Thursday, 28 August 2008

Of crispy snackery

I am not by habit a frequent consumer of crisps, that rich variety of snackery made from derivatives of potato or maize.

But from time to time I do fancy something crispy and crunchy. And on those occasions celery don't cut it, baby.

As you may already have postulated, today was such a day, and on a whim I picked up a bag of Hula Hoops Original ("Potato Rings") and Nik Naks Nice 'n' Spicy, ("Knobbly Freaky Sticks of Corn").

Hands shaking with anticipation, I opened the Nik Naks first - and at first sight knew immediately that they were not what I wanted in my mouth. The lurid orange-coloured, well, knobbly sticks of corn looked flat-out unappetising from the get-go. Nevertheless, I selected one entirely at random and popped it between the old kissing apparatus, only to pull a face of abject dis-satisfaction. The texture was horrible, cloying; and the flavour vile, a kind of broad spectrum "curry powder" taste with no other notes or flavours.

Quietly self-satisfied with the sophistication of my pallette, I put the packet of extruded corn snacks to one side and opened the Hula Hoops.

I have a fondness for Hula Hoops - I particularly enjoy the pleasing crunch they offer. And they were invented in the same year as I was born (the back of the packet informs me), which is a pleasing.

But they have so little flavour; the texture is all reconstituted potato - they make no pretense at being a potato, unlike regular crispies. So other than the crunch, they have nothing appealing about them; the texture after the crunch is horrible, and the flavour all potato starch and oil.

The back of the packets, fact fans, read as follows:

Hula Hoops Potato Rings

Ingredients: Potato (potato starch & dried potato), Sunflower Oil (28%), Rice Flour, Maize Flour, Salt, Potassium Chloride.

Nik Naks Corn Snacks

Ingredients: Maize, Sunflower Oil (25%), Vegetable Oil (13%), Nice 'n' spicy flavour [sugar, salt, acidity regulator: sodium diacetate, dried glucose syrup, lactose, flavour enhancer: monosodium glutamate, dried onion, citric acid, malic acid,, flavourings (contains soya sauce), curry powder (spices, rice flour), dried tomato, colour: paprika extract, spice, malt extract, dried malt vinegar].

I am continually surprised that manufacturers have to list all their unpleasant ingredients, but can get away with the mysteriously vague "spices" when it comes to the flavourings.


Turning into our parents

I'm slowly becoming my parents.

It's not a sudden thing, like flicking a light switch - it's gradual, like ageing, the erosion of youth by time's slow insinuation. We know it's happening but we don't really acknowledge it until we pass a milestone - such as a birthday - that gives us cause to mark our progress.

Over the years, I've heard my father's voice coming out of my mouth from time to time; when I'm talking to children, perhaps, or commenting on another driver's behaviour. Sometimes I stop myself and ask if that's really what I think, or whether it's a habit I learned from him. That's a whole other topic.

Just the other day, though, I spotted a significant event; a quantum leap towards the main event, perhaps. The Sparkly One and I were going away for a week, driving down to South Devon for a few days here and there. As I was packing my clothes and other essentials, I decided to include my own pillow, because I wanted to be as comfortable as possible for those nights that I would be spending away from my own bed.

As I loaded the car, I watched the pile of "essentials" grow higher and higher in the boot - did I really need that many clothes for a few days away? - until I popped the pillow on top and realised that the moment had come and gone.

I'd taken another step closer to becoming my father. He never travelled far without his pillow, for fear of not sleeping that night.

Thankfully, I hadn't included any slippers. Not this time.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Elusive Duvet (and a writing competition)

No, not the consequences of a night with a partner who feels the cold more than you do.

Well, not just that at any rate. Despite the wonderful name, it turns out to be a rather prosaic item; a duvet cover with a blockprinted design created in Bagru, an Indian village. See the Traidcraft website for more information.

Competition: Send a short story (500 words or less) with the same title as this post to be considered for a prize. Yes, really.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"That looks healthy!"

Have you noticed how some people say this as an accusation rather than a compliment?

Monday, 11 August 2008

Caution: HORSES

What's so special about horses, eh? Must they insist on riding about with their species name stencilled on their wagon in huge letters? Prima donnas, the lot of them.

And why is it always in uppercase shouty letters like my mother's text messages? Perhaps they haven't figured out how to use the shift key on their signwriters. Or perhaps they're really dangerous - mortal danger tends to warrant big letters, I would think. Or they're all extremely full of themselves. I don't know about you, but I won't be taking the chance of finding out.

Besides, it's a missed chance for a slogan, a bit of self-promotion. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble of putting "HORSES" on there, you may as well pop on a few extra words and make a statement about it. Like "Try Riding a Cow" perhaps?

I think in the interests of animal parity we should extend the gesture to all forms of animal transport. Imagine the lorry with the bold slogan "Cows - Great milk, no gimmicks" or even "Pigs - The Gift that Keeps on Giving."

This nomadic life

I'm moving around a lot at the moment, it seems. Not to a wide range of different places, just to the same places with reasonable regularity. Nevertheless, I'm living out of a bag rather more than I would prefer, and spending a lot of time travelling (and not the good kind of travelling, either).

Which means I get to spend less time with my friends than I would prefer (except for Those With And Without Beard, on whom I inflict my company from time to time), and that I have less disposable time available.

Something will have to give.

On making coffee

I generally make coffee using the French press (or cafetiere) method, it being the most transportable, simplest techniques available to me. I even have a fab insulated cafetiere mug that's perfect for camping, and unbreakable to boot.

Of late, though, I have begun to ponder the need for some sort of automated coffee machine that offers the benefit of repeatability. I couldn't say how many cups of coffee I have that I am disappointed with - all made by me, with the same equipment, the same coffee, the same water...but - judging by the different flavour - some aspect of the process slightly, subtly different.

I don't want one of those soulless "pod" type machines, though, where coffee is produced from hideous little thimbles, the UHT-milk cartons of the brew-it-yourself coffee world. I want a machine that takes in beans and water, and delivers - via a wonderful alchemy - fresh, flavoursome dark beverage.

Art, truth, and photography

Digital photography magazines are full of techniques that involve taking a sky from one picture, a foreground from another, and munging the two (or three, or six) things together to create the perfect shot. In short, they seem happy to discard the actual image in pursuit of the ideal image.

I recall watching an interview with Lord Lichfield, an enthusiastic supporter of digital photography, commenting that the technology allowed him to lie more convincingly (or was it more easily?) than film photography.

And so digital photography seems to be about art rather than truth, about telling a good story, regardless of what the reality may (or may not) have been.

Much like this blog, as it goes.

Cast of characters

Jaffle McSnaffle, a blogger

Your humble narrator, Jaffle McSnaffle is blessed with a patchy memory and the gift of invention. Every one of his memories shared here is subject to distortion through the dual lenses of imagination and creation; events are remembered as they should have been, not necessarily as they were.

The Sparkly One

Sometimes McSnaffle is a sidekick to the Sparkly One, and sometimes a superhero.

As her name suggests, the Sparkly One is much-possessed of sparkles.

The Bearded One, man born of water

The Bearded One is at least as comfortable in the water as one Michael Phelps, an Olympian of some reknown. There's a prevailing rumour that he was raised by dolphins, or tuna, but the DNA evidence to prove or refute this claim has been mysteriously lost. We understand that Dan Brown is currently working on a book based on the subject.

The Beardless One, who needs no further sobriquet

For every yin there is a yang, some would have us believe. The Beardless One is seen often in the company of the Bearded One, for she is the yang to his yin, the smooth chin to his befurred one.

The Clanky One, a star

Abraham Van Helsing may once have told Mina Murray-Harker:

"There is darkness in life, and there are lights. And you, Madam Mina, are one of those lights."

So is the Clanky One.

Funky Iron Girl, a triathlete

There are athletes, and there are triathletes - those people who would train for (and indeed compete in) three seperate disciplines in a single event. Funky Iron Girl is one such, and has already completed the UK Ironman 70.3, an event comprising 70.3 miles of multi-sport (a 1.2 mile swim followed by 56 miles of cycling, followed by a 13.1 mile run. That's the same as running a half marathon after from London to Brighton, having done a long swim in the capital beforehand). This event is laughingly (although accurately) called a half-Ironman-distance triathlon. You can do the maths to arrive at the full event.

Funky Iron Girl is planning to do the full distance in 2009. And the acronym for her sobriquet is cool too.

Two cautionary notes

  1. If you recognise yourself in these characters, think yourself fortunate, and do not expect to be mentioned too often. It's my blog, subject to my whims. And my faulty, fun-seeking memory.
  2. If, by contrast, you do not see yourself named in this august list, do not worry. Perhaps your time will come. Or perhaps you would be better not being remembered thus.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Cocktails in the afternoon

After running a number of chores, I arrived back at Chez Sparkly One, and was immediately offered a cocktail.

The "Hunk Martini" is, it would seem, a classic of the locality, comprising vanilla-flavoured vodka, vermouth, and a dash of pineapple juice.

It is, you may care to know, extraordinarily drinkable. Perhaps even too drinkable.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon in Sparkly company; sipping cocktails, watching Sweeney Todd, and assembling my Lego Batmobile.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Fat Duck, revisited

I have just had Sunday lunch - on this, the anniversary of my birth - at a little restaurant in Bray, Berkshire.

We elected to enjoy the tasting menu, and the food was truly excellent - if anything, better than the last time I went. Although I was mildly disappointed that the sardine on toast sorbet was no longer on the menu, the snail porridge was particularly good - deep and intensely flavoured - and so was the red cabbage gazpacho. And the truffle toast, oh my!

I particularly enjoyed the spectacle of dinner, the sense of humour throughout. Of course it's fantastically-conceived food, amazingly-executed, richly flavoured. But it's fun too. The hot and iced tea is simply playful, the nitro-scrambled egg and bacon ice cream - prepared at the table side - is pure theatre.

In short, sensational.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Innocent Village Fete (no Clanks)

To Regent's Park today for the Innocent Village Fete. It's an attempt by the smoothie company to recreate the feel and flavour of a village fete, complete with duck herding and welly wanging. Only this one's in a London park. And it's a great day out.

I went last year, and had a splendid time drinking in the sunshine with my friends. This year I was keen to see more of the fete stuff, and less of the queue for the beer tent. Consequently (although due more to a sudden rain shower than any real design), I can report that the performance by The Fairey Band was superb, bringing their own brand of "acid brass" to Regent's Park. My favourite was their rendition of the KLF's What Time is Love?

Afterwards, a pleasant ramble through the Park, a few choice morsels from the food vendors, many of them leaving behind Borough Market for the day, and a chance encounter with friends. All in all, a very satisfying day.

Alas, the Clanky One was delayed at work, and we missed the opportunity to meet up. Oh intemperate Fate!