bookalokal: Punjabi

We’ve become the go-to verifiers for bookalokal Indian meals, it seems. Which is fine by me. This time it was a little different, however, as after several south Indian feasts we were treated this time to North Indian cuisine. Much of this is actually familiar from restaurant menus, as many of the staples of your local curry house (samosas, tandoori, chicken tikka masala) come from the Punjab region. So on the one hand we had a pretty good idea what to expect from the meal, but on the other hand we were keen to see the difference in the home-made variety.

Charan & Viney (who jointly prepared the meal) welcomed us into their home in Vilvoorde and we sat in their comfortable living room for a pre-dinner chat and drink.

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They immediately impressed us with an original and deliciously spicy tamarind cocktail filled with crispy chickpea balls.

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The same liquid was also spooned into hollowed-out crispy dumplings to pop whole into the mouth.

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We chatted about life in Brussels (they’ve been here for 30 years), their home town of Delhi, and, of course, food. Which just made us all the more hungry, so we headed over to the dining table. A selection of starters was served: vegetarian samosas, salad, poppadoms with two tasty sauces (tamarind and mint & coriander), and tandoori chicken drumsticks.

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It was all good: the samosas were spicier than usual and the chicken in particular was very succulent and not as dry as other tandoori chicken I’ve had in restaurants. I had two and was keen for a third but remembered to leave a little space for the main course.

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The main course was equally elaborate: mutton balls in gravy, paneer jalfrezi (fresh cheese and peppers), Punjabi lentil daal, chapati and basmati rice. Our hosts explained that they thought it best to present a selection of dishes rather than just the one plate, of which I’m all in favour as I like to try as many different things as possible. And they were all good, although my favourite was probably the paneer.

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And you can’t go wrong with mango kulfi (ice cream) for dessert followed by a cup of hot chai.

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It was a very pleasant evening of good food and good company. And if you can’t make it for dinner Charan also organises cooking courses so you can learn to make this stuff for yourself.

Brussels Asperatus

It’s been a funny old weekend in Brussels, weather-wise, with hourly alternations between blazing sunshine and angry downpours, thunder and lightning and sizeable hailstones.

Late yesterday afternoon I went out into the garden to check on the drying laundry and saw this:

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Shortly thereafter my wife brought our daughter back from a playdate. She’d seen the clouds on the drive home and insisted that she and I go immediately to the nearby park to take more photos. Who am I to dampen the enthusiasm of a budding cloud-watcher?

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A friend (Hi, Jane) helpfully pointed out on facebook that these are known as Asperatus clouds; a name created by the Cloud Appreciation Society.

Cinquecento

This is my five-hundredth blog post.

The Making of Harry Potter

Ever since I’ve been interested in movies I’ve been interested in how they were made. As a child I probably spent more time reading “making of” books (I still have a large collection) about my favourite films than I did watching the actual films. Partly it’s out of a desire to see how things are done, and partly a chance to take another, slower, more detailed look at the worlds created by these films.

On a recent trip to the UK we took the kids along to the Making of Harry Potter attraction near Watford, just outside London. This is essentially a collection of the original sets, costumes and props from the films and you wander around it with (or in my case without) a smartphone-style device with an audio and video guide and DVD extras like interviews and clips.

After a brief introduction from an amusing tour guide (as the lights dimmed he stage-whispered into his walkie talkie “Release the spiders!”) we watched a video introduction featuring the films’ three main stars, and then the screen lifted out of the way to reveal the large double doors to Hogwarts’ main hall. Once through the doors we entered the hall itself. Inevitably it looks smaller in real life, not least because sets like these are usually built only partially and then extended with CGI.

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Costumes. Sadly they couldn’t afford to get the real Alan Rickman to stand there all day, sneering at visitors.

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Bring me the head of Timothy Spall! My wife was pleased to see that they used the same brand of face cream she favours.

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The main room. A large collection of props in the middle, and selected dressed sets all around.

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There are various short-term events and this week was “wand week”. At right, a display of all the main characters’ wands from the films.

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Craftspeople were there all day making new wands.

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One was carving a scary face on the end of a wand. She ruefully admitted that most of her work goes unnoticed as whenever you see a wand in the film it’s being held, so her carvings are obscured by the actor’s hand.

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Potions room. Some of the pots were stirring themselves.

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The Weasley family dining room.

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The Goblet of Fire.

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The door to the Chamber of Secrets.

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A broom flying rig and greenscreen.

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There was also a corner where you could be filmed and photographed against greenscreen flying on a broomstick. Naturally you then pay through the nose for copies, so we only got a couple of photos.

There was also a fascinating display of books, pamphlets and newspapers produced for the films. These in particular contained far more detail than you would ever notice normally, even with the aid of your DVD pause button. You do have to wonder if it’s worth all the money and effort that goes into making them.

After this you pass briefly outside to see the triple decker bus from The Prisoner of Azkaban. Sadly you couldn’t actually go up inside to the top floor.

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The bridge to Hogwarts.

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Detail thereof.

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Outside you could also buy refreshments, including genuine butterbeer, which was pretty foul. And then it was back indoors for the second half, which concentrated more on creatures and the art department.

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Animatronic Baby Voldemort (ABV).

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Several items, like this book, moved around if you pressed a button on the display case.

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Spiders and dementors and dragons, oh my!

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The last full set was Diagon Alley.

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Again, the level of detail in the shop windows was kind of insane, although very impressive.

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Then came a large selection of art department drawings.

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And finally, the piece of resistance, as the French would say: a ginormous model of the Hogwarts exterior.

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The lighting changed as you walked around it.

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Now this is not a cheap day out, especially if you pause for even a second while exiting through the gift shop. But if you have small HP fans in your family (as I do) they’ll love it; particularly the interactive elements. And if you have any interest in the craft of film-making, particularly as regards designing and building sets and props and creatures, you should enjoy it. The longer you stay the more you’ll get out of it, as there’s almost too much detail to take in (these photos only show a fraction of the displays); especially if you listen to/watch all the material on the electronic guide.

But take my advice: skip the butterbeer and buy a nice cup of tea instead.

Knightshayes gardens

Having had our fill of the wallpaper and ceilings inside Knightshayes, we headed outside to the gardens. It was a grey, drizzly day, but if anything that added to the atmosphere. Here are the main gardens as seen from the back of the house:

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Zooming in, you can see the centre of nearby town Tiverton in the distance.

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Also, wicker deer.

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Stony faced, eagle-eyed guardians either side of the path.

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Be-lichened fa├žade.

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Continuing the grey theme:

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At last, a splash of colour. You can’t tell from this photo but these flowers had their heads drooping down, so the camera was pointing upwards to see this angle.

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Looks like a pretty relaxing spot to spend the afternoon. At least, once it stops raining.

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Knightshayes

On holiday in Devon recently, we took the opportunity to spend part of a day at a Knightshayes, a local National Trust property designed by William Burges in the late 19th century. Naturally it’s a visually stimulating place, so naturally photography is not allowed. However these days a strategically muted smartphone can help, although I was spotted and gently asked to cease and desist once we reached the last room of the tour: the library.
Also, in fairness, the photo ban only technically applied to the artworks, whereas I was more interested in the walls than what was hanging on them. Because Knightshayes has some lovely wallpaper.

For example, a bedroom for ornithologists:

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The ceiling’s not bad either.

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Malacologists may prefer the nearby bathroom.

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Or something more botanical?

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Many of the rooms had tray-sized mirrors for you to walk around with, so that you could marvel at the ceilings without straining your neck.

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The garden’s lovely too. I may post about that next…

Bookalokal: South Indian Feast

Last night we carried out another bookalokal verification. This was our third Indian meal through this service, and it was easily as good as the previous two.

Sribindu and her husband welcomed us into their spacious and tastefully-decorated house just outside Tervuren, and we sat down for introductions. They had arrived in Belgium just under a year ago, as he often changes country for work and has spent recent years in Canada, Australia and India. They’re originally from Hyderabad, in the south-east of India, and all the food that night was from that region. Then we headed straight to the table; the mouth-watering smells had hit us as soon as we came in through the front door, so we were eager to get started.

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We started with poppadoms topped with masala papad, which is a delicious preparation of onion, tomato peanuts and spices. Certainly more interesting than the usual mango chutney you get at your local curry house.

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The starter was pepper chicken with curry leaves and cashew nuts. Sribindu explained that adding cashew nuts (which are grown in their home region of Andhar Pradesh) to a dish was traditional for special occasions like weddings. This was perhaps our favourite part of the meal. Tender chicken and beautifully spiced. Sribindu’s husband explained that one of the disappointing things he finds about Indian restaurants abroad is that if you ask for the food to be spicy they just dump a load of chilli powder into it, rather than properly selecting and integrating spices into the cooking process.

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The main course: Andhra fish curry, with plain white rice.

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But then after the main came something of a surprise: curd rice with fried chickpeas. The rice was creamy and slightly sweet, but the hard crunch and toasty flavour of the chickpeas gave it bite and we went back for several servings.

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For dessert you can’t go wrong with gulab jamoon.

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We’ve had a variety of different Indian meals in people’s houses over the past year and I think by now the evidence is pretty overwhelming. If you want a great Indian meal in Brussels, forget the restaurants; you need to bookalokal.

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