Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Death by chocolate (2)

Okay, I just finished the rest of the Cadbury selection box (barring the Buttons Treatsize (75 calories), which I won't eat on ethical religious grounds - cruelty to buttons).

So add to the tally:

Cadbury's Dairy Milk: 110 calories

Cadbury Flake: 135 calories

Thank you, Secret Santa.

And good night all.

I'm so embarrassed

A colleague just asked for a bottle opener and I was ashamed to discover that I don't have one with me.

I do have 3 sets of nail clippers, though.

Death by chocolate

Cadbury's (Finger of) Fudge: 110 calories

Dairy Milk Caramel: 225 calories

Crunchie: 185 calories

Cycling into work: pointless

Friday, 27 November 2009

Mixed Naan: When Fusion Food Doesn't Work

At the restaurant last night, the "mixed naan" was advertised as having "green chillies, minced lamb, cheese".

If the thought of cheese and lamb makes you a little queasy - and it should - then you may have assured yourself with the thought that this was an Indian restaurant, and would surely use paneer, that slightly sour cheese that works so well in Indian cooking.

You would probably not expect cheddar cheese melted on top of the bready-meaty-spicy platter.

Putting aside practical considerations - how did they manage to cook that on the inside of a tandoor oven?, for instance - this was, simply - obviously, a Bad Idea.

So bad, indeed, that my Naan Partner took one bite, and discarded her share. I managed to eat around that cheese that I couldn't scrape off.

Define: Naan Partner

It goes like this: at a social setting involving food, conversation naturally ebbs and flows between those in one's immediate vicinity at table. As menu choices are made, as the waiter (or waitress) takes food orders, common ground is established; alliances are negotiated. Natural groupings form as people spontaneously find someone else that wants to order the same type of naan (or rice) as them, and short-term food sharing arrangements are instigated.

These apparently simple pacts hide subtle complexities like: who should make the first tear? Does one take an approximate half in one go? Or repeatedly return to the plate, tearing at the bready deliciousness with increasingly stained fingers?

See also: Rice Partner

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Smart Thursday

Since I instigated Smart Thursday, several months ago, colleagues have begun to navigate the week by my wardrobe. It has inculcated a visceral, habitual reaction. They're setting their watch by me, effectively.

On Tuesday this week, one colleague remarked that it wasn't Thursday, and they were startled to see me Smart, and were then disappointed that the next day wasn't Friday.

On Wednesday, another colleague (apparently thinking it was Thursday), was mock-outraged, demanding to know why I wasn't Smart, what had happened to the world, what was going on?

Today, a third colleague wandered past and remarked, "Oh it must be Thursday."

It's nice.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Awesome 3-course dinner

As cooked by the Sparkly One this very evening.

To start:

Parmesan-and-roasted-parsnip soup, made from local organic veggies.

The main course:

Fillet of beef wrapped in porcini and prosciutto; pommes dauphinoise;
carrots & greens.

For dessert:

Pear and apple pie; custard

And to drink (the Sparkly One can take no credit for this one, alas):

Beyerskloof Reserve Pinotage 2007

I can take no credit for the wine, either, as it was brought by our dinner guests.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Internet used to be *fun*

What happened?

Microblogging has become a business activity, people are concerned with their public appearance, with "building a personal brand" online rather than simply being themselves.

Convergence of personal and professional life - in terms of the immediate, ready accessibility of people - has meant that people have started to be a bit more guarded on the 'Net, or a bit more cunning.

This removal of anonymity is two edged, in my opinion, in that because people are more guarded, more cautious, they're more boring. Highly publicised outings of people on facebook, the scandals that erupt when employees gather together to bitch about their workplace - surprise surprise! - has highlighted the need to be a little more cautious in our online persona.

Where has the fun gone?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Jaffle's Second Law of Solicitors

Solicitors will always call during the only two minutes you're away from your desk.

Between the head and the stomach (steak tartare)

The difference between intellectual and visceral reactions is this:

My head knew that it was minced steak, seasoned and spiced.

My stomach reacted as if it was mashed cat sick.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

"Nihilism's for boys"

...I said, quoting Emmy the Great's song, The Hypnotist's Son.

"Yeah, but women are the carrier," he replied.

I blinked. And smiled.

I think he was still talking about colour blindness.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Jaffle's First Law of Solicitors (Complexity is Geometric)

The complexity of proceedings - and hence, the cost and likelihood of over-run - increases geometrically (rather than arithmetically) with the number of solicitors involved.

Being precise, making assumptions, and averting disappointment

T'other day, the Sparkly One and I happened to be staying in a hotel following a wedding. The next morning we trotted down to breakfast and, instead of the traditional Full English, I determined to ask for something a little lighter.

So I asked for a bacon sandwich.

In my mind, I could already taste the sandwich; salty tangy bacon on buttered brown bread - or even on buttered white bread, the butter melted from the warmth of the bacon.

When it arrived, it was on white bread, unbuttered.

I was disappointed. How could they not know how to make a bacon sandwich? I hadn't told them, of course; there was no way they could have known. So they had made the bacon sandwich they probably always make, unaware that I wanted something else. Or perhaps they deliberately made the lowest common denominator sandwich; experience in the catering trade leading them down the path of least offence.

It wasn't their fault, of course; it was mine, for not being precise about what I wanted. It's happened before. It may well happen again. But next time, I'll ask for it exactly as I want it. Then it's only myself I have to blame, and them to thank.

Disappointment averted.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Thaw Blogsplash - a book for free

I'm helping make a splash. And so can you.

Fiona Robyn's new book, Thaw, will be serialised on her blog starting March 2010, and she's having a Blogsplash to celebrate.

All of which linky-packed goodness means that on 1st March 2010, you'll be able to read the first page of Thaw right here (and several other places too). And then you can continue reading at Fiona's blog.

Literature for free. Why wouldn't you?

Friday, 11 September 2009

Wispa Gold: Not as nice as I hoped

There was considerable fanfare around the arrival of the Wispa Gold in the office; and what clever marketing accompanies it too. There's the "retro" aspect, harking back to the Gold Old Days when the WG was first on sale (1995, now more distant than my memory and hair colour would prefer). And the lovely shiny-shiny pick-me! packaging.

From the first bite, though, I found it disappointing, remembering (too late!) that I dislike the texture of Wispa bars. There's something about the size of the bubbles that makes the chocolate displeasingly smooth, or furry, it seems. If it must contain bubbles, I'm more of an Aero fan; being larger, the bubbles make the chocolate firmer, crisper, which is more to my taste.

After the chocolate disappointment, the caramel was an after-thought, lumped on top in a not-quite-thick-enough-to-notice layer that scarcely teased, or tempted, let alone satisfied.

The indefinite article

You didn't have "the burger" for lunch, you had "a burger."


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Saturday, 5 September 2009

A Very Disappointing Lunch

Despite the cheerful woman at the counter, lunch is truly miserable.

My pizza baguette has been over-cooked from frozen; dry and homogenous. I can't distinguish between the peppers and the ham.

And Wifey's salad garnish surely contrevenes the Trade Descriptions Act; a handful of limp lettuce.

We won't be hurrying back.

Monday, 31 August 2009

"I want a dinosaur balloon"

...The Sparkly One announced.

"A blue one."

Well, obviously. The pink ones were just too...girly.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

A Clueless Photographer at Whipsnade Zoo

Flash! Flash!

The man on my right is photographing the elephants, some 10 metres distant. He has a camera with an impressive-looking dual-grip body, and a huge zoom lens.

The flash fires with every shot, utterly useless at that range.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Perfect All-Day Breakfast

Joy of joys! I had the fabulous "Bubble and Squeak Cake" for lunch at The Old Spotted Cow.

I watched the chef collecting eggs from the hens moments before my perfectly poached egg (and crispy bacon) arrived. Wonderful. And so simple.

Every all-day breakfast should be this good.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The First Corn on the Cob of the Year

What joy! My third favourite seasonal food has arrived!

(Asparagus and Pumpkin, seeing as you asked so nicely)

The Joys of New Music

"At the End of Paths Taken" by The Cowboy Junkies & The Arcade Fire's "Neon Bible" lighten my drive this morning.

The former is the latest in a line of CDs by a very-favourite band.

The latter is the second offering from a new favourite.

The speed limit is 60mph

So why the *~@! do you insist on braking to 42mph at every speed camera?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

England have won the Ashes

And I wasn't aware they were playing for them.

I mean, I knew there was a cricket test between England and Australia; heard the results of the first innings, chatted to colleagues, to a call centre operative about it.

I just hadn't realised this was the final match of the series.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Wine Tasting Notes: Guigal Condrieu 2005

Simply put: outstanding.

Espresso by the riverside

After a gentle swim in the Thames, a picnic with friends, which is nicely rounded off with a cup of fresh espresso courtesy of my wife-bought birthday present, a Handpresso Wild.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Chinese restaurant runs out of rice

Sunday afternoon, Oxfordshire.

TSO and I are entertaining in-laws of various denominations at a local Chinese restaurant. We've proceeded from the starters, through the duck course, to the mains.

As the waitress starts to bring the main courses out, she announces that she is sorry, but there is no more steamed rice.

A beat.

As one, we glance at one another, then at the dish of egg fried rice, quietly steaming on the lazy Susan, then back at the waitress.

"You've run out of rice?" Someone asks.

"Boiled rice, yes," admits the waitress. "And beansprouts."

"So what can we have?"

"Plain noodles," the waitress suggests. "Noodles, onions, beansprouts."

"So there's really no rice?" Another someone persists.

"Erm, excuse me, did you say beansprouts?" Someone else asks.

"Yes, fried rice," the waitress responds. "Special fried rice, yes."


"So you have special fried rice?"


"That's fine."

The waitress does a very prompt volte-face and we are left staring at one another, various stages of incredulity on our faces.

"They've run out of rice -"

"- in a Chinese restaurant?"

"Boiled rice. They have special fried rice."

We look at our plates and dishes, wondering just how freshly prepared the food is.

The lazy Susan remains motionless.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Dressing for dinner

The hotel is very pleased with its restaurant, which "retains the beauty of the gracious Victorian era". So pleased, in fact, that guests are asked to "compliment the setting by dressing appropriately for the evening". Meaning no jeans, track suit bottoms (as if!), trainers, T-shirts or polo shirts.

Which would be much easier to accept if the place wasn't painted like a (modern era) pub, complete with "witty aphorisms" all over the walls. The food, too, is the wrong side of self-satisfied; the dinner menu begins with a message from the chef, stating his position on the use of local seafood and seasonal vegetables.

None of which seems to bother the assembled diners - all dressed appropriately - and all at least 2 full decades older than us.

Semantics for Breakfast

One piece of brie does not make a "selection of cheeses".

Well, I guess it does, kinda. But it's a limited sort of selection.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Attack of the Tartares

Due to translation failures, I ordered steak tartare for lunch, mistaking it for another dish.

I was, consequently, surprised and disturbed to be presented with a lump of pale, mushy meat: clearly - stomach turningly - raw.

It was also surprisingly tender and tasty. I polished off the lot.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Implicated by inaction

"Are these yours?" I asked the colleague in the kitchen, indicating the dirty plates and cups in the sink.

"No," he replied, a little defensively. "I didn't leave them there."

I raised an eyebrow and drew a breath. He withdrew, my feelings on work kitchen hygiene having been often, and strenuously, aired.

But technically, I found myself thinking at his retreating back, you did leave them there. You saw them, and you could have cleared them away. But you didn't. You're as guilty, as responsible, as the people that used them, implicated by what you didn't do rather than by what you did.

Then I sighed a little superior, self-righteous sigh, and put the dishes in the dishwasher, and said my little Thank-You-For-The-Chance-To-Make-A-Positive-Difference.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Digital photography is so indiscriminate

Digital photography gives us the capacity to take pictures; if not the ability to select decent subjects. The former is a Good Thing; the lack of the latter is not.

In losing the necessity of selectivity that came with the very limited number of exposures on a traditional film, photography has become indiscriminate, ubiquitous, wearisome. Combined with the ever-increasing capacity of free storage, the result is hundreds - thousands! - of pictures with little interest or value, even to the person that took them.

Just because people can take pictures, they too often forget to stop and wonder if they should. And, worse, if they should publish them, all of them, without thought for editing, for selection, for some consideration of quality.

I am not just pointing the finger outwards, by the by; I have multiple, several, lots of pictures of a pumpkin lantern that are fundamentally the same, intrinsically identical. What can I say? I have a thing for pumpkins. In my defence, I would offer that I have not published them to the world.

By contrast, I can think of any number - yes, madam, that's the very number - of places where I have seen shot after interminable shot of the same dross dull dire event, many of which I have attended. Quantity: sky high. Quality: rock bottom.

Do not misunderstand me, digital photography is a Good Thing, a Very Good Thing. It is liberating, emancipating, glorious.

But it has always been true, if I may, that Hell is other people's pictures. And now there are so many of them.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A long way from home

Just overheard from a neighbouring garden:

"Harrison, if you want a bath with a bath bomb in it, you have to come now."

When I was smaller, we hadn't heard of bath bombs. And the only Harrison I'd ever heard of was a Hollywood actor.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Last night's pizza for lunch

Well, that was the plan.

But it looked so appealing as I packed my lunch this morning that it didn't make it to lunchtime.

Much of it barely made it to the car, indeed.

So it'll be muesli cereal for lunch today.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thai food is my generation's Indian

When I was little, roast dinners were a welcome feature of Sundays.

On Mondays the leftover meat would be made into something like rissoles (lamb), stir fry (beef), or - very occasionally - chicken curry. Now, this wasn't the type of curry we'd recognise these days - in fact, my friends laughed at me when I declined to go for a curry with them when my only experience was my mother's white-sauce-with-curry-powder added.

Tonight, we had the modern day equivalent; Thai curry made with red curry paste and coconut milk, the leftover chicken stripped from the carcass and stirred through at the last.

Whether my children will consider it identifiably, authentically Thai will have to wait, at least until they have been born.

In the aftermath of Easter egg wrapping

...I'm still craving chocolate.

Monday, 13 April 2009

"Dinosaurs don't have luscious lips."

...I said.

The Sparkly One was sitting behind me in The Motor our visit to That Place having resulted in a haul of flat pack self assembly home furniture sufficiently long that the car's interior seating required that configuration.

She had applied some gloss (make-up rather than woodwork) and, catching my attention in the rear view mirror (whilst proceeding safely down the highway), remarked:

"I've made my lips luscious for you."

She pouted demonstratively.

I blinked (checking road conditions, speed, etc) and commented as noted above.

"This one does," she replied happily.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A Rude Awakening

Or: A Polite Awakening at a Rude Hour

Or: Facebook Ruined My Sleep

Last night, I heard the doorbell in the Wrong Hours of the night - the dark, cold, where-am-I-hours.

Then a knock, then the doorbell again.

I briefly considered ignoring it, relying on the many locks and doors, before realising I wasn't going to get back to sleep after that interruption.

It was the Police, looking for a Certain Person, who had apparently used Facebook as a means for threatening suicide. The recipient was so disturbed by the message that they mobilised the police service to locate persons of That Name and check on their safety and well-being.

One such person had apparently resided in my house some months ago. The tall gentlemen in the STAB jackets were very apologetic about awakening me - but given the Mercy Mission nature of their visit, one could hardly complain, feeling sympathy for those folk across the country being similarly awoken.

This morning, a scan of the news sites contains no mention of this, so I can only hope for a happy ending.

The Sartorial Impact of Jackets

I am this morning wearing a jacket - a simple, cheap, unremarkable jacket - for reasons of warmth rather than style (although the latter was, I confess, a consideration).

I had hardly been in the office a minute before it had attracted comment.

"Dapper" was the phrase used.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The first wasp of the year

In the bathroom, where I was naked and vulnerable.

I shooed it out of the window using a decorative shell.

Pink Mashed Potato

The Sparkly One has eschewed vegetarianism in favour of a more omnivorous diet, and from time to time her tastes are positively towards the carnivorous.

Tonight, dinner was fillet steak cooked so beautifully deliciously meltingly rare that the mashed potato turned pink.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Injury Yourself, or DIY Injuries

It takes a special person to cut themselves with an electric shaver (it was a long time ago, alright?!) or even with a pair of pliers.

On this occasion, I had been invited to remove a particularly troublesome nail well-fixed into a wall. I was supplied with a pair of pliers, and the nail was at a slightly inconvenient height.

When the pliers slipped off the nail the second time, they landed on my left hand, which I had been using to support the right hand in its removal action.

The jaws of the pliers closed, bringing the wire-cutter-bit into the fleshy bit of my palm, and sticking there in an impressive blood blister.

Quite how I managed to split the end of my forefinger as well, I have no idea.

I am not the King of DIY.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Standing in the check-in queue

Everyone has much bigger bags than us. And are wearing shapeless baggy sports casual leisurewear tracksuits.

Either that, or they're twice our age.

What kind of holiday is this going to be?

Disturbed to discover

...That the airport's long stay parking is right next door to a "Car Hypermarket"...will my car have been bought and sold before I return?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

We have a duck pond

Which is to say that this morning there are two ducks on what we thought was our fish pond...

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Walkers Crisps - New Flavours

What are Walkers thinking?

They've produced 6 new flavours of crisps, and are asking for votes for the one they take into production.

The Sparkly One and I tasted 3 of the flavours today, and I'll be writing to Walkers to tell them not to bother with any of them.

We had Cajun Squirrel first, which was quite ordinary, but turned out to be the least offensive of the flavours (perhaps because it's the most bland?). Disappointingly, it contains no squirrels, and very little cajun. Its ingredients list is not dissimilar to that of the Duck crisps, see below.

The second bag we tried was Crispy Duck and Hoisin, which tasted like stale parma violets. I had two crisps, just to make sure there wasn't something wrong with the first one, then put the pack beyond use. Horrible.

Finally, then, Chilli and Chocolate, which I was rather excited to try; Chocolate Chip and Chilli Cookies being one of my favourite own-brand recipes. So there's no fear about the sweet and the savoury here. But there is nothing good to report about this crisp: foul, sweet, horrid from the first to the last. In fact, the first and the last crisp were one and the same because these were so unpleasant that I didn't eat more than one.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Movie review: Mamma Mia!

Oh dear, where to begin?

The Sparkly One and I watched Mamma Mia! tonight, and I will say right now that there was a certain amount of "under sufferance" on my part, but there was absolutely no ill will. After all, it's a spectacularly successful film (the most successful Hollywood film musical ever, the most successful British-made film and the highest grossing film of all time in the UK), and I was intrigued to see why. I'll try anything once, with the usual nod to Sir Thomas Beecham.

Besides, I couldn't find Hellboy 2 in Blockbuster.

Well, what a revelation. Within five minutes and 22 seconds, the shrieking buddy-greeting of the girls had become wearisome, and it didn't get any better. That the three women greeted each other in the same screechy fashion didn't provide amusing synchronicity, it just rankled. No one acts like that. Not even in movies. Not even in musical movies.

Now, I've no problem with the suspension of disbelief, with lightweight films, and I've certainly no problem with jukebox musicals, but there was just nothing to this one. It was trite and saccharin, the characters were blander than bland and thinner than thin. All of which is absolutely fine in a musical film, because the music and the dancing are the thing, and the music of ABBA is a fine thing indeed.

But the casting was way, way off! Casting fantastic, talented actors that can't sing or dance in a movie that requires them to sing and dance reduces the whole £28 million production to ear-blistering drunken karaoke. Pierce Brosnan's attempts at singing has been commented upon at length, but I do not rate any of the leading men's voices. Christine Baranski is a wonderful actress, but clearly not at home dancing on screen. And that awful, hammy over-acting that's required of stage performances where the audience is miles away from the performers, but not in movies where cameras, shooting and editing make subtlety the thing!

Oh yes, and the dance numbers were lacklustre, unexciting, small-scale, unimaginative. Or perhaps my heart had given up by that point. I found the routines in Ice Age 2 more engaging.

Two high points included the dancing-in-fins sequence, the best of the ensemble pieces, and one laugh-out-loud moment involving Stellan SkarsgÄrd's bottom. And that's it, in a movie that was trumpeted in the press as an anecdote to credit crunch misery, the feel-good hit of the year.

Can I have my £28 million back, please?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Movie Review: Hot Fuzz

So, I finally saw this tonight, and it was...well, it was underwhelming.

Oh, I'm sure I will be vilified for making anything-less-than positive comments about a Great British Movie, but it didn't really do it for me. Yes, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly some of the slapstick, and there are some genuinely funny snippets, but the rest of the movie doesn't ever really get going.

In brief: Mildly funny, quietly amusing.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

We found happiness in IKEA

I have previously visited the living Hell that is IKEA. Indeed, the last time I visited such a place, in Sweden, the land of its conception, the visit was pleasant enough. On this occasion, however, it was far closer to Hades than I had remembered.

We had been in there but a few moments before I turned to The Sparkly One and said

"I've just remembered."

"...that you hate IKEA?" Did I detect a tremble in her voice?


"Let's get out of here."

Seizing one another's hands, setting our jaws to Stern, we battled our way through the showrooms, heading for the signs that said EXIT. Finally, we reached the market place - the vale of thorns through which we had to journey to reach our promised land.

At the sight, I quailed. I turned to TSO.

"Hold me." I pleaded.

"Take me home," she replied.

We fled.

But there was, finally, light at the end of the tunnel; Kalles Kaviar in the Food Market, treasure beyond belief.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Two Pies in One Day

This afternoon, steak and kidney pie (snake and pigmey (sic) as it appeared on the bill) at Pudding Face ("The Pie Place"), at the Crown and Tuns, Deddington, Oxfordshire.

And this evening, humble pie to keep the peace.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Whatever happened to biscuits?

When I was smaller, we used to bake biscuits and buns (or "small cakes" as my home economics teacher called them).

Now it's all cookies and muffins, what's going on with that?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Foglight Derangement Syndrome

I have but two questions regarding car foglights, generally (but not confined to) the rear lights:

  1. Why do some people persist on using them when the weather is a long way from fog?
  2. Why is it so gosh-darn irritating when they do?

Answers to the usual address.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Banana Flapjack

The Sparkly One made flapjack today, one of my secret weaknesses (promise you won't tell Lex Luthor?).

But whatever is that unusual, distinctive undertone-of-fruity-flavournote? Ah, banana!


Thursday, 8 January 2009

That's the way we roll

Here's a fun way to eat an entire pack of smoked salmon, half a cucumber, a roasted sweet pepper, and half a pound of rice. Oh, and some seaweed.

It's called "sushi" :-)

Yes, the Sparkly One and I made sushi nori and nigri tonight, a prolonged, faffy and lotsafun process that ended with full, happy tummies and no leftovers. It's a proper kind of hands-on eating, too.

Monday, 5 January 2009

A Splinter in my Toe (Part II)

It popped out today, nearly 3mm of beautiful wood from the flooring of Those With and Without Beard, previously wedged so deep in my big toe that 20 minutes of concerted digging with scissors and tweezers could not shift it.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A Splinter in my Toe (Part I)

"For he so loved the Cotswolds that he brought a piece of them away with him when he left."