freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I am up unseasonably early as my sister and niece are arriving back from the UK at an unseasonal hour and I have undertaken to collect them from the airport. I confidently predict that the driving experience will give me flashbacks to playing Fallout, i.e. apocalyptic wastelands devoid of people. A tinsel tumbleweed may roll by occasionally. I shall thoroughly enjoy it.

I had Christmas Eve dinner with jo&stv last night, which entailed savage Polish barszcz (for which I have an unnatural fondness) in its natural habitat, i.e. filled with mushroom dumplings. Later there were pierogi, controversially with added pancetta (Polish Christmas is traditionally vegetarian). It was, needless to say, excellent, and also excellently subversive. Other than that we eschewed all trappings of actual Christmasness, which was curiously freeing. Today I have brunch with my sister and niece, and then trundle on home to play more Fallout while they recover from an intercontinental plane flight (they've just spent 10 days in the UK with my mother). This strikes me as an excellent Christmas plan, mostly because of its singular lack of a lot of actual Christmas. I may roast a chicken later, in a meditative sort of fashion, and watch Return of the Jedi or something.

By way of further creative deconstruction of Christmas tropes, have the Nutcracker performed by hip hop dancers. This made me absurdly happy.



merry seasonal wossnames of your preferred depth and flavour to all!

adventures in retail

Saturday, 29 August 2015 11:00 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
One of the side-effects of chronic fatigue is, it seems, its tendency to rot the memory. I have now honed to a fine and perfect point my ability to forget someone's name within approximately a second and a half of being introduced to them, which adds a particular dimension of terror to my teaching and curriculum advice activities. I also do not undertake to remember the details of complex administrative scenarios from longer ago than a week or two, which has led to a recurring motif in my interactions with faculty colleagues, in which I chase a vague impression of event along the lines of "did that actually happen, or did I hallucinate it?" Sometimes I have, in fact, hallucinated it. This cannot, I confess, attest to any particular professionalism on my part, and does lead colleagues to look at me a bit oddly, but on the other hand, I cherish a profound indifference to the notion of advancement within my career qua career, and am damned if I'm going to give up harmless idiosyncrasies1 in the pursuit of it.

All that being the case, it's something of a relief to discover that I am not alone in hallucinating things. This morning's usual Saturday grocery shop was enlivened by the discovery that the computer had somehow added, out of nowhere, a R14.99 item to my bill that was identified as "PAPRIKA/PWD SHAKR". I assume this is powdered paprika, but (a) I hadn't added any to my basket, (b) I hadn't even been in the spice aisle, (c)I never buy paprika from Checkers anyway as I prefer the smoked stuff, and (d) there wasn't any left on the counter by a previous shopper. Also, (e) the random addition came in the middle of the list, between the butter and the astonishingly cheap pecan nuts (what's with that? They've dropped from nearly R50 per packed to R23, presumably the pecan farmers have found the Entwives or something), so it wasn't left over from another bill. And (f) the nice checkout lady whose eagle eye had spotted the addition, re-scanned everything and it wasn't actually a wrong bar code on another product entirely. The system basically hallucinated it. Either that, or it's making sarky comments on my culinary tendencies, or has some sort of frustrated virtual affection for me and is trying to give me gifts. Odd, random and pointless gifts, but who am I to judge?

I am slightly more horrified to discover, perusing the list, that I seem to have accidentally bought gherkins, under the entirely erroneous impression that they were baby marrows. Gherkins in the pickled form are An Abomination Unto Nuggan, and I have always avoided the raw version on the grounds that they can only lead to evil. What does one do with raw gherkins, anyway? My current inclination is to bury them in the garden in a lead-lined box under an Elder Sign, but I may be over-reacting.

1Am I alone in always hearing that word said as "idio-idio-idiosyncrasy" by the goose in Charlotte's Web? A book which, may I add, is responsible for many of the long-word addictions I have had from childhood.
.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm not quite sure what it suggests, that we (or at least Jo) are apparently on hugging terms with the maître-d of Overture, which is the very nice five-star restaurant on the Hidden Valley wine estate in Stellenbosch. I mean, we know the staff because we go there at least once a year, and they always say welcome back and nice to see you again with a degree of enthusiasm which says they're either genuinely happy to see us or are very well trained - possibly both. They know us well enough to bring extra bread so we can mop up the sauces (that delectable parmesan thing on the oxtail crêpe, for example). And while they no longer do the wine pairing which was hitherto such a marvellous feature of their menus, the nice maîitre-d is always very happy to suggest suitable wines for our various choices, and the single "carafe" we ordered of that lovely chenin was suspiciously free-flowing for far longer than it really should have been, I think he nipped out back and refilled it while we weren't looking. Also, note to self, the Hidden Valley shiraz blend is ace, obtain more. Hidden Secret, I think. Yum.

Overture is a favourite hang-out because it's always a really good experience, and any food they serve can be ranked on the scale of very good, really damned good, amazingly good and wow my tastebuds just exploded in a good way. And damn the expense. It's worth it. Also, I have discovered that my superhero ability appears to be "reliably order the best thing on the menu", putting me mostly at the head of the field in our informal fork-sharing comparisons. That vanilla souffle, mmmmm. Also, while it sounds unlikely, the gnocci with roasted mushrooms and smoked aubergine pâté. I don't know what they did to the mushrooms - portabellini which I think were slow-roasted so they were slightly dried and a concentrated mushroom taste explosion of note. Must try at home.

Today's lunchtime jaunt was additionally pleasant because it was a weekday, stv and I both took a day off work just because, and I at least was sitting in the winelands imbibing quality food and booze instead of wrestling through the thickets of HR-speak which have characterised large tracts of my week. (My Cherished Institution's HR department has the bit severely between its teeth in the performance-review area and is burying everyone in labyrinths of over-documented, overly positivist HR jargon of the worst description. SMART measures. Aspirational career goals. Objective-centred self-evaluation. My boss called my role "student-facing" in cold blood yesterday. While carefully stashing the term towards my ongoing efforts in linguistically role-playing, with some verve, the kind of person who actually takes this shit seriously, I nearly bit her.)

It's probably a good thing, all things considered, that I solved one minor mystery just before jo&stv came to collect us for the Overture jaunt. I lost Pandora this morning. She's settled in very happily and seems to be an entirely self-confident and autocratic bundle of affection nicely balanced with demand (preferred affection mode: headbutt me violently in chin, or preferably in mug of tea), but for about half an hour this morning she redefined herself as an intermittent and disembodied meeping. I could not find her. I thought she might have been stuck on the roof or something, because I opened every cupboard I could think of to check if I'd shut her inside, and nope.

Eventually, careful triangulation led to the kitchen, where she'd managed to get herself shut in the spice cupboard, which I hadn't checked because there's simply no space for her. It has three shelves which pull out with the door, and they're stacked with jars and boxes and what have you, and completely fill the cupboard when the door's closed; she must have climbed into the space behind the shelves when I opened the cupboard to refill the salt, and I have no idea how she folded herself up small enough to fit when I madly closed it again without noticing her. Possibly the usual feline pocket dimension. The one which allows them to walk through walls. Except, apparently, cupboard walls. I'm a bit tetchy on the cat subject because poor Hobbit was badly beaten up last night by the beastly neighbourhood tom, and is all subdued and sporting a notch on his ear, having left a swathe of orange fur on the pavement outside the front door. If I'd accidentally bent, bont and splugged Pandora by leaving her stuck in the cupboard for four hours while we made merry, I would have felt considerably worse than terrible, and inclined to doubt my cat-parenting skills on all fronts.

Anyway. You were warned about the flow of consciousness. My subject line is of course Omar Khayyam, not for the first time. Overture was lovely, Hobbit is much less subdued, and Pandora seems to have entirely forgiven me. I have just downloaded the new Inquisition DLC and propose to spend most of the weekend hacking my way joyously through the Deep Roads. (With a pacifist Inquisitor, which will be interesting, apparently it's fairly intense fighting). Today was OK. I'll take it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Things in life I will never understand: the graceful, erratic, inscrutable sine waves which map the patterns of (a) comments on my blog posts, and (b) student utilisation of my curriculum advisor skills. Honestly. I have abandoned commenting patterns as a lost cause and a mystery for the ages, but student advice still actively baffles me. It's been deader than the dodo for several weeks, possibly because I've been deader than the dodo for several weeks and only slightly on campus, which means they've all got out of the habit of being able to find me. But today I have seen a continuous, uninterrupted, unrelenting string of students since five minutes before my official advice times started, which makes for about an hour and a half of plaintive student meeping, like hungry baby birds. (I do have a proto-theory which says that weekends and public holidays are inciters of advice-need, because they all sit at home and brood on their curriculum woes. But other than that I can't account for it and am forced to file it under "Unsolved Mysteries", together with this morning's traffic patterns, which were sparse enough to make me actually wonder if I'd taken my public holiday adjacently rather than on target.)

The thing is, emerging from this couple of hours of advice-giving: when not actively sabotaged by illness, depression or institutional fuckwittery, hells but I'm good at this. I have been watching myself witter on for this session, being somewhat amazed at the way my mouth produces, apparently independent of cognitive agency, relevant words which delineate a nice and accurate balance between empathy and technical knowledge. Every single student I have seen this morning has been in some distress, entangled in a career or curriculum snarl-up of slightly above average complexity and rendered skittish by the looming approach of the end of semester. I have sent them forth into the world, if not entirely solved, at least with a clearer sense of their options and their implications. Every single one of them has been soothed enough to chat a bit about the personal issues and feelings behind the technical question; to trust me with their vulnerabilities, their sense of failure, their fears, their horrible first-year homesickness. Every one of them has left looking visibly lighter. Honestly, when it comes to job satisfaction, I could create another grateful sine wave by keeping a running total of variations on "I feel so much better" from students departing my office.

I can't say this job is always like this, but when it is, it's lovely. I make a difference. Validation is immediate and concrete. And it's been something of a revelation, this morning, to realise that probably my sense of accomplishment, of fitness for my purpose, is the simple result of being, in slightly more existential terms, happy. I'm weirdly happy at the moment. I'm loving living on my own: my own space, my complete freedom to drift around shaping my environment to my needs, is something I've clearly needed for years without really being aware of it. I have lovely friends who both understand my base state of "hermitage" and who hoik me out of it at well-judged intervals for, e.g., lovely spontaneous suppers at excellent restaurants. (Frère's, whose high-class French nosh is ridiculously delectable and unreservedly recommended). The thrice-damned bronchitis has finally departed, and the post-nasal drip which is its icky footprint is perfectly endurable. And, calloo callay and the Dance of Joy, my thrice-damned brain chemistry has obviously tilted its little pointer away from "World, loathing of and self in particular" to "World: nice place, and you're probably OK." Supposing I haven't utterly jinxed it by mentioning it in print, long may it endure.

(My subject line references, of course, Angel, more or less randomly because of Numfar and the Dance of Joy.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We've fallen into the habit of having a larney sit-down umpteen-course formal meal for New Year's Eve, on the grounds that it gives us something to do until midnight and keeps us all awake rather effectively. Also, we cunningly construct our immediate social circle with a high preponderance of really good cooks, which adds a pleasing level of quality to the proceedings. This year was eleven of us, which is probably the outside edge of numbers for this sort of thing, and, following the traditional French 75s, featured five courses: tapas, a mushroom salad, seared Aisany salmon with noodles, beef with cauliflower, and chocolate mousse. (I made the dessert, which as an experiment featured layers of white and dark chocolate mousse, a considerable departure given my personal belief that white "chocolate" is actually a sort of sad and misplaced cheese. I feel I have grown as a person in recognising, if not actually embracing alternative creeds).

I had originally offered baked Camembert for the second course, but it seemed too heavy for (a) the amount of food we had, and (b) the weather, which has really been ridiculously hot of late. So instead I constructed a mushroom salad thingy based entirely around my new-found addiction to truffle oil, and a vague inspiration which hit during a 4am heat-stressed insomnia bout, during which I lay awake randomly thinking "truffle oil... dark leaf salad... roasted mushrooms... chevin". This was refined on the fly into a fairly cobbled-together rehash of inspiration ingredients, fragments of recipes ganked off the internet, and the last-minute inspired addition of whatever I happened to have in the cupboards and garden. There is absolutely no way in hell I am a scientific cook. I shall proceed to blog the recipe because in defiance of probability it worked really well and I'd like to remember how to do it again.

INSOMNIA MUSHROOM SALAD STARTER

You need:
  • a couple of packs of dark salad leaves - I used rocket and wild rocket, but you could also use something like baby spinach. It needs a good strong flavour to support the truffle oil. We had normal iceberg lettuce with truffle oil dressing at a restaurant recently, and it was a complete travesty.
  • a handful of spring onions
  • about half a packet of pine nuts, more if you have as much of an addiction to them as I do
  • garlic/herb chevin, as in the soft goat's cheese, enough for a medallion per person
  • a couple of packs of fancy mushrooms, I used mostly shimeji with a few shitaki, but you could equally do this with black mushrooms or portobellini or even oysters. I wouldn't use white button mushrooms, you need something with a strong flavour that takes well to roasting.
  • four heads of garlic
  • half a cup of good quality mayonnaise and a dash of cream, no more than half a cup.
  • lime juice
  • a slice of ciabatta per person
  • olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, chopped garlic


  1. The dressing: roast the heads of garlic. This entails cutting across the whole head towards the top, so the end of each clove is exposed; drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper; place cut side down on a baking sheet and roast at 160o for about 45 minutes, or until the cloves are soft. Squeeze out the softened garlic from the clove cases and mash it with a fork; add to mayonnaise, with a dash of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Thin with cream until it's a drizzlable consistency allowing you to do exciting nouvelle trails across the salad.
  2. The mushrooms: wash and trim mushrooms, put in roasting tray. Toss with olive oil and chopped garlic, season with salt and pepper. Roast at about 200ofor about 15 minutes, or until cooked and starting to brown. You don't want them too pale; you need the solid dose of caramelised flavour.
  3. The ciabatta: one thick slice of ciabatta per person; brush both sides with oil and a bit of garlic, sprinkle with salt, and grill to make toast.
  4. The salad: wash leaves, remove rocket stalks (I prefer the leaves without the stalks on grounds of texture and ease of eating). You'll need a handful of leaves per person. Use the equivalent of one small spring onion per person, and cut lengthways into thin strips, including some of the green end. Toast the pine nuts in butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly (they burn at the drop of a hat). Make sure you do more pine nuts than you actually need, it's completely impossible to avoid snacking on them as you assemble the salad. Mix greens and spring onion strips in a large bowl; drizzle fairly generously with truffle oil (if you toss this in your hands you end up covered in truffle oil which you are then obliged to lick off, possibly with pornographic sound effects), and season to taste.
  5. Plate the buggers! You need a small plate per person. Assemble salad on one half of the plate: a handful of greens, sprinkle of pine nuts, medallion of chevin on top. Place toasted ciabatta on other half of plate, pile with generous spoonful of roasted mushrooms. Artistically drizzle the garlic mayonnaise in long trails across both the salad and the mushrooms. (I didn't quite manage that, I ran out of cream and the mayonnaise was too glodgy to trail properly).
  6. Ideally you want the mushrooms and ciabatta hot, but it's a bit of a bugger to co-ordinate; it probably works best if you make the dressing ahead of time, cook the mushrooms first, assemble the salad while they're cooking, and leave the mushroom tray in the oven for the few extra minutes while you grill the ciabatta.

I wish I'd thought to photograph the course, it actually looked rather good and seems to have gone down rather well. It was a damned fine meal and a very civilised and appropriately sybaritic way to start the new year. Also, truffle oil. Totally made it to my annual list of Things I Discovered This Year. It's a tiny, expensive, mycorrhizal god.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It being Stv's birthday and all, we went out to Overture for supper last night. I feel that it is important and indicative that, if the Salty Cracker crowd could be said to have a favourite default restaurant at which to hang out and celebrate anything at all, it's bloody upmarket and one of the top ten in the country. The waitstaff know us. Stv got free champagne. At in excess of R600 a head for a four-course meal with a wine pairing, that's an expensive neighbourhood joint. (And a bit distant, too, being half an hour's drive away in Stellenbosch). It was a lovely evening, although slightly negative notes were introduced by the following:
  1. It's faculty exam committee season, which means I'd spent the entire day checking and annotating the 635 student records on a 364-page board schedule which is a fraction under 2.5cm thick. This puts me in a strangely zen state composed of equal parts of numerical trance, Machiavellian structural insight, advisor empathy and seething resentment, and incidentally renders me completely exhausted and glandular to the max. I was only really capable of conversation by the end of the first course and my second glass of wine. Overture was a kindly panacea to the day's ills, but conversely I wasn't really in the best state to enjoy it properly.
  2. We may be overdoing the neighbourhood joint five-star expensive restaurant thing to the point of over-exposure. The food was, as always, excellent, but I didn't think it hit its usual plane of dizzy high. Lovely tomato risotto (they always do great risotto), but slightly arb green bean salad with unidentifiable duck, and bland square chunks of mostly tender pork. Fellow diners' mileage may vary, you are perfectly free to blame my exhausted state rather than any diminution in quality, but I wasn't blown away. Beautiful evening on the terrace, though, exquisite dusk clouds, and as always the best sort of company.
  3. It is possibly fortunate that my tiredness was sufficient for me not to rise to the provocation offered by a fellow guest, who during the course of conversation incautiously offered a statement to the effect that she thinks Stephenie Meyer writes well. Them's fighting words, where I come from. It is my professional opinion that Twilight's stylistic and narrative infelicities are only marginally better than its gender politics in general loathsomeness. In default of the spirited debate and righteous suppression I would normally offer to such provocation, I present, as threatened, the blog which picks Meyer's grammar apart, with maximum snark. Fortuitously, today also gave rise randomly to this Slate article, which does statistical/linguistic analysis comparing three hugely popular texts - Twilight, Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It's a fascinating comparison, and in particular the tables which look at adjectives are extremely telling. Viz:





    The thing which immediately strikes me: Collins's characteristic adjectives and adverbs are generally more sophisticated, but they also relate to complex states and actions and very frequently to abstractions. Rowling's are very action-oriented, but you can see her younger audience intentions in their comparative simplicity, with a focus on straightforward emotional states which tend to reflect action. Meyer's are definitely less sophisticated than those used by Collins, but they're also almost entirely emotional, and when they're physical it's physicality which largely reflects or responds to emotion. This echoes the frustration I feel when reading Twilight (and, for the record, I've read the entire series twice and supervised a couple of graduate theses on the books, if I diss them it's from full knowledge and exposure), because really, when you get down to it, nothing much happens in them. You drift passively around in Bella's head while she angsts and reacts and feeeeeeeeeeels. The language is not accomplished at the structural level, frequently obvious and clumsy and weirdly unfocused (my undergrads can do better), but it's the pacing, characterisation and plot which are really problematical, and which are heartily outdone by almost any piece of fan fiction I have read recently. I stick by my assertion. Even without getting me started on the gender politics, Meyer does not write well.

Rantage and random analysis brought to you courtesy of my really rather strong feelings about this, did you notice? And by the sure and horrible knowledge that in about twenty minutes I go to meet my four-hour meeting doom. Doooooom! At least the energy from all that ranting has my blood buzzing enough to mostly compensate for my state of over-fed, mildly hung-over sleep deprivation. Now with extra glands. Sigh.

Subject line is still Arcade Fire, "Wasted Hours", from The Suburbs. It's a ridiculously catchy, lilting, gentle tune which was playing in the car this morning and which has thoroughly colonised my head. It's curiously soothing, particularly after losing a day to board schedule checking. One feels they understand.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's a particular kind of terminally vague student interacting with whom inserts unnecessary homicidal impulses into my working life. Girl child, wanders through door, encounters my standard bedside-manner query "What seems to be the problem, then?". (Usually followed by "Let's have a look", as I peruse their transcript. I'm totally an abstract sort of doctor). Says she wants to do {X broad admin process}, looks at me expectantly with deer-in-headlights gaze. I carefully explain she needs to do Y and Z procedures. Oh, she says, when I did that there was a problem with P. Gritting my teeth, I suggest she speaks to person Q who habitually sorts out P quite usefully. Oh, she says, she already spoke to person Q who couldn't help because U and V. Restraining my Administrative Laser Glare of Stupidity Vaporising only by an extreme effort, I say tersely, "Right, so actually the problem you want me to help with is U and V, why didn't you say so up front and save us both ten minutes of wasted explanation?" To which she has no response. So I vaporise her. Because really. First thing on a Monday morning and me insufficiently fortified with Earl Grey. What did she expect?

We braaied last night, it being now officially Summer and open to such shenanigans. I made an extra-specially lovely and entirely new salad using fresh broad beans, which I've never actually cooked before. A few months back the Evil Landlord had a burst of Germanic creativity and energy, and made me new veggie boxes for the back courtyard, in place of the old ones, which finally disintegrated after producing about five years' worth of unlikely quantities of baby tomatoes and what have you. It being the depths of winter when the new boxes were ready, I planted beans in a vaguely enquiring sort of way, just to see what happened. They didn't do much for a few months, and then the weather warmed up a bit and suddenly!, jungle. Viz:

DSCN2673

Broad beans are the most pleasingly Cthulhoid of creatures, they grow out huge and knobbly and vaguely tentacular, and when you open the pod all the little beans are nested beautifully in a sort of luxurious foam bed. Also, they are prolific like whoa and dammit, possibly at least partly as a result of the sunny hotbox of that back courtyard. This is the haul from yesterday, with a pepper grinder for scale. There's another batch of babies on the vine, maybe half as many, but still lots.

DSCN2681

Surprisingly Wonderful Broad Bean Salad

So, you need a bunch of fresh broad beans, the above wasn't quite enough for five people. Once you've excavated the beans callously from their beds, fling 'em into boiling salted water for two minutes, or until the skins just start to split. Skin them. The skins come off really easily, leaving a soft, green, nutty bean behind. Restrain yourself and guests from eating too many just as is. I had no idea fresh broad beans were so good.

Grab a handful of mint and chop finely. Fry up four or five rashers of streaky bacon until crispy, and chop finely. Mix mint and bacon in with beans, carefully, the beans break easily. Grab a double handful of cos or butter lettuce and tear into small chunks. Toss with bean mix.

Construct dressing using Dijon mustard, brown sugar, olive oil and white wine vinegar in your favourite proportions, seasoned with salt and pepper. Toss with salad.

Inhale. The recipe (which I actually pretty much followed, for once) says to serve with pita bread, which is probably worth a try sometime for a light meal in itself.

I am definitely planting broad beans as soon as seasonal wossnames permit. A+, would grow, harvest and enthusiastically consume again.

Subject line from "Poor Boy", also on the Byrne/Eno compilation album. I spent a happy half hour playing some of the songs randomly on the piano yesterday, which solidified my sense that they have surprisingly few actual chords in them given how textured and interesting the sound is. Then I read the blurb on the website again, and remembered, oh yes, the root of the album is explicitly in gospel, which explains a great deal. Vocals dominate, chords are simple, lyrics feature a sort of earthy, emotional reality in vivid images. Still my favourite album of the moment.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
We had a Salty Cracker expedition on Tuesday night, to Kloof Street House, which was lovely (Jo will presumably review it sometime, although given that I only just put up my review from the previous Cracker, when we went to The Greenhouse almost a month ago, this is not to be construed as any sort of dig or pressure. Greenhouse was amazing, incidentally).

Kloof Street House was fun, warm and quirky and atmospheric, with excellent food in substantial quantities. (They do splendid things to hand-cut fries). What made the evening for me, though, was the waitress. She was one of those slightly off-beat arty-student people in a marginally hipster hat, with a sparkly attitude which absolutely chimed with the Salty Cracker vibe. She also looked faintly familiar, and I spent most of the meal vaguely thinking I must have taught her at some stage. Which was, in the event, not quite accurate. After the main course she arrived with a tray of fruity shooters of some sort we absolutely hadn't ordered, and which weren't actually a restaurant-standard palate cleanser: she'd begged them off the barman for us, on the stated grounds that the curriculum advice I gave her last year absolutely saved her life and she wanted to say thank you.

I'm still going "awwwww". Meeting one's students in random social settings can be a bit fraught (it was worse in my Goth nightclub days), but not if they're going to be all heartwarming about it. I must be doing something right. It's moments like these that I don't actually hate my job.

Today's fanfic rec is in the spirit of bouncy liberal arts students: Avengers again, but this time featuring Darcy/Steve. I really enjoy the things that the Avengers fandom does with Darcy, who's Jane Foster's pol-sci-student sidekick from Thor: she's presented as strong-minded, pop-culture-savvy and slightly iconoclastic, and a lot of fandom versions of her make her fairly kick-butt. She's not actually super-powered, which I think makes her a good point of fan identification, although quite a few fics put her, as does this one, as a recruit to SHIELD. Teand's Five Things Darcy Loves About Working For Shield. An amusing read.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
It was a slightly madly busy weekend, which I'm only getting around to describing now because I've been spaced and elsewhere all week. Possibly because of actual alien abductions. There certainly seem to be moments when I look up and great tracts of hours at a time have passed without me noticing or actually doing anything in them other than desultorily reading fanfic. (Hilarious fact of the day: the Hawkeye/Coulson slash ship is known as "Bowtie". Hee.)

At any rate, we Salty Crackered on Friday, with mixed results. Then on Saturday we did another installment of the Great Me/Jo LARP-writing pact, which is causing that Wild West LARP to actually be written at a rate currently not one microsecond faster than two hours per week, but that's just under two hours a week more than it's been doing for about the last decade, so score.

Then on Saturday night we movie clubbed. Movie club was Jo's choice, and we watched Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs Evil, which is a strangely inevitable pairing requiring much bolstering of my nerves with booze and a monkey pillow behind which to cower fetchingly because I really don't do gore. Really. And there was a lot of gore. A lot. (Collapses on fainting couch in girly fashion at the mere horrible memory of all the sprays of blood). Cabin in the Woods is, of course, Joss Whedon (fangirlfangirlfangirl*) doing his usual genre-savvy, hyper-aware, meta sort of stuff, with enough panache and general out-thereness that I spent the first half hour of the movie going "WTF is he doing?" in tones of fascinated dread. It's a brilliant (if bloody) script and has a bloody brilliant cast, I'm really enjoying Chris Hemsworth's slightly tongue-in-cheek jock thing, and Fran Kranz is a weird and lateral acting deity all on his own.

And the film, apart from being self-conscious pervy genre-fondling of the most extreme type (and therefore making me very, very happy) is also a beautifully dark and incisive exposition of the night's theme, which was, of course, The True Nature Of Evil. (Jo thinks it was about Horror Cabins In Woods Revisited Ironically, but she's wrong, or at very least less right. If these films do anything, it's to insist that evil isn't what you think it is and, in particular, it may actually be what you're doing when you think you're fighting evil, something the American Republican party would do well to consider. And horror has, after all, absolutely the best box of tropes about confronting evil.) Whedon's take on this is intelligent and pointed enough that it made the efforts along similar (and more slapstick) lines of Tucker and Dale look like the semi-comic hackery I darkly suspect they actually were, Alan Tudyk and some reasonably funny lines notwithstanding. Possibly I am prejudiced against it because of the gratuitous stereotypes. And the woodchipper. Aargh. Woodchipper.

In fact, it would probably be more accurate to say that the night's theme was The True Nature Of Evil As Explicated By Oblivious Teens In Gory Horror Cabins In Woods, Revisited Ironically By Joss Whedon And/Or Alumni. But it's a bit of a mouthful.

Sunday morning I did tea in Kirstenbosch with my sister and Da Niece, who just turned seven, good grief, and scored thereby Ursula Vernon art and various subversive works of kiddielit including Dragonbreath, just because. Then Sunday afternoon/evening we trotted out to Fish Hoek for a braai with [livejournal.com profile] rumint in his ceremonial biennial visit to these shores, and it was lovely to catch up. But I am dead this week. Dead. I am not designed by nature to be a happy socialiser in any sort of extended format. And there's book club tonight. Oh, lord. *girds loins*. I love book club and its lovely ladies, but my socio-metre needle is quivering on "full".



* obligatory
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Hooray, Friday! and, after a four-hour meeting yesterday (I exaggerate only slightly, it started at 12.00 and finished at 3.45pm) I have absolutely no brain at all and will quiver slightly and show the whites of my eyes if you mention the phrase "teaching and learning" in any context other than that of hearty cussing. Fortunately there are memes for that. Given the high concentration of maddened cooks and foodies in my immediate vicinity, I thought this one particularly appropriate - please adopt it if the mood takes you, in the comments or elsewhere. Also, food gadget pr0n! And, possibly, culinary one-upmanship, and/or fiercely chauvinistic gadget-hatred.

This is the Kitchen Cupboard Meme, wot I nicked off [livejournal.com profile] matociquala, in that way that seems a bit rude when it's an author-blogger you read but who doesn't know you from a bar of soap. Bold the gadgets you have and use at least once a year, italicize the ones you have and don't use, strike through the ones you had but got rid of. I have also underlined the ones I don't have and would like to own, and urge you to do likewise in the spirit of future birthday lists and general wishful thinking.

"I wonder how many pasta machines, breadmakers, juicers, blenders, deep fat fryers, egg boilers, melon ballers, sandwich makers, pastry brushes, cheese boards, cheese knives, electric woks, salad spinners, griddle pans, jam funnels, meat thermometers, filleting knives, egg poachers, cake stands, garlic crushers, martini glasses, tea strainers, bamboo steamers, pizza stones, coffee grinders, milk frothers, piping bags, banana stands, fluted pastry wheels, tagine dishes, conical strainers, rice cookers, steam cookers, pressure cookers, slow cookers, spaetzle makers, cookie presses, gravy strainers, double boilers, sukiyaki stoves, ice cream makers, fondue sets, healthy-grills, home smokers, tempura sets, tortilla presses, electric whisks, cherry stoners, sugar thermometers, food processors,bacon presses, bacon slicers, mouli mills, cake testers, pestle-and-mortars, and sets of kebab skewers languish dustily at the back of the nation's cupboards."

I add to this, in the spirit of joyous and highly specialised excess, mezzalunas, egg separators, nutmeg graters, egg timers, pizza slicers, cookbook holders, onion graters, fat separators, potato mashers and mandolins.

Caveat: I've counted the things in our kitchen rather than the things that I actually own: the fondue sets, kebab skewers and pizza stone are property of the Evil Landlord. Further caveat: I have interpreted "juicers" as the non-electrical variety, ymmv. I also record for posterity my unnatural fondness for a sort of mandolin thingy my mother used to own, which had a set of harp-like cheese-wire thingies in a row, and a depression you lowered them onto: it was for slicing eggs, and was probably categorisable as some sort of mandolin. She never used it, but I loved playing the wires like a harp.

Also, what the hell is a bacon press? Confused.
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Ghent is rather pleasingly prone to outbreaks of dogs and bicycles. I'm not sure what prompts the dogs, invariably cute and well-conducted specimens on leads, but they're entirely consonant with the pleasant, polite, slightly reserved demeanour of the Ghentians I've met. Bicycles are a key mode of transport; little flocks of them toddle past at all times, and pedestrians seem highly trained to avoid both cyclists and trams. The city doesn't seem to be laid out with cars in mind, they're forever piling up behind trams and stopping patiently for pedestrians in a generally subdued and reassuring way. The trams are cute, although it was a miracle I managed not to step on a rail and turn my ankle. I did witness a young lady run her bicycle wheel into a tram rail groove and come a spectacular cropper. Salutary.

I spent yesterday morning sight-seeing, including pottering around the Gravensteen, alias the Castle of the Counts, which is a rather touristy reconstruction of the original 12th-century castle.



It boasts rather a nice collection of medieval armour and weapons, which I spent unconscionable amounts of time with given that I'm no longer in the SCA. Possibly my roots are showing. But sixteenth-century crossbows are simply cool. It also has a rather lovely view of Ghent from the battlements:



I spent a happy hour or so wandering around Saint Bavo's Cathedral, drawn thither by the organist apparently practising. Medieval ecclesiastical architecture sets out to awe and overwhelm, and by gum it does its job. I didn't see the Van Eyck or Reubens, being not so much an art geek, but I love the soaring spaces and the mantle of hushed calm a cathedral wears. Also, several of its bishops park off on their tombs in an attitude of relaxed marble indolence, which always amuses me.



As is obligatory, I accompanied my Earl Grey (in a rather fairy-tale iron teapot) with a Belgian waffle with cream, partaken of at a café on the edge of the square. Belgian waffles have a curiously chewy surface to them, I suspect they're sugared, but they're substantial and very good. Memo to self: try to achieve soggy waffles for Jo by making giant fat ones.



I am now ensconced in a hotel in Brussels preparatory to flying to Manchester tomorrow morning, and then the Lake District. Achievement Unlocked: Ghent. I liked it.
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Perhaps there is some balance in the Cosmic Wossnames after all, since after the rigours of Hellweek it has been a somewhat decadent weekend. Yesterday we Salty Crackered out at De Meye, which is a wine-farm out near Stellenbosch, with an attached restaurant called The Table, who do a strictly à la carte lunch menu in their beautiful little farmhouse, which looks like this (with bonus mother):



and is set in surroundings which look like this:



and which are profoundly un-kinking to the tense-tight muscles of the soul. We were the only guests there. The staff are lovely and relaxed, the food is marvellous, they fed us huge quantities ("there's more in the kitchen if you want it") of duck pâté and tomato soup and slow-roasted pork belly and hasselback potatoes and red cabbage with apple (stv's photos are lovely), and then for dessert we did this:



and they brought us chocolate gateau and coffee under the trees. After which we staggered home, too full to think straight.

Then today was Robbi's birthday at Kitima in Hout Bay, which does a lunch buffet of Asian food, which means for the first time in the history of ever I actually had enough dumplings. (I love dim sum. Three platefuls, and I told the nice chef "One of everything, please!" each time). And duck spring roll. And salmon hot/sour soup with tamarind, and roasted duck, and pork with ginger, and lemongrass icecream, and we staggered home too full to think straight. I'm sensing a theme.

Notwithstanding all of the above, I have also this weekend finished editing my Harry Potter paper, and sorted out my seminar outline (my teaching starts tomorrow), and found a bunch of interesting articles which will allow me to babble happily about shifting identities and symbols of skin and blood and jewels in Catherynne Valente's feminist rewrite of "Aschenpüttel", a word which my Evil Landlord has taught me how to pronounce. One of Saturday's drunken, overfed insights was that all Germans are telepathic. It made sense at the time. (Leaving the farm, there were roadworks and a couple of workers at either end of about a kilometre of road, stopping one lane at a time in synchronisation via some hidden communication. EL's comment: "Funny, he didn't look German.")

It was a lovely weekend, and tomorrow I don't have to be on campus at 7am, and there won't be umpty-million students wanting to change curriculum. Life's okay.
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Steak night tonight! We went to the Hussar, our local steak hang-out of choice, to top my mother up with steak before she heads back to the UK on Wednesday. Apparently British beef tends to the awful. I am very full of Madagascar green peppercorn steak, which will content my vague red meat cravings for the next six months or so. But I notice the Hussar now serves emu, as a result of the unlikely fact that a friend of the chef has an emu farm in the Cape Town environs.

Us, to waitress, with vague interest: "What's the difference between emu and ostrich?"
Waitress, deadpan: "I'm not sure, actually. Perhaps emu steak has an Australian accent?"

I have the feeling she'd been practising that line.

I am, of course, utterly unable to think of emu these days without thinking of Bradley Cooper, as a result of a perfectly evil-minded Pajiba running joke:



I am also quite ridiculously tired at the moment, to the point of incoherence; I spent twenty minutes in the restaurant trying to remember the Doctor Who quote about "timey wimey stuff" - now that all use for it has passed, I am of course know perfectly well that he talks about "wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff". It's important because of the "Latin" motto on the new Wil Wheaton-designed T-shirt for the Fighting Timelords of Gallifrey University, which of course reads "Wibblus Wabblum Tempus Wempus". For some reason this cracked me up completely, although, as I said, I'm very tired. Possibly the rare steak will help, if only to top up the iron levels in my Warfarinerated blood.
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Hospital food is truly terrible. Or, at least, food in this hospital is truly terrible. I have choked down about a quarter of what they give me, on average. Today's lunch was "sweet 'n sour" chicken, which tasted almost but not quite completely unlike sweet n'sour chicken. It was served on spaghetti. With a gem squash on the side. Honestly, it would be endearing, how hard they try for interesting food, if the results weren't so perfectly balanced between bland, stodge, glutinous and weird. Also, never order the fish. *shudder*

The hospital food thing seems unusually cruel in that I have been, over the last couple of weeks, subjected to a bewildering array of dreadful airline food and excellent Australian food in rapid succession. Gawsh, but the Aussies take their food seriously. Our delegation was wont to wander out fairly randomly and pick the first restaurant we saw, which netted us, in order, superlative Chinese, excellent Greek, superlative Spanish tapas, excellent Moroccan and superlative Indian. Even the arb hotel breakfasts had a create-your-own pancake option. On the other hand, Qantas does some cruel and unusual things to innocent beef, which is served in small, gelatinous cubes. I have culinary whiplash.

The hospital food is really not an issue, anyway, as I have approximately the appetite of a small bird at the moment. Other than that, clearly perceptibly cheered by the arrival of my mother in Cape Town, I am feeling much better - chest pains minimal, leg pain down to "ouch" rather than "aargh" levels when I try to stand. If I can refrain from throwing out any new, exciting symptoms when the nice doctor examines me tomorrow morning, I may be able to go home. The current definition of "home" is "that exciting mirage on the horizon which they keep showing you, then withdrawing, before poking you lots with sharp things." I fear it's official, and my knees actually hate me.

You seem to be getting the Australia trip inside-out, on the instalment plan. The tapas restaurant in Melbourne was in this fascinating little alley given entirely over to graffiti. It was one of the approximately 386 times this trip when I wished I was stv, to do it justice.

Untitled

Sunday, 12 June 2011 12:27 pm
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I'm still all wibbly and glandular from the sinus infection, and am moreover wading through third-year exam marking on internet eroticism. The gazelles are being thoughtful and articulate about Facebook, and betray woeful ignorance about even the most basic features of Twitter. I thought it was the young folk who were supposed to grativate to the attention-deficit stuff. Odd. Anyway, as a result of all of the above I have very little brain, so this post is a bit towards the random linkery side of things.

  • We had a truly lovely meal on Thursday night, at Park's Menu, the Korean restaurant in Durban Rd. My Salty Cracker review is here. They are criminally underattended, the place was almost empty, and it's tragic, because the food is excellent and the vibe is wonderful. Go ye forth, all ye local witterers, and dine there often. It's also ridiculously good value for money.

  • Just for [livejournal.com profile] first_fallen, Say It With Llamas. Llamas are oddly adorable.

  • Lev Grossman in defence of genre. He makes intelligent points. I hadn't put two and two together about the Modernists, but I can absolutely see it, they were instrumental in creating that sense that story and genre are illegitimate literary pursuits. It strikes me that this is probably why I never liked the Modernists.

  • MicFic is coming to an end, so this is my last one. I am sad. While the discipline of a short piece every two weeks has brought my various Godzilla-like hang-ups about writing bounding out of the woodwork beating their chests, I've also enjoyed it and it's been very good for me. Woe.

Tonight the Usual Suspects, in the safety and comfort of our kitchen, are going to try and concoct something resembling crispy Chinese duck with pancakes. Don't try this at home, kids.
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I can't remember if I've linked to the 2011 Lyttle Lyttons before, but I have now. Much innocent glee to be had.

By way of being completely irrelevant either to the previous paragraph or to the subject line (other than in strict dadaist terms), I shall now proceed to blog for posterity my recipe for Spaghetti Bolognaise. This is both to enable SpagBol-loving friends in their own SpagBollular endeavours, and to strike a blow against my increasingly erratic memory, i.e. it's entirely possible that I'll forget how I make it if I don't document it. Also, eccentric recipes with way too much directive detail are incredibly good fun to write up. Please note that this is officially Spag Bol, not Spaghetti Bolognaise, and it's all [livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink's fault.


SPAG BOL

PHILOSOPHICAL PREAMBLE: too many people don't do the right things to mince. As far as I'm concerned, doing the right things to mince includes (a) using ostrich rather than beef (leaner, much better flavour, doesn't encourage cow-production and global warming), (b) browning it properly (grey mince is vile), and most importantly (c) including not only lots of vegetable matter, but enough liquid. Mince dishes should be gloppy. Dry mince is an abomination unto Nuggan.

You need:
  • 1 500g pack of ostrich mince.
  • One or two onions, I prefer red.
  • Two tins of tomato of any description. I like the tomato with garlic, or with basil and oreganum, but you can use tomato/onion or the one with chilli or whatever grooves your ploons. You can also use fresh tomatoes, but you'll need 5 or 6 nicely ripe ones.
  • At least four rashers of reasonably fatty bacon. You have no other fat sources in this dish, really, so can afford to be non-healthy.
  • GARLIC! lots of it.
  • A couple of large carrots (three or four is good).
  • Half a punnet of mushrooms, preferably brown ones or portabellini.
  • A red or green pepper.
  • At least one sachet of tomato paste.
  • A generous couple of glasses of red wine.
  • An oxtail stock cube.
  • Your Seekrit Ingredient, a heaped teaspoon of Bisto, and there will be no heckling from purists, please. It works.
  • Something sweet, either a tablespoon of brown sugar or one of chutney - I prefer hot or chilli chutney.
  • Random seasoning to taste - salt and pepper, certainly, but also and optionally dried or fresh oreganum, ginger, cloves, coriander, whatever.

So, you chop the bacon up reasonably small, and hoy it into a large pan or pot to fry. It should produce lots of lovely bacon fat. If it shows a tendency to stick, fling in some olive oil to show it the way.
Then you turn the heat up to high, and throw in the ostrich mince. You are going for browning it here, and it'll try and stick, so scrape it around with a wooden spoon occasionally. After about five minutes it should be starting to separate and go grey. Give it a stern, repelled glare, and sprinkle the Bisto over it. Stir. Leave to cook, stirring occasionally, until it's actually started to brown, about 10 minutes. (It never does brown properly, you're going to fake actual gravy with stock and tomato).
Chop the onions, chop the garlic finely, fling both into the mince. Stir, cook for a few minutes. Grate the carrots on the large holes in a cheese grater, and fling in. Stir, cook for a few minutes. Are you sensing a theme here?
Turn the heat down to low-to-middle, and add the two tins of tomato and the tomato paste. The bolognaise should should start to glop nicely now. Bung the oxtail stock cube into one of the empty tins and half fill with boiling water. Stir the resulting stock to remove cube lumps, and add to the bolognaise. Stir, assess your relevant level of gloppiness, and fling in a generous couple of splashes of red wine. The sauce should be quite liquid and soupy. If you're not using chutney, add the brown sugar now - tomato-based sauces really need the sweetness to bring out their flavour and cut the acidity.
Now you turn the heat right down to low and leave the glop-monster to bubble quietly, with a lid half on it, until it's simmered down to a slightly less liquid form. At this stage you can chop the mushrooms and peppers fairly small and add them to the mix; they'll cook through in about twenty minutes, so aim to serve just after this time.
Before serving, stir in the chutney, if you haven't already added sugar, to taste, and stuff around with salt, pepper, dried herbs, fresh herbs, random Worcester sauce, whatever else you need to bring the mix up to optimal taste levels. If you've cooked off too much liquid, add more red wine.
Serve with spaghetti, grated parmesan, and a green salad. I like to stir chopped fresh sweet basil into the spaghetti just before serving, the flavour is rather lost if you add it directly to the sauce.
[livejournal.com profile] friendly_shrink can eat approximately her own bodyweight of this recipe, despite having in general terms the appetite of a small bird, so you can take that as an endorsement if you like.

While on the subject of complete non sequitur, my copy of the Season 5 of Doctor Who (the first 11th Doctor season) has just arrived. [livejournal.com profile] khoi_boi, is that the one your wife is dying to watch? come and grab it, if so - I'm still in computer game rather than tv-watching mode and won't get to it for a while. Also, Capetonian witterers please to be recommending good ethnic restaurants in the city? I have a Salty Cracker choice to make, and have a yen for something hearty like Indian or Mexican or Spanish or suchlike.

tchokka cheep

Sunday, 20 March 2011 09:17 pm
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I can't make chocolate chip cookies without remembering the first Jo'burg roleplaying tournament I ever played, which was one run by the Wits crew, way before ICON was even a twinkle in Grant's eye. It was a cute tournament. We played pygmies, members of the Tchokka Cheep tribe, tasked with dealing with a crashed spaceship in our jungle. I was in the 'B' team, having had all of about two years of roleplaying experience by then, and we dismally and totally failed to do anything meaningful to the module. I don't even remember who else was in the team - Mike, certainly, possibly Anton? Carlo? I was probably 22, it's a hell of a long time ago now. It was fun. But it's the "Tchokka Cheep! Tchokka Cheep!" chant which stays with me, for some reason.

All of which is an unlikely segue into the fact that [livejournal.com profile] wolverine_nun asked me for my chocolate chip cookie recipe. Since I am still sinusy and pretty much without brain after a blissful four days of doing damn near nothing, I am delighted to oblige her and incidentally achieve a free blog post without needing to think about it.

TCHOKKA CHEEP COOKIES

(This recipe is based on the Quick Oatmeal Cookies one from The Joy of Cooking, with variations. I think if you stood over me with a whip you might persuade me not to fiddle with a recipe for the space of a single iteration, but it's a long shot).

  • 125ml soft brown sugar (they're currently selling it as treacle sugar, for no adequately defined reason)
  • 125ml brown sugar (i.e. the yellow-brown unrefined sugar with the same granule size as normal sugar)
  • 110g butter (not marg, it does affect the flavour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tblsp milk
  • 250ml cake flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (optional, but I think it improves it - you can also stuff around with allspice and cloves if you feel so impelled)
  • 250 ml uncooked quick-cook rolled oats
  • 2 bars Bournville Dark (the 90g slab. And when did those start being 90g instead of 100g? Rotten swizz, if you ask me).
  • 100g pecan nuts

Right, so for various arcane reasons this recipe is much easier to make when the weather's hot, particularly since I just burned the motor out of my hand mixer. To start with, preheat the oven to 350/180, and leave the butter out on the counter for half an hour so it's a bit soft and you don't have to start the process with an ice-pick.

Either sling the butter and both sugars into your food processor and process the hell out of them with the normal blade, OR mix with a hand mixer, OR assault it sadistically with a wooden spoon. By whichever method, or preferred substitute (place in large tub and dance upon with clean wooden clogs?), you want the butter/sugar mix all creamy and slightly light. Add the egg, vanilla and milk to it and give it another whirl so it's even lighter and creamier.

If you're using the processor, at this stage use a rubber spatula to remove the mix and put it into a large bowl. If you're using a wooden spoon or hand mixer you should already be using a large bowl. Oops. Go back and use a larger bowl.

Right, now sift the flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and spices into the creamed mix. Secret confession: I don't usually bother to sift them. The skies have not yet fallen, nor have the biscuits. Mix it all in, either by hand or by machine - it should be a slightly sludgy batter. Now sling in the oats and mix with a wooden spoon - trying to use a machine at this stage will burn out the motor, see above. You'll end up with a sort of crumbly oaty consistency, not a smooth batter.

Unwrap the two slabs of Bournville Dark and place them lovingly on a chopping board. Take a large, broad-bladed knife, a sharp one, and pray it's a warm day, softening the choc just enough to cut it easily. (Bournville Dark is very hard indeed in temperate climes. See ice-pick, above). Slice the bar in a grid both ways, so that each block is cut into two both lengthways and widthways. The best way to do this is to put the knife across the line you want to cut and lean on it heavily - as I say, works better if the weather is warmer. You could cheat like hell here and use commercial chocolate chips, but I don't like the grade of chocolate they use. Feel free to ignore my chocolate snobbery. Your delicate bar-hackery process should end up with a whole bunch of semi-regular chocolate blocks plus a whole bunch of shavings, bits and what have you. Fling the whole lot into the biscuit mix.

Coarsely chop the pecan nuts - I usually aim to cut them approximately in half down the length and in three bits the other way, but this is not an exact science. You want chunks of pecan nut of a pleasing size to bite upon unexpectedly in a cookie. Sling them into the mix.

Mix the mix a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure everything is more or less distributed. Your texture here should be a sort of sticky-together oatmealy not-quite-batter full of pleasing nutty/choccy chunks, i.e. it's not smooth. It shouldn't be smooth. It can't be smooth. Abandon smoothness all ye who enter here.

Chocolate chips in cookies melt and stick like evil-minded glue demons, so if you have teflon-coated baking sheets I strongly recommend you put down a layer of baking paper, or else the burned chocolate bits will lift the coating off the sheet. Take teaspoonfulls of the mixture and plop onto the paper in rows, leaving a good 5cm between dollops - they spread. I find the biscuits are a bit more regular and morphous (as in, not amorphous) if you very vaguely shape the dollop with your fingers before you drop it, so it's a sort of roughly spheroid thingy. Alternatively, cookie shoggoths are a valid lifestyle choice.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until they are starting to brown. They'll be a bit soft as they come out the oven, but harden and become crispy as they cool. The optimum time to nosh them is about ten minutes after they've emerged from the oven, when the chocolate is still soft but won't actually take the roof off your mouth.

Ways to mess with the recipe: responds well to flavour modulation, e.g. orange zest instead of the ginger, or fresh ginger in addition to the ginger. The original recipe doesn't include nuts and says the chocolate chips are optional, but they're not, trust me.


Let me know how they turn out!
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Noxious day, again, continual students. My job is pretty much the pure paradigm of continuous partial attention. In addition, today's particular horrors included a high-level faculty meeting at which I was forced to defend Admin Streamlining Innovation #Umpty-thing against (a) determined and idiosyncratic opposition, (b) determined incomprehension and (c) determined and rather aggressive irrelevance. Academics. I do love them, really. Fortunately reasoned explanation gave me enough support on (a) and (b) that I carried the point. On (c) I was able to bring to bear my new favourite arguing technique, which is to pretend the aggression never actually happened and to calmly, quietly and in a subsequent email forum be sweetly reasonable and explanatory. This made lions into lambs with gratifying swiftness. I'm feeling exhausted, but faintly smug.

[livejournal.com profile] first_fallen asked me for my crème caramel recipe earlier today, so I shall continue the cat/cream connection, and incidentally soothe my soul, by posting it here for posterity. Apart from being my Evil Landlord's favourite and one of those perfect comfort foods, crème caramel is actually surprisingly easy to make. No blowtorch required, even. Go on, try!


EVIL LANDLORD FAVOURITE CRÈME CARAMEL

I should add that my extremely syrup-stained copy of this has an annotation which reads "NB Claire doesn't like" in an anxious scribble. The secret of successful hostessing is to keep a hitlist of guestly preferences. Claire also doesn't eat green pepper. I should also add that I don't remember where this recipe originated, except that I'm fairly sure I got it from my mother extremely back in the day when I raided her personal handwritten cookbook for my first year in digs. Hi, Mum!

You need:
  • 250ml cream
  • 300ml milk
  • vanilla pod or extract or a squirt of that gorgeous vanilla paste stuff
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 oz sugar, for a value of "oz" which reads "a rounded tablespoon"
Important note: don't stress too dramatically on the quantities, this seems to work within the nearest 20ml or approximate spoon size. Important other note: the Evil Landlord holds that this dessert is better with 550ml cream, rather than half cream half milk. I find it too dense and solid. We argue. YMMV.

So, you need a smallish pot with a fairly solid base, and an ovenproof dish about (gods, now I'm going to have to go and measure it, aren't I? this posting recipes lark is a Huge Responsibility) 22cm across and 5cm deep. Pyrex is nice because you can see the layering. You'll also need an equally deep ovenproof dish or pan which will hold the first one comfortably. You will need to remember to preheat the oven to 150oC (300oF) round about now, and put the rack in the middle. (NB yes, this is a very slow oven. If you cook custard too fast it tends to curdle).

Put 4 oz sugar into the pot and place on medium/high heat. Restrain your urge to add water, you are caramelising sugar, which only needs sugar and heat. It is COMPLETELY VITAL that you stand over this like a hawk. A hawk with a wooden spoon. A wooden-spoon-equipped hawk with a sugar fetish. You cannot let your attention waver. The first minute or so is uneventful, I usually give the completely boring and unmoved sugar a couple of stirs just to break up any lumps and persuade myself I have a purpose here. However, as the sugar heats up, which it will do logically enough from the bottom, you will see it start to turn liquid and transparent. Give it a stir, whereupon it will form hard sugary lumps. Ignore this, it's a necessary ugly stage in making beautiful lethal molten syrup. Leave for another ten seconds or so, and stir again as it melts. Keep doing this. You'll have to give the stirs a fair amount of elbow, this stuff sticks to itself and the spoon - I tend to scrape it all off with a knife at intervals. Gradually the syrup will increase and slowly melt the lumps of sugar - towards the end you should be stirring continuously. If the syrup turns too dark a brown or starts to smell as though it's thinking of smelling burnt, turn the heat down and stir like crazy. You should end up with all the sugar a molten caramelised golden syrup. DO NOT splash this on yourself. It's the equivalent of your own organic kitchen napalm, it both sticks and burns like a fiery glue demon.

Pour the molten syrup quickly but carefully into the ovenproof dish. If you scrape the pot fairly quickly you should get most of it before it hardens into toffee, which it will cheerfully do at the first opportunity. While it's still molten, tilt the bowl so that the bottom and as much of the sides as possible are covered while it's still running. Put the pot and spoon immediately into water and leave to soak off the toffee for ten minutes or so. Have a celebratory gin: that was the hard part.

Right. Take a medium sized mixing bowl. Break the four eggs into it and add the remaining two spoons full of sugar. Whisk like mad with one of those balloon whisks. It should be well mixed and slightly frothy, although there's no real point in serious whiskage at this stage, you're making custard, not sponge cake.

Put the milk and cream into the rinsed pot and put back on the stove on medium/high. If you're using a proper vanilla pod, split it and add it to the milk as it heats. You'll get little black vanilla grains in the custard, but I consider this to be a sign of authenticity and absolutely worth it. You don't quite want to boil the milk: you want it to form a skin on top and start to foam a little at the edges. Remove from the heat and take out the vanilla pod if you're using it. If you're using essence or paste, add it at this stage. (Variation: this is surprisingly amazing with 1 tsp orange blossom water in place of vanilla).

Take the whisk in your left hand and the hot milk pot in your right, and steady the egg/sugar mix bowl with your third hand, your foot or a passing cat. Pour the milk in a fairly thin stream onto the egg/sugar mix, whisking like mad as you do so. This is how you avoid Evil Lumping. Once all the milk is in, give it a few more whisks for the hell of it.

Right. Now. Place the ovenproof dish containing the syrup coating into the larger pan. Pour cold water into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the smaller dish. You get the most amazing patterns in the syrup as it cools and cracks while you're doing this: about half the time mine makes little scallop/scale patterns, for unfathomable but presumably sound reasons having to do with Basic Physics. What you have just created is the fancy French cooking apparatus called a bain marie, a water bath: you are surrounding the custard with water to regulate the temperature and cook it gently rather than quickly. (Works like a dream for cheesecake, too).

Now pour the whisked custard mix into the dish on top of the set caramelised sugar. (If you've had a Lump event or are feeling fancy you can strain it, but I never do). Put the whole bang shoot - pan, dish, custard - carefully into the oven. It will attempt to slop. Restrain it with the statuesque calm of your motions.

Bake at aforementioned slow temperature for 45 minutes. Don't overcook, it goes a bit tough. It'll still wibble gently when you take it out; this is as it should be, it'll set up a bit as it cools. When it's cooled you should technically be fancy and turn it out like a mould, so that the caramel tops it, but I never bother to do this, mostly because I prefer it hot and it falls apart if you try to turn it when it's still warm. It's also very good chilled, though.

It's possible to make this in small ramekins rather than one big dish, but it's far trickier; the caramelised sugar is quite difficult to spread evenly in multiple dishes before it's turned to toffee. The cooking time is also much shorter, obviously - just under half an hour usually does it.

Recipe repeatedly stress-tested under Germanic conditions for slightly over a decade, and guaranteed Evil Landlord-friendly. Contents may settle in stomach. Void where prohibited by law.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Movie club again last night! stv's choice, which was ostensibly "Road Movies" but in fact turned out to be "non-Hollywood politically sub-texted road movies set in rural areas of third-world countries and focusing on revelations of sexual infidelity". This is, of course, because there are no new ideas any more, but mostly because humans are pattern-recognising creatures and will make links between any two anythings juxtaposed. It worked very well last night. We watched Y tu mamá también and White Wedding, both of which were thoroughly enjoyable. Food check: abandoned the rare beef fillet in favour of giant cooked gammon on post-Christmas special, plus various Things To Put On Bread (snoek pâté, roasted red pepper hummus, camembert). Yum. Also, cold, which was necessary as Cape Town continues to continue hot.

I didn't see Y tu mamá también when it first came out, possibly because of the hype, but mostly, I suspect, because it looks like a Serious and Emotionally Difficult Film, and I avoid those like the plague most of the time. I am incredibly glad to have seen it - it's an amazing piece of cinema, which manages to be funny and filthy and affectionately real about teenaged boys while also delivering large quantities of pathos and insight, as well as ongoing political commentary which is all the more punchy for being hands-off and in the background. As represented, Mexico is scary, both in its poverty and its privilege, and horribly familiar. (As, in fact, are the teenaged boys - it's a bit odd, to watch this kind of film with my kind of job, where I am in daily contact with teenaged boys. I find it all too terribly believable that this lost, stoned, hyper-sexual ineptitude might go on in the bits of their lives I don't see). Mostly, though, I loved the way this film was made. It's real and gritty, the (good lord, wildly frequent) sex scenes are disturbingly un-soft-focus, but the whole thing is framed with a beautiful restraint and minimalism which delineates with a kind of detatched and rueful affection but doesn't insist on interpretation. Wonderful film.

I really didn't expect to enjoy White Wedding, which is a 2009 South African film about a hapless groom's attempts to get to his wedding in Cape Town, via the Eastern Cape. In fact, it's a blast to watch - a good-humoured, well-made, fast-moving romantic comedy which manages, in passing, to nod to, pillory and affectionately deconstruct a whole host of South African political subtexts. I'm amazed by how well they get away with some fairly howling stereotypes; black wedding couple negotiating the generational gaps between Westernised and traditional township weddings; black player best friend; white English tourist; rural black grannies and township mothers; and the delirious scene with the drunk black hero singing "Delarey" in an Afrikaner pub. It's full of happy little throwaway moments, characters and jokes which makes it busy and vibrant without actually detracting from the coherence of the overall plot. This movie honestly shouldn't be as much fun to watch as it was. Also, Cape Town scenes cause all onlookers to cheer and punch the air in civic loyalty.

chilling out

Wednesday, 22 December 2010 01:36 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Oh, my, heatwave. It's mercifully clouded and windy today, but it's been ungodly out there. Every time I come home I realise anew why it is that the pagans got into tree-worshipping: I want to fall down at the plane tree's shady feet and adore. Stepping into the shade from the griddle of the road outside is practically a religious experience. The tree shades the whole side of the house, which is blissfully cool as a result; I hate to think what life would be like if supernatural tree-thieves spirited away the plane tree overnight.

As a result, possibly, of all the heat, and the side-effect that it's a positive pleasure to wander around the garden with a hosepipe de-wilting all the vegetation, my vegetables and herbs are going gangbusters. My small but enthusiastic chilli bush, in particular, is dementedly producing a completely unlikely quantity of chillis, far more than I could possibly use even if I cooked insane thai, Indian and Mexican cuisine for the next six weeks.

This is the result of ten minutes of picking: I've had to throw out another twenty or so which I got to too late and which have shrivelled, and I missed a few full-sized ones on the bush. The mad thing will certainly procuce a second crop, it did last year.



Fired with enthusiasm, I pickled them.



It's curiously satisfying. Apart from the fact that I love pickled chillis and find the vinegar fumes all bracing, there's a sort of back-to-the-land self-sufficiency in pickling your own (albeit miniature) crop. Even if it's a tiny, token gesture, it brings me just one step closer to surviving the zombie apocalypse. Although, to be fair, while the South African crime-rate means most of our homes are fairly zombie-proof, the overall defensibility of this house is badly compromised by the dining-room window.

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