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Moved!

I forgot to mention that I have moved to impeus.com – visit me there!

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Date and walnut cake, etc.

I made cake. Twice. It was nice both times. I will make it again. Here, for posterity, is what I did:

  1. Turn oven to 180°
  2. Soak 100g dried pitted dates in some Lady Grey tea (or just hot/warm water)
  3. Grease/line/otherwise prep a loaf type cake tin
  4. Cream 100g soft brown sugar with 100g unsalted butter. I love the way this looks like sand. I always want to make sand castles with it. But it wouldn’t work. Or help.
  5. Add 2 eggs and 2tsp honey, stir/fold it all in really good. It’s usually lumpy for me at this stage. Don’t know if that means I’m doing it wrong. Whatever.
  6. Sift 100g plain flour, 1tsp baking powder and a bit of ground cinnamon into the mix. Fold it in. It should start to look like cake mix about now.
  7. Drain dates. I drain into a cup and drink it. Even though it’s usually cold by now.
  8. Put drained dates in mixer with 100g walnuts. Blitz, but not too much.
  9. Chuck blitzed mix into cake mix, along with 100g cranberries (raisins would work but they are DEVIL’S FOOD so don’t give me this cake if it has raisins in)
  10. Stir up. Worry that there’s too much stuff and not enough cake.
  11. Put into cake tin in a cakey way.
  12. Decorate the top with pecan nuts. I like to COVER it, but in neat rows, so you can use the nuts as a guide for slicing. As in, one pecan width is a normal slice. Two pecan widths is a slice for me.
  13. Sprinkle on some chunky demerara sugar. Just for the fun of it.
  14. Bung in oven. After 15 mins, turn temperature down to about 160°.
  15. Bake for another 35 mins.
  16. Remove from oven. Cool (at least a little). Enjoy.

Here is a photo of the first one I made. It doesn’t have enough pecans on top. But it was still nice:

Date and walnut cake

Date and walnut cake

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The gamification of my working life

This is quite embarrassing, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

Because I’m such a lazy sod, and given the choice I could waste every hour of every day doing pretty much naff all, I make lists of things to do so I can focus, but more importantly get some kind of sense of achievement when I don’t piss the day away.

At work, for several years now I’ve used a page-a-day diary for this. I’ll write my list of things to do, and tick them when I’m done. This process has undergone several iterations in its evolution, and I’m going to tell you about them – even though it makes me sound like, well, like the geek that I am.

Colours are important. Green is for “new item”, blue is for “transferred from previous list”, red is for “must do today or else”. Once, black had a purpose, but I now can’t for the life of me think what it was.

Off-list achievements are still achievements. Write them on the bottom of the list and tick them immediately. Otherwise you’ll feel like you did NOTHING when it’s just not true.

Putting off tasks is inevitable, especially when you know they are going to suck. Increase the chances of actually doing some of the least attractive jobs by using many-sided dice, and committing to doing whichever item corresponds to the number you roll. Having a wide selection of dice for this helps if you have, say, 31 items on your list.

Sometimes a tick isn’t enough gamification to keep you interested. At the end of each day, tot up how many things you had to do, how many you achieved, and how many were postponed. These stats can help you gauge how effective you’ve been each day. Can you improve tomorrow?

Can I tell you a secret now?

I do this at home sometimes too. I’m never going to do housework by choice, so making a similar list helps things actually happen. It’s these home to-do lists where I get even more tragic.

Build in rewards by actually including things like “make dinner (3 ticks only)” and “have a bath (6 ticks only)” so you can both get a tick for doing something nice, and also enforce some actual achievement.

But some redundancy is required so a good to-do list item might be “get dressed”, or alternatively splitting things into several tasks like “strip bed” “wash bed clothes” “dry bed clothes” “make bed”.

Can I tell you another secret?

Today’s list include “get dressed” and “get showered” with no prerequisites. I still achieved neither of these things.

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Slapper spaghetti

The particularly delicious Italian pasta sauce known as puttanesca contains olives and capers, along with tomatoes, anchovies, chilli and garlic. The literal translation of my current favourite meal of spaghetti puttanesca is of course “whore’s spaghetti” – though my usual recipe variant is a slightly cheaper version. Hence its new name of slapper spaghetti – I couldn’t think of a more tasteful version of “cheap hooker”, though I would welcome any suggestions.

I always seem to have a store cupboard staple meal that I’m obsessed with at that particular time. A couple of years ago it was oven baked lamb chops with cherry tomatoes & balsamic vinegar (since chops freeze well and I discovered an almost foolproof method of defrosting them quicklyish).

This year, it is slapper spaghetti, so called due to the omission of olives and capers from the traditional puttanesca. Sometimes I do put the olives and capers in, since they are very tasty – but I have to admit to olive jar mould paranoia if its been more than a week since the jar in the fridge was first opened. I wish they did smaller jars, or that I was less of a skinflint and would fork out for the nicer ones from the deli.

The recipe shown here is what I do for myself. I have only ever cooked this for one, as Neal thinks he wouldn’t like it. He always wrinkles his nose up when I get the anchovies out. Incidentally, while I’ll be having this for my dinner tonight, he’ll be having Sugar Puffs.

Ingredients

* Wholewheat spaghetti, because its just better than plain spaghetti
* A good couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes (a small punnet, or 2/3 of a normal one)
* 3 or 4 garlic cloves
* 4 or 5 anchovy fillets
* Chilli flakes & ground black pepper
* Freshly grated parmesan (non-traditional given the anchovies, but VITAL I think)

Method

If you are using tinned anchovies, use the oil in the tin. Heat it up (or a good glug of olive oil if not) in a saucepan. Mince/grate/crush your garlic, and add to the pan, along with the anchovies (chopped). Stir about a bit. The anchovies should sort of disintegrate a bit. Don’t cook this too long, you don’t want it browning really. This is the point you’d put the capers in if you were being purist.

Slice your cherry tomatoes in half and bung into the pan. If you don’t have cherry tomatoes, about three ish normal sized tomatoes would do fine, chopped up. The liquid from the tomatoes oozes out and makes the sauce go saucey. What I like to do here is turn the halved tomatoes cut side down, then squish them into the pan. This doesn’t really matter though, I think I just do it because it’s quite satisfying. Chuck in the chilli (about a pinch or two) and grind in some black pepper. Somewhere between now & serving is where you’d put the olives in if you were making this properly. You’d also add oregano, but I prefer rosemary.

At this point, realise you should have probably put the pasta on to boil already. Using wholewheat dried pasta takes about 12 minutes (Consult the packet. Really. Then sort of assume it lies and check obsessively from about 4 minutes before it suggests). Of course if you’re using fresh there is no need to worry here, and you probably have plenty of time to clean up your chopping board & things so the garlic and anchovy implements don’t stink.

When the pasta is ready (you will of course have been stirring the sauce fairly frequently to ensure it doesn’t stick/burn), drain it, and chuck in the pan with the sauce. Stir around a bit to get it all mixed in to the pasta and away from the sides of the pan, then tip onto your plate or into your bowl. Grate some parmesan all over the top. Or, if you’re like me, take in a bowl containing a couple of hundred grams of freshly grated parmesan so you can keep topping up your dish.

Eat. This should really be enjoyed with a glass of red, but I’m not allowed any wine at the moment.

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How To Make Pancakes. Or: why I can’t follow instructions

I like to think I can make tasty dinner. That given a set of ingredients I can make something good. That I know my food, and that on any Masterchef taste test that I would come out on top. I like recipes, I like watching food programs on TV, I like flicking through recipe books and browsing recipes online.

However, I suck at following recipes. One of my favourite dinners of last year was a balsamic-soaked, oven-cooked lamb dish with mmmmcrispy fat, unctious cherry tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and (usually) rosemary & chilli. Maybe one day I will post the recipe. However, the loose recipe that I now use was originally based on a Jamie Oliver dish. A Jamie Oliver sausage bake.

Anyway. Last week I posted a recipe (of sorts) for pancake soup. I worked out/imagined/made up how to make this dish after having eaten it in a restaurant (there are basically three ingredients, it wasn’t hard!) What I neglected to mention is that I don’t know how to make pancakes.

Well, clearly I DO know how to make pancakes, insofar as that you form some kind of relationship between a frying pan, some hot butter and some batter,  then take the result and add something like lemon and sugar, or nutella, or onion and spinach, or whatever floats your boat. What I really mean is that every single time I have to be reminded of the ingredients and proportions for the batter.

So. For prosperity. This is how you make batter.

Ingredients

1 pint milk
4 eggs
8 ounces plain flour

Method

Whizz until thoroughly whizzed. Try to be patient and leave it a while, because the pancakes are always better if you have left the batter for an hour or so. Probably something to do with the milk soaking into the flour granules or something.

I have to either consult a post-it note if I’m lucky enough to have not lost it since the last time I made batter, or call my mum every time. I’m yet to find a way to get such a simple thing to stick in my head, despite how neat it is.

So, apparently, three simple ingredients in particularly nicely neat proportions are clearly too complex to stay in my little mind.

Incidentally, an ounce of flour is EXACTLY equivalent to a heaped tablespoon. It is. I subjected my mum’s assertion to rigorous scientific testing and can confirm that each tablespoon of flour I added to the bowl incremented the readout on the scales by precisely 1.0 oz. I found this slightly disturbing, until Neal pointed out that an ounce is probably defined as “the weight of a tablespoon of flour.”

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When feminism is a dirty word

Labels have uses. How else would I know which lever arch file to put my cash audits in every week? Which button on my telephone calls HR, and which calls the FD?

Labels for people certainly also have uses, but arguably not for those being labelled.

To take some obvious examples, you have your common or garden extroverts, your pensioners, your racists and your blondes.

Some labels are subjective. Some are difficult to escape from (male, female, child, old giffer). Are these useful? With aspects of discrimination due to many of these theoretically forbidden by law, it makes sense to question what they mean, if anything, and thus why legal protection may be required.

The kind of bullshit prejudice we should be fighting is engrained in society. The outrageous pink prettifying that girls are subjected to growing up. The profiling in security and policing which mean some poor asian and black kids are routinely pulled over. The way we talk to aging grandparents in the same sing-song, babying tone usually reserved for children under 3. Biological determinism and evolutionary psychology trying to tell us who we inevitably are.

This is why I actually feel a little hurt and disappointed by recent vitriol against feminists by someone who until recently identified as one herself, and whose views and constant calling people on their careless use of language and dismissal of many issues around sexuality I always find refreshing and important.

Elly has always been one to shout out on behalf of trans people, sex workers, perverts and men. I feel like now I should make some half-arsed, inarticulate attempt to shout out on behalf of feminism.

The problem is, everything Elly cites as vile behaviour by these feminists is, indeed, vile. Julie Bindel’s desire to shoot and kill researchers working with sex workers and. Bidisha’s “girls’ team” to take two current examples. Feminism is as broad a category of people as any race, gender or occupation though, encompassing huge variation. Feminists are people too, and yes, many people suck.

Let’s call out bullshit when we hear it, and try to highlight hurtful and hateful behaviour when it inevitably rears its ugly head. But let’s not dismiss feminism as a whole just because some of them behave in a narrowminded and nasty way sometimes. People from all walks of life do. Including me and you. It’s just that we tend to react a little more measured when we’re called on it. Right?

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