Remembrance.

Watching my friend John’s Daily Vlog from yesterday got me thinking about this.

It was a Tuesday morning, just like any other before it.  It’s not a day I talk about very much.  It’s a day that I really gained an understanding of my own mortality, and how quickly and easily it could slip away, had circumstances been the tiniest bit different.

Back in 2001, I was working for a network equipment manufacturer, covering ISPs and Telcos.  Sometimes, I did meetings direct with these carriers, trying to convince them to buy, other times, I’d do a ride-along to go with them to visit their customers, since after all, when their customers would buy, it meant my customer had to buy from me.

I had a meeting on my calendar already for Tuesday, September 11, 2001, but it was right near home in NJ.  Late in the previous week, I got a call from one of my customers, who wanted me to come along to a meeting at a new account he was trying to crack.  The meeting was to be at the customer’s offices, on the 90-something-th floor of 1WTC (that’s the “North Tower” for those who don’t know).  His plan was for us to meet up around 9 up in the cafeteria off the 44th floor Sky Lobby, chat for a bit, then do a 10 am meeting, which would culminate in a ride back down to the ground, and then back up in the express elevator to 106, where we’d take the customer to Windows on the World for lunch.  As much as I loved getting up to that place, I was already booked, so I turned down the meeting, and we’d agreed to reschedule.

Since my meeting was near home, and not until later in the morning, I took the opportunity to sleep in a bit, and take my time getting ready.  Around 8:45 am, my phone rang.  It was a guy I’d done some work with in the past, who knew I was a regular in the NYC area.  He told me that he’d just seen the news, and asked if I’d seen anything.  Not knowing what he was talking about, I flipped on the news, and of course, we were all confused, wondering what was going on.  We hung up, and I kept on watching the news.  As the details began to unfold, it slowly dawned on me that had I accepted that meeting, I’d either be in line at the 1WTC visitor desk, or 44 floors up in the building that American’s Flight 11 had just flown into.  Had the meeting been an hour earlier, I’d have been right around where it impacted.  Just as I’d come to this realization, United Flight 175 flew into 2WTC as I was watching the news live.

Instantly, we all flipped from confused and sad about an accident to the stark realization of what was going on.  This was not an accident.  Moments later, my phone started blowing up.  Friends and family were calling me to see if I was alright.  I was completely freaked out.  I changed my VM message to say I was at home, not in the city and was fine.  I shut my phone off for the better part of a day, and just stayed glued to the news.  Then we all walked around in kind of a fog for days, maybe weeks.

Several of my co-workers were in the city that day, and happily, they all are fine.  One guy was sitting in traffic on the Pulaski Skyway, headed for the Holland Tunnel, and saw the whole thing happen start to finish.  A few were in the office we had on Broad Street. One was on the PATH train that turned around and left the WTC.  It turned out that it was the last PATH out of town that day.  The folks in the office described the sound of the buildings coming down as the loudest noises they’d ever heard, followed moments later by a cloud of dust, 25 stories tall rolling down Broad Street.

Eventually, services got restored, and people were allowed back into the city.  I volunteered with the Red Cross one day, handing out water to people who were digging.  I’m convinced I saw part of someone’s arm or leg.  Pretty damn unsettling stuff.  Years later, the PATH started to run downtown to the WTC site again.  It still freaks me out a bit to come back through those tubes into the bottom of what used to be a thriving concourse with shops and people everywhere, and is now, 13 years later, still a huge construction site.

Occasionally, I ponder how different my life could have been had I taken that meeting.  I may have never met my wife, gotten married, become a father, any number of things.  Each day is a gift.  We would all do well to remember that, myself included.

Today’s Lunch, Pork Tenderloin

On the weekends, we usually cook for lunch, and then do smaller, leftover-ish things later in the day if we get hungry again.  So, it’s another lovely day, and we’re off to the grill.  Today?  Pork tenderloin.  It’s just the 4 of us, so I only did one of the two tenderloins that came in the pack we bought.  The other is in the freezer.

I made up a little mojo/marinade type thing using a rub that I’ve had hanging around a while.  It’s the “Jack’s Old South” rub from Food Network.  Here’s the recipe for the rub…

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sweet paprika
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil

I was originally going to make a paste using apple juice and smear it on, much like a rub, but decided to give the pork a bath in it, so I added a bit more apple juice.  Just mix it up until it looks right to you. You’ll need about 4-6 ounces of liquid In there to do an adequate job. Trim up the tenderloin, put it in a gallon sealable plastic bag, and add the mixture.  Smoosh it around to coat, remove as much air as you possibly can and seal it up.  Minimum bath in this stuff should be 4 hours.  24 would be better.  Put it in the fridge for this time.  About 30 minutes before you throw it on the fire, pull it out of the fridge.

Don’t like the rub I mentioned above? Use whatever rub you like. I might try this next time with the rub my butcher makes.

Charcoal grill?  Setup for 2-zone cooking. Gas? Turn on all the burners and heat your grill up to medium high heat.  Cook it for about 2 minutes on each of the 4 sides, then shut off the burner that’s under the pork, or move to a part of a charcoal grill that doesn’t have direct heat going.  Close the lid, and check it every few minutes.  In 8-10 minutes, you should be all done.  Remember, trichinosis is at an all-time low for all of known history.  You do not need to cook your pork until it’s a crispy, dry mess, crying uncle.  140-145F is plenty good enough.

We served this up with a pasta salad, and leftover corn from yesterday’s tacos, and it was good.

Would I change anything? While I found it nicely spiced, as did my wife, the kids thought the spice level was a bit high. They’re a little wimpy with that stuff, so next time, I might do a bit less rub in the mixture.

Chile-Lime Skirt Steak Tacos

We were going to make Friday night Taco Night, but then realized that Alex had his gymnastics class, so it had to wait for Saturday’s lunch.  Glad we waited, the extra time in the marinade was good…  Sorry, no pictures this time.  It’s still good.  Go make this.

So, tacos.  Brown up some ground beef, toss in that seasoning packet you bought in the supermarket with some water, wait, and then stuff a sort-of-not-too-nasty hard shell with meat, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, & the kitchen sink, take a bite and need to change your shirt.  Right?  You couldn’t be more wrong.  That’s a terribly over-Americanized version of the taco, humble street food of Latin America.  We will not be doing that today.

Buy 1 ½ lbs of skirt steak.  You can use flank too if you’ve got that on hand, or can’t find skirt.  I’ve got a butcher down the road from us, and they rule.  Hi Jeff & Terry.  While I was there, I ordered up a brisket to be BBQ’d and ready for us to consume during an upcoming gathering of friends & family.  Yum in advance.

Prepare your steak.  Sometimes, skirt will still have a membrane on it.  Get rid of as much of it as you can.  While you’re at it, trim the skirt a bit too.  Leave some fat on there – fat will melt and is flavor.  But, you probably aren’t interested in having a giant hunk of fat hanging around either..  Now might also be a good time to cut it into manageable lengths to fit your grill, since you’re getting all knifey with the steak already.

Make yourself a marinade.  The only thing you may have trouble with is the chile powders.  In your average American supermarket, you can get “chili powder”, and it’s a hodgepodge of stuff that’s not just ground up chiles.  Get thee to thine nearest Mexican grocery for some ancho and chipotle chile powders.  Here comes the marinade.  Throw all this stuff in the nearest bowl and mix it up with a whisk until it’s all combined.

  • 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Done whisking?  Put the skirt steak in a sealable plastic bag.  Dump the marinade in on top of the steak.  Remove as much air as you can from the bag and seal it up.  Smoosh it all around in there a bit to coat the steak with all that chile-infused goodness.  Don’t freak out – this isn’t spicy.  Yes, you’ve got a fair bit of chile powder in there, but when you’re done cooking, it’s going to be nicely spiced, and not hot & overpowering.  Trust me here.  Even if you’re not into spicy, put all of that stuff in there.  How long do you marinade for?  That’s up to you.  Some people like to go an hour, but I ended up going for about 18.  I put this all together at about 6pm Friday, and cooked it up a bit before Noon on Saturday.  Some marinades overpower when you go that long, but this one did not.  If you’re doing a short marinade, do it outside the fridge.  I did mine in the fridge.  Either way, for about an hour before you’re cooking, get that thing out of the cold.  Don’t worry, you won’t die.  You’re about to put this steak above 500+F heat.  That will slay anything that manages to grow in an hour.

Go and make a fire in your usual way.  You want to setup your grill for direct grilling with high heat.  Skirt likes to cook fast, so you want to hit it with a thermonuclear blast of heat for a short time.

Got your grill all prepped, cleaned, oiled and up to about 500-600F?  You’re ready.  Pull the steak out of the marinade and unroll it onto a baking sheet or something big & flat.  After you get the steak on, hand this to someone to wash and bring back to you, or have a second one ready for the cooked meat.  For my grill, I got it up to 600F and then did 2.5 minutes on each side before pulling it.  At 500F, it’s probably more like 3.  If you’re Alton Brown or just love his methods, well, just do what he does.  Not having charcoal (I know, sacrilege, right? It’s ok, I’ve got a smoker try built into our Weber gas grill), I just keep it all up top on the grates.

Done cooking?  Now it’s rest time for that meat, so that carry-over will finish the job, leaving you with nicely cooked beef.  How do you cut skirt so it’s tender and not all stringy/chewy?  Against the grain, so the fibers are nice & short.  Basically, cut the steak into smaller pieces, then cut it sideways.  Go watch the AB video above if you think I’m speaking Latin right now.  He shows it very nicely.  I did 3-inch sections that I sliced into 4 pieces each.  That’s a good size for tacos.

While that meat is resting, warm up your tortillas.  Soft tacos for this guy, please.  Corn or flour, whatever you like.  Some people warm up tortillas by wrapping them in plastic and nuking them for a bit.  I don’t like this method, as it leaves you with gummy, funky tortillas.  You’ve already got a nice hot grill, and you’re kind of standing around while the steak rests, so throw the tortillas on the grill a few at a time.  Watch until they just start to puff up, flip, and then stack on a plate.  You can do easily a dozen tortillas in the time your steak rests.

And now, assemble as you wish.  For me, it was a tortilla, 2-3 pieces of steak, some cheese and a bit of hot salsa or a couple of squirts of Tabasco’s Chipotle Sauce.  Want to chop up some cilantro or dice up a few tomatoes and add them? Go for it.  Perhaps a little pico de gallo instead?  Have at it, but don’t overload the taco there, bub.

We served this with some rice and corn as the side dishes.  It was fantastic.

Pork & Chorizo Burger

Pork & Chorizo Burgers – Like Heaven on a Bun

Last year, I had a burger that was probably my favorite burger of all time.  It was at Brown’s, a pub chain in the UK.  Their Wild Boar & Chorizo burger.  It was divine.  Now that I’m not doing much international travel for work, I decided to go my own way and make my own version.  Today was the day.

Mere bog standard ketchup is unworthy of this fine burger.  To that end, I used some leftover meatloaf glaze, from an America’s Test Kitchen recipe.  It’s a fantastic slightly kicked up ketchup.  Here’s the sauce…

  • 1 cup ketchup (I like good old Heinz for this)
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tablespoon hot sauce (Pete’s, Tabasco, Sriracha, whatever you like)

Whisk it all together in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat until thickened.  That should take about 5 minutes.

Moving on to the burgers..  There is no shortage of recipes out there for burgers like this.  50-50 mixes, 75-25 mixes, ones that have all sorts of other stuff tossed in the burgers too.  I like to keep it simple.  So here’s the recipe…  The recipe yields 4 burgers.

  • 1 1/3  pounds of ground pork (I’d take wild boar if you can get it though!)
  • 2/3 pound of Mexican chorizo (this is important – you don’t want Spanish, you want Mexican, as it’s an uncooked sausage – for me, this was two links)
  • 4 Brioche Buns
  • Sliced Manchego Cheeze (or grated if you don’t have sliced handy!)
  • Lettuce, Tomato, Onions, Pickles as you like

Unwrap those links, slice the casings lengthwise, and remove the sausage from the casing (if you can get bulk ground chorizo, even better!).  Cut the sausage into 1 inch sections and toss in the food processor.  Pulse until the chorizo is crumbly.  In a bowl, combine the chorizo with the ground pork.  Get in there with your hands and combine the meats, but don’t over-work the mixture.  You’ve got 2 pounds of meat here, so divide that up into four 8-ounce balls, and form patties.  I like to use the divot in the middle of the patty trick to keep them from swelling up too much when you’re cooking them.  Season the patties with just a bit of kosher salt and black pepper, and apply the fire!

Cook the burgers to 145 F, keeping them juicy, and allowing carry-over to make sure they’re properly cooked.  Top with a slice or some grated manchego cheese.  Split, butter and toast those buns, assemble and prepare yourself for a mouth full of good burger.

Stuff you may want to know before you go to London.

Intro

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been to London probably 20 times.  All of those trips, save 2, were for business.  Probably 10 of those weeks were in 2013.  I’ve been there at all times of the year, seen it rainy for a week, seen it boiling hot for a week (like July, 2013, where it was 36C, or 97F for several days), seen it sunny and cool, and even seen London in the snow (quick, everyone panic!).  I get asked about going there all the time by all sorts of people.  So, I decided to just write this up and share.  Here’s an amalgamation of stuff I can share.

Important: Above All Else!

If you’re from the US, or another left-hand drive/right side of the road country, pay attention.  It is engrained in your brain to look left first when you approach a street corner, and then start to step into the street.  If you keep doing this in London, you’re going to end up a stain on the front of a vehicle.  Look right first.  It bears saying again.  Look right first.  Conveniently, they know this, so at most street corners, look down first – it’s probably painted on the ground – “Look Right”.  Sometimes, on 1-way streets, or in the middle island of a street, it may say “Look Left”, but for the most part – LOOK RIGHT first.

Before you leave home – Smartphone Apps you want

I’ve got an iPhone, but I’m sure there are Android equivalents to these.  These are (in my opinion) indispensable apps to have.  Many of these chew data – be sure before you just start doing data roaming in another country.  Your carrier will often have international plans that will make it more affordable to do stuff like this.  Alternatively, if you use an unlocked phone (like I do), you can pick up a Pay as You Go (PAYG) SIM card from any of the many carriers over there.  I do T-Mobile, and use their £10 pack that gives me 200 minutes, a bunch of texts and 1G of data.  I can also call the US for 3p/min.  For an iPad, I use 3, where for £10, I get 1G of data, and 4G speeds.

  • Tube Map Pro
  • Citymapper – Bonus: works in loads of other cities too
  • Google Maps – Do you really not have this yet?
  • Hailo – For hailing a black cab, right to you, and pay with a card instead of cash!
  • Kabbee – Mini-cab (private hire car service) app
  • Uber – Car Service app, works in loads of cities

Transport From the Airport

I’m going to assume you’re flying into Heathrow (or LHR if you’re into the whole airport code thing).  Maybe you’re flying to Gatwick (LGW) or London City (LCY) too.  Some of this will still apply to you, but obviously, not many of the specifics.  Upon arrival at LHR, there are two primary methods for getting into town – public transport and a private-hire car service.

Public transport options range from the bus (which takes absolutely forever to get into town on), to the London Underground, aka The Tube (which takes slightly less than an eternity), to a combination of services like the Heathrow Connect or Heathrow Express.  For a single passenger, the Heathrow Express is a pretty decent deal.  It’s going to cost you about £20 to get an express train from LHR to Paddington Station (yes, the one the bear is named after).  After this, you can hop on the tube (Hammersmith & City, Bakerloo, Circle, or District Lines all stop there).  What’s the absolute cheapest way to get to Central London from LHR?  The Tube.  The Piccadilly Line runs all the way out to LHR, and will cost you £5.70 (as of July, 2014) to ride all the way into Zone 1 (i.e. Central London).  That ride’s going to be an hour or so, depending on where you’re going, and if you need to change trains anywhere along the way.  I did this once.  I absolutely hated it.  I made a solemn vow to never do this again.  If there are 2 or more of you, it’s almost certainly bound to be cheaper to just hire a car service to drive you to your hotel.

Often times, your hotel already works with a car service that will add the charges directly to your hotel bill.  This convenience often comes at a fairly steep price.  You’ll almost certainly get a very nice ride in a very nice car like an E-class Mercedes, but it’s probably going to run you £100+ for that nice ride.  So, what’s to do?  You’ve got options.  You can use Kabee (that app above) to book in advance, and you’ll know exactly what the cost will be.  You can also phone or email ahead to various other car services (go get your Google on already…) and set it up.  I’ve used Blackberry Cars in the past, and had reasonably good success.  I’ve also got a guy I just phone up directly and use as well.  The cost?  He charges me £40 to pickup at LHR and drive me to Central London, typically in the Covent Garden/Leicester Square/Trafalgar Square area.  I pay him in cash – so hit the ATM before you leave the airport.

Public Transport

The bulk of London’s public transport options can be paid for with a single ticket – the Oyster Card.  You want to get one right away.  There’s a £5 deposit and a minimum £5 top up, but you can get the deposit back by returning the card before you head for home.  Oyster is a touch-less system that uses RFID technology.  Be careful though – if you have other touch-less cards in the same wallet as the Oyster, and you just wave your wallet at the sensors, you can end up with “card clash”, and you don’t want that.  So, keep the Oyster apart from your regular cards.  If you’ve got a chip & pin credit card, you can use the machines to buy & top-up the cards.  If not, you’ll need to go to the assistance window, which is a pain in the rear sometimes, with long lines.  Call your bank/card issuer and see if they can hook you up with chip & pin before your trip.

London’s also a very cycle-friendly town.  You can do short-term rentals on bicycles with the Barclay’s bicycles you see all over town.  People generally refer to these as “Boris Bikes”, in honor of Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who got the scheme off the ground.

Hotels

As always, Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).  So, take what I say with a large grain of salt.  I don’t know (or in reality, actually care) about what your hotel preferences are – this is just what I’ve seen & experienced.  :)  First off – prepare yourself – it’s expensive, no two ways about it.  Unless you want to stay way out by Heathrow and spend your life traveling back & forth to town, you’re either going to pay a lot, or have a somewhat crappy room.  Do your homework – not all hotels have AC.  If you’re used to having it, and it’s a warmer time of year, you may be in for a big surprise.  During much of the year, you don’t need AC there, which is why many less costly properties don’t have it.

When I first started going to London, I stayed near where the bulk of my customers were located – Canary Wharf, aka the Docklands.  It’s a big hub for Financial Services companies.  I’ve stayed out there in the Marriott as well as the Four Seasons.  Both hotels are very nice.  One of my customers got a good rate at the Four Seasons (£175-200/night), so I stayed there more.  It’s a gorgeous hotel, with an impeccable staff.  Very high end.  BUT, it’s in a terribly boring part of town.  Since I last stayed there, there’s a little more nightlife in the Docklands, but it still pales in comparison to the rest of the city.  This is why I don’t stay there any more.  We ended up spending oodles of time in cabs, on boats, or in the Tube/DLR going back & forth in the evenings.

Ok, so no Canary Wharf for you, eh?  Good move.  I stay in a specific area, and have been at 3 hotels, all within a 10-minute walk of each other.

My most recent stay (July, 2014) was at the Waldorf Hilton, located on Aldwych (post code: WC2B 4DD).  This is a VERY nice hotel, and many rooms have been recently renovated, including the one we stayed in.  Reasonably good AC, decent TV for those times that you’re lounging around in the morning or before bed.  Not cheap – 4 of our 6 nights were paid with Hilton points, and the other 2 ran us £240/night.  Pretty short walk to Covent Garden tube (Piccadilly), Charing Cross (Northern, Bakerloo), Embankment (Circle, District, Northern), Temple (Circle, District) and Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly).  Across the street is the ME Hotel, which includes Radio, a VERY cool rooftop bar.

My last stay before that (December, 2013) was at The Trafalgar, located at the bottom of Trafalgar Square (SW1A 2TS).  Weird AC controls here.  Very nice location though.  For Tubes, it’s a short walk to Charing Cross and Embankment, not too far to Leicester Square and Covent Garden too.  Nice rooms, ran about £200/night.  Cool rooftop bar.

My usual is the St. Martins Lane Hotel, on St. Martins Lane.  It’s a block from Leicester Square, and a short walk to Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Embankment, and Charing Cross Tube Stations.  Very nice rooms, often with an included breakfast in the hotel restaurant.  If you catch it right when booking, you can often get it, including breakfast for under £200/night.

What’s important to know when you’re arriving early in the morning, having taken an overnight flight – check in time.  Many times, the hotels have a check-in time of 3pm, and you’re landing at 7am, followed by getting to the hotel.  So, you show up 8 or 9 am, and are hoping to get a room.  Sometimes you can, but most of the time, you can’t.  So what to do?  Often times, the hotels will offer an optional early check-in for a fee, or you just book the night before.  In other words, if you’re leaving Saturday night and getting in early Sunday, and want to guarantee a place to shower and take a nap – book for Saturday night.

Stuff to Do

Like any major city, you could spend months and fail to get all the cool stuff done.  Think about this as a highlight film.  There are a million things to do that I’m leaving out here.

London Eye

Everyone wants to ride the big ferris wheel.  Tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee, Bakerloo, Waterloo & City), and then a walk to Jubilee Park, where the Eye is located.  You can (and should) book tickets in advance online.  If it’s a hot or a busy day, you want to pay a few £ more for the Fast Track tickets, which will let you skip the majority of the queue.  Great views of the city.  If it’s a hot day, the AC inside the big pods is VERY welcome.

The Shard

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe.  You can go all the way up to the very top to The View From the Shard, where the observation floors are 68-72, which only leaves the spire above you.  There’s nothing above you there (for now!).

Gong / Ting – in the Shangri La Hotel

Want to combine the high-floor view in the Shard with some cocktails or dinner?  Book a table in Gong for cocktails, or Ting for dinner.  Those are both in the Shangri La Hotel, in The Shard.  Both are located on the 52nd floor.  The view from Gong is absolutely fantastic.  Tables at Gong don’t come cheap – when we went it was a minimum £30/person minimum.  Ting is the restaurant.  As the names should tip you off, these are Asian-influenced places.

Pubs

These days, the majority of pubs you’ll come across are chains.  The major ones are All Bar One, Taylor-Walker and Fullers.  Of those, I tend to frequent Fullers locations.  My favorites would be the Artillery Arms, on Bunhill Row, near Old St Tube (Northern) or The Cat & The Canary, in Canary Wharf.  I also like the Henry Addington, also in Canary Wharf.

Food

London gets a bad rep for food.  It’s mostly unwarranted.  Yes, many “traditional” British dishes are bland or nasty, but there’s really no reason to eat all that stuff.  London is an extremely cosmopolitan city, and there’s something for everyone there.  Some of the places I like include Gig’s in Fitzrovia (Northern to Goodge St) – excellent Fish & Chips and Kebabs.  If Indian food is your thing, you’re in luck.  Some of the best Indian cuisine in the world is in London.  Two spots, both near Aldgate East Tube (District, Hammersmith & City) include Tayyab’s and Lahore Kebab House.  Tayyab’s has better ambiance, but I like the food at Lahore better.  Technically, Lahore is Pakistani, but it’s in the Punjabi region, so it’s close enough.  The food comes out fast & hot, and is amazingly good.  Lahore is a BYOB, and there’s an off-license (a convenience store that sells alcohol) at the corner.  Cobra is a nice beer to go with curry.  In the mood for a good burger?  London’s got you covered.  There’s Byron, who makes “proper hamburgers”, and they’re very tasty.  Back in the summer of 2013, it was all-out American burger chain war in Covent Garden, when both Five Guys and Shake Shack opened in Covent Garden.  Other popular spots include MEATLiquor and MEATMarket, among others.  One of my favorites that’s a little unusual – the Brown’s pub chain has a burger that’s a mix of Wild Boar & Chorizo, with Manchego cheese.  It’s amazingly tasty.  In the mood for Southern/BBQ?  Check out Joe’s in Covent Garden – great fried chicken and pulled pork.  High end Asian?  There’s always Sushi Samba or Roka – both excellent.

Museums

London is chock full of history and museums. There’s the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, among others.  Some slightly different ones we’ve checked out and enjoyed include the Churchill War Rooms (Westminster Tube) – where Winston Churchill and his cabinet lived & ran World War II from, or the Geffrye Museum (Hoxton on the Overground).  The Geffrye is a very interesting museum.  It’s the museum of the living room.  It features 16 living rooms, all done up in period style dating from the 1600s through about 2000.

Harry Potter Stuff

Into Harry Potter?  There’s tons to see & do.  You can book a tour of the Warner Brothers studio where the films were made.  It’s accessible by train, followed by a short cab ride.  In Central London, still plenty to see.  Looking for Platform 9 3/4?  Go to Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan).  Outside, there’s a whole setup, including a luggage trolley that’s chopped and attached to a brick wall, and a whole setup.  Want to see the site of the Leaky Cauldron, including the alley that the bad guy doing his Lost smoke monster impression flew up? Go to the corner of Great Newport Street and Charing Cross Road.  On Great Newport Street, there’s a small alley there between a couple of buildings..

Castles, etc.

There’s standard stuff like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.  But there’s other cool stuff you can do as well.  Like you can go out to Windsor Castle, in Windsor.  You can get a train from Paddington or Waterloo.  I’d recommend Paddington, since that goes to Windsor Central Station, which drops you right next to the castle.  You’ll have to change trains at Slough, but it’s not a big deal change.  Another option is Hampton Court Palace, which is reachable via a 35-ish minute train ride from Waterloo.

Stonehenge

You can take a trip out to Stonehenge via bus that leaves from Victoria, and often involves a visit to Bath.  I’ve heard from a number of people who’ve been to Stonehenge that it’s not nearly as impressive in person as you’d hope it would be.  It’s been described to me as “a bunch of rocks in a field next to a car park.”  If you’re really dying to do it, go for it.  You can also rent a car and drive there in about an hour or so.

Shopping

London has a TON of amazing places to shop.  Be warned – it’s not cheap.  The dollar isn’t terribly strong against the GBP.  Right now, it’s about $1.70 = £1.  That’s not so bad, but consider that numerical prices are pretty similar.  In other words, a lunch that’s $10 in the US is probably about £10.  That’s a 70% uptick in price.  Be prepared.  London isn’t the best for women’s fashion, unless you’re at one of the big stores like Harrod’s or Selfridge’s.  For men, there’s a ton of great clothing stores.  If you’re up for spending on custom, bespoke men’s clothing, you want to go to Savile Row. There’s no place finer on earth for bespoke tailoring.  If you’d like to check out the oldest Toy Store in the world, go see Hamley’s on Regent Street.  It’s been operating in that same location for over 250 years.  That’s right, a toy store older than the USA.  Are you an Apple Store junkie?  Go to their Covent Garden location.  It’s easily the most beautiful Apple Store I’ve ever seen.  Not the standard white, glass and light wood.  It’s utterly gorgeous.  Why are you still reading about it?  Go already!

Men’s Grooming & Shaving

Those who know me well know that I’m an old-school shaving junkie.  I’ve long since tossed cartridge razors in the trash.  They’re terribly expensive and just do a lousy job.  Gillette’s famous “lift & cut” action is little more than pulling hairs up to cut them off, leaving you red, irritated and susceptible to problems like razor burn and ingrown hairs.  A single double-edge blade is a much better shaver.  One sharp blade is far better than 4 or 5 mostly dull ones, any time.  Plus, real shaving cream & soap, whipped with a brush in a bowl or mug is far better for your face than aerosol-propelled goop.  With all that in mind, take a stroll through St. James.  You can hit all the big names, like Geo. F. Trumper, Truefitt & Hill, DR Harris, Floris, or my favorite, Taylor of Old Bond Street.  In addition to high-quality shaving products, one can get a traditional hot-towel straight razor shave from many of those companies as well.  At Taylor’s, I’ve seen two gentlemen (Neil and Kierry), who have always given me very good service and a high quality shave.  I wasn’t wow’d by the experience at Truefitt & Hill, so I wouldn’t go back.

The shaving renaissance in my bathroom

[None of the links in this post are affiliate links]

So, just about a year ago, I shunned the 17-blade, nuclear powered, vibrating monster from Gillette.  The Power Fusion was banished to the cabinet under the sink, along with the can of aerosol-propelled goop that I used to slather on my face.  In search of a better shave (I used to have 5 o’clock shadow at 11am), I decided to kick it old school, and opted for a double-edge safety razor.  My first razor was a Merkur 180 long handle.  Nice razor.  I ended up passing it on to my friend John, who is still using it.

It took a bit of time & learning the intricacies of a proper blade angle, etc., but I am not master of my facial hair.  Part of my initial problem was the manly man inside winning out and choosing the sharpest blade I could get my hands on – a Feather.  The Feather is a wonderful blade, which is super thin, flexible and is unbelievably sharp.  Starting with Feather was a huge mistake.  I eventually moved on to Astra SP blades, which were considerably more forgiving.  These days, I can manage a Feather easily enough.

Along the way, I’ve tried several razors, each with its subtle variations.  I’ve had:

  • Merkur 180
  • 1972 Gillette Super Speed (currently on loan to a friend)
  • 1972 Gillette Super Adjustable (the “black beauty”) – my “birth year razor”
  • Weber Polished with Bulldog Handle
  • Merkur Futur (loaner from a friend that I gave back – it gave me hamburger neck more than once!  For me – adjustments range from super-aggressive to “machete”.)
  • 1960 Gillette 195 (aka the Fatboy) – I had this one re-plated in rhodium, and it’s gorgeous

Currently, my stand has 3 razors in it – the Fatboy, the Beauty and the Weber.  I’m also trying out a 1956 Super Speed Red Tip and a 1963 Slim Adjustable that I got as a gifts for friends, and am going to have restored/re-plated soon.  The Red Tip has a reputation for being very aggressive, but I find it’s unwarranted.  I will say that I keep coming back to the Fatboy.  It’s a smooth piece of engineering.

So, that covers razor and blade.  What about shaving cream? After all, I did mention that I cast aside aerosol-propelled goo.  What did I opt for?  Despite having a coarse beard, my skin is a bit sensitive, so I opted for Taylor of Old Bond Street’s Jermyn Street cream & aftershave.  Those prices look high, and they are a bit.  Mostly, because US retailers have to import the stuff from the UK.  Happily, for me, I pick the stuff up for a fair bit less in London at the TOBS shop.  While more expensive than crappy canned goo, the stuff lasts a very long time, and is of extremely high quality.  My face is much happier with the gentler, more natural products I’ve been using.

Sometimes, I also use Proraso Red for a change of pace.  It’s a fairly mild cream as well.  It’s quite a bit cheaper too – $10 for a tube that lasts several months.

That cream goes onto the end of a badger brush, and gets swirled around in a cappucino mug with hot water to product a nice, smooth lather.  I do two passes on my face, one with the grain (WTG), and another across the grain (XTG).  I’ll do a few touchups and that’s it.

Printing from the iPad without buying a new printer

Ok, so you’ve got a snazzy new iPad, and would like to print.  Since iOS 4.2, Apple has had AirPrint, which only works with a small set of HP printers.  While yes, it’s super cool to be able to print from the iPad, how much will you really do this?  If it’s enough to warrant buying a new printer, good for you.  If you’re like me, and want to have the ability to do so, but probably will rarely do it.  Read on to find out more. Continue reading

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