Author Archives: Ian-Luke Penwald

About Ian-Luke Penwald

A Londoner and a Brit working in niche media in the UK.

Monaco…oh no.

imageMonaco is the world’s second smallest country after The Vatican. Home to a population of 37,000 people and their toy dogs (a must-have accessory for ladies wot lunch it would seem) these inhabitants, pets and their luxury cars cram into just two square miles of real estate on the northern Mediterranean coast. Monaco is the most densely populated country on Earth.

Despite its diminutive size, the Principality ruled by a imageconstitutional Monarch (currently Prince Albert II) punches well above its weight in world fame as home to one of the world’s most challenging and glamorous Formula 1 races, the world-famous casino and Cafe de Paris on the Rock and the legacy of Princess Grace, the original Princess Diana, her magical wedding and her tragic death. As it is only 13km away from Nice where I was recently staying I knew that I could not come so close to this ‘playground of the rich’ with out a visit so I caught the train from Nice-Ville station to Monaco-Monte Carlo.

imageThe journey takes about half an hour in impressive double-decker rail cars hugging the shoreline with the view annoyingly frequently interrupted by the many tunnels. Monaco is not the final destination of the train which is actually on its way to Italy but the station is impressive like a giant marble vault carved beneath the city. On arrival there are two exit routes to the station – either up a number of escalators plus a high-speed elevator or down one escalator to the lower exit. If you plan to go, take the lower exit as it will lead you straight to the finish line of the Grand Prix race, which all visitors want to see. I and the very many others took the upper route…only having to walk all the way down when we got there to get to the same finish line.

First impressions were how subdued everything was. Around 90% imageof all the shops were closed, which surprised me. I thought Monaco with all those millionaires living there or on mega yachts in the marina plus all the incoming tourists would be a 24/7 party town with people splashing the cash almost as long but no. Monaco of Millionnaires observes the Sabbath and the only shops open were the eateries and souvenir shops and, of course, the Casino. The lack of commercial hubbub gave the place a very eerie feel not helped by the brooding mountains which crouch around the tiny Principality with their heads shrouded in low hovering cloud.

imageOnce down in the Marina, you can then take a view back up at the city and my immediate thoughts were that this is the Hong Kong of Europe and not in a good way. With only two square miles of land to build on it was inevitable that Monaco had to build both up and down to house its increasing population so it has become Europe’s high-rise capital. But they are building down and out too. Only one-third of the new convention centre here is visible above ground. They are also reclaiming land from the sea spreading the city eastward where a whole new district has been built in the last 40 years.

The other thing that made the place feel odd was that they areimage preparing for the Grand Prix next month and so the wire fencing to protect the spectators is up all over the place making it hard for newbie visitors to navigate around – very frustrating. It also gave me a sense of being caged in. Monaco starts preparing for the race two months ahead of time when believe it or not the population of the place increases from 37,000 to 100,000 for a week. Though there are no borders or passport control when you enter or leave I felt somewhat claustrophobic after taking the 1 hour bus ride around that left me with the impression – is that it? I’ve seen all there is to see in an hour? What about all those towering suburbs up the mountains? It’s then that you realise that when you look up from the Marina to the sprawling districts high up that these are actually in France, not Monaco and so I got to feel even more claustrophobic. If I felt this way in Monaco, I wonder how I would feel in Gaza?

I must admit that while I’m no fan of Formula 1 racing, having ridden around much of the course on the tour bus I can’t believe that a race actually happens there at all or at such speed. The roads are not exactly broad and the famous tunnel and hairpin bend defy logic that men would race around them at such velocity. Needless to say I will, for once, tune in to at least a few laps in May.

There is no litter in Monaco. No graffiti, no scruffy people, no ugly people (apart from economy tourist peasants like me) and no beat-up vehicles. If I didn’t know what the ‘Jet Set’ was before I came I do now only they’re not just the Jet Set but the Mega Yacht Set, Mega Sports Car Set and Glamourous Ladies with Toy Dogs Set. I have never seen so many people out and about dressed up to the nines just so others could look at them.

imageI didn’t bother with the Casino apart from outside photos as I was afraid I might be barred from entering because I was not visibly wearing a designer brand. Same with the Cafe de Paris which was rammed with beautiful people eating at beautifully inflated prices. Even the shopping mall here was lit by crystal chandeliers for goodness sake.

Sounds like hated Monaco doesn’t it? That would not be true. imageThanks to the presence of the royal family with a heritage and history dating back to the Middle Ages there is a sense of refinement and culture here. Compared to the most brash and brazen place I’ve ever been – Dubai – Monaco is Baluga Caviar to Dubai’s diamond-encrusted breaded fish cake with pickles on the side. It was well worth a visit to people-watch in the Playground of Millionnaires but it was also good to get back to the warm, relaxed hospitality of Nice, which I found still dangling its toes in the slowly warming Med with a greeting as if to say…”I told you so.”

Easter Monday Lamb Jalfrezi

I know we’re past Easter but did this on Easter Monday holiday.

imageDisclaimer: this is not an authentic Indian recipe. It’s ‘Anglo-Indian’ cooking that my parents’ generation tried and slowly perfected after emigrating to an England devoid of Asian spices and foods back then. Anglo-Indian (mixed European-Indian) immigrants to the UK not only had to learn to cook dishes like this for the first time in some cases but also how to cook at all. In India many had Indian servants who cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed for them as did my parents. I even had an ‘Aya’ or child nurse who looked after me while mum and dad were working when I was a baby. Enough with the history. To the food.

Lamb Jalfrezi became an occasional Easter Monday tradition in our home to use up the left overs from the Easter Sunday leg of Lamb roast without putting it into sandwiches. If you Google ‘jalfrezi’ it will describe a dish remotely related to this one but with the integrity and principles of Indian cooking intact.

So to the dish.

It’s made of 3 parts: a rice bed, a Dhal or curried lentil side and fried dry lamb meat with crispy bits on top.

Getting the rice on

imageFor special meals, we still cook rice the traditional Indian way. Takes longer but is heaps more satisfying. We always use Basmati, the prince of all rices. Fill an average tea mug almost to the brim with rice grains and that should provide enough for 4 people. If you like very generous portions, add a quarter mug more but make sure you eat it within two days as it goes off real quick.

Pour the rice into a DEEP cooking pot – seriously it must be imagedeep. You need to wash the rice. Fill the container half way with cold water and with your hands swirl the grains around. The water will start to cloud as you lift off the starch. Drain and repeat two or three times until the water is clear when you swirl the rice. Drain one last time and then fill the container so it’s two thirds water to rice. Bring to the boil and simmer. Watch over it! If you leave rice unattended during this process it may quickly turn to stodge. Test the rice by lifting a few grains out every so often. They need to be al dente: not hard in any way but almost chewy. If soft and squidgy…you’ve ruined it. Turn the heat off immediately and drain the boiling water. Rinse the boiled rice ever so quickly by pouring in cold water to stop further cooking and then drain. Find a wide shallow dish and spread the rice out in it. Leave it open and uncovered at room temperature to dry offby natural evaporation. Don’t be tempted to cover it. You should then have beautiful white, fluffy rice ready for re-heating when the meal is done.

Dahl

imageLike the rice, the red lentils that will become Dahl need a good wash first. Again a mug and a half of lentils in a container, swirl and rinse 2 – 3 times in cold water and leave soaking in clean luke warm water until needed. Pour about 2-3 table spoons of vegetable oil into a cooking pot and heat. Add half a sliced onion and cook until transluscent but don’t let it brown. Add 1 large crushed garlic clove, a quartered medium size tomato and a quarter teaspoon of Haldi (Turmeric). Don’t put too much Haldi in or it will imageoverpower all else. Watch over this as if you burn the Haldi it will turn bitter and you will have to start again. The key is to SMELL the dish. When the Haldi first goes in it has a raw pungent smell. As it cooks the smell mellows as the onions start to brown. At this point add the lentils and water to two thirds full plus some ginger. Just take a root, slice it thickly, put 2-3 slices in, skin on and just pull them out later. Add 2 beef OXO cubes (vegetable will do but as this is acompanying lamb…). Bring to the boil and then lower to just below stirring occasionally. Froth will appear on the surface which you can skim if it bugs you but you have already washed the lentils so there is no need. The red lentils will turn yellowy greeny when cooked and will start to absorb the water. It should then take on a loose porridge consistency and be quite rough and rugged. Now the dahl is done – in 10-15 minutes. Take it off the heat and leave it be.

Fried Potatoes.

imageIf any of your roast potatoes made it through to left overs (never a possibilty in our house as dad made THE most awesome roasties I’ve ever tasted) they would play an awesome part at this point. If you have any then cut them into bite sized cubes. Even if you only have 1 or 2 left over do it any way. Find another 2 med-large sized raw potatoes and cut them into bite sized cubes. Fry them. However you want to do it – deep or shallow -but get them golden brown. Don’t add the left over roasties with them. Once the raw ones are done, lift them out of the oil and dry on kitchen paper then fry the roasties. You will taste the difference between the raw and the roasted and I know for sure which people will go for the most.

Crispy Bits.

imageThe crispy bits are falvoursome garnish and you need to cook them before you tackle the lamb. They will add flavour to the finished meal but will also flavour the fried lamb that will be cooked last. Take a wok and cover the base with oil. You need to be generous because imagethis same oil will also fry the lamb. Heat the oil and when sizzling add some thinly sliced strips of ginger and two chopped garlic cloves. Fry until golden brown then lift out and rest on kitchen paper. Leave the oil on the heat. Once the garlic and ginger are done, slice half an onion and fry in the same oil until darkly golden brown. Lift out and dry on kitchen paper. Leave uncovered to cool and harden but leave the oil in the wok and still on the heat.

The Lamb.

imageSo to the lamb. Cut the left over slices of lamb into cubes or bit sized pieces. Turn into the sizzling ginger, garlic and onion infused oil. At this stage those who like their food spicy hot can add sliced green chillies. I don’t as I can’t do hot spicy food – ironic seeing I was born in India. Jalfrezi is traditionally a green chilli dish. Add what you want at this stage but on your head be it. The rule in our family in judging chilli heat from the outside was that the smaller and more compact the chilli is the sharper its bite. A good rule in life for all people who dare to mess with smaller (shorter in mys case) spicy things. Thinly slice the chillies and add, seeds and all.

This is a fairly quick fry but not a flash fry. Let the meat absorb the flavours in the oil and keep watch over it. Lift out pieces that look like they might burn and drain on kitchen paper. Drain all the meat on kitchen paper.

Jalfrezi is essentially a dry dish that some will add stuff to to make a sauce. There’s no real need for that as the Dahl is there to provide the liquidity. Anglo-Indian friends of ours who shared this meal would also add Tamarind Water (go Google) to add to this meal. It’s a spicy hot-sweet-sour liquid served at the table in a pouring cup that diners add sporadically to the dish. I don’t do the Tamarind Water but my recommendation as an accompaniment is a teaspoon of Lime Pickle on the side of your plate – my favourite pickle with most Indian meals.

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Vienna Calling

imageMade (yet) another impulsive decision at work this week. Decided to go to Vienna for a long weekend next month. Not just that but to be there at the same time the biggest music show in all Europe is there – Eurovision.

My impetuous decision was partly prompted by one of my colleagues giving me an update on a potential guest on the Breakfast Show I suggested to her – Guy Sebastian, who will represent Australia at their bizarre debut in the contest. Looks like she’s taken the suggestion seriously and is trying to track him down. I’d been thinking of going away in May anyway and so the impulse button clicked and an Expedia visit later I was booked.

I guess at this point that I better explain to readers who don’t know what Eurovision is that it’s a song contest between 39 European countries plus Australia (for this year only) set over 2 semi-finals and the Grande Final. The public in each country gets to vote for the winner. That’s it at its simplest but as my Vienna blogs will unfold – there’s more to it.

Before now only Some of my colleagues and social media friends knew I’m a Eurovision fan, which in the UK considered akin to having a mental disorder. Now the whole office knows. The competition is reviled and ridiculed here apart from on two occurrences: when we win it and the actual week its on. It still draws one of the biggest TV audiences in the UK annually.

So now I find myself being invited onto our Breakfast Show before I go to stick my neck out and predict this year’s winner. Mind you, I have done that a number of times (picked the winner, that is, not be on radio). Last year my choice came runner-up.

I’ve done a lot of travelling of late and Vienna was on my hit list in any case. Killing two birds with one stone was a no brainer. I’ve never been to a contest before, have no ticket to get me in to the Final though plan to get into the City Hall Square where there will be a giant screen and big open air party, have never visited Austria or Vienna and actually am rather anti-social and hate crowds. What the sodding heck am I doing?

Of all my recent travels, I fear this one might top being nearly arrested in Rome a few weeks back for potential mishaps and again I’m really asking myself….what the bloody heck was i thinking??

Until next time…

Letter to Lubitz

Liebe Herr Lubitz,

imageWe don’t know each other and have never met but apparently you wanted to introduce yourself to me and the world. I have seen your calling card and so will return your invitation with this reply.

imageI don’t know an awful lot about you. Actually scrub that. I do know an awful lot about you or at least your last awful 8 minutes of life. As I write, your calling card to the world on the Cockpit Voice Recorder is known and the air crash investigators are just opening up your further horrific actions from the Flight Data Recorder. From the little I know of you I’d imagine you could be looking on now and getting off on watching the media puzzlement and speculation as the investigators try to unravel the legacy of your last minutes of life to the rest of mankind that is still interested in wondering why.

I for the moment am one but not out of morbid fascination in your mass murder as let’s face it that is what it was. No, I’m interested in what drove you to that point and why you felt you had the right to take others with you.

imageLots of people suffer (suffered in your case) from depression. Most not as chronic as yours or so the media says. Lots of people suffer from the darkest of thoughts in their own lives. Lots of people, including me, been bullied – you perhaps for your introversion and your chosen route to the Cockpit via becoming a Flight Attendant. Me for my race and skin colour among other things. The difference ends here. The rest of us are all mostly still alive and have not taken our pain out on 149 others plus however many family and friends involved in that last flight.

You have added fuel to an existing debate on mental health by what you did and it can be argued by some – not me – that that is no bad thing. I’m less tolerant. Mental health in our society is a serious issue but very few mental health sufferers pre-meditate an act so diabolical as you did. Many have and will take their own lives but you…? What did you do?

imageYou may not have respected your Captain that day and that’s fair enough. Not all of us get on with our bosses but neither do we murder them. During the pre-flight briefing did you not look into the eyes of the 4 Cabin Crew, of whom you were one once, that you would later put through the ultimate stress of their professionalism trying to calm their terrified passengers we now know were screaming in the knowledge of their impending doom?

imageYou were probably seated in the Cockpit as the passengers boarded and so never actually saw the two mothers carrying their babies for whom you were stewarded to fly safely onward. Please dear God let that be true and not that you were there greeting those coming on board as some airlines will have their Flight Crew do. You probably never looked into the eyes of the 16 students on their way home to parents who missed them and with their whole lives ahead of them. You probably never knew that two Opera singers who raised human spirits were on board who would be included in the same media narrative as you whose lasting legacy would be to sicken human spirits.

You may or may not have thought of your parents, now refugees from their home. What legacy they left on you that may have caused you to do what you did we don’t know yet but now we speculate and there may be some blame there for which sympathy is due to you. But if not, they are already and forever tarnished and extended victims paying an on-going price while your own pain seems…just seems…to be over.

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imageAnd then there is your girlfriend….or girlfriends as it turns out. One in whom you confided that you would one day do something that would cause the world know your name and hence why I know it. The other is carrying your child. Whether you knew that we don’t know, nor do we know how she feels carrying your offspring now that she knows what you did or how she is going to explain to that child who its father was when she is asked one day.

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You locked your Captain out of the Cockpit. We know now you looked up on the Internet how to do that. We also know you looked up on how to kill yourself. You will have heard his desperate pleas to let him back in. You will have heard the forward Flight Attendants’ attempts to help him before they had to attend to screaming passengers. The aft Flight Attendants would also have been trying to calm and secure passengers – the same crew you sat with in pre-flight briefing. All of your crew but you were trying to save lives. From the early evidence of the Flight Data Recorder you sped up that plane deliberately on its descent in spurts presumably to make your passengers squeal in terror? Among them would have been the two mothers with infants in arms desperately trying to protect them.

image You wanted me to know your name and so I do. You never asked me for my opinion but you’re going to get it. From wherever you are I believe you can hear it so buckle up flyboy and shut the fuck up. There are innocent mental health sufferers all over the world who strive to cope with life without harming another soul. There are bullied people who make it through life without becoming bullies themselves and murderers.

There are also people in life whose actions and legacy defy all reason and who for me are no brainers in wishing the very worst possible on them. Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Ghadafi, leaders of Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Taliban, Al Shabbab. God will undoubtedly have greater grace on them than I. I’m not supposed to be judgemental but let’s just put it this way. Had you survived and I was on the jury at your trial I will have delivered my verdict on you in under 10 seconds. The Judge at that trial is the one who will do th judging so I’m off the hook I guess.

If there was one caveat I would insist on it would be that you are constantly forced to watch your child grow up and get to that point of one day wanting to know who his or her father was. That’s assuming he or she won’t be the final casualty of your last flight.

Yours Insincerely.

Call it superstition…

imageOnly it isn’t. It’s just something I have always done right up to now ever since I was a travelling adult. You know those ugly bar code sticky labels they put over the handle of your suitcase when you check in to fly? After my return journeys home I never remove that luggage label until the next time I fly very deliberately. Why? Not out of superstition or ritual but out of hope. The hope that I will get to make another journey and go on another adventure some day. I never take it for granted that I will.