Monday, 16 July 2012

Two classes, divided by single income

Re: Two Classes Divided By 'I Do'

This article rubs me the wrong way.

It's not the title, the somewhat patronising tone condemning single parenthood, or even the pictures at the top of the page where the single mother has unhappy-looking children of colour while the middle class Great American Couple have cheerful white children. Including one in boy scout uniform, at a Great American Airfield.

It's the tone of the article that seems to suggest that it's the 'choice' of some to be a single parent that is to blame for the vast difference in their childrens' class, however, the real problem that the article mentions but skates over is that the average single income can no longer support the average family.

The article takes as its example a married couple with two children and a dual upper-middle-class income, and fails to factor in the single-income, two-child couple, or a dual-income, two-child couple with increasing childcare costs that decimate most of a paycheck - perhaps more realistic models for the vast majority of us who aren't lucky enough to build a three-bed house in the suburbs, or as the article calls us, 'three out of four families' - whose problems presumably aren't based on the 'decision' to be a single mother or lack of a father figure, but on rapidly increasing living costs, rent that consumes a large proportion of take-home salary, salaries, and what increasingly looks like an all-out war on the middle and working class.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


The Manneken-Pis, clothed.

We went to Brussels last weekend and there was dog poo on the streets. I will forever remember this about Brussels because I stepped in the freshest poo. It made me sad.

We went on the Eurostar and stayed near the European Parliament. There are two parks near it: Leopold Park and Park Cinquantenaire. Brussels is a smallish city that looked full of parks, so we decided to wander around Brussels and walk in their parks.

We saw these strange duck things in Leopold Park:

These seem to be Egyptian Geese. They pair for life.

Parc Cinquantenaire:

The parks in Brussels tend to have large paths and less grass/bushes/floral displays than parks in London. The Parc Cinquantenaire has fancy grand arches flanked by columnar arcade-things in a U shape. We went to the museum which was housed in a giant, beautiful building in the park, it has an extensive collection of objects from native cultures in the Americas and best of all a giant Moai head from Easter Island.

We went to a cathedral in the Grand Place with a giant organ.

The organ keyboard is in the middle - there are steps leading up to the keyboard area, and in the picture above someone was sitting in the middle and playing (possibly singing), and someone was standing next to him (possibly conducting, or singing, or both).

It was a huge huge organ.

A map of Brussels suggested that the best and biggest park was the Bois de la Cambre in the south - we also love lush foresty parks and a 'bois' seemed more likely to fit this than little elegant urban parks with paths and statues. The Bois de la Cambre links to the Forêt de Soignes - the remains of an ancient charcoal forest.


It is a long, long walk from the end of the Bois de la Cambre to central Brussels. All you really have to do is walk down a really long road - the Avenue Louise.

We walked down the Avenue Louise and tried to get back to the hotel via public transportation. This turned out to be quite difficult, particularly as we were meant to have the exact change for a tram ticket but didn't have any way to get change as it seemed all shops in Brussels are closed at 6pm on a Saturday, so we walked back.

Near the Avenue Louise there's a bit where you can see out over the city, and take a lift down to the lower street level.

Of course, one of the main highlights of Brussels is the chocolate, and we were in town the week before Easter.

I liked these little chocolates from Mary Chocolatier the best.

We had some macaroons from Wittamer as well, my favourites were the passionfruit and yuzu macaroons.

One of the great things in Brussels is the fresh orange juice in the supermarket. Also the existence of Chocomel (as Cecemel), also present in Holland.

This orange juice. You go to Carrefour and they have one of those whirly orange squeezing juice machines. You know the type. They spin around, slowly, like a ferris wheel for oranges.

You pick up an empty bottle (small, medium or large), put it under the spout, press a lever, and pay at the till. I wish we had this fresh orange juice in supermarkets in London.

We also had waffles! With powdered sugar, a boatload of cream and chocolate sauce.

They're lighter than regular waffles, it's true, they're different in Belgium. They're better. Belgium seems to excel at desserts, and cute graffiti.


Saturday, 24 March 2012

Crockpot-to-Oven Herb Roast Chicken

I have a wonderful new thing, an electric slow cooker. 'Aubergine' coloured crock pots were on sale on Amazon and I had always wanted one so I could throw some things in to cook before going to work and come home to a good meal. It would be especially useful for pot roasts and things which take a long time to cook.

The first thing I decided to make with the crock pot is herb roast chicken. I adapted this from Bon Appetit Y'all, which is turning out to be a good book for excellent basic recipes like roast chicken and pot roast.

Ensure that the chicken cavity is empty, and devoid of internal organs etc.

Prepare 200ml of chicken stock or you can use water - I made my stock up from half a cube.

Have three bowls prepared, one for the chicken rub, chicken cavity, and onions.

Use a mixture of dried herbs - I used marjoram, sage and thyme - freshly ground black pepper and salt for both the chicken rub and chicken cavity mix. I also added cayenne pepper to the chicken rub mix.

Peel four garlic cloves and add to the chicken cavity mix. Add two dried bay leaves.

Quarter a lemon and remove the seeds. Place on top of the chicken cavity mix.

Slice and wash two red onions. Line the bottom of the crockpot with the onion slices.

Put in the 200ml chicken stock or water.

Put on some plastic gloves. Rub the herb chicken rub mix all over the chicken. Rub the chicken cavity mix all over the inside of the cavity. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavity, and place the lemon quarters inside. Put the bay leaves in.

Lift the herbed chicken into the crockpot.

Put some pats of butter on the chicken - I used Lurpak garlic butter.

Cook on high for an hour then reduce to low and cook for five hours.

Do other things. It was a lovely sunny day so I went to the park with James. We had ice-creams.

Five hours later, return to the kitchen and check on your chicken. It will smell amazing.

It is time to prepare your vegetables.

Turn on the oven and pre-heat to 180 deg Celsius.

I used new potatoes which I washed throughly and boiled.

I really hate peeling carrots so I used Chantenay carrots. All I had to do was top and tail them and cut them in half.

Also washed and boiled these.

When the vegetables are ready, transfer them to a roasting tin with some canola oil, black pepper and cayenne pepper.

Prepare a larger, chicken-sized roasting tin.

Turn off the crock pot and remove the chicken to the tin. I put additional pats of garlic butter on the chicken. At the moment the chicken is cooked, but looks a bit pale with soggy skin. As always, crispy skin is the goal.

Put both tins in the oven. Roast until ready and chicken skin is crispy.

Everything is roasting - gravy time. This chicken yields a beautiful smelling herbed lemony chicken stock. Ladle some of it into a saucepan for the gravy.

The gravy is super easy. Heat up the pan of stock and add a slurry of flour and water to thicken it up.

The gravy was kind of fatty so I would recommend that you skim the fat off if possible. I did save the rest of the stock from the crockpot and stuck it in the fridge - I plan on scooping the chilled fat off the top and using the skimmed stock for something tomorrow. I got about a pint of stock from that chicken.

The crispy chicken:



The skin on this chicken in particular is very very good because of the encrusted dried herbs and oven-crispness. I wouldn't skip the last half hour in the oven.

I used a chicken weighing about 1kg. This is the smallest whole roasting chicken available and is the maximum size of chicken that fits in a 3.5L crockpot. Half of the chicken was left even though we ate lots, this yields enough food for four meals and even includes a bonus 1 pint of stock which can be used for all kinds of useful things. The chicken itself cost about £5 so I would say it's definitely cheaper to roast your own small whole chicken than getting separate chicken parts, and it makes eating the next day a whole lot easier.

Lemon garlic butter sea bass

One of my favourite newly-discovered ingredients is Lurpak garlic butter. It's butter with crushed garlic - not garlic-flavoured butter, as so many garlic butters are.

I used it to make a really easy meal - lemon garlic sea bass, smashed roast new potatoes and a salad.

The sea bass will be pan fried which will take very little time, so first wash and boil some new potatoes and smash them slightly with a potato masher. They should be a little crushed but not totally smashed to little bits and definitely not smushed like mash potatoes.

Put them in a roasting pan with freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and canola oil and put that in the oven.

Then prepare the vegetables for the salad. I used gem lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and spring onions, but use whatever you like.

Dried and ready to dress:

Now it is fish time.

Place two boneless sea bass fillets skin side down. Grind black pepper on the meaty bit.

Slice two garlic cloves.

Make slits down the length of the fish and insert the garlic slices.

Melt the garlic butter in a pan. Fry sea bass fillets on each side until done and flaky.

Lift the fillets onto serving dishes.

Add a good sized knob of garlic butter to the pan. Cut a lemon in half, squeeze the lemon juice into the pan. Stir, and reduce.

Remove the potatoes from the oven. They should have crispy bits. Crispy bits are the key.

When the sauce is the consistency you like, pour sauce on the fish fillets. It will taste very sour in the pan but tastes great over the fish.

At this point dress your salad - I didn't want it to be soggy so it's the last thing I did. I used a simple balsamic vinegar type dressing.

It was very tasty. The yellow sauce on my fish is the lemon garlic butter sauce, and the darker brownier sauce is a creole honey mustard sauce:

It makes a simple and delicious weeknight meal that requires minimal involvement and is something I would make again.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Melancholia sucks ass

I have to review this movie, Melancholia. I can't review it on the IMDB website because you have to write at least 10 lines of review, and my review of it is way shorter than 10 lines.

My review of Melancholia: Pretentious movie about rich people.

IMDB wants me to elaborate on that statement for at least 10 lines. I'm not sure what to say. That it looks pretty? That a beautifully shot movie doesn't make up for what is essentially a self-indulgent, self-important, overly self conscious movie about people with far too much time and money?

For those of you who haven't watched it, summary: a depressed Kirsten Dunst has an extravagant wedding. You may watch it for her boobs. Alternatively, watch it to experience what it feels like to have Lars von Trier simultaneously weeping and wanking on you.

What I hate most of all are the overwhelmingly positive reviews about it, saying that it's a beautiful, expressive expression of personal emotions, depression, a deep insight into the human condition, etc. etc. etc. Possibly the single most annoying thing about this movie is that the reviews are not only also pretentious, but repudiate negative opinions about it. People who dislike this movie are either too simple to understand its complexity or too insensitive to appreciate the finer, deeper, more miserable emotions it explores, or, more offensively, Lars von Trier didn't make this movie for the likes of you.

All in all, the self-indulgence, the filthy richness, the pointlessness, the lack of good dialogue, the heavy reliance on beautiful camera-work to pull off this movie, the snooty glorification of it by the public, the pointlessness, the whole thing, just seems really vulgar.