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Hoses of the Holy in the Parallel Universe

December 29, 2004

Plain Food #1

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Cheese

About plain food

It's another word for "comfort food" I suppose, though god knows there are enough recipe books of comfort foods out there. But more than just comfort, my idea of plain food is something that is easy to do, quick, cheap, and also delicious and comforting. Some comfort foods, after all, are quite expensive and/or labour intensive.

So we do this thing with spaghetti, tomatoes, and cheese. It doesn't have to be fresh pasta. In fact, why not just get the 3-minute cook type of spaghetti (which usually takes more like 5 minutes, but I'm not arguing)? And they're not sun-dried tomatoes, or fresh, or exclusive in any way. A tin of cheap plum tomatoes, or chopped plum tomatoes. And the cheese is bog-standard cheddar, nothing fancy, could be eastern bloc cheddar for all I care.

So. How much cheese is up to you. As little as 4 ounces (125 g) or twice as much as that. You could even use low-fat cheddar, though the results won't be up to the real thing.

You grate the cheese. If you use a Magimix or something to grate the cheese, you could then swap the disk for the chopping blade and pour in the tin of tomatoes, blending everything together. So you now have a mix of cheese and tomatoes. Add plenty of black pepper. Now comes the secret ingredient, which is milk.

For years after I left home, my attempts at this recipe lacked the element of delicious comfort, because I forgot the milk. My sister put me straight. You need to add around half a glass. By "a glass" I suppose I mean one around the size of those Amora mustard pots that double as glasses, or a school Duralex water glass. But you learn to judge the right amount of milk.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti, or pasta shapes. This recipe is especially good with stellini or other similar teeny weeny shapes. When it's properly al dente, drain it, and return the pasta to the pan and put it on a low heat. Pour in the tomato/cheese/milk mixture and gently heat through, stirring continually, until the cheese is melty and gooey.

It'll stick to the spoon, stick to the fork you eat it with, stick to the roof of your mouth, and the saucepan will be a bastard to wash, but that's all part of the charm.

Meal Deal

This year's big xmas dinner was much the same as last year, give or take. It felt like we sat down later than ever, but that just may be me getting on in years.

We had smoked salmon, then foie gras, followed by prawns and a salad. I experimented with stuffing a Medjool date with some foie gras, as suggested in the Super U brochure, and it was quite nice. But since it is delicious on a plain bit of toast, who cares about that?

The main course was a capon, which I have to say is a delicious alternative to regular chicken and turkey. It was a Label Rouge one, and utterly fab. I went out to Super U and bought one to bring home with me, and I don't know if I could bring myself to buy a regular supermarket chicken again.

Anyway, I skipped the cheese and the fruit and had a sliver of ice cream for dessert, then basically copped out and went to bed.

For drinkies we had some cremant de Jura and champagne, and a 10 year old Sauternes with the foie gras (if you're in the habit of only drinking red wine, or only dry whites, I do recommend a proper dessert wine occasionally - I've found it particularly fab with xmas pud in the past), which was a great combo. Then there was a 12 year old red wine from my father in law's cellar. Bless him, he doesn't really know a lot about wine. My opinion is you should let the supermarkets to the bulk buying and store the wine - they sell it, mostly, ready to drink. Anyway, it was an Arbois or something, and well beyond its best.

The day after, or was it the day after that, we had venison. A strong meat, but so low in fat and cholesterol, it was enjoyable enough.

Now we're back in the UK, and a diet is badly needed, not just because of xmas, but because of moving house and other stresses, I'm a bit of a lardon at the moment. So it's back to plain food, like spag toms, family recipe to follow.

December 21, 2004

Ecologically friendly my arse

Just had one of those email xmas cards from a supplier - featuring the claim that they were doing it that way because it's more ecologically friendly.

Also, they failed to mention, doesn't cost them anything.

I don't care. Any cards that arrive for me at work end up in the bin; even if I think to take them home, they end up squished and creased at the bottom of my bag.

The most ecologically friendly card, of course, is the one I send, which is lighter than air and invisible.

Today is the shortest day of the year, woo hoo. I'm not going to be blogging for a week, so fare thee well.

December 20, 2004

Feeling lucky?

In the past month, I have won 29.50 GBP (twenty nine pounds and fifty pence) on the lottery. Don't bother with the begging letters though, because I spent the money on sweets already.

Still, these things happen in threes, so I expect another jackpot shortly.


We've been living in our new house for around a month now, and I'm happy enough with it, but for one thing. The house has a distinctive odour, which is not overly unpleasant in itself, but is all pervasive.

Couple with this my very sensitive nose, which picks up smells at a lower threshold and seems to hold them for longer, and it's all starting to grate. My wife barely notices it, but I smell it on everything, and it seems to cling to skin and hair, clothing, curtains etc. I'm on the edge of turning to obsessive hand-washing and surface scrubbing. This is how it happens.

The identity of the smell is odd. It's somewhere between what might be rancid fat and - possibly - joss stick. I'm on shaky ground with both descriptions, as I can't really be sure of either. I'm not in the habit of keeping rancid fat around the place, but the fact is that the smell was coming strongly off the oven (blowing out when the fan was on) before I gave it a thorough clean. As for the joss stick, I base this assumption on the somewhat flaky nature of the previous occupant. Tarot cards, hippy paraphernalia, drapes over the bed... I'm assuming she smoked the odd herbal cigarette and burned the odd scented candle, too.

My personal opinion of joss sticks and scented candles is that they always, always smell like shit, and the people who pretend to enjoy them are in the deepest kind of denial.

So, just maybe, something she burned or smoked has been absorbed by every absorbent surface, whether it was the inside coating of the oven, the carpet, the drapes, the shower curtain. She left quite a bit of stuff behind, and it being mid-winter, we haven't quite got around to giving the place a thorough airing and redecoration. If she'd kept cats we'd have had the carpets she left up and out immediately, but she didn't, so we used a carpet cleaner on them and left them.

But I'm fast coming to the conclusion that this smell will not leave my nose till we rid the house of everything she left behind, slap on a new coat of paint, and leave a pot of Neutradol in every room for 90 days. It's affecting my sense of taste as well as smell, obviously, so it is increasingly annoying.

December 17, 2004

Not wanted on voyage

Unclaimed prizes in office xmas raffle
  • yard of milk chocolate

  • two meters of toblerone

  • thornton's special toffee

  • tin of fancy biscuits

  • several bottles of wine

  • two tubes vodka shots
Look out for my incisive article on what this list says about the state of our culture - coming in the new year.

Breaking News...

Football is rubbish.

I don't watch much footie, as you know. The odd international, the occasional snippet of Champions' League. Last night there was a half hour desert in the tv schedule, and, too lazy to do anything else, I switched to ITV 2 and watched half an hour of Newcastle against Sporting Lisbon.

And it struck me, as it so often does when England play, how absolutely terrible most of the players are. When they're not cheating like mad, throwing themselves around like they've been stabbed with a serrated hunting knife that was tipped with poison, or stamping on each other's feet and ankles in hopes of terminating careers, when they're not doing all that, they've got absolutely no ability to play.

95% of the players spend the whole time trying to stop the 5% who can play. The vast majority have only theoretical control over the ball; they have no vision, no common sense, no accuracy with shot or pass. They fluff, they swoon, they scuff, they slice, throwing themselves on the floor feigning injury when they lose control of the ball.

I know the UEFA Vase isn't the toppermost of the poppermost, but let's face it, the others aren't much better. I'm no great fan of Alan Green, one of 5Live's main comment potatoes, but he does seem to appreciate, most of the time, how crap everybody is. Which is why he gets overexcited when someone actually scores a goal.

Players with some ability are overpraised, so that you come to expect miracles of them, when actually, they are only all right at what they do, and are surrounded by a sub-species of player, who barely knows which way he's supposed to be facing. Even then, some of the decent players have other flaws. Dennis Bergkamp, for example, is a nasty thug, whose frequent stone-faced stamping mars his game.

One of the things that always annoys me is the way the expert sunmmariser so often seems to be watching a different match. A blatant ankle stamp followed by a yellow card is greeted with, "the referee has over-reacted there. There was nothing wrong with that." It's like they don't know the rules. I hardly watch the game, but even I know that the horizontal tackle from behind that upends the player on the ball is illegal. I can only assume that the old lags in the summarising position are brain damaged from heading the ball.

Anyway, that's it for me. I am not going to waste any more half hours of my life watching this shit.

Are you absolutely sure?

ky and tim
ky and tim,
originally uploaded by nervsappy.
The comment discussion connected to this almost 100% gay image is just hilarious.

See, it's the unintentional hilarity of life that's funniest. This makes me laugh more, the longer I think about it.

Xmas comes early

Scientists hail the polymeal: the recipe for a long and healthy life. I love it. Turns out a lot of my favourite foods are going to prolong my life. I need no longer feel guilt every time I scarf down a bar of choc. Lindt heaven awaits.

Almonds are good, too. I sit in the evening eating medjool dates and drinking red wine as it is; now I can add almonds to the pleasure.

We were talking about how Christmas cake contains key ingredients: fruit, almonds (marzipan), and it put me in mind of my gran, who once made a cake decorated with whole hazelnuts. As we were all eating it, she explained that she'd got the hazelnuts from a bar of Cadbury's Whole Nut. She'd sucked off the chocolate as she didn't like nuts... thought she'd use them to decorate the cake. Picture a room filled with people pausing in the motion of bringing the cake up to their mouths.

It was that kind of ingenuity won us the war.

December 16, 2004

One Man And His Dog

He didn't see that coming, did he?

I've very little sympathy for the man. It's one thing doing the odd favour for a friend - who hasn't offered a discount on goods, or borrowed a van for a weekend etc.? But the fact that he was hooked up with a woman who was clearly attracted to him because of his power* meant that he was committed to showing off to her. For women like that, the display of power must be continual, or they lose interest.

He knew the score. I was witness to the reaction of small-minded civil service management when those from on-high displayed an interest in something. They run around like Corporal Jones, not panicking, and try to make the thing go away so the Big Boss will turn his attention elsewhere.

As for his record in office, I've never known such a right-wing home secretary, even under Thatch. His Faustian blood pact with the Daily Mail was bound to lead to his downfall. His more liberal colleagues might have supported him in spite of this if he hadn't then slagged them all off to his biographer.

Still, perhaps it's all strategic. Perhaps he's disassociating himself in advance from the identity card computer system not working fiasco to come: a man of vision, obviously.

*I base this assertion on his non-resemblance to Brad Pitt.

December 14, 2004


It's time for our traditional review of the year's events.

  • January: In some ways, it seems like yesterday; in others, a long time ago. And that's the way it is with a true Spaniard. I don't remember much about January.

  • February: What can I say about this month that hasn't been said before, by people more qualified than I? By people who can actually remember it, for example.

  • March surprised us all, by coming 3rd yet again. I have vague memories of some sunny weather in this month, though I could be wrong.

  • April featured both April Fool's Day and Easter. Went on holiday this month, to Provence, a gite near Les Baux. It was quite enjoyable, though the kids were restless and bored in the rain on the last day. I loved it down there, though we decided to wait till Whitsun next year, and return to the Vendee, as the weather wasn't great on a couple of days and Provence is a long way to go for a short visit. Also, in April, I decided I wanted to move house, and we put the house on the market.

  • May: expected the sell the house this month, but didn't.

  • June. Coming halfway through the year, June caught many on the hop. I don't remember much about it, and we didn't sell the house. Again.

  • July. Another summer, another trip to France, another month in which the house didn't sell. Ever so slightly perturbed, we started renting a property and planned to move out anyway.

  • August. Relocation, relocation, relocation.

  • September. Finally, we sell the house, but now we're stuck in a chain trying to buy one.

  • October. Only a couple of months ago, and yet I don't remember much about it.

  • November. A complete mystery to me. Darker mornings, feeling quite depressed and stressed at work. But we finally get to move in to our new house.

  • December: much of which remains a mystery to me for some reason.

December 10, 2004

Pepe le pew

I've been with my Mrs for over 10 years now, and have visited France with her, ooh, around 30 times, and of course I have two bilingual children. My french language skills, however, haven't developed much in that time.

I actually understand quite a lot - lest you think you can speak french in front of me and I won't. But the main problem with my wife's friends and relatives is that they mumble away with strong regional accents, and use vague catch-all words like "le truc" and "les gosses" a lot.

Still, running through the BBC web site's language gauge, I scored a respectable 11/12. So that's me, 11/12 for understanding/reading, 1/10 for speaking/writing.

So I thought, given my 210 minutes per day in the car, I'll get some language CDs and start to brush up. I'm sick of my music collection anyway.

So I've started doing that. I'll let you know how I get on. My main issue so far is that everyone in france, according to the CDs, is either an architect, or living with an architect.

It's the alphabet, really, what trips me up. G is pronounced J and J is pronounced G. How am I supposed to be able to cope with that? Someone spelling something with a J or a G, I get stuck on figuring out which was which and miss the rest of the word. Also, W is "double V" and Y is "E-greque", except it's not an E, because E is pronounced "Eh" (as in, "Eh?"), and I is pronounced E. "Ee before eh, except after say." As they don't say in France.

Also numbers. How can a civilisation not learn to count past 69? Or, indeed, 16? "Soixant-quinze?" What's that about? "Quatre vingt dix-neuf"? Eh? I still can't pronounce Kronenbourg 1664 properly.


is it just me, or has there been an outbreak of cleavage on Albert Square? It's gone all meaty beaty big n' bouncy all of a sudden, like all the female cast are trying to outdo each other.


I've been off for a couple of days, winter vomiting virus thing, which both myself and Didi had. Didi managed to be cute as she was throwing up - she's not used to it, never having been a sickly child. CJ used to get the odd ear infection which upset her balance and gave her sickness, plus she gets car sick sometimes. But Didi, like her mother, is a bit of a rat: feels bad, but isn't actually sick.

So she was amazed to discover all this stuff coming out of her mouth, over which she had no control. I heard her in the bathroom saying, between retches, "C'est pas bon! C'est pas bon! Je n'aime pas!"

December 07, 2004

Fished out

One of the things that fills me with despair about modern life is the state of our fisheries and the inevitability that, one day, our national dish of fish and chips will be a thing of the past.

You're torn, naturally, between wanting to eat as much fish as possible before it runs out, and wishing that someone had the political will and the moral courage to insist on a two-year moratorium on fishing.

What gets me more than anything is the attitude of the fishing industry itself. They're quickly putting themselves out of business anyway, but the one thing they won't think of is a reduction in quotas, let alone stopping altogether. It's a kind of short termism that just bewilders me. You can't hold a negotiation with these people, they're like aliens.

They need to stop altogether for two years, and anyone breaking the moratorium needs to have a torpedo applied to the side of their vessel. Give the fish time to breed, one season, and then another, undisturbed, and then slowly go back to fishing, using different techniques that don't destroy the habitats.

Put all the current fishing fleet in dry dock, let them claim benefits or retrain for other professions (or retrain using different fishing methods), make them realise that this is the only way they'll ever be able to put out to sea commercially again.

Sure prices are going to go up, but that's only what's going to happen anyway, so let's bite the bullet.

December 06, 2004

The usual...

missing in action
missing in action,
originally uploaded by mcmrbt.
The search continues.

When we got married in France, in 2000, we were given some money by my wife's relatives. We drove off to Colmar in Alsace to spend it, and bought a few bits and pieces for the house.

We found some cutlery we liked and sensibly bought 2 sets, so we had 12 of everything. I got a special edition magimix in yellow, and a matching coffee machine that I never subsequently used.

And we found this Villeroy and Boch "Citta & Campagna" stuff in a sale. In a box about the size of a photo copy paper box (but squarer), you got one place setting, consisting of two plates, a bowl, and a coffee cup and saucer.

But we only had a small car, and, not thinking of the future at all, we decided we could only fit two boxes in the car.

Almost immediately, we regretted it. We went back to the shop that Xmas, but there was no more left in the shop, and I've checked every Villeroy & Boch stockist I've ever come across, to no avail.

At the weekend, I found a 20-piece set advertised for sale on an Australian dealer's site. The large plate is the same, but the bowl, small plate, and cup and saucer are all different.

Still. I'd happily buy it if they'd ship it to us, but what are the chances of it travelling halfway round the world and not getting broken?

And the moral of this story is... the usual.

December 01, 2004

Actually, Really, I was going to say...

Modern life, as I repeatedly say, is rubbish, and in so many ways. As mentioned below, I went to my only film of the year at the weekend, the first time I've been to the pictures with my wife for, ooh, 3 years or so. So that was nice.

Not so nice was the legal warning that came on before the show, warning us that it was illegal to film it. My response was to blow a raspberry. It's not only a gross insult to the audience who have paid to see the show, but the kind of impotent and meaningless response to a problem that seems actually to make matters worse. Because people who videotape films know that it's illegal, don't they, without being told? And all I wanted to do in response to the warning was have a camcorder with me so I could film it, just out of annoyance.

I feel the same way about FBI warnings on CDs I've bought and paid for and those crappy screens of text that come up on DVDs, which you are not allowed to skip.

The main problem for the entertainment industry has always been their own employees. I might take a pen home from the office; someone working for Pixar/Disney and its various subcontractors might take home a copy of Finding Nemo. Or the outtakes from the latest Bruce Springsteen session.

So fuck them.

It's as if you went into Sainsbury's, picked up a pack of bacon and were told, after you've paid for it, "It is illegal to use this bacon to kill people."

"It is illegal to use the fuel you have just puchased to drive over the speed limit."
"It is illegal to deface the £10 note you just received from this cash machine."
"It is illegal to club to death the spouse you just married."


Scientists have found evidence that Iris Murdoch's Alzheimer's manifested itself in her prose, before she was diagnosed with it. Never been a fan of her works, but it struck me that Hemingway spent his life trying to simplify prose, to approach "zero degree narration," and there seems to be little acknowledgment that she might have deliberately sought to write in a less flowery manner. I mean, they've compared two of her early works with her final work. Should they not have looked at the penultimate work as well?