Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Delia's Thai chicken with lime and coconut

Judging by the interested shoppers gathered around the end cap in Waitrose where all the ingredients could handily be found, a good number of households sampled Delia Smith's Thai Chicken over the weekend.

Heavily promoted on TV, the ingredients were well discounted so the recipe  costs just £2.30 per serving.

Thai cooking is regarded with great suspicion by J who is a traditional meat and two veg man. So I didn't tell him what I was preparing and served it up as a fait accompli. He actually liked it! Although he is heavily prejudiced by the words "Delia Smith" and "Waitrose". I have found that Nigella simply doesn't have the same effect.

My observations from cooking the recipe are:
  • The juice of two limes is quite plentiful, and if anything the recipe was a little "wet," so I would only use the juice of one next time
  • The coconut flavour was more elusive than the lime flavour. J said he couldn't taste coconut at all. I was expecting the sauce to be a bit thicker.
  • Delia's method for cooking rice was flawless and worked perfectly. Measure out 150ml rice in a measuring jug (for two), pour into a small frying pan with a lid and add 300ml boiling water and a pinch of salt. Stir once, then put the lid on and barely simmer for 10 minutes. The liquid had been absorbed by then and so I placed a teatowel over the top (having taken it off the heat!) to keep the rice warm. If the liquid hasn't disappeared, Delia advises increasing the heat for a minute.
This campaign is great marketing from Waitrose. The recipe is pretty fool proof but looks impressive, and the average Waitrose shopper likes to cook from scratch when he / she has enough time. The fact that the chicken is reduced in price to £2.89 from £4.33 is a pleasant surprise because Waitrose has only recently started competing in price against the other supermarkets. Its profits were buoyant last year and put down to the successful Essentials range.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dear John and It's A Wonderful Afterlife

Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried
You can tell from the sappy DVD cover box the sort of film Dear John is. The design screams "The Notebook!", another story written by Nicholas Sparks, and indeed the story is very similar: two people who come from different walks of life fall in live and are tragically parted.

Special Forces Army Sergeant John Tyree (Channing Tatum) meets Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) when he is on two weeks' leave from Germany. After a whirlwind two week romance, they pledge to write to each other every day until they are reunited in a year's time.

When the year is up, Tyree feels he has to stay with his unit because of 9/11. He and Savanah continue to write but then it peters out and she writes to say she is with another man. He later finds out it is someone he knew, a neighbour of Savannah's, who has terminal cancer.

It ebbs and flows quite nicely as a film but to me the most moving part of the story was a reconciliation between Tyree and his dad, whom Savannah believed has Asperger's syndrome. But it was one of those films I find frustrating because people don't say what they really think or believe, and suffer agonies for years because of what was unsaid.

Meanwhile I should have feared the worst with It's a Wonderful Afterlife, a comedy by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) because it isn't available in Blu Ray and I don't recall it being released to the cinemas.

It is shockingly bad.

Sendhil Ramamurthy from It's a Wonderful Afterlife
In a nutshell, a mother obsessed with finding a husband for her overweight daughter (Shabana Azmi, who apparently gained 35 kilos for the part) runs into trouble with some departed spirits who can't pass over to the other side.

It's the sort of film that needed to be lightning fast to pass as an acceptable horror pastiche. It has an amusing spoof on Carrie,  for example. But it's directed in a very slow and painstaking way and you're just groaning inwardly and feeling sorry for some of the good actors caught up in it (Zoe Wanamaker, Sanjeev Baskar, Sally Hawkins from Happy Go Lucky). It's also disappointing for a female director to give the message that no matter how kind and loving you are, you have to lose weight if you're to have any claim on the handsome man (Sendhil Ramumurthy).
One to avoid folks!


Friday, August 27, 2010

Micro blogging: destroying our legacy for the future?

Paul Carr at TechCrunch wonders if micro blogging via Twitter and Facebook are leading to such a distillation of our lives that future generations will have no legacy. And more prosaically, we will have no memories to draw on for our autobiographies. "By constantly micro-broadcasting everything, we’ve ended up macro-remembering almost nothing," he writes.

I don't think you can blame micro blogging for this state of affairs. It all started when Outlook came along and we stopped using diaries to log our appointments. I had long stopped keeping a diary as a journal, but I still have all my office diaries from the 90's and I get instant recall just by seeing the entries of what where and when.

I'm not going to be able to do that with Outlook but fortunately I have this blog. If you only use Twitter or Facebook then yes you are asking for trouble if you want an archive for the future. Facebook has launched a foray into blogging and now has networked blogs but the painstaking nature of writing a blog, the upkeep and promotion, mean that a lot of people will never bother.

My worry is that we are breeding a generation of cyborgs. People with no original or creative thought. Students routinely plagiarise the web when writing their coursework and taking their exams. The controls against this are minimal. Add to this the destruction of the English language, spelling and punctuation, perpetuated by constant texting and tweeting, and it doesn't speak to me of a heritage of literature for the future in the way that we had Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer and so on.

But everything goes round in circles and eventually becomes trendy again. I firmly believe we'll see a return to paper and pen, letters and journals. I am sure that the pleasure of writing with a fine fountain pen on pristine paper will eventually be rediscovered by all those who have never done it. 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful for the end of summer

The unrelentingly bad weather over the last few days would suggest summer has left the building. It's true that there are things that once again didn't happen this summer, which are to be regretted (the new tealights for the garden didn't get out of their box; there was no al fresco barbecue with Pimms and we didn't go to a picnic concert, etc) but I am actually looking ahead to autumn, and even winter, with a degree of cheer.

Reasons to be cheerful:
1) A decent night's sleep beneath the weighty togs of a comfortable duvet;
2) Not having to close all the windows just to nip to the shops;
3) Not having to deal with kamikaze wasps in the garden;
4) Not having to do any gardening (except pick up all the sodden leaves and plant spring bulbs);
5) Magazines stop writing articles about "5 days to a bikini body";
6) Able to wear tights again and ditch the spray tan;
7) Snuggling into woollies and coats;
8) The occasional delight of a blue sky and sunshine combined with cold air;
9) Christmas. Yes we all pretend to hate it but I love getting the decorations out, buying presents and planning food menus;
10) Staying indoors in the warm while it pours outside, and not feeling guilty

What are your reasons to be cheerful this autumn?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Angelina Jolie expose is damp squib

There was a lot of hype about Andrew Morton's unauthorised biography "Angelina." Initially it wasn't  published in the UK for fear of legal action. I bought it from our friends over the pond, Amazon.com. I wish I hadn't bothered.

The much leaked Big Story was Morton's assertion that Jolie's mother Marcheline locked the child upstairs for two years and barely saw her, leaving her in the care of a succession of babysitters. The baby apparently reminded her too much of Jon Voight, Marcheline's husband, who had gone off with another woman.

We only have one source to thank for this titbit, one of the alleged babysitters.

And according to Morton and a few quacks he lines up, this led to all of Angelina's problems: cutting, anorexia, promiscuity, vials of blood, etc etc.


The problem for me is the word "uauthorised." In the case of powerful living icons like Jolie, it means nobody very significant in her life is going to talk. So Morton has to skulk around in the undergrowth and find some people who vaguely knew her or her mother or her mother's cleaner.

And then I'm bothered by all the psycho babble too. It's too easy to blame parents for what happens to people. I don't hold with it. I firmly believe that most of Angelina Jolie's "cries for help" are just attention seeking. I'm  sure she just goes for maximim impact when she kisses her brother on the lips, for example, or makes claims about open marriages. I reckon she's fairly conservative and even prissy, in real life.

Morton  wants to claim that she isn't a good mother but he bottles out, and instead we get a lame statement that Angelina has a lot of babysitters and it's history repeating itself. Morton is very hard on Marcheline and almost deifies Jon Voight.

The book is sloppily written too. Getting her "acting chops" is referred to twice, whatever that is. And somehow, at the end of the book, I don't feel I know Angelina any better. She is an enigma, and remains thus. Morton even manages to make her a bit boring, which I'm sure wasn't his intention.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

X Factor: Victorian bear baiting at its worst

I shudder at the hype surrounding the return of the X Factor.

In Victorian times, crowds gathered for freak shows, to marvel at "special people". The X Factor doesn't bother to sanitise it thus. Its researchers tirely comb the mile long queues of hopefuls to find The Stories: young man trying to send Grandma to Lourdes; white daughter of black parents sobbing about wanting to make them proud; very large girl wanting to become Barbra Streisand.

And then the deluded who don't realise they can't sing, but will now have their flat, brave voices subjected to ridicule.

As for the talent, well, a handful of average youngsters are pushed through for the public's delectation, brutally groomed, styled and made to sing old standards. Simon Cowell reckons he can probably turn anyone into a star, Dustin the turkey or Paul the octopus. But he can't. Remember Steve Brookstein?

Meanwhile the two vacuous, averagely talented clothes horses sitting beside Cowell weep on cue and compete to see who can wear the most attention grabbing outfits. Quite what their credentials are for judging a talent competition it's hard to say, but then this is not a talent show.

The winners are ruthlessly milked, paraded with new albums every time a new series airs (Alexandrea Burke, currently appearing everywhere) and equally ruthlessly dropped when the public tires of them, unless, like one or two rare exceptions, they tire of Cowell and make it on their own.

I stopped watching it in 2007 when Emma Chawner (very large girl wanting to be Barbara Streisand) appeared. Camera panned slowly to her family, all very large, glaring at Cowell in the wings. His expression, disgust, superiority, you name it - but no pity - said it all.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Circle

J was crestfallen. Two key items had fallen off his "circle," as I call it: a Saturn-style ring around his head that at any one time could contain the following items: new car; new TV; new heart rate monitor; latest marathon; better broadband.

And in one week alone he had lost three items!!

1) New car, after grudgingly agreeing we should become a one car family; 2) new TV, after we finally bought one (although we have yet to put the glasses on....), and (3), better broadband after BT Infinity got installed.

So I was worried on J's behalf. A man without projects is not a man worth knowing.

Fortunately, a change of heart about the car meant I came home to find J with his nose in an Audi brochure. We haven't even become a one car family yet but the thought of sharing my "ute" (utility) is filling him with dread. So his weekends will revert to test drives and visits to dealers.

I'm expecting  "new heart rate monitor" to join the circle as he's been grumbling about his strap.

As for me, my circle currently includes bulbs - I am about to order the spring selection; autumn fashions - I have decided to heed the advice of Grazia and buy a few key pieces including an aviator jacket and a camel coat and wild swimming, after I saw a TV programme about it and then bought the book by Roger Deakin.

Molly's circle never changes. It's two things: blue tits and Felix As Good As It Looks.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

BT impress

Criticising big well-known companies is a popular pastime in the UK. British Airways, British Gas, BT, BP, all come under attack and I have been known to indulge in it myself.

But I have to give credit where credit is due, and BT have been very impressive lately.

I've always been a BT customer and my brand loyalty occasionally riles J when he decides we're paying too much for broadband and wants to go for one of the fly-by-night operators (Sky? Heavens no.)

To me, good broadband is very important because I work from home a lot of the time, download a lot of big files and don't want restrictions placed on usage.

Anyway, back to BT. I recently had a mailshot from them about their new service Infinity. 40mb broadband! I should have binned it without showing it to J but he saw it and was immediately on the blower to BT. He has this knack of bartering with them so we always end up getting a reduced price.

I tweeted about how I shouldn't have shown J the flyer and I was impressed to get a direct reply on Twitter from BT saying they were here to help if I needed them. Twitter is a great tool for companies to engage direct with consumers, provided it's not done in an irritating way.

Meanwhile the router turned up on the day promised, followed by an SMS confirmation that the engineer would call on a particular date.

And finally I was called by a very friendly BT call centre employee confirming he had changed my name, which was a separate request.

You might think this is all just good customer service, but to me it is exemplary and what all companies should be aspiring to.

Perhaps I should have waited until the installation happens and we test the speed of the broadband, but I'm fully optimistic it will all go to plan. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nostalgic return to Dawlish

Seagull at Dawlish

When I was a kid we quite often went out for a drive on Sundays. In the winter we would wear our car coats, brought back from Singapore by Stamps (my dad.) Strange concept - did anyone else have a car coat?!

Stamps was nicknamed because of his temper so quite often when we arrived at our destination, we came straight home, either because he couldn't park (he would never pay to park) or we had had an argument en route.

For some reason Newquay was a particular hotspot. We went there at least twice without getting out of the car.

Dawlish, however, has happier memories. We used to go there, wander along the canal looking at the famous ducks and put money into the Sooty & Sweep machine.

This weekend I was down in Devon to see my mum and we planned to go to Ashburton for the first time, having read that it's a foodies' paradise. Even AA Gill has been there! But alas, there was a summer show on and we couldn't park anywhere - and I always seek out pay and display, unlike Stamps - so we drove on and went to Dawlish instead.

The place hasn't really changed. There was a funfair  (Anderton's, minus Rowland) and the Sooty & Sweep machine has gone. We found a nice tea room and had a savoury team - cheese scones with tea.

And I took some pictures of the famous livestock. One thing we were surprised about was the state of the canal. Very dirty.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Loose cannons in Edinburgh

Imagine being kept awake at night by cannons (tethered one hopes, and not loose.)

This is the fate that has befallen J, my long-suffering spouse. For the last few months he has been doggedly commuting to Edinburgh first thing on Monday, returning on Thursday.

He is well known at his hotel of choice and they know his little preferences: extra bread, a beer voucher instead of a free bottle of wine in the room, etc.

Unfortunately, the Edinburgh Festival means that J has no chance of getting a room at his favourite hotel. The rates have shot up, and, every night for a month, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo gets going with those cannons.

Picture shows view from J's hotel room this week.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A 1930 wedding

I often think fondly about Kathleen Lovis, my grandma who died in 1991 aged 84. She was an indomitable character, larger than life. They never owned their house or had a car, and were never well off. But Grandma was a marvellous cook and made lovely clothes, so my mum and her brother had a happy childhood.

She was 81 and a widow when she finally went abroad for the first time, to Canada where we have relatives. Unfortunately the pace of sight seeing and catching up with relatives resulted in a stroke and she was kept in a Canadian hospital for two weeks. When she got home, doctors could find very little wrong with her.

I am very lucky that she wrote her life story and gave it to me in a red folder. I love her account of her wedding.

She married Jack Lovis in Plymouth, their home town, on December 29 1930. In her account, Kathleen wrote:

"Mother made my wedding dress, long in white satin. She also made the three bridesmaids' dresses, yellow with lavender accessories. We had a small page boy who wore a yellow satin blouse and purple velvet trousers. I borrowed a headdress and veil from a more prosperous friend. It was a lovely long one made of real lace.

"I was lucky that I was able to buy my 3 tiered wedding cake at a reduced price from Cummings, a lovely confectionary shop near us. It was a cancelled order and should have been £2, and I think I got it for £1.

"Jack naturally had bought a nice 22ct wedding ring. I didn't have much of an engagement ring. We'd been told there was a shop selling off its jewellery in Union Street and we'd gone and bought one. It was supposed to have been £7 and we got it at half price. I often wished though it had been a better ring."

My Gran told her friends and boss in Woolworth's, where she was working behind the tea bar, that she was getting married. Her two friends cried and her boss asked if she was ready for marriage. After courting for six years, and 24 years of age, my Gran replied she was more than ready. But of course in those days firms usually chose not to employ married women.

On the morning of her wedding, Kathleen cleaned the brass step as usual. She washed and curled her  hair  and applied her face powder, kept in an orange and blue bowl.

After the service there was a reception.

"I'd bought several very long white loaves - not sliced as it never was then - and my mother had boiled a large ham to perfection. There was a large genoa cake full of fruit and cherries, and a lot of really delicious fancies.

"Needless to say it was a spread fit for a king and queen.

"We only had port or sherry for the toast. Other than that it was soft drinks or gallons of tea. We played games and it really was very congenial."

Grandma changed into her going away outfit, and she and Jack set off the very short distance from Embankment Road to Oakfield Terrace, where they were going to set up home in a top floor flat. It was to be their first ever night together. And Grandma's two sisters had both bought her a nightie for the occasion.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Food Glorious Food?

Is it too much to ask that our food is pure and unadulterated?
I ask the question in the week that cloned beef found its way into the foodchain, but that was really the tip of the iceberg. I read recently that bread is nowhere near as blameless as it looks. Those "baked on the premises" claims are often very wide of the mark because dough is made up, frozen and then shipped all over the UK.
But, an even more sinister development is that bakers routinely add cocktails of enzymes to bread, which gets them around the laws on using preservatives. These enzymes are just as bad, but they don't have to be declared on the packaging. This explains why the sliced loaf you buy on a Saturday is still soft and spongy a week later. And have you ever noticed how fat is added to bread? I can understand now why artisan bread is so expensive.
Bakers and farmers want to make profits of course. But I resent them doing it by stealth and subjecting us to unnatural chemicals, hormones and goodness knows what. I don't want to eat GM modified foods, and I'd like to think that when I study the labels I'm being told the truth.

Further reading:

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Things that bother me

Trending well on Twitter UK today was the theme "things that bother me".
Contributions included: printers running out of black ink first, bad grammar, people not showering and people who drive Range Rovers. All good fodder.
Off the top of my head, my list - not in any order:
1) People who, joining the motorway, try to overtake you on the inside lane when you actually moved out to let them get on;
2) When the tines of a fork get stuck in the cutlery tray of the dishwasher when you're trying to unload it;
3) Misplaced apostrophes;
4) People walking right behind you;
5)Websites which, after entering your order and credit card info, suddenly throw up error messages. Has your order gone through? Nah. In that case, I won't bother.
6) Websites that allow you to order when they are out of stock.
7) The Daily Mail
8) Christmas in August
9) People who ask you for URLs the whole time without using Google;
10) Being ambushed by charity collectors. As a responsible citizen, I support 2 charities by direct debit,  the Big Issue seller outside Budgens and numerous sponsored walks/silences/marathons by friends and relatives. I am forever donating clothes and books to charity shops. Yet when I go to Sainsbury's, not only do the cubs expect money for packing my bags (which I don't want them to do, as they put potatoes on top of raspberries), but there are two different charities outside the entrance. Stop already! And then people come to the door and look affronted when you won't put money in their tin.
11) Training courses which inevitably have some ghastly acronym you're supposed to memorise, eg: "TACIT" - tact and coaching impact training  (I made that up). Plus any reference to people being "authentic".

As you can see, I have started to get into my stride with some of the big issues. What bothers you?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Grazia leaves the building

Those of you who have read my ramblings since 2006 will know that I love magazines.  The current roster consists of three subscriptions plus a weekly and a minimum of five monthlies bought in the shop.

One subscription that is ending right now is Grazia.

When I first started reading it, I was impressed with how it managed to cross the age divide. It seemed fresh and different.

But the constant emphasis on Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and Cheryl Cole, is getting me down. Every story about Angelina is either "fresh signs the marriage is breaking up" or "friends' alarm at how thin she is getting". I do wonder about the sources they use. I'm sure sometimes it's just the guy who cleans the pool.

For Jennifer they go along with her PR charades and subject us to "New love for Jennifer!" followed a week later by "Heartbreak for Jen." In fact Jennifer is simply promoting her new films by appearing loved-up with her co-star, and maybe going on holiday with him, and then it's all over after the flash guns have popped. Both stars pocket some cash and the film gets a boost. Get it Grazia?

Then there's the fashion. Now this isn't Grazia's fault, but the Groundhog Day nature of fashion is also depressing. This week Grazia showed us the autumn styles, and guess what? In a nutshell, Star Trek trousers, hiking boots, lace dresses, kilts and the midi. I hoped the midi had died a death never to return. It flatters hardly anyone and if you're older than 30, looks matronly and middle-aged.

As fashion is never new it's a shame we never go further back in time and have a fully blown 40's, 20's or even 18th century revival. If that happens, then I may start buying Grazia again. But at the moment, I'm all Jolied out and I won't be beating a path to Top Shop to look like Mr Sulu.
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