Sunday, November 29, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #47: Chow Mein

This is actually the third time I've done chow mein as an experimental cookery, but the first time involving pork rather than chicken. The recipe comes from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure", which was a fun series and is a lovely book - but is also a book I really don't envisage using terribly often. Unfortunately, it seems to rely quite a bit on fairly obscure ingredients, and I'm not hugely inspired to go hunt them out. A shame.

Still, last night's meal was a joy - quick and simple to put together, and both filling and flavourful in the eating. Which is pretty much ideal, really. I definitely enjoyed the switch of meat, as I've become a little bored of having chicken in everything! I'm quite certain we'll be having this again.

On Tuesday I'm planning a return to Jamie's "Fifteen Minute Meals" for one week only, and them I'm hoping to harvest at least a few entries from the "Asian Adventure". We'll see. Anyway, there are now five more entries to come in this series this year, at least one of which I hope will be another cake of some description.

Monday, November 23, 2015


This week's "Doctor Who" was well made, well scripted, and well acted. And I hated it.

The reason I hated it was very little to do with the show, and much more to do with spoilers. (Oh, yeah, there are going to be some spoilers in this post. If you don't want to know, skip to the end.)

For the past week, there have been interviews everywhere about Clara's exit from the show, about how she definitely won't be returning, and detailing the sequence of emotions we were supposed to feel during her departure. Many of which were right there in the headlines, so it wasn't as if I could choose not to read them - by the time I knew the article was about DW, I'd already read the spoiler. And, indeed, there was a whopping great spoiler right before the show started.

The net effect of all of this publicity was that the show itself left me completely cold. Oh, she's going to die. Oh, it's going to happen like that. Oh, they're emoting all over the place. Oh, I don't care.

Gee, thanks.

The thing is, some people like spoilers, and more power to them. And some people don't mind spoilers, and that's their prerogative, too. But some people like to avoid spoilers, because knowing this stuff reduces their enjoyment of the show - they like the surprise that's just been ruined.

Now, it is fair enough that complaining about spoilers needs to be time-limited. If I complain because someone says, "Darth Vader is Luke's father!", then I'm going to look rather foolish. Indeed, complaining about being spoiled on the most recent series of "Game of Thrones" would be a bit much - yes, I haven't seen it, but I've had adequate opportunity to do so; if it really matters to me to see it "clean", I really need to take responsibility for doing so promptly. Because people will discuss it, and it's not practical to expect them not to.

But at the same time, there's a limit to how soon it's reasonable to expect people to have seen it - there's a difference between discussing the plot details of a film the week after it is released versus doing so immediately after the first showing.

And, of course, in this case we're talking about spoilers for a show that hadn't aired yet. That is, spoilers for something I couldn't have seen "clean". Thanks, BBC.

(There's a bit more, but I'm not going to comment further right now, because Spoilers!)

#56: "Waterloo", by Bernard Cornwell
#57: "Dragons at Crumbling Castle", by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Help! There's a big scary yellow thing in the sky. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure I don't like it!

Experimental Cookery 2015 #46: Turkey Burgers and Chips

Alas, this one was a disaster. It just didn't work at all. Which was a real shame, since I'd had high hopes.

This recipe came from the "Hairy Dieters: Eat For Life" (the yellow cover), and seemed pretty easy - slice and then lightly fry some leeks, grate some courgette, then mix those with turkey mince, salt, and pepper, and you've got the basis for some tasty burgers.

It turned out that I had a mucky pink sludge. There was way too much moisture in the thing, and it just wasn't pleasant at all. I cooked up two of the burgers... and the binned the whole lot. Not only did it look nothing like the picture in the book, it was just nasty.

The chips were nice, though.

Genuinely Scary

I was genuinely scared by the cover of the Daily Mail this morning, with the picture of the 'robocop' police officer. And not just because of their idiotic labelling of a human woman as 'robocop', which is about what I'd come to expect from the Daily Mail, but rather what the picture represents.

I actually don't have any issue with the new "shoot to kill" policy with regard to ongoing terrorist activities. Nor, indeed, do I have any great issue with the increased prevalence of police armed with firearms while on routine patrols - I would very much prefer not to see this, but I broadly trust that these weapons will only be issued to people properly trained to use them, and I broadly trust them to only use those weapons where it is genuinely appropriate.

But what does worry me a great deal is the increased militarisation of our police forces, which is most easily seen by a quick glance at that newspaper this morning - that's not a picture of a policewoman; it's a picture of a soldier.

Though, actually, the problems started quite some time before that, the moment the first member of the police referred to 'civilians' meaning not the police.

The thing is, it's actually vitally important that the police are civilians. They're not, and must never become, a body apart. It's actually difficult, perhaps impossible, to over-state just how incredibly important that principle is - because the moment the police are a body apart is the moment we're under martial law. And that's a Very Bad Thing.

It is, of course, appropriate that the police maintain some special units for dealing with terrorism, and that those units be appropriately armed. It's also appropriate that in areas of heightened security (such as airports and, yes, Wembley stadium last night) such units be deployed visibly.

But that must be the exception, not the norm. The creeping militarisation of the police must be resisted. And this practice of using the word 'civilians' to set the rest of us apart from the police must stop.

#55: "The Long Mars", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #45: Lamb Lollipops, Curry Sauce, Rice & Peas

And so Wednesday rolled around, and it was once again time for an Experimental Cookery. This week's recipe was a return to "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and to one of the recipes he did on the TV show of the same name.

As I've come to expect from this book, the meal was quick and easy but took considerably longer than fifteen minutes to make. Just getting out the ingredients and washing those that needed it took several minutes, which is always a bit of a cheat. But no matter - it was still quick enough for a weeknight meal.

The end result was fine. I think it had a little too much balsamic vinegar, but that was my issue. But Jamie's trick with the poppadoms and the microwave just doesn't work for me at all. Oh, and there was an awful lot of it!

But the meal tasted nice, and it certainly hit the spot. I'm not sure I'll make this again, though - I'm not sure why not, but it didn't quite grab me as much as some others from this book. But you never know, I guess.

#54: "One Hundred Years of Solitude", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (A Book from the List)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #44: Caramel Sticky Toffee Cake

This week, in my ongoing quest to prove Sheldon wrong, I made half a cake - as you may recall, it was his contention that one couldn't make half a sandwich but rather that it should be a "small sandwich", but...

This recipe came from the BBC website, and was in fact Tamal's own recipe from his final Showstopper in the GBBO. I was certainly tempted by that particular cake, and especially when the judges said he'd basically created a new classic. Plus, I definitely thought "I could do that", so... (Though not the decorations. I'm not entirely crazy!)

So on Tuesday evening I gathered my ingredients and set to work. This involved chopping lots of fruit (seriously, lots of fruit), coating it in flour, then mixing up a cake batter, combining fruit with cake, and then baking in the oven for an hour or so. Easy enough, if rather time consuming.

So it came out of the oven, and it was a thing of beauty - my best cake to date. So I started in on the caramel sauce for the topping while the cake cooled a bit, and then it was time to transfer it to the cooling rack.

And then disaster struck. Because as I was transferring the cake, I managed to drop it a bit. Fortunately, it went on the work surface and not the floor, but less fortunately it hit the surface and exploded. And suddenly my cake resembled the second Death Star more than the first.

My exclamation of despair attracted the attention of Lady Chocolat, who abandoned her work to see what had proved this Vader-esque cry. So great was her sympathy that she proceeded to take a picture and post it on the internet. Which was much appreciated.

Anyway, I recovered from my despair. I reassembled the battered cake somewhat, and completed the task - cool it, cut it in half, spread the caramel sauce, then re-sandwich. Then, I left it all to cool overnight, before spreading the rest of the caramel in the morning.

And it worked. It still tasted great - he really has hit on something there - and although half of the cake was rather battered, it was still edible. And, really, who cares when you're about to chew it up anyway?

That said, the cake had been intended for consumption by other people. And so I proceeded to cut the good half from the battered remnants, and took only the assembled half-cake with me. And that's how I made half a cake.

But I think I might be giving up cakes. That's two in a row that have gone wrong, which is just sad. Either that, or I'll have to make lots of them, until I master the art...

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Big Stupid Brother

So, two weeks after TalkTalk get hacked by a bunch of teenagers, our wonderful government decide it's a good idea to require ISPs to store our entire browsing history for a full year.

I feel safer already.

Monday, November 02, 2015


I really must learn: never look forward to anything, assume everything will suck. Because the lower your expectations the better than chance you won't be disappointed.

Lady Chocolat and I went to see "SPECTRE" on Friday. I had, indeed, been looking forward to this film a great deal, after enjoying "Skyfall" immensely. I hadn't bothered to read the reviews going, and have now done so, and they raise a question: did the reviewers see the same film as I did?

There will be spoilers from here on out. So if you don't want to know, you should probably skip to the end, where I list two more books I've finished.

The film starts very well, with a lovely action sequence in Mexico City followed by a very impressive opening sequence - I particularly enjoyed the nods to the previous Daniel Craig films here. Good stuff.

And then the film continues very well, the Bond being grounded by 'M' for his antics in Mexico, then the revelation that he has a hidden agenda (which was great), and then he's off to Rome. And Monica Belluci is great, too, for all of the ten seconds she's on-screen (or so it seems).

And then Bond is off to the grant meeting of the ultra-secret Secret Evil Organisation. In a secret location. Secretly.

Indeed, it's so secret that they film the evil bad guy in the shadows, so we totally can't see that it's Doctor Evil. Though the effect is somewhat ruined by an appearance by Frau Farbissina.

Anyway, the Secret Evil Organisation's main order of business is the selection of a secret assassin to kill "The Pale King" (ooh, mysterious!), and then it turns out Doctor Evil knew Bond was spying on them all along. And so we have an Exciting Chase!

The next bit is actually quite good again - the film starts to bring together lots of threads from the previous Craig films, weaving them into a coherent whole. Good stuff. And, yeah, some of it doesn't quite work, but it's not particularly objectionable.


After following the plot for a good long time, and dealing with the Secret Evil Organisation's deadly WWE assassin, Bond and his latest love interest complete their train journey. They've tracked Doctor Evil to his hidden lair, and are all set to confront him.

The big problem with this is that it's an obvious trap and Bond equally obviously has no plan beyond "go in and get captured". Seriously, that is the full extent of his cunning approach. Basically, it's exactly the same problem as in Skyfall, except that this time it's Bond, rather than Silva, who gets himself captured for no reason.

But worse is to come. Because, in a rather spectacular show of self-parody, Doctor Evil proceeds to explain his Evil Scheme to Bond. He then places Bond in a deadly-and-yet-inexplicably-easy-to-escape situation. And then the BIG revelation. Actually, two of them: it turns out that Doctor Evil is secretly Bond's (adopted) brother all along! And, further, it turns out that although Doctor Evil has been going by one name all along, he's actually chosen to go by another. Yes, he's Khan!

Anyway, Bond escapes using the gadget that Q gave him way back at the start of the film. And, somehow, this causes the hidden lair the explode in a huge fireball. I can only assume it was secretly a Volcano Lair in disguise. And Bond and his love interest head back to good old Blighty for tea and biscuits. Good show!

(Oh, yes, one more thing: during the gratuitous torture scene, Doctor Evil declares that this will damage Bond's sight, hearing, and balance; while that will destroy his ability to recognise faces. In the event, both of those things do precisely nothing. Are we to assume, then, that Bond is actually made of rubber, like most modern action heroes? Or is it just that his mojo is so concentrated as to be beyond parody?)

So, we head to London for the final showdown, complete with obligatory bad-guy-falling-off-things, love-interest-in-peril, and buildings-exploding. It's all very exciting, I'm sure, though by this point I'd lost interest - the whole last hour seemed like something tacked on to the end of a better film.

And then it ends. Bond rides off into the night in his newly-restored Connery-era car with his love interest, with Doctor Evil safely stored for the next sequel. The end.

What's most annoying about "SPECTRE", in my opinion, is that most of it was a good film. Up until Bond gets off the train, I was actually enjoying it - lots of good spy stuff, lots of good action sequences, and fairly solid characterisations. Good, good stuff.

But that last hour was just half-baked. Indeed, it was pretty much "Quantum of Solace" all over again - they had part of a good script but it needed another few passes to make sense. Only where QoS has the excuse of the writer's strike meaning they couldn't get that extra work done (and is blessedly short), "SPECTRE" had every advantage lavished on it. It should have been better.

Oh yes, and one more thing: I'm now really sick of the movie approach of calling the villain one thing only to reveal them as another - as done with Khan in "Star Trek: Into Darkness", and again here with Doctor Evil. It's really not as clever as the writers seem to feel, especially when that big reveal was known over a year ago.

Anyway, that's that. And now I'm off to ruthlessly crush any optimism I have for the new "Star Wars" - it's critically important that I go into that one expecting "Attack of the Clones" all over again...

#52: "Louise de la Vallière", by Alexandre Dumas
#53: "Pathfinder: Dance of the Damned", by Richard Pett