Thursday, September 21, 2006

Absolving Myself of Responsibility

Okay, I'll just go ahead and admit it. I am over my blog. I am just not interested in posting. It feels vain in both the self-absorbed way, and in the pointless way. And I have run out of funny ways to say, 'Drank a whole bottle of wine on my own last night. Spent all day in the library listening to old men snort. Watched 6 consecutive hours of America/Britain's Next Top Model.'

But, I still like to comment on other people's blogs. So I am going to try an interactive approach, because I think that despite my incredibly controlling ways, I may actually be somewhat of a team player. Like if I was a superhero, I would need to be one of the X-Men, because if I was Batman I would just get bored and sort of stop caring about saving Gotham and just sit around Wayne Manor forcing Alfred to make me Martinis until Robin and Batgirl showed up and kicked my ass into shape.

So, in honour of the fact that I have been watching at least an hour of LivingTV every night, I present this question to you: if you were in the Fab Five (of Queer Eye), which would you be? I think I would be Ted, the food man, but I am uncertain (again, with the controlling-- the only one of them I would allow to do it all for me would be Kyan, because I just don't really *get* the whole beauty-routine thing enough to worry about letting someone who is obviously fabulously capable do it all for me). The options, for the less well-versed (who say, do other stuff than watch re-runs all evening), would be: Food and Wine; Fashion; Home Interiors; Grooming; and the useless 'Culture' man-wench, who I can't see the point for. Fab Four is also alliterative.

This way, if y'all don't comment, I can leave my blog to die in peace, but pretend that it was YOUR neglect that killed it,not mine.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Eat Wild Boar

So, my blog sloth has been such that I can't really even begin to excuse it with 'I was away...' or 'I have a lot of work to do...' or 'I felt kind of uninspired...' All these things are true, but I can't really imagine that anyone cares. But, here is a run-down of some things that happened since the beginning of June, which I am only bothering to recount because my pirated copy of word is doing the little rainbow swirly thing that means it is going to mysteriously shut down, but until then it won't let me get on with my work:
I made a massive pork roast that had cooked so deliciously in its own fatty goodness that it almost fell off the bone when I tried to carve it. It made me want to cry with joy.
I went back to California for about a month. The highlight of this was either: a) my sister's new puppy, Finnigan; b) the new place that has opened up in Santa Barbara that serves a vast selection hot dogs (including miniature corn dogs) and only hot dogs; c) sleeping on a mouse and therefore murdering it while camping; d) a trip to Mexico which involved staying at a house that was exactly like a Bond villian shag-pad; or e) a friend's wedding. Actually, I am not even going to try to lie-- the puppy was the best bit. He is just about the cutest thing ever.
Jeff passed his Viva.
I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials triology, which was excellent, and is now present high on my Favourite Children's Literature list.
I tried to convince my parents to buy a house on Loch Tummel, and perhaps could have succeeded, except that someone else bought the house first.
I went through 22 academic books in three weeks in order to prepare for my research trip to Belfast next week.
I discovered the excellence that is wild boar meat, which in the last two weeks has become a staple item in my cooking.
I have managed to prove how incapable I am at turning the last two months into any sort of cohesive or interesting blog entry, and therefore may have succeeded in keeping anyone from encouraging me to write anything else.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Grown-up Stuff

Last night began what promises to be a full year of non-stop wedding action (as in 5 in only about twice as many months), and whereas before I felt freaked out by the grown-up-ness of it all, I am now actually really excited: Ali and Helen's wedding was absolutely lovely, and has worked miracles to clear away the anxiety of many of my best friends getting engaged all at the same time. It was wonderful to see them together, obviously ecstatic, it was wonderful to see their families together, all having a great time, it was wonderful to meet so many really good people. And I drank myself to the point that I was even able to walk home wearing my heels, and someone else paid.

Until last night I hadn't actually been to a wedding ceremony in 20 years-- the last time I was the flower girl, and the most important person in the wedding party, for I wore a white dress with a lot of lace and a hoop skirt-- and I was reminded of a few things: a) that I don't like church that much, but that b) if I have to go to church and wash my soul clean, it is best to do it at a wedding service. And also that Protestant churches deliberately trick unsuspecting Catholics by changing just a couple words of the Lord's Prayer, but I *think* only Jeff noticed how my confidence faltered around the tricksy debts/trespasses section.

Also reassuring was that we were seated at the kids' table at the reception-- not really, but we were the only table without any parents, etc., so our table got the drunkest. We win.

Monday, May 08, 2006

My lettuces, other people's shrubbery

I planted my own lettuces this weekend, but I just don't have anything clever or insightful to say about them. They are in the two window boxes outside my room, and there are six of them, and I love them, but while this is terrifically exciting for me I am self-aware enough to know that it is very unlikely that anyone else will think that lettuces are even mildly interesting. But there they are. I think they are becoming like a pet replacement, as this morning they all got a 'Good Morning!' and a few little strokes while I remarked on their states of perkiness and gave them a bit of water. I might name them, once they have been around long enough to have sugested their personalities to me.

If you want to read about something funny and interesting (not lettuces), do trot over to Lisa at www.talesoftheundetected.blogspot.com, and check out her recent spa-menu explorations. The questions foremost in my mind: Are Hollywood starlets actually hairless? Why? Is this because of the continuing pressure to be (very!) young? Isn't there a biological reason for pubic hair? What happens if you ignore biology, become like a hairless cat, and affix rhinestones to your bits? What would be the general reaction of a man to a bald, rhinestoned pubis? Would he realise right away that he had just gone to bed with the most high-maintenance woman in the universe, or would reality wait to kick in until after she had beat him over the head with her LV bag for bringing her lilies, not irises, on their 4th date? How can the Brazilian AND the Hollywood be the most popular waxes?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Al Frrrrrrrrresco

Today we had our first meal out of doors (spring rolls and Vietnamese Chicken Salad), which was excellent and a sign of good things to come. Unfortunately, it is not *quite* warm enough for everyone to really embrace the garden eating-- I think I was the only one who would have been quite content to stay outside, but this might have been because the Westie and the little boy who live next door came out to play, and I think they are both the best ever.
It does show some weather-based progress, though, and in honour of it, this afternoon we will descend on the Peartree to celebrate with out of doors booze.

By the way, does anyone else think that Al Fresco would be a good name for a person? A friend of a friend in high school said her Dad's barber was called Al Dente. I thought that was good, too.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fowl Deeds

(ha-HA!?)

After my week or so of hardcore blogging I have been a little lax recently, but I do have a good excuse. I heard from Tesco in response to the nasty letter I wrote them about the chickens, and because of the incredible dissatisfaction I received from their letter I have been at a bit of a crossroads. So, in the last week I have been mulling over whether I am ready to cross the line from 'concerned consumer/animal lover' to 'chicken crusader/total social pariah' and start writing righteous letters to newspapers and standing around holding leaflets that have horrible pictures on them. One of the things that has been most helpful to me is how weirdly supportive everyone has been about my soap boxing-- here on the blog, at home, generally among friends to whom I have cautiously mentioned this-- which is partly what makes me think that maybe I should go all out and start a little pro-bird, anti-Tesco campaign (then again, the fact that everyone has been nice about it reminds me that I quite like my friends and that I would prefer not to alienate them). Anyway, here's the run-down of my exchange with Tesco. I have just cut and pasted my letter to them below and then typed out their response, so if it all seems a bit wordy, I apologise. Oh, I was also kind of graphic, so be prepared for that, too.

Tesco Customer Service
PO Box 73
Baird Avenue
Dryburgh Industrial Estate
Dundee DD1 9NF

2 April 2006

To whom it may concern;

While shopping in Tesco (Broughton Road, Edinburgh) today I noticed something in the meat aisle that disturbed me for a number of reasons. I had previously believed that Tesco’s standards of animal welfare and wellness were reasonably high for a supermarket, but after seeing hock burns on the roasting chickens on display I am disappointed to say that I am no longer convinced of this. As I am sure you know, hock burns are the result of over-crowding of chickens, which results in the chickens being forced to squat for extended periods of time in their own excrement. Because of the high ammonia content of chicken excrement, it burns sores through the flesh of the birds. As a long-time Tesco customer, I am appalled that your store would be willing to sell birds that are not only so inhumanely treated, but that you are also willing to market a piece of meat with has fairly obviously been soaking in avian faeces.

Additionally, this chicken was marked with a label that I found to be deliberately misleading. It referenced the farmer who raised the chicken, who (if I remember correctly) had his premises in ‘rural Fife.’ The label implied that the farmer and his family had been running a small farm for a number of generations, and also referenced his compatibility with Tesco’s animal welfare standards. If this is the case, I am shocked that Tesco’s welfare standards are so abominably low that they would allow a supply from a farmer who so obviously over-crowds his livestock. If this is not the case, and this farmer did not raise this actual chicken, Tesco is guilty of false advertising. Regardless, I think that your corporation is misleading the public with this system of labelling, and the verbal manipulation used implies a standard of farming which is obviously far beyond that in which this bird was raised.

In truth, I am most greatly disappointed because I have, in general, always found my shopping experience in Tesco to be a pleasant one, bolstered by the friendly staff and the wide selection of products (especially the expanding range of organic products and free-range meats). I am very sorry to have had my estimation of your corporation so tarnished.

I am forwarding a copy of this letter to the CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) Trust, who recently gave Tesco a score of 35.1 out of possible of 60 points on the supermarket’s overall performance and awareness of animal welfare. This rating means that Tesco out-performed such competitors as Sainsbury’s and ASDA. If this is the case I am loathe to see what abominations these supermarkets stock.

Sincerely,
dev

What I got back was this:

Dear dev,

Thank you for contacting us.

We currently stock full ranges of both organic and free range chicken products in our chilled poultry cabinets and have done so for many years.

We demand high standards of animal welfare and are committed to ensuring that we source chickens from suppliers who operate to high standards of production. Our suppliers are audited rhrough an independent farm assurance scheme. We also have an agricultural them dedicated to raising animal welfare standards within the industry.

Thank you for your comments. I hope this reply reassures you that Tesco is fully committed to animal welfare.

Yours sincerely
For and on behalf of Tesco Stores Ltd

Alison Irvine

Now, I don't know about you guys, but that reply actually did not reassure me of Tesco's 'high standards' of welfare one bit, particularly since I had seen the damn hockburns on another couple chickens at the supermarket that day. I am annoyed that there is such an obvious socio-economic divide in terms of the quality and wellness of food that people are offered, and that because I can afford to buy a free-range chicken without really even thinking about it I get better quality and better piece of mind. So, I went and did a little investigative work so that I can offer you guys that comparative pricing on chickens at Tesco. Use it as you choose-- I know spending more money on something that essentially seems the same probably feels a bit weird, but when you upgrade your chicken you aren't just paying for welfare, you are paying for quality, too. If we were all straddling the poverty line I wouldn't ask, but I know we aren't, and I honestly think that the change has to start with those who can and those who know, so that eventually everyone (over-educated uni grads, single mothers with 5 kids to feed, wealthy gourmets) is offered the most ethical, high-quality choice available and that the animals who feedus are treated with respect and kindness. For more information, ask away, or if you want something a little more reliable than just my bitching, you can always check out Hugh F-W at www.rivercottage.net (also good for seaosnal fooding!) or the peeps over at Compassion in World Farming Trust at www.ciwf.org.uk (exceptional for really cute pictures of exceedingly clean-looking cattle, though there are also some upsetting pictures of pretty vicious cruelty). Okay, so here's the chicken info as of 8 April 2006:*

At Tesco, a normal, battery hen (complete with hock burns, flaccid meat, and the kind of Karma that bring you back as one of those chickens) will cost you 2.25 pounds per kilo.
A Free Range hen (this guarantees a reasonable amount of extra space and access to the outdoors during the day for the chicken, hence a bit more exercise and therefore more flavourful meat, but the bird can still legally be fed creepy soy meal or GM foods) costs 3.17 pounds per kilo.
An Organic hen (which is the best you can get at Tesco, though as i have discovered their organic chickens are NOT Soil Association approved, and therefore have substantial room for improvement) will cost you just over 4 quid per kilo.

So, if you are feeding 3 fairly hungry peeps, you would get a 1.3 kilo battery chicken for 3 quid, and a 1.3 kilo Organic chicken for a fiver. The difference is two pounnds (as in, that last pint of Carling that pushed you from okay-ish to utterly mortal this weekend, and gave you a raging hangover the next day), but I can assure you that the pleasure of cooking and eating the organic bird is so different it would blow your mind.

And now, I am going to stop my rant. It seems I have made my decision about that whole Animal Lover v. Social Pariah question...


* I apologise to the American audience for not having proper stats on your supermarket options-- I'll try to gather some in June, or until then, you can do the Inspector Gadget stuff at your local supermarket.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Risen Bean

I used to hate beans on toast, that British classic. I detested the sort of mealy texture of the beans, and I hated the fact that I knew there was nothing but sugar in the tomatoey sauce. I *particularly* refused to eat them because Jeff kept trying to convince me that they are some sort of Council Estate Health Food (whether or not this is believed to be true on the housing estates themselves I don't know, but what I do know is that two tins of beans does not supply the necessary vegetable for a day, and it gives way too much sugar to small children, who all seem to be hopped up on Capri Sun all the time anyway). But, then I tried an experiment and managed to change my mind, resulting in pretty much weekly bean consumption here. Which is nice, because Jeff loves beans, and this way we have reached a compromise between his preference for salt of the earth (or sugar, I guess) and my preference toward pretentiousness.

Inspired by the comment made on The Roquefort Files by one Lucky Duck, I will now share with you my secret to truly lovely beans, just in case Keith and I don't get around to slaughtering anything besides our respective sobriety any time soon... I actually was thinking maybe I should put this oneout there before reading Lucky Duck's comment, but I was wondering if maybe I wanted to keep it to myself, instead.

Furthering the twin blogging that Keith and I seem to have been doing this week, this alteration was actually mostly pilfered from Nigel Slater's "The Kitchen Diaries", which, as Keith has mentioned, is awesome. It has a really good balance between East and West, seasonal recognition and managing to eat something other than root veg in January, farmers' market trawling and recognition of the ease of popping out to the corner shop for oven chips and beer. Good stuff, and I think a really nice introduction to eating with the seasons, with a nice recognition of even a chef's human frailty and without the 'raise your own' intimidation factor of some of H.F-W's stuff. Plus, I love seasonal cookbooks, because that way I only let myself read one month at a time, and then it feels like there is a new cookbook for me each month. This is much cheaper than actually buying a new cookbook every month, and it also saves space in a kitchen that already has three shelves full of books.

So, any more tangents aside, what you do is toss some bacon (cut up into wee bits) into a pan at low heat and let it leak out some nice bacony fat while you chop up an onion. It helps if the bacon is quite good-- like butcher's or farm bacon-- because then it actually has some fat to lubricate the pan, and it doesn't just leak injected water and E numbers. I think it would work with grocery store bacon in a pinch, though, if you let it fry gently for a little bit and then dump out the gross watery stuff that leaks out, then add a drop or two of olive oil. Let the onion soften and the bacon cook a bit, without getting much colour, then dump in your tin of beans. Heat them up, and add a teaspoon of black treacle (mo-lasses for the Americani), a glug of mushroom ketchup (no U.S. equivalent, though perhaps a smidge of A1 might be a worthy addition here), and either some Tabasco sauce or a bit of chopped or dried red chilli (I used both Tabasco and chillies, but this is because we enjoy the spice. Not everyone does). Stir it around so the treacle mixes in nicely (it takes the colour from disturbing neon-y red to a nice, deep rust), and what you have is about 6 trillion times superior to the original. I like it most on baked potatoes, with a criminal amount of butter, but it is enjoyable on toast, as well.

Do with this what you will. I know it sounds like too much time invested for a supper of baked beans, but it actually only takes about 5 minutes, and really makes all the difference in the world. Oh, and don't be confused-- there is even MORE sugar in my way of doing it, but I accept this because it is MY sugar. Being arbitrary is my life.