeat do not, just throw things together and hope for the best. Judges will zing you hard for this and worse if it tastes bad.

8. Never put something on the plate unless it relates to the other components.
One thing that trips up a cheftestant is putting something on the plate that simply does not belong there. Slices of cheese or fruit ought to complement not stick out like a sore thumb.

9. Avoid funky or strange combinations UNLESS you know how to make it work right.
Butterscotch, peanut butter, strong cheeses have been the death knell for a dish and the chef who prepared it. Even if you know how to do it perhaps it would be best to let it pass on this show. Judges are finicky and picky about what they like and dislike. Certain sweet and peanut dishes are good dishes in their homeland but not necessarily in the Top Chef dining room.

10. The Classics Trap: Your dish must recall the original.
Top Chef often asks its cheftestants to take a classic dish and make it something new. What this requires is ingenuity and skill to remake or update it. Remember though it has to hearken back to the classic dish. This is especially true if you have to deconstruct it. All the components of your dish must line up with the original in some way.

11. Crispy good, soggy bad.
This has been the doom of many a meal on Top Chef. When the dish, like a corn dog, has to sealed up and taken elsewhere to be served the risks of it going soggy are high. Steaming occurs while it is enclosed making your once crispy food soggy. Failing to understand this bit of food science will put you high on the list to be sent home.

12. Make sure the dish you serve is as advertised.
A few seasons back one of the cheftestants cooked Coq au vin. The judges all loved it but there was a problem: it was not Coq au vin. The dish requires a rooster not just a regular chicken to be served. And since many of the judges were classically trained French chefs and knew what the dish was, they had to give the win to another cheftestant. Likewise one cheftestant called his salad “Waldorf” but the judges pointed out it was not even close to the classic (and not very good either).

13. Overconfidence and arrogance is a dangerous combination.
It seems almost a Top Chef axiom: those that are overconfident and arrogant end up tripping up along the way.

14. Be sanitary.
Thankfully (as far as we know) this has not been a large issue. However it goes without saying that if the judges see you being unsanitary in food preparation or serving they will zing you for it.

15. When cooking food that is a local specialty, make it fresh.
Chicago is known for its sausage. So if you are going to wow the judges and others, you have better make some delicious sausage of your own. Relying on store bought varieties, while safe, will not impress the judges who expected something more.

16. Never serve under-rested meat.
The proper resting of meat and poultry is important to insure that flavor does not run out when you cut into it. There is perhaps nothing more sad than to see a perfectly good piece of meat ruined by not properly resting it. There is also a corollary to this: always slice your meats with the proper knife and make sure you do it evenly.

17. Never butcher an already tender cut of meat.
Taking a tender lamb, for instance, and then butchering and cooking it wrong will infuriate the judges and send you home for wasting a perfectly good piece of meat.

18. If not sure, omit the drink
If not required to have either wine or alcohol as part of your dish, skip it. Sometimes it can work in your favor or add little to the dish. Worse is when the drink is so bad that even if the dish was good it sends you to Judge’s Table where they examine you for sanity.

19. Do not try to fool the judges by mixing cooked with undercooked!
Simply put, you are an idiot for trying this. If you think that mixing undercooked potatoes with fully cooked mashed potatoes will not be noticed, you deserve to go home for such a bonehead move.

20. “The oven was not working right” and other excuses.
Most professional chefs have had kitchen equipment go down on them. When it happens, they improvise around it. If your food was over or undercooked due to bad ovens, burners or anything but a genuine power outage it will not cut you much slack with the judges. They can all recite experiences of their own and how they got around it in a pinch (and served the meal to the delight of everyone).

Matchstick Titanic Record Sunk By Oil Platform Replica

BBC News reported recently that a new world record is about to recorded in the area of matchstick replicas.

David Reynolds, a former oil rig worker from Southampton, England, decided to build a matchstick replica of a North Sea oil platform. It took 15 years and four million matches to finish the job. He did it out of fun and to keep  “the grey matter working.” The replica is so big it could not be put together in his own home and took two trucks to haul it to the Bursledon Brickworks and Industrial Museum where it is being temporarily housed. He got the matches to build his replica from friends and by buying wholesale to keep his costs very low.

If he is certified by the Guinness people, it will beat the the previous Guinness world record that went to a 3.5 million-match replica of the Titanic.

Commentary on Titanic news and other related items.

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