Bloke in the Kitchen. Young Lovers chicken

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Here’s a great, simple, throw-it-in-the-oven recipe that’s hearty enough for the depths of winter if you’re living somewhere cold, but is equally enjoyable in a hot country.

The recipe was given to me by a friend who is a typical Bloke in the Kitchen: he’s a busy working man, divorced with three kids whom he cooks for from time to time, but mostly it’s just him and maybe a friend or two. Likes cooking but doesn’t want to be in the kitchen all day.

He didn’t invent this dish, but he gave me his own take on it and I’m doing my own take on his take. You do it in a roasting dish deep enough to take a bit of gravy.

INGREDIENTS

Chicken legs

Dry cider (or dry white wine)

Mustard

Potatoes

Vegetables (whatever you like)

METHOD

Put the chicken legs in the roasting dish and prepare as if you were actually roasting a chicken. Season with salt and pepper and Worcestershire sauce.

Roast on medium for an hour, until they are getting a tan and looking succulent.

chicken gravy
Errm, this isn’t actually it, bit it should look something like this

Remove the dish from the oven and start turning it into something other than a dry, roasted chicken. Splosh in half a bottle of dry cider or white wine and stir to get the good stuff off the pan. Add a chicken stock cube, then a big dollop of mustard. Dijon is best, or something else French, with grains if you can find it. You’re not looking for the nose-running harshness of hot English mustard (although you can do it that way if you like).

Mix a couple of tablespoons of flour in a cup of water (this is to thicken the gravy) and pour that in.

Bang it back in the oven for an hour or so.

Mash some potatoes, cook the broccoli, green beans or whatever.

Serve with as much or as little of the lovely gravy as you like. The mashed potatoes and the gravy will melt into each other like young lovers in a holiday cabin by the beach.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – How strong is a woman?

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
I will survive
Go on now… and close the door behind you

Pop music is an ideal platform for expressing opinions and getting them through to people who don’t go looking for them. A song that’s played on mainstream radio ends up embedded in the brain of millions of people, whereas if you wrote a magazine article about it instead you would only reach the people who happened to read that magazine.

So when women’s liberation became a hot topic in the late 1960s and early 70s, it was natural that the more cerebral of female singers should send out their message of sexual equality. The trick was to do this without alienating their male listeners – not to mention the women who weren’t so fired up about it.

I realise that the more extreme of feminists (and the sort of men who will support any underdog they can find) will consider me ill-qualified to comment on this, but listen – I’m entitled to my opinion, and my opinion is that the feminist message has been sent out very successfully many times in songs that also managed to be enjoyable and even touching.

Perhaps the category should be “Women singing about what hard work it is being a woman”.

reddy
Gentle persuasion can be better than haranguing

Take Helen Reddy, for instance. No sex symbol, no great singer, but she had a brain and she was prepared to forsake the lovey-dovey stuff now and then to get this point across. “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman,” she belted out with the assurance of someone who had half the population to back her up. The ‘invincible’ business may be open to discussion as to whether anyone at all, of either sex, could justifiably make that claim, but we got the message.

In 1972 I Am Woman probably didn’t make many men want to go out with her, but many of us warmed much more to That Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady three years later, with its killer opening lines: “I guess it was yourself you were involved with. I could have sworn it was me”.

young hearts
Never be hung up, hung up like her man and her

Even more clued up on the way to influence people without screaming and shouting was Candi Staton with “Young Hearts Run Free”, which simply paints a picture of the mess many women get themselves into by settling for the wife and mother role at the expense of their personal development. Staton advises against it: “Don’t be no fool when love really don’t love you”.

The song that was to become a rallying cry for women was, of course, I Will Survive, but is it really about downtrodden women? Sounds to me more like it’s about downtrodden losers in love of either sex. (And we’ll get to the point about multiple genders later.)

The women of the world jumped on I Will Survive to ensure that Gloria Gaynor, who had the ginormous hit with it, would never have to work again if she didn’t want to. It was written by Freddie Perren and Dino Fekaris, who sound like men to me, but is that important? And by the way, I prefer the less hysterical version by Billie Jo Spears.

Diana Ross, Shirley Bassey and Melanie have also had a go at it, as have Anthony and the Johnsons and Robbie Williams, and the thoroughly contemporary girl Nicole Scherzinger.

Among the lesser known songs of the battle of the sexes is How Strong Is A Woman, a subtle number from the early 80s by soul legend Etta James. The answer to the question, she says, is “A woman is as strong as it needs for the man she loves”. Perhaps if we took out the man and woman and used the word ‘person’ instead we might get closer to the heart of the issue.

shania
Pah! You don’t mean that – you’re just out to make money

As with all contentious issues, though, there have been those who took it too far and lost the original idea. The ladette phenomenon, in which girls asserted the right to be as crass and obnoxious as the worst boys, gave birth to the sneering That Don’t Impress Me Much, in which Shania Twain dismisses just about every man in the world as a jerk, whether he’s trying to impress her or not.

But that’s just opportunistic songwriting: it was co-written by Twain and her then husband Robert “Mutt” Lange, a record producer, and it appears they seized on the idea because they could see a world full of binge-drinking young women ready to buy it.

What next for the lib song, though? The issue has been complicated by the emergence of minorities that have changed the gay movement into LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). So it’s no longer man versus woman.

It’s probably heterosexual man against the rest, because we’re seen as the oppressors. So if you’re a member of a minority group so new that you haven’t had a chance to be offended in public yet, get writing and let’s hear your songs.

 

 

 

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Jackie Brown

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

jackie brown

A lot of people who don’t really like Quentin Tarantino films just think they’re too violent but I think that’s missing the point you don’t have to take the violence serious mind you that bit in Reservoir Dogs when the guy has his ear cut off was a bit much I thought first time I saw it. Jackie Brown doesn’t have too much of it it’s more funny and clever. It stars Samuel L. Jackson and Pam Grier probably the sexiest black actor and actress there’s ever been. Sam’s always cool and here he’s got bit of a screw loose but she’s not scared of him she’s a strong woman whose been around but still got her dignity if you no what I mean.

She’s an air stewardess cabin crew they call them these days and she’s involved in some sort of gun-smuggling operation well Sam is and she’s bringing money back from where he sends the goods. Something like that and the cops are onto her as well as customs the customs guy’s a pain in the bum but the cop’s nice Michael Keaton not looking like Batman at all.

And there’s a bail bondsman Robert Forster who Sam’s also dealing with because his associates keep getting into trouble a bail bondsman organizes things when people need to be bailed out of prison, see? He gets to know Jackie and you can tell he’s falling for her cos he leaves this long message on her answering machine with his phone number and his pager number and all sorts.

Sam and Jackie cook up this scheme where they’re going to switch a bag containing lots of money for one that just contains paper and their doing this at a big mall. It’s complicated but it doesn’t really matter because the characters are more interesting than the plot there’s also Robert De Niro as this friend of Sam’s whose just got out of prison and he’s a bit slow you wouldn’t know it’s De Niro at first he’s so quiet and doesn’t steal the show at all.

He doinks Sam’s girlfriend Bridget Fonda whose an airhead and Sam doesn’t really mind cos he’s got a few women around the place. There’s a great bit where the phone goes and Sam expects her to answer it so she does in the end but just picks it up and immediately goes “It’s for you”. She really pushes her luck that girl.

In the end Jackie asks Forster to go away with her but then she says “Are you scared of me?” and he goes “A little bit”. She likes him because he’s a good steady guy and she hasn’t got lot of that in her life it’s hard to imagine them together though especially in bed she’d shag him to death.

As I say it’s complicated but as usual though it’s not the details I’m interested it’s the relationships and characters and what they say (dialogue, that’s called) that’s what Tarantino is best at. Especially the black gangsta talk where they’re allowed to call each other nigga but nobody else is.

 

 

The English Pedant – Before you go ballistic, look it up

Those of us who take the very basic step of consulting a dictionary now and then occasionally find that a word that we use without thinking actually means something else.

teacher

Looking a word up like this is very easy nowadays, when you can have a dictionary on your smartphone or just google the word anyway and that will come up with a definition.

Two that have caught me out in recent years are ballistic and temerity. You might want to take a moment or two to mull these over and determine your own interpretation of them.

Ballistic. The most common use is in the expression “to go ballistic”, meaning to go crazy, explode with anger or fly into a rage. It just sounds right. It sounds explosive and dangerous.

We know the term “ballistics” from police shows on TV, but that should really give us a warning sign that we’re barking up the wrong tree. The Oxford Online dictionary defines ballistics thus: the scientific study of things that are shot or fired through the air, such as bullets and missiles.

One thing that literally goes ballistic is a ballistic missile, but does the ballistic stage mean the point at which all hell breaks loose?

Actually, no. When it goes ballistic is when the engine, rocket or whatever was driving it ceases to have an effect and the missile starts descending under the power of gravity alone.

missile
You have the temerity to tell me this missile is pre-ballistic , still relying on artificial forces?

I was disappointed when I discovered this, but as a pedant, also glad to know the real meaning.

It was the same with temerity. I was among the countless people who used it as a substitute for audacity.

Look them up, though, and you will find that audacity means boldness but temerity means rashness.

There’s a big difference between being bold and being rash. The former is generally considered a positive attribute but the latter a negative one. Sadly, the Oxford Online has already caved in to the unthinking masses and attributed to temerity the quality of boldness, leaving Merriam Webster to back me up on this: it sticks to the definition of temerity as “the quality of being confident and unafraid of danger or punishment especially in a way that seems rude or foolish”.

Either might get you killed if it prompts you to take action in a dangerous situation, but wouldn’t we prefer to be thought of as having died through bravery, rather than stupidity?

Confessions of an Expat – Behind the smiling face of carnival

Women dancing on the street and wearing Carnival costume, Trinidad Carnival, Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Island of Trinidad, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
Whey hey hey, sista. Trinidad Carnival, Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain

Look at any list of carnivals around the world and you will find Trinidad and Tobago.

The rest of the planet is aware of the importance of the annual festival in a country that seems almost obsessed with it. It might even be said that it is an unhealthy preoccupation with what is essentially a throwback to the colonial times of which most people don’t want to be reminded.

A Tobagonian tourism lecturer once told me that the lack of enthusiasm for tourism in Trinidad, if not Tobago, went back to the early days of independence and a wish to avoid anything that smacked of serving white people. The origins of Caribbean carnival lie in slaves enjoying themselves once a year at their masters’ expense, making fun of their oppressors and celebrating their own roots and culture.

Today the main focus seems to be on showing off the country’s womanhood, with increasingly unsubtle displays of a sort of sexual self-exploitation. While there are plenty of beautiful women here, this is certainly not unique to Trinidad. The world is full of young women keen to show how sexually liberated they are (provided they call the shots), but it is doubtful if there is a more explicit country in the world than this one.

The weather may have something to do with the exposing of flesh in this part of the world. While there are carnivals in dozens of places as unlikely as Slovenia and Belgium, it is hard to imagine persuading the girls to get their kit off in public when there’s snow on the ground. But in Brazil and New Orleans, as in the southern Caribbean, temperature can be crossed off any list of potential objections. The girls are every bit as lusty in eastern Europe – they’re just worried about their physical protruberances getting frozen and flicked off like berries.

carnival 5
I can’t smile too much – I’m on duty. Notting Hill, London

Even England has a carnival, albeit scheduled for the warm(ish) weather. And who is behind it? West Indians. The Notting Hill Carnival has become an accepted highlight of the British summer, popular with everyone except police officers who have to shepherd it and people who live along the route. It was a bone of contention in its early days and still has its opponents – and you can hardly blame them. Just like the Trinidad carnival, the Notting Hill version was conceived as a covert way of expressing hostility in the guise of fun and frolics. No doubt that hostility had good grounds in some cases, but as with all such ideas, it is all very well in the hands of intelligent people who want to live and let live, but can turn ugly when misinterpreted by the ignorant and vindictive.

Like Christmas, the religious aspect of carnival is lost amid the revelry. While it was once a final fling, a frenzy of consumption before the solemnity of Lent, carnival time is now all about exhibitionism (some would say debauchery), but it is hard to argue against that in today’s godless society. Although Caribbean nations have a relatively devout population, such considerations are slipping away all the time. Churches have always been full of old people, with a few children dragged along by well-meaning parents and most of the young adults conspicuous by their absence, kept away by shopping to do, sport to play and beds to stay in.

On the other hand it is difficult to imagine the young people of past centuries, the ones creating the boisterousness of carnival, having been any more mindful of the religious significance of the occasion. They might not have had mass-produced local rum to get drunk on, but you can bet your life they found something to get them out of their heads – and probably got a lot worse hangovers.

carnival 1
Would I go to the supermarket dressed like this? Err, probably not

The encouraging of carnival by people who don’t themselves get involved might be perfectly innocent, but may also be a way of diverting attention from the skullduggery that is going on – a modern variant of the situation that led to the old saying ‘Religion is the opium of the masses.’ The Caribbean region as a whole delights in its image of carefree innocence, and if reports of outrageously sexy girls parading through the streets of Port-of-Spain keep the astonishing murder rate off the rest of the world’s news pages, that is probably a good thing. But only probably.

Just as West Indies cricket eventually grew tired of its reputation of producing smiling entertainers without the seriousness to win very often, so the region needs to decide if it wants to be taken seriously.

It’s different for quieter islands such as Tobago and all the others that still live in the world’s imagination as palm-fringed paradises. Tobagonians are happy with tourism (or at least they haven’t got any better ideas), so the more jollity and frivolity the better. But big brother Trinidad is a wolf in sheep’s clothing: industrialised, violent and in recession. Perhaps they’re trying to remind themselves of the good old days.

 

Ref! On statistics

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.

 Referee

We all like to read about football, don’t we, lads? You can’t watch every game there is, so you read about some and use your imagination. But what’s been creeping in the last couple of years and really gets on my tits, is statistics. I don’t know if they’ve invented some computer program or what, but certain newspapers – and especially online – aren’t happy unless they’ve given you some useless facts.

I agree, Baz, they’ve always given us useless facts, but now they’re finding more obscure things that nobody’s ever thought about because they don’t mean anything. Stuff like “Spurs have never conceded a goal at White Hart Lane when the number 22 bus was going past.”

No, not really, Baz. No, I don’t mean they have conceded when the number 7 was going past, it’s an example. And a stupid example I agree, but then statistics often are stupid. No, I didn’t know the number 22 doesn’t go that way. It was an example, an idea plucked out of the air. Well, I suppose I should get my facts straight, if I was claiming it was true, but I’m not. It’s what they call poetic licence. Don’t you start, Dave, for Gawd’s sake.

There was one last week, somebody scored against Everton in his first game for his new club and the last time he was transferred he also scored in his first game and it was against Liverpool. Something like that. It doesn’t really matter because it doesn’t mean anything, anyway, it’s just a coincidence.

But this journalist with nothing more relevant to say trots it out like he’s just come back down the mountain with Moses, only Moses has got the ten commandments and he’s got the football results.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a pint of lager. What kind? Work it out for yourself, mate. Statistically, what am I most likely to want? What I always want when I have a pint of lager and somebody else is paying. Peroni.

Yes, that’s the 17th time this season that referee Colin Preece has had a pint of lager, and 13 of them have been Peroni.

It’s the internet that’s to blame for this. Because we leave tracks every time we log onto a site, they can work out how long we stayed on that page and make assumptions about why. And they’ve obviously discovered that a page full of insightful words doesn’t go down as well as one with a few random snippets.

Lazy, you see? The internet makes you lazy. If you’re sitting there with the Sunday paper, you’ve probably only bought the one, and if you don’t fancy a particular story, you can’t just switch to another paper. Unless you go back down the newsagents and get another one. And we’re too lazy to do that.

Which is why so many people don’t buy a paper at all nowadays and the printing industry is dying and chimpanzees are getting jobs writing for websites.

 

 

 

 

Dear Whoever – Gunned down in school

She's young, she's innocent, she's growing up in our dirty old world. And she's wondering what the hell is going on.
This is the world through the eyes of a child.

girl bomb

Dear Whoever,

I’m praying to you but I don’t know who you are. My grandparents used to pray to God, but now lots of people say there is no such person and anyone who’s religious is just imagining it. And other people say there is, but not the one that Christians call God, the one who had a son called Jesus. They have other names for their god. Whatever, this is what’s on my mind this week.

As a student myself I’m wondering why it is that when we hear about random shooting sprees they often take place in schools. Out in the wider world, killers with guns tend to have specific targets, but in schools they just get in there and shoot as many people as they can and then kill themselves.

gun 1

It’s crazy to kill anybody anyway and I was going to say it’s a sin. But sinning is a religious thing, isn’t it? The word ‘sin’ implies doing something that you won’t like, you as in God, that is. So people who don’t believe in you or anything apart from themselves don’t actually sin (in their own mind, anyway). They just do something that is generally regarded as bad.

But as usual, I digress. Funny how when I’m talking to you I tend to wander off the point. I suppose it’s because there is so much I don’t know and I’d like to discuss everything with you – not that it would be a discussion really. I wouldn’t have much to say except asking the questions.

gun 4

Digressing again. Back to the shootings. This week it was at a school in Canada, which you don’t expect, because Canada is such a decent, civilized country. Americans make fun of Canadians as if they’re rather slow and not as clever, but really they’re just nice and kind of respectful. In general, that is. There’s always somebody who lets the side down.

But I think it’s true to say that when you hear about an atrocity like this you assume it’s going to have happened in a small town in America. That must be very worrying for them, and embarrassing to say the least. I would rather be considered slow and naïve than a potential lunatic.

But as I said, there’s always a bad apple. People think of Scotland as a peaceful country full of lads and lassies running through the hills and glens. But 20 years ago in Dunblane, where Andy Murray the tennis player comes from, there was a massacre when a man with several guns and loads of ammunition burst into a school gym and just shot people. Apparently he used to be a scout leader but people suspected he had an unhealthy interest in boys so his scout career and his business were ruined. I suppose he just felt he had to take it out on someone and he chose that school.

gun 3

Often in America it’s students who do it – the sort of loners who spend too much time thinking and not enough time actually doing something productive. I suppose I spend too much time thinking, really, but at least I’ve got you to talk to. So please keep me safe – from myself as well as others.

 

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Hot dogs (decent ones)

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Last week someone decided we should have hot dogs as a special treat. You know how warped that idea can be: “Well, you don’t do it every day, but once in a while, why not?”

I didn’t say anything because they seemed serious about it and I didn’t want to spoil their fun. But really, hot dogs? A treat?

hot dogs 1
Gimme a c. Gimme an r. Gimme an a. Gimme a p. What’s that spell?

We went to the supermarket to buy the raw ingredients, but my expert friends weren’t happy with what was available. I picked up a pack of white rolls, so flimsy they almost floated off the shelf, and said, “This is the sort of crap, isn’t it?”

They were offended. The hot dog connoisseur apparently knows good crap from bad. We went to another supermarket. Same story. They bought the best they could find and I smuggled a small pack of crusty wholemeal rolls into the basket.

They bought a packet of the sort of sausages that have “hot dog sausages” printed on the wrapper to stop the shelf-fillers from putting them in the hardware department with the rawlplugs and tubes of filler. We went home.

hot dogs 3
Very pretty. Like a $30 whore in a darkened car park

Half an hour later I was presented with two hot dogs, grudgingly served in my fancy wholemeal whatevers, laden with chopped carrot, raw onions and arty squiggles of mayonnaise, sweet American mustard and ketchup.

Looked interesting, tasted okay and didn’t trouble the digestive system along the way, because there was nothing to report. No real fibre, a bit of protein, a smudge of concealed fat. My stomach waved it through, just as my taste buds had.

It got me thinking, though. Are the sort of hot dogs that are peddled at sporting events etc. like they are just because it’s the cheapest way of doing them? Did they start off that way or have they been dumbed down and progressively humiliated to their current status as the cheapest, blandest fast food known to man?

How about taking the basic idea – a sausage in a bun – and giving it a bit of style, class, flavor, texture – self respect?

hot dogs 4
Hang on a minute: One of these might actually have some flavour

INGREDIENTS

Long buns (rolls). The world is full of decent rolls. They can be soft or crusty, wholemeal or white. They may have seeds inside or on the outside. You could even use French bread: a baguette cut into six-inch pieces would do very well.

Sausages. Again, the world is full of good ones. If you want to be “traditional”, get the best frankfurters you can find. But if you value flavor over sentiment, just use your favourite sausages. Toulouse sausages have a pungent, leeky, garlicy edge – recipes vary, but they all tend to be robust in flavor. Every country in the world produces sausages, so just find one you like and use that.

Condiments. Mustard (Dijon, grainy Dijon, hot English, honeyed stuff if you must). Ketchup. Relish – tomato-based, chunkier than ketchup and also spicier and livelier. Or you might find another kind of relish that’s fruity, vegetably and interesting, possibly with a bit of a kick but not a deadly one. If heat is what you want, use a chilli sauce such as Tabasco (that’s just the brand name of the most famous one, by the way).

Vegetables. Chopped onions, chopped sweet pepper, corn. As another way of adding a kick, you could also slice up some pickled banana peppers.

METHOD

Cook the sausages (or warm them up if they’re already cooked, like frankfurters). Warm the bread.
Place a sausage in a piece of bread and add the toppings.

It’s entirely up to you. Just give it a bit of something, make it worth having. Give it a posh name: Bayswater hot dogs, Monte Carlo dogs. Princess Diana dogs. James Bond’s donger dogs.

For what it’s worth, my ideal combination is this:
Soft wholemeal rolls, Toulouse sausages, Dijon mustard, chopped onions, medium-hot tomato relish and a good sprinkling of coarsely ground black pepper.

hot dogs 2
Fun for all the family. They can design their own if you’ve got the patience

 

 

 

 

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Tearjerkers vol. 2

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

 

Tearjerkers vol. 2: the serious stuff

If Leader of the Pack was the one that started the tearjerker trend in pop music, the most blatant bandwagon-jumper was a British girl called Twinkle (aka Lynn Ripley), who had a huge hit with Terry, another song about a boy who dies in a motorbike accident. “Please wait at the gate of heaven for me, Terry,” she wails, waving to him with one hand while collecting her royalty cheque with the other.

But there is a more serious side to the tearjerker: the one based on a real life event rather than a melodramatic piece of cynicism.

tears in heaven

You can’t poke fun at Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven when it tells the story of how his young son plunged to his death from an apartment block. The issue for Clapton, a private man by nature, must have been whether, once he had written it as part of his grieving, he should release it. But he did, and in a commendable instance of public decency, most people sympathized with him and, while enjoying the tune, silently prayed that such a thing would never happen to them.

elton

Another that must have troubled its author on the grounds of taste was Elton John’s reworking of Candle in the Wind for the funeral of Princess Diana. Anyone who has ever chosen the music for a loved one’s funeral will know that the instant that music kicks in, you’re flooded with tears, and it happened to a worldwide TV audience on that occasion.

There have been objections to the new version, some from fans of Marilyn Monroe, about whom the original version was written, while others question the motives of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. The latter, Elton’s long-term lyricist, maintains that the singer asked him to do it, and both remain puzzled that something meant as a sincere tribute – and which raised millions for charity – should come in for criticism.

dance with my father

Also based on fact, but without being a direct view of a particular tragedy, is Luther Vandross’s Dance with my Father, in which he prays not so much on his own behalf but more for his mother, who is even more bereft at her husband’s passing than Vandross himself. He longs to see them dancing together one last time. It’s profoundly touching and a perfect example of how such a sensitive subject can be handled with raw emotion but without gooey sentimentality.

Mime nd the Mechanics

Along the same lines is Mike and the Mechanics’ The Living Years, which deals with the death of a father before he and his son have had a chance to settle their differences. Composer Mike Rutherford and lyricist B. A. Robertson, both of whose fathers had recently died, benefited hugely from the work of vocalist Paul Carrack, whose beautifully understated soul voice goes nowhere near the dangerous border of over-the-top emotion that many would have brought to it. Instead, Carrack delivers the sentiment to us simple and unadorned.