“Merry Xmas Everybody” from Oxford University’s Out of the Blue

This will make you smile.

Out of the Blue, Oxford University’s premier all-male a cappella group, is ranked as the top a cappella group in the UK. They’ve “…performed on the West End and on Broadway, reached the semifinals of Britain’s Got Talent, and toured around the world to places including Switzerland, Canada, India, Hong Kong, and Japan.” You’ll find lots of videos, music downloads, and CD offers at their site.

“Merry Xmas Everybody” is their Charity Single for 2017.

For the last eight years, Out of the Blue has donated its profits to Helen & Douglas House, the world’s first children’s hospice. It provides end-of-life and bereavement care to children and young adults, and to their families.

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Wild Boar Stew and Shrimp with Bleu Cheese at Károlyi Étterem

Károlyi Étterem

Károlyi Étterem, tucked away in a courtyard of the Károlyi Palace, is one of Budapest’s finest restaurants. My lunch there was superb.

Shrimp Appetiser

How did I miss this? Looking back, I honestly can’t remember eating a dish that mated shrimp with bleu cheese before this meal, but I’ve since found dozens of recipes that combine them. So two of my favourite tastes turn out to be complementary.

I suppose it would be pushing things to add raspberries to the mix.

The side of dill vegetables tasted as fresh as if they’d been picked minutes before I ordered them.

Wild Boar Stew

The stew in the center was made with wild boar, and it’s one of the reasons I was so eager to return to Budapest. It was served with quince and potato croquettes.

Chestnut Mousse

Dessert was an elegant chestnut mousse with chili cherry.

The Magicians — Series Three Trailer

I’ve become charmed—enchanted, actually—by the SyFy channel’s adaptation of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians books, a series that has been described as “Harry Potter for grown-ups”.  You might even say that I’m under its spell. [Enough with the “magic” allusions already!]

The writing’s quite good, mixing subtle relationship drama with genuinely shocking moments and occasional outbursts of absolute hilarity, usually involving Hale Appleman’s character “Eliot”, who steals the show. The rest of the cast play flawed but charismatic, multiple-layered characters, except for Arjun Gupta in the thankless role as the always angry “Penny”. He’s just irritating.

Some of the effects are quite beautiful.

By the end of the show’s second season, the world’s magic had been powered down. Literally.* In the new series, our flawed heroes will try to reboot it.

Here’s the trailer for Season Three:

And, since it’s been a year since Season Two ended, here’s a refresher on what brought us to our current sorry state:

The Magicians returns to TV on 10 January 2018.


*Long story.

2017 Cookery Project — Sour Cream Chicken with Apple and Onion

Sour Cream Chicken with Apple and Onion

Sour Cream Chicken with Apple and Onion

It’s getting close to the end of the year, and this might be the last posted meal of the 2017 Cookery Project. Or maybe not.

I went to some old printed cookbooks for the recipes for today’s lunch. The Sour Cream Chicken with Apple and Onion recipe came from a 1994 book called The Easier You Make It, the Better It Tastes. After carmelizing sliced apples and onions, I put them on top of chicken breasts that had been on slathered with sour cream and seasoned with basil. Each chicken breast went into a tightly sealed aluminum foil packet and baked for half an hour.

The glazed carrots came from a 1981 book called Dinner for Two, and featured Hungarian paprika—guess where that came from—and a bit of brown sugar.

It was a good meal, but it didn’t look v interesting.  The white-on-white-on-white of apples and onions on sour cream on chicken breast seems bland.

Needs a touch of green on the plate, doesn’t it?


2018 New Year’s Resolution Number 2

Work on more creative plating for food photography.


★ Disaster. Inedible. Poisoned the cat.
★★ OK, but once is enough.
★★★ Mixed results. Something went wrong, but might try this again.
★★★★ Good, but lacks that special something.
★★★★★ Excellent. Goes into my “This is a winner” file.

David Bowie: The Last Five Years Coming to HBO

The BBC documentary, David Bowie: The Last Five Years, is coming to HBO early next year.

According to the BBC’s program notes:

“This is an intimate portrait of one of the defining artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries, told by the people who knew him best – his friends and artistic collaborators.

“This film takes a detailed look at Bowie’s last albums, The Next Day and Blackstar, and his play Lazarus. In his final five years, Bowie not only began producing music again, but returned to the core and defining themes of his career. This film explores how Bowie was a far more consistent artist than many interpretations of his career would have us believe. It traces the core themes from his final works and relates them to his incredible back catalogue. His urge to communicate feelings of spirituality, alienation and fame underpin his greatest works from the 1960s to 2016. This is what lies at the heart of his success and appeal – music that deals with what it means to be human in a way that goes far beyond the normal palette of a rock star.”

David Bowie: The Last Five Years premieres on HBO on 8 January 2018, commemorating what would have been Bowie’s 71st birthday.

Lunch at Múzeum Café and Restaurant

When I was here in 2009, Time Out Budapest named Múzeum Café and Restaurant as the “Best Traditional Hungarian” restaurant in the city. I decided to try it, and had one of those rare, unforgettable meals that consisted of one high note after another.

I wondered if it would be as good when I went back eight years later.  The verdict: Still exceptional, but somewhat diminished.

It’s possible that it was just a matter of bad timing. I visited on a Saturday, and only discovered after I’d arrived that the restaurant was offering an abbreviated menu on the weekend.

Chicken Soup

The menu described my starter as a “rich home-made hen soup”—made, I assume, from a rich home-made hen. There were noodles and vegetables in that bowl, too.

Goose Leg

This is a Budapest classic. Hidden behind the goose leg in the photo is the traditional accompanying red cabbage, and on the side is a serving of onion smashed potatoes.

Goose, and game like venison and rabbit, have much larger roles in Hungarian cuisine than they do in the US.

Trifle

This was a specialty of the house:  Somló Trifle Múzeum-style. Messy and wonderful.


Here’s a short promotional video for Múzeum:

In and around St. Stephen’s Basilica

I’m not at all religious, but I make a point of visiting churches when I travel. Spending half an hour or so just sitting in a quiet, peaceful space like St. Stephen’s Basilica, one of the most beautiful churches in Hungary, is a pleasant way to lessen the stress of exploring a new territory.


The big Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, the one that’s famous, is on Vörösmarty Square. We’ll get to that later.

You can find other Christmas markets, some of them with only a few booths, others quite substantial, scattered throughout the city.

I liked this small market on the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s. Just looking at the picture of the planked salmon makes me wish I were still there.