Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where's Bloody Hemingway When You Need Him ...

It's in Pamplona, if memory serves, where they run the bulls through the streets and the bloated old hack duly described the action in screeds of turgid prose. In Moux they seem to run sheep, which does have the advantage of pretty much ensuring that no-one gets gored to death during the spectacle. Also, after they've passed the more enterprising of the neighbourhood brats can always collect the detritus and hock it off as prime olives to unwary tourists.

A fact of interest which inexplicably failed to make it into "The Sun Also Rises". Or, "The Boat Also Sinks", whatever, who cares? Not one of my all-time favourite authors, I must admit.

About a year back now we found ourselves at Montpellier where there was a big patchwork salon - need you ask - and to my pleasure they had a small section devoted to food and therein a stand with all sorts of herbs and spices, to which I naturally gravitated. I don't recall doing it but I apparently filled out my name and address on an envelope after I'd bought a tube of powdered vanilla and various curries, for a couple of weeks ago it arrived in the mail, containing an invitation to this year's event.

I will do a lot of things to avoid working, so off we headed. And I picked up some green curry, some Madras and Bombay, some white pepper from Cameroon, five-spice powder ('cos I chucked the jar I'd had, on the grounds that it was way too old), more smoked paprika, sumac, curcuma and tandoori, and a few other bits and pieces. And I filled out another envelope, so I guess that in a year's time we'll be going back ...

If your GPS is not, like ours, totally dysfunctional and psychopathic to boot, it's an easy job to get from there to IKEA which is, let's face it, just across the autoroute: it took us a bit longer. But we made it there, and exited eventually with only a few things - a lamp and a rug for my office, some baking tins - for they carry ring and pie moulds with removeable bases - and of course some pepparkaka which is not peppery poo but gingerbread biscuits. In case you were wondering.

Also some small jars for spices 'cos I've had it up to here with a plastic tub full of small tie-closed bags that I never seem to bother looking in or I'd have seen that I already have a ginormous stash of juniper berries (and some rather inferior curry, which might be heading for the rubbish bin or if I really fancy a joke I suppose I could leave it on the edge of the dining-room table with Indra alone in there and see what happens).

Truth to tell I still have the plastic tub because there are things in there like poppy seeds and sesame seeds and the packet of badiane that I really don't have anywhere else to put, but at least it's out of the way and I know where they are. And damn!, I forgot to get another pepper grinder for that white pepper.

In the same shopping centre there is "Du Bruit Dans La Cuisine", which sells stuff - such as my big KitchenAid stand mixer - and I could hardly leave there without the pasta-making attachment, now could I? So I guess that we'll be eating a bit of fresh home-made pasta for a while, until the novelty wears off and we are totally sated with tagliatelle and lasagna.

Oh, I also - finally - got one of those handy little lighters for gas stoves, something that has become necessary these days if you do not have the good luck to own an oven with an electric ignition system. I used to use matches, but these days they've carried the "safe" in "safety matches" to ridiculous extremes. Matches are now inherently safe by design: the only way you can get one to light is by soaking it in petrol and setting fire to it with a cigarette lighter. Which kind of obviates the point.

Now might be the time to tell you about the Rossini-burger, which is both delicious and relatively simple. (Also, only slightly adapted and improved from the admittedly inferior version they serve at Le Bureau, in Chambéry.) You start off by making paillassons - so-called because they look like a straw mat - which, when cooked, you will stick in the oven to keep warm and crispy. (Because you have the oven on to cook dessert anyway, and also microwaving them would be a crime.)

Personally I grate the potatoes onto a (cleanish) tea-towel, which makes it much easier to squeeze all the water you can out of them, and I like to add salt, chives and a few spoons of corn flour (which is flour made out of corn, much finer than polenta, and not corn-starch, please). Some people like to stir in an egg at this point, arguing that this makes the things stay together better when you fry them: others remark disdainfully that if they don't stay together anyway you're not doing it right probably because the fat's not hot enough, and in any case if you want a soggy potato omelette just say so.

Whatever, stick mounds of the mix into a frying pan with hot duck fat and spread out with a fork into rounds about 1cm thick and 8cm in diameter: fry until crispy and cooked through before putting into the oven.

At this point get a green salad ready and make some sauce Aurore, which is nowt more than a BĂ©arnaise with a college education and a bit of tomato concentrate whisked in, so that's all ready for the next step ... which is to fry some onion rings and as many 1cm-thick slices of fillet of beef as you happen to have people to eat them. In duck fat, again, and on high, if you please.

When the steak's cooked to your liking - which should not involve turning it into shoe leather - assemble everything: a slice of fillet atop each paillasson, each topped with a slice of foie gras, and a good glop of the sauce on top of that. Serve them up with the fried onions, which should be soft and golden if you got it right, heaped around, and enjoy.

More on search terms: if you look for "titsup + holidays" on Microsoft Bing! you will find this site in the results. Sadly, sandwiched between "holiday porn" and "amateur big-titted wife on holiday". I find this rather sad.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes ...

Stupid EBK is NOT a sewing machine
... which can only mean it's time to look at the Great Google's stats again.

"but there is smell on it". What the hell kind of search request is that, and why, why oh Lord, should it end up here? From Ukraine? Don't they have better things to do, like a war going on? It's all going titsup, I tell you. Used to get all sorts of things arriving here - mostly, I admit, concerning sex or thread-worms - and now we've come to this: my audience is a war zone that's obsessed by nasal hygiene.

I sincerely hope you all spent a pleasant New Year's day: personally, I shifted my office. I swear that this is the last time evah that I knock down my workstation desk and re-erect the damn thing: it weighs half a tonne and is actively hostile to having screws stuck into its various holes. Whatever, it is done, and what is supposed to be the dinning room on the ground floor here at The Shamblings™ is all of a sudden much emptier than it was.

Before anyone complains, a "dinning room" is one in which much noise is made, such as a child's bedroom when it is being whipped to sleep (that would be the child, not the room, that was being whipped) or - for instance - a dining room in which the quantities served are of a perceived insufficience.

Or, for another instance, one in which dessert has been accompanied by an excess of alcohol such as it might be armagnac or maybe whisky, just saying, and under these circumstances Certain Persons - looking at you, Richard - might raise their voices and maybe even beat the table with their palms to emphasize the elocutionary point they have just so triumphantly and so decisively made, if only it could be remembered just what the point was.

Whatever, there are many ways I like to spend my time. In a hammock, on the terrace, under the sun with a never-empty glass of white wine, would have to be a favourite. I do not even require grapes, nor someone to peel them and feed them to me: I am a simple man, with simple tastes. Although more lurid, not to say lubricious, fantasies may be recounted on request, at an entirely reasonable cost.

But one way I really do not want to spend my day (or more likely days, by the time this is done) is recovering two machines from catastrophic failure.

A while back, in 2013, I bought two identical Samsung laptops, one of which I cruelly left under Windoze 8, and the other got Linux installed on it. So far so good, until just before Christmas the Linux system started warning me of drive failure ...

At which point I made a fresh copy of all my data thereon and stuck that onto the other Linux machine (a beastly-big Asus which is more of a transportable than anything else, given its weight, although back in the day we'd have sneered at anything that weighed less than 15 kg and looked smaller than a sewing machine) and then it came to me that I'd perhaps better occupy myself with the Windows machine.

Parenthetical aside: another thing that pisses me off is that I am wearing jeans that I bought a while back, when I was depressed and put on weight. They are now way too big (as in, an inch or so) and I have no hips to speak of, nor am I the happy owner of a belt. I cannot walk too far without having my jeans hanging at half-mast somewhere in the general vicinity of my knees. NOT GOOD!

And any smartarse who says "just go buy new jeans that fit" is banned. You try buying jeans with an honest 28" waist. Go on, I'll wait. Got some? Post them over, I'll owe you.

(Having said that, 'tis la saison des soldes right now, the after-Christmas sales where the shops try to flog off all the stuff left over from 2014 - and although the French say that they're cutting back on the spending you'd be amazed at the number of huge flat-screen TVs flying off the shelves in the supermarkets - and in the shopping mall on the northern side of Carcassonne we stumbled upon a Celio which had vast numbers of size 36 jeans with a 30 leg ie a 72cm waist and just my size. True, the waist-band is only a shade north of my crotch, but I can live with that. I'm told it's fashionable. I'll just try not to go to discos too often.)

End of aside: at this point I discover that the hard drives installed in both machines are, it seems, prone to failure. I mean, I have hard drives that are ten years old and still running happily: what kind of crap manufacturers produce drives that last 18 months and then drop dead? (Answer: Seagate/Samsung. From the time when Samsung sold their hard drive fabs to Seagate. That's another brand I won't be buying in a hurry.)

The data is all backed up on the cloudy thing, and much of it on various hard disks: it now comes to mind that data on the cloud is fuck-all use if you don't have a functioning machine with the appropriate programs installed to retrieve it. Also, I have a metric fuck-tonne of programs installed, which I really do not want to have to go through and install again.

Without speaking of bloody Windows itself because, as is standard these days, you no longer get a physical installation DVD with your machine - "oh no that's alright, it's all on a protected recovery partition on your machine, it's OK". My arse, when your recovery partition goes titsup too.

Yeah I know, long ago I should have used the unreachable and sadly indescribably vile Windows tools to create a system backup: had I actually tried that under Windows 8.0 it might well have been possible but, sadly, unusable under Windows 8.1 - and now I find that I can't do it anyway because of REASONS and right now, with a failing hard drive, is not really the time to be playing around with your partition tables. Believe me. Take a break now.

Also, I got some kumquats at the market this morning. They looked so pretty. I rather think that they will soon end up as this - especially as I still have lemons on my lemon tree. (Note: kumquats are mostly seeds. Lots of pectin no doubt, but it takes a while to slice and seed the little buggers.)

Another recipe from Mr Lebovitz which I personally loved but which Margo found way too chocolatey for her taste involved a very short sweet pastry (like, forget about rolling it, press it into the dish with your hands) made by creaming butter and sugar, adding an egg, and then beating in half and half flour and cocoa powder: I do love my stand mixer.

Stick the crust in the freezer for an hour or so to firm it up before baking blind, then spread it with most of a pot of dulce de leche (aka confiture de lait, or milk jam), cover that with a chocolate custard and bake. A pie dish with a removable base comes in very handy here: I really must buy some more, all mine are about thirty years old. And what little confiture de lait is left over will, in my experience, disappear rather rapidly, with some help from a teaspoon to get into the awkward corners of the jar. (If you're polite.)

Break over. Do you know, much to my surprise recovering the Windows machine was no trouble at all? With the Linux system I had to chant and dance a bit, and boot from the installation CD to set up the grub parameters so that it actually saw everything, but with the Windows one I just restored the cloned image and rebooted (OK, I did have to refiddle with the BIOS parameters to make that work) and found myself with my familiar desktop.

That struck me as kind of odd, given that CloneZilla is a Linux tool, and I would've expected it to have handled Linux systems better than Windows ones ... this turns out to be not necessarily the case.

Whatever, thank you, CloneZilla: you have made me a happy man. And, incidentally, saved me one hell of a lot of time. It is not the sort of tool you ever really want to use, because if you need it you are in the shit, but if you have to use it you are very glad it works.