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Back Buzz - December 12, 2009

pumping heartCosta Coffee, 66-68 Scotch Street, Carlisle, Cumbria

A few months ago we gave a friend a lift up to the North Cumbrian city of Carlisle. Originating as a Roman settlement to serve the forts on Hadrian's Wall, Carlisle became a diocese in 1132 after Henry I allowed the founding of a religious establishment. By the 19th century Carlisle had become an important railway city, serving as the northern end off the 72-mile Settle-Carlisle Railway. Much more recently Carlisle has been in the news for flooding, both in 2007 and in the past few weeks.

On the late summer weekend we visited it was dry in Carlisle, at least at the start. After spending the night in the city centre at the Ibis Hotel in Botchergate, we decided to go check out the Cathedral before heading off to parts unknown. The Carlisle Cathedral is a beautiful structure, made of red sandstone with features dating from various periods. For instance, most of the original nave was destroyed by the Scots in the 17th century, undergoing restoration in the mid 19th century. The stunning East Window features upper window lights from the 14th century and the lower lights date from 1861, and there is a sculpture in the nave created in the late 20th century.

Our senses exhausted by the beauty and variety of the Cathedral's details, we found ourselves stumbling into the central Lanes shopping district in search of a restorative caffeine fix to inspire us on our drive Elsewhere, as we had yet to know where Elsewhere was. The pedestrian lanes were alive and buzzing with the Continental Market which was conducting business under sunny skies with intermittent showers. As it was temporarily sunny and the Costa Coffee had tables outside, we decided to go for a usually trustworthy Costa espresso.

This particular Costa is quite small inside, and all available seating space was occupied. For some reason the staff seemed unusually giddy on this busy day, and one of them was having a bit of difficulty with the espresso machine as it kept spewing hot water about. As a result my double macchiato turned out looking a bit strange, capped with dark brown foam.

Fortunately it tasted all right, as I discovered once we were seated outside, and it was a welcome experience after the terrible push-button crappuccino we'd had for breakfast at the hotel. Andrew's normal-looking double macchiato was very good indeed, although it started to look a bit odd as well when the clouds suddenly opened without warning and dumped a bucketful of water on our table.

We retreated indoors to finish our drinks, standing awkwardly in the centre of the cafe as there was still no place to sit. Naturally, the moment we finished our last sips the clouds blew away and the sun shone brightly as if it had never been gone.

Speaking of slightly surreal cafe experiences reminds me of an e-mail exchange from last year with my Bay Area friend about strange recipes:

In my work-stressed-and-depressed exhaustion, after a rare night out last night, I woke up with a strange phrase in my head: "Chicken sock". So I Googled the phrase on the Internet, and sure enough, I found this interesting recipe. What a great, nutritious idea for those unmatched laundry items:

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 med. onion, coarsely chopped
2 sm. shallots, minced
2 tbsp. chicken stock
2 lb. mustard greens, washed with lg. stems stripped out
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper or to taste
2 tsp. lime juice

Heat oil over moderate heat in a large pot. Sauté onion, shallots and garlic until golden, about 8 minutes. Add sock. Place greens, torn into pieces on top. Cover and cook until tender, turning greens, about 20 minutes. Toss in lime juice, salt and pepper. Serves 6. I hate it when the list of ingredients omits some key ingredient. In this case, two ingredients. I mean, you go to the grocer and pick out your onion and shallots and greens, begin sautéing the onion and shallots and realize you need some garlic. Okay, you probably have that on hand, so you add 2 or 3 cloves and sauté to golden perfection, then the recipe calls for a sock. The odd socks usually show up at the end of the wash cycle, but you figure this earthy dish calls for a dirty one, so you have to ransack the hamper looking for the ripest one, perhaps saving its about-to-be-abandoned mate for the next batch. If the hamper yields nothing, and no family members are on hand, perhaps you have to pluck one off your own foot. I suppose that's the ultimate in freshness. Just as one should have their own spice garden, it's best to leave a few socks unwashed at all times. You never know when a recipe will call for one. Perhaps, as a fancy starter, one could wrap the sock-flavoured mustard greens in some Shoe Pastry, with perhaps a garnish of a glove of garlic -- I suppose any old glove that's a bit musty will do.

The main course could include Baked Coat Cheese, a choice of jacket or shoestring potatoes, and a basket of hot crusty slipper bread.

And, of course, the meal would be accompanied by a lightly dressed salad. And if any of the dinner guests aren't impressed, I'll eat my hat!

(Ouch. Sorry...)

And since this is another End of the Year column, here's another e-mail exchange about asteroid names:

I doubt I'd even recognize a list of all the moons of Jupiter. Did you know there are tens of thousands of named asteroids? After hearing a report on NPR mentioning that there are asteroids named for several dinosaurs and each of the Beatles, I did a quick search and found this exhaustive catalog at Wikipedia. (As you said when you introduced me to Wikipedia, who has time for all this?)

In addition to the Beatles, we have the four Stooges, Frank Zappa, George Takei and Nichelle Nichols (but not yet William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy). Mister Rogers is there, but not Engineer Bill. I'm happy to find there is at least one asteroid named after one of the discoverers of chaos theory, Benoît Mandelbrot. But why Herbert Hoover (Hooveria) and Nietzsche? I wonder how the Kafka asteroid managed to ever get itself catalogued. Does the orbit of the Joyce (James Joyce) asteroid go on and on and on without a pause? Does the Beegees asteroid pass through space with a quick vibrato motion?

I discovered something interesting about the Douglasadams asteroid. Its number is 25924. Do you realise that (((2 x 5) + 9) x 2) + 4 = 42? Does the fact that I discovered that mean I'm geeky and anorak enough to start writing massive Wikipedia lists like this one?

Did you check out this additional list? I think you have the beginnings of an animated cartoon highlighting the greatest hits of the asteroid belt. A panoramic view of space. Periodically a rock comes hurtling toward you with a soundtrack featuring passages from Finnegan's Wake or a snippet of 'ah - ah - ah- ah - stayin' alive, stayin' alive'. (I'd pray that the Bee Gees asteroid makes a faster transit.)

Do you think Phil Spector the most infamous real person in the list? If he was actually convicted of murder, would they revoke his asteroid, the way they take away Olympic medals?