Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Cottage Pie, Thermodynamics and Saving The World.

Dear Reader,

The title is an interesting proposition, let me explain. This is just about the most interesting thing I have ever posted. I could of course, wax lyrical, at great length about the history of the Cottage Pie but I won't. Suffice to say the Cottage Pie is very British fare so some explanation may be required.

Cottage Pie, simply put, is beef mince, mixed with some veg and topped with mashed potato. Finish with some leeks and cheese if you are feeling adventurous and then pop in the oven for about three months at gas mark something or other. If you hadn't already gathered this is not a cooking blog. Cottage Pie has a cousin called Shepherd's Pie. It is basically the same as Cottage Pie except you use lamb instead of beef. The naming of Shepherd's Pie makes perfect sense. After all, sheep are looked after by shepherds. Cows, it would appear, are looked after by cottages. This can't be right. 

It transpires, as a result of a short search on Wikipedia, rather boringly, that cows weren't looked after by cottages. It would appear that Cottage Pie came first, because it was cheap and ideal for people cottaging, sorry, I meant people living in cottages.

I am somewhat scandalised by the fact that there is only one Wikipedia entry for Cottage Pie and none for Shepherd's Pie. This is an omission bigger than a very large omission. I really should move on to the point of all this.

Before I do though, some words regarding ramekins. A ramekin is a small, individual portion sized pot. It also has some interesting thermodynamic properties, which I will explain.

The humble ramekin, in it's restive state.
There is a convention around the serving temperature of food. It can be stated in simple terms. If it does not cause third-degree burns to the interior of the mouth then it is edible. This sounds quite simple. Cottage Pie in ramekins does not believe in simple. The Cottage Pie in ramekins is a DLW idea. "We can make a bunch of it and then freeze it into individual portions". On the face of it, this sounds bonny. When the individually wrapped portions are placed in the freezer the idea continues to sound bonny. This is all just a little too bonny.

Time to spoil this all too bonny scene. Today I shall be dining on Cottage Pie, (suitably defrosted, two months at room temperature) with some veg and gravy. It shall be an individual sized portion in a ramekin. After de-frosting it shall be heated at gas mark something for 2.3 days and then it shall be ready. It is served on a plate with some veg, with some gravy is in a separate receptacle.

There seems to be a nefarious heat emanating from the ramekin/Cottage Pie. Should white ceramic pottery glow red? Why is the veg, artistically arranged in the near vicinity of the ramekin, behaving as if it has been exposed to some extreme heat? Why does my pot of gravy look scared? 

Being the curious sort I begin, by piercing the outer shell of the pie. My fork, having penetrated the potato/cheese/leek crust of the pie disappears in a puff of smoke into the pie below. Was it melting? I appropriate more cutlery and some gloves. It seems sensible to turn out the contents of the ramekin onto the plate and dispense it. Fire and brimstone erupt, steam hisses from the deep. My plate starts to glow. I become a little worried that the plate may give way, followed by the table, then the floor, closely followed by the ceiling of the floor below. This is starting to feel like the forensic examination in Alien when they realise the bad guy bleeds acid.

In desperation I throw gravy at the assemblage. There is much hissing, but the temperature seems to recede a little, the ramekin is now a darkened, bubbling brown instead of the fiery red. I have never used gravy as a fire extinguisher before but I can attest to it's ability. Eventually, I eat, it's a little scalding but has returned to a temperature that is acceptable to a human.

So, it seems that a ramekin, when filled with Cottage Pie could, perhaps be an alternative form of energy. After all, it seems, on the miniature scale at least to be able to provide the energy of a thousand suns. It is clean energy. It is sustainable and controllable, as long as a suitable sized pot of gravy is near to hand. Enough of this wind farm and solar panel nonsense, let every household in the land tap into the energy grid, let ramekin producers everywhere be prepared for a surge in demand, let every country and every family have sustainable energy from their own oven. I may have solved global warming. Bad news for the cows and the sheep though, unless we can come up with a veggie version.

Miniature reactors, lamb.
Miniature reactors, beef, spot the difference.
Together, the humble oven and ramekins can change the world, forever.

More soon dear reader 


Monday, 11 June 2012

Another Award, YAY!

Dear Reader,

Many moons ago, when the Earth was young, (well, actually it was the end of March), I got an award!


Many thanks to gossip_grl @ ~*~Whatever~*~..., who is probably wondering why it has taken me so long to get round to accepting.

So, it was nearly April which was a bit of busy time due to the A-Z Challenge. Once that was over I had a little sleep, then it was June. This defence may sound a little leaky, but given the weather in the UK at the moment this is almost fitting.

Here are the instructions for the lucky recipients:

1. Nominate 15 fellow blogger's for the Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

As a recipient here are the fifteen in no particular order...

One must not forget the award itself...

Seven random things about me:

1. I like cats. The more the merrier. Currently three reside in our abode. They are called Leo, Pippy and Randall. Randall is a breed, as opposed to the moggies I have grown up with. He is a Scottish Fold with anger management problems
2. I was born in the 60's (just). Man walked on the moon two days after I was born
3. I spent a small amount of time in my formative years as a music journalist for a sadly departed magazine
4. I have fish (of the tropical variety). The cats would like them for breakfast. I have explained on numerous occasions why this is not possible. They keep asking though, every day
5. My middle name is Charles
6. I once wore an "only gay in the village costume" in public
7. I have a certificate that says I attended a street party for the Queen's Silver Jubilee (1977).

So, to the nominees, enjoy. As for me, I think I need a lie down.

More soon Dear Reader


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Jubilee - Part 1

Dear Reader, 

Being British I have been enjoying a longer than normal weekend courtesy of the Queen. She has officially inhabited the throne for sixty years and thus there must be a diamond jubilee. As a result we get an extra two days holiday to enjoy the festivities. There were many festivities, not all of which I managed to observe, but sat in front of the TV, I certainly observed some. Given the occasion, it only seems right that I share some of my observations.

I considered venturing into the metropolis that is London for this. As it turned out, the weather on the day was atrocious so I declined. Instead myself and the Dear Lady Wife strapped ourselves in on the sofa and prepared for what was to come.

For those who don't know the pageant was water-based. A thousand boats, of varying size and purpose would make their way down the Thames, pass the Queen, salute and move on. It was a wonderful idea, it was spectacular, it was covered, in spectacular fashion, by the BBC.

This was the big idea.
The BBC tend to make this sort of event their own. They had reporters on every bridge, boat and vantage point they could think of along with an anchor team in the studio. Everything seemed to be planned to within an inch of its' life, but this is live television, 4.5 hours of it, something was bound to go wrong. Of course, this is part of the fun.
This was what it looked liked, not bad, not bad.
An insight into the life of a BBC live event director follows...

Director: "Pan to Westminster Bridge where someone isn't ready and in position, no, switch to that small barge thing with Chris on it, what do you mean he can't hear us? OK, go to Anneka who is on the art bridge, what do you mean they have all packed up because of the rain? Oh for christ sake. Fine, move to Clare, can she hear us, she can! Do it, focus."
Clare Balding [conducting an interview, sound feed entirely obliterated by the horn of a large boat]: ""
Director: "Well that's no good is it? Right, back to the studio... I don't care if they are not ready they will just have to fill until someone else can talk to us. Where the feck is Griff Rhys-Jones?"
Studio: Picture of two presenters stone-faced not knowing they are on camera.
Director: "THEY ARE LIVE! Someone tell them, oh my God, get me another coffee."
Studio: "Ah, it would appear there have been a couple of technical problems with the fourteen live broadcasts we just tried to provide you with over the last ten minutes. Sorry about that. Did you know it it the Queens' Jubilee? They are releasing a thousand ducks into the Thames to celebrate."
Director: "BOATS, NOT DUCKS. Christ alive, where do we get these people from? Do they not read the script at least once before they stare into the camera like a pair of paralysed goats?"
Studio: "Of course I was joking, when I said ducks I meant goats..."
Director: "BOOOAAATTTSSS!!!"
Studio: "Ahem, boats, thousands of boats are being released into the river as we speak."

And so it went on, much to our amusement. I believe, if you squint at Tower Bridge from a certain angle you will be able to see the entrails of the BBC Live Event Director now displayed for all to see, very traditional (and completely made-up).

The BBC blamed the weather, and there certainly was some, quite a lot in fact. It wasn't just me who found the coverage a little lame, as this article attests. 

This day wasn't about the coverage though, it was about the Queen, who for the best part of two hours, at the tender age of 86, stood in the pouring rain (granted under a royally appointed gazebo) waving at the fruits of two years worth of planning. There were to be several crescendos to this event (or wow moments if the BBC were to be believed) including helicopters flying in a diamond formation, cancelled due to the weather. A Red Arrows fly-past, cancelled due to the weather. A number of historic smaller planes flying past, cancelled due to the weather.

This left the Philly, otherwise known as the London Philharmonic Orchestra who were bringing up the rear of the flotilla. They, ably accompanied by Royal College of Music Chamber Choir, swung round to play and sing a number of rousing classics at the Royal party. The Philly, had sensibly, camped out in the lower, covered portion of the boat. The Chamber Choir, without any precious instruments to protect, had drawn the short straw and stayed outside. My heart goes out to them, especially the girls. Dressed in their finest black evening wear, with hair that I am sure, four hours earlier looked fabulous, were presented to ten million plus people on what could be the single greatest stage of their lives, as drowned rats. This link encapsulates the rather damp, but all the same rousing finale.

Bless their cottons, watch the video, they were amazing, if a little bedraggled.

One hopes your day was not too damp Dear Reader, if I am really lucky, I will return tomorrow with day two.

More soon Dear Reader.


PS: It's probably worth mentioning in the same breath as this post that the Philly are booked to do something at the opening of the London Olympics. As with all things related to the Olympics, there is a committee, on this occasion called LOCOG. They say that the Philly can't play live, regardless of their play live in any situation credentials, amply illustrated above. One would hope that sanity is allowed a breath of fresh air in that particular argument.  

Fake Tan and the Major Outing

Dear Reader,

Occasionally the postman staggers to the door with a package containing a product I don't enjoy, normally because it isn't for me. Even more occasionally the postman staggers to the door with a product that is not only not for me, but it is actually abhorrent to me.

[Insert generic slap it all over tanning brand here] fake tan lotion has arrived. This product is not for me, it is for the Dear Lady Wife. She has been summoned to an outing of some description which means she must appear. This is not an ordinary outing, this is a major outing, not just your ordinary trip to the pub. Think hen-do, wedding, that sort of thing. Given the significance of the occasion a number of pre-outing rituals must be observed, namely...
  • Nails - potentially
  • Hair - obligatory
  • Waxing or shaving - the mere thought makes me shudder so I will not dwell
  • Shopping, online - a whole host of objects are required that bizarrely the Dear Lady Wife appears not to be in possession of...
    • Clothes
    • Handbag
    • Shoes
    • Make-up
    • Hair products
    • Moisturisers, balms, ointments and other unguents to be applied to face, hands, skin etc.
  • Shopping - in a shop if the on-line world cannot provide what is required
  • Visit to tanning salon - optional, or go for the alternative with more control which has arrived in the post today.
These rituals, ideally, take place in a period of about a week before the event. This is often not the case, though. Sometimes a dizzying number of appointments are made by the Dear Lady Wife for the same whirlwind day. Sometimes appointments have to be cancelled, which is my job, when I am not answering the door to yet another delivery man or being sent to the shops to make bizarre and embarrassing purchases.

If I have a purpose in life, it must be to provide entertainment to bored shop assistants when I am making these bizarre and embarrassing purchases. When I approach the till with two bottles of wine, a bottle of bleach, cat food and a bikini-line waxing kit in my basket, a number of things can happen. I have listed them below in order of probablity, least likely first.

Don't worry, I'll be along soon to brighten up your day.
  1. The transaction takes place normally, money is exchanged and I leave the shop, glowing with pride at a job well done. 
  2. Whilst scanning the waxing kit the (always female) shop assistant will look me up and down but says nothing. I leave the shop feeling confused and slightly violated, but I don't know why.
  3. Whilst scanning the waxing kit the (always female) shop assistant will point out a special offer. If bought in conjunction with a box of regular tampons I can save 50% on this item. This only occurs if there is a large queue behind me. I have to gracefully decline.
  4. Whilst scanning the waxing kit the (always female) shop assistant suggests an alternative brand which she has used before. This only occurs if there is a large queue behind me consisting entirely of male rugby players and builders. Again I gracefully decline, which the shop assistant takes as a tacit acknowledgement of her perception that the waxing kit is for me.
  5. Whilst scanning the waxing kit the (always female) shop assistant encounters a technical issue which will require the pressing of a button below the till. The button is labelled Attract the attention of all female shop assistants in the vicinity to come and giggle at the contents of this man's basket. Oh, can one of you also go and get another bikini waxing kit because this one won't scan. 
My involvement in the rituals is not complete. So, after some considerable time, I have reached the point of my tale, [insert generic slap it all over tanning brand here] fake tan lotion, more specifically, the application of it. Generally this happens just before retiring to bed which means we have gone through the wine and most of the cat food. Wine and the application of fake tan do not make good bed fellows. Any slight mishap will stain something, carpets, ceilings, phones, cats  etc.

The Dear Lady Wife, having covered all the bits she can reach then turns to me, offering the gloves and the bottle. I have to do the bits she cannot reach and also, cannot see. However this does not prevent a running verbal quality assessment of my handiwork.

DLW: It has to be even.
Moi: It is even.
DLW: You've missed a bit.
Moi: Is that better?
DLW: No, it's streaky.
Moi: How can you tell?

Not the look  we are aiming for.
Conversation continues in this vein until the process is completed. I awaken the next morning to find the sheets have changed colour and I have a brown stain on my right hand, which normally fades after about a week. It seems I have negotiated the pre-amble to another major outing. 

More soon Dear Reader