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Sunday 30 September 2012


This weekend has seen me cooking my little heart out - we have a new chest freezer, and the plan is to spend a weekend cooking and freezing meals so that when I do the zombie-shuffle in from work, I actually eat something.

So far I have a bunch of chicken, lamb in ginger, lime & coconut, lamb in garlic, rosemary & hoi-sin sauce, lamb curry, & the ultimate broccoli & cauliflower cheese. Best of all, apart from a bad moment when I thought I was going to asphyxiate myself with the curry spices, no actual incidents or bad moments. No setting fire to anything or dropping anything important, so at the moment I have meals for the next three working weeks. It means a little bit of extra time to write.

Anyway, I promised a couple of twitter buddies recipes, so here goes:

Note : the big, big secret to this not taking for ever is to have your stuff ready to drop in the pan. Do the chopping, slicing and dicing before you start cooking. Also, a word of warning - I have a fairly unique set of taste buds, and I cook to suit them - change or substitute to suit yourselves.

Lamb Chops with ginger, lime & coconut:

2 - 3 tbs creamed coconut (I use the cream version because the last time I got a whole one, I eventually rode the car over it to crack the bloody thing. This is a LOT more convenient.)
2 tsps freshly chopped or 2 1/2 tsps powdered ginger
2 tbs lime juice
splash of lime cordial (yes, I know. I'm a barbarian. Live with it.)
1 tsp of sugar
Salt & pepper to season
Oil to fry in - I use olive oil, but use what-ever floats your boat, as long as it won't clash with the lamb taste.

Heat oil and place lamb into it. Season with salt & pepper and let caramelise. After a minute or so, turn lamb over, and add the other ingredients - start with the coconut and work your way down the list. The sauce breaks down in a thick, creamy light brown sauce with the ginger adding bite and the lime juice giving quite a bit of tang. It can be quite acidic until the sugar and lime cordial is added. This works really well with couscous as well as rice.

Ultimate Cheese Sauce:

1-2 tsp butter
A handful of flour (I use cornflour, some folks use normal flour. Others skip the bother & use a packet mix. Do what works for you.)
1/2 pint of semi-skimmed milk (We're going to add a lot of cheese to this - full cream is just to rich, unless you're aiming for heart-attack-on-a-plate moments.)
2 tsps mustard (French works well in this one & adds a lovely tang to the sauce.)
1 cup cheddar cheese (grated unless you're happy to whisk for a very long time)
1 cup wensleydale cheese with cranberries
Salt & Pepper to taste
Splash of balsamic vinegar

Start on a very low heat, otherwise your sauce will split, or get lumpy. Unless you've been smart and gotten the packet mix, this part is a bit time-consuming.)
Melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Whisk until you have very fine paste. Start adding the milk a little at a time, whisking each time until the sauce is smooth. Whisk in the mustard, some of the salt, and the pepper. (I don't add all of the salt until the very end since the cheese & mustard will add quite a bit of flavour. It's very easy to over-salt at this point.)
Add the cheese little by little, whisking gently. Once the cheese has all melted, taste & add more salt if it's needed. A splash of balsamic vinegar at this point adds a lovely depth to the sauce.

If I'm making this for cauliflower or other vegetables, I usually place the already cooked veg straight into the sauce and give it a stir for a minute or so. It works brilliantly as a sauce for chips, steak, or a yummy addition to mashed potato.

If you still have lumps in your sauce, you have a couple of options. Blitz it for a few seconds in a food processor, or strain it through a fine sieve or muslin. If you take your time in the beginning stages, the odds of needing to do this are greatly reduced. (I'd recommend taking the time, especially since I tend to do special things like not putting the lid on the processor properly. Cheese sauce stains on the ceiling seem to upset the average landlord, and it's an absolute pain to get out of your hair.)

Let me know if you try the recipes and like them, and if you'd like anymore. In the meantime, I have a lemon-sauce & duck leg I need to get out of the oven.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Little Miss Muffett has Issues

Today involved a fairly important meeting at week. I have a suit jacket I wear for the important ones, and I thought today pretty much fit the bill.

So. I reach my fingers into the wardrobe, and for some reason grasped the sleeve instead of the coat-hanger. (It was early, and I hadn't had any coffee yet. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

My fingertips brushed against cloth and then encountered something strange.

I stopped.

I turned the sleeve over.

A flat black spider about the length of my fore-finger peered back up at me.

Me: ...
Spider: ?
Me: ...
Spider: ...
Me: Oh, you have GOT to be bloody kidding me!
Spider: *snigger*

I dropped the sleeve and bolted backwards, then watched the little bugger scuttle around the sleeve, peer out at me again - and then scuttle UP the arm of the suit.

And since it was getting late and I had to leave for my train, I leant forward, and told the quivering fabric that if it was still there when I got home, There Would Be Trouble, and It Would Involve The Suction Hose of Doom, also known as the Dyson that I can't really operate very well.

Then I had a train ride and most of the day to ponder the fact that I basically issued a death threat to a creature that probably isn't quite sure what all the fuss was about, and was having a nice cosy morning lie-in when it suddenly got felt up by a total stranger, and What The Hell?

I don't want to kill a spider for being a spider. Killing because we fear things is something humans do too fast and too easily, and it causes a great deal of utterly avoidable crap with ourselves and the rest of the planet.

Still, I had threatened, so I pretended to look for it in the wardrobe when I got home. I couldn't bring myself to touch the jacket.

There is webbing all over the side of the arm, and it was a pricey jacket that I can't replace easily.

I am arachnophobic to a fair degree - a couple of emergency room visits and hot tar bandages due to spider bites in S.A. gives me pretty fair basis for the phobia - and considering the size of said little bugger, I'm impressed that my reaction was more along the lines of WTF than hysterical screaming.

At some point I will need to get the jacket to the dry-cleaners, if I can bring myself to touch it again. 

In the meantime, unless the little arachnid of doom scuttles around in front of my nose on a day when I'm not feeling quite so live and let live, or dances over my pillow while I'm on it (there are limits, and that is definitely one of them), I'm going to pretend it escaped out of my window after I left the room, and is telling it's friends about the awful experience it had this morning.

I still say it sniggered at me, though.

Update: About 90 seconds after I'd posted this blog and climbed into bed, my carpet moved. A small section of it that looked remarkably like the spawn of Satan that has already trashed my suit sleeve charged over towards me. I made a noise like a very unhappy helium balloon, and had some trouble getting my feet to meet the floor this morning. I do believe I've just had war declared on me. Good intentions or not, I'm currently hunting bug bombs on Amazon.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Taming of the Dyson (how not to do it)

So today was a massive clean-up/wardrobe switch-over day. The clothing switch had to be done, because Summer marched off in a strop about two weeks ago and is unlikely to come back. She's too busy flirting with the Southern Hemisphere right now. The average temp in my little part of the world has varied between 12 -15 degrees C lately, so the short-sleeved shirts and summer weight clothing is now bagged, vacuum-sealed, and tucked away for the next few months.

The cleaning part... Let's just say that I'm not domesticated, shall we?

I cook. I love to cook, and I can do some pretty good things with food. I'll dust down things when I start tripping over dust-bunnies, and the kitchen and bathroom are kept clean, but in general, vacuuming my bedroom is something that happens to other people, or when the carpet moves. It is not my idea of a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Vacuum-sealing the clothes bags was an experience: I had a few fun moments of getting the long pole thinga-ma-jiggy that apparently is an integral part of the handle to detach. The first bag had a hole in it, but it took me awhile to realise I was attempting to vacuum the oxygen-system of an entire room using an object not really designed for that.

By this stage my cousin was supplying a very entertained audience of one.

The second one ended with me jerking the hose nozzle while it was over the vacuum lock, and wondering why the vacuum went from making a satisfying WHOOOOM noise to ACK-ACK-AAAACKKKKKK! Turned out I'd somehow managed to get the top of the vacuum lock attached to the nozzle, and detached from the bag itself. *sigh*

Stacey took the vacuum away from me, got the lock off, patted the vacuum until it felt better, and helped me with the other bags.

Eventually three bags were done, whipped into a suitcase, and said suitcase zipped into submission before I could do anything else too strange in that area.

Then I tried to vacuum my room. Stacey took a seat on the stairs so that she could watch, or rescue the Dyson if I abused it too badly, or possibly take notes for What Not To Do.

Stacey: You need to undo the cord.
Me: *pause* I knew that.
(Two minutes later, I am still trying to get the blasted cord off the hook. Stacey is trying not to laugh, and is turning red.)

The Dyson handle at this point is upright. Even I know that to use it a slight angle is required. This being a Dyson, there are about 8 yellow buttons in various places on the infernal machine, none of which seem to make a difference in angle when pushed, prodded, or sworn at.

Eventually I pushed a button that I still say I'd tramped on repeatedly by then. The bottom of the cleaner promptly folded up like a traumatised porcupine.

Me: ...
Stacey: Go on.
Me: Is it dead?
Stacey: *unable to talk due to strangled whooping noises*

Then I pulled a muscle in my butt moving drawers out of the way. It's made sitting down this evening an experience.

So, to summarise my findings for the day:

* I appear to have discovered the fabled hidden graveyard of the lonely single sock. This shy, retiring species has decided that the bottom left corner of my bed, right where the duvet hides them, is the ideal final resting place. Either that or they've started a breeding programme.

* Throw away moist dusting wipes are really cool. For some reason the cheaper versions from the 99p store are tougher and smell better that the more expensive brand.

* Vacuuming over your toe by accident hurts a surprising amount.

* Looking pathetic while doing housework can result in unexpected aid and assistance from your house-mate. Granted, you get laughed at hysterically during said aid and assistance, but it's still a bonus.

*Dyson do not have a switch ANYWHERE on the bloody model that says "On/Off". Nowhere. Also, if you start frantically pushing every yellow button in sight in the hopes of finding the one that makes the machine go Vroom, things fall off it. Your house-mate at this moment in time will be pointing and laughing, having lost the ability to speak several minutes ago.

* Housework is something that will keep happening to other people.

Sunday 16 September 2012

My mother, the Werewolf Tamer

I've mentioned the utter strangeness and entertainment value I get from my dreams before on this blog. I usually enjoy them a lot, unless they are truly horrific, in which case I spend a couple of days out-of-sorts and trying to forget them.

Painkillers seem to give me even stranger than usual dreams though, although the last couple have been strange in a very amusing way.

 It's pretty jumbled, in the way the interesting ones always are, but the basic plot boiled down to the last home I lived in with my parent, with said parents, myself, and Norman Reedus, wandering around the back yard. No idea how Mr Reedus got there, and to my intense disappointment no motorbike or crossbow was involved.
At some point it turned out I was a werewolf, or werewolf-in-training, which the parents took remarkably calmly. Except... my mom was convinced I was going to dig up the garden, and my dad wanted me to sniff out some critter that had been coming over the back wall at nights and wandering around the place.

So there I am, suddenly in desperate need of Nair, or a 6-bladed razor with a lot of replacement blades, my dad is asking "Can you smell it? What is it? Is it dangerous?", Norman is dipping a toe in the swimming pool, and mom is tapping me on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper and telling me not to even think about going near her rose-bushes.
This little monster may need therapy.

So I mentioned this during our Skype chat this afternoon.

Mom: You were a what?
Dad: Did she say werewolf?
Me:  Yes. Werewolf. And you kept spanking me on the nose with the newspaper because you thought I was going to dig in the garden.
Dad: Bwahahahahah!
Mom: Well, of course I would!
Me: You wouldn't be upset that I was a mythological hairy beastie? Because you took this very calmly.
Dad: *Incoherent snorting*
Mom: You know very well what I'd say to you if you turned into a werewolf! (side note : No. No, I really wouldn't know. I would, however be hiding the silver and anything that could be used as a weapon.) And if you touched my rose-bushes you'd regret it.
Me: Mom, you realise hitting a werewolf with a newspaper is probably not a good idea?
Dad: *hiccuping in background*
Mom: I don't CARE! If it touches my garden, it'd better watch out. Nobody messes with my garden.
Dad: Exactly. *pause* So what was I trying to get you to smell? Do you know?

And that folks, is one of the many reasons I adore my family.

Saturday 15 September 2012

The 5th Horseman Carries a Dental Drill

So - this will probably be a short post, since I'm also rocking gently and waiting for the next load of painkillers to kick in.

I had to go for an extraction this morning. This has been a bit of an ongoing saga, since my regular dentist managed to snap this one off at the gum, used every instrument she had but stopped short of a hammer and chisel, and at one stage was kneeling on the chair with me, and finally gave up saying that the root had bonded to the jaw-bone.

I love the way that I always get the special weird medical stuff happening. *sigh*

To say I was not looking forward to this would be an understatement, but since I've had quite a bit of pain from the exposed bit that's left, I know it had to be done.

My cousin came with me, which is good, since it stopped me crawling under one of the chairs in the waiting room and howling. She ended up making soothing there-there noises all the way to the surgery, and never laughed at me even when I'd stop chattering (nervous habit) in the middle of a sentence and just whimper. She sniggered a few times, but never laughed outright.

We sat in a waiting room with a few other people, including one toddler from hell, who crawled over the furniture and tried to knock a few pictures off of the wall.
When I got called through I was ... pleasantly surprised.

The dentist was a tall, very good-looking chap who obviously recognised a nervous patient and joked his way through the aesthetic injections. He was smart enough to give me three of them off the bat, so I'm not sure if my normal dentist warned him - I've had two situations already when the legal amount of anaesthetic resulted in a numb tongue and lips and did absolutely nothing to stop me feeling the drill - and I lurched back into the waiting room feeling a lot more cheery. Getting the actual injections still hurt like hell, though.

And then....

Picture this: there are three people in the waiting room. Myself, my patiently waiting cousin, and a blonde woman who looks nervous. My hands are shaking, but they also do when I go to the dentist; I tend to vibrate like a gently tugged bowstring.

Me: This guy seems brilliant.
Stacey: That's good.
(Blond Lady looks a bit perkier.)
Unknown voice from down the hall: Aaaargh! Awoooo! OW!

The three of us look at each other, startled.

Unknown voice, continuing: Oh god! God! Oh, god, NO! GOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDD!

Blonde Lady turns as pale as the white wall she's leaning against. I'm wondering if it's too late to break for the door.

The nurse appears in the doorway, and Blonde Lady gets beckoned to her doom.

About six minutes later they called me back in, and I sat in the chair, sweating gently.

In under twenty seconds the tooth remnant from hell was out of my mouth.

I checked with the dentist and the receptionist on my way out, and I'll probably be coming back to this particular dentist from now on - he's about 2 hours closer than my old one, and anyone that can get a tooth out with that amount of speed and accuracy and lack of trauma is on my wish-list.

Unfortunately as the anaesthetic wears off and my body figures out that I've Done Something and It Doesn't Like Me right now, some fairly serious painkillers are in order.

Dentists are in my top 5 phobias, hence the title of the post - but I think I've just found a  good one. Part of me is relieved, and the other part of me hopes it's a very long time until I see him again, no matter how good he is.

Here's hoping.

Sunday 9 September 2012

The Industry That Ate Itself

There's been a lot of hysteria in both the standard media and all over the interwebz the last week or so about Authors Behaving Badly, or at least, Not Up To The Standard Distinguished Gentlefolk Should Maintain.

We had the John Locke issue, where it was revealed that the author paid for reviews. Shock! Horror! (Explanation for sarcasm slightly further down this post. Pace yourselves, folks, I'll get there.)

Stephen Leather came under fire for daring to thumb his nose at people who were doing the same to him, and using fake accounts to do so. The cheek of it! How dare he not simply bend over and ask for more KY? It's really not done, old boy.

And R.J. Ellory got busted leaving somewhat lavish reviews of his own books and firing what would appear to be small nuclear devices consisting of 1 star reviews at his competition. Out of the three, this one puzzled me the most, but let's look at them in order, shall we?

Locke paid for reviews. I have a couple of responses to the outrage over this one, and the first is: if you think that he is the only author ever to do so, I got a bridge I'd like to sell you. It's all purty and old and stuff. Londoner's have thrown up on it for several hundred years, but they cleaned it up for the Olympics so it smells a bit better than it used to.
Furthermore, if you think that standard publishers never paid for reviews, whether through advertising in the media that employed their reviewers, or by funding things, or even directly (book reviewers need to eat too; I'm fairly sure they don't eat the pages of books they dislike so real food is probably welcome), you've passed the world of naivety and shouldn't be allowed to play with any money that doesn't belong on a Monopoly board.

What Locke did, despite the howls of outrage blowing through the internet, makes sense from a business point of view, and what Locke is, before he ever decided to write, is a pretty successful businessman. It's also worth pointing out that he could afford to pay for these reviews, and a large amount of said howling comes from folks who cannot. (Personally, I looked at the price it's claimed he paid and just about choked. That's a whole bunch of coffee and rent money right there.)

About the only grumble I have is that he never offered it as full disclosure in the book he published about how he achieved his sales. That said, although the reviews might have helped him, I doubt they were 100% the reason for his success; folks read his books, liked them, and carried on buying his stuff.
Screaming about Locke's sales being unfair because he bought reviews is about as useful as a toddler sticking grapes up his nose. It makes you look stupid, and eventually it's going to hurt you.

As for Leather - dear internet, for the love of green cheese, grow up. That news is old. It's also been pretty much an open secret for years; there was chatter about him doing this before I published WolfSong, and that's going on almost two years now. And some of his chirps are pretty damn funny, but maybe that's just me.
Also, dear screaming indignant fans, you can't have it both ways. If an author responds to anything remotely negative, with anything no matter how polite, they'd have a slighter better life expectancy if you strapped a raw steak to their back and dropped them in a shark tank. They'd probably also having a slightly better quality of life at that point in time.

Unfortunately, since authors are not emotionless robots that only live on your bookshelf or in your kindle, and since most of them like other humans don't always have the maybe-I'd-better-not-do-that filter on permanently, sometimes they respond like humans. The danger of the mob-the-author mentality is that it gets to the point where authors cannot say or do anything that might be slightly controversial once they reach a certain visibility, and that is dangerous. That's the whole stick-em-under-the-stairs-so-respectable-folks-don't-see-em vibe that pushes all my alert buttons, and it needs to stop. Don't ask me how - humans sometimes seem very good at tearing others down, and then standing around shuffling their feet and wondering why they don't have anyone left to play with - and I have no idea how to change that mentality. I don't understand it, and all I can do is try to avoid it.

Then there's Ellory, and as I mentioned earlier, this one had me scratching my head a bit. He's not the first author to be busted this way, but he is one of the biggest. That's not what has me puzzled, though, as I mentioned on twitter last week. What does confuse me is this : where did he find the time to do this? And why did he do it?  This isn't the standard jealous indy author with an axe to grind - this is a respected, traditionally published, award winner author, with multiple books to his name. (M&S, eat your heart out.) I have no idea why he did this, and of the three, it's the only one that really irks me, because leaving nasty reviews simply to disrupt someone else's sales is a shoddy move. It's something I associate with people who think pulling the wings off of flies as being high entertainment. Leaving love-letters to ones self in the form of an Amazon review, while cringeworthy if caught is one thing. It's embarrassing, and the authorial equivalent to that scene from American Pie, but it's not quite as, well, dickish as trying to hurt fellow writers and being too cowardly to use your own name.

And for all my points on that, he is still entitled to free speech. The one star review system is abused by people with their own agenda on every site that uses it. I'm not saying what he did is nice, but he is as entitled to do so as everyone else. Case in point - there are now a couple of 1 star reviews against his books by people who posted them because of him being exposed. So what makes any 1 star vendetta more righteous than another? To me it just highlights the fact that review sites and the internet makes it very easy for mob wars to start, for people to be vindictive for whatever weird sense of satisfaction they get from being pretty dickish themselves.

But I really want to know how he found the time. Writing a review takes a bit of thought and effort. Writing multiple reviews using multiple accounts (at this point my mind always starts wailing "How? How do they set up multiple accounts when I can hardly get one to work? Whah!" and then goes and sulks in a corner) and jumping onto the forum boards using those same accounts? While still writing books and living life and getting awards and stuff? My only explanation is that he has access to a real-life version of the Tardis.

Dear Mr. Ellory:

I'd really, really, like to take a ride in your time-space bending machine. I  promise not to ding it too badly and will bring it back once I've sorted out the lottery and kicked my high-school nemesis in the soft parts.