Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Slow worm!

 Look who we found in the garden this evening!

Wonder how long before the cats try and bring in a self-wiggling stringy toy?

Monday, May 28, 2012

After the floods

For the last week, it has been not-raining! The intense sun has made everything very green, but the oddity of weather has led to an unfortunate scarcity of insects. Nonetheless, here's the best of my weekend:

Guest Blog

I currently have a guest blog over on London Feminist.

In order to counterbalance a post which ponders actual politics and issues, here is a picture of my latest glove puppet, Quoth,* deep in nefarious scheming with Mr Weasel.

*He's a raven. Going through a rebellious teenage phase, hence the non-black feathers.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Monday, May 7, 2012

Naughty RoRo

There's always one who drinks to excess...

...with Consequences!

Friday, May 4, 2012


My paternal grandmother was notorious for boiling vegetables for upwards of two hours, in water with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda “to keep the colour in”. This would produce vivid green broccoli which would disintegrate as soon as it was looked at. Similarly, my maternal grandmother’s speciality (you’ll notice my grandfathers didn’t cook at all – unless you count the time one proudly informed us he’d managed to cope while his wife was in hospital by opening a tin of rice pudding all by himself and then eating the contents cold) was cabbage boiled for many hours, tipped into a “calendar” (or, as the rest of the world called it, a “colander”), compressed into a cake with a saucer on top, and then served by the flabby yellowing slice.

With a heritage like that, it’s no wonder that the culinary fare I grew up with wasn’t terribly adventurous. Food as a child had practically nothing in the way of spices (though to be fair, my father would be sitting mopping his brow if there was too much pepper on his bolognaise), and I didn’t encounter curry until I went to university.

If one says “I’m not really used to curry”, almost immediately a chorus of voices will chime in telling you that you must start with a mild korma, and “work up”. It’s a bit like if you’re not a coffee drinker – people try and wean you on to it by way of really milky sweetened mochas. It took me nearly ten years to work out that I actually do like coffee – but only if there’s no milk or sugar. As for curry – I’m no great fan of tomatoes (it’s not that I actively dislike them, it’s just that I don’t see the point, and would rather eat something else if the opportunity is available), so lumps of meat boiled in a tomato sauce with a bit of powdered coconut is never going to appeal to me. However, tomato-free Thai curries were approved of and devoured enthusiastically.

So I got through university with a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Indian curry, although my capsaicin tolerance increased significantly due to other culinary adventures. A few years after Tim and I married, we received a set of recipe books: an Italian recipe book, a Thai recipe book, and an Indian recipe book. I thanked the donor, began using the Italian and Thai book, and put the Indian book on the bookshelf and forgot all about it.

More years passed, and one rainy day I opened the Indian recipe book and flicked through it. I was astonished to learn that there’s a lot more to curry than simply lumps of meat boiled in tomato sauce with chillies. I purchased some ingredients. I did some culinary experimentation. I did more research (for those interested in the history of curry, I recommend reading Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors - a book which explains how each new invader of India brought a new ingredient and cookery style (thanks to Mrs S for the loan)). I discovered that I really like curry, and I really really like cooking it. The curries I like are primarily those originating from the North of India where the tastes tend more towards the sharp, hot and sour, so if I am cooking for friends (by habit I tend to cater for forty, invite half-a-dozen friends, and then freeze all the leftovers for microwaving on busy days. Yes, this is very sad, and I will probably find myself alphabetising my shoes next.) then the menu is distinctly skewed in my favour, with lots of sour lentils and not a korma in sight.

Mmmm. I really fancy a curry now. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In Praise of Porter, and a Salute to Stout

Mild May

If you admit that you don't drink coffee, then everyone's advice is to "work up gradually". When I first tried to drink coffee, I found myself being fed mugs of sickly sweet milky mochas which were utterly revolting. It took me some years to work out that I do in fact like coffee - just not with sugar and definitely not with milk. After all, Marie Antoinette used to swear by milky coffee for her complexion, and just look where it got her. Coffee must be black and strong and flavoursome in my opinion.

It's the same with beer. "Oh, not a beer drinker, eh? Try this really weak light ale with lots of hops and a floral flavour!" I don't like citrussy flowery beer. I like rich thick creamy beers with dark roasted malts and a velvety chocolate taste on the tongue. I suspect a lot of non-beer drinkers are the same, but don't realise it. 

Credit should go to the Canterbury Beer Festival who have had a "Pink Girlie Bar" in previous years, which contains lots of porters and stouts for the non-standard beer drinker. I really can't be bothered to complain about the potential sexism in this approach - the majority of Real Ale drinkers are men; not many women will try Real Ale (especially with the pump badges some of them use!) unless encouraged; The "Pink Girlie Bar" does seem to have been successful in encouraging a whole new demographic to try real ale; most of the beers I want to try are located on the PGB each year; and finally, the PGB was responsible for one of the best overheard conversations of the festival: 

"Sharon, didja try that raspberry wheat beer?" "Yeah 'Chelle, but I din't think it tasted much like raspberry Bacardi Breezer at all!"
In fact, my only complaint with the PGB is that it results in queues for the ladies' loos, which is normally unheard of at beer festivals! 

But I digress. Normally, I look forward to winter, season of Stouts and mellow Porters. Sadly, this year there were very few dark beers available in my local pubs, which was quite a disappointment. Fortunately, it is now the month of May, and I can hope for a higher-than-average number of Milds around. Milds aren't as flavourful as porters or stouts, but they do have the advantage of being a much more sensible strength.

Inside-out Animals

RE: London

Last Sunday, we went to the Natural History Museum to see Animal Inside Out. A museum is a great place to spend a rainy day, but you do have to get there early to avoid the crowds. We got to the museum a couple of minutes before it opened, and there was a huge queue along the pavement. Now, What is it with Londoners and umbrellas? Do they all wake up in the morning, see the rain, and think "I'm going to be wandering around a densely-populated city all day, so what I really need is a device which increases my effective diameter, gets stuck on lampposts when I try and squeeze past them, and pokes people in the eye"? Have none of them heard of hats? Fortunately, after about ten minutes of umbrella-dodging we got close enough to find a person who told us that if we had tickets we could by-pass the queue and go straight in, so we did, and we had a lovely empty museum for about fifteen minutes.

Not-empty museum
The exhibit itself was somewhat light on the SCIENCE, but quite fun to look at and I did learn some new things, like the fact that shark hearts only have two chambers (as opposed to the four chambers in avian and mammalian hearts), but mostly I amused myself by checking to see if each animal was a boy or a girl. For reference, it's a boy elephant. And a boy giraffe. And a boy foal. And a boy goat and a boy sheep, though the second goat was female. And the camel was female. And then I discovered an entire display case of testes and penises and my joy knew no bounds! Tim got a little eye-rolly at me by this point.

Gurl camel!
I recommend that easily-distressed people do not see this. For instance, there's a flayed bull in a charging posture which I found quite upsetting: they preserved something that could have been quite a lot of nommy steak! And then I spend some time trying to work out how much black pudding it would take to stuff the squid…

By the time we'd finished, the museum was absolutely packed, with lots of kids happily having a rainy-day playtime (though in a reasonably well-behaved fashion - I tried to do some clever long-exposure stuff to get photos of blurred kids running past the fossils, but the children weren't being hyperactive enough), so we decided to head north to Camden for some lunch and a beverage or two in the deceptively civilised BrewDog bar

BrewDog humour
Having finished our refreshment, we strolled around the market, feeling somewhat uninspired. I don't know whether it was the rain or the recession or the gentrification of the area, but Camden felt a lot duller than it used to be. In days gone by, Tim would be offered drugs at least once within ten yards of the station, and by the time we got to the canal my head would be spinning from the amount of Funny Smoke around. As it was, everything felt very homogenised and I only caught three whiffs of Naughty Stuff. 

Just as we were wondering what to do, we heard a voice shouting our names, so looked around to see Lyope armed with a large set of camera gear. She was out with a photography friend trying to get some shots of Interesting People, but had come to the same conclusion as we had with regards to Camden. We obliged her by pretending to look Interesting (which caused a great deal of excitement amongst passers-by who stopped to take pictures of Charlotte taking pictures of us, presumably on the grounds that anyone with that amount of camera gear aimed at them must be worth photographing.


We then led Charlotte astray by taking her back to BrewDog, where she reciprocated by suggesting that Tim try making a stilton martini. Which is why you should never take advice on mixing drinks from a teetotaller.