26 December 2005

Ceci n'est pas une haie

Ceci n'est pas une haie

I'm kind of proud of this photo. For no particular reason. Maybe it was just the moment when I took it. Or I have an inordinate fondness for shadows.

Happy holidays to anyone who stumbles across this. And as the year ends, my thanks to the visitors who read or commented on my irrational rants.

25th December

Christmas bread

Christmas, or whatever you want to call it, is a good excuse for a blow-out, food-wise. We ate. Then we ate some more. I even tried egg nog. And despite Amazon.com mucking up on the delivery of the presents for my parents and P, the Getty Museum shop saved the day (where P and I performed the "I won't look at what you're buying for me if you won't look at what I've got in my hands" dance that two last-minute shoppers are wont to do), and we had some semblance of our usual post-Christmas meal tearing of the wrapping paper.

Oh yes, the over-indulgence aspect of this winter solstice festival is one that we practice. It's always been an excuse for P and I to get some of the toys we both want, and to take a real day-off, where we do nothing but cook, eat and play. And for the first time in a whole month, I got the camera out, updated my blogs and generally faffed about all day. Even getting lunch ready was no chore as we played with our new breadmaker, baked the funniest looking ham I've ever done (crushed pineapple instead of pineapple rings makes your ham look like someone chundered on it even before the overeating began) and I showed off my BBQing skills. And giving chocolates to my folks was a fabby idea, cos we got samples of yummy Belgian chocs (from a shop round the corner). For today, we avoided the usual frustrations of living in LA, stayed in our neighbourhood, got two runs with our neighbour's dog, and played with a soap bubble that magically lasted for at least 5 minutes with careful flapping of arms. Batteries recharged. I only wish we could have days like this once a month.

25 December 2005

Christmas lunch

Well, more like Christmas lun/ner. By the time we sat down to eat, it was 5pm, and Christmas was already over by UK and other more easterly countries' time. But feast we did, and we didn't stop eating till 11pm.

Christmas bread Sweet potatoes on the BBQ Christmas Ham
Tommies and Courgies Shrimp on the barbie Grilled asparagus
BBQd orange BBQd banana Odd orange concoction

Sunflower, sesame and cumin bread

Sesame, Sunflower and Cumin bread

For Christmas, my parents found us a great breadmaker from Macy's. We'd stipulated that we didn't want to spend much on a breadmaker because we could never bring it home (the aage-old US vs rest-of-the-world voltage issues), so they were best-pleased with themselves to find a display piece at a bargain basement price just because it didn't come with a box and had a small, almost unnoticeable mark. Which meant we spent Christmas morning hard at work making bread at the same time as walking our neighbours' dog!

I've never been much a fan of supermarket bread, being the fussy kind who hates chewy "crusts" (I mean, how could it possibly be a crust if it's no longer crusty?). So a breadmaker with the ability to set the timer for breakfast seemed the ideal thing in a city where it's not so easy to get fresh bread if you don't drive.

The recipe is from the user's manual, but was fairly adventurous due to the addition of cumin seeds to what would otherwise be a bog-standard seed loaf. Also, not being well-prepared ingredient-wise, we had to make do with all purpose flour (the US version of plain white flour). And it still worked! I think this is one appliance we will make use of, however busy we are.

Chicken pie

Pie innards

A brief hiatus in food blogging due to work getting in the way. I have eaten loads in the intervening period, but not much of note. Taking a few days off while my parents are in LA means that we finally have some time on our hands to cook. The chicken pie above was a result of directions from my parents, who make this on a regular basis.

It's one that's ideal for folk with little free time, using a few modern conveniences like concentrated soup, frozen mixed veg and pre-made puff pastry. Despite that, it's quite tasty, and all the convenience food products can be substituted with homemade hard work.

Simply get yourself some chicken (free range and preferably organic too), cut into bite-size pieces and fry in some oil (olive oil is all we have right now and works fine). While the chicken is browning, dice yourself some onions and potatoes. Add those to the chicken when it's golden brown, and stir in a few handfuls of frozen mixed veg (usually sweetcorn, peas, carrots, but sometimes with green beans and broad beans too). If being lazy, you should have gotten the premade, even pre-rolled, pasty out of the freezer much earlier so it doesn't crack when unrolled. Line a pie tin with one sheet, trim the excess (save it to make cheesy twists) and pile on the chicken mix. Cover with the other sheet, brush with a beaten egg, and snip a few pretty holes to allow venting. Bake in a hot oven (190degC) for 45 minutes (or until the innards are hot and the pastry is golden brown). Serve piping hot, remembering to take a few snaps before it's devoured by hungry people wondering why you didn't just serve up the cooked chicken mix in the first place.

04 December 2005

's good news

Same-sex civil partnerships become law in UK.

Finally, the same legal and financial rights for same-sex couple. 's all good. Now how about civil partnerships for heterosexual couples who don't subscribe to the religious implications of marriage?

01 December 2005

The Singaporean government shows no compassion.

This morning, another drug mule was hanged. It is very well known how the Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai authorities treat drug traffickers, yet still it continues. I always wonder why they take such huge risks; why they can't find another route that does not take them through these countries with barbaric death penalties*. Never having been in the darkest depths, I will never understand their reasons. I can, however, understand fully why the Singaporean government fails to show any clemency regardless of the circumstances. It's a paternalistic government. They believe they are right in this. They regulate the number of births with propaganda, incentives and deterrents. They tell you how much to save for retirement, how many qualifications you can have, hell, they even make sure kids know how to brush their teeth in primary school. These are just some of the little things that they like to control. And they sure as hell like to control everything that comes in from the outside. Of course, Singapore has a drug problem just like everywhere else. It's an age-old problem, starting with opium in the colonial days, and moving on to today's soft and hard drugs. And like the good parents that they are, they want to keep their charges off drugs. So they introduce harsh laws that they hope will deter people from bringing in or using drugs. Maybe their reasoning is that these folk will die from drug abuse anyway, so why not use the death penalty to put the fear of god into them and stop them before they start. Maybe. Whatever the reasoning, the fact is that the Singaporean government is always right. They have never publicly admitted to being wrong (maybe except for the agreement to merge with Malaysia all those years ago), and they're not going to start now. Doesn't matter if the drugs are merely in transit. The fact that they are transiting through Singapore is enough to give her a bad reputation. And as anyone who knows anything about Asians knows, face is everything. And no-one likes to "lose" face even less than the fucking Singaporean government. No compassion to be found there.



*I'm not advocating drug trafficking, nor am I in favour of the death penalty under any circumstance. I just don't understand.

30 November 2005

product placements piss me off

Can't stand product placement. Pisses me off. And tonight, my already not so good opinion of Coldplay took a nosedive. On the latest CSI:NY (Jamalot), one of the detectives pulls out his mobile as it begins to ring, explaining to his colleague that it's Coldplay's "Talk". One minute later, in the all-too-frequent adbreaks over here, what do we get but an ad for Coldplay's "Talk" ringtone.

Fecking sell-outs.


Nerd alert: also on tonight's CSI:NY, possibly the first TV broadcast of laser microdissection, where you use a laser to blast around a small area of sliced tissue (goes down to the single-cell level) and ping the microscopic piece of tissue into an awaiting tube.

where the dust bunnies breed

I've been a bit busy of late, which means this wee blog has been neglected. While I talk a lot of rot here, quite a lot of that rot still needs lots of background reading and fact checking. And when you're spending a lot of your evenings fact-checking for work, somehow, doing some research (i.e. using google) for the blog just does not appeal. So for the moment, I'm talking rot elsewhere:

  • my as yet un-named food blog (Update: Gave up on the food blog, lazy me will just continue talking rot here);
  • and my bitch about LA page.

29 November 2005

fundamentalism

is a dangerous thing indeed. we live in dark times, my friends

28 November 2005

everlasting chicken

that chicken in milk and lemon? lasted three meals.

  1. last night's dinner
  2. this afternoon's lunch (avec ris)
  3. tonight's tea (with leftover flat bread)

and that's even with us two being pigs and eating more than normal people would.

27 November 2005

chickpeas in pitta bread

Another photo-less post. Ach well. I couldn't be bothered to get all the gear together to shoot a mere chickpea sandwich. (Gear consisting of 1. a small camera, and 2. the light switch.)

So, again, take my word for it: [image]ugly and poorly lit[/image].

Rinsed out some dried chickpeas on Sunday night and left them to soak overnight in the fridge. Boiled said soaked chickpeas for an hour on Monday night after getting home 2 hours after dinnertime (P's fault this time, not mine... yay! oh, at work late. not yay. boo...). Drained off all the liquid before I realised that I normally save two ladles-worth in a bowl. Duh. Put that down to tiredness (or brainlessness). To save us from having to wash too many pans, used the same pan to saute some onions and a smidgen of garlic. Added some curry powder (again, lazy. otherwise would have heated some coriander and cumin seeds, and blitzed them with some ground turmeric and grated ginger) and dry fried for a couple of minutes until the whole place smelled nice. (Who needs Glade when you have curry?) Added some tomato paste (again, lazy. should have added some chopped plum tomatoes or something. Really. It makes a huge difference to taste and texture. But. Lazy.) and chickpeas. Should have added the reserved chickpea cooking liquid at this point, but brainless git here forgot to save some. So added some plain ol water instead. I tell you, it makes a difference. Simmered for another 30 minutes.

And finally, tonight, crisped up some frozen pitta bread and served it with warmed through spicy chickpeas. Not as good as previous versions of my spicy chickpeas. Think I'm losing my touch. Keep blaming the poky and not very well laid out kitchen, but suspect it's because I've lost the will to live cook. Can one get S.A.D. in LA even though the weather is a million times better than in Scotland right now? Or am I carrying some residual SADness from many Northern winters? All the same, the chickpeas were not the same, and that made me quite sad.

chicken in lemon and milk

No photos today. It's strange how on some days we're just trigger-happy, and on others the camera doesn't even come out of its case. So you'll just have to take my word for how good today's chicken in milk was. Originally a Jamie recipe, modified (i.e. made easy for lazy people) by us.

Brown your chicken in a deep pan. Drain off the excess fat. Cut a lemon in two give it a wee squeeze before throwing in the whole thing anyway. Pour in about a (British) pint of milk (that's just over 586ml in metric, but I usually just pour until I remember to stop, so I've never any idea just how much I've used). Throw in several cloves of garlic (we always start with three, but end up adding five or more. Needless to say, our breath honks after.) Stick in the oven at 190C for around 45 min. (There are rules of thumbs for gauging how long to cook a chicken by weight. If I'm being particular, I check them out and follow them. Otherwise, I guess. This was no spring chicken, but no gargantuan either, so 45 minutes seemed sufficient.) In the meantime, faff around and forget to prepare anything to go with the chicken. Remember at around the 45 minute mark, and grab some angel hair pasta from the store cupboard. Take the chicken out while the pasta is cooking. Let it rest. It's a bit exhausted from being in the heat, you know. Don't bin the curdled milk in the pan: reduce it! (um, technical term for boiling some of it away until it's a bit thicker) Shred some of the tender breast into the pasta or noodles, pour over the reduced curdled milky jus, tuck the napkin in and attack with a fork. If being posh, don't bother with all that and serve carved pieces of chicken with some mashed tatties and roasted veggies (yeah right, like we ever plan in advance and have everything in). Bitch about how significant other never takes photos of your cooking even though you've been slaving away over a hot TV watching Stargate. Blog about how crap you are at documenting your cooking.

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26 November 2005

teppanyaki

My parents used to take us out for teppanyaki for birthdays and special occasions, like the end of exams. So I felt the need to go out for teppanyaki today (well, yesterday by now...). I didn't particularly want to be wandering around Downtown LA in the wee hours, so we couldn't try the grill at the New Otani in Little Tokyo.

Instead, we headed for our local branch of Benihana in Santa Monica. Completely different atmosphere to the teppanyaki restaurants of my childhood. It's an open-concept space (or is that open-space concept; couldn't care less), which along with the high volume of customers and high turnover rate, takes some of the cosiness away from the experience. Sure, I could have looked for a more intimate dining experience. But I really wanted teppanyaki for my final hurrah and farewell to my youth. Plus, it was P's first foray into the world of teppanyaki dining, so somewhere he could feel comfortable was also important.

Because of the way they seated different groups at the same table, we didn't feel it would be right to take photos of the evening. Which was a real shame. Every teppanyaki chef has his/her own style and little gimmick. Our chef tonight had two little tricks I'd never seen before. First, he turned our fried rice into a beating heart, earning him delighted claps from the two of us (boy were we seated at a table of jaded or too-cool-to-smile Angelinos). Then he amused the kid in me by turning mere rings of onions into a smoking volcano. It's these little things that make teppanyaki so fun for me. Of course, the squid was perfectly tender, the prawns just so, the scallops tasty and the filet mignon just the right side of bloody. It may be a chain, but our chef for the evening was as good as any posh teppanyaki restaurant's.

And may I never grow so old that I cannot appreciate a bit of fun...

25 November 2005

moi aussi

Wow. Some tat in the Daily Mirror results in the bouffant-one declaring his willingness to risk the can. And bloggers of varying political sympathies will share his cell (via).

If it's gotten to the stage where the magic words Official Secrets Act have been invoked, then there must be some juice in the turkey. Even a wee blogger of no significance can do something. Count me in, I guess.

Edit: Al Jazeera staffers speak for themselves (via).

24 November 2005

Cameo

Evil plans are afoot to transform one of the three remaining real cinemas in Edinburgh* into yet another venue for the suits of the financial district to drink crap lager while trying out lame chat-up lines on each other (equally applicable to males and females). The Cameo, for it is this honorable establishment of which I speak, was home to many a fine evening out for me. I watched many a film in the slightly run-down, but elegant theatre, often preceeded by a pint or two of good beer in the in-house bar.

As others have pointed out, Tollcross is not exactly in need of another bar. So, do with the clickety-click and save the Cameo.

*The Filmhouse and the Dominion being two other cinemas that screen films that aren't just forced on them by distributors and owners.

2nd bbq in a week

i see...

It's Turkey Day in America. I'm no fan of turkey. It's a pointless meat unless you go the whole hog and prepare stuffing, roast veggies, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts with bacon and chestnut, chipolatas and all the other turkey trimmings you'd normally have for a British Christmas lunch. Over here, they do creative things with sweet potatoes and make weird concoctions with marshmallows.

We were lazy. And I like my BBQ grill (see last post). So we had a repeat of last Sunday's BBQ. This time, we were even lazier and bought marinated beef kebabs and marinated chicken kebabs. To make up for that laziness, I made some tzatziki. OK, I cheated even on that. Normally, the yoghurt has to be strained for several hours to thicken it. I strained whole fat yoghurt for 1 hour, grated a peeled cucumber and squeezed all the liquid out of it (again, you're supposed to let it strain for hours). Mixed the two together, and finely grated two cloves of garlic into the pseudo-tzatziki (sans dill cos I don't like dill... hey, that means it wasn't tzatziki at all, but merely cucumber and garlic in yoghurt). To pretend we care about being healthy, we stuck some peppers and sweet corn on the grill. And we finished off with some chestnuts leftover from the Halloween BBQ.

22 November 2005

no shit. is it the 1st of april already?

Update: the saga continues.

21 November 2005

unfunny gas

From BBC news: Gas explosion halts England Test.

Trescothick said: "I feared the worst. I could see advertising hoardings were damaged, but I didn't know what to do."

(emphasis mine) I think I know what he means, but it read funny the first time.

20 November 2005

kebabs and flat bread

kebabs

The Kosher Market near us on Santa Monica Blvd (intersection with Butler, I think...) has a very tempting grill outside the shop. And you can buy the marinated meat from the meat counter, although you'll get strange looks from the guys when you say you wanna cook it yourself. The beef kebabs were very gently spiced, and I have absolutely no idea what was in it, other than tender beef. As for the chicken kebabs, they were home-marinated bog-standard D-style teriyaki. Flat bread also from the market, slathered in butter and garlic. I like my BBQ grill.

mini corn muffins

mini corn muffins

There was a packet of corn muffin mix in the cupboard. I could not resist trying it out for brekkie. Never had a corn muffin before. And the packaging looked so quintessentially American (didn't take a photo, now wish I had). Made the muffins too small, had the oven too hot, so they turned out a little more like rock buns than the maker intended. Oh well. Next time will be better.

Dragon roll

Dragon Roll

Cycled to Venice Beach today (have a magic route, as vouchsafed by our biking neighbours; may post it someday should we try it again). Couldn't decide what to have for lunch, so we had sushi! (This makes it something like 4 days in a row that we've had sushi: Thurs monkfish liver sushi with the boss, Fri inari sushi and spicy tuna roll for lunch; Sat chirashisushi in Westwood after a few yucky hours at work. You can tell we're liking this availability of sushi, can't you? Either that or we're just unimaginative.) Today's sushi came from Naked Sushi on Washington Blvd, which hooks up with Venice Beach pier. We initially ordered the spider roll, but they'd run out of ingredients (the crab, I guess) so we greedily asked for the dragon roll instead. There's nothing quite like unagi. And adding avocado to the mix just makes the kiddies in us so happy.

Of course, we only knew to ask for dragon roll after our last happy experience of it in Little Tokyo:

Black dragon roll

i [heart] angelato cafe

my love

Angelato's, on the corner of Third Street Promenade and Arizona in Santa Monica, is possibly a gelato-lover's heaven. The range of flavours is astounding, the combination adventurous, and the portion size generous. P has been replaced in my affections, naturally.

Face of the day: chocolate mandarin (which P ordered for me; and weirdly enough, I'd had a two scoop combo comprising an orange sorbet and a chocolate on one of my previous visits before his arrival... doo-do-doo-do-twilight zone... or the man just knows me.)

18 November 2005

17 November 2005

smash-it-yourself guacamole

chunky

In a lazy mood today. Had an avocado and lots of cherry tomatoes that needed to be used before the sure sudden descent into over-ripeness that always takes place when you look at them, say "oh that will last another day", and end up binning in guilt the next day. Hence the so-chunky-it's-not-guacamole above, and the old-standby-cherry-tom-pasta below.

tommypasta

16 November 2005

meatballs

meatball

on top of plain rice
all covered with spice
i lost my poor meatball
when somebody sneezed

it rolled off the table
and into my mouth
and then my poor meatball
i saw it no more

14 November 2005

LA car usage survey

I've been counting cars over there.

13 November 2005

mochi and tea

mochi

I like mochi. And now that P has had some real mochi, he loves mochi too. Yay!

We bought an assortment, some of which were completely new to me. I think my favourite was an inside-out mochi, which had a covering of smooth chestnut paste (a bit like marron glace paste, but paler in colour) with a small ball of mochi buried within. It was even shaped a bit like a chestnut. One to go back for...

Mochi from Mikawaya in Little Tokyo.

taiyaki

Finally ventured to Little Tokyo in Downtown LA. Was very happy to find that they have fresh taiyaki, only these aren't the regular fish shape. I lurved taiyaki as a kid, and was looking forward to biting through the crispy dough into piping hot red bean paste. This taiyaki didn't quite live up to my childhood memories, but perhaps those weren't authentic, being mainly bought in the basement supermarkets of Japanese department stores in S'pore. The dough was quite thick and chewy, which would have been fine if the outer skin was crispier. I liked the red bean paste though; it was just the right side of chunky for me.

11 November 2005

14, 28, 42, 90, and the bonus ball is...

From BBC news: How your MP voted.

Of the Edinburgh MPs:

  • John Barret (Edinburgh West, Lib Dem): against
  • Alistair Darling (Edinburgh South West, Labour): for
  • Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh South, Labour): for
  • Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour): against
  • Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East, Labour): did not vote

If Rifkind had remained to contest the Pentlands seat (oh, sorry, Edinburgh South West), that would have been a 3:1 against (what was Gavin Strang's reason for not voting?). I wonder what the population of Edinburgh thinks of their representation; I suspect it's closer to 50:50 than we care to admit. Looking outside Edinburgh for a moment, Jim Devine, the current MP for Livingston, voted for the 90-day bill; not really something his predecessor would have done.

And while I can't articulate my unease, my feeling that the number of days is a red herring. I still cannot understand how the government/Home Office intends to a) determine who counts as a friend-of-terrorists, b) ensure their countries of origin do not torture them on deportation from the UK, c) rein in the police from unjust/unwarranted/misjudged detentions.

Elsewhere, doctorvee asks how bloggers across the political spectrum could have such a different reaction to the terror bill from the real public.

remembrance


i will not forget.

10 November 2005

music/muzak

On many online things, I'm a real late-adopter. So, three years after the inception of Audioscrobbler, I've joined in. Like wonderful electric, my collection isn't much to brag about (actually, his is rather better than mine). Perhaps if I was willing to take more risks and download music via torrent-like apps, I'd have a better collection of new tracks. But since everything on my iPod/powerbook comes from my CD collection, it's embarrassingly fuddy-duddy and BritPop-y. I know I'm not the only person under 60 to enjoy classical music, but how many have Andras Schiff as their current top overall artist on last.fm?

Something needed to be done about this appalling out-of-touchness. Easy solution? A few not-too-expensive purchases from iTunes (US):

Since my new policy is not to buy stuff I don't want to have to pay to ship home, buying songs/albums via iTunes is not a bad way to plump up my music collection. Although the US and UK versions have different catalogues, it's probably not a bad thing to try out non-British bands, and even sample some country music. I miss browsing in Avalanche (ex-lunchtime haunt), Fopp (weekend timewasting) or the Stockbridge charity shops (where my entire LP collection of old jazz and classical recordings was purchased). But looking through the "neighbours" option on last.fm makes up for it, introducing me to music I've never come across, and reassuring me that my eclectic mix is not that uncommon.

And should any passing reader with good taste in music feel like helping out a prematurely-aged (music-wise) blogger, some suggestions in the comments would be nice.

05 November 2005

reuben burger

mountain of sauerkraut camouflaging a humongous burger

Don't know why it's called a Reuben burger, but sauerkraut works well with burgers.

@ Jerry's Deli in Westwood, inbetween some late-night experiments.

04 November 2005

Swearing

Linguists Marvel at Audacity of Yugoslav Swear Words (via wonderful electric).

The differences in everyday swearing are shown in this humorous anecdote from the Serbian business dictionary: elsewhere around the world old friends greet each other with "Hi, it's been a long time!" But, the Serbian translation reads "Đe si pizda ti materina?" ("Motherfucker! where've you been?") The question: what is that man's function in the business translates to "Koji je on kurac tamo?" ("Which dick is that one?"). The thought that a project can be accomplished is most properly shown by the expression "Ma to je pičkin dim!" ("that cunt's smokin'!").

03 November 2005

The world can't wait

Drive out the Bush regime!

The world can't wait I

Demonstration in Westwood last night, looping around Westwood, taking in the Federal Building and the southern end of UCLA's campus. Seemed an all-encompassing demonstration, with representation from various ends of the political spectrum, all with a common dislike (may be too mild, try hated...) of the Bush regime.

Wish I had better photos to show, but it's difficult to walk and shoot, although I'm sure the firearm-bearing motorcade would have had no problems. Favourite poster of the night: good bush, bad bush (use your imagination).

The talk around my end of campus (overheard while wandering the medical plaza with my student, looking for reagents to scrounge) was more of how folk had been given half the afternoon off to get off campus before the roads were shut, and somewhat less about taking part in the political process. Which made me think about how some sections of society have become so comfortable that they fail to look outside their little circle. Sure, they'll give money to charities when disasters like Hurrican Katrina strike. But should something affect the comfort and regularity of their daily lives, instead of stopping to discuss why there is such disaffection with the current US government, they bitch about having to pick up their kids early and the traffic jams they'll have to endure to get home.

P and I walked with them, then walked home. No problems whatsoever.

The world can't wait II The world can't wait III The world can't wait IV
The world can't wait V The world can't wait VI Police escort

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Carnaval

Mini photo-post of Halloween shenanigans in West Hollywood over there.

02 November 2005

The new Milli-Vanilli?

These lip-synching videos, starring the Back Dormitory Boys are just too good not to share (via wonderful electric, who's been doing some of it himself in airports).

These guys have a blog, but it's in Chinese. (Use Babel Fish to translate...)

30 October 2005

halloween bbq

Halloween BBQ

28 October 2005

shiseido fights flu

From Japan Times Online: Shiseido unit to sell flu-fighting mask.

(via cerebral soup)

At work. More later.

27 October 2005

apt googlebomb

Yet another googlebomb is doing the rounds. And for once, the target isn't a member of the current British cabinet or the Bush administration. No, this week's ignorant bigots are... Oh, just try it yourself.

(via Mons Graupius)

26 October 2005

we don't want no birds

From BBC news: New measures to tackle bird flu.

Do such measures make you feel safer, that the government is doing all it can to minimise the potential of an outbreak? Or is it scaremongering gone crazy? After the SARS outbreak, no governing body wants to be seen as lacking. After the BSE beef-to-human transmission palaver, nobody wants to be told they lacked foresight/prudence. But are they taking it a bit far, and causing more unease than necessary? As was pointed out not too long ago, more people die annually from the "vanilla"-flavour flu than all the H5N1 cases together.

25 October 2005

torture in mind

There's been some discussion on the use of torture in the blogosphere. (No, not using torture on bloggers although that's not a bad idea.)

And on tonight's episode of Commander in Chief, we hear from the President in response to a terrorist threat: "I don't want to hear that he was tortured." And from her security advisor: "Understood."

This ambiguous statement, of course, comes back to haunt her later in the episode. And I'll stop there before we move into spoiler territory, which may give people cause to pull out my toenails.

eggcellent scare story

From the Scotsman: EU warns of bird flu danger in chicken and eggs.

Ah ha ha ha. I laugh in the face of danger and will have a soft-boiled egg for my supper tonight. Take that, Mr/Ms Scaremonger Media. (The key question is: how will this affect spiceone's and cooksister's EoMEoTE?)

Useless piece of science trivia for the day: the annual vaccine for "regular" flu is harvested from vast quantities of deliberately infected fertilised poultry eggs, the supply of which is now under threat from the new strain of avian flu. Oh the irony!

Doctor Who takes three TV awards

Hurrah!

hurrah! d discovers bbcamerica

Rebus is in Furryboot town, where there are hoors aplenty. We're also given a right good tour of Edinburgh's skyline, "genteel" Fairmilehead, and I get to feel homesick everytime they show Lothian and Border's headquarters at Fettes... :(

As much as I like John Hannah and think he makes a fine Rebus, I feel the TV show leads the viewer too much without letting the story develop the way it does in the novels. Then again, I always think that about book/TV, book/film adaptations.

Ach, though I've nevir developed much of an accent, it does me gud to hear some proper talk, like.

24 October 2005

Another mall for Princes St

From BBC news: [Edinburgh] City centre revamp plan unveiled.

What Princes St needs is not a facelift but a face transplant. There's nothing to distinguish it as a unique high street; it's chockablock with the standard, national high street chains. Apart from Jenners, there's nothing to set it apart from any other British city's shopping street. And unlike Glasgow's Buchannan St and environs, it's not shopper-friendly and could do with being "pedestrianised". Unfortunately, it is still a major East-West artery road and the North-South main roads also cross it at some point. A solution may not exist (unless all traffic is routed around the city centre and delivery trucks are restricted to early/late hours only). That said, it'd be nice to get rid of some of those concrete monstrosities. Although I suspect any replacement buildings will be equally hated in a decade or so.

23 October 2005

Oof!

From theguardian: What can women actually do?

Gordon Ramsay has declared that women can't cook: "Seriously," he cried in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, "there are huge numbers of young women out there who know how to mix cocktails but can't cook to save their lives, whereas men are finding their way into the kitchen in ever-growing numbers. Trust me: I am only telling you what I've discovered."
[snip]
At the dewier end of this year, the president of Harvard University, Larry Summers, claimed women can't do science.

Pow! And Pow again!

And for the lesson in how to give your new TV show instant high ratings, see the original article here.

22 October 2005

green curry

Pseudo-Thai Green Curry

Cumin and coriander seeds warmed then blitzed, along with lotsa thai basil, chillies, ginger, garlic and shallots. Paste fried, chicken, aubergine, courgette and pepper slices added. Garnished with coriander leaves and served on steamed long-grain rice.

Edit: It's still going, 2 days later.

calm down, calm down

From BBC news: UK calls for wild bird import ban.

Aberdeen University microbiologist and bird flu expert Professor Hugh Pennington said Britons should not be alarmed by the discovery.
He said the virus had been "doing the rounds of the Far East for about 10 years" but still had not mutated into the "form that we really fear - the form that could infect people on any scale at all".
The head of the Medical Research Council, Professor Colin Blakemore, said the discovery of the virus would have been more worrying in a migratory bird.
He said: "Clearly birds in quarantine are not in contact with domestic birds, with farm birds in this country."

Edit: Fly on over to curious hamster's for a bit of Monty Python.

21 October 2005

yay! decent bread in LA...

I've been pretty lucky so far, living close to Amandine on Wilshire Blvd, where I get my weekly fix of French pastries. There's also a Belgian chocolatier on Wilshire, which is also meant to have good croissants. Le Pain Quotidient in Santa Monica was one of my first stops for a post-beach breakfast when I lived in Venice. (There's a branch in Westwood near all the cinemas too.) And you can get a darn good baguette at the West LA Farmers' Market if you're not too late (plus the baker is a really nice guy who gave me a whole bag of rolls for nothing last week because he had no baguettes left!).

And it looks like a new glut of bakeries are opening across the city. This is all good news for P, who is a big bread fan. And while there's nothing better than home-baked bread, I make it so rarely that we have to find that fix elsewhere. It doesn't help that Flickerite/food blogger/maker of mouthwatering dishes-Santos posts beautiful photos of bread that makes me want to give up my day job and just bake, bake bake...

20 October 2005

cameron=blair=disaster

From the sharpener, a comment piece about the media in politics.

Which leads me to wonder if David Cameron is the Tony Blair of the Conservative party.

funny coincidence

After yapping on about the recent worry about avian influenza, these arrived in my inbox:

Ah ha ha... Not something I want to do right now...

a real flap

Maybe it's because I'm way over here on the other side of the Atlantic (with a whole continent inbetween to boot!), but the current worry about bird flu in Europe isn't keeping me up at night.

Standard disclaimer: I don't know any better than your regular layman/woman about H5N1, other avian viruses, let alone virus biology.

So let's have a look at what the experts have to say. The WHO has a clearly written FAQ on avian flu and its possible impact on humans.

For the scaremongers, the key worries are that:

  • this H5N1 strain of bird flu causes a high rate of death in infected birds.
  • the H5N1 strain was found in a few South-East Asian countries in 2003, but spread within 2 years north (e.g. Russia, Mongolia), east (e.g. Korea, Japan), and west (e.g. Turkey, Romania).
  • when it infects humans (and it has done so very rarely for a virus so prevalent in bird stocks), it causes serious problems like pneumonia and multi-organ failure even in healthy people, and has a high rate of fatality. Compare this to the "regular" flu virus, which causes deaths mainly in the immunocompromised (e.g. the very young, old and ill).
  • an infected person can pass it on to their immediate contacts (by means as yet undeterminted).
  • most humans won't have immunity to H5N1 because it's a new strain; we haven't had time to develop our own antibodies to it.

And now that you're worried, here's my feeble attempt to allay your fears:

  • Although the H5N1 strain has been infecting birds since 2003, it hasn't killed very many people in the countries that have infected birds.
  • So far, the human-to-human infections have been through very close contact (although I don't know if that's because members of the same family are exposed to the same source of virus, e.g. bird droppings).
  • Cases of human infection have been in people who live in close quarters with their livestock; there's no evidence that meat and eggs we buy in the supermarket will cause infections. (I'm having chicken tonight...)
  • The third hit (mutation of the virus into something that spreads easily between humans not in close contact) hasn't happened yet.
  • Umm, what with all the scaremongering, some governments have woken up and are putting in place measures that the WHO recommended a loooong time ago.
  • Edit: And I'm reminded over in the comments on curious hamster's blog that it's very likely that should the virus cross species and become more transmissible between humans, it will lose pathogenicity (i.e. be less lethal).

As for drug and vaccine treatments, companies other than Roche are making generic versions of anti-viral drugs and there's a promising ongoing vaccine trial in Hungary. My main worry is that with rich governments stockpiling anti-flu drugs (and mind you they work on regular flu, and have yet to be tested on H5N1), developing countries won't get a look-in. But then again, a truly sensible government that has stockpiled these drugs can offer them to any country in immediate need of it with the knowledge that stopping the virus dead in its tracks elsewhere also stops it from entering your shores. This needs cooperation, and even better, a respected world body to coordinate matters. After the ridiculous failure of the US governing bodies (state and federal) to deal with the recent hurricanes, I wouldn't want to wait for the richest nation in the world to get involved. Thank goodness the frontline countries are getting their act together. Hopefuly we have learned lessons from the SARS outbreak, and have learned to forgo national pride and *communicate* with each other.

I have hope for the human species surviving any possible pandemic yet...

19 October 2005

Print-outs can be traced

And another one from nature news (you can tell I'm work-avoiding, can't you?): Laser printer dot code revealed.

Am I the only one not surprised by this? (Tinfoil hat always on...) This is merely the modern version of the crime writer's old standby: the "fingerprint" of a typewriter.

Carp to keep crap out

From nature news: Goldfish enlisted in fight against floods - Fish could stop residents carping about open-air drainage ponds. (pun not mine...)

Sounds like a might fine idea: re-introducing wetlands... Like the name too: SUDS. Ah ha ha. I laugh. And while this sounds like good environmental practice, in the hands of local councils, glorified drains will result.

One plus one equals nothing very much

Cheney resignation rumors fly.

Ooer... Interesting. [Tinfoil hat on] What are the chances that suggestions of Condoleeza Rice suceeding Cheney should he resign should be floated a few episodes in to the new Commander-in-Chief TV series? Has an idea been planted into public consciousness? [Tinfoil hat off]

Speaking of which, if The West Wing is a liberal's wet-dream, is Commander-in-Chief a feminist's? I've only seen bits of two episodes, and the focus seems to be less on the workings of the White House or Presidency, and more on the difficulties faced by the first female president.

It also seems to me that the producers did not think the American viewing public was ready for a woman winning a Presidential election outright (probably true in this country), and introduced a deus ex machina of the incumbent dying, thus allowing the female VP to step up. For reasons as yet undisclosed (political leanings/ability/gender), there is great objection to Mackenzie Allen (asexual name) taking the post, and Machiavellian machinations ensue.

I haven't seen enough to be hooked yet, but the idea behind the series is appealing. And the timing is pretty good too, with speculation about Hillary Clinton being spouted every so often. In a country that's so big, with geography determining political culture, perhaps the best place to stimulate debate and raise issues is a fictional TV series. (Then again, The West Wing has been running for donkey seasons (into it's 7th, methinks), and look where this country's at...)

There's a spoof political blog on the series, but it doesn't seem to be updated regularly.

Crawling lily

A sea lily takes a walk at the bottom of the ocean.

Cool video.

18 October 2005

Dog fails to bite man

From theguardian: Buster the dog sacked for being too friendly.

Not such an uncommon occurence. One of my parents' current surrogate children (read: dogs) is an ex-police dog. (One of our neighbours down the street is an ex-police dog trainer, and now runs a shelter for unwanted dogs.) It is a source of pride for the family; Benjo is introduced to every curious onlooker as our failed narco dog. He's remarkably well-behaved, and has yet to run away from home, sleep on the streets or steal to feed his habit...

17 October 2005

Revered author Ba Jin dies aged 100

From theguardian: Revered author Ba Jin dies aged 100

's a good age to go, though sad that he suffered from Parkinson's.

家 (Family) was such a seminal work, even a banana like me read it. Took me forever though... (almost 6 months)

co co nut

co co nut

Young coconut decapitated.

16 October 2005

crack of spinach

Crack of spinach

The West LA Farmers' Market is a relatively new market, held every Sunday morning. I love the atmosphere: everyone's friendly and there's always some music playing, whether it's taped music for folk to dance to or some live jazz (which is just the thing for Sunday morning).

15 October 2005

Spinach/shrooms/toms on angel hair

Cherry tomatoes and stringy pasta are my favourite quick dinner standby. While cooking up whatever dried pasta you have in, heat up a small amount of olive oil in a pan, add the toms, brown them, allowing some of them to burst, and mix in the pasta. Enjoy this highly unhealthy meal with a glass of vino.

chrysanthemum tea

Chrysanthemums

I love chrysanthemum tea, but I don't like the kind that comes in sachets. My main gripe with them is that they're usually too sugary. So when I saw bags of flowers in a Chinese herb shop in Monterey Park, I just could not resist. To make this cup of tea, I packed the inner glass sleeve of my new fancy tea mug with dried flowers and topped it up with boiling water. If you have a sweet tooth, I'd recommend a small amount of honey (preferably one that doesn't have too intense a flavour).

dim sum

Lor Mai Bao

A lor mai bao from NBC Seafood in Monterey Park, LA, a speciality of the restaurant. Lor mai (eight-treasure glutinous rice) is usually wrapped in leaves and steamed. This version has it wrapped in dumpling skin, which changes the eating experience from attempts at picking up lumps of sticky rice and rushing it to the mouth before it falls apart, to being piggish and stuffing the whole thing into an open gob.

14 October 2005

Resistant virus prompts concern over second line of defence

From Nature (news): Researchers call for more bird flu drugs.

While I'm not 100% convinced the threat of a mosaic/mutant virus will emerge this time, there is one thing that is bugging me about the situation arising in Europe.

In response, countries are stocking up on Tamiflu, the main anti-viral medicine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Turkey has asked Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche Holding AG to provide 500,000 boxes of medicine. Romania is reportedly also trying to get hold of thousands of doses. Governments are stockpiling the drug for use if the H5N1 virus mutates to a form able to transfer between humans.

My worry? That we will have a North/South (or is it East/West?) divide, where the rich countries in Western Europe stockpile anti-viral drugs, thus depriving the Eastern European countries which border Asia. We musn't forget that these places form our first line of defence; targeting the disease there will prevent further spreading westwards. Says naïve wee me.

See Nature's bird flu blog for more info.

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12 October 2005

iMac

OMG! I want!

Spinach/shrooms/toms on angel hair

11 October 2005

Edinburgh City flip-flops

From BBC news: Longer parking to help city shops.

Ha! I see falling revenues have pushed the Council to review their draconian parking limits in Edinburgh's city centre. We don't normally drive to the shops, seeing as we live but a 20 minute walk away from the West End. But even when we do want to drive in, we don't use the council's lots because it would end up costing us 40 quid in fines cos there's no way you can navigate the crazy pavements of Princes/George St and get all your shopping done in 50 minutes.

On the other hand, I thought the limitations on parking was to discourage people from driving into the city centre. Edinburgh's roads are by no way as crazy as LA's, but there are fewer lanes, which tend to get clogged up by legal and illegal parking.

Kinda sad, but predictable, that the council obviously puts profits over principles.

10 October 2005

buffalo steak on udon

Buffalo steak

A rare chance to cook and eat in one evening. A nice thick buffalo steak, briefly fried on each side, served on a bed of udon (thick Japanese noodles) and steamed veggies.

baked figs

Baked figs on creme fraiche

Bought some figs. Realised I don't particularly like figs raw. So I baked them in some honey. Decided it needed something extra, so sat them on some creme fraiche. Looks kinda disgusting, but tastes pretty good. Would have been better on plain ol' cream or with a dollop of ice cream.

09 October 2005

messages

Groceries

messages = Scots for groceries.

07 October 2005

P. M. S.

The acronym that many men fear...

A sudden slew of papers in the last week on the subject of the female hormonal cycle, which all try to explain why some women behave differently prior to their menstrual periods. This is a phenomenon with which hetero men use to explain away what they think of as irrational behaviour in women. And how many have witnessed foolhardy men asking a woman: "You on your period, or what?"?

Silly human behaviour aside, some people take the issue of PMS and its associated behaviour quite seriously:

  • Hormonal Cycle Modulates Arousal Circuitry in Women Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, by Goldstein et al. in the Journal of Neuroscience this week. Their findings? That MRI scans showed an increase in acvitity in the parts of the brain involved in the stress response in the early follicular phase (i.e. start of the menstrual period) when the women were shown unpleasant images. (This was, honestly, quite a yucky paper to read, stuffed to the gills with jargon and completely free of clear statements of facts... In fact, it reminded me of those crappy business-speak articles, and of the Dilbert comic strip. Someone really needs to send up scientists the way Scott Adams has with the cubicle-world...)
  • PMS brain, an article about the work of I. Mody at UCLA (I know... add an "o"... You'd be surprised how many scientists have very fitting names for their subject matter... Mine is one too...). This isn't a paper, which makes it SO much easier to read, and more understandable too. OK, I'm a little biased because they do some REAL science here, looking at the different ways neurons fire electrical signals at different parts of the ovarian cycle, and not that hand-waving guesstimation of brain imaging (I'll eat my words soon, no doubt). They found that a receptor in the brain actually changes its subunits (the components of the receptor), which causes changes in intensity of electrical firing in the neurons. While it's not very accurate to compare a rodent's oestrus cycle to a human, this could provide a mechanism for the above finding. The paper's here if anyone's interested.

So, essentially, the cycling hormones can cause changes in brain activity, and as such, lead to behavioural changes. The mechanism proposed by the second paper suggests a reason why different women have different responses to their fluctuating hormones, with some suffering from depression while others become more aggressive. All still pie-in-the-sky though...

Sharp suited bloggers

For a fine serving of chicken yoghurt fare, you must read this.

Kings Rule (?)

06 October 2005

Equal rights for men now!

From BBC news: Equal rights take a back seat.

I find myself in agreement with the premise of the initial objection... The woman was unreasonable (but is that because she's a woman or that she's just an unreasonable person?). (And let's not forget this was on a First-to-breakdown-Scotrail overcrowded commuter train, where tensions tend to be higher than the norm.)

I want equal rights for women, and with that comes equal responsibility. I don't see why men *have* to be sole breadwinners anymore (in a heterosexual relationship...); every couple should come to an agreement that does not depend on the old gender roles.

I don't expect a man to open doors for me (and am still very unsettled by the way some men *refuse* to let me open doors for them, to the extent that they reach past me to hold the damn door even though I've already opened it... trying not being churlish here, but there comes a point where it feels ridiculous). I'd give my seat up on a bus/train for anyone, man/woman/indeterminate of whatever age if they looked uncomfortable standing.

But at the same time, I find myself vaguely unsettled by the bloke's reasoning:

"You're joking, aren't you? What? You want my seat and the right to vote? Forget it."

What the hell has the right to vote have to do with it? Now he's just being a bit of a dinosaur...

But we should consider his reaction: a little more vehement than I would expect. Are we (modern females, that is) ostracising men? Are they frustrated? The writer of the BBC piece considers himself a minority:

But, I suppose, being a member of THE most discriminated against minority (white, middle-aged, heterosexual males) that my opinion will be dismissed as male chauvinist claptrap.

Is that his perception? Or is it real? Are men discriminated against? By who? Other men? Women? As a female, I know that discrimination against women in the workplace is very much alive and kicking. It gets worse the higher up the hierarchy you go. Is this the same for men? Or is it that they see policy makers publically favouring women with tax breaks or maternity leave for having children? While it may look one-sided, my very biased opinion is that these measures are only slowly narrowing the gap. The Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaws they may imagine when they think of modern women don't really exist in RealLifeTM.

What next? Will men take to the streets in protest?

05 October 2005

Spin yourself out of this one...

From BBC news: New Orleans sacks 3,000 workers.

Are you trying to tell me that 3000 people who have lost their homes, belongings and maybe even friends or relatives have now also lost their source of income? What utter rot.

Souffle omelette


Souffle omelette
Originally uploaded by framboise.

It seems too me that I've been eating chicken for most of my lunches and dinners (probably because I freeze the excess dinners for lunch...). And although I found a decent source of beef at Whole Foods, I can't bring my stingy self to pay for it regularly. And I've yet to try the lamb. So, tonight, it's the old standby meat-less, tofu-less, pulse-less recipe: souffle omelette.

It's nothing special; the only difference is you beat the egg whites separately from everything else. Which isn't hard if you're only whisking the whites from two or three eggs. (Bulking up to the 6 eggs normally required for cakes takes a bit more time, and lazy git here tends to use an electric whisk for that.)

Ingredients required to feed two (or one greedy guts):

  • 3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • a handful of cheese, grated (I'd recommend parmesan, and whatever else you have in. In this instance, I was trying to use up some cheese left by friends, which consisted of fake mozarrella and plastic cheddar - not perfect, but adequate.)
  • seasoning (salt/pepper; when I'm feeling chefy, I add chillies or Moroccan-stylee spices)

See here for a composite of ingredients.

Method:

  1. (Turn the grill on... Whack it as high as it'll go)
  2. Beat the egg whites with a super-clean whisk in a super-clean bowl. Needless to say, both bowl and whisk must be desert-dry too.
    When you get to the soft peak stage (you'll know, cos your triceps will start to complain), fold in the egg yolks, grated cheese and seasoning. (Again, this whole folding malarky must be done carefully so you don't collapse the air-inflated egg whites. The figure of eight action is my preferred method.) It's not necessary to mix it well.
  3. Melt a knob of butter in a pan (non-stick if you believe in such things), and flop the mixture in.
  4. Allow to cook until the base is firm enough to move about when you shuggle the pan, but not so long that the whole damn thing solidifies.
  5. Stick the wobbly mixture under the grill and allow a minute (or two) for the mixture to JUST brown (more golden than brown, ok?).
  6. Fold over and serve.

I committed the cardinal sin of letting my omelette cook for 30 seconds too long, and it was a bit more firm than I like... It should be a wee bit sloppy when it comes out of the whole process. (I also beat my egg whites a bit too much cos I was having so much fun...) But if you're worried about salmonella poisoning, I guess you'd be better off cooking it till it's rubbery and killed all the joy of eating a proper omelette.

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03 October 2005

mirrormask

where cats have wings and pigeons don't


Spoiler alert: no plot developments posted, but you may not want to know anything anyway.

Mirrormask, yet another collaboration by Neil Gaiman and David McKean, was everything I expected it to be. And since I can't write a review to save my life (argh, when will i ever finish that damn piece), here's what the LA Times had to say about the movie. And being a lazy git (already established in previous posts), I shall merely comment on snippets of the review....

"Although the plot and motifs are largely borrowed from "The Wizard of Oz" and "Alice in Wonderland," there is something oddly intoxicating about Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman's coming-of-age fantasy "MirrorMask." The teenager's journey through a nightmarish reverie presents hallucinogenic imagery that simultaneously dulls the senses and hot-wires the imagination, but it never fully engages emotionally."

It's the first paragraph, and already I'm in disagreement. What I enjoy about Gaiman's work is that he takes well-known/established stories, and gives them the subversive Gaiman treatment. Like a slightly warped mind telling bedtime stories with elements of Dadaism and stark reality. As for the lack of emotional engagement, it's an oft-made criticism. But that, for me, is part of its charm. You are but an observer in this world of fantasy. If the reviewer was perhaps refering to a lack of empathy for the characters, then again I'd have to disagree. Right from the start, it's clear that though our protaganist leads a life very different to her peers, the dynamics of her relationship with her mother are no different from the norm. That very ordinariness immediately endears her to half the audience (assuming it's 50% female, with their teenage years behind them).

"As out-of-the-ordinary as the Dark Lands and its unusual inhabitants are, the realization of them fails to transcend the rather predictable story McKean conceived with screenwriter Gaiman (a novelist and comic-book writer with a large cult following)."
[snip]
"Gaiman and McKean never successfully connect the kitchen-sink emotions of the film's real world to Helena's journey through the fantasy world. While a boon to special effects and low-cost filmmaking, digital images still largely project a coolness that keeps our feelings at arm's length."

Perhaps the reviewer has missed the point of the movie. It's not about twists and turns in the plot (that M Night Shayamalan really has spoilt it for all the other storytellers), it's about the journey, how things unfold. As for the digital backdrops, I rather think that was the whole point of them doing this movie now, when the technology has finally caught up with their imagination. These guys are graphic novelists after all. This movie is like a giant graphic novel, with moving bits and atmospheric music.

So, maybe not one for the mainstream audiences (it has a mere week's run in LA; in only one theatre). But does a "mainstream" audience exist anymore? And if it does, what does it watch? Harry Potter and the difficulty-he-must-overcome-with-the-help-of-his-friends? Cos that's fantasy too, dressed in Hollywood clothes.

But if you read comic books when you were younger (or graphic novels if you were posh), this is definitely one for you. If you can't stand even the mild surrealness of Tim Burton's creations, or don't watch a movie unless it's had the word "gritty" in the review, then you might want to watch something else. That maybe has Sean Bean dying in it. Again.

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More tapioca boba than pearls, me...

Tagged by the curious hamster for a meme on where bloggers write their "pearls of wisdom". Ha! I'm much more likely to cook sago pearls than write wisdom. And since I'm avoiding writing work-stuff again, and waiting for the cable guy (who is now three-quarters of an hour late), here is a photo of my new beloved:

Work station 1

As you can see, she sits on my dining table when I'm at home, although sometimes she joins me on the sofa when I'm watching a DVD on the telly. And next to her, the ever-present cuppa. Rationale? I always try to sit facing a window, even if it doesn't have much of a view (the patio is in serious need of some greenery). Anything else is too claustrophobic.

As for tagging people, well... How about Gunnella, manthatcooks and the meme graveyard (Santos)?

Update: Cable guy didn't turn up. Hacked off.

MCC? Male Chauvanist C***s

Neuro-economics

Ha! Finally, confirmation of my long-held prejudice that stockbrokers are a bunch of nutters.

To stand in somebody else's shoes

In today's theguardian*, Stuart Jeffries talks of understanding our neighbours and, in particular, their religions. Although I'm an out-and-out aetheist, I understand his point about not just "tolerating" our neighbours' differences, but "understanding" them instead.

I was fortunate enough to attend a secular school as a child, which did not enforce its religion on me, the way some Catholic and Methodist-backed schools in S'pore insisted the entire school had daily prayers. Not that that's a bad thing, per se. Just not for me, thanksverymuch.

But even that lack of school or state sponsored religious teaching did not mean that I was cocooned from the world of believers. The beauty of the secularity of my school was that we had girls from almost every major religion in S'pore enrolled. And religious education (RE) was a class you had to choose to take (not that I did, lazy git). Even then, RE classes covered all the major religions, for everyone.

Anyway. My point? Getting there. From an early age, I was friends with Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians (Jews being quite scarce in S'pore). I never thought of myself as tolerating their different beliefs. I didn't really understand the concept of "tolerance"; it just seemed to me that this state of affairs was quite proper and natural. And that's the way I still think it should be.

From discussions at recess time, to being invited to my friends' homes and churches/temples/mosques, I learned enough about each religion to understand that in the majority, teachings of their religious leaders were all about how to lead one's life in the "proper" way, and had absolutely nothing to do with denouncing those different to them. No, that came from the lay people. The bigots who, to make themselves feel special, divided the world into "them" and "us".

And while we're talking about religious divisions, consider the Old Firm. Why can't supporters of Rangers and Celtic just be completely honest with themselves and admit their rivalry has nothing to do with religion anymore, and more about the fact that they are the only two clubs that play good enough football in Scotland to feel absolute enmity for the other?

*I'm liking the way thefiver calls its own employers: "berliner theguardian"...

01 October 2005

Bombs (2?) in Bali

From BBC news: Bali bomb attacks claim 25 lives.

From LA times: Death toll climbs to 25 in Bali blasts.

Update: Now suspected to be suicide attacks. I find it so difficult to understand why tourist areas are targeted in SE Asia. It makes it less about ideology, and more about economic damage or publicity.

30 September 2005

weekend

Doing anything this weekend? I wish I wasn't...

Even on regular days, I'm not exactly a sociable animal; more like a hermit crab. But this weekend, the need for solitude is greater. For I have just purchased TP's Thud and NG's Anansi Boys. And I rented Donnie Darko - the director's cut last night, and was too tired to watch it.

Unfortunately, despite the last two weeks' respite, my fledgling social life is kicking off again. Tonight: drinks and Corpse Bride. Tomorrow: some work, picking up a colleague's Jeep from somewhere in SM, and dinner with the neighbours. Sunday: NG is giving a wee talk at the West Hollywood Book Festival. And I haven't been boarding since getting back from Scotland/France... What's a lazy gal to do? Tell everyone to bugger off? My books and I need some quality time together...

I'm not really complaining. This is, after all, why I upped sticks: to get out of the house more, to have a social life, to be more physically active, to bask in enough sunlight to banish the last ten years of SAD (although why we can't have the sun and cool weather, i just don't know), to experience the craziness that is la la land.

Update: Books finished. Both fantastic reads (but I'm biased; having read most of what both authors have written). Jeep safely delivered. Corpse Bride was super. Only thing I didn't manage to do was go to the beach. Oh well; it'll always be there...

Update 2: Went to the WeHo Book Fair, yapped about it on the other blog...

Update 3: Donnie Darko is a bleak film indeed. But I enjoyed it. Since it's probably been reviewed to death already, I won't bother (lazy git and all).

Update 4: My, I've been having fun. Been to see Mirrormask. Enjoyed it.

Twa-faced Broon

Gordon Brown is a two-faced git (via nosemonkey).

And this is what he said only a few days earlier. So, home-ownership only for the deserving, eh?

29 September 2005

Wildfires: my second encounter

Wildfires Rage Across Southern California

More on my LA blog.

Labour holds Westminster and Holyrood seats despite swing

From BBC news: Labour keeps Cook's Commons seat.

A swing of 10% to the SNP is not to be sniffed at, but I guess NuLab will be taking the win as a mandate to carry on regardless. Shame that... And although the SNP issue of bringing back essential services to St John's Hospital in Livi was well-intentioned, could they have managed to do it anyway? (says a super-pessimist...)

The other one came as a surprise to me. Thought there was a general shift towards the alternative parties in Holyrood. Shows you how much I know. Don't place any bets based on my predictions...

2008 Presidential Candidate

Sick of the Republicans? Fed up with waiting for the Democrats? Can't stand to waste yet another vote on Nader? Well check this out: A Presidential candidate for 2008 (via nosemonkey).

Hollywood gets it wrong again

28 September 2005

Changing drug resistance of the AIDS virus

From BBC news: Aids virus 'could be weakening'

I'm not familiar with the HIV field of research, nor have I read this particular paper, but I strongly suspect that this refers to a small cohort, probably in Belgium (facts need to be checked when I have access to the paper). The way the AIDS virus is spread probably means that in different populations, the strains are vastly different. While it sounds like the recent viral samples they've extracted from their (untreated?) patients are more sensitive to drug treatment in cultured cells than virus samples collected 15-20 years ago, there's no guarantee that the viruses in other populations are undergoing the same "attenutation" (or weakening). While I'm happy for those who have the weaker, more treatable, virus, I've seen reports that the exact opposite is happening in other studies, where an increase in drug-resistance is seen.

Let's just hope those who pretend that AIDS is an epidemic that will just go away of its own accord fail to latch on to this particular finding.

Update: The BBC page has an audio link to an interview with Dr. Eric Artz. In summary, he refers to the way viruses lose pathogenicity (i.e. are less lethal) over time as the mechanism for survival of the virus. And suggests this may be happening with HIV-1, and could mean the virus will cause fewer fatalities in several decade.

My understanding: With viruses that are dependent on their hosts to survive and replicate, the adage "survival of the fittest" is not always true. A super-strong virus that ends up killing its host soon runs out of warm bodies to infect (in an idealised world, where local populations stay local and don't move about too much...). Case in point: the ebola virus. My guess is that these viruses die out with their local population of hosts, and the weaker mutants, which don't cause immediate death, will survive another day to infect another host.

Update 2: Having skimmed through the paper, it looks like they looked at two different scenarios: one where they allowed pairs viruses to infect cells in culture and compared the historical and recent viruses' abilities to replicate in competition with each other (indicator of their pathogenicity, don't know how it works), and another where they treated uninfected cells in culture with entry inhibitors, then infected them (measure of drug-resistance).

Their findings? Recent viruses are less "fit", and lose out in direct competition with the historical ones. And recent viruses are a little less able to infect cells treated with entry inhibitors.

[Disclaimer: This is super-simplified and over-generalised. I really don't know anything about viruses, let alone the ins-and-outs of HIV-1. Other factors to take into account include period, method and range of infection, immune response, disease progress and bloodymindedness of humans and drug companies...]

And as is pretty obvious, I'm work-avoiding... Pseudo-science on a blog being easier to write my own stuff.

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Help the aged... Right out of the conference.

From BBC news: Labour issues apology to heckler

In the post-match interview:

"I'm going to personally apologise to him," Mr McCartney said. "I'm going to personally meet him if he takes the opportunity."

(Emphasis mine.) Umm... I don't know what Ian McCartney is normally like, but I think that was a poor choice of words. It should have been "...if he GIVES ME the opportunity". And I hope when Mr Wolfgang meets Mr McCartney, he gives that young whippersnapper the good hiding he deserves for his insolence. (Oops. No longer allowed under Nanny-Lab.)

Elsewhere, the curious hamster makes a sound prediction.

danger down under

From the BBC's news magazine: Danger Down Under

This brings to mind TP's continent of XXXX (or FourEcks*), where there are no longer snakes; the slithering reptiles having been eaten by the spiders. And don't even bother trying to list all the other dangerous species. Not even the sheep are completely harmless...

Och, yet another mirror of Roundworld in the Discworld... ;)

*See The Last Continent.

27 September 2005

An experiment in brown

An experiment in brown
Brown, brown, brown
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Slowly getting back to some semblance of a normal life. Felt alert enough tonight to cook without burning the place down, though how one can achieve that with an electric stove, one can only wonder.

Something other foreign postdocs have noticed (i.e. moaned about during lunch) is the way a lot of the meat here leaks copious amounts of water when fried. While that's happened to me only twice, I've not had that problem since I found a decent source of meat. Whole Foods has a half-decent meat section, where they stock organic beef, some of which has even been hung long enough to develop some flavour. Although the price is considerably more, I'd willingly give up alcohol to have good meat (not that I have to just yet). Same with the chicken. Since finding organic chicken not only at Whole Foods, but also at Ralph's, my frying pan has been almost spit-free. This isn't the best-controlled experiment, as I've not really explored the non-organic options. But since I eat organic meat for the simple reason that it's the only way to be sure the meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free here, I'm not exactly going out of my way to buy the regular stuff.

So. The experiment in brown. I don't know why it is that, surrounded by colour, I could only think to buy some mushrooms to have with my chicken. As for the chicken, easy-peasy:

  1. Heat some oil in a pan over a medium-to-high heat. Place some chicken thighs (or legs) in the oil, skin-side down. Allow the chicken to develop some colour (golden brown is the aim, not charred brown), and turn over. This may take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat.
  2. When the chicken is browned all over, turn the heat right down so that the oil is gently bubbling. Get yourself a few cloves of garlic, with skins left on. Smash with the blade of a largish knife and throw into the pan. Stick a cover over the pan and let the chicken cook. Again, depending on size of chicken pieces and heat, this could take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes. More if your chicken was more closely related to a turkey (embarrassing story from my childhood somewhere there...).
  3. While the chicken is cooking, look through the veg box/fridge to find some inspiration for an accompaniment. If you're me, realise that you've got no colour in the kitchen, and resign yourself to slicing some mushrooms.
  4. Dig out a half-open bottle of Chablis some friends left in your kitchen when they left the country, and taste to check it's not gone off. Pour out a decent measure and refrain from drinking on an empty stomach.
  5. At the same time, dig out the genuine creme fraiche bought almost 3 weeks ago from a Trader Joe's and sniff it to check it's not gone off either. Amazingly, it hasn't... (There's something odd about the way milk, yoghurt and cream lasts so much longer in the US. Preservatives? Better storage? Whatever it is, it's freaking me out...)
  6. By the time you've finished rummaging around the kitchen, the chicken will be ready. Add the mushrooms to help soak up some of that lovely chicken fat. Or if you're conscientious, and fat-conscious, drain the fat out of the pan first. But make sure you're not removing the "jus"...
  7. Remove the chicken, garlic and mushrooms from the pan, and add the large glass of wine. Let it bubble away on a high heat.
  8. When the wine has "reduced" (read: evaporated. what a waste...) to half its volume, add a huge blob of creme fraiche. Make that three very generous tablespoons. Or more.
  9. While it's bubbling, realise you forgot to season the sauce, and decide it doesn't matter anyway. Squeeze a forlorn half of a lemon into the sauce. Actually, make it a quarter unless it's a very small lemon.
  10. Serve. With any other brown accompaniment you can find. In this case, bread frozen a whole month ago and defrosted in the microwave.
  11. Eat. Feel fulfilled that you've survived another session in an alien kitchen.

And because your dishwasher hasn't received his visa yet, do the dishes... Cos they won't keep for another 3-4 weeks.

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I know that loo...

From the BBC's news mag: A public inconvenience.

My first thought when I saw the photo: I know that loo! How sad is that? It's the women's public toilet in Dunbar. Although that is an exemplary toilet, I'm afraid to report that the facilities in nearby Yellowcraigs beach (between North Berwick and Gullane) leave a lot to be desired. They're the kind you can imagine being kidnapped from, being situated between sand dunes and a dark copse. So when we're driving through East Lothian, and we're caught short, we always aim for Dunbar...

Blairgowrie man is world champion

Here's a first for Blair(gowrie): one of their local sons is the current world champion.

Of stone skimming.

Yes, you read it right. To be added to the list of top-class sporting events: World Stone Skimming Championships! Held on Easdale Island, on the west coast of Scotland, they take stone skimming seriously enough to have regulation stones.

A reliable source (read: P) informs me that it made the news (i.e. the evening news in Scotland), and gave him a jolt when he recognised the champion stone skimmer as a classmate of his brother's. (Other trivia you didn't want to know: the champion's brother was in P's year in school, and good at footie. Ach, small town people... They all know each other... I lived in a country with only 3 million people and I hardly knew anyone except my classmates. And I only ever met 2 people in school who went on to fame, don't know about fortune...)

A bit of research (read: searching the Scotsman's website) found these two articles. Knock yourselves out (you may need to register):

So, well done, Dougie Isaacs!

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Recycle those coffee cups

Feeling guilty about throwing away all those disposable coffee cups?

Santos of tsogb has a super way to recycle paper coffee cups from your coffee chain of choice.

Or if you don't bake, how about using them to sprout seeds or pot-on seedlings? (Oops, wrong time of year in the Northern hemisphere for that sort of thing... Next Spring, eh?)

26 September 2005

It's never dreich in LA

The BBC promotes an interesting book in today's Magazine: The Meaning of Tingo (author's website here). His latest blog entry would bring a wee smile to the face of most Scots:

... Scottish weather words I found, most of them, unsurprisingly, to do with rain. Dreich, ‘a miserably wet day’; plowtery, meaning ‘showery’; and drookit, ‘soaked to the skin’.

Most of the Scottish words I know are related to the weather, closely followed by words about drink or being drunk... Now what does that say about me, or the state of Scotland? (Not 100% sure, not being a true Scot, but plowtery may be pronounced "ploootery", and drookit as "dreekit". Don't quote me on that...)

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and .co.uk... I think it qualifies under my new strict guidelines for buying books. i.e. I have to want to ship it back to the UK when I'm done here. That's probably been the hardest thing to resist over here, especially since I live very close to a good secondhand bookshop.

Speaking of bookshops, tucked between many trendy restaurants in Westwood is a murder/mystery/crime specialist bookshop. I wandered in last week out of curiosity, as I'm not a huge fan of crime novels. Not recognising any works or authors on the tables, I went off in search for Ian Rankin's books. Different covers. For some reason, publishers think that British and American readers have different preferences for cover art. Same thing with Terry Pratchett's novels; they lack both Kirby's and Kidby's paintings.

Edit: Just thought to check if the bookshop has a website. Turns out they have a blog. They sure arrange a lot of signings.