Archive of Iona's posts

Recipe: chilli

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

I am not good at making chilli. My previous attempts have led to slightly meaty, slightly red soup. But I think I’ve cracked it. This is enough for two hungry people, or one hungry person across two days (which is a good idea – the flavours will soak in). You need:

-1 tin of kidney beans;
-1 tin chopped tomatoes;
-about 250g lamb mince (I cooked mine straight from frozen – I’m sure quorn mince would be just as good);
-1 stock cube;
-about 200g mushrooms, chopped (any kind – I used the chestnut ones);
-some garlic (fresh or paste);
-some ground cinnamon;
-some black pepper;
-1 fresh red chilli, chopped and deseeded;
-some exceedingly elderly red wine (if you have more class than me, use actual red wine vinegar);
-oil to cook with.

Use a saucepan for this, not a frying pan. Start with your oil, and your fresh garlic if you’re using it. Fry the mince and the mushrooms in it together on a high heat until the mince isn’t very pink any more and the mushrooms are starting to shrink. Add the chopped tomatoes, the kidney beans, the stock cube, shake in some cinnamon and pepper, add the garlic paste if you’re using that.

Stir. Leave it on the high heat until most of the liquid has bubbled away. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Add the chilli and a good splash of red wine, stir some more. Bring down the heat to medium and let it bubble away until it’s chilli and not soup. Put in a bowl and eat.

(Wtih rice, if you’re classy, or bread, if you’re slightly less so, and just in a bowl, if you’re me.)

how they got to be that way

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

How did they get to be that way?

I was born into a different America and was a child of my times until I learned enough to grow up. I do not propose myself as an example, because I was carried along with my society as it awkwardly felt and fought its way out of racism.

I’ve long thought that Roger Ebert is an exceedingly classy gentleman. Here he is again, being just that.

Diana Gabaldon on fanfiction

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

I think it’s immoral, I _know_ it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters.

It’s illegal, see. It’s illegal because of International Copyright Law. This has initial caps so those of us who aren’t lawyers may sit back and go “oooh! ahhh!”, except, not. I could go into the whole doctrine of fair use, of parody, and could discuss the simple fact that copyright law is certainly not international – it’s different by jurisdiction, but I’m sure you knew that and, let’s be honest, I could probably write my entire thesis on the subject of fanfiction and the law and oh, look, OTW already have.

But, I don’t know, it just seems to me that Gabaldon’s major gaffe here is very much commercial. As someone comments on fandom_wank, what’s she gonna do? Chase down every instance of fanfic on the internet and thus implicitly condone the ones she misses? And of course, telling her fans, who buy her books, the fact of the wee stories they wrote on the internet makes her want to throw up is very sound commercial sense, oh wait I might be lying there.

Then there’s this:

While not all fan-fic is pornographic by any means, enough of it _is_ that it constitutes an aesthetic argument against the whole notion.

As I say, I’ve unwillingly read a certain amount of fan-fic involving my characters, and about three-quarters of it is graphic, badly-written (of the “his searing touch blazed its way up the silken skin of her thigh to the secret depths of her ecstasy” type) masturbatory fantasy. I mean….ick.

She said that. I mean, seriously, seriously, she actually said that.

From Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade, pg. 237 [British edition]:

Percy’s own cold hand slid down between them, grasped him. Cold as the touch was, it seemed to burn. He felt the seam of his breeches give as Percy shoved them roughly done and wondered dimly what he would tell Tom. Then Percy’s prick rubbed hard against his own, stiff, hot, and he stopped thinking.

From pg. 294:

“Did you ever wonder what it’s like?” [Percy] asked suddenly. “To be flogged?”

Grey felt a clenching in his stomach, but answered honestly. “Yes. Now and then.” Once, at least.

Percy had been kneading one of the red baize bags, like a cat sharpening its claws. Now he let it fall to the floor, and took up the cat o’nine tails itself, a short handle with a cluster of leather cords. “Do you want to find out?” he said, very softly.

“What?” An extraordinary feeling ran through Grey, half-fear, half-excitement.

“Take off your coat,” Percy said, still softly.

I don’t, alas, have my copies of the other books, or I could treat you all to more in the way of sexual fantasy. Believe me, there’s more.

Also? She writes books, right. Enormous doorstops of books about Love! And Time-Travel! And Men In Kilts Called Jamie Fraser!

Poor, dear, Jamie McCrimmon. S’all I’m sayin’.

Recipe: whipped cream

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

This one is more for my reference than an actual recipe, but. Some months ago Andrew’s grandmother very patiently taught me how to whip cream. (After expressing mild astonishment that I didn’t even know you could whip cream. I don’t even know what I thought. Maybe one udder full-fat, one skimmed, one whipped?)

Anyway, I’ve been waiting to have a go at it myself. And it appears, contrary to every recipe on the internet, it is not that hard to whip cream through trial and error. I bought ordinary double cream, fished out my flatmate’s very nice Ikea whisk, and whisked. And whisked, and whisked, and whisked, and whisked. And got bored, and switched to a fork and took the bowl through to watch ten minutes of Deep Space Nine.

Nothing doing. I changed back to the whisk – apparently, you cannot do it with a fork, but you can do it without an electric mixer. Within about thirty seconds, it had turned pleasantly solid and fluffly. I chopped some strawberries into it, and they aren’t very nice – it’s only April, so they’re imported and a little tasteless, even though it was such a sunny day they were half price – but I am ridiculously pleased with myself.

That is all. Next time I will do it with someone else in the house – Andrew is away – so I am not loser girl eating her way through an entire bowl of whipped cream all by herself.

Recipe: slow-roasted tomatoes

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Oh my god. Remember I said I was slow-roasting tomatoes? Well, today I had the afternoon off school and resolved to try it.

Oh, oh my god. I had no idea how this was going to work, but the tomatoes just came out of the oven and they taste like…. well, the original author described them as “twenty feet tall and made of sunlight”. The taste is indescribable: sort of sweet, sort of sour, sort of like the best pizza you ever had, sort of like dessert and somehow still savoury. It’s utterly delicious.

I altered the recipe slightly, as expected: my tomatoes took not quite six hours, not the recommended seven, and that includes twenty minutes earlier when my flatmate wanted the oven for a pizza. (I suspect this shorter time is because it’s a fan oven, and obviously all ovens are different, etc.) Despite the ridiculously long cooking time, they’re very simple: ten minutes’ preparation time, maximum, and although you should check them every so often just to check they’re not turning into little red leather scraps, but essentially it’s easy peasy.

I have this feeling I’m just going to eat them out of the jar, rather than use them in actual food, and that they might be gone tomorrow. I had no idea how much to start with, so guessed 750g of baby plum tomatoes: this has yielded one not-very-large jar (that is already looking depleted, sigh).

Mmm. Tastes like summer. And speaking of summer, it’s coming; the birds are singing, the glass is green, I’m drinking smoothie out of a wine glass and my landlord’s cat has just bounced through the window. Life’s good.

A post-aviation world

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Via BBC: Could we live without flights?

I love the image at the top of this article. No, I really do; it’s gorgeously windswept, it reminds me of Shetland and other places marked by great distance. It’s an oddly bittersweet image, I think, but the article tends more to the sweet. It concludes that Britain would suffer in a world without air travel – it would suffer in terms of its tourism, food and business – but not as much as you might think. Which is interesting: it’s certainly interesting to learn that, for example, most of the tourism revenue in the UK comes from domestic holidaymakers, even if they don’t make up the bulk of the tourists, and for another example, that most of Britain’s food, even its fruit and vegetables, comes by ship, with figures of one and two percent given for the proportion of British food that is actually flown in.

But it’s a little unforgivable to then move on to the topic of people living near airports now getting more sleep, and conclude that everything in the garden is lovelier than expected in the post-aviation world. What about the people who didn’t arrive here head-first? If there were no more air travel, how could I ever go home – how could I ever attend a family wedding or visit a new baby or take my grandfather out for tea? How could you live in a world that had become so much more frightening, so much more implacably, devastatingly large overnight?

And more than that: we wouldn’t go anywhere, and the world wouldn’t come to us. Part of the reason Britain is not all-white, all-homogenous is air travel – people come, and work and dance and live and cook in new ways – and you can imagine that stopping, peeling away in layers from life as we know it until, as the BBC article notes, without even realising the implications, it’s 1950. Flying is wonderful, and it’s not just because of mangoes in supermarkets. It’s the reason there are people to buy them.

Cookbook publishing, it’s very difficult

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Cookbook misprint costs Australian publishers dear.

So, a publisher in Australia managed to publish a cookbook with a recipe that called for “salt and freshly ground black people”.

Oops.

I’m sure I would have had much more sympathy for said publisher, though, had he not been quoted as saying, “[W]hy anyone would be offended, we don’t know”, and “proofreading a cook-book is an extremely difficult task”.

I don’t know, I might not buy books from a publisher that finds it very difficult not to accidentally advocate grinding up black people.

Voting

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

It’s a Thursday afternoon in the spring, and I am thinking about voting. Here comes the spiel:

Have you registered to vote, lovely British people reading this? Here’s how you do it, if not; you do need to post the form in, because it needs your signature, but otherwise it is easy peasy. And you may already be registered if you haven’t moved since the last election, but do check.

I do think everyone who can vote, should. I don’t think you should vote for a candidate if you don’t think any of the candidates are worth voting for, but if you spoil your ballot paper you are part of the turnout, and I think that’s kind of cool. I mean, you could also refuse to do even that, because you don’t wish to engage with bourgeoisie representative democracy, and that would be a legitimate choice and would totally make you unique and special, but on the whole I think voting is great. And not only just for the democratic aspect; I like how polling stations are tiny places, and you vote with a pencil and a scrap of paper, and there is no technology and nothing scary to do. You go in, you vote, sometimes the BBC wave and smile at you on your way out, and all is well with the world.

My problem at the moment is that I don’t know whom to vote for. I am registered in Oxford East, which is an interesting Labour marginal seat; although the incumbent, Andrew Smith, has been in place since 1983, he’s got a good prospect of losing to the Liberal Democrats this time around, which makes it a little difficult for me, considering the two parties I would consider voting for are pretty much the only two real contenders.

I did consider registering to vote by post in Sefton Central, the constituency my parents live in, but at the time I thought Claire Curtis-Thomas was standing again, and she’s about the only MP I hate so much on a personal level that it entirely eclipses her party affiliation (Labour!)[1] and it would be even harder to decide whom to vote for. In addition, Sefton Central is a new seat – I have only voted in a general election once before, and it was from that address, but in 2005 that was the Crosby constituency – so it’s harder to guess what will happen. And in addition to that, I don’t like postal voting! I like going to polling stations on sunny afternoons in May. Every election I can remember has been sunny, although possibly that is just the delicate tint of childhood, I don’t know.

Another thing that bothers me, though, is that I will be voting in Oxford East six weeks before I cease to be a permanent resident of that constituency. And you could argue that the MP elected from that constituency would still be under a duty to protect my interests in terms of national policy – foreign policy, healthcare, education policy, the usual – but six weeks after that I cease being a resident of the UK.

Well, that’s not true. I’ll still be a permanent resident of the UK, and once I return there will still be probably three and maybe four years of the parliament to go, so it certainly still affects me. I just think it’s interesting from the perspective of the principle behind it – clearly people who leave their country of citizenship shouldn’t lose their right to vote, because they’re not (necessarily) gaining the right to vote elsewhere, but it does seem to disenfranchise them in a fairly fundamental way. It’s interesting, but I can’t think of a better way of doing it. I have decided not to vote in any local elections while I’m away – I have no right, really, to do so – and there will be no general elections (unless something really dramatic happens) and no European Parliament elections either.

So that’s that… but I still need to decide whom to vote for. Tonight, there’s the whole glossy American-style debate, which may be helpful, and next week, on April 22nd, there are hustings in Oxford East, which might also be helpful, I don’t know.

Hmm. Three weeks left to decide.


[1] I remember being told in A-level politics that generally speaking, the personality of an MP doesn’t influence their results much – think up to 500 votes either way. Hi, I am one of the 500, apparently.

Recipe: chicken with apricot sauce

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I wasn’t going to write up this recipe, but today I changed my mind, as you will see!

You need:

-four chicken breasts, boneless and skinless;
-an onion;
-three garlic cloves;
-three tablespoons of honey;
-half a lime;
-two handfuls of dried apricots;
-some ground cinnamon;
-black pepper;
-two chicken stock cubes
-some type of cooking oil.

Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and fry in your oil on a high heat, so it cooks through quickly. Once it’s done or nearly done, set it aside in a wee bowl. Chop your onion into half-slices, crush the garlic cloves and fry them up in the same pan until the onion pieces are translucent.

Slice the apricots finely and throw them in the pan, add a few shakes of ground cinnamon, a few shakes of brown pepper, and turn the heat down so the apricots start to get properly squishy.

Then make up the stock. You want it to be thick, so put two stock cubes into one mug of boiling water. Stir this, throw it into the pan and then put the chicken back in.

Stir this well, put your three tablespoons of honey in to thicken it all, and squeeze the juice of the lime in as well. Stir, stir, stir, stir, and turn the heat up so the liquid starts bubbling off. Once most of it’s gone, turn it right down and let it all jellify nicely until there’s no liquid left, just nice squishy apricot-y sauce.

Serve with rice.

This is much more complicated than my usual recipes, which is why I wasn’t going to post it originally – this series is meant to be based on a theme of delicious food you can make fast and simply – but it’s truly, truly tasty and not that difficult to make. It feeds two, if you have plenty of rice, and leaves a bit. The bit that’s left, you let cool and then put in a plastic lunchbox with two handfuls of chopped lettuce, half a chopped cucumber and the rice that’s left, plus another squeeze of lime. Eat after a long morning of classes and make happy, happy noises. So good, especially after the flavours have soaked in.

My next project: slow-roasted tomatoes. These look wonderful, but I haven’t tried them yet because I haven’t been home for seven hours together since I saw the recipe! But I will be soon, and in the meantime have done two dry runs: chopped tomatoes with black pepper roasted for an hour at 140 degrees. The first lot I put in pasta with feta cheese and olive oil (delicious!) and the second lot went in a sandwich with mozarella and honey-roast ham (also delicious).

Really, this eating-lunch lark is a dream.

Book review: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Locke Lamora is a Gentleman Bastard. So is this book, on the whole: on the one hand, there is the Tolkienesque worldbuilding, the ancient mythical race, the ancient high-fantastical city and on the other hand, there is the unexpected dialogue, which is all piss and vinegar and people saying fuck, shit and arse. Together they make a kind of alchemical steampunk, a believable mess of well-though through fantasy and likeable, engaging characters.

The plot, let’s be clear – it’s a heist movie. Locke Lamora is a thief, his gang of Gentleman Bastards are thieves. They steal from the rich and they don’t give to the poor. Their schemes to get rich are complex confidence tricks, and the joy the author must have taken in thinking them up shines through the pages, and rollicks the story through the first few hundred pages – after that the novel darkens and the body count rises, and it becomes less likeable, but no less good a novel. The main plot is interspersed with interludes from the main characters’ backstories and details about the world in which they live, and while I think the placement and distribution of these is clumsy, they’re enjoyable for all that.

There are the usual first-novel flaws – sometimes the prose is too flowery, sometimes the dialogue is wooden or could be easily elided – but in my mind, the greatest issue with this book is its distinct lack of female characters. There basically aren’t any of note – there is a woman who never appears but conveniently exists for Locke to pine over, there is another woman who makes a couple of token appearances before being summarily killed in aid of male character development, there’s another who is the usual fantasy-world prostitute. The situation improves slightly as the novel progresses – it even passes the Bechdel test, a mere ten pages from the end – but generally it does read a little like boys’ own fantasy in this regard, which is offputting.

But – it’s fun. And I shall read the next one with interest.