Thursday, June 30, 2005

All up in my griddle.

I have to say that today did not start auspiciously, at least in kitchen terms. Actually, I could say that last night did not end auspiciously, and the lack of auspice carried on into the morning. Anyway, I decided to forgo the previously mentioned Strawberry Tart, as the recipe called for cornstarch. For some reason products with 'corn' in the title always give me trouble-- it took me ages to give in and cook something using even the tiniest granules of cornflour; as a sugar-avoider I have a great terror for corn syrup (the hidden enemy); in the UK cornmeal is at times near impossible to find. (These 'times' are only the times that you need cornmeal, like when trying to make chili and cornbread. At all other times there is so much cornmeal hanging around that you just don't know what to do with yourself.)

So, yes, I skipped the Strawberry Tart and decided to go down the Chocolate Cheesecake route, as that means I can make the dessert the night before the dinner, enabling me to actually have some sort of productive day before dinner and not be so cranky and sick of food by the time everyone shows up that I am rude to my houseguests. Unfortunately, I was more involved in the Evening Concert on Classic FM than I was in paying attention to my cooking, and nearly caused a mild disaster with the cheesecake. Nothing horrible, though. I just remind you that when you make cakes, especially heat-sensitive cakes that involve things that cook at very low temperatures (eggs) and things that harden even at quite high temperatures (chocolate) you will want to have your thinking cap on and not have all your dairy ingredients come straight from the fridge.

After the cheesecake had (I think) been salvaged (it looks okay now, but as with all cake things you can't really tell until you cut into it, and possibly cause death to all...), I then woke up a bit early this morning in order to fire up my new griddle and cook some lovely zucchini and eggplant for a bit of a dinner side dish. This took AGES. I started at 7.45. It is now 10.30. I did not shower this morning, nor eat a proper breakfast, nor take a detour route to the library, nor frolick. I griddled for hours, filling my kitchen and living room with smoke. I now smell like a barbeque. I also managed to throw a tea-cup off the dish dryer and out the window (which was open so I at least wouldn't die of the smoke inhalation). I luckily did not hit either the man or the cat who live downstairs. But I did lose a tea cup.

The moral of the story is that griddling is not as fun as barbequeing, especially as my usual version of barbequeing is thinking up a vaguely creative marinade for something, plopping some fish/steak/chicken in it, and giving it to my Dad. I then drink a few glasses of wine while he slaves over the hot grill, but get to feel as if I contributed and be a bit drunk, which makes me cheerful. This is much better than the griddle. I did spend £30 on the blessed thing, though, so I will have to use it often.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Week In Review

Despite all my good intentions my blogging has slumped a little, and I am sorry. But I have lots of (good) excuses, some of which are included in my events of the week, which cannot possibly be made into anything coherent, so I just won't try...
  • I moved to my new flat. It is glorious there: the view out my bedroom window is like a postcard; I have a whole pantry to fill up with junk (which means that I can have only the pretty, tidy things out where people can see them, making them think I am fastidiously pretty and tidy, when really I am demented); my new stove-top is super powerful (though I fear the power a little for any future emulsion sauces, which will certainly now have to be done in a double boiler); the lights in my bathroom are amazingly bright and make for intense sessions of eye-brow plucking. Despite all this goodness, there is one thing that I thought might be a drawback, but I am becoming less sure-- there is no TV hookup, and as it is ground floor the aerial on my TV does jack-all. So, in order to not live in eternal silence I have been listening to Classic FM non-stop, and have more than doubled my knowledge of classical music in the last three days (granted, this isn't exactly saying much). Perhaps for a little while I will avoid the mind-numbing powers of TV and embrace the mind expanding facts I am learning about all my new composer friends. And then for my birthday I'll buy myself a new TV that will actually hook up to a DVD player and just watch The Precious all the time (obviously fast-forwarding through the bits with evil, creepy, cannibalistic Elijah Wood).
  • I applied to speak at a conference. This is very exciting, and makes me feel like a proper grown-up academic (though this is purely an illusion). I am not sure they will want me to come, but I did try my best to write a very ass-kissy letter dropping my supervisor's name as much as possible, so I hope that will help. Anyway, it is in Bath (which I love) where they apparently have a really excellent Centre for Irish Studies, in November. I will keep you posted. In case you care. Or in case someone reads this blog.
  • I went out to eat twice. First, on Wednesday, Jeff and I finally managed to make it to Relish for their shockingly reasonable Student Night Deal (burger, beer, £5). It was very warm that evening, so we got to sit and sip our beer (Budweiser, and I even liked it, though I think that had to do with the frosty glass-- I am cheap like that) and watch the people come and go on the Royal Mile. And I got to fill myself up with wondrous beef and cheese and rivers of ketchup. Then, on Thursday, I got to indulge my other realm of fantasy eating, and went for a fishy lunch at the Fisher's down in Leith with a friend of my sister's and her very nice parents. I had their awesome fish soup, and then some cool little rillettes of monkfish wrapped in spinach and then prosciutto and drizzled with a red wine vinegar/wholegrain mustard dressing. So good. (I specifically ordered the monkfish so I could figure out an interesting way to do monkfish, as I bought some last week and ended up thinking I could have just as well bought chicken, had a tasier dinner, and saved about £4. And so now I know.) Oh, and on Saturday I ate pizza for lunch and dinner. Beat that for a week of foodie splendour.
  • I went to a gig. On Friday we went to see Mike's band, Luxury Speed-Wash. Usually not at all my thing: despite my part-time deafness (it actually means I wasn't really listening to you) I really can't handle the loudness of gigs, and the endless stream of Band Hos dressed in 'rock-star' outfits and dancing like '60s go-go dancers brings out my most catty self (who is not too far under the surface anyway, as you may have noticed). Plus, it is always smoky, and you have to stand up in a crowded room for hours and hours, and I don't know anything about music (except now Classical music, which is far superior; see above), so I can't make appropriate comments about the songs, or even really recognise whether not it was a cover most of the time. That said, I really liked Mike's band. Their songs were catchy, and after what seemed like some early nervousness they looked like they were having fun on stage, which makes all the difference. And I even was okay with the band afterward, despite the fact that I thought their indie-meets-death-metal style was about as good as using an electric drill to clean your ears. But the singer/lead-guitarist was working a whole Jack Black angle, complete with beer-belly hanging over his guitar and head banging, and I respect his enthusiasm. And the bassist was really very good, and he looked like a serial killer, which entertained me while I was trying to tune-out the music. After that my tolerance was all worn out, though, and I had no patience for the Green Day wannabes who are apparently going to be signed by EMI any second now. Kind of boring, and I figure that if you want to hear Green Day you go home and put on a Green Day CD.
  • I went to see Batman Begins. Which was awesome. I am one of those people who really didn't like any of the earlier Batman movies (No, not even the first one with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. It was boring. Sure, I probably am a cretin), so I went in with fairly low expectations. I was a fan of the cartoon growing up (I even made all my friends dress up at Batman charcaters for Hallowe'en my last year of High School), and kept getting disappointed with the films. This was really good, though-- engaging throughout, scary where it should be scary, bit of a sense of humour, vaguely psychologically interesting in a diet Coke kind of way, and though obviously pretty high on the nerd factor, at least decently believable with all the gadgetry. And the best bit is that they didn't pull any punches with getting really good actors (and I mean quality, not cash-crazy, ass-faced professional celebrities like Arnie) to play the roles that really count. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson, Gary Oldman? The coolest. You add Ian McKellan in there and you have the best guys ever (I am pushing for a sequel with Ian McKellan as a villain, though I haven't decided which one). Christian Bale was very good (granted, Batman as a character is really just a foil for all the interesting baddies/gadgets/Alfred's witty remarks, so there isn't a huge amount to work with, but he really did what he could and did it well). I have never been a huge fan of Katie Holmes, but I feel bad for her, because it was obviously very, very cold in Gotham City, and she had the kind of lame 'bitch' role, and she always gets stuck playing such goody-goodies (the curse of being rumoured to be a 26 year-old virgin?), but she pulled it off well-enough. Plus, she is engaged to such a spaz, poor girl. So, yay for Batman. Go see it. Go.

And that is all. I will try to be better about blogging this week, now that I am a bit settled in my flat and whatnot. I plan to make a strawberry tart this weekend, so there will be a combined Make Poverty History March/Pastry Cream entry at some point. How disturbing. Hey kids, starving in Africa? I am a rich, over-educated, liberal hypocrite-- I wax poetic about your dreadful plight, dress up in white with my little plastic chav-band, and righteously march around throwing a political tantrum. Then I go home to my New Town flat and eat pie while listening to Classic FM. Yeah, I don't know how to fix that. Suggestions are welcome, I think?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

'Council Tax' By e.e. 'dev' cummings

I
have now officially contacted the Council Revenues and
Benefits office in every way they offer.

Exciting really. Wait, no--
it is infuriating, as they continually send
bills

for £13oo pounds to me
despite the fact that every time I speak to
someone
at their office

(who is
always wildly apologetic and incredibly helpful) they
say, 'Oh, well, it is in the records that you are a student,

so that should be

all cleared up.' They are

so nice that I totally fail to be annoyed when I am on
the phone to them,
and then I hang up and realise that the twenty minutes of
annoyance was
stored up, and it hits me twice as hard.

This time,
though, maybe.

And if not-- I am moving in a couple weeks, so
they can send
bills to the flat all they want, because I will be somewhere else.
Ha ha!

**Note: This post (which is totally meaningless in terms of actual interest or information) was brought to you by:
Blockquote!-- For all your Blockquoting needs.
"Thanks, Blockquote! You might make an avant garde poet out of me yet!"
Seriously, it demented my text all on its own. I really didn't have to help at all...

Monday, June 13, 2005

A tale of pie. And woe. And pie again.

Though I know it won't be terribly thrilling for a portion of my readership, I thought I should actually write something about pie, which I have neglected to do since starting this blog. Truthfully, my original intention with Life of Pie was to talk about pie a lot, because I really love it. But, since I self-diagnosed myself as hypoglycemic and stopped eating sugar or white flour my pie intake and output has been drastically down-sized, and I am not really sure I have had any pie since I began my blog... Tragic. However...

Once upon a time there was a maiden (term used loosely) who used to make quite a bit of pie, and eat nearly as much. In fact, she baked many tasty things, and usually they came out wonderfully, giving joy and expanded waist-bands to those who ate them, and allowing the maiden to bask in the admiration of houseguests, which is her very favourite thing. One day, an evil spirit crept into the maiden's mind, encouraged by a nasty witch who was dressed up as a fairy godmother. The name of this witch? Was Martha Stewart. The evil spirit was that of False Pride, which forced the maiden to ignore her mother's good advice and make previously untried dishes for a dinner party. And the witch's potions were not the trustworthy, carefully concocted potions of the true fairy-godmother, the wondrous and luscious Nigella. No, these potions were half-assed, but tarted up with exceptional pictures that turned the maiden's head, though she knew better.
And so, for her very first house-warming dinner ever the maiden decided to try out two new potions the witch had included in the April 2003 issue of her magazine. 'Oh, disaster!' cried the maiden, stressed beyond belief when the
Potato Rosti turned out grey and took three hours to cook, instead of forty minutes. Then, (through her own fault, not because of the witch) the maiden spoiled her Hollandaise sauce by neglecting to use a double boiler. But, despite the fact that she was trying very hard to impress her new boyfriend and everything had gone tits up, the maiden took heart, because she had made a Lemon Tart with a Pine-nut Crust, and she knew that her desserts were always wonderful.
But the witch had yet another trick up her sleeve, and had used her demented potion to convince the naiive young maiden to use macerated, thinly-sliced lemons within the tart. Like much of the most powerful dark magic, with pies and tarts you don't actually know that there has been a horrific occurence until it is too late. The tart looked beautiful, and so the maiden served it to her guests, feeling much more confident. And then she took a bite herself...


Since then this tart has been known as Bile Pie, and has been my nemesis, a hit-and-run on an otherwise squeaky-clean baking record. So, this weekend, after two years of being haunted, I conquered the looming spectre and made another lemon tart. Don't worry, I didn't use a Martha Stewart recipe-- that hasn't happened again, and it never will. And the lemon tart was glorious. It was eye-wateringly sour, and perfectcly smooth, and wonderful. It was the grown-up version of the lemon cake my Mom would indulgently let me order at my favourite French restaurant when I was very small. I have vanquished the evil of the Lemon Tart with a Pine-nut Crust. And I have restored the spirit of pie (and tart) to Life of Pie.

(For those who have got this far-- basically just LuLu, probably-- email me if you want the recipe. Or, buy the cookbook, which is the exceptional Bouchon, by Joseph Keller, the God of Californian-French cuisine. It is on sale at Amazon, and though still pricey totally worth the money)

**Note: I tried to be creative and put my little tale into 'Blockquote' mode. Which made the damn thing go all e.e.cummings on my ass, and I was a bit afraid I wouldn't be able to fix it. But it is okay, and has inspired me to further heights in my blogging. So, wait for tomorrow, when I will write something wildly mundane, but put it in e.e.cummings' Blockquotes and therefore make it poetic.

June's Golden Showers

In honour of it being early summer and all, I have done a little research to answer a question that has baffled me for many moons. Why does asparagus make your pee smell?

Well, friends, lucky for your enquiring minds, I recently was gifted with the fine tome On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by the fabulous Harold McGee. Now, I really haven't read a science book since high school (unfortunately this is true despite taking Bio 101 my first year of college, and may be the reason for that charming D+ on my transcript), but this book is just great. Even the science bits. And so, now I know:

When you eat asparagus your body produces something called asparagusic acid, which is closely related to the methanethiol that makes skunks have their charming odour, and which is passed out through your urine. 'What do you mean my pee smells?' you say. Then you may actually be one of two types of minority-- while most people produce the acid, and most people can smell it, a small percentage people do not produce the acid when metabolising asparagus, and another small percentage actually do produce it, but are unable to smell it.

And that is my little science lesson for today. Aren't you glad you checked my blog? I sure am.

More relevantly to my life, I finally have a flat. Hooray! More details after I move, and can describe its wonder from closer quarters...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

To the girls in the floaty white skirts...

You look lovely. So summery and cool and really very casually elegant, sort of like hippie versions of fairy-tale princesses. In truth, I am a little jealous, and may have to go find myself a floaty white skirt so I can also be summery and cool and casually elegant (of course, once I do there will be no more sun this summer, but my weather cursedness is not the point here). The willowy drape of your skirts covers a multiplicity of figure flaws, and can even be purchased in a length that means you don't really have to shave your legs that day. And you know what else? I can see your thong. Yes, I can! And not because you are wearing your skirt so low that it peeps out the top in a sort of bad-ass way. No, I can SEE it. The whole thing, right through the very thin material of your pretty, pretty skirt. It is turquoise. You know what else I can see? The figure flaws your pretty skirt is meant to be covering up. Like the cellulite on your ass that is exposed by said thong.

So, inspired by yesterday's sunny weather, here are my recommendations for your summer safety...
1) You must make a choice. Either a) buy a summery skirt that has lining, b) buy it in a dark colour, c) go old-school-style and wear a slip, or, d) if you really must have the very thinnest of lawn skirts because you are just sweltering in all 22 degrees of the Scottish summer, buy a pair of flesh-coloured boyshort undies in a nice opaque fabric that will cover your crack. I know they aren't sexy, and there is a good chance that your boyfriend/husband/flavour-of-the-week/cat will laugh and call them granny-pants. Deal with it. Your other choice is to have me start photographing your cellulite and posting it here, okay?
2) Buy a pumice. A what? A pumice. A wee exfoliating stone made to slough off the horrific callouses around your heels that you all decided to show off in your flip-flops/slingbacks/mule loafers. Because you are ruining the 'Oh, I winter in Sicily'-effect of your expensive St. Tropez air-brush session when you are prancing around in sandals that show me how your feet have worn nothing but wellies since two summers ago when the temperature hit 28 and they predicted a heat-based armageddon. Really, with a little warm water and some gentle pumice action they will come right off.
3) Finally, Gentlemen: put your shirt on. I know, it really is sunny. And warm. And I am aware that your yearly holiday is only to Bournemouth for 2 and a half days at the end of July, and it could rain. You need to be aware that your bare chest is not only going to land you in surgery to get rid of your parade of carcinomic glory in about ten years, but there is a good chance that you might temporarily blind someone else, causing them to walk under an on-coming bus. You don't want that to happen. Plus, you look just like a prawn in a frying pan, whitish-grey to start, but so speedily going pink around the edges...

By the way. I have now blogged three days in a row. Shocking.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Choose ME!

So, if you read yesterday's rambling, guilt-fuelled post carefully, you will have noticed that last week I put in an application for a flat. Though printed very neatly and filled out in a very correct fashion, it was perhaps a cheeky application. I asked if I could have a dog. I asked if they would take out the carpet in the bathroom. I asked if they would pretty please switch the cooker in the kitchen to gas, as I really don't like electric hobs very much. And then, in case they were still reading, I asked for a 10% rent reduction. And so, last night I got a wildly impersonal voice-mail in which I was informed that the owner preferred another applicant and that the decision was final. Now, you might think I would be disappointed in not getting this flat, but reasonable, as I knew from the start that I was asking a lot. But do you think I would be absolutely gutted, and would then spend half an hour bawling on the sofa and then drink most of a bottle of wine? If you answered 'No, what a childish and spoiled thing to do, you drunk!', then you obviously don't know me very well.

After being mystified as to why I am an hysterical idiot I tried to figure things out a little, and here is my moment of pop self-psychoanalysis. First of all: I was rejected for a flat. They preferred another applicant to me. They preferred someone else to me? What the fuck. How dare someone prefer another person TO ME?! So, as a recommendation to my readers, in case you do prefer other people to me (I don't recommend this, as I am much better), please don't let me know. I will go beserk.

Then, I had some nightmares last night. Granted, they were in large part related to Sin City, which we went to see on Sunday. If you are a comic book anorak I think you should go see it. If you are interested in modernised versions of film noir I think you should go see it. If you are a teenaged boy who doesn't get a lot of tail and wants to see some boobies, you should go see it. If you have a stomach of iron and no problems with depictions of electrocution, inherent human capabilities for evil, or violence against women, I think you should go see it. It really was very good. However, if you are 1) a huge fan of either Elijah Wood on his own or 2) of the Lord of the Rings movies in general, I think you should stay home and watch Flipper or North or one of the Preciouses. Because the movie really was very good, but I am now terrified that Elijah is waiting for me somewhere, very quietly, with his creepy, long fingernails and misguided, hungry wolf-dog.

However, I think the nightmares are only partially Elijah's fault (though if I do ever see him I will blame him entirely, and then run away). It seems to me that they are vaguely related to a series of nightmares I had my last year of undergrad when I had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated, where I would go, and whether or not I would have to live in a box under the freeway. Anxiety dreams, I was told. In one some coyotes came to my parents' house and ate my father and my dog, then turned into lumberjacks and abducted my sister's best friend. It was nice.

And so, the moral of the story is this: if you have a lovely one-bedroom flat with period features, beautiful wood floors, pristine white walls, and lovely big windows, and it is located not more than a 5 minute walk from my current flat, do let me know. I am a nice tenant, despite being self-centred, vain, spoiled, prone to anxiety, and now very afraid of Elijah Wood. Lots of people do prefer me (or so they say). I prefer me. You should too.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Random Nonsense (written in guilty desperation)

I really was going to go start the mountain of reading I have, but my guilt (read: desire for procrastination) has overwhelmed me, and so I must write something. And I couldn't wait any longer, or the things I was going to say would no longer be even vaguely relevant.

So, the first excitement of the last couple weeks: My burn. I know, it is horribly masturbatory of me to get so excited about my own wounds, and to hope for brusies with lots of colours and big scabs, but I can't help it. It is the most personally entertaining part of being self-obsessed (oh, and if you are reading this and also have a blog, you too are self-obsessed, so don't feel so high and mighty). For those people I haven't already tortured with endless chat about my burn, I was pouring some boiling stock into a container and spilled a bit. Then I tried to make like the Hulk and bang the lid on. What happened was on par with some of the Hulk's most destructive episodes; I shot the firey container of boiling liquid right at my torso, it exploded everywhere, leaving me with second-degree burns all across the right side of my abdomen. Second degree, baby. True woundage. It is now sort-of healing and looks like a combination of an old sunburn and a bit of mange that inner-city squirrels get sometimes. Really nice.

Anyway, the best thing about the burn is that I think I might have cured my fascination for being Martha Stewarty and making any spare bits of chicken and other animal bits into obscene amounts of stock which fill up the freezer for no good reason.

What should be more exciting (but which actually has concerned me far less) was that I had my viva last Thursday, and escaped through it relatively unscathed. Except for the mountain of corrections that I have to do in the next couple months so I can actually start my next joyful degree. But apparently everyone gets those (if you have recently passed your viva in a festival of adoration and had no corrections, only the obsequious fawning of your examiners, please keep it to yourself).

And that is all. There are other things that happened, like I put in an application for a new flat, and some drinking shenanigans (Foster's by the pitcher is not a good idea, even if it is on special offer), and some cooking and eating and movies. I went home for ten days ages ago, but by the time the jetlag wore off I was no longer even slightly interested in writing about what I had done (mostly gardening, it was nice). Desperate Housewives is over, which is disappointing because now my Wednesdays seem to have no purpose, and also disappointing because the seaosn finale wasn't as good as I expected it to be. Enough now. Perhaps I'll be back in a month or more, if I manage to cut myself quite badly, or if another world leader dies and I can pontificate about how much I loathe his sucessor even more than I hated him. That will be exciting...