27 October, 2006

In search of Perfection

I keep meaning to post up a cathartic rant about how I'm always staying up late and watching crap films on TV. It drives me crazy. I used to berate myself for wasting my life away by getting stoned and doing nothing. Then my asthma got too bad, and I cut back and then gave up smoking pot. Next I berated myself for drinking most days of the week, not necessarily heavily, but, you know...
Now I just berate myself for watching crap and wasting my life by being permanently tired.
Anyway, last night, I got back from watching Little Miss Sunshine at the Orpheus (which was brilliant) and managed to not collapse in front of the telly, but nevertheless stayed up late reading my new book.
In Sarch of Perfection

I bought this half price on Amazon.

That Heston Blumenthal is a bloody great genius (is what he is). I'm not entirely persuaded that I would like him, but I certainly respect him to hell and back.

This is the accompanying book to an upcoming BBC TV series in which Dr Blumenthal (recently granted an honorary degree by Reading University; he aspires to write a paper on Umami in tomato sauce)creates some very standard everyday meals. The twist is he makes the very best version of them that he can possibly muster. Last night I read the chapters on roast chicken and roast potatoes; bangers and mash; spaghetti bolognese and pizza; and I don't think there was a single recipe at the end which you could easily cook in less than a day.
I mean, let's take the example of a roast chicken (and I hope I don't spoil this for anyone here). He tracks down the finest breed of French chicken living off the perfect soil and running free. Pickles it in brine, roasts it slow with regularly thermometer probing, injects flavoured butter into the flesh and then fries the bastard up in a frying pan to make it golden brown.
It's not a typical chicken.
I was quite expecting him to go for the standard haute cuisine of par-boiled potatoes in goose fat, but to my surprise he boils them for about 20 minutes until they're barely held together and then roasts them up in olive oil in a separate pan to the chicken!
I'm not sure I totally agree. But the man is a genius and I haven't tried his version yet, so he's probably right. I'll have to track down the specific family of potato first, too.

Anyway, the book is brilliant, he describes the history and beauty of each dish, travels around to find the ultimate suppliers and goes into great detail about the molecular composition of the food, how it's usually done wrong and all his reasons for doing the weird things he does.

In all honesty I'm expecting another late night of reading definitive recipes and exhausted mental self-flagellation.

25 October, 2006

My song

These words to this tune is an old song called King Pippin. Which is nice, for anyone who cares.

It's all a bit twiddly-diddly for me, though.

Omega 3 oils

Following on from an interesting series of articles in the Ecologist the other month, the Guardian is now highlighting some research into the effects of diet on Anti-social behaviour and in particular the ongoing discussion over whether we should be force-feeding schoolchildren and prisoners cod liver oil.
He has been rocking his 6ft 2in bulk to and fro while delivering a confessional account of his past into the middle distance. He wants us to know what has saved him after 20 years on the streets: "My dome is working. They gave me some kind of pill and I changed. Me, myself and I, I changed."
The UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%. Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now "absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it."

I'm not sure how good for sustaiable fisheries this news is, but that your diet has a huge impact on your life is clear to anyone who's in my house about 8 o'clock; typically, I'll still be halfway through crashing about the kitchen and swearing about how there's no coconut milk, oblivious to some burning onions. The rage and the fury will be beautifully counterpoised by my girlfriend's drained expression as she stares with blank hunger at the half-chopped vegetables on the chopping board.
As soon as we've eaten we get sleepy and then about an hour later we can get stuff done again.
Proper eating is like proper sleeping. If you don't do it correctly it's not surprising you go a bit doolally. I can't really speak. I have been skipping breakfast for about a year now, and generally don't get hungry until about eleven thirty in the morning.
Anyway, do clcik on the title and read the article above, it's quite interesting.

24 October, 2006

Starter for Ten

The preview of this bestselling-novel-turned film was an understatement and a half, last night. There was a distinct lack of showgirls, red carpets or marauding press on Union Street in Bristol. This was partly because the press have had their screenings weeks before, and partly because the celebrity attendance was a two-man behind-the-screen affair. The writer and the director introduced it and stuck around for questions afterwards. I guess this is why - so that a little word of mouth goes a long way.

The film starts with an unrecognisably youthful and bad-skinned James McAvoy (who appeared in Shameless and the recent version of Macbeth on the BBC) having his interview for a place on an English course at Bristol University.

It spectularly remained understated the whole way through, with the lead character's emotional crises being exactly the kind of thing I went through at Uni. The cast were pretty, but not drenched in the kind of senseless glamour and sheen that an American campus movie has and the plot was gritty and real enough to be believable, but enough also to keep the film moving along fast enough.

Tom Hanks notoriously bought the rights to this film, and sadly (for the British film industry) it is a largely American-funded film. However, the good thing about it is just that it is so very darned British. Maybe, as a Bristolian, I am being over-homely about this film, though.

Catherine Tate also does a good turn as the mother. Holds the role down well, but I'm too used to seeing her in a rubber mask to believe in her character.

20 October, 2006

Creating the perfect woman

I really like the series of adverts running at the moment by Dove, partly because it features lots of women in their underwear looking very happy, and partly because I am sick to the teeth of seeing perfect women all over TV. I found this little video online, and hope that it manages to post up here OK:

Uploaded by cybermac


The question for me is whether men suffer from poor self-esteem and the burden of trying to live up to the expectations and mis-representations of manhood in the media.
The answer for me is: Probably not much.

17 October, 2006

Pumpkin Pie

The pumpkin in my gardenOur garden was covered by thick chords of creeping vine this summer from our five Giant pumpkin plants.
Only one solitary pumpkin made it from this sprawling mass, all the others either dropped off in the heat when they were tiny or got eaten by our mouse (who lives in the wall).

We harvested the only pumpkin about a fortnight ago, before the rain mushed it or rodents got it.

Rosa turned half of it into a really nice soup.

I got the remaining half and found a recipe for Pumpkin pie in "Food from your Garden"
Half a pumpkin on a plate

This is a typical 50s recipe consisting, consisting of getting a few good ingredients and basic flavours and lacing them heavily with cream.

  • about 200g shortcrust pastry
  • 500g Pumpkin
  • cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • ground cardamom
  • ground cinnamon
  • sugar! (I forgot)

First up, the tricky bit that I got wrong! - Scoop the flesh out of your pumpkin, carefully taking out all the seeds. Next boil it with a little water (it will make it's own juice once it's got going a bit). About 15-20 minutes on a low heat is good, then strain some of the liquid off and sieve it into a puree.

Pumpkin Pie in progress
Whilst you're dong this, blind bake some shortcrust pastry for ten minutes. Blind baking is simply baking the pastry on its own in a greased dish with some dried beans to weight it down.

This was where I was having problems as, not having removed all my seeds I had to go through it as ach batch went into the sieve. The other problem was, it wouldn't really go through the sieve. I don't whether pumpkins weren't as hady or sieves were made of sterner stuff back in the day, but mine certainly didn't look up to the task.

Next all there is to do is turn the mush into a kind of custard mix.

To do this mix the cream, sugar and pumpkin together. Flavour with spices (the original recipe had nutmeg and cinnamon, but cardamom is my current favourite), then stir in two egg yolks. I forgot the sugar at this stage and then went out to the pub whilst it baked.

Rosa astutely recognised something was up and put some sugar on top and tok my mini flame thrower to it. That's why it looks a bit like creme brulee in this final picture:

Slice of Pumpkin pie

16 October, 2006

Cheesy pic

Shortly after I bought my record decks, I took this picture:

: /Pavailable for funerals and other inappropriate occasions.

I found the photo again in a box yesterday and realised I loved it very much. Even if it's been done before.
I remember spending ages fiddling with my camera to get it to sit behind me on a cabinet, whilst I held a mirror in my hand and looked into the lens.

I'm a skinny girl whinging about pretty models

I recall contemplating, at some point last night whilst failing to sleep, about a comment Sami made about beards. He said that every man would basically like to be bearded; and I agreed.
There something about getting around to having a shave that is just tiresome, and something very soothing about stroking the course fibers of overgrown stubble that is very reassuring.

If true that, left to his own, man would let his hair go wild and do it's own thing, or a least warm his chinny-chin-chin, then what does this say about society? Removing my head from my poncy-art-critic-arse for a moment, my point is just that is man's naked chin an equivalent complaint to that of women complaining about the demands that society puts on them to be skinny?
If men only shave because women like a boy-like face (and hate the stubble-rash of an unshaved man), we men have grounds for launching a campaign against hairlessness. Although there is clearly a need for a better slogan, I think there should be more pride in beards, OK, they're not the best to look at (especially in teenage boys trying to prove themselves men), but damn it they feel good, and that should count for something. The old stubble rash will go when the hair becomes soft, think of the storage advantages, the styling possibilities (Rarg!) and the benefits in winter!

Not to mention the fact that it would cause a drastic reduction in Gilette adverts and beauty products, which can only be a good thing.

13 October, 2006

Suing my bank

This morning in the post I received the letter I had been waiting for for over a month.
A while ago, Someone called Jambon Spandau (allegedly) posted a message up on choke about penalties from their bank and how very unfair they are.
I had a look into this, and apparently many banks charges may be deemed unreasonable as they do not adequately reflect the true costs of the administration necessary when somebody goes over their overdraft limit or fails to pay back their credit card or has an unauthorised payment or whatver it may be.
On 5 April 2006, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) concluded that default charges over £12 are automatically presumed to be unfair in terms of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations. Unfair terms are legally unenforceable.


The point is, that if you breach a contract and somebody charges you more than you would be expected to pay back, then this stops being known in legal terms as a charge, and instead turns into a penalty. (Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. - vs. - New Garage and Motor Co. Ltd, 1915).

People have been suing banks left, right and centre as far as I can tell. It has been on This Morning and discussed on Money Box on radio 4, I think. Due to the nature of English law, the banks appear to be unwilling to fight it in court as they may then have to change their charges to a reasonable amount. in other words the equation is:

if ((unreasonable bank charges - reasonable bank charges)>legal costs, then continue to settle out of court).

I could be wrong. I'm no legal or financial expert.

First I got a letter from HSBC saying that they did not accept the charges as illegal but to save them from paying all the legal costs, would I accept a token amount (about half) in settlement of this matter.

Next I received a letter from their solicitors not accepting that there was anything wrong with their charges, but offering to pay the full amount + my legal costs as an out of court settlement. the only thing was that I would have to sign and return the letter and agree to treat this matter confidentially.

I had to think long and hard about this, as it wasn't pocketmoney. It was almost a month's wages they were offering to pay me back, and all I had to do was agree. I very nearly did, but then I got courage from the testimonies on penaltycharges.co.uk and wrote back saying that I couldn't do that. I waited. I checked the mail every morning, and finally I got a letter agreeing to accept. I signed it and returned it Recorded Delivery the next day, and a few days ago, the payment came! Yeah!

So anyone who thinks they have been charged too much in the last six years - I recommend fine-tooth combing your bank statements and check the fees and charges they have slapped you with, count them as an investment, add 8% interest and then write to your bank and see what they say!

09 October, 2006

The British stiff white upper lip

A British Dairy farm has caused controversy within the EU after it has been closed down.

Various EU Member states have banned produce from Bowland Farm in Lancashire after the European Commission found serious breaches of EU food safety rules. It stated:

There was evidence that raw milk containing antibiotic residues or contaminated with substances such as detergents and dyes was being used to make curd cheese, as was out-of-date milk collected from retail establishments. Bowland was also using mouldy and contaminated cheese (including “floor waste”) to vacuum-pack for sale.

The milk curd was sold in Europe to be turned into processed cheese.

The European Commission will be sending a team of investigators from the Food and Veterinary Office in November, with a brief to investigate the standards of the whole British Dairy industry. The UK FSA, on the other hand are not prepared at this stage to state that they are at fault. There is, they say, "a genuine difference of scientific opinion between the UK and the European Commission about how you interpret testing results for antibiotics in milk."

At present there is a Mexican stand-off between the two parties. The ban, which came in on 6 October 2006, will remain in place until the EU Commission is satisfied that the UK FSA has demonstrated that "there is no risk to human health and has changed its procedures with regard to what it demands for antibiotic testing in milk."

Until then, I shall be happily drinking Organic Milk.

Following strong campaigning by the Soil Association, Glasgow University has conducted tests on organic milk. On carrying out an assessment of their evidence, The UK Food Standards Agency concluded that it showed that organically produced milk can contain higher levels of types of fats called short-chain omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced milk.
The report went on to downplay these results, however, stating that the results showed these fatty acids "appear to be of limited health benefit compared to the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish."

Nevertheless, The Soil Association has won a victory here. It has further scientific evidence for the link between organic food production and good quality food.