When music fails to be the food of love…(and an onion tart)

I’ve been re-listening to The Magic Numbers debut album and it’s far better than I remember it being. It’s an album that I once owned on CD when I was working at EMI, but one that I must have lost – I expect it must have been a casualty of my divorce because it’s nowhere to be seen now.

And it makes me wonder – just how much money does the music industry make out of our failed relationships?

Consider a typical couple together for four years who each buy let’s say six albums per year. So, throughout the course of their relationship, they buy roughly fifty albums between them. Then let’s assume that the unfortunate pair are torn apart, and the inevitable process of distributing the albums between them begins. The thing is, there are going to be a bunch of those albums that they both want to keep (setting aside the angst-ridden memories that they will churn up every time they listen to them), meaning that the break up will be responsible for a little spurt of album sales – let’s say fifteen albums per break-up over the course of the months following each split? Seems a fair assumption to me.

Anyway, as it turns out there were over 150,000 divorces in the UK in 2012, and adding to that the breakups of those poor souls who didn’t make it to the alter (or to the registrars desk), let’s say there are roughly 300,000 breakups each year? So that would account for a whopping four and a half million album sales a year in the UK from break-ups alone.

And all this makes me think that if I were still at EMI, I’d be hot-footing it to the boardroom and trying to convince them to get the A&R guys to start making more records that drive people to infidelity, insecurity, insincerity, incontinence, impotence and as many other relationship killers they can think of that will drive up music sales to new record levels. My god – it could really work. Although thinking about it now, isn’t this exactly what they’ve been doing for years? Maybe they’re more devious than we thought, the machiavellian bastards…

P.S. I’ve just been discussing this with my friend who keeps his 1000 albums separate from his wife’s CD collection for this very reason, just in case (he clearly has great confidence in the future of his marriage).

And on that note, let’s turn to tarts…

Onion and goats cheese tart

Onion and goats cheese tart

Start by making a rich shortcrust pastry (using 200g plain flour, 100g butter, an egg, a pinch of salt and a little water and lemon juice) and pop it in the fridge for 30 mins to harden a little. Then roll it out and place into a deep, buttered tart dish ensuring you push the pastry gently down into the edges to minimise shrinking. Then trim the top (by simply rolling a rolling pin over the top of the dish to get a perfect cut) and pop it back into the fridge and heat the oven to 160c.

Now start making the filling – chop about five good sized onions (a mix of red and white if you like) and fry them gently in a pan with a few sprigs of thyme, butter, oil, salt and pepper. It will take about 20 mins until they are all soft and some have gently caramelised. Take them off the heat and put the pastry base into the oven covered in baking parchment and baking beans for about 15 minutes to blind bake.

While the tart base is baking, take a large bowl and whisk 5 medium eggs along with about 200ml of double cream, then season a little and add the onions with the thyme removed. Take a little pack of mild goats cheese and break blobs of it into the mixture leaving some behind for the top.

Take the base out of the oven and pour in your mixture and then top with more of the goats cheese. Put it all back in the oven at about 175c and let it cook for 30-40 mins. When it’s ready it will have risen above the tin and it will be beautifully golden brown.

Take it out and let it cool for about 20 mins and serve with a green salad and a crisp white wine. And make sure it doesn’t all get eaten straight away – it’s even better a day old (I just had a slice for breakkie – perfect)

Flying and eating, two chickens

Roast chicken

I’m about to get on a plane and I already know that I am going eat too much. Worse still, I know that I am going to eat too much stuff that should never, under any circumstance, have ever passed my lips. It’s totally and utterly inevitable. We all do it – we can have a beautiful meal no more than a couple of hours before we get on a flight, with the promise of another, excitingly exotic culinary adventure in a strange city waiting for us just minutes after we land and yet, when faced with an (unexpectedly) wet, plastic tray of largely unidentifiable and almost totally inedible fodder, we feel compelled to consume it.

And why do we do this? Why do we have this unshakable need to eat anything put in front of us when we’re on a plane, regardless of its (dubious) nutritional merit? Perhaps it’s some sort of innate survival instinct that we still posses from times where famine was commonplace – we’re held captive in this overcrowded bus in the sky and we’re suddenly coming on all “hoardy” and searching out the only source of nutrition immediately available. Or maybe it’s simply driven by a misguided attempt to derive the maximum value from the arse-clenchingly huge sums of cash that we’ve already piled into making the journey., despite the fact that the food served on the flight probably accounts for less than 1% of the cost of the ticket. And yet, knowing the fallacy of my actions, in just a few hours time, I’ll be sitting in my designed-for-discomfort, baby vomit-stained, dog-eared faux leather seat with a full belly and a deep sense of regret.

And what’s worse, it’s equally inevitable that just a few hours later and an hour before we land, they’ll pass by one more time with a soggy cheese and tomato sandwich sitting uncomfortably beside a diminutive KitKat and it will take all my strength to turn it down (by the way, why is it that everything on a plane is half the size it should be? Cans of coke – of which they always give you two – pretzels, nuts, the aforementioned KitKats, cutlery, pillows, vodka – they all seem to come in dwarf-like sizes. All evidence, (as so eloquently argued in this very post), is that we eat more on a plane so why on earth is the only good stuff presented to us in minuscule portions?)

And while I’m at it, why do we consume an order of magnitude more tomato juice on planes than we do in real life? How often do you ask for tomato juice when you’re not on a plane, except when you’re hung over and there’s half a bottle of vodka in the glass with it? So why do we invariably ask for it when we’re flying? It makes no sense to me, and yet I play along happily…

I’m going to be strong. I’m going to make a stand and beat these urges once and for all. Well I’m going to try (mind you, there is something so magical about peeling off that wet foil to unveil the greasy wonders within…)

Anyway – to business: chicken seems to play a major role in this little blog of mine, and no less so today as I come at you with two wonderful ways of cooking our feathery friends, both requiring a little basic butchery skill, but nothing that should scare you…

Roast chicken with lemon and onions

Take a whole chicken and cut it into pieces: two legs, two thighs, two breasts and two wings, leaving the top part of the wing attached to the breast – in posh circles this is called a supreme.

Now take the pieces and put them in a large roasting tin with a quartered onion, a bulb of garlic roughly crushed, a quartered lemon and lots of salt, pepper, olive oil and white wine. Roast it in an oven at 220c for about 40 mins, turning twice throughout, but making sure you finish cooking with the skin side up so that it gets nice and crispy. Perfect with mashed spuds and some green stuff.

Roast chicken pieces with a spicy dry rub

Get another chicken, and chop it up in the same way as above, then rub generously with olive oil and a mixture of the following: two cardamom pods, two star anise, two tablespoons each of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sea salt, one tablespoon each of peppercorns, fennel seeds, and half a cinnamon stick, all ground into a powder. Stick them on a baking tray (on oiled tinfoil if you want to avoid the worst washing up session of your life) and cook in an oven at 220c for about 40 mins, turning twice throughout, but making sure you finish etc etc..

Serve with lots of chips. To be honest it’s pretty much the same as KFC. But in an edible way.

Roast rubbed chicken

Postscript:
I’ve just landed. I peeled the foil and ate the meal – every last bit of it. I had tomato juice. I awoke to find the devious bastards had placed one of those breakfast boxes right in front of my face but I DID NOT SURRENDER…

The healthiest thing you can stick in your mouth?

Monkswood green

Here I am in Canada, the nicest, calmest, healthiest, most considerate, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, smoke-free, peaceful place on the planet. And here I am on Saltspring, island, the nicest, calmest, healthiest, most considerate, eco-friendly, animal-friendly, smoke-free, peaceful place in Canada. I’m trying very hard to fit in, idly chatting to hemp-clad new age market traders about the breed of sheep they lovingly milked to produce their extra-creamy feta along with the organic feed and alba-oil massages they are treated to thrice daily (sadly the market traders have to make do with a handful of Mung beans and a polite slap in the face from their ultra-nourished partner).

Anyway, I’m here with Sally, Mark, Eliot, Felix, Fin and Ollie, who are looking after me in this perfect place and I’m determined to live up to at least one of these British Columbian ideals. Given that I’m a nasty, uptight, inconsiderate, ungreen, aggressive, animal-hating (so I’m told) habitual smoker, I decide to focus on the healthy – and here it is, straight from the anti-cancer battlefield. Surprisingly enough, it’s delicious. And there’s no doubt that you get a sense of piety when you drink it. I’d give it a go if I were you…

Green uberhealthy smoothie

Take a bunch of fresh kale, a few apples, a thumb of ginger, the juice from two lemons, lots of coconut water, a handful of mint, a scoop of Maca powder (yeah right) and a tablespoon of hemp hearts (yaha) and blend them together with a few cubes of ice (if you don’t have the Maca powder or hemp hearts, don’t worry too much, it still tastes great).

And this is where you should be drinking it:

Monkswood (Photos courtesy of Sally Kaldor. Yep, she demanded a photo credit)

From cook to coach?

DISCLAIMER – Before you read any of this, please be be clear that it is of zero value. It is complete and utter rubbish. I am (historically) the worst person I know at relationships so the idea that I could give any advice at all to anyone is laughable. Don’t read this and get all angry with me because I’m giving bad advice. I’m telling you now – it is bad advice, but that’s all I know. And it’s not very funny either, in fact it’s not funny at all. And to be honest I don’t even think it’s interesting, or saying anything you don’t already know. But I’ve written it now and it’s taken me an age to write so I’m going to post it anyway. If you still want to read on, you do so at your own risk…

Last year, I put together a little diagram to illustrate a point I was trying to make about how to develop magazine apps (I know, riveting), and, thanks to some mild praise it received at the time, I’ve been trotting it out ever since, firmly believing that I hit upon something truly revelatory (I know, deluded). Anyway, after I showed it to Chantal the other day, she wisely suggested that it might in fact help describe something far less prosaic than app development, and could even, at a push, model how two people in a relationship interact with one another.

So I played around with it a little and presented it with great fanfare to Zoe and James from the office who promptly laughed at me and called me a tit. Undeterred and with great resolve I carried on tweaking and caressing it until I had what I am about to share with you here. I don’t have a name for it yet (suggestions welcome), but, give or take, I think it pretty much describes the universal model of relationships. Not at all ambitious then.

Kaldor's universal model of needs

This is how it works:

It’s presented from the perspective of one person in a relationship with another. I expect it probably works with friendships and familial or professional relationships, but I’ve focused my attention right now on good old fashioned relationships of the romantic kind.

The circles a, b and c represent what your partner wants, what they actually need, and what you give them, respectively. Please understand that this is not about material things – it’s about everything: love, attention, romance, time, sex, food, support, space, kids, head, a home and anything else that they might need and you might provide.

As the circles intersect, you can see the likely outcome of each of the situations brought about by the various combinations of needs, wants and gives. None of these are mutually exclusive, in fact every relationship will hopefully contain a healthy mix of all the areas within this diagram – the trick is to maximise the positive ones and minimise the negative ones.

And so, starting from the centre, this is how it works:

The ones to work on:

1. Long term contentment: The simple one – they want it, they need it, and you give it to them. This is where expectations are met and the outcome provides for stability and longevity. The person on the receiving end knows what they need (if you’re lucky they might even articulate it to you), and you provide it to them. There are no surprises here. It’s safe but it’s good stuff.

2. Delight: You give your partner something that they didn’t ask for and that they didn’t even know they needed, but when you give it to them, they realise that they can’t live without it. This is where expectations are truly exceeded and with this comes delight. It’s what Apple did years ago with iPods and iPhones: we didn’t know we needed them when they launched, but once we had them in our hands we became almost addicted to them. In fact that’s the thing about this area – once you have provided this illusive gift, your partner soon realises that they do in fact need it and so you quickly move into the centre circle where the delight is replaced by contentment (which is just fine – don’t fight it). In any case, while you’re in here, this is a really good place to be – the problem is that you have to keep coming up with new stuff if you want to stay. High effort, high reward.

3. Short term happiness: Your partner desires something even though they don’t need it and you give it to them. This is good short term fodder for your relationship – it’s often (but not always) romantic. It’s the cream on top. It’s the little details and it’s the grand gestures. None of them are actually needed individually, but that’s ok – it’s still good stuff and should be celebrated. And while the individual things you’re providing in here are not necessary, the area as a whole is an important one if you want to avoid relationship stagnation. Equally though, if you want more than a string of fun dates with someone, then you’ve got to start to operate in the other areas too.

The ones to avoid:

4. Immediate unhappiness:  Bit of an obvious one, as your partner knows they need something (and hopefully, they are telling you about it) and yet you still fail to provide it. Best to be avoided if you can. And if you do find yourself in here, then you’re either not listening or you’re being a bit of a shit.

5. Long term unhappiness: This one is more illusive both to identify and to avoid. Neither of you know that your partner needs it but it turns out they do need it and you are not providing it. The long term result of being in this place is a slow but inevitable move into the unhappiness zone. On the upside, once they find out they need this, then they’ll want it too and it will move towards the want circle at which point they’ll hopefully let you know about it so that you can resurrect the situation – so perhaps not one to worry about too much. In fact come to think of it, don’t even spend a moment pondering over this one as there’s bugger all you can do about it in any case.

6. Wasted energy: There’s always that risk that you get a bit ahead of yourself and start throwing yourself at your partner, providing those things that are neither needed nor wanted. Bad idea. You’ll end up exhausting yourself, you’ll get little thanks (why should you?), you may start to feel resentful as a result, and you’ll certainly make your partner feel more than a little uncomfortable. Don’t confuse this with romance. It’s not romantic to give somebody something that they don’t want to have. There’s plenty of romance all over this little picture, but don’t kid yourself – it’s not in here.

7. Bruised ego: You’re entering the danger zone here – not giving someone the things that they want even though you know they don’t need them sounds totally reasonable, but it’s something you do at your peril. That said, unless you spend your life doing this on a regular basis, you’re unlikely to condemn your relationship to the dustbin. Either way I’d still keep my arse out of this little place as much as possible if I were you – here lies angst and bitterness. 

Bringing the circles together:

While we would all love to be able to navigate each of these areas with the precision of a sun bleached sea salt, another way to minimise the risk of getting in the shit is to try and push the circles closer together. In fact the best possible version of this diagram is with all three circles totally superimposed, with complete alignment between what your partner wants and needs and what you provide – the perfect relationship. Sadly that’s totally unrealistic and would probably be bloody awful, but nevertheless, the closer we can get the circles aligned, the better we are going to be in our relationship. and there are a few forces (some of which we have no control over) that can work to this end:

Self sufficiency: If your partner is easy going, well balanced, independent and therefore needs very little from you, then your job in providing for those needs is going to be easier. The risk here of course, is that you end up being the needy one in the relationship. Oops. 

Self awareness: By knowing what you each need, you and your partner are going to be better at understanding what you really want, thus bringing the wants circle closer to the needs circle.

Communication: Add to the above a healthy dose of talking about stuff and you will better understand exactly what those needs are, so that you can respond accordingly.

Generosity: Simply understanding someone’s needs isn’t enough – you have to want to respond to those needs, and it’s only through true generosity of spirit that you will be able to consistently do this. This is a tough one as generosity is innate and not something you have much control over, but it’s certainly worth remembering that you have to make an effort. It’s not always going to come naturally to you and if it feels like you’re sticking your neck out from time to time, that’s probably a good thing (you tight bastard).

Aligned goals: No matter how generous you are, if the needs of your partner are in conflict with yours, then things can become very difficult. It’s at this point that you need to decide how far your generosity should go – you can’t compromise your happiness for the sake of someone else’s, and generosity can go too far, to the point that it’s harming you – that’s the point at which it is no longer a good thing for either of you. On the other hand, if your goals are aligned, all of this becomes so much easier (I did warn you that all this was bloody obvious didn’t I?)

So what’s the point of all this?

I’m buggered if I know, but I had fun writing it. One important thing to leave you with: don’t forget that you play both roles in the diagram, you’re not just the provider, you’re also the needer and the wanter so remember that your responsibility isn’t to just give, it’s also to be self sufficient, to understand your own needs and to articulate them to your partner so that they can make some bloody sense of this too.

Postscript

As I read this back something concerns me – it would make me sad to think that someone would manage their relationship in a methodical way such as this. this is simply a set of observations, it’s not in any way supposed to drive behaviour.

Just be you, and be considerate to the person who you’re with.

That’s all any of us can do isn’t it?

Camping, with asparagus

Asparagus

Camping. The great divider. It’s a bit like liver, in that as many people hate it as love it (and it’s best not overdone). But either way, If you’re going to do it, then there’s really only one way to do it (apart from briefly) and that’s to steer totally clear of organised campsites, teepees, yurts and any other half-arsed modern equivalent of the form.
A tent, a fire, food and drink – that’s really all you need.

In la la land.

Sadly, in the real world and with three kids you need a car full of crap including, but not limited to, iPods, iPads, iPhones, chargers, crisps, chocolates, books, magazines, pillows, sleeping bags, bags full of clothes (enough for a week in my daughter’s case), a barbeque, coals, lighter fluid, torches, kitchen roll, about four plastic bags (the ones that take 1,000 years to decompose) of food from the supermarket, waterproofs and plenty of beer, wine and any other alcohol you can get your hands on to get you through hour upon hour of cold, dark nighttime.

And if that doesn’t put you off, and you still plan on doing it, at least make sure you eat well when you’re sitting in your fold-up chairs that you picked up at the service station and that will just about last the weekend if you’re lucky. Here are a few ideas that seemed to go down pretty well:

Char grilled asparagus

Get a bunch of asparagus, rub generously with salt, pepper and lots of olive oil. Stick it on the barbeque. Cook it.

Spicy chicken

Get a load of chicken pieces, rub generously with a mixture of the following (that you can make in advance and bring with you in a jar): three cardamom pods, two star anise, two tablespoons of cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sea salt, one tablespoon of peppercorns, fennel seeds, and half a cinnamon stick, all ground into a powder. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Grilled pineapple

Get a pineapple. Peel it and cut it into thick slices. Stick them on the barbeque. Cook them.

Eynsham Lock

Summer hits Enfield in the face

Enfield

The first day of summer finally decides to announce itself on the 30th of June, ten days after midsummer and with it, the glorious borough of Enfield bursts into colourful life: pitbulls and pasty white bodies parading themselves through the town with their packs of smokey bacon crisps and cans of cider. You can’t help but smile on a day like this though – we’re finally getting our first little bit of summer joy, and by god we’re going to make the most of it (he says, while sitting inside at the computer writing a blog. To be fair though, we’ve been up since six am and we’ve been outside for most of the day so I don’t feel at all guilty. Not one little bit. Ok, maybe a little, but I’ll pop outside in a while I promise).

And for the first time in a long time, the kids finally allow me to cook them something new. I don’t know if it’s because I only have the boys and that they are more easily persuaded when they’re without Immie, or that they finally trust that very little of the food I cook is poisonous, or maybe it’s just because I did it without telling them – either way, I get to have a play.

Fried pork fillets with spaghetti

I think this is called Escalope Milanese in Italy, although strictly that is made with veal rather than pork. Take a pork chop and remove any bone and fat, then bash it into a thin fillet, about 2mm thick. Next, dip it in egg and then cover with seasoned breadcrumbs. Set aside ready to fry. Now simply make my Friday Night Pasta, but this time with Spaghetti. As it is cooking, fry the fillets and serve them with a squeeze of lemon, next to the spaghetti with a splash of olive oil and a handful of fresh oregano.

Pretty simple stuff…

Pork fillet and spahetthi

Rhubarb…

Rhubarb compote

I have my father to thank for this one (and my ex wife who let me steal the rhubarb from her garden…)

It’s a great way to use up fruit and it makes a better breakfast than most (t’s also surprisingly good when you get back from the pub). And it means you can stick two fingers up at Pret a Manger who’ll try to charge you £3 for the same thing.

Rhubarb and Banana Compote

If this takes longer than eight minutes to prepare, you need help.

Cut up your rhubarb stalks into chunks and put in a large saucepan with a few tablespoons of caster sugar (vanilla caster sugar if you have some prepared). Throw in a few tablespoons of water and a star anise, then heat gently until the rhubarb starts to break down just a little, stirring regularly. Chuck in a sliced banana and continue to cook for just another minute and take off the heat. There should still be plenty of pieces of rhubarb just holding their form.

Let the whole lot cool down and stick it in a container in the fridge – it will do you for at least a week. Serve it with yoghurt and a little mint, and a couple of spoonfuls of granola if you’re feeling adventurous.

Thinking about it – it would be the perfect base for a rhubarb martini too – give it a try (maybe without the banana and yoghurt…)