Archive | June, 2014

My daily bread

30 Jun

I’m not sure what set off my sensitivity to wheat gluten. I think it might be linked to my hay fever, or to the anti-histamines I take during this long season of grass pollen. It’s not just grass; I also react to oil-seed rape, rosebay willow herb, a common roadside weed, and African violets! (And something in a female neighbours’s floral perfume). Anyhow, I recognised the signs and cut out the wheat. So, no bread, pasta or any products sneaking in the occasional bit of wheat, if I can avoid it. That also rules out one of my favourite tipples, wheat beer. What is the effect on me of wheat, I do not hear you ask. Well, the bottom doesn’t drop out of my world, but it feels like the world drops out of my bottom.

As making bread is one of my favourite occupations, this has largely been put on hold. I have made some gluten free bread, but it is a bit of a funny thing, more like a savoury sponge-cake than proper bread. Even the way it is made is like a cake recipe. The flour (rice and maize, mostly) is mixed into a loose batter with yeast, eggs and milk. I have no problem with eggs, but I need to take lactose caplets if I stick to the recipe. The mixture, with a bit of sugar and a teaspoon of vinegar and another of salt is mixed to a gloop and poured into a greased bread tin to rise and then bake. The results are ok, but it is far from delicious. I shall try making bread from rye and other grains, and report back on the progress. It looks like another visit to the local wholefood store for some rye flour, tomorrow. I already have some polenta (fine maize meal),and gram (chickpea) flour. Any suggestions?

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Compo Culture (an oxymoron if ever I heard one)

27 Jun

I want to tell you a story. There was a young woman who claimed compensation for a fall and injury. The Royal Courts of Justice heard a claim this spring by a Dover woman who fell into a moat around a museum back in 2007. She suffered a head injury and claimed £300,000 compensation (Compo). The case was taken by a no-win, no-fee Legal firm (also known as ambulance chasers) who would have charged an estimated £700,000 costs if they had won. As it turned out the woman’s case was rejected by the Court after a four day hearing. The case hinged on a duty of care argument. This despite the site being securely locked and having clearly visible signs showing that it closed at 5 PM and being protected by a three foot high wall. The ambulance chasers claimed that the museum owed a duty of care to the woman EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS TRESPASSING.

The woman and her friends had been drinking at home before going out for the night. They had then consumed more vodkas in at least three pubs. On trying to get a taxi home the woman was in desperate need of the use of a toilet. The taxi firm refused her use of their own facilities. The woman walked 100 feet up to the perimeter of the wall, climbed this and walked a further sixty-five feet to where the accident occurred. She was in the middle of emptying her bladder when she overbalanced and fell down the ditch. As the judge said, she was the author of her own misfortune.

That someone can get very drunk, break into a site, injure themselves and then claim against the owners of the site beggars the imagination. With adverts on the TV, cold calling and other nuisances the ambulance chasers encourage such daft claims. Everyone has a duty of care, especially for their own actions. If you are looking for someone to blame for such an accident you should first blame yourself. I am not saying that there are no proper claims, but there are too many vexatious and trivial claims coming to court. These should go through a simple filter process from some sort of Ombudsman. The ambulance chasers are greedy for their money and push ridiculous cases which should never be encouraged. Legal firms should be charged double costs for bringing such cases to court.

Moreover, the Compo (Compensation) culture is very bad for our society. Rather than being compensated for their stupidity and recklessness these people should be made to pay a large fine to cover the costs of their medical care. In more serious cases such people would remove themselves from the genetic pool, thus improving things for future generations.

Some Like it Hot

20 Jun

No, not the Billy Wilder film, but a method (recipe?) for Pease Porridge. This is about as traditional as British food gets. Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in the pot, nine days old.

Pease was the name for a crop of dried peas in medieval times. Dried peas were a winter staple of the peasants, and are very high in protein. To make it vegetarian, use miso stock or some other substitute of choice. Boiled bacon was another winter staple, and the method described uses the cooking stock from that option. Dried split peas come in two varieties, yellow and green. Both are half a dried pea, without skin, and both need to be soaked in cold water for at least two hours before cooking. If you can’t find dried split peas, there are some other kinds of dried pulse out there that might work. I used about half a pound of split peas.

Yesterday I cooked a small gammon joint in water with a couple of bay leaves for about one and a half hours on a simmer. I took out the cooked gammon, threw away the bay leaves and added the soaked peas to the liquid. This should be brought to the boil and left to simmer until the peas fall apart. They form a thick and gloopy soup after about an hour and a half. Mine was a little too runny so I added some orzo pasta (shaped like grains of rice). This absorbed the excess liquid. I added some fresh peas from the garden, a small teaspoon of mixed spice and some ground black pepper at the same time as the pasta. It cooked for a further twenty minutes.

Shortly before serving I added some chopped dried tomatoes (in oil) and some grilled peppers, chopped roughly, also from a jar in oil. The mixture is thick and gloopy, but should still move on the plate. It was delicious, and there is still some left. Therefore the question is, do I eat the remainder cold or hot?

Incidentally, Pease Pudding is soaked split peas tied in a cloth and boiled for hours until it forms a shape like a soccer ball. Not so sure about that one.

Another recipe, stuffed mushrooms

19 Jun

I did this as a vegetarian option at a party recently, but it can be meaty. Use large, flat open cup mushrooms. What you use for the filling is up to you. I used antipasti sundried tomatoes and peppers (capsicums). Alternative fillings are chorizo sausage, crisp bacon or whatever you like that is strongly flavoured.

The secret in keeping the filling dry and not leaking mushroom juices is to put a teaspoon of half reconstituted cous-cous in the base of the mushroom before adding the filling. When the mushrooms cook the cous-cous absorbs the excess juices.

Clean the outside of the mushrooms and remove the stalks. If a little old, you can remove the skin of the mushroom, but it is not generally necessary. Place the mushrooms skin down on a greased baking sheet. Put in the half-cooked cous-cous, spread evenly over the gills of the mushroom. Add your chosen filling. Cover with a thick cheese sauce. Cook in a moderate oven (180 C, Gas mark 5) for twenty five minutes, until the mushrooms are thoroughly cooked through and the top of the cheese sauce is browned. Serve hot with a green salad and some crusty bread.

Jobs and employment

11 Jun

Wow! new figures from the government show record new numbers of jobs and a large fall in the unemployment figures. Great!

Oh, hang on a minute, this doesn’t seem to coincide with real experience.

Firstly, the government have changed the way that the unemployment figures are calculated in a breathtakingly creative way over the last four years. They have found ways to frig the figures by changing the rules by which the figures are measured. In order to accurately compare figures you need a baseline which does not change.Now, every government does this to some extent, but the current one is the worst I have known in my sixty years by a factor of ten. There is no way to compare figures easily, and the media roll over and don’t even try.

Then comes the record number of jobs. These include at least 350,000 people forced into self employment, probably nearer half a million. There are zero hour contracts, part time jobs that barely exist and internships. All of these are counted as jobs. If you had three or four of these you would not be earning a living wage. That is what counts. The ability to feed and house yourself and your family.

Now comes the proof of what I am saying. Increases in wages are running at half the increase of costs due to inflation. In other words, even if you have a job, the chances are that you are worse off than you used to be.

There are lies, damned lies, statistics and statistics produced by this government. I am howling mad that no newspaper or radio station is ripping into these statistics and showing them to be the window dressing of a deeply corrupt government. Morally corrupt, that is. Vote out Lord Snooty and his pals at the next election.

I am not in the least apologetic at this rant. Damn them, damn them to hell.

Independence

11 Jun

We went to see the Scottish singer / songwriter Dick Gaughan last week. He was good, playing the guitar in a rhythmic waterfall of notes and singing in a bell-like high baritone with a Scots twang. He talks between songs, as many do, and he is a committed socialist and supporter of Scottish independence.

I do not support Scottish independence as I think we already live in a small country, and are at the whim of more powerful economic influences. When America sneezes, we catch cold. Besides, the logic of a Scottish state is a little suspect. The Orkney and Shetland islands belonged to Norway until after the discovery of America. Most of the reserves of oil and gas are in areas around Shetland. What is to stop these windswept islands declaring independence from Scotland. Then there is the ancient Kingdom of Fife. If Scotland breaks away from the rest of the UK what is to stop Scotland breaking up? Such balkanisation is not desirable.

For anyone unaware of the situation, there are less than 100 days until there is a referendum north of the border to decide on the issue. The union between England and Scotland by act of parliament occurred in 1707 after the Scottish state was bankrupted by the Darien Scheme. Scotland was always the junior partner in the union and feelings often ran high. The Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745 occurred after the Act of Union, and show discontent among many Scots and a few Englishmen.

Despite being a junior partner Scotland, especially Edinburgh, was a hotbed of intellectual development during the age of reason, and Scottish engineers were among the greatest innovators during the Industrial Revolution.

Scotland already has a good degree of independence, its own parliament and to a great degree its own laws.

During the last financial crash Scotland suffered as the rest of the country did. Britain is largely dependent on the financial services sector since the Thatcher governments decided that other industries were surplus to requirements. The financial services are almost entirely based in London. The financial services sector was responsible for getting us in the mess we found ourselves in. The financial sector hardly suffered at all during the crash and are busy paying themselves obscene wages when many are living below the breadline. They have the clout to dictate what the government does.

Almost all development money goes to London. That is where the well paid jobs are and aspirational young people want to move. There is the danger of a housing bubble around London because of excess demand for accommodation. Development generates its own wealth. London is hogging all the wealth, denying to other parts of the country. There are a lot of people very unhappy about this situation, hence the rise of such idiot movements as the United Kingdom Independence Party.

The way things are going, I want independence from London. The city hogs all the power and all the money and many in London regard anyone outside as being whinging provincials. There are many more people outside of London than in and we want change. We will not get it from Lord Snooty and his Pals – David Cameron and his Eton / Oxford / Old Money chums. Blaming foreigners, as UKIP do, is missing the mark. Put the blame squarely where it lies, with the London establishment.

So long, Rik

10 Jun

I was very sad to hear of the premature death of Rik Mayall yesterday. He was at the centre of the new wave of British comedy in the eighties but managed to diversify into acting. He first came to my attention as Kevin Turvey, a self-deluded youth who thought himself a great investigative reporter. This was in the series ‘A Kick Up The Eighties’. His big break came as student poetaster and all purpose pillock, Rik in ‘The Young Ones’. He also appeared in several Comic Strip stories and then starred as Tory Backbencher Alan Bastaard in ‘The New Statesman’, which probably was more true to Conservative Party shenanigans than it was ever meant to be. Then there was ‘Bottom’, a gross-out comedy with his comedy partner, Ade Edmonson. They also appeared as a stage double act.

His two appearances in ‘Blackadder’ were both as Lord Flasheart, in series two and four. The character was pure ego in both episodes, and are possibly the greatest cameo performances ever given – Woof!

A serious accident in 1998 while riding a quod bike left him in a coma for five days, and he was never quite the same, though he acted occasionally, appearing in Jonathon Creek among other programmes.

In private life he appears to have been a quiet family man, nothing like the monsters he liked to portray. His influence on comedy, and indirectly, society were large. He was more than just a physical comedian and held a mirror up to all our pretentions. My condolences to his family and friends.

Amazing!