The Eleven Christmas Dinners of Christmas!

What’s the word for something for when you have a thing and do it to death?
Usual rules apply. Only posted these to Facebook. Should have done Twitter too, even though it’s a bit of a toilet these days, I could have got some good #numbers !!

#1 – 4th December – Garrick BarGarrick

Opening Gambit … In previous years my first one tended to be in Wetherspoons with an old work chum. My old work chum then got a transfer to Derry. He was going to come down too but then Wetherspoons scrapped Christmas Dinners, so nuts to that!

Not sure my old work chum would approve of my caption either…
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2 – 6th December – Acton & Sons

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Current Work’s Christmas dinner … on a Tuesday?!?!?

#3 – 7th December – uEat (University of Ulster, Jordanstown)

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I had a programming test the day after my Xmas do (I got 88%) – I came into Jordanstown early to avail of a turkey dinner. No student discount though (it was about £8!!).

#4 9th December – RGB

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Old work Christmas dinner

#5 10th December – Whose Art Café

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No mash, and gravy was like the gravy you get in a Chinese Takeaway. Poor Show.

#6 – 14th December – work

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Work Canteen – ate at my desk – Improvement on last years

#7 15th December – Sainsburys – Hollywood Exchange

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Now in it’s 3rd year, my trip to Sainsburys with Marty. Quite average.

McKay, who has reviewed these in the past, came out of retirement with a controversial:

Nope. 0/10

#8 – 17th December – My House

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One I made myself. Five years in my house, so it’s the fifth “Belfast Christmas Dinner” for me and Leona, this year we had guests too (two fussy 7 year olds). No dramas and everything went to plan (i.e. I got my timings right and the oven didn’t pack in this time).

#9 – 22nd December – Cast and Crew

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Met some friends for lunch. Was okay, but not for £12.95! Regretted not getting a burger because they looked good!

It was this one where my sister asked if sandwiches count (Nope).

#10 – 24th December – Murphy Browns

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Another staple in my Christmas dinner month! Something to do us before we hit the road 

It was here where McKay commented if I ever calculated how much my “December Hobby” costs. In short, next year I might keep a running total!

#11 – 25th December – My Ma and Da’s

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Another good year! Only three types of potato though, but at least they were the best three (roasties, champ, garlic creamed – don’t @ me)!!

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The twelve christmas dinners of christmas…

Now a Christmas tradition: I eat loads of Christmas Dinners in December – and post them on the internet!!

#1 – 3/12/15 – Wetherspoons –  Belfast

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Like the Charity Shield, this is the usual curtain raiser! A Wetherspoon’s Christmas Dinner, with my old work chum, Alistair! We’ve been doing this for eight years now and this one was the best (they are usually rank)!

 #2 – 04/12/15 – Murphy Browns, Belfast
img_6362Now a regular feature, mainly due to being walking distance to my house. Not as good as last years, but last years was excellent.

#3 – 9/12/15 – uEat – University of Ulster, Jordanstown
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Oh, yeah, I went back to uni!

#4 – 12/12/14 – Coach Lane @ Donaghy’s – Sligo

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Oh aye, I went to Sligo for my Da’s birthday

#5 – 15/12/15 – Work Canteen
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It was slow start this year. Time to ramp it up!

#6 – 15/12/15 – My House
A controversial entry!img_6473 img_6474Some nay-sayers said it didn’t count because it’s a ready meal… IT COUNTS GODDAMMIT!

#7 – 16/12/15 – Sainsburys, Holywood.
img_6476The second annual “go to Sainsburys for a Christmas dinner with Marty”

#7 – 17/12/15 – Victoria’s Belfast

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Staff do. Here is where I level with last year! 5th in 4 days! Shit is getting real!

#9 – 18/12/15 – McHughs, Belfast

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Old work staff do!

#10 – 20/12/15 – My House

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4th annual Belfast house Chirstmas dinner! Yes, I had one in my house a few days earlier.. but this is a legit one!

#11 – 23/12/15 –  Madisons, Belfast

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#12 – 25/12/15 – Folks House

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12 Christmas Dinners, 11 Christmas Dinners etc etc

 

Slow cookin’

I had a £30 voucher for Debenhams and didn’t know what to spend it on. Leona suggested a slow cooker and after that I hadn’t wanted anything more in my life!

The slow cooker arrived a few days later and that weekend I went to the butchers to get a nice lump of pork shoulder to cook in it! By a stroke of luck pork shoulder was on offer and got twice as much as usual.

...only £7

…only £7

I chopped a couple of onions, some cloves of garlic and some chilies and threw them into the cooker. I then covered the pork in pepper and spices et al with a bit of oil and rubbed it all in. Once I’d done this I put the meat on the bed of onions etc.

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I then threw in some cider and white wine vinegar and turned the cooker on. As it was about 2 o’clock by this point I had it set to “medium”. I left it for a few hours occasionally turning the meat over.

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Five and a half ours later I was able to shred the meat and I put the shreds back into the juices. I turned the cooker to “high” and removed the lid hoping the moisture would condense down.

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By hour six I decided to make a barbecue sauce (as we had none) using fried garlic, some stock from the cooker, ketchup and soy sauce. I couldn’t make too much as I hadn’t enough soy sauce.

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Six and a half hours in I realised that the juices wouldn’t condense down so I added the homemade BBQ sauce to thicken it. It didn’t work so I found some “sauce flour” and added it to the consistency was right.

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Six hours and forty five minutes later I served with jacket sweet potato, spinach and coleslaw. It was quite tasty and I was eating pork for 4 days!

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Next time I will try making a chilli with brisket and maybe beef shin. Stay tuned!

Cuba – Day One

View from Room

View from Room

After the previous night’s washout I was expecting more of the same. We woke up at something crazy like 6.30am (11.30GMT). I looked out the window and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it nice outside! We had three hours until our “induction” with the rep so we got ready, then left to have breakfast and dander about the beach.

Before we headed out we left a tip for the chamber maid (1CUC) and a note, along the lines of “¡Hola! Gracias – Conor y Leona”.

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We were at breakfast pretty early and was glad to see that it wasn’t as busy as the night before. It was all pretty standard fare, but dead on. It did have a few weird things such as a “chicken coquette”. It also had a “live” omelette station, pancakes, eggs and smoothie! All good.

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After breakfast we dandered on the beach and around the resort to find out where things are and get our bearings.

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We still had a bit of time before the induction so we opted to go to the pool bar. Leona had fruit juice but I had a beer – my rationale being I’m still on GMT.

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Our induction was at 9.30am in the “disco”. Daniel took it and was good to explain a bit about the local area (where the market and local shops where), tipping etiquette, currency exchanging, what excursions were good etc. He also said he could provide a list of what rum and cigars were best – sadly I never got a chance to do that.

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After the induction we popped into the hotel shop to have a browse. It was at this point I thought it might be nice to get a bottle of rum “for the room” so purchased a bottle of Havana Club for the crazy price of 4.95CUC and a bottle of Cuban Cola.

Walking out of the shop there was a stand selling some souvenirs and a 26th July Flag caught my eye. I starting having a look at the rest of the stuff and because of the sun and wanting to recreate the Mungo picture – I decided to get a hat. The one I got was green camouflage (debunking the myth I read online that camouflage was banned) with a red star and Cuban flag on the side. I had to ask the lady selling it if it would fit my giant head but I don’t think she understood but she let me try it on and when wearing it I slightly resembled someone…

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After going through the list we booked our excursions with the the rep Anabelle. We had decided on four but we decided against the Holguín by Night trip when we were told that there wouldn’t be “a show” anymore, it would just be a trip to Holguín… at night. We were going to Holguín on another excursion so we didn’t bother.

We were also planning to do “Sun Cruise” the next day – Anabelle warned that it might rain the next day so it mightn’t be on. She made a phonecall, talked Spanish, hung up and told us to be ready for 8am the next day.

We went for three excursions:
Sun Cruise (which included swimming with dolphins)
Cuba Inside (which included said trip to Holguín)
Island Paradise (which didn’t include a safari as Thomas Cooke didn’t recommend we go on it)

In total it cost about 600CUC – which accounted for most of our spending for the whole holiday.

After we booked our excursions we then went to book the three a la carte dinners we were entitled to. There was a bit of a queue so we went to the bar and I had my first Pina Colada of the week. Once the queue went down we booked our dinners. The plan was to book for days we weren’t on excursions but we couldn’t book Monday’s until Saturday. We had booked Internacial for that night and Buccenaro on Saturday.

After that we got our swim wear sorted and hung out at the pool for a few hours. The pool was really cold but Leona managed to fulfill her only objective of the holiday of swimming up to the bar asking for a Pina Colada, drinking it and swimming away. I swam about too, for the first time in 15 or so years. It took a wee while to remember how to float. I really must relearn to swim!

IMG_4353At one point there was shower that felt like twenty seconds. I was in the covered pool bar and could see the heavy rain hitting the water. I turned round and everyone was clearing the pool and heading to the 24hr bar beside the pool. As soon as it was cleared the rain stopped and the sun was out again. It was strange.

After a few hours at the pool we headed to the beach and hung out there for a bit. As it was getting to late afternoon/early evening it wasn’t as sunny and noticeably cooler so we went for another walk round the grounds of the hotel and try to find the restaurant we were eating in later. En route we spotted the John Lennon Statue that was inexplicably in the Villa area (for some reason the Cubans love the Beatles – like really love them).

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We went back to our room to get ready for dinner (oh, and drink some rum!). The dress codes for the a la carte restaurants were shoes, trousers and shirt. I’d read online that they’d refuse service otherwise – which was fair enough as you wouldn’t want scruffers turning up in swimming trunks and sandals.

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We got to the restaurant early so we went to the “Jazz Bar” which was beside the Villa’s pool bar. It had someone playing piano in the corner and only served cocktails. I had an Abbey cocktail – it was alright. As we finished our drinks we noticed that there people going into the restaurant wearing shorts, sandals etc – so much for an enforced dress code!

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Dinner was weird. The starter was cold cuts of meat, bread and cheese – but we had to walk up and serve ourselves like it was a salad bar. Plus there was a big chunk of ham that we had to carve ourselves. I’m not a skilled carver so on my plate I had a smaller chunk of ham.

We were then brought our soup. Which was alright.

For my main I had ordered Lobster (#13 of my To do list) but sadly it was stuffed with Pineapple (which I don’t like) so all I could taste was pineapple. But the non pineapple tasting parts were okay. Sadly I wasn’t too impressed with my first lobster.

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We had desert – which was just ice cream – it was okay.

The food wasn’t great but the waiter was dead on – he kept bringing me beer – so we left him a few CUC for a tip and left..

Leona wasn’t feeling great after dinner so we were going to miss out on that nights entertainment – which was a music quiz. It was held at the stage beside the pool so I would be able to hear it from the room. The rest of the night consisted of me sitting on the balcony drinking rum and shouting out answers to the music quiz. Leona joined me for a bit but she soon went to bed because we had an early start the next day. I had alot of rum – so much so I couldn’t remember going to bed.

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The (only) seven christmas dinners of christmas…

Still loves xmas dinner

Still loves xmas dinner

…well it could have been nine… but apparently dinners before December don’t count (see below).

I had the traditional one in Wetherspoons with an old work friend on 25th November:

(i) – Wetherspoons

I also had one before I went to Cuba on 30/11/14.

(ii) - Murphy Browns

(ii) – Murphy Browns

I wasn’t going to do “this” this year as I would be in Cuba for two weeks. But I got got a reqeust. However, apparently Christmas dinners in November don’t count – as the story goes:

With that in mind I decided to tighten up the “rules”. 1st December – 25th December only and no ‘repeats’ (i.e. leftovers don’t count).

#1 – 11/12/14 – Murphy Browns –  Belfast
I took action on my first day home with another Murphy Browns – because it was quite good the last time (and near my house)!

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 #2 – 12/12/14 – RBG – Belfast
Back with my old work chums to the same place as last years work do. Sadly this year the Christmas Dinner didn’t have any roasties! Shock!

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#3 – 17/12/14 – Work Canteen
The fact there were roasties gave it points over the last one.

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#4 – 18/12/14 – Sainsburys – Holywood
No ham! And Yorkshire Pudding was still a bit frozen. But at least it had roasties – plus first mince pie of the year.

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#5 – 19/12/14 – Northern Whig – Belfast
Again with no roasties! Up until this point Murphy Browns was front runner!

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#6 – 21/12/14 – My House
The 3rd Annual Belfast House Xmas dinner – this year Leona made it and there were no oven breaking down drama like last year. I even tasted half a sprout (wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – still not nice.). Was tasty.

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#7 – 25/12/14 – Folks House
Christmas Day – Unlike last year we didn’t have three types of potato – we had four.. FOUR.. types of potato (Champ, Roast, Garlic Cream and new addition Baby Boil)… yum yum yum.

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Only seven – but would have been eight if I counted the boxing day left overs (like I did last year) and ten if I counted the two in November… that would bring me level with last year… which isn’t bad seeing I was out of the country for two weeks.

Next year I should aim for twelve.. you know, so the pun works!

8. Try a spiceburger…

…despite it not being a burger!

Before

Before

Nearly seven years later, I finally got to try a spiceburger. I moved offices last week and as a leaving gift my ex-colleague (who for nearly seven years I tortured about spiceburgers) brought me one from the chippy she used to work in!

After

After

 

Review: it was really tasty, not that spicy though and definitely not a burger but more a pastie!

Text to another ex-colleague

Text to another ex-colleague

An Ode to Temps

I thought I would go for some this Throw Back Thursday carry on. I can’t seem to find anything online about this fine former Botanic eatery but when I found a low resolution picture on an old SD card I had to make Temps live forever via a poorly written blog post.

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Temps just after it closed…

Temps was weird. It was a tad dirty. It was dear. It had some horrible ripped sofa’s and graffiti on the walls. The food was also quite average but I still went. All the time!

I started going in 2005 (after the demise of Liberties – my former favourite post drink haunt) on the recommendation of McKay and I wasn’t that fussed at first. It was £6ish for a chicken burger meal (bear in mind this was ten years ago.. and you didn’t get many chips!). However, we got into the routine of every week going to Lavery’s to play pool then going to Temps on the way home.

We recommended Temps to everyone. Most people weren’t fussed or if they knew it already would tell us that it was actually rotten! I think we had one convert though.

It was rotten though, one night one of us had some blue mould on our burger bun. They pulled it off and continued eating. Though, unlike Esperantos, it never made me sick… or maybe it did. Though that may have been my excuse after drinking too much.

Most nights out ended with stopping at Temps on the way home. Temps after a night out was a sight to behold. Anarchy in chippy form. The place would be packed and noisy. Sometimes there’d be music. You’d make your order, you’d get a number and a few minutes later a wannabe DJ would shout your number over a microphone.

My favourite Temps story was when McKay went and the Polish clerk/cook/bouncer started to tell him about some skeet causing trouble and the bouncer kicked his head in – but then turned on the TV with the CCTV footage of the incident playing.

Sadly in 2008 the dream ended. I noticed the For Sale sign and took a photo (on a shitty old Samsung phone) for posterity. Boojum opened on that site soon after that. Mexican food? Fuck that! I didn’t go to Boojum because of what I thought was loyalty to Temps (How stupid). I had my first Boojum a few years after that. Fuck sake! Why didn’t I go sooner?! It’s far nicer than Temps!

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Nearly there..