Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today: Just Another Day

I frequently get asked by the working people "What do you do all day?".  It really is not a bad question, especially when asked by people who only get two days a week off and use one of those to catch up on work and the other wondering what to do.  

So let me tell you how today is going, as it is a fairly typical day.

We get up around 6.30 and Sandra then has 2 hours before the bus leaves for work.  We do not start the day with a mad rush, but I am afraid we still sometimes end up in one.  When men dress for work they rarely try on three or four ties before deciding which to wear, and they definitely don't do that with suits or socks.  And rather than get myself into any trouble, I'll just leave you with the general observation that women are different.  And 40+ years of observing this has lead me to conclude that there will never be any convergence of our behaviours in this respect.  Enough said!  

In the morning my job is to prepare breakfast and the emergency supplies that Sandra takes to refuel herself between meals.  Fortunately, Sandra, unlike me, does not require "different" food all the time, so the only thing that stops me feeding her the same thing each day (which she tends to do when alone) is that I get board cooking eggs the same way day after day.

First priority though is tea.  A mug of Fortnum and Mason's English Breakfast tea just goes to show how difficult it is to suppress the colonial spirit, and I am talking about the new-colonial Sandra, not me, I drink my diet coke!!

There is always grapefruit followed by yoghurt, either home-made with pureed frozen fruit in it, or store-bought if we can find the low fat stuff, then eggs.  This is the challenge to add egg-variety, without adding too much time.

On the eggs list are the basics like:

Scrambled (European style to American, so they are soft and creamy)
Fried (but with very little fat)
Boiled (and shelled, to make consumption easier)
Omelettes, we have fun here with lots of things I can add
Quiche, if I have some pastry left over
and todays choice...
An omelette made by seperately whipping the egg whites, folding in yolks and cheeses, adding grilled cherry tomatoes and artichokes (canned!) and finishing under the broiler.

Finally, Sandra finishes with some toasted home made bread with labneh and apricot jam, both are also home made.  Below is the everyday set up, only the eggs differ!
As you will observe the table is set for one.  I am not ready for breakfast just yet, so I will just sit and chat, if we aren't listening to the BBC World Service News on the internet, as I do for a lot of the day.  We do get some lovely sunrises as we sit and eat and talk.
At about 8.20 Sandra leaves to catch the waiting bus downstairs.  She carries a briefcase that is half work, half food.  Raw carrot and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, grapes and bananas are the basics, accompanied by a yoghurt drink, diet cokes and more recently banana muffins.  I don't know where she puts it all.  Maybe I am feeding her whole office?

After Sandra leaves I usually read and answer emails and do any computing chores that I have.  I have been struggling to download some TV programs which with s slow internet connection keep timing out, so seem to take several attempts over a few days before they work.  I have also been fixing our VPN connections on our iToys so that we can read blogs that friends have.  I have also set us up on the iCloud and subscribed to the new iTunes Match service.  Doing these little things with my techno-fossilised brain takes a lot longer than some of you younger readers would ever believe!

After messing about for an hour or so (for, I guess, that is what it really is) I have been trying to fit in a brief visit upstairs to the gym, before getting dressed and ready to go out.

Today I left the Marriott at about 10.30 and walked up to Ardiger to RamStore. Tonight James is coming to dinner so I will look for something a bit different, but know I'll have no luck.

It was not very cold, minus 2C, but with a dry wind it is chafing, so one walks briskly.

En route to Ardiger I passed a new restaurant that is getting ready to open.  A few months ago there were signs announcing the Noodle House would be opening soon.  Sandra was getting quite excited at the prospect of a specialist noodle restaurant, but then the signs went down and nothing happened.  However, recently work has been going on and the signage has gone up.  As you can see..
The Noodle House has



In other words it is Everything House with Noodles.  Sandra is disappointed.

After shopping I called a taxi to go back to Marriott, and then straight on to Abay Office to meet Sandra for lunch.  Something was wrong with the system and I waited 30 minutes before it arrived and got to Sandra an half hour late for lunch.

We weregoing to go to a new found place for an exciting "business lunch" but it was closed.  We decided instead to go to Guns and Roses, which is a pub that does one of those strange Atyrau transformations from business restaurant to after work drinks meeting place to live music event venue and finally early in the morning becomes an international dating center (I will say no more other than, this is all second hand information as we have only ever done lunches there.  We deserve prizes, just look what we had!


Actually Sandra didn't touch hers, it had a very strange flavour that I couldn't identify, but was decidedly offputting in a salad.

Then soup....

I have told you all about this before, but for the record, I got 3 little pieces of meat and Sandra got one.  Which made me the winner this time.

Finally chicken and rice...

This was OK.  It was cold so the sauce of sour cream and a few mushroom slices was more like glue, but avoid that the cold chicken and cold rice was like an advanced salad, so edible.

After lunch I walked over to Rahat Market to do some shopping for dinner.  I was hoping to find a piece of meat to braise.  I bought a piece of meat but I was not sure what the cut was.  It turned out to be too lean and after 6 hours braising was stringy but not soft.

As I was waiting for the taxi outside Rahat, in the muddy carpark I took this picture of the buildings opposite.

 This is an example of something I have been meaning to mention.  Most of the residential homes in Atyrau are apartments.  Typically they are 3 to 5 storey buildings like these, not in very good shape.  They are almost all built with open balconies but the residents customise them as they see fit.  Many are glassed in, some have only sides, others are barred and some are occassionally bricked in to make an extra room.  I don't know how the ownership or building regulations work but this seems to happen to even some of the newer and higher buildings as you can see in the picture of the new tower block next to The Renco (right)

The balconies are obviously useful extra storage space as you can see below.

I returned to Marriott with the spoils from my shopping trip.  And started to prepare dinner.  The menu was Curried Lentil Soup, Salad with honey mustard dressing, braised beef and Pear Tartin.  I made corn bread muffins and a loaf of light rye bread to go with the soup and stew.  Results are below.
Given that we pay for our own travel and that the trip from San Francisco to Atyrau can go a number of ways at very different prices and journey times, I spend a lot of time shopping for fares.  This afternoon I realised that I would be arriving back at SFO at 8.30 pm and had to get to Sonoma.  One way car rental is quite expensive.  I checked on Expedia USA and this was what I found.
The cheapest Hertz car was $140+.  I thought a better option would be to go by bus as far as I could and stay overnight in an hotel, which in Petaluma would be $50 to $100, Then I could complete my journey by bus the next day.
But I also decided to look at some other rental sites, such as Hertz directly, which was the same price. (I was using Hertz as they have a Sonoma office, but it is closed on Saturdays!)
Then by accident I got on an Hertz UK site and the price was about GBP20!! Bingo, I thought, only about a quarter of the US price.  However, it would not allow me to enter a credit card billing address outside the UK. And our UK cards are billed to US addresses now.  So instead I had to go on to Expedia UK.  As some of you will know, Expedia will normally reroute you to a local Expedia service, but I have a proxy UK server so I could get through.  My card billing details are already on record there to the billing address anomoly did not exist. Hence the final confirmed booking...
So the message is that it may take a lot of time, but there really is a case for shopping around.  I have found significant differences in the prices on UK, US and Canadian travel websites as well as differences in flight availability.  So if you have the ability to pay with cards of different residence, keep this in mind!

I also started this blog on Monday afternoon, but now as I am finishing it, I'm afraid it is already Tuesday.  Which brings me back to where we started...making breakfast for Sandra.  Today the eggs were a type of quiche with no pastry.  To the two eggs I added about two tablespoonsful of marscaponi and about one of grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, whisked and put it in a muffin tin in the oven. 

I served them with some roast cherry tomatoes.  Below is the evidence.  

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