Food & Drink

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Have yourself a merry coffee Christmas

Filed in Food & DrinkTags: , ,

Christmas began early for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a parcel from a friend in Canada. Actually, TVB called me to pick it up from the entrance office because the parcel was too big to put into my company locker. Inside the parcel, I found a pair of much-needed safety goggles; thank you; but that wasn't enough. The parcel also contained an insulated very-nice-to-hold coffee mug similar to the ones you'll see at Starbucks but made by a Canadian coffee chain. I've been using the cup a lot recently because the weather here in Hong Kong has become seriously chilly and my coffee cools far too quickly. If that wasn't enough, there were also a few packets and a can of high grade coffee. Unfortunately, I don't own a coffee grinder so grinding the coffee was something to ponder about.

A week ago, a friend from Australia came to Hong Kong to visit his family here. He's actually the same fellow; and his wife too; that gave me the Breville espresso maker. Before leaving Australia, he asked me what I'd like from Australia and I told him; cheese. We have cheese here in Hong Kong but it's too expensive for me. In fact, basically any quality food imported from overseas is too expensive for me. When I go to City Super (one of the best local stores for good imported food), I generally content myself by just walking around and looking at the great food but rarely buying anything. Just a quick example. In Australia, we can buy really tasty whole legs of ham for between HK$100 and $200. Here in Hong Kong, forget it. A decent leg of lam costs hundreds of dollars. It's simply not reasonable to consider buying a leg of lam here. Come to think of it, a leg of lam is one of the things my parents brought me when they visited us in June this year. That was a very yummy month.

Well my friend came over and when I visited him at his home here, I disbelievingly watched as he and his wife showed me what they'd brought over for me. First on the list was a new Breville coffee grinder! There go my coffee grinding problems. Next, there were two 1kg packets of freshly roasted coffee from Australia, a few more packets of coffee of other brands, several packets of various flavours of cheese and what seemed to be a gazillion other things.

It was turning out to be a very coffee Christmas, something I have no problems with.

A coffee Christmas

Some of the Christmas coffee goodies I've received this year. In the front, there are also two plain-wrapped packets of coffee beans that I purchased in Bali earlier this year. Now that I have a grinder, I'll actually be able to drink it.

It's certainly going to be a while before I need to buy more coffee at Starbucks.

A few nights ago, my wife and I went to a small gathering of mobloggers here in Hong Kong. We did the 'silent Santa' thing and I found myself with . . . . . wait for it . . . . . a USB-powered coffee cup warmer!!! OK, now things are getting creepy.

Suffice to say, I've been drinking nothing but coffee for the last couple of weeks. Probably not too healthy; everything in moderation is the golden rule; but in this cold weather, coffee will have to do for the time being.

So long, and thanks for all the coffee (sounds like a line from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a TV series which probably only the older among you will be familiar with).

Vinegar, Not so ordinary.

Filed in Food & Drink, Miscellaneous

vinegar Vinegar . Everyone has vinegar in their kitchen. It's a common ingredient in many foods and I for one like it. Many Chinese people like it too, especially the red kind when it's added to 蝦餃 or . Yum!

But vinegar has other uses that many people are not aware of.

As a cleaner, it's very useful. If you have an old kettle or a water heater, you've probably noticed the blackening inside. You can clean this quite simply by pouring diluted vinegar into the kettle and letting it soak for half an hour or so. The black will disappear and the kettle will look new again.

We use thermostatic controlled taps (衡溫水龍頭) on our shower. With this tap, you set the relative temperature with the right knob and set the water volume with the left knob. The water here in Hong Kong is quite dirty, and even though we have central filtering on our incoming water, the thermostatic parts still gather rust and minerals from the water over a period of time, rust and minerals which gradually affect the tap's ability to control the water temperature properly. The solution is to take the thermostatic parts out of the tap every three months or so, and soak them in full strength vinegar for an hour. All of the rust and minerals are eaten away from the brass/copper thermostatic parts and it's as good as new; no scrubbing necessary.

On occasion, our dogs misbehave or bark too much. If they're especially naughty or they're intent on ignoring us, we can spray diluted vinegar in their direction. Dogs' noses are very sensitive to the vinegar so they'll quickly take notice. For those of you with dogs, the correct way to do this is to use 1:1 diluted vinegar in a spray bottle. When you need to correct the dog, say "no" and spray the vinegar near the dog's nose. By doing both of these things at the same time, the dog will associate the word 'no' with something unpleasant and will quickly learn the meaning of the word. Be sure to use a stern certain voice when you say the word "no". Try not to spray the vinegar at the dog or into its face. The vinegar might hurt the dog's eyes.


We recently began using the vinegar for another purpose here at home. My wife has developed a serious alergic reaction to mites and has been covered with extremely itchy hives for days on end. The itching really irritates her so we had to find a solution. In Australia, vinegar has been used for years to relieve itching caused by jelly fish stings so I thought I'd try it here. We diluted the vinegar 1:1 and placed it into a spray bottle. We then sprayed it on the hives. At first, my wife feels a stinging sensation and tenses up with the stinging pain, but then the pain goes away and with it the itching. She feels better again, at least for an hour or so, enough perhaps to get to sleep.

So the next time you see vinegar in the supermarket, remember that it's far more useful than just a food ingredient.

TVB ;-)

Filed in Food & Drink, Press

今期「TVB週刊」有我 ;-)


Filed in Food & Drink, Press

明天的蘋果日報有我,還有我們兩隻狗,Dallas 和小白! (不是訪問而是介紹吃品的照片)

我當天所吃的食品都不錯 ;-)

Java from Australia

Filed in Food & Drink

Here's that coffee article I promised.

I have some friends who I have known for a long time. We met in Australia while attending the University of New South Wales, were together frequently for most of the time I have been in Hong Kong and still stay in touch since they moved back to Australia. We're good friends.

Occasionally, I help my friends out with their Apple Mac computer problems. I've been working with Apple Mac computers since the late 1980's and know enough to be helpful to my friends. So when my friends announced that they were coming to visit their families in Hong Kong, I quickly asked them about bringing me a coffee espresso maker.

While in Australia last Christmas, my family's neighbour mentioned that the Australian Choice magazine had done a study and comparison of espresso makers. Remembering this little tidbit, and the fact that the leading espresso maker was not the most expensive one, I went online and found the study. It turns out that Breville makes good espresso makers at a price that I could justify. I researched the Breville espresso makers and promptly asked my friends to check the local pricing for me.

Now I've had one or two bad experiences with buying electrical appliances overseas before. Back in April of last year, I purchased a KitchenAid countertop cake mixer while in Los Angeles because the price was great and decent cake mixers are almost impossible to find in Hong Kong. The average Chinese person does not make cakes. My wife brought the mixer back with her but we later discovered that the mixer had developed a problem. In Los Angeles, we actually tested the mixer once and it worked fine. Back in Hong Kong, the vaunted "very slow stir" was malfunctioning. I can only conjecture that the mixer was damaged while being transported by airport cargo staff. If you've ever watched the video seen of airport cargo staff on 60-Minutes, you'll understand that your cargo is definitely not in the best hands at the airport.

Unfortunately, the mixer's warranty only applied to the U.S.A. so unless I could get the mixer back to the States, it wasn't going to get fixed. It never got back because we couldn't find any friends to take it back for us. We then discovered that KitchenAid actually does have a distributor here in Hong Kong, one that even supplies 220V models. If we'd known earlier, we would've bought it locally. They can fix our mixer for us but it will cost HKD600 for inspection and extra for any parts they need to replace. The price of the mixer could easily double once the cost of the repair is included. It's a really nice mixer so we'll have to fix it; soon.

So this time, I was a little more careful and checked to see if the Breville espresso makers were available in Hong Kong. It turned out that Breville has a local office and distributes product locally but they don't distribute the espresso makers locally. Bummer!

My new Breville espresso maker Well my friends came to Hong Kong and were anxious to see me asap. They completely surprised me by bringing over Breville's top model; the 800 Class Espresso Machine; and giving it to me as a gift. I was one very happy customer.

I've now had the espresso maker for almost two weeks. The available options are extremely limited but its two primary functions work extremely well; making espresso and frothing milk. There are no electronic LCD control panels and there are no complicated choices to make. And the machine is made extremely well; no plastic! It's a work of art.

So I won't be visiting Starbucks as often as I used to. The coffee I'm making at home is pretty good and getting better every time I make another cup. All I'm missing are a couple of shot glasses to measure the espresso output.

For those of you into coffee, here are the primary characteristics of the espresso maker from my perspective:

  • The entire machine is made of stainless steel. There's almost no plastic used in its construction. Almost every other espresso maker I've seen on the market is made of plastic unless you're buying the really expensive models.

  • It uses a 15 bar Italian-made thermoblock pump to deliver the espresso and the steam. 15 bars is a lot of pressure and espresso makers with that much pressure usually cost a whole lot more.

  • The water tank is easily removed for refill. It also features a transparent plastic gauge on the front so that you can instantly see how much water is left. It even uses a small blue light above the water so that the water level is extremely obvious no matter how bright or dark the room is. In addition, the water tank can be refilled by removing the tank or by flipping down a door at the back of the espresso maker and pouring water directly into the tank.

  • The milk frother just works. It's extremely easy to froth milk and it's quick.

  • There's a 'full' indicator in the drip tray so you'll know instantly when it needs to be emptied.

  • Maintenance and cleaning are simple and it doesn't require priming before or after each cup of coffee as some espresso makers require.

So if you're in the market for an espresso maker, take a look at Breville.

If you have any suggestions for coffee brands, please let me know.

Update (26 March 2008)

The Breville 800 Class Espresso Machine is now available locally here in Hong Kong. I've seen it in the B&Q store at Megabox.

Thy coffee runneth over

Filed in Food & Drink, General

While at the first reading for a new stage play I'm involved in (「香水」 "Perfume" by Springtime Productions to run from May 2 to 11, 2005), a funny incident happened.

I wanted a cup of coffee. While there was a drip coffee machine there, it was turned off and I don't like drip coffee anyway. I'd prefer either instant coffee or coffee made with cappuccino machines. There was a water dispenser but for really good coffee; even instant coffee; boiling water is the best way to go. So I filled a mug with hot water from the dispenser and then placed it in the microwave oven for just over a minute.

After taking the mug out of the microwave, the water was still boiling but not in a normal way. The bubbles were smaller and more vigorous. Without another thought, I dropped a teaspoonful of coffee into the cup.

The reaction was instant. The water and coffee immediately foamed up and overflowed the mug, running down the front of the cupboard. There was a familiar click to the right of me. It was the sound of a fuse going off but I couldn't see a fuse box nearby and I couldn't understand why my coffee overflow might concern a power fuse so I ignored it.

Within minutes though, one of the people in the office was asking why the photocopier had switched off and I realised that a fuse really had gone off. Then while cleaning up the coffee, I discovered why. The coffee had run down the front of the cupboard and poured into a power strip just inside the front door of the cupboard. Apart from the power strip, there were also a couple of network routers, a PABX box, three power adapters and some telephone wiring. Somehow, I don't think they should have placed electrical equipment inside the kitchen cupboard.

Anyway, I unplugged the power strips, turned the fuse back on and everything was fine again.

The way that coffee foamed over was pretty incredible though. I remember reading somewhere that the bubbling is caused by expansion of air within the small crevices and cracks in the surface of the mug. The temperature of these bubbles can get extremely high and lead to the kind of reactions that I saw last night.

So, if you need to heat up water for a cup of coffee, using a microwave is fine as long as you don't leave the water in there for too long.

A 7-day diet

Filed in Food & Drink, General

I have just completed a 7-day diet, apparently designed to take 7 to 10 pounds off, although not permanently. No real diet is easy but this one wasn't bad. While it didn't take 7 pounds off, it did take a few off and I felt better overall. Unfortunately, today was the 7th day and being Sunday, I was unable to adhere to the diet while my wife and I had a day in the shopping centre.

The mainstay of the diet is a soup made up principally of tomatoes, cabbage, onion and celery. Whenever you're hungry, you eat and drink this soup. It's supposed to burn off the fat. I'm not sure whether it actually burns fat but I can assure you that you'll make frequent trips to the bathroom to release the extra urine.

The big thing about the diet is that there are no 'filler' foods. There is no bread, rice, spaghetti or anything similar. It's all fruit, vegetables and meat; nothing else. It really makes a difference. You feel better, and in my case, you actually lose weight.

My goal should then be to eat as little 'filler' as possible. It won't be easy though. Every restaurant serves food built around filler, and much is it is very tasty, especially the breads I just discovered in a bakery near home.

Apparently, the designers of the diet recommend against eating the diet for more than one week at a time. Once a month is ok, so at least until next month, I'll try to avoid the filler foods and see how it goes.