Food I made

So I’m back. And still not smoking.

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking in the last couple of years, and feel comfortable enough to document what I make – for my own reference and (hopefully) that some of the information will be of use to others who want to cook similar things. Although I read a lot of recipes, I rarely follow any. I try to concentrate on the techniques rather than a rigid list of ingredients – as I heard recently: “learn a recipe and you’ll make a great meal – learn the technique and you’ll make a hundred of them”

Recipes always seem to assume some prior knowledge – one might say that you’ll get a “feel” for dough when it’s “right”. That’s of absolutely no use to anybody. I would far prefer to read that the dough “needs to feel like an earlobe”.

That’s over here at the new place: makesomebread.com

Holy crap!

cow2.jpgI was doing a little bit of googling to see if Friday’s solar eclipse was going to be visible in Philadelphia. Unfortunately not. It started somewhere aboot in Canada, went down through Russia and China and eastern India.

But a website I did happen across got the old thinking matter um … well … thinking.

This was an Indian website (in English) that was warning citizens not to look directly at the sun. So far, so good. It went on: “the ancient scriptures warn that there is not to be any food left in the stomach during the eclipse period, and as such the astrologers have prohibited food consumption for a period of four Yaamas of three hour duration each, earlier to the beginning of the eclipse

(apart from the lack of being allowed some eclipse munchies and a proper definition of a ‘Yaama’ – I guess I’m OK with this too)

Here’s the good bit …

The ancient scriptures also tell us that the eclipse can only be viewed as a reflection in water mixed with cow dung

Now how, pray tell, did they discover this?

Indian #1: “What are you doing?”
Indian #2: “Why, I am preparing my cocktail of pigshit and water for the eclipse!”
Indian #1: “No, no, no! Old Rajesh Davidson down the road did that last time. Blind as a bat now.”
Indian #2: “OK – I have sheep too. Maybe I should try sheep crap, then?”
Cow #1: “Mooooooooo!”
Indian #1: “Did you hear that?”
Indian #2: “What?”
Indian #1: “The cow! It said Moooooon! It knows what’s going to happen!”
Indian #2: “Bruddy hell … maybe I should try its crap then?”
Indian #1: “Good plan. I’ll get the pooper scooper.”

And so it was tried. Allegedly.

This might also explain the elevated status of the cow over there too. Good job the moon wasn’t called “cluck” or “whinny”, isn’t it?. Who knows what sort of holy crap would have had to have gone in the village pond …

Chicken or barf?

food.JPGHaving spent more time than most traveling by air, you have to find little ways of amusing yourself on long, boring flights.

“Chicken or barf?” was one of my favorites. I’m convinced that air hostesses actually used to say that every few rows, rather than what was actually available as the two hot “meal” options on their little wheeled roach coach in the sky.

You know: I miss those days. Long, long gone are the days (in the United States, at least) where airline food was something to look forward to. I thought it was just me getting older – preparing for my retirement in becoming more discerning, grumpy and picky – but a brief google reveals that airlines spend $2 less per passenger meal today than they did 15 years ago. If you actually get a meal, rest assured that a whopping three dollars and forty whole cents has gone into preparing the gastronomic delight sitting there on the coffee-stained fold-down tray in front of you.

Most domestic airlines don’t even serve a meal any more though. At least, not a free one on a little compartmentalized tray with a limp salad in the top left, the tiniest piece of cake top center, the roasting hot chicken with mystery sauce in the middle, and a plastic cup containing 1.5 fluid ounces of spring water on the right. And of course, the clay pigeon of a bread roll accompanied by a butter portion that takes the rest of the flight to thaw.

Nope – if you didn’t bring food with you, there are “a limited number of meals available as part of our in-flight cafe program for seven dollars, or a snack box for five dollars”.

There is a school of thought that hungry people will eat anything. And you know what I think? US domestic airlines have been conducting an experiment to prove this theory since they took away the “chicken or beef”. People seem quite willing nowadays to hand over $7 to receive a box of inedible crap to gnaw on. You can see them yipping like hyenas, waving their cash when the trolley of boxed crap comes trundling down the aisle. This has got to be one of the best marketing ploys ever. “How on earth do we make people pay for this shit?” was the question in the airline’s marketing department meeting room. Then they came up with the simple answer: “tell them there are a limited number available”. Brilliant!

Needless to say, I carry a lot of peanuts and cliff bars with me these days …

How to be productive after a ‘late evening’

drunk.JPGWoohoo! A topic request from reader number 3. It’s almost like receiving a commission. So the question from said reader was:

“Dear pressreturn.com – how do you manage to be so productive after going out and getting mashed up the night before? And when you do it, why do I invariably get the shitty end of the stick, because you’ve taken my boyfriend down the ‘too much beer’ path, and he’s incoherent when he gets home.”

(I took some editorial license with the exact phrasing of the question)

Ah, yes. I’ve been accused of this many a time. My excuse to my own inamorata is usually “It was not me, it was the others”. But that’s usually met with one of those ‘knowing looks’ and no sympathy whatsoever.

But onto the real meat of the question: how to be productive. I think I can speak fairly authoritatively on this subject as, over the years, I have had many, many mornings where I just look piggy-eyed into the mirror and tell whoever it is that’s looking back at me: “you never learn, do you?”.

There are two ways to feel better:

1. Dare of the hog (as I like to say), i.e. drink more beer. This is rarely a viable option, but works like a charm.

2. The scientific approach:

fact A: we’re carbon-based life-forms and we’ve just woken up feeling like death. We obviously need more carbon.
fact B: alcohol is diuretic. We’ve urinated too much, hopefully not in the bed or in the closet (again). So we need water.

Put these two together and what do we get? Carbohydrates, of course! That’s the secret. Potato chips, toast, french fries — all good stuff. Wash it down with Coke. Not diet Coke – fat Coke. Get the belching going. Ten minutes later – you’re good to go.

Right. Now to put some of this into action …

Don’t borrow my gran’s stuff

pressurec.JPG Well, here we are on the eve of day ninety, and still not a cigarette smoked. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by acquiescing to the demands of all my reader (thanks, dude!) for the return of (somewhat) regular writings.

I was just thinking about the stubbornness of one of my family members (maybe brought on by seeing a mule in tonight’s Family Guy) and the source of private humor that brings about for the rest of us. I’m talking, of course, about my grandmother – the stubbornest and most spritely woman in Southern England. It’s often said (by me, primarily) that following a nuclear winter, the only living things to survive would be the cockroaches and my gran – having spent the time bending their cockroachy ears about how shocking it is that the price of cauliflower has gone up so much.

Still as funny today as when I heard it related to me is the rant that this 90-year old (maybe that’s the connection here?) was on, telling my father that she had a lovely little pressure cooker and that she’d lent it to Margaret when she was in Bristol.

“And she never gave it back – I’m so cross with her”, she went on.

“Bristol?”, said my Dad, “when Margaret went to nursing college?”

“Yes. It was a lovely little pressure cooker it was” she replied.

“That was over thirty years ago! You still haven’t forgiven your youngest daughter for not returning your pressure cooker?”

“No. As I said – it was a lovely little thing – she should have given it back”

It’s nose month

dognose.JPGI’ve just returned from a trip to Los Angeles where I was as busy as a one-legged squirrel in a nut burying contest. Hence the lack of updated random drivel here that all three of you subscribers (thanks!) have come to expect.

Just before I left Philadelphia, all the trees and ragweed plants and all the other green pollen producers seemed to conspire overnight to stage a denial-of-service attack on the city’s noses.

Everywhere you went, people were sniffling, sneezing, snorting, wheezing, coughing – eyes were teared up and puffy – it was one of the worst weeks I’ve seen for a while. I’m not usually affected, but ten sneezes in a row a few times a day is enough to let you know that something’s going on with the air quality.

So I was rather happy to be escaping to the other coast for a bit, knowing that there’s not nearly as much pollen around as here.

When you’re dealing with ice storms and snow in Philadelphia, fondly remembering the days outside Starbucks wearing shorts at the same time of year, it’s easy to forget one of the worst things about LA: the traffic. It really is pretty evil. People think nothing of sitting in their cars for one or two hours a day each way. That’s just the way life is.

I spent a fair amount of time last week on the parking lot known affectionately as the 405 freeway. And, being driven, I got to watch what people were doing around me. A lot of breakfast eating, coffee drinking, newspaper reading, make-up putting-onning … and nose picking. Yep – I hadn’t noticed this before – but it seemed that last week was nose-picking week in Los Angeles.

Everywhere I looked, there were people in various stages of nasal excavation. I’ve got an image in my head which is one of those nasty, horrible things that just cannot be “unseen”: a well-dressed, middle-aged lady, driving an expensive looking Mercedes – one hand on the wheel, the other fist-deep into her nose … so deep it looked to me like she was scratching the inside of her skull.

Must be just one of those April things. Nose action coast-to-coast.

Sinfully rich

pig.JPGI guess it’s only fair to make mention of one of the most newsworthy events of the day: the Pope’s visit to Washington.

Worked into every speech since he arrived here has been an apology for the “deep shame” inflicted on the church by certain members who have, let’s say, gone beyond their briefs.

Interestingly, only last month did the church announce a new set of sins for the modern day world – I guess in an attempt to keep the conversation in the confession box on things that the confessor might actually have done. Taking a look around, it’s pretty obvious that all the “old” sins have largely been eradicated – it works! – look around you, do you see any greed, sloth or wrath? [/sarcasm]

I was wondering what they might have come up with – I was sure that pedophilia would have made the list. But no – it’s basically more like “thou shalt not pollute the earth or bugger around with genetics and stuff”.

Oh, and in the middle – there’s this one: amassing excessive wealth. Hmm. I was rather under the impression that the Catholic Church was one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet. Didn’t take a great deal of searching to come up with some backup:

The Vatican’s treasure of solid gold has been estimated by the United Nations World Magazine to amount to several billion dollars. A large bulk of this is stored in gold ingots with the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, while banks in England and Switzerland hold the rest. But this is just a small portion of the wealth of the Vatican, which in the U.S. alone, is greater than that of the five wealthiest giant corporations of the country. When to that is added all the real estate, property, stocks and shares abroad, then the staggering accumulation of the wealth of the Catholic church becomes so formidable as to defy any rational assessment”

Let me go and scratch my beard on this one. Oh, and by the way: day #19 sans smoke. I almost even forgot to mention it.

It’s official: vitamins are bad for you

pills.JPGI love it when the cat of controversy gets put among the pigeons of accepted wisdom.

A study conducted by scientists in Denmark reports that vitamin supplements could actually be sending people to an early grave.

To the regular vitamin-popper, this is like learning that going to church is more likely to earn you a place in hell: that your reward for giving up a lifetime of Sunday mornings is to spend all of eternity shoveling coal into the furnaces, motivated by little devils with pointy forks prodding you in the arse.

Vitamins! Yes – those innocuous little plastic containers of pills which provide the A-Z of everything that you didn’t get from your coffee & bagel for breakfast, your Triple Baconater with large fries and 40oz Coke for lunch, and the nachos dripping with radioactive cheese wiz at happy hour (in lieu of dinner).

These boffins at Copenhagen university have concluded that messing around with the body’s chemistry by introducing pills could actually be doing more harm than good. No shit. Free radicals are no longer the enemy, people. Oxidation might actually be a good thing – we might not actually be in need of anything to ‘anti’ it.

Of course, the vitamin folks were straight in there to defend their position: “vitamins can be a useful supplement and [people] should not stop taking them”, says a spokeswoman for the association which is funded by those who sell the supplements. Some wise, unbiased words there – thanks for that.

Like the ‘get-em-hooked-on-tobacco’ and then the ‘get-em-unhooked-from-tobacco’ industries, the vitamin supplement industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar worldwide business to “solve” a “problem” that they most likely brought to the public’s attention to start with.

So, what’s the next big scam? The fruit and veg industry telling us that we need to eat at least six servings of their products every day? Like anyone’s going to fall for that one. ;)

Think different

burn.JPGEvery time I had thought about quitting smoking before, I had considered that I was in some way losing something, that life was going to be the same as it was but without the cigarettes.

Certainly, that’s one way to look at it. But I’d never once considered that it’s possible to see the situation round the other way. That you’re not giving up or quitting something – rather, that you’re going back to the way things should be.

Apple’s grammatically incorrect slogan sums it up for me – it’s a question of thinking differently: quitting smoking is to smokers as quitting prison is to inmates.

Absurd as that might sound, it’s not too bad as an analogy. Smoking is a prison of the smoker’s own making – the reason the smoker is in the slammer is because he/she was caught by the addiction. Smoking cigarettes is the sentence you serve when you’re caught. But the big difference? The smoker decides their own release date!

Some re-offend within the first week of being released. Some within a few months. Others were inside for so long that life on the outside is just too alien – they actually want to go back to what they know, what’s comfortable – back ‘inside’.

Me? I’m glad to be out. As I understand it (I haven’t read it myself yet), this is one of the ideas that is presented and constantly reinforced in Allen Carr’s famous book: The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. For the cost of a few packs of cigarettes, the investment in this particular book might not be such a bad idea.

It might teach me to think even more different – and stay on the straight and narra’.

Is it just me, or is the word ‘blog’ really crap?

blah.jpgSometimes, a word just gets into my head and I can’t stop saying it. Today was ‘blog’. Bloggabloggablog. Bloggerbloggittybloggocks.

I came to the conclusion that it’s a really crap word. I’m sure everyone who has lived on this side of a very large rock for any period of time recently knows that it’s a contraction of “web” and “log”. If you’re looking to make weblog any shorter than it is, then blog is pretty much the only option. Let’s face it: “wog” just wouldn’t have taken off, would it? Speak to any of the package designers at Robertson’s jam.

For me, it just conjures up really crap things: nothing that’s any good begins with “bl”: blah, blockage, bland, blart, blister, blithering idiot … nope – nothing good there.

And all the words it rhymes with aren’t exactly the most fun concepts: bog, log, clog, flog, hog, slog. Nothing good there either.

So we’re stuck with it along with all the peripheral words which necessarily got invented to support it: to blog (the verb), blogging, blogger, blogtastic.

What must the older generations think of all these new words? If I were to call my mother and tell her that I spent all day blogging or looking at people’s blogs or playing with my blog’s look and feel – I can hear the voice now: “That’s nice dear. I’ll get your father.” And in the background, I’d hear a muffled: “You’d better speak to him, John – he’s drunk again.”

What on earth does it sounds like in other languages if it sounds so bad to my English ear? In German, it’s der Blog. I was surprised that it’s masculine – words imported from other languages are usually assigned to neuter (“ve haf no idea if it has bollocks oder nicht”).

It must come as a bit of a relief to Joe Deutscher in the Straße to have a word that is so short and easy to learn, because everything else is at least double the number of syllables as the English equivalent – take Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung, for example. “Speed limit” to you or me. What goes on the road signs? How do they wrap that word around? Aha! You can hear the road planners now: “Ze vord vill not fit ze sign! Oh, buggeren Sie es – letten zem drive as fast as zey vish” (and hence the Autobahn was born)

French – well – it depends who you go to. “Le blogue” is out there for Canadians (but that sounds like blog anyway, but with a bit of a softer g). Google are using “Le blog”. But the real hardcores are using this succinct and beautifully French phrase: “Site internet personnel, tenu par un ou plusieurs écrivains internet (‘blogueurs’)“.

I love it! Music to my ears. And so very catchy.

‘Blog’ it is then.

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