Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Cook, Then Type Up The Recipe And Put It On The Internet Late At Night Because I Can't Sleep

Sausage and Lamp Chop Hotpot

4 sausages and 2 barnsley lamb chops from the farmers' market
2 onions from the farmers' market
1 clove garlic
1 dessertspoon cornflour
1/2 lamb stockcube
4 potatoes from the farmers' market
some herbs from out the garden
somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 pint of hot water
a dish of dripping
a very generous tablespoon of oil
some butter

Brown the sausages and chops (sausages take longer) in the oil in a casserole dish. Remember to turn the oven on at 120C. Put the meat aside. Slice the onion and garlic. Find a dish of dripping and heat it up in the casserole. Brown onion and garlic, then add herbs, stockcube, salt, pepper and flour and stir, then add the liquid and cook for 3 or 4 minutes to make a thin sauce. Put the meat back in, and if you're very lucky the sauce will just cover it. Slice the potatoes (to maybe the thickness of a pound coin?) and cover the top, dotting with butter. Put the lid on and cook for 1 1/2 hours, then turn up to 160C and take the lid off for the last 30 minutes to brown the top. Serve with leeks from the farmers' market and lager from the supermarket* to great admiration.

Serves 2 generously.

* What?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fiat Lux

So Sandwich Christmas Lights were successfully turned on, and the parade had, amongst the usual stuff, 4 marching bands, an ambulance, a fire engine and dogs pulling carts. Plus there were fireworks, which I missed (assuming hearing all the bangs and seeing green and red flashes reflected off every building in sight is missing them).

We didn't seem to have a countdown. As my Dad was either at the top or the bottom of the ladder to the master switch I'll have to ask him about that. The button that the official turner-on uses - not connected to anything. You'd have to run wires 100m and then disconnect them as soon as everyone has gone. Nope, all done by men in florescent jackets on ladders around the corner.

The Christmas Lights can be seen from now until Twelth Night, assuming someone remembers to turn them off on time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Time Travel To The Thirties!

Many of you have asked me how I would perform if I were flung back in time to the Thirties and became a housewife. Until now, I've only been able to answer by giggling nervously and wiping my floury hands on my apron. However the internet is able to answer all questions[citation needed] and today I've found this one, thanks to the 1930's Marital Scale. Just quickly tick the ones that match me... "Flirts with other men at parties or in restaurants" - well who doesn't? "Good sense of humor--jolly and gay" - that's me too! "Has spunk--will defend her ideals and religion" - And again. Right let's see what the result is...


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

Oh no! I am a terrible 1930's housewife! Of course I'm male which might skew the results a bit. Yeah, it's definitely trying to fulfill an inappropriate (and outdated for that matter) gender role that is tripping me up on this one.


As a 1930s husband, I am

Take the test!

Well damn. Have to stay single until the Forties then.

Monday, November 24, 2008

This Evening

I've spent the evening running around Sandwich with a bucket of lightbulbs, chasing a cherrypicker and directing traffic (except for the bloke who pushed past and nearly had his car crushed by a piece of farm machinery). It's an unusual hobby, but I like it.

The Christmas Lights Carnival and the big turn on are this Friday 28 November.

Update: From the state of my boots this morning, somewhere in town is a dog the size of a pony. A large pony.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Cake Is A Lie

(Pulled out from email and social network in case I missed anyone)

I was talking to my parents about Christmas arrangements. "Do you want me to make a christmas cake?" I asked.

"Erm..." said Mum. "You can make it, but I won't be having any," said Dad.

"Shall I make some mincemeat?" I followed up.

"Ooh yes," says Mum. "Definitely," says Dad. I think that's fairly clear. Nevertheless, I'm still thinking of making a christmas cake. That will inevitably leave no one coming round over Christmas, and none of them wanting cake.

Last night I discovered Claire soaking a christmas cake in brandy. It's not for her, and her Mum will make her own. So someone is getting a Claire christmas cake. I don't know who.

So this leaves me two questions:

1. Is anyone likely to turn up over the Christmas period wanting cake? (I'm thinking Christmas Eve in particular)

2. Who is the mystery cake recipient?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Brother: Future Love Messiah

The Supreme Court of Nepal has legalised same-sex marriage, as this article from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law reports. As it happens my brother is in Nepal, having joined a pilgrimage in support of peace and freedom (no, seriously). Obviously I questioned him over this. My email:

Nepal has legalised same-sex marriage, while you're there. Is this a

(Real international lawyers think that's what the ruling means).

His Reply:

No co-incidence.
I brought love to Nepal whilst walking for peace.

There we are. And to think we knew him when he was known as The Regular Smut!

My brother confronts an angel. Or maybe temptation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Supervillains

In the pub on Saturday night, the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, from buying houses to evil geniuses taking over the world[1]. I've been thinking about Supervillains, and there's some overlap between the two. Lex Luthor and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for example, occupy such similar niches that if they existed in the same world, they would inevitably come into conflict.

The question came up as to why one would take over the world. It's a fair question. If your ambition is simply to take over the world, what then? Give it back and try again? Trying to take over the world for the sake of ruling the world is crazy, and, worse still, one dimensional characterisation which is not conducive to story generation. One might wish to simply have one's enemies[2] bow down before you, or one might be unnaturally driven to conquer[3], but in most cases the drive to rule the world would be the desire to remake the world so it better reflects the desires of the ruler.

In which case, why take over the world? Seriously. Running the world is a lot of work, and taking it over sets a bad precedent; once it's proven to be possible everyone will be at. Also, and trivially, you can't go down the pub boasting about it (as I pointed out). Aren't they supposed to be a genius[4]? Isn't there a better way to change the world? Isn't more efficent, more effective to set up the conditions so other people do the hard work of changing the world? A genius should be able to influence those who's ideology is useful to them; make other people want to change the world.

To which I add that this is the 21st century. If there were supervillains with high technology, wouldn't details leak onto the internet? College students would download templates for making nanofabricators. Criminals would build stealth suits and impenetrable armour. Terrorists would be getting blueprints on plasma guns. Obviously, this would be illegal and the government(s) would crack down on...

Well hello! Open-source supervillainy aimed at polarising society. Forcing the government to become repressive. Limiting advanced medical technology because it can be used for bio-terrorism[5]. Destroying server banks that are upgrading themselves to AI status. Confiscating laptops and pendrives with illegal body upgrade templates. Burning city blocks to destroy unlicensed nanofabricators.

And then someone offers an alternative.

You know, there's a story there. And by some coincidence I'm writing it.

To be continued...

[1] Via the Kingsway Tunnels being for sale in London, subterranean hotels and secret bunkers.
[2] The teacher who said you'd never amount to anything, that bully who mocked your glasses, the cool kids who laughed at you behind your back, the review board who said your experiments were unethical and you were mad, mad!, your ex- who, well, is your ex- and that guy who nearly ran you over this morning; you know, the enemies who will regret it when I RULE THE WORLD! NOT LAUGHING NOW ARE YOU? Ahem.
[3] I note that this is the motivation chosen by Austin Grossman for his novel Soon I Will Be Invincible.
[4] Jim's suggestion of putting the pub in your secret bunker is brilliant, but too flawed for him to qualify as an evil genius.
[5] I note for your attention the following technical name for one misuse of a medical fabricator: Vampire Transform.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Dedication To The Aesthetic

It seems to be dump finish everything in my brain drafts folder or notebook on the blog week. When if I run out of ideas there might also a post on all the things in the notebook that I'm not going to develop further, but might be entertaining for a moment.

As the next piece of fiction needs some more work, let me instead draw your attention to this music video which has clearly been taken out of a 1970 film; Pull Shapes by The Pipettes. (YoutubeLink)

It's that Phil Spector manufactured Girl Group Pop that has often been imitated but never improved on. Except it isn't. Sadly this film doesn't exist so we can't add it to the ever increasing list for movie night. The Pipettes are a 21st Century Brighton-based group, as a swift listen to the lyrics will indicate[1] (in addition, I'd tend to say "Throw Out Some Shapes" rather than "Pull Shapes" but I'm not really down with the hip kids who live in Brighton so what do I know?)

I'd considered starting this post with their song ABC which has less lyrical anachronisms, and has early 60s cartoon images which are as spot-on as the live action in Pull Shapes but in general it's not as impressive to create an accurate 60s-style cartoon as an accurate 1970-style live action. Nevertheless: ABC (Youtube link)

(I love the line "He knows all about the sonic spectrum, damn it/ but he don't know if it's groovy".)

Did I say we can't watch that film? Well that's not quite true. Does this look familiar at all? (Youtube link).

Russ Meyer's classic and somewhat incoherent sexploitation film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Well no wonder Pull Shapes looks like it's a scene in a 1970 film.

(The title of this post has been stolen from Sarah who has previously requested more dedication to the aesthetic.)

[1] Actually they sound like a 21st Century London-based group, which is interesting as Gwenno who takes the lead on this song is Welsh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 4

While studying Major Squick's Diary a letter that had been stored in the journal fell out. Showing quite how bad I am as a researcher, I have no idea what page it came from, or where it fits in the (very loose) chronology.

Most of Squick's adventures so far have been impulsive or accidental. This letter seems to show that not all of his career was the result of misjudgement and overindulgence - indeed he seems to have had a reputation as a man of action. The letter is addressed to Squick, but has been annotated in the margin in Squick's unmistakable and nearly illegible handwriting.

The Resident's Residence,
Sultanate of V___,
11th M__

My Dear Squick,

Although already deeply in your debt for arranging my acquittal in that unfortunate trial for fraudulent bottomry, it seems I must ask for your aid again. I have a problem, and it seems only you can help. If this letter finds you in time you can not only save my honour, but this time also release an innocent man. You see, I have accidentally condemned my man servant to slavery as the result of a bet.

I was at the court of the Sultan of V___, celebrating the Hindoo New Year by observing the cobra and mongoose fights. Flush with the winnings from a number of successful wagers, it seemed my luck continued at the billiards table. Afterwards, the Sultan suggested that we celebrate my luck at his private feast. To my surprise, the Dowager Sultana and her entourage joined us, albeit veiled and from behind an ornately filigreed and unusually decorated screen, which represented, it seemed, the wall of the hareem. [Here Squick notes "D.Sultna of V___ rumoured involved in many unnatural acts during Great Mutiny, but nothing ever proved - no witnesses."]

As well as the usual entertainments - Eunuch Clowns, a Fakir who had a most unfortunate accident with his Bed of Nails and Belly-Dancers in various states of dress - he pit his champion wrestler against the Sultana's, who won. Through the medium of her maidservant as spokeswoman, the Sultana offered a wager - a purse of gold to anyone who could beat her champion, against a keepsake; anything she desired that we had with us. As you know, I'm always willing to take up the challenge of grappling with a man [Squick: "As we well know"] and agreed to the terms. However, when I stood up and put down my pipe, I felt overheated and slightly dizzy. [Squick: "Hasheesh or Opium in the Tobacco?"] After stripping to the waist, I felt much better and put up a good show against the champion. However, eventually he pinned me. I submitted, and then the maidservant announced that the Sultana most desired what she called "My Man-Slave". I protested that he was no slave, but being as we were in the Sultanate, the Sultan was able to declare he was. Being still trapped beneath the body of the wrestler, I found myself at a disadvantage and, unable to muster a coherent argument, conceeded, after which I swiftly found myself ejected from the palace.

This is a situation that only your unique skills can resolve [Squick: "More than you suspect!"]. I'm sure you recall Simpkins, my man servant, a tall, well built fellow from Ireland with dark hair and goatee beard. I have been barred from the palace, but I have bribed some of the servants and one told me "The White Slave services the Sultana Morning, Noon and Afternoon and for Tiffin" which I take to mean that she has made him her personal attendant during the daytime. I have discretely arranged for swift horses and a steam launch to be available to allow the two of you to escape the Sultanate if you succeed in releasing Simpkins from his bondage. [Squick: "Jack is as discrete as an elefant in musth - someone will be watching. Better to head for Nepal on foot, disguised as Tantric Monks."]

I feel you are the only man in India who can pull off this escapade [Squick: "No Jack - an escapade is taking a couple of tarts to the theatre, getting drunk and knocking a policeman's helmet off. This is an escape."]; if I do not hear back from you by the 17th I shall have to attempt the rescue myself. [Squick: "Good G_d no! Then there will be two of you to rescue!"] If you can possibly aid me and Simpkins in this affair, I will be eternally grateful.

Your Friend,

Jack B___

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Some more of Major Squick's Diary has come to light, this time in the Americas. Susan de Guardiola, who blogs on topics of interest at Rixosous, discovered a page detailing Squick's time as an airship crewman on the HMS Ophelia. If I weren't a lazy and terrible researcher, this information would undoubtedly give me clues to more of Squick's life.

In related news, I have been appointed a Rixo Person. You may wonder what this means[1]. Well, in return for being legally obliged to nag Susan at least three times a week you get a badge, decoder ring and a booklet on how to perform the secret Rixo handshake (demonstrated here). Also you get a license to pun. Which I will resist using. No, really.

[1] Other than that I spend too much time on the internet, obviously

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You Know, I Should Work In Television

Ferran Adria, Head Chef of El Bulli, which keeps getting the World's Best Restaurant award from the World's Best Restaurant Award Association[1] was interviewed last week while selling his new book. Whilst talking about McDonalds the article says
Indicating that he was concerned that McDonald's would use his comments for marketing, Adria nonetheless suggested said [sic] that if the fast-food giant hired 10 of the world's top chefs they would not be able to make a better burger – for the price.

To which I have two responses; firstly that this calls for the Experimental Method and secondly, I'd totally watch that TV series.

[1] I've not done a lot of research for this post. Does it show?

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Stories

"Stories are like swordfights," she said, "Sometimes it's all about making a point as quickly and clearly as possible." She lunged.

"Oof," I said.

"Sometimes a story is about showing your edge," she said, executing a short series of slashes, "or your mastery of groundwork, or your ability to choreograph different elements into a pleasing whole." She stepped back and we raised our swords to form a single line. "Sometimes it's all about taking a moment and watching a perfect instant of time, an instant that will inevitably be punctured." Another lunge.

"Some stories are all about character," I gasped, retreating.

"They are," she agreed, "but you and I know both agree that the way to demonstrate character is through drama and action."

"Sometimes there's a twist," I said, making a fine circle parry.

"And another twist," she said, riposting, "when the story has two edges."

"The false edge," I said.

"It's not a perfect analogy. But sometimes a story is about endurance, about being taken to emotional depths, and then coming back up, bruised and bloody to a new understanding." She stood en garde, voice as blank as her facemask.

"What about stories that leave you warm and fuzzy inside, glowing with desire?" I asked.

Her voice changed not at all. "We'll discuss that later". She attacked.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Answer Is Wales

Mum and Dad have been in Wales and brought back a variety of items, including some very tasty cheese, a mug decorated with a penny farthing and the number 6, and some glass coasters from a gallery in a famous Welsh town. "Maybe we could call them the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch coasters", I said.

"They were actually made in Nottingham," said my Dad.

"Nottingham coasters?"

"Lets just call them 'the coasters'."

French Onion Soup Revisited

If you happen to have both leftover onion soup and a whole bunch of leftover toasted breadcrumbs, you could do worse than getting a bowl of hot soup, pouring a handful of breadcrumbs on top, grating some cheese onto that and then toasting for five minutes.

But what are the chances that of that ever happening?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Dining Party

The Menu

French Onion Soup

Half a Roast Pheasant
Roast Potatoes
Steamed Leeks
Boiled Carrots
Toasted Breadcrumbs
Quince Jelly

Apple Crumble
Ice Cream

And to continue the evening
Leftover sweets from Halloween

To Accompany
Choice of Wines [1] also Apple Juice and Water

Notes: Pheasant season is 1 October to 1 February. These pheasants were fairly small, but then again I'm spoiled as Mum often gets them from the cousins' farm at Christmas time. All of this menu was very simple to prepare. The most complex and time consuming bit was the soup and I did most of that the night before; and so:

The Recipe

French Onion Soup, or as I actually referred to it, "In the style of" French Onion Soup. Served 6 with plenty left over but would probably do for 10 (as I originally was catering for).

several big knobs of butter
plenty of olive oil[2]
9 or 10 onions
4 cloves garlic
a spoonful or two of sugar
2.5 pints of chicken stock
2.5 pints of beef stock[3]
a very generous glass of brandy
french bread
melting cheese (Raclette in this case)

Thinly slice the onions and garlic. Heat the butter and oil in a huge pan. Cook the onions and garlic with the sugar gently until they go just golden. Unless you have a really enormous pan you'll need to turn and stir fairly often. Add the stock a bit at a time to avoid cooling it off too much (or heat the stock, that would probably work too). Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. You can serve it then, but it doesn't hurt at all, and may help to leave it overnight.

Before serving, heat up and add the brandy. Put cheese on rounds of french bread and toast under the grill. Fill each bowl with soup, making sure you get lots of onion in and float rounds of cheesy bread on top. Serve immediately.

The In-Joke

Those of you who were there may prefer to refer to the soup as "French and Breton Folk Onion Soup".

The adventures of Sous-chef Vas and Sous-chef Sam

Vas: Well we've peeled and chopped carrots and apples.
Sam: We've peeled and chopped lots of carrots and apples. Can we do any proper cooking?
Head Chef Neil: No

(In addition Sam helped me lay the table and generally sort things out, and I will be happy to offer Jim a reference as a pheasant bisector)

What Next?

What next indeed? Well the huge extended-Italian-family pasta pot, previously seen being used in the style of a French onion soup pot, is currently being used as a pheasant stock pot. Game soup? Pheasant pie? Pheasant risotto?

My cooking will probably be on display again over Christmas.

[1] In one case the official wine of the world beach volleyball cup or something like that. Some of the male guests were imagining something like these ladies coming off the beach and jumping into the pressing tub (presumably after washing their feet). Their enjoyment of the wine was very slightly marred by being reminded of the beach volleyball scene for Top Gun.
[2] Those measurements for the fat involved are very imprecise. That's because I fairly lightly covered the bottom of the pan with oil, threw in some butter and then, after putting the onions in, added some more oil as it didn't seem to be enough, all while weeping due to onion fumes, so I didn't really notice how much I put in.
[3] Robert Carrier's 1963 Classic Great Dishes of the World suggests just beef stock, but this combination of homemade chicken stock and beef stock from 2 cubes worked out just fine.