Archive | November, 2010

Good Greek food in Amsterdam- “De 2 Grieken”

27 Nov

I love Greek food. All kinds. Octopus, stuffed tomatoes, feta, grills, baklava, dodgy 2 euro pita gyros from a souvlaki stand in Ios (often followed by a  dodgy 2 euro nutella crepe from the stand next door )…the works.

So I was very happy when my greek friend, Maro, informed us that there was an awesome Greek place just around the corner from our building- “De 2 grieken” (or “The 2 Greeks”, I think). I feel I have a special bond with Maro because we have a shared love of Greek food, and a shared love of Greek Pop star/2nd runner up in the Eurovision Song Contest 2004, Sakis Rouvas. Maro was stunned to find that anyone outside Greece knew who he was, to which I replied it may have had something to do with his dark hair, piercing green eyes, and chiselled abs….

Where was I? Oh right, food. Anyway, my point is that if a Greek person recommends this place, you know it’s gonna be good.

And indeed it was. De 2 Grieken is a cute little family run bistro, with maps of Greece, ouzo bottles and for some reason, porcelein cats adorning the walls….They also serve, hearty, value-laden Greek meals.

If you are indecsive like me, in a group, or keen to try an assortment of nibblies, I would definitely recommend getting on of the starter plates. Fresh olives, fetta (Which Maro tells me is from a special part of Greece, I forget the name or where it’s from, but my it’s tasty), tomatoes, meatballs in gravy, spinach and cheese deep fried triangle thingies, and an array of fres bread and dips like hummus, tzatziki and babaganoush. This is the plate:

And this is the aftermath:

In hindsight, inhaling the appetizers above was probably not the best idea, cos the main meals were equally HUGE, but equally delicious. Delicious things that we ordered include:

– Grilled lamb chops with yoghurt sauce (divine)

– Prawns and warmed fetta in a steaming tomatoey stew (also divine)

– Moussaka (a big cheesy eggplant lasagna with bechamel sauce)

– – A mixed grill plate with an assortment of yummy barbecued meats (good if you’re hungry and indecisive about which meat to order) ; and

– Stewed lamb in a red wine sauce ( This is what I ordered, and I must admit, not as great as it sounds. I think i was kinda expecting a super tender piece of lamb where the meat falls straight off the bone, but this was really ordinary lamb slices with gravy. Still yummy, but not as authentic as I hoped it to be).

AS you can see, all meats are served with a side of rice, salad, and in true Dutch style, potato wedges. ( the last bit seems a bit of an anomoly to me. THey do it in “Chinese restaurants”here too, where your sweet and sour pork comes with a side of fries. A tasty anomoly don’t get me wrong, but strange no less)

IF you still have space in your stomachs after mains, (or if you dont, but like me will never pass up an opportunity to eat dessert), I’d definitely try the baklava and ice cream (and whipped cream and chocolate sauce) . Baklava is a delicious greek dessert with layers of filo pastry and crushed pistachio nuts, drizzled with a delicious sweet honey like syrup- its delish.

To top it all off, the service at this place is great. THis might have had something to do with the fact that we were accompanied by a Greek person, and the owners are fiercely patriotic. (eg one asked me, WHere are you from? ME: Australia. Him: Oh Australia, it’s nice, but Greece is better!)

Overall, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this place- good food, good atmosphere, and good value. Definitely deserving of an “Opa”!

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Contact:

Prinsenstraat 20, Amsterdam
020 – 625 53 17.

I want to move to paris because…

26 Nov

Of the dessert.

My friend Kristen, who’s studying in Paris at the moment (and has now become my French foodie correspondent i ve decided), sent me some mouthwatering pics of things she has scoured across the pattiseries of Paris….

Now, The fact that these pics were mouthwatering really does not surprise me at all. I have known for quite some time that French pastry chefs are amongst the most pedantic and dedicated professionals in the world.

For instance, my friend, Vanessa, used to work at the Paris Cake shop in Bondi beach (which in my opinion is still the best thing on her resume), run by a French patry chef named James, who would wake up at 4 am each morning to bake his desserts fresh from scratch and create his little morsels of edible art. Any leftovers at the end of the day were discarded, or taken home by employees ( much to the happiness of Vanessa and our high school friends, who would always conveniently materialise at her place for tea the next day whenever this happened).

 Recently, I also read an article about how French McDonalds had started serving macaroons on the menu, causing an uproar amongst French pastry chefs across the country at the fact that there beloved meringey dessert had been commodified by corporate America. I am sure James was similarly aghast. (In my opinion, they looked pretty good!)

      McMacaroons at McCafe

Anyway, without further ado, I present to you an assortment of Parisian desserts that will undoubtedly make your mouth water. Also known as pure, unadulterated food porn for your viewing pleasure.

Enjoy 🙂

10 other things I loved about London

24 Nov

1. Topshop , Oxford st.

After Harrods food Hall, Topshop comes in a close second for heaven. Let me warn you- this ain’t no ordinary Topshop store. The 3 storey one on Oxford st is more like a shopping mall compressed, or a mini airport. It has not only mountains of lovely clothes, shoes and makeup, but also a cafe, cupcake store and hair salon downstairs. So big and bewildering is this place, that there is even an information desk on the lower floor, where I actually had to for directions to the check out counter. As it turns out, the check out counter  was set up like a little bank- with 12 tellers at their own little stations and a little flashing electronic sign above indicating which teller is free. Marvellous.

Oh another word of advice about Topshop- set yourself a spending budget. Then prepare to blow it by double.

2. The Tube   

I love riding the Tube. Not only is it quick, and a great way to escape the cold,  ít’s super fun. It’s like playing a  game, Snakes and Ladders meets monopoly in fact, where the objective is to find the quickest route from A (Leicester Square) to B (Bond st)  along the maze of colourful squiggly lines. Incidently,  the tube map has absolutely no geographical correlation to what’s above ground. After taking a particularly long and convoluted route, best refrain from patting yourself on the back, as you may find that you have in fact emerged only two blocks down from where you started!  

 The station names are also fun and hilariously British-  “Chalk farm”, “Forest Hill” , “Golders Green”. The kind of names that make you think you will emerge from the station to find cottages and woodlands and possibly hobbits, only to be brought firmly back to reality by the sight of red double decker bus screeching across a busy, rainslicked intersection.

(Golders Green does not look like this in reality)

3. Intermittent bits of sunshine

On Friday, the sun came out. This is a rare thing for the Brits (and the Dutch I might add), and it was glorious. The birds were chirping, families were about, children were  laughing…I half expected Brits to randomly take their tops off in their delirium and start sunbaking on the streets. 

On Saturday, it rained.

4. Things that should be free and were  

On our first day, we had lunch at a sushi train ( which I have missed sorely in Amsterdam), and were pleasantly surprised to to discover two things.  Free table water..And free toilet access. My golly.

For those of you outside the Dam, there is a weird thing here (and in other parts of Europe) where restaurants refuse to serve you  free table water (only bottled). I m told it has something to do with hygiene, but really the pipes here are fine and I think restaurants here are just stingy. You will also be hard pressed to find a place which lets you use the bathroom without a 50c fee!

Speaking of toilets, the bathrooms at Harrods were amazing. Not only are they free, but on the back of the cubicle doors were lovely gold embossed signs with instructions on how to flush, turn on the tap, and exit the bathroom. I am not sure if Harrods was  trying to be helpful here, or simply doesn’t think too much of the intelligence of its customers.

5. Squirrels

These were everywhere, and so so cute. I’m told they’re pests, but they’re oh so adorable!  (beats the funnel web spiders and cockroaches we have back in Oz)

6 British hospitality

We encountered some lovely Brits. IN fact, after we got off the train on our first day, a delightful Londoner asked us in a lovely accent whether we were lost and needed directions. We did. 

 In hindsight, this might have had less to do with the  kindness of strangers, and more to do with the fact that I tend to  walk around with a permanent  expression of lost confusion on my face, which only escalates when I travel to new countries.

7. British accents

As the great Australian comedian Adam Hills once said, “An Aussie accent is what happens when british got lazy in the dry australian heat” (or something like that, but funnier): “Jeffrey look at this new country, it’s rather pleasant don’t you think? Tad warm though, scorchin’ actually… streeuth it’s bloody boooilin you got a VB mate? ”.

Also great to be able to hear familiar Brit/aussie slang words like “cheers, mate and wanker”…or say these without people looking at you funny.

8. British cable TV

It’s hilarious. We had planned to go out one night, but flicked our remote to BBC3 and were hooked. On offer that night was a fantastic reality show about a gay couple planning their wedding (One of the grooms was partial to cabaret, drag queen performances and shiny polyester suits…the other not so much), a singing TV contest where 5 tone-deaf, middle aged women get makeovers and sing on stage in top- to- toe sequins, and an ad for Neighbours.

For non Aussies, Neighbours is an Australian show which has been running for over 20 years, and a place where many famous Aussies like Kylie Minogue got their “big break”. I know hardly any Australians who actually watch it, but it has a bizzare cult following overseas which consists of the entire of the United Kingdom.

Kylie on Neighbours in the 80s, pre plastic surgery (and  pre stylist it seems)   

9. Discount Theatre tickets at West End.

Catching a show at West End is something I would highly recommend. We saw “We Will Rock You”  (the Queen Musical) at the Dominion theatre on Friday night for a mere 27 pounds. It was brilliant! Friends who know me will know that I will jump at any opportunity to start an impromptu Bohemian Rhapsody singalong (be this in a karaoke booth, the back of a car, or the back of a rickety sing tao taxi through the jungles of Thailand), so being part of one in a crowd of 1000 strong was pretty damn awesome. 🙂

(Me at West end)

10. Potter mania

Harry Potter opened this weekend in London, and it was huge. ON Saturday night, theatres were booked out everywhere…and at Wimbledon theatre  where we saw it, each of the 12 cinemas inside were screening the movie at regular 30 minute intervals.  The other cool thing about watching Harry Potter in London is little moments like these:

Harry: Where are we Hermione?  (Me: (to Steph) That looks like where we went last night!)

Hermione: Shaftsbury Avenue.. ( Me: It WAS where we were last night!)

Hermione: My parents used to bring me to a theatre here as a child ( Me: We went to that Theatre! I wonder if they saw We will Rock you?)

Anyway, if you haven’t seen Harry Potter yet, please do. Stat. Now, I’m an ardent fan of the books, and have never in my life recommended any of the movies to anyone (because really they don’t compare to the books do they? ), but even I must admit that the 7th one was, as the Brits would say,   “bloody brilliant”. I was hooked the whole way through, and I swear I  did not ONCE cringe at Hermione’s  acting.

Can’t wait till next July!

Favourite food moments in London

24 Nov

So  Steph and I went to London this weekend, and we had a blast. And ate like hell.  Here were  a few of my favourite food moments and places to eat…

1. Harrods:

When I m bored, I sometimes muse about what heaven would look  like. After this trip, I ve decided it would look a great deal like the Harrods Food Hall.

This food hall has everything a foodie could ever want in one, and quite frankly, puts La Place Mangerie to shame- there’s an oyster bar, seafood bar, champagne bar, a grill where you can have succulent steaks cooked in front of you,  fresh fruit and vegetables with colours so rich they seem almost artificial, rows upon rows of  Christmas hampers of English sounding things like “mince pies” and “mulberry jam”….and finally, the candy section. Oh lord, the candy. Let’s just say it’s the closest thing to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory that I’ve seen in the real world (but the hunt continues).

 

Like I said, heaven.

2. Brick Lane 

This is a street populated almost entirely with Indian restaurants with neon lights and signs advertising things like “Best Curry Chef 2009”. If you stroll there at dinner time, you will be undoubtedly be harassed by numerous Indian men spruiking their particular restaurant- “Mate, I give you 2 bottles of wine on the house and 30 % discount “,  “What did that guy offer? I can top that- 10 pound meal flat rate. No joke”.

It’s loads of fun, and kinda feels like walking through a busy market in Bangkok, or the red light district of Curry Houses. In the end, we settled on one a few doors in (largely through a process of eeny-meeny-miny-mo) which was excellent. Good quality Starter, mains and naan (with complimentary wine) for 10 pounds flat. No joke.

3. (Free) English continental breakfasts

I love free  breakfasts (I am a cheapskate Cheung after all), so the free english continental breakfast at our Hotel was quite a treat. Big cups of english breakfast tea, bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, pork sausage and baked beans (plus an additional buffet table at our disposal). We were rather full by the end, and swore we’d skip lunch or dinner as a result, but that plan failed miserably.

4. Portabello Road 

The reason that planned failed miserably was this:

We went to Portabello Road around lunch time, which is amazing for Vintage fashion, antiques…and of course, food. I would definitely recommend the seafood  paella above  (cooked by 4 spannish guys in the biggest woks I’ve ever seen), mulled wine and a visit to the ever packed “Hummingbird” cupcake bakery for dessert. Try the Red Velvet.

I’m told Borough Market is another excellent food market, but sadly we ran out of time…next time!

5. Good old fashioned British Pub grub

With the sun setting at 4.30 pm and the rain flowin in, Steph and I decided to do the traditional British thing one night and sit in a dodgy pub drinking a pint of warm ale and eating hearty British meals. In the end, Steph settled for a good ol fish and chips with aoli sauce, and I had a  juicy gigantic steak and ale pie with a side of mash potato and peas. ( ok I confess, the pub was actually an Irish one called “O Neills”, and the pie was actually a steak and guiness one, but same same) Anyway, it was delish, and one of the few moments in life where I felt Imight actually explode after my meal.

Speaking of exploding stomachs, for great burgers, the “Gourmet Burger Kitchen” chain is excellent. These burgers are massive. My friend Pete ordered the “Kiwi” (a very Aussie thing- beef, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, mayo, pineapple, eggs, bacon…essentially a heart attack special), and found it impossible to fit it in his mouth. The 5 yr old British boy who was marvelling at it at the table next door suggested a simple solution- “Um, why don’t you just take out all the veges?” Bless him.

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PS-  If you’re a fan of street art, there’s also a big painting on the wall by Banksy just off Portabello which has been preserved in perspex . Def worth checking out!

 

Wild Mushroom Risotto recipe (by Tom Lai)

22 Nov

One of my favourite past times is to flick through my friend Tom’s facebook album of dinners he has cooked on exchange- much as girls do with fashion magazines, or guys with dirty mens mags. It’s a guilty pleasure and mighty fun.

For those of you who have read and also drooled over the photos of Tom’s food in the previous post… I present to you Tom’s first recipe- Wild Mushroom Risotto.

Tom gave me some artistic license to edit it, but I ve kept it in its original form…cos quite frankly, if it turns out anything like it does in the picture, then every word is gold. It’s a tad more detailed then my 3 step “recipes”(see post- “My Cooking Philosophy”..), but I think that might explain the vast difference in quality between my food and Tom’s.

Anyways, enjoy guys!

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Wild Mushroom Risotto

” One thing that I love about Europe is that wild mushrooms are everywhere, even in the local supermarket fridge. This is a great recipe where mushrooms are the star of the dish.

One thing that’s essential for this recipe is a good homemade chicken stock. In most recipes, you can get away with substituting water for stock, but there are so few ingredients in a risotto and no strong herbs to hide behind, so a good stock is a must.

To make the mushrooms stock, boil 250g of sliced button mushrooms in a litre and a half of chicken stock for about 40 minutes. Strain the stock and keep it hot.

Gently fry French shallots and garlic in some olive oil and butter over a low heat. You want to soften and release the flavour of the shallots and garlic without colouring them. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Once the shallots are soft, add one cup of risotto rice (preferably Carnaroli) and toast the rice for a minute. Turn the heat up to medium and add half a cup of white wine. Allow the alcohol to evaporate, then add hot stock, one ladle at a time.

Agitate the pan by shaking it. Try not to stir it too much. Wait until most of the stock is absorbed before adding the next ladle.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat up some olive oil and butter and fry a selection of wild mushrooms. Add thyme and a clove of garlic.

Taste the risotto to see if it is done. The rice should be soft, but the centre should have a bit of bite. When the risotto is almost done, add one last ladle of stock and turn the heat off. Add a few blobs of butter and let the risotto sit for 3 minutes. Stir through some shaved parmesan just before serving.

Serve the risotto on a deep plate. Place the mushrooms on top and garnish with a few sprigs of chervil.”

A politically incorrect christmas in Amsterdam

17 Nov

Christmas in Amsterdam is a wondrous time. We have belgian waffles stands, ice skating rinks, decorations all round…

We also have Black Pete. 

According to Wikipedia:

“ In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Flanders, Zwarte Piet ( pronunciation (help·info)) (meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas. The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’s feast, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, allegedly travelling from Spain). “…. In the old days, parents would  also warn their children: “If you don’t behave, Black Pete will come and take you with him back to Spain.” **

Black Pete and SinterKlaus

Right now in Holland, Black Pete is somewhat of a celebrity. Strolling through the streets of Amsterdam, one will  invariably see an assortment of Black Pete puppets and figurines adorning shop windows…There are Black Pete CDs, Black Pete wrapping paper, Black Pete Costumes for rent. There are even Black Pete impersonators who you can pose with in photos ( see pic of Evelein below).  Seriously, this guy’s bigger than Miley Cyrus.   

Lucky Evelein

What I find so hilarious about Black Pete, is that he is so hilariously inappropriate. Seriously, in any other country, if grown men were to adorn afro wigs and paint their faces black, they would be scorned! In fact, this very thing happened in Australia early this year on a TV talent show –“Hey Hey it’s Saturday”, where there was quite a scandal over a skit involving 5 men covered in black facepaint and black wigs.  Harry Conick Junior was a guest judge at the time, and was so offended by this that the station was forced to issue a public apology. The ‘blackface” skit even made international headlines, spreading a misconception overseas that Australians are one of the most racist peoples in the world (We’re not by the way, we’re really quite nice!)

Oh, and the 5 guys got a grand score of zero for their performance.

Cool

Not Cool.

Harry's not impressed.

 

Now, I am by no means implying that the Dutch are racist (they too are really quite nice!), but I chuckle to think how a modern, politically correct parent would struggle to explain Black Pete to their child: 

“ Child: Mummy, why does Pete have a black face?

Mum: It’s just soot darling, from when he slides down the chimne.y.

Child: But mummy, why does he have black curly hair and big red lips?

Mum: …”

Now, I could go on a critical rant condemning Black Pete as a racist caricature from a colonial past, or I could just accept the fact that Black Pete is now so firmly rooted in Dutch culture and tradition, that the Dutch have decided to turn a collective blind eye to the whole inappropriateness issue. And, as I walk through the streets of Amsterdam peering at him through shop windows, I think I might just do the same thing 🙂

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** In a vain attempt to link this post to food, wikipedia also states that:  “The tasks of Zwarte Pieten is mostly to amuse children and to scatter pepernoten and candies around at children…”

Cheap eats around Amsterdam (Inspired by my Uncle Mick)

16 Nov

A blog entry really here wouldn’t be complete without a Cheung family story, so this one’s devoted to my Uncle Mic .
 
For those of you who don’t know him, my uncle mic is a bit of a cheapskate. Don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome- he volunteers at the State Emergency Service, is a total computer whiz and once served a short stint as Nicole Kidman’s bodyguard.* But he is undoubtedly a cheapskate. During his university years, he based his diet solely on what was on special that week at Coles (usually instant noodles and canned SPAM**), and he has an uncanny ability to sniff out discounts, buy one get one free specials, and freebies. As well as a talent for exploiting these wholeheartedly.

 Take complimentary hotel goods. While ordinary people are expected to take the standard stuff- shampoos, toothpaste and shower caps, Uncle mick has more of an “if it’s not bolted to the ground, it’s fair game” policy. In the past, he has been known  to take bathrobes, slippers, and one one happy occasion, the light fittings from a hotel desk lamp.

 My other favourite uncle mic story is the time we went to the snow many years ago, and stopped off at a Burger King to buy one of those bottomless refilllable cups (not sure if these still exist, but back then they’d give you a cup, and you could refill as many times as you wanted). Uncle Mick took this offer quite literally- he bought a coke, kept the cup, went to the snow for the weekend and used the same cup on the drive back for more refills. **

Why Burger King Australia no longer sells refillable cups

Nothing is off limits

 

I have a feeling the cheapskate gene runs in the family. My granddad for instance, also has a knack for sniffing out free samples ( The habit escalated once he hit 60 I think, and was therefore exposed to a whole new world of pensioner concessions and discounts). Upon entering his house, one will find stacks and stacks of free serviettes, taken from everywhere in town- Mcdonald’s, the local cafe, and his all time favourite, Star City Casino. As a result, we have a lifetimes supply of Star City Casino napkins, and if you sneeze in his vicinity, chances are he will whip out a Star City napkin from his little red backpack and offer it to you. For some bizarre reason, he also has a life times supply of  Calcium tablets, which he also dispenses freely like candy. I m not sure if these were free, or he simply went nuts at the Discount Pharmacy warehouse one day, but everyone in our family has very strong bones as a result.

 So, in keeping with the family tradition, and for all those starving exchange kids out there who are currently broke after one too many Ryan Air trips, I have compiled a list of places giving out free samples in Amsterdam. Or at least very cheap meals. Enjoy!

 1. Noodermarket (Saturdays)
 
 Going to Noodermarket is one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday, because on Saturdays, there’s an organic food market. They sell fresh fruit, vegetables, bread,  oysters, cheese and all varieties of sweets. And the best thing is, the free samples. Of everything. Ideally, one should gracefully flutter here and there, sampling in small doses and purchasing as a result, but if you are really cheap and hungry, you could basically make a lunch out of all your samples.

Noodermarkt organic food market

2. Amsterdam Cheese house (Sort of near Central)
This is a big cheese shop that usually has free samples of all sorts of Dutch cheese- herbed, sweet chilli, plain… Also good if you are feeling peckish, or genuinely want to buy some cheese.
 
3. La Place, Mangerie (near Spui)
These guys usually do free samples of their focaccia breads- big fat fluffy focaccias  in the back corner usually baked with pesto/cheese, or tomato/basil/mozarella. Other free samples include drinks (eg a delicious non alcoholic mohito), and also pizza slices which were delicious. if you feel like splurging, you could even buy a fetta/olive twister bread roll for a grand total of 99 c.

la place for la piggies

 
4. The little chocolate shop inside Magna Plaza (near Dam Square)
Can’t remember the name, but usually has free samples of chocolate, cheese..and occassionally, stroopwafels.  Walk in the entrace and it’s just to your left.  
 
5. “ALl you can eat in an hour” Dumpling house (Zeedijk, Chinatown- next to Nam Kee)
  
 The sign outside this place says it all- “All you can eat in an hour for $8.50”.

  I love dumplings, so this is heaven to me, but the “in an hour” part puzzles me.  I assume the time limit is  there to stop greedy piggies from camping out at the restaurant till closing time and plopping dumplings in their mouths till they pass out into mini food comas. But the ironic thing is that I feel I’d be inclined to eat double what I would normally eat in an attempt to stuff as much in my stomach as possible within the hour. 

Time limits on buffets are like time limits on exams- the greater the pressure, the greater the chance I will panic, regurgitate all the useless knowledge I have, and leave the room with a slight feeling of nausea and regret. 
 
NB- I have a feeling Uncle Mic would  actually love this place. In fact, once, at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, he surreptitiously removed the individual oysters from their shells at the buffet table (leaving the shells there for the other patrons), thereby allowing him to fit more  oysters on his plate. And in his stomach.  Oh yes, we’re  all class in this family!  

 
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* Funny story– My uncle once had to act as chauffeur for Nicole kidman/ Tom cruises’ kids- Connor and Isabella. He was driving a fancy car around trying to avoid the paprazzi, and being Uncle Mic, asked Connor if he’d like to go through a McDonald’s drive thru.  Connor replied sadly that he wasn’t allowed to eat McDonalds because his parents had put him on a macrobiotic diet.

** For those who don’t know, SPAM is a tinned meat of pinkish colour. No one knows exactly which animal it comes from, or how long its shelf life is, but it was popular with the soldiers during the War and nutters stocking up their bomb shelters in the lead up to Y2K.