30 April 2005

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Another lovely analogy from the Guardian, this time by Max Hastings while discussing the recent High Court ruling that swimmers may jolly well freeze in the icy waters of Hampstead Heath if they d*mn well want to!

...(snip)... Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an organisation that inspires the same dread as once did the Spanish Inquisition.

29 April 2005

As Darwin turns in his grave

Just catching up on life science news. This article from Nature caught my eye: Intelligent design. The most startling statistics are that:

  • 43% of American teenagers believe that "human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process";
  • 38% believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so"; and only
  • 18% think that humans have developed from less advanced forms of life, and God had nothing to do with it. (don't ask me where the other 1% went)

As for the theory of evolution as first set out by Darwin (note scientist's use of theory vs hypothesis), I can understand why 33% "don't know enough about it to say", 30% think it "isn't backed up by evidence", with only 37% assured that it is a well-supported theory (this is to do with education, or lack of it). Assuming the 18% who don't hold truck with creationism nor intelligent design are part of the 30% who agree that the theory of evolution holds true, what's happened to the other 12%? (The other assumption is, of course, that the same population was asked both questions... Polls being less reliable that laboratory-based experiments...)

It appears that some teens think Darwin and friends got it right, but still believe that to be compatible with supernatural intervention. OK, that's over simplifying things a bit. The intelligent design argument is that you need not involve theology, and this is how creationism is sneaking it's way back into the classroom. It worries me that there is little common ground between Darwinists and creationists. How can scientists and school teachers explain to their students and the lay public that acknowledging that a deity had nothing to do with our evolution is not being unfaithful to their religious beliefs? Is it PC to say to people with religious convictions that perhaps the tomes they put their faith in should not be taken literally? For me, it seems to come down to a question of faith. I have faith in my own ability to understand and draw logical conclusions from published evidence, and they have faith in their teachings. For me, evolution is a fact, whatever the current hypothesis on the workings of evolution are (i.e. How it comes about. The fact that it happens at all is just that. A fact.). Hey, maybe I should find out if Darwinism is a recognised religion; then we could argue that schools that refuse to teach evolution are discriminating against our religion!

If you want a layman's explanation of how humans came to be who we are today, have a look at a BBC site on prehistoric life: Human Evolution. Then look at BBC's History of Evolution pages for the story of how scientists evolved their ideas on evolution.

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And in other news...

From BBC news: Rivals hold historic China talks.

From the Guardian: Taiwanese opposition leader in Beijing talks.

From Xinhua: CPC, KMT leaders shake hands in historic meeting.

I'm mildly amused by how UK news outlets refer to Lien Chan as the opposition leader, and how Xinhua refers to him as Chairman of the Kuomintang(国民堂) first and mentions that they are an opposition party later. Xinhua also fails to mention how the Kuomintang changed their tune about the communist party only after losing power. Read into that what you will.

My summary of Edinburgh North and Leith's candidates

Warning, long post ahead.
I spent my lunch hour reading all the bumpf that's been shoved through our letterbox while the cat fought for attention by shedding hair on the leaflets (she didn't like the Tory leaflets, that's for sure... Must remember to tell Tory-boy...). I thought I ought to list the key point the candidates are trying to sell to us, mainly because I have to vote for them to represent my needs/desires. Tony, Howard and Charles don't get a look-in 'cos I think they're just lying through their fake tans, make-up and 'charming' personalities anyway. A summary of salient points made in local leaflets, followed by brief, uneducated thoughts:

Scottish Conservatives

Candidate: Iain Whyte
No. of leaflets / direct mail: 1 / 4

First off, I have no idea how the Tories got hold of my name and address. I may be on the electoral roll, but I specifically requested not to be on the public register. Perhaps they BOUGHT my name and address from some dodgy bank. Wherever they got it from, could they please remove it? I really don't want any chummy letters (see below) from anyone associated with Nick Bois (he of the "What bit of 'send them back' don't you understand, Mr Blair?" infamy).

The first leaflet was a poor photocopy, headline: "The choice is clear", with the thrust of their main argument against their perceived failings of Labour:

  • NHS waiting lists are up over 9,000
  • attacks on school staff are up 900% with an assault every 12 minutes of the school day
  • over 270,000 failed asylum seekers are still in the country
  • a crime is committed every 78 seconds
  • and tax has gone up by £5,000 for the average household, including a council tax rise of 39% in Edinburgh

Their promises include: reform of the NHS to provide genuine choice, swifter treatment and more locally provided health services; allowing teachers to permanently expel disruptive and violent pupils; controlled and fair immigration; police on the streets deterring and detecting crime; criminals in prison; lower taxes. And a 'direct quote' from Mr Whyte: "The last eight years of Labour in Government have been eight years of failure. All over the constituency people tell me about the impact of these failures on their daily lives. This General Election is a time to think long and hard and imagine five more years of Labour. The choice for people in Edinburgh North and Leith is clear. I believe that local people are ready to make that choice."

One of the direct (junk) mail leaflets is full of photographs of Councillor Iain Whyte with:

  • David McLetchie MSP, opposing road tolls
  • Trinity councillor Alan Jackson, discussing proposed housing development
  • Stockbridge councillor Michael Dixon, campaigning for improved facilities in Inverleith Park
  • Random campaigners at a march/rally to support Scottish regiments

To my partner, they sent one you can turn into a pro-Tory poster (nae chance), and which claims that "Tories close in on Labour", with a bar chart from the 2003 council election results to back it up. In Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour garnered 28% of the total vote, compared to 25% for the Conservatives, 19% for the Lib Dems, 16% for the SNP, and 11% to others. (I'm not sure local election results are transferable. At the 2003 election, most folk I know split their votes for the MSPs and local councillors. GEs are usually quite different,as local issues, particularly in Scotland, take a backseat to national issues like tax, immigration, defence, healthcare and that war. Also, see below.)

To cap it all, this morning we received two pseudo-handwritten letters from Mr Whyte. If I had a working scanner, I'd use it. But I don't, so I'll just have to type it all out:

Dear Friend,
I am writing to thank you personally for the warm response I have received while meeting local residents and discussing the issues that matter to them.
I know what a great place Edinburgh North and Leith is as I was born and brought up locally and have served the residents of Craigleith as their councillor for ten years.
New boundaries make this constituency as close contest for the first time in years. I believe I have a strong record of successful campaigning on the issues that affect all our daily lives. Working as your member of parliament would be an enormous honour and I want to be a strong local voice in the House of Commons.
I very much enjoy working with local people. With your support on polling day, together we can make Edinburgh North and Leith an even better place to live!
(signed)IAIN WHYTE

You're right on one thing, Mr Whyte. My choice is clear. I will definitely not vote for a party that will dump 'troubled youths' out of school and on the streets, where they will, no doubt, be detected and deterred by heavy handed police, and unceremoniously chucked into prison, plus, on their release, be quite unable to integrate into society. Besides, if you want to keep crims in prison, and provide 'genuine health choices', won't that cost the taxpayer more? Or are you planning to sneaking in a few cuts here and there that will have the most adverse impact on those least able to cope? As for that pal-ly letter, I really don't deserve any of your thanks as I have never spoken to you personally, nor written to you, nor given you any sort of warm response that you are thanking me for. Really. Don't. Additionally, the three instances of 'local' and variations therein make me feel very uncomfortable, given that I'm not local and thus can't shop in the "local shop for local people" (to the strain of the League of Gentleman).

Scottish Greens

Candidate: Mark Sydenham
No. of leaflets / direct mail : 0 / 0

As the Greens haven't published a hard copy of their manifesto (Good on yer, guys... I'd never have read it anyway), they seem to have followed through on campaign leaflets. So I'm going to be really lazy and copy/paste the following from Mr Sydenham's website:

Mark will work to

  • replace the council tax with a much fairer Land Value Tax;
  • make sure that all new developments benefit the local community, not just landowners and developers;
  • expose the proposed Leith Bypass as a traffic generator, not congestion reducer, and highlight its tragic consequences for all those living in North Edinburgh, from Granton to Portobello;
  • campaign to reduce heavy lorries and choking traffic on North Edinburgh's streets;
  • support and promote local shops and services over massive supermarkets.

Mark says: "The Green Party came second in Edinburgh North and Leith in the last election. For the first time in any General Election, a Green vote will count. We have shown what having seven Green MSPs can do in Holyrood, and with the "main" parties all merging towards the same bland policies, now is the time to give other parties a voice at Westminster."

Gosh, I didn't know the Greens came second in this constituency in the last election (which one though?). (See below.) Other than that, all good. Where's the stuff about healthcare and ... stuff?

Scottish Labour

Candidate: Mark Lazarowicz
No. of leaflets / direct mail: 1 / 2

No idea how they obtained our addresses. We're not members of the party, and we are not on the public electoral register. Maybe it's the bloody council...

The Labour leaflets arrived later than the others (I think it was Lib Dems first, then the Tories, SNP and SSP.), but we won't hold *that* against them. Mark Lazarowicz was the serving MP for Edinburgh North and Leith in the last sitting of Parliament. And I've commented on his voting record in a previous post.

Mark Lazarowicz believes that our local community, like the rest of the country, has benefited from a Labour government, the UK economy is now one of the strongest in the world, we have low unemployment, low mortgage rates, and the lowest inflation for decades. (Long list my fault, not his. I'm lazy.) And he goes on about how more money has been spent on doctors, nurses, teachers, hospitals, schools and pensioners. He promises to do more to benefit more pensioners. Oh yeah, he also mentioned that youth unemployment in our area has been virtually eradicated. (I had to laugh.) Other achievements include: campaigning for a safer and fairer world, helping to found Scotland's campaign for world development more than 20 years ago (Scottish Education and Action for Development), tackling climate change and environmental issues. As examples of happy customers, we have a Dean Village Pensioner, an Inverleith Resident, and a Broughton Parent. (I'm keeping shtum on working families 'cos lots of others have bitched about that.) Shall we continue? Mr Lazarowicz has worked with local residents on local housing issues, supported campaigns for flood prevention, campaigned against post office closures, spoken out for consumer rights, campaigned for road safety, supported trade justice and international development, backs Labour's 0.7% target for overseas aid, voted against the Iraq war, and been an all-round active backbencher.

There is also a none-too-subtle chart reminding Labour supporters that since the boundaries have changed, with 15,000 added votes, "the Tories are now much closer to Labour" in the new constituency. (No statistics provided or quoted.)

The salient points from another "election communication":

  • Child Trust Funds for 2,600 local children
  • Giving children the best start in life; 8 new or refurbished local schools thanks to Labour
  • Investing in high-quality public services; 14,000 more doctors and nurses in Scotland
  • A safer and fairer world; Labour will increase aid to 0.7% GDP
  • A fair deal for pensioners; £109.45 minimum income for every pensioner
  • (There's more, including helping to launch Edinburgh Fairtrade City, increasing number of police by 5% in Lothian, 3,500 local pensioners benefiting from pension credit and more than 12,000 receiving winter fuel payments.

The final leaflet reminds us that Labour has invested £4 billion in Scotland's public services, and the Tories are coming!

My partner and I had a mini half-drunken (him, not me. I was stone-cold sober.) discussion about the economy thing last night, and I checked the rankings on GDP. The UK is behind the US, China, Japan, India, Germany and France. I like some of the things Labour has tried to do, like improving the lot of pensioners, but I suspect that I've missed out on the argument about the way pension plans and contributions for us younger people are going to disappear (I'm as yet unaffected, but on our return from the States, who knows?). And I was hoping to get some personal assurance that this whole points for immigration debacle isn't something that the Labour die-hards will stand for. (I'm not holding my breath; I am no fan of the HO and have never been impressed by the way they've dealt with me...) And I definitely dislike the way I've been reminded that the Tories are close behind. It caught me unawares; the Tories have always come third whenever I've voted in Edinburgh (the ex-Pentlands seat has always been an exception), and here I was really contemplating ticking the box for Labour, just in case. I don't like being manipulated.

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Candidate: Mike Crockart
No. of leaflets / direct mail: 3 / 0

The first bumpf through the letterbox was not a leaflet, but a full-blown 8-page tabloid. As it's not directly about the candidate, I think I should leave it for now. I reserve the right to talk about it later though. :)

The next piece was the "Focus" newsletter, which only half-counts as it devotes half the back page to Cllr Ponton's annoyance over the Edinburgh Traffic Management plan (Feel for you mate, really do... Only I don't drive much in town 'cos you can a. walk, and b. get the bloody bus.) Back to the leaflet, where Mike Crockart's campaign starts with "Trams must stop at the Western", which is one of the main hospitals in Edinburgh, and where I spent 4 happy years of my life.

So the only proper bit of campaigning makes the following points:

  • Making our area safer. Lib Dems would scrap the ID card plans and use the savings to employ over 10,000 more police officers across the UK. (Mr Crockart is a former policeman and understands that crime is a serious concern.)
  • A fair deal for pensioners. Mike Crockart and the Lib Dems will fight to end Labour's degrading mass means testing of pensioners by increasing the state pension by £100 a month. Their 'Citizens Pension' would be linked to earnings.
  • Delivering on health and education. Lib Dems in the Scottish Parliament have helped to abolish student tuition fees, and helped to introduce free personal care for the elderly, with free eye and dental checks on the way. (Plus a bit of blurb about how Mike Crockart and his family live in Edinburgh, and as a father, he knows the importance of local schools.)
  • Protecting our environment. Mike Crockart wants the local and global environment protected for future generations, and will fight to make tackling climate change a key political priority at the national level. Locally, he will oppose development on the greenbelt, resist a second runway at Edinburgh airport, and campaign for improved bus and rail services to provide alternatives to cars.
  • And as for local issues, stop closures of local Post Offices, replacement of council tax with income tax, and the truth on the war in Iraq.

We are also given some background information on Mike, and how he lives locally, works for a life assurance company, was a policeman, and is a dedicated father. We also have a timely reminder that only the Lib Dems can beat Labour in Edinburgh North and Leith. The Tories and SNP can't win. (Eh, I think you'll find that the Tories disagree. See above.)

Hmm. I agree about the whole crock about stopping development on greenbelts, and improved public transport. How about some subsidies to help people move to more fuel-efficient cars? In England, there is a rebate for buying a Prius, which is something we didn't qualify for when we bought ours. I guess I also agree on the other points he makes, although I don't think you can consider not spending on ID cards as "savings". My grasp of economics is slim at best, but I really don't think politicians should use wishy-washy phrases like "saving money". Finding it hard to dislike the guy though. And what is it about EVERYONE and his dog coming second in the last election? Recurring theme or what?

Scottish National Party

Candidate: David Hutchison
No. of leaflets / direct mail: 1 / 0

A yellow leaflets from the SNP, asking: "Does Scotland matter to you?". David Hutchison tells us: "Scotland matters to each and every one of us. At this election, we have the chance to show how much. The UK parties ignore Scotland. They are campaigning on policies that don't apply to Scotland. I put Scotland first. The SNP puts Scotland first."

My problem with the SNP is that they're gung-ho for independence, and campaign purely on that. The SNP like to remind us that Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden are successful small countries. I agree. And unable to think of a snappy rejoinder for now, I say: "But their football teams don't suck!". (I'm flagging, can't you tell?) However, I like the current headline on the party website: "SNP pledges to impeach Blair" (Plaid Cymru is also in on the act). Mua ha ha.

Scottish Socialist Party

Candidate: Bill Scott
No. of leaflets / direct mail: 2 / 0

Makes the point that the 6 current MSPs in Holyrood have put forward the following bills:

  • Scrap the unfair Council Tax
  • Provide nutritious free school meals
  • Abolish prescription charges

We are also reminded that all 6 SSP MSPs (try saying that without getting the computer screen wet) donate half their salaries to the "socialist cause" (quote marks mine), and that Mr Scott also pledges to live on a worker's wage if elected.

We're informed that: "The SSP is FOR socialism, independence, equality, peace, civil rights, trade unionism, a clean green planet, welcoming refugees, ending poverty at home and abroad, protesting against G8 exploitation.".

I was particularly taken with the back of the leaflet, where the SSP have kindly provided a list of 6 questions to help us decide who to vote for:

  1. Do our pensioners deserve a £160 basic state pension, index-linked to earnings? Yes/No/Don't know
  2. Should the minimum wage be raised to £8 an hour for all workers, including young people? Yes/No/Don't know
  3. Should we create a more equal society by taxing the rich and redistributing wealth? Yes/No/Don't know
  4. Should our railways and other basic services be publicly owned for the benefit of the people? Yes/No/Don't know
  5. Should Scotland become an independent republic that spends money on hospitals and schools rather than nuclear weapons? Yes/No/Don't know
  6. Should our troops be brought home now from the killing fields of Iraq? Yes/No/Don't know

If you've mainly chosen 'No' on the questions, they advise you to stick to one of the two Tory parties - New Labour or the Conservatives (I like that touch. And if you're mostly unsure, they suggest you throw your weight behind the fearty parties (Oooh that smarts!). And finally, if you're shouting 'Yes' out loud for every question, then you're on their side, and they're on yours.

Wow. Good case of gentle suggestion used there. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work on me, as my answers were: yes, yes, no (too simplistic), no (again, too simplistic), no (now you're being silly), no (gosh, no! that's irresponsible). Sorry guys. I like your leaflet, but I can't vote for you. I'm not sure if your ideology is compatible with the complexity of real life.

Brief bios for all the candidates can be found at the Almanac for Scottish Politics. So, in summary, due to boundary changes, it would be unwise to assume that the 20% advantage Labour had in the last election is safe. And that seems to be the main focus of the two main alternatives. There's little difference between Labour and the Lib Dems, with the Lib Dems saying that Labour simply hasn't done enough. The Tories are scaring me slightly, 'cos they obviously have the foot-soldiers to personally write our names and addresses on envelopes and deliver them. The SNP is trotting out their usual: "Scotland can do better without England.", which I don't think is sustainable (find some economist to tell you why, I'm using my gut feeling, me...). The Greens and SSP are well-meaning, and I applaud their convictions, while still feeling they should go away and think some more about things other than socialism and the environment ('cos even I have to do that sometimes, green and ethical or not...). So, down to the usual suspects then: Labour or Liberal Democrats. Now, if only I could look into a crystal ball to see how many people are likely to vote Tory...

This is what backblair.co.uk had to say about our constituency:

Your constituency is
Edinburgh North & Leith

The candidate most likely to win is:

The candidate in second place is:

Seat Status

This is a safe Labour seat, so we'd advise you to vote for (LibDem) although this may not affect the outcome in this constituency. At the same time we'd like you to raise awareness of the issues with Tony Blair's leadership. Furthermore, if you have friends in other constituencies, please make them aware of this campaign.

The question is, can I trust these folk to have guessed correctly, boundary change and all? Then again, others have obviously thought long and hard about this and come up with the following rebuttal: Vote Lib Dem, get Conservative? and For Tomorrow (I) - 126 as a limit.

28 April 2005

I'm neither Mussolini nor Mandela

I'm a wishy washy, bleeding-heart liberal, according to the Times.

Where do you stand?

I have views somewhere between Noam Chomsky and Tony Benn. Why are comparisons always to men?

I've also been a little bit bored this evening, and have read recess monkey's blog, which is something I've not done before as I've always been a Backbencher girl myself.

Star Wars as an analogy to New Labour

Rafael Behr at the Observer blog compares the disappointment of the Star Wars prequels to New Labour. I particularly like this bit about Labour's second term:

Then came Attack of the Clones. A weakly scripted, poorly acted pastiche of what it could have been, dominated by a war launched with subterfuge and cynical manipiulation.
--Rafael Behr


What do I know?

Chris Lightfoot has a General Election Estimation quiz, which gauges how much you know about the stats behind the campaign. Apart from seriously underestimating how much each ID card would cost the taxpayer, I think I did alright for one who never really thinks about figures. You can choose how many questions you wish to be quizzed on, but I wimped out on 10. I don't think I can face knowing just how much I don't know.

2005 General Election Estimation Quiz

Your score is...


That means that you're...
  • better informed than 89% of people who've already taken the quiz
  • better informed than 93% of Labour supporters who've already taken the quiz
  • better informed than 91% of Liberal Democrat supporters who've already taken the quiz
Know any Conservative supporters? Encorage them to take the quiz so we have enough data to compare your results to Tories'!

So, if there are any Tory voters who read this blog, have a go if you think you're hard enough. (^_*)

27 April 2005

How I compare to the other inhabitants of the U

I checked out the "Political Survey 2005" questionnaire this evening. It turns out that, overall, I'm rather more left of centre than I previously thought. In a nutshell, this is where I stand on some issues:

Crime and punishment, internationalism

Your position on this axis is -6.7
You are likely to be very internationalist and rehabilitationist.

Economics, etc

Your position on this axis is -1.4
You are likely to be slightly socialist and anti-war.

More rehabilitationist, internationalist About the same More punitive, isolationist
More free-market, pro-war 0.0% 0.6% 58.3%
About the same 0.0% 1.0% 36.0%
More socialist, anti-war 0.0% 0.1% 4.1%

And if you're interested at all, here are my full results, with comparisons to results from polls and other sources. As examples of extremes, I am a lot more like Polly Toynbee than the tangerine man. I'm rather worried about being lumped in with BNP voters on domestic issues. Perhaps that's their secret ploy: be extreme on immigration, and left-wing enough to catch people on the fence. Well, no way will I ever vote for a nationalist party (British, Scottish or otherwise). That only leads to insular xenophobic thinking. Besides, it would be extremely ironic, wouldn't it? Since I'm a foreigner and all....

Still not sure which party to vote for. I've never had to agonise about my vote. Always looked left of centre, and threw out parties that had policies I strongly disagreed with. So, apart from the fact that the leader of the Labour party conned Parliament into voting for an invasion of Iraq, I guess I could still be a Labour voter. Or not. I dunno.

0000h edit: Oooh... I am SO confused. I've been trying to read about the candidates standing in Edinburgh North and Leith. The Labour candidate is the ex-MP Mark Lazarowicz, and this is what the "They Work for You" site has to say about his voting record, and I've added my agreement/disagreement with the way he voted in square brackets:

Mark Lazarowicz's voting record

  • Very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals. [Disagree]
  • Very strongly for introducing student top-up fees. [Disagree]
  • Very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. [Disagree!]
  • Moderately against the Iraq war. [Agree]
  • Very strongly for introducing ID cards. [Disagree]
  • Moderately for the fox hunting ban. [Agree]
  • Moderately for equal gay rights. [Agree]

It looks like he toes the partyline on economic issues, but disagrees with the invasion of Iraq. Not so keen on liberties (anti-terrorism and ID cards), but voted for equal gay rights. I don't know quite what to make of it. Do I say "Good on yer mate for voting against the war in Iraq and voting for equal gay rights." or "Man, I don't like the way you're letting the private sector in to what should be a nationalised healthcare, and I really don't like the way you are condoning the abuse of human rights of suspects (suspects! not proven crims!)."? I really don't want to be swayed by anybody's campaign, as I think it's all a pack of carefully hidden lies and soundbites. And I don't want to read all the party manifestos because I am a lazy git. I think I'll check out the BBC's policies at a glance tomorrow, when I'm a lot less tired. The world is a less depressing place when you're not listening to Stravinsky...

C'some pendant update

C'some pendant
Originally uploaded by framboise.

I've now soldered the two chromosome arms together, and added a spiral of silver wire to hold the necklace when I get round to ordering thicker wire that won't bend too much when worn. The gold rings are all cut to size and filed, it only remains to solder them on. I'm quite pleased with the results; it certainly looks better than I thought it would. My only grouse is that I've marked the silver arms while fitting the rings on. No worries, nothing that a bit of emery paper won't sort out.

26 April 2005

Spicy sweet potato and butternut soup

First posted 26 April 2005.

I love using butternut squash in soup; the smooth orange flesh gives a creamy texture without any use of dairy products. And I love the way butternut squash smells a little like mango or papaya when you cut into it (there may be a common enzyme in all these orange fruits, I'm not sure...). Yet another recipe from the good ol' Covent Garden Soup Company's "Soup & beyond" cookbook.

  • 1 tbsp sunflower/olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, lightly roasted and ground
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly roasted and ground
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly roasted
  • ~1cm fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 chilli, seeded and chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of honey
  • 2 large or 3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1" cubes
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1" cubes
  • 1.2 litres vegetable stock (I use Marigold organic veg stock for preference)
  • 400g chickpeas (1 tin of pre-cooked, or use ~250-300g dried chickpeas that have been soaked and boiled)
  • salt and pepper
  • yoghurt and coriander leaves to garnish
  1. Gently cook the onion and garlic in a covered saucepan for 10 min without colouring.
  2. Stir in the spices, sesame seeds, ginger, chilli, lime zest and honey. Allow to warm up for ~30 seconds.
  3. Add the sweet potato, butternut squash, juice of half a lime and the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 min.
  4. Add the chickpeas and simmer for another 10 min.
  5. Add the remaining lime juice and allow the soup to cool slightly before liquidising it.
  6. Warm up the purée and garnish with some coriander leaves.
  7. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt or crème fraiche.
Sweet potato and butternut soup ingredients Sweet potato and butternut soup, prep stage Pureed sweet potato and butternut soup Spicy sweet potato and butternut soup
Ingredients Tender veggies Puréed soup Final product

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Muran (aka this sofa's mine!)

What do you want? Stop bugging me
Go away! I'm bored of this now...
You want me to do what? I look like the young Liz Taylor in Cleopetra.
OK. I'll pose for you. It'll cost you though. Right, I'm off... Have your people call my people.

We're cat-sitting for a week while Muran's parents take a short holiday. I think she secretly likes coming here because we're such suckers; all she has to do is roll over, and we fight to scratch her belly or brush her fur. Such a princess! She's a placcid wee cat, but is never really up for doing very much. On her first visit as a kitten, she hid under the bed for days, only emerging to go to the toilet or eat her favourite cat biscuits. (That may have had something to do with her brother, smelly Onion, being alpha-cat.) Oh how things have changed! She now lays claim to the aubergine sofa the minute she arrives. It doesn't matter which room it's been moved to, she'll find it and sit herself down, waiting for us to serve her hand and foot.

1800h update: The wee angel had been cat-napping all afternoon, but perked up the minute she heard the door. She's now prowling, on the lookout for some attention and tuna.

25 April 2005

Day oot at the Dean Gallery

Originally uploaded by framboise.

Having missed out on a beautifully sunny Saturday, we decided to make the most of Sunday visiting our neighbourhood art gallery. I'm pretty lucky to live so close to so many of Scotland's National Galleries; with my two faves being the closest. The Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh differs from the GoMA in Glasgow as it tends to exhibit slightly more established artists, but we love having lunch there. If we get there early enough, that is. (It has a tendency to sell out by 2pm.) Although the haar hung about all day, the sun broke through enough to persuade us to stay outdoors and give the current Andy Warhol exhibition a miss. Edinburgh's GoMA has invested in a massive landscape feature "Landform" by Charles Jencks, and while it may have taken ages to complete and probably cost a lot of money, I'll bet more use has been made of it than the Diana memorial in Hyde Park (which is a shame as it looks great). The man-made spiralling banks of earth draw you in, and have a similar effect to Tibetan meditation mazes. Just walking on the worn turf had a calming effect. And the banks are at just the right angle to lounge in the sun.

After a brief spell watching toddlers scramble all over the Teletubbyland-like landscape, we crossed the road to the Dean Gallery, home of some of my favourite Dada and Surrealist artworks in the form of Gabrielle Keiller's and Roland Penrose's personal collections. In the grounds, you can find yet more sculptures/installations by Eduardo Paolozzi, Julian Opie (he of the Blur album cover pop-fame), Barbara Hepworth and others. I wish I had a better knack for taking interesting shots of sculptures. We were particularly fascinated by a moving sculpture with two arms that responded to the constant breezes of Edinburgh, but just could not capture the beauty and elegance of that slow swing. You just have to see it for yourself.

Inside the museum, my favourite room is the library off the permanent Surrealist collection, with its ever-changing mini exhibition of sketches and letters to and from artists. The Keiller library currently houses a collection of documents from Walter Strachan, who was a good friend of many sculptors, including Henry Moore (two of his reclining females are housed across the road). I love the little drawers that slide out, revealing little surprises, like sketches. When the room held an exhibition of bookbinding, the drawers contained samples of hides and vellum, along with tools of the artist bookbinder.

The Dean is currently hosting some work from the Pier Arts Centre of Orkney as it undergoes refurbishment. It comprises work from the St Ives movement, with many examples of Barbara Hepworth's sculptures, which are truly organic, and would be very tactile if you were allowed to touch them (which you're not; shame...). A recent acquisition by the gallery is an installation of cardboard models of the 286 places of worship in/near Edinburgh. We had a really fun time playing "Spot the church", but could not find the mosque with it's distinctive prayer tower/minaret. Perhaps it's there, but our eyes were drawn to church spires instead. It would be a shame to miss out what is the most well attended place of worship in the whole city! (Incidentally, the curry from the mosque's kitchen is fantastic and cheap. It was one of my favourite lunch spots when I worked on that side of town.)

The Dean is a real Edinburgh gem, and I love how they have made my favourite school of art available. My only grouse about the place is that it's still more uptight than some museums/galleries on the continent, and you can't even stand in the room for more than half a minute before a guard comes in to check you're not vandalising a piece. I'm not sure that would deter those bold enough to steal "The Scream", and it sometimes puts me off discussing what I like/dislike about a piece with my companion. That said, I love the peace and quiet of the Keiller library. It's a bit of a bolt hole for me, when the weekend bustle gets too much.

Master of the Universe Skinny tree Thicket Ra
Master of the Universe Shadows Blossom thicket Ra

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23 April 2005

Getting the hang of it

Originally uploaded by framboise.

I managed to get my obi tied today with a minimum of fuss, and also managed to get dressed in full kimono gear within 20 minutes. Granted, I used a synthetic Nagoya obi, which is much easier to tie than my thicker and heavier silk Fukuro obi. I'm also quite pleased with the way my new Han Eri turned out. Received it in the post this morning, and stitched it to my nagajuban in time for dinner at my friend's home. It's surprisingly comfortable to sit for hours in a kimono, and given that I tied all the koshihimo and datejime quite tight, neither of the two collars moved, and my obi also stayed pretty neat all evening. A successful first semi-public outing in proper attire. (^_^)

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22 April 2005

Day oot in Weegie-land

Torta Toscanella
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Spent the afternoon in sunny Glasgow in a most pleasant manner with my brother. As is traditional with his short visits to Scotland, we had a leisurely lunch at the Glasgow institution that is Fratelli Sarti. We tried not to order too much, so we could have some dessert. We shared a starter of fresh Loch Fyne mussels in a tomato-chilli sauce, and while he had the infamous Sarti spaghetti (with langoustines, tiger prawns, mussels and clams), I had what I thought would be a reasonable portion of veal in Marsala. But the chef had other ideas, and provided not just one cut of veal, but three! My carefully crafted plans of having dessert were undone!

We had to go on a two hour wander to clear enough space to fit dessert in. This gave me an excellent opportunity to try one of their newer outlets on Renfield St, which is clad in marble and wood; a far cry from the down-to-earth nature of the Bath St restaurant. I was too embarrassed to take a photo of the place, so we used his smartphone to get a couple of surreptitious shots (which I will upload when he sends them to me).

The upshot of all this is that I finally got to try one of their cold-cupboard concoctions. In this case, the Torta Toscanella. It's a delightfully light arrangement of orange-flavoured Chantilly cream on a bed of puff pastry, flanked by custard-filled choux pastry, and topped with light shavings of chocolate. This is something I must try the next time we make profiteroles (if we ever stop ourselves from scoffing the lot in one go).

Torta Toscanella close-up Torta Toscanella, end-on Peacock on Princes Square
Torta Toscanella close-up End-on Gratuitous shot of Glasgow

The four branches of Fratelli Sarti:

  • 133 Wellington St (Used to be a deli/cafe, is now a romantic candle-lit outfit.)
  • 121 Bath St (Basement dining just round the corner from Wellington St, linked by an underground passage.)
  • 42 Renfield St (Marble, marble, marble.)
  • 404 Sauchiehall St (Not tried it yet, but may do so next weekend if we visit the Glasgow Art Fair.)

19 April 2005

In a naughty mood

Three fun things to do if you're tired of the usual election clap-trap:

  1. Watch the funniest spoof PEB (Party Election Broadcast) I've ever seen on GB Jab. Flash is needed, but even Linux users are supported on that.
  2. Googlebomb Kilroy Veritas.
  3. Make your own Tory poster. You can change the text, but somehow, the original quote is so much more chilling.
Spoof Tory poster

Better yet, have a look at some defaced campaign posters on ToryScum.com.

Edit: Came across another spoof video while browsing the Vanitas site. It's one of several excellent Flash animations made by Eclectech. They've made another video about the tangerine man, and an excellent election-themed "London Calling". The animations are accompanied by catchy re-writes by DogHouse.

18 April 2005

So, who's getting my vote?

I sometimes wonder how the people at The Observer ever get their paper out on time. They seem to have too many diversions, which they've taken to sharing with the rest of us on their Observer Blog. In keeping with the election theme, they've posted about several guides that will help the undecided pick a party for the 5th of May: Introducing the vote-o-matic. Obedient little reader of the Guardian stable that I am, off I went to find out where my political heart truly lies. Results as copied from the whoshouldyouvotefor.com site (click the heading if you want to try it for yourself).

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:


Your actual outcome:

Labour 16
Conservative -57
Liberal Democrat 74
UK Independence Party -19
Green 40

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Eh? Lib Dem? Are you sure, matey? I dunno... Their candidate has yet to drop off any electioneering bumpf through my letterbox. Then again, that's a good thing. Or maybe no-one is posting leaflets in our neighbourhood since our ward was rudely shunted north when some paper-pusher decided to scrap "Edinburgh Central". It may take the Tories a few weeks to get round to us; we're not even on the Tory target seat list. More importantly, I did the Observer Blog's voting quiz, with the following results:

Observer blog vote-o-matic

You scored 78
Vote Liberal Democrat. Again. This time it really might work!

What is it with these Lib Dem results?!? I acknowledge that their policies are far more appealing to me than any of the other parties. In fact, if choosing your government was like Pick 'n' Mix, I'd probably still go for a majority of Lib Dem policies, with the odd 'Cola Bottle' sweet of Labour, and one or two choice liquorice sticks of the Greens. We left-of-centre voters are a really choosy bunch. I don't just want policies that appeal to me, I need to be convinced that the party that is voted in can deliver. Really. Deliver. The "It can only get better" mentality just doesn't cut with me anymore. I'm no longer some ideological student who feels the need to make a protest vote. I am, of course, still mad that those who opposed the invasion of Iraq were bulldozed by our elected government. I am still pretty p!ssed off that Labour has failed to deliver on many of its promises, and has slowly crept to the right of centre (or has the centre post moved?). But I am also very aware that it's all too easy to criticise. A policy is, after all, merely a plan or course of action. It does not guarantee the results. Wishful thinking is all very well, but what is required are geniuses behind the scenes to do the sums and pull the right strings. As ever, my faithful guide to politics, "Yes Minister" reminds us that:

A career in politics is no preparation for government.
--Yes Minister, Official Visit

The media (pronounced me-jeerh in an affected way) are touting the 2005 Westminster election as the most apathetic ever. As an article on BBC News puts it: If "none of the above" was a political party, it might reasonably expect to be sweeping into power any time soon. Tongue-in-cheek it may be, but I find myself rather drawn to one or two of the options, like the Swiss Canton system, or a more involved electorate that is made to debate for a day before being allowed to vote. As for the "Benign Dictatorship" option, you may well laugh at it, but I lived in one for almost two-thirds of my life.

Who am I going to vote for?
One Vote: For sale to the highest bidder.

17 April 2005

Mame Daifuku

Mame Daifuku
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Oh, it's been a food-rich week! Inbetween extremely boring packing/clearing out sessions, I've been reading far too many food blogs. Before the drool has time to hit the keyboard, I'm off my seat and in the kitchen. Today was no exception. I came across a recipe for mame daifuku, a Japanese sweet, on a blog I've mentioned before (To short term memories). So, today, as a late afternoon snack, I made some.

Mame daifuku is a Japanese sweet comprising a soft, chewy dough surrounding a small sphere of sweet red bean paste. I don't have any red bean paste in the flat, so I made some:

  1. Boil a cup of chinese red beans (hong-do/ang-dao or adzuki beans) for ~1 hour in ~5 cups of water.
  2. About 30-45 min into the cooking time, scoop out a quarter cup of beans and set them aside for the daifuku.
  3. When the remaining beans are cooked and soft, drain the cooking liquid off, and purée the beans with half a cup of sugar.
  4. Heat 1-2 tbsp of corn oil (or sunflower) in a non-stick wok and fry the paste for ~5 min. Set aside.

I followed the excellent instructions for the as much as possible, having to substitute the peas with the red beans I'd set aside, and using regular chinese glutinous rice flour instead of shiratamako. The inclusion of the whole red beans turned the daifuku into so much more than mochi... And it went extremely well with genmaicha (Japanese green tea with roasted brown rice). An excellent bridging snack!

Anatomy of a daifuku
Anatomy of a daifuku
Originally uploaded by framboise.

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Chilli prawns and edamame

Chilli prawns and edamame
Originally uploaded by framboise.

A late post of Thursday night's dinner. We were out of fresh food in the fridge. And the only thing vaguely palatable in the flat was a butternut squash from this week's veg box. Unfortunately, we only like our butternut squash roasted, or roasted then puréed into soup, which takes anywhere between 1 to 2 hours to prepare. We needed food, and fast. Frozen prawns and soya beans to the rescue!

  1. Thinly slice a medium onion.
  2. Prepare some tiger prawns (~300-500g) by thawing and rinsing thoroughly.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp sunflower oil in a wok, add the prawns before the oil starts to smoke. Fry for a couple of minutes on medium heat, or until the prawns turn pinky red.
  4. Shove the prawns to one side of the wok, or if not large enough, put them on a plate. Fry 1-2 tbsp sambal (or 1 tsp Sichuan noodle sauce plus 1 tbsp chilli/garlic paste from Lee Kum Kee) for half a minute, and add the sliced onions. Continue to cook with the prawns for another minute or two.
  5. Serve with rice and plenty of napkins.

As for the edamame (green soya beans, still in their pods), just steam or boil for under 5 min. Drain and serve with sea/rock salt sprinkled on top. As you suck the beans out of the pods, there should be just a teeny amount of salt to flavour it. I don't think the pods are very edible... Warning: They're not the same as sugar snap peas, nor mange tout!

Chilli prawn Edamame
Chilli prawns Edamame

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Clear and present danger

Warning! Do not read this post if you're prone to getting addicted to puzzles.

Reading today's comment in The Observer, I thought Euan Ferguson was just having us on about a game that's been recently syndicated by some British papers. Not being much of a Times reader (I only go there when directed to by The Wrap), I have been spared the daily addictive need to fill those empty squares. Until today.

To check the veracity of his article, I went to Times Online, and lo and behold, there really is a game called Su Doku, and it really is addictive. Not having a printer at home, I've had to sketch the grids and fill in the numbers myself. I've managed to entertain myself between the odd decent moment of the FA Cup Semi-Final with puzzle after puzzle! It's a very satisfying feeling when you fill the final square, akin to working out a really convoluted crossword clue.

And there the similarity ends. To complete a particularly fiendish cryptic crossword, one needs to have a fairly large vocabulary, an education including the "Classics", and in-depth knowledge of the culture of the setter (in this case, the British). It can be very frustrating for someone who wasn't educated in the pre-dumbing down era of 'O' and 'A' levels. We didn't have Latin or Classics at my school. It just wasn't an option. One went to class, did the sums, memorised the facts, and was taught very little about anything other than getting good grades. This puts me at a bit of a disadvantage when trying to solve cryptics set by an older generation of setters, and is also why Su Doku is satisfying.

To solve a moderately easy Su Doku puzzle, all that is required is logic and patience. The puzzle was brought to the attention of the English-speaking world by Wayne Gould, who came across it in a Japanese puzzle book. They in turn had borrowed it from American puzzle books, and named it Su (number) Doku (placement). The Times has a nice wee article about the background of Su Doku as we now know it. Gotta go now. More puzzles than time...

Some other useful links:

NB: I canne be held liable for causing your addiction to Su Doku. I'm considering writing a rather stern letter of complaint to the Observer for introducing it to me in the first place!

15 April 2005

Weekend closure of Forth Road Bridge

From this weekend till sometime in November, there'll be weekend road works on the Forth Road Bridge. Again. With the prerequisite break for the tourist season between June and September. While I'd normally be kinda annoyed, this time I'm relieved. Last year's discovery of broken cables was really worrying.

Quiptic No. 281 and 282

Quiptic Crossword No. 282 set by Troll. Clues that stood out as either funny or appropriate:

  • Irritating little beast gains Conservative support (4)
    Cleg (Tee hee...)
  • We hear Rushdie and Fitzgerald, perhaps, are cause for ill feeling (11)
  • Fixes up operation for privates? (4)

And last week's: Quiptic Crossword No. 281 set by Beale. I found this one quite difficult.

  • Fashionable royal connection (7-4)
    Windsor knot
  • Middling sort of performer (5-6)
    Belly dancer
  • Rejected help when unusually beset by illness (8)
    Diabetes (Anagram of aid and beset)
  • How to clean the carpet and go away (4-2)
    Beat it

13 April 2005

A step in the right direction

From Guardian Unlimited's Newsblog: Nike toes the line.

So, Nike are publishing its list of suppliers in the developing and Third World nations. While that's a good thing for their PR, it's still miles off from demanding that their suppliers treat their workers better. There are people who write on this more eloquently than I could: the Clean Clothes Campaign, Nike Sweatshops™, Oxfam, Australia. It's a good first step to disclose suppliers, as well as audit your own factories. This combination makes it more difficult for the company to distance itself from abuse of the basic human rights of their suppliers' employees. ECRA (the Ethical Consumer Research Association) campaigns for companies to pay a minimum wage, provide safe working conditions, have reasonable work hours, allow workers to join unions, and drop suppliers who use forced or child labour. All very good aims that have been shown to be achievable, for small companies at least.

Since becoming a wage-earner, I've tried to spend most of my money on 'fair trade' products. I'm lucky. In Edinburgh, we have the One World Shop, which stocks a range of food, crafts, gifts, clothes etc. that have been fairly traded. OK, so some of the things they sell are a bit naff or twee, but you could get all your tea, coffee, chocolate, snacks and household goods without a blemish on your conscience. As for clothes, well... There are some decent online clothes shops. My faves, from which I've bought items, are: Ganesha, Gossypium, Natural Collection, and People Tree. Ganesha has a great shop in London (Gabriel's Wharf, South Bank; between the Oxo towers and the Festival Hall), and People Tree has clothes that even trendy people can wear.

There are many ethical consumers out there who are able to sleep peacefully at night, fully aware that their possessions have not been obtained through ill-treatment of a fellow human. I, however, still feel d*mned guilty about owning a pair of Nike trainers. I only bought the darn things 'cos I used to have a pair of Pegasus trainers in school. Right! I feel so much better now that I've confessed... (not) According to the useful charts in The Good Shopping Guide, I could have bought them from the following 'slightly more ethically aware' companies: Asics, Brooks, Cheetah, Hi-Tec, Le Coq Sportif, Mizuno, Puma, and Saucony. This is not a ringing endorsements for any of these brands. They still have red marks against them, but have taken steps to improve workers' lives in some way or other (not good enough, guys). The Ethical Consumer magazine has kindly uploaded a PDF of the corporate profiles of the big players in trainers. I promise to get a better pair when my trainers fall to bits and need replacing. Until then, I'd better not add them to the growing waste problem...

PegasusPhoto of the offensive shoes to be uploaded when Flickr gets out of the massage parlour... (Oh! You *so* don't want to think of that in Edinburgh terms!)

Edit: This shot was taken on a walk along the river at Cramond. I could not resist taking it, as I don't usually wear my trainers unless I'm trying to run (trying being the operative word), and it was just too neat to pass up the shot.

As for the non-voters at Not Apathetic, well, what can I say? I feel the same: betrayed, cheated, confused, and not given much of a choice. But I'm still going to vote! However unqualified my opinions are, I have thought about issues, and will weigh up the pros and cons as best I can before the 5th of May. Why? Because there are bigots out there who won't even think twice about anything more than immigration (race issue, really...) and taxes. I fear those who will listen to the marginal parties that campaign on one issue, and thus skew the election. The UK is not a democracy, I guess no country really is, but it makes it a point that everyone resident here can vote. My vote counts here. I can choose from more than one party, and can vote for a member of the opposition without fear of recrimination from a 'Big Brother'-like government. Oh, we've got it good here, and I intend to keep it that way.

Butterfly cupcake update

Bunny cupcake 1
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Instead of orange curd in tonight's cupcakes, we used mango sorbet. The slight tartness of the sorbet works well with the sweet orange cupcake.

Also read today that the theme for the 14th "Is my blog burning" event, hosted by Foodgoat, is to be orange. Oh well, I'll have to think of some other orange food to cook for the 24th of April. (^_^)

I haven't read all that many food blogs, having spent the last few years reading news, gadget, and life science weblogs instead. The first I heard of IMBB was on a blog by an expat in Japan (found that via a search for kimono kitsuke), who writes about the minutiae of life in Japan and bakes extraordinary cakes and bread. Her cupcakes looked so enticing that I just had to make some too! Through that blog, I also came across ricebowl journals, specifically targeted at blogging Asians, of which there are many. It's amazing how many bloggers originate from East and South-East Asia, but live elsewhere.

Bunny cupcake 2

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12 April 2005

Dough balls

Dough balls
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Was reading the Delicious Days food blog, and saw a recipe for these fantastic dough balls. They're just like the moreish pizza balls at Pizza Express that everyone fights over. So I thought I'd give them a try today.

I don't usually have fresh yeast lying around, and have a small packet of Doves Farm dried yeast in the fridge for the odd breadmaking impulses. So I had to modify the recipe a little. I used 150g spelt flour and 150g bread flour, both from (mainly 'cos I bought the spelt flour on impulse, and it's not really suitable for most of my other baking). To that, I added 1 tsp of dried yeast, 1 tsp salt, and a pinch of sugar (not entirely necessary as the sugar in the recipe is probably for the fresh yeast culture to use).

The resulting dough balls probably weren't as light as they could have been, but that's probably down to the flour mix and the amount of yeast I used.

Aubergine soup with red pepper cream
Aubergine soup
Originally uploaded by framboise.

To go with the dough balls, I made some aubergine soup with red pepper cream. It's not a pretty looking soup, but it's real tasty! The recipe comes from "Soup and Beyond" cookbook. It's a fantastic cookbook, and I'd recommend it for anyone who has enjoyed their pints of soup.

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 450g aubergine, coarsely chopped (the one I used was quite small)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 litre light chicken stock (I used 500ml Marigold veggie stock 'cos my aubergine was small)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 tbsp single cream (I used crème fraiche)
  • chilli oil (I used 1 generous tsp of Lee Kum Kee's minced Chilli and Garlic)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Cook the onion, garlic and aubergine in the olive oil on low/med heat for 20 min without colouring.
  2. While the aubergine is cooking, grill the pepper until the skin has blackened. Place in a plastic bag (makes it easier to peel the skin off).
  3. Purée the pepper with the cream, chilli and some seasoning.
  4. Allow the aubergine to cool slightly, then purée with the chicken stock. Reheat.
  5. Serve with the red pepper cream spooned on the top of the soup.

First posted 13 April 2005.

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Things that make my blood boil

Today's Guardian Newsblog had a link to the MoJo blog, which linked to a post about the amount of TV news coverage concerning the genocide currently taking place in Sudan. American network news has reportedly given Martha Stewart five times as much coverage as the Darfur crisis. This is not a uniquely American deficiency. The same can be said about news-time in the UK. Since the tragedy of the Boxing Day tsunami, the main headlines have swung between Michael Jackson's trial, various Tory and Labour policy failings, Charles and Camilla's wedding (yawn), and Pope JPII's illness and subsequent death. Such subjects should not be ignored, but, equally, should not be the non-stop focus of BBC/ITV/C4/C5's news coverage. It's as though the main news outlets have little interest in events that do not directly affect the affluent Western world (sometimes more effluent than affluent!). Surely with all the impetus to 'drop the debt', and so many politicians heading out to Africa for photo shoots, the TV stations would pay more heed to what's happening in Western Sudan. There's a chance for peace in southern Sudan now, with reconstruction talks taking place. How about turning the spotlight to Darfur? One blogger has: Coalition for Darfur. Check it out.

As for Iraq, don't get me started... I find it easier to cope with the anger and frustration with some black humour. Which is why Terry Jones writing for the Guardian has been very good for my sanity. His latest: Let them eat bombs. A-ha-ha.

11 April 2005

Orange cupcakes

Orange cupcakes
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Made some orange mini cakes tonight. Found the recipe on deliaonline.com. We have a teeny weeny bit of orange curd in the store cupboard (purchased from the "Good morning young lady" honey stall at the Edinburgh Farmers' Market), so I decided to just use that instead of making it fresh.


  • 175 g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt, sifted with the flour
  • 110 g butter, room temperature
  • 110 g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 dessertspoon orange juice (I used the juice from a quarter of orange)
  • grated rind of 1 orange


  1. Preheat oven to 190°C (that was a bit too hot for my fan oven, will have to reduce it to ~160°). Grease and line (with paper cases) a 12-hole muffin/patty tin.
  2. Mix all the ingredients (usually butter and sugar first, then eggs, then sifted flour/salt, then the orange juice/zest).
  3. Drop small amounts of the mix and tap the tin to settle the contents.
  4. Bake on the middle shelf for 15-20 min or until the cakes are risen and golden brown. Because my oven was too hot, I baked the cakes for 15 min, but the damage was already done... Those cracks are usually a result of overheating the cake mix.
  5. Cool on a rack.
  6. Cut a small inverse cone out of the top using a small sharp knife. Fill with orange curd. Slice the cone in two and arrange on top to look like a butterfly. (I didn't take a photo 'cos we were too greedy and just scoffed them.)

Just for the sake of completeness, Delia's original recipe is here. Her cupcakes are prettier by far! Other fillings I thought would be quite good in the cakes are ice cream or whipped cream (perhaps with a touch of Cointreau or Grand Marnier).

Other highlight of the day: had a laugh-out-loud moment when I read that the 'miserable failure' had mistaken John Prendergast for Bono. Oh, I cannae believe I'm really going to live over there for a few years...

Edit: We tried the cupcakes with some mango sorbet. Scrummy...

First posted 12 April 2005.

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10 April 2005

Sardines on toast

sardines on toast 2

Recipe from Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food. He suggests frying some fingers of bread in butter, but I thought that might just be a little too much, and toasted it till quite crisp instead. For two (I halved it for my own-some):

  • Sufficient bread, cut into fingers
  • 75g butter (I used a small knob: ~10g, just for the sauce)
  • 2 x 100g tins sardines in olive oil
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp English mustard
  • 1 tsp vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
  1. Fry the fingers in 50g of butter until golden, or just toast until golden if you're being healthy.
  2. Drain the sardines, and place on the fingers of bread in an ovenproof dish.
  3. Place in a preheated oven (220degC), and while the sardines are warming through, make the sauce.
  4. Sauce: mix together the egg yolks, mustard, 25g butter, vinegar and seasoning. Heat until the mixture starts to thicken (to the consistency of a good mayonnaise), and spread over the heated sardines
  5. Serve straight away, nice and hot!

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08 April 2005

Brass bids bugs bye-bye

I'm back to reading journals. Nature News has a report of the anti-bacterial properties of brass jugs: brass jugs polish off disease. Apparently, the copper in the brass jugs leaches into the water, and interferes with the membranes of E. coli (tested in dilute cultures and naturally contaminated water). Within 48 hours, the bacteria levels are undetectable. A quick Pubmed search pulled up a 2004 paper by Brick et al., the abstract of which states similar anti-bacterial properties of brass.

My question is: can those who need clean water the most afford brass jugs? Or have the capability to store water for 2 days? The reason most of the poor in the Third World use plastic jugs is because they're cheap and more readily available. Which is more economically feasible: more safe wells, ceramic water filters, or brass jugs? More to the point, which can Oxfam get to them?

The post title is my sad attempt at a tabloid headline.

07 April 2005

Do you know your classical composers?

Got a little bored while Flashmob: The Opera was on. Did another GU quiz.

Do you know your classical composers?

You scored 10 out of a possible 11
Bravo! Encore! You know this stuff inside out. Have you - like Faust - met your own Mephistopheles who promised you unnatural powers in online quizzes? And we bet you know who wrote Faust the opera too (yup, Gounod)

Funny that. Tonight's Flashmob opera was loosely based on Faust by Gounod, although the arias were taken from quite a few different operas.

Funky bird

Funny looker
Originally uploaded by framboise.

Tabloid story in Guardian Unlimited's Newsblog today: Birds of a feather. An interloper male osprey has taken up residence in a love nest belonging to long-term partners, Green XS (f) and NoRing (m). This is a story far more gripping than the other headlines lately (PJPII, C&C, 05-05-05...). The BBC is hosting an opsrey webcam and providing the latest updates in this love-triangle.

I don't have any opsprey photos, but here's one of a punk bird I took on Islay last March. It has green plummage down its sides (colouring similar to a wood pigeon), and a wee tuft on its heid. Have just uploaded some of the other photos I took on Islay on Flickr. As with all my other Scotland photos, they're rather dreich (dull) due to cloudy skies. But amongst these were the odd two or three in dazzling sunshine. It's unfair to say that it's always cold, wet and windy in Scotland. Some days are better than others, but you have to judge the weather over a period longer than most tourists' holidays of a week or two. For instance, the last week has been positively sunny, with the odd spell of high wind or rain. True, we're headed to a cold and wet weekend, but the weather will swing around again.

My pet hypothesis about Scottish Spring is that it's all tied into the lambing season. Almost all farmers arrange matters so that lambs are born sometime in April, around the Easter period, as threat of frosty weather should have dissipated by then. This, however, conflicts strongly with a natural law that states that the birth of vulnerable animals MUST be accompanied by the worst possible weather. So, every Spring, there is a pull-me-pull-you fight between the common sense timing of lambs, and the all-powerful Sod's/Murphy's/narrative Law for bad weather, resulting in the freaky weather we have every April. So, next time you curse and swear at the lashing rain, think of the poor wee lambies who not only get drenched and muddy, but have to grow up with the knowledge that the very act of their birth ruined everyone's Spring holidays.

No shots of any of this year's lambs yet. For some agricultural photos, have a look at the Bed and Breakfast website I set up. It's very basic and amateurish, but will be updated when I can think of a better way to present the information.

I'm also trying to work my way through GU's many quizzes. This one fits in with my spring lamb hypothesis: Are you a diehard townie? My result:

Ah, those darling cuds of hay
You are truly in touch with nature, so well done - this is probably your first time on a computer.

Clearly, the last 5 years of agriculture-by-proxy have turned me from a cosmopolitan chick into a hick from the sticks...

06 April 2005

Chocolate shortbread

Chocolate shortbread, unbaked

Craved some biscuits to go with our after-dinner tea, and decided to try out a Green and Black's inspired shortbread recipe. I used my now favourite shortbread proportions (6-4-2), and made two lots: one regular plus a dash of ground cinnamon and quick grate of nutmeg, and the other with 4 1/2 oz flour plus 1 1/2 oz cocoa powder. To get the marbled effect, you can either:

  • wrap one dough in the other, and lightly knead before rolling out; or
  • roll both out into rectangles that are roughly the same size, lay the regular dough on a sheet of baking parchment, and place the cocoa dough on top.

I used the latter method, sprinkled with ~60g of roughly chopped dark chocolate. Rolled it up like a swiss roll, sliced into 1cm pieces, and baked at 150degC for ~20 min (used a fan oven; for conventional ovens, add 5 min).

The biscuits don't look pretty, but they sure taste good. Especially straight out of the oven... If I go to the effort of trying this again, I think I'll use a bit more butter, as the shortbread came out a bit too floury and the two doughs didn't stick to each other as well as I'd have liked.

Chocolate shortbread ingredients Mystery shot Brown/Spiced doughs Chocolate shortbread
Ingredients Mystery shot Cocoa and regular dough The end result

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