Sunday, November 21, 2010

Buggered batteries ...

Well, just when the week looked set to a good start ... of course, after a lovely weekend it had to start raining - heavily - and then I come out of the office to find that the battery's completely dead. Run up the curtain, barely enough juice to light up the inside of the car, and certainly none to do fancy things like lock or unlock it. So here I am, sitting in the office, waiting for the nice breakdown man to come along and fix me up.

Which is not really the way I'd planned on spending the start of the evening, should you be wondering.

An hour and a half later and the guy still hasn't turned up, so I ring back the insurance to see what the hell is going on and find out, to my dismay, that I appear to have slipped through the cracks. So they've promised that this time someone really will come, and it shouldn't be more than half an hour. I bloody well hope so, this is getting boring. And let's face it, there's little more boring than hanging around in the rain in a carpark, waiting for someone to turn up and replace your battery.

'Tis already, it would seem, the season to be merry. At least, that's what I deduce from the lorry-loads of slaughtered pine-trees, neatly wrapped in their plastic netting, going along the autoroutes. Seems a bit early to me - I mean, there are still four weeks to go, does anyone really expect the poor things not to be half-bald by the time Christmas day comes around? Or do they stick the poor things in a nitrogen atmosphere in a cold store until closer to the day? That would be pretty sad, if true. Especially if, when they open the doors, Santa and a couple of elves are found there lying stiff and frozen. Never trust a reindeer.

Isn't it just amazing what you can do with left-over pumpkin and pork? I only ask because we had vasty quantities of both floating around the other day (pumpkin is, as far as Jeremy is concerned, an insect - despite the distinct lack of legs - and thus classed as inedible unless really desperate) and so the pork got thickly sliced, the pumpkin mashed up with some decent curry, corn kernels, sour cream and cubes of roast potatoes and then fried, and the whole lot plonked on the table with some carottes vichy and a few shy bits of broccoli peeking out.

This, on the other hand, is not left-over (well, just enough left over for breakfast, to be honest): it is in fact a favourite, burgundy apple tart. Although it doesn't look much like any normal person's idea of a tart, and personally I'm happier referring to it as apple cake: whatever, simple and delicious. (By the way, don't get your hopes up. The "burgundy" in the name refers to its place of origin, not its contents. But as there's nothing time-critical going on when you're making it, feel free to empty a bottle whilst doing so, should you feel that way inclined.)

When I say simple ... take two eggs, break into a bowl with around 3/4 cup of sugar, and use your trusty electric beater to beat shit out of it until thick and creamy. Then add 3/4 cup of flour, 15cl of cream (or sour cream, if you like) and, if you have some, a drop or two of lemon oil - beat again till well mixed. Now stick in something like 25gm of butter, in small dice, and beat hell out of that too.

It's called apple cake/whatever for a good reason: you should now stir in two apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices or diced - your preference - and a handful of raisins, if that rocks your boat. I like 'em, Margo doesn't - whatever. If you didn't have lemon oil, some finely chopped or grated lemon peel would be a good idea too. Then slosh the whole lot into a buttered and sugared rectangular mould, bake till done (about 30 minutes, in my oven anyway), unmould and enjoy. With a good crème anglaise would be nice, and I quite like a dollop of redcurrant jelly. But maybe that's just me.

If you happen to have some left the next morning, you could probably try cutting it into half-inch slices, frying it in a little butter and sprinkling with sugar. I'm not inciting you to do that, just saying it's possible ...

Bloody shame it's Friday: dawned bright and sunny (a bit crisp, mind you). Seems a shame to waste it brushing up on cgi scripting for the SNCF ... which leads me inevitably to a few reflections.

I distinctly remember someone once telling me that a friend of his brother had it on good authority that one fine day Linus Torvalds was in the toilet reading and the idea of cloning UNIX came to him, out of the blue. After three hours and quite a bit of toilet paper he'd got the basic architecture sketched out, and over the following month of weekends he and a couple of hard-core coder friends got 350,000 lines of code and the first alpha version of the Linux 1.0.0 kernel ready. The longest part was picking the name.

And I really do have to ask myself why he bothered. Why go out of your way to duplicate the feel and functionality of a bloated, baroque system with everything in it but the kitchen sink? Come to that, if you look carefully you'll probably find that that's snuck its way in there too, lurking behind the purple beachballs with the Hawaiian motif, just over beside the drivers for the ICL punched-card readers. (Reminds me: anyone seen the remake of Hawaii 5-0? We really like it.)

I mean, there is still support built-in for terminals that communicate over string or knitted twine, using different types of knots to represent ASCII characters. And even a fervent admirer would have to admit that the "user-friendly" interface and the "intuitive" commands are a bit arcane.

Why not put all that undoubted talent into developing something genuinely innovative and useful? Like, say, bread that never fell buttered-side down? Or a genetically engineered cat that brought you coffee in the mornings, or at least didn't try to kill you in various subtle ways during the day? Or an improved version of the black death that only infects people who wander along yammering the petty details of their sad lives into their Bluetooth headsets? (I mean, some of these things I do not want to know. I do not care what you said/he said, nor do I wish to know that you've just bought some new knickers, in a fetching shade of salmon-pink. But I digress.)

Something that improves the general lot of humanity (or at least those that don't have Bluetooth headsets)? But no, geeks don't think like that, so we got something that, as Bismarck remarked, is not really for the faint-hearted to look at. (He was talking about lawmaking, I admit, so I may have taken him out of context, but what the hell.)

Which in turn reminds me that I saw an article today blaming poor old Tim Berners-Lee (aka "Greatest Living Briton"™) for all the ills of the internet - spam, DDOS, DNS poisoning, you name it - due to his lack of concern, some 20 years ago, for security. Never mind that the poor bugger's hardly responsible for all that, all he ever got up to was developing the HTTP protocol while he was supposed to be particle-bothering. Still, I suppose that as da intartubez was originally a British invention - before DARPA got their famously swivel-eyed pointy heads around it - he could be held to share some of the guilt by association.

Having finished raving - I spotted some frozen prawns at the supermarket today (what with Christmas coming up, 'tis definitely the season to be buying foie gras and other such things if you're into that - won't even have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it), so guess what Sophie and I had for lunch? First you fry the little sods up in butter until they go nice and pink, as god intended them to be, then you flambé the poor things (Scotch is good), then you pour in a glass of white mixed with a decent dose of olive oil, heaps of smashed garlic and some chopped parsley, let that reduce rapidly (bit of a sod really, it goes too fast to be able to drink a great deal whilst it's going on), then you eat it.

Messily, I must admit. Because unlike Sophie, I have never learnt the fine art of shelling prawns with a knife and fork, and even after watching her with some admiration I've still no great desire to learn. Prefer fingers.

And then, to follow, Sophie brought out a surprise: some aged Cheddar, bought at Lidl. At least 18 months old (so it's not as though it's juvenile murder), little flakes of salt in it - absolutely scrumptious. Do you know how long it's been since I had decent Cheddar? No, thought not.

Then, for reasons which escape me, Lucas asked what, in my long and varied career, were my culinary catastrophes. I'm sure you lot can think of some, back when I was just starting to teach myself how to cook (still, nothing, I hope, as gross as Browneye Puddding), but let it be admitted I myself can think of a couple. The accidental cassoulet pizza was, let's face it, an unmitigated disaster, and  then there was the time I roasted a chicken ... nothing wrong with that in itself, but I'd neglected to read the fine print. It was, of course, a boiling fowl, and it had obviously been getting quite a bit of exercise in the last few decades of its life.

And I can still remember Ian and Marie's wedding.

There was to be a mechoui - a spit-roasted sheep - and the general consensus was that it would be a good idea to stuff the poor thing (adding insult to injury) before the event. So as Ian had collected a number of mushrooms the night before, I bravely undertook to do the deed using them as a base. That may have been, in retrospect, a mistake. Don't get me wrong, it smelt wonderful. And the first five minutes of eating it were fine. But afterwards ... oddly enough, there were still some that went back for seconds. They may have been the ones scraping the stuffing onto the ground, don't know, I was having a lie-down.

But right now, seeing as Jeremy has buggered off to spend the night at Montmelian at a friend's place, I'm off to make dinner for two: a teeny roast chicken on garlic cloves, brussels sprouts (yes, Virginia, I do like those), and a sort of linzertorte to follow. Goodnight, all: mind how you go.


  1. I really ought to re-title this "Disgusting Food & Dangerous Cookery", as a couple of the potatoes that I had happily baking in the oven just exploded. I put it down to tough skins and a higher-than-usual moisture content, rather than live artillery rounds ...

    On the bright side, there are some lovely crispy potato skins to eat, once they finish baking; downside is that the oven floor is covered with exploded potato guts, which I'll have to clean out once our rouelle de jambon with garlic and paprika has cooked and it's cooled down a bit

  2. Hmmm, might have to give that burgundy apple tart a go ...