Archive for December, 2005

old threads – part two

Last August I started a new feature here on blogjam, entitled “When Old Posts Go Nuts”. Since launch I’ve introduced precisely zero additions to this wildly unsuccessful internal meme, until right now. Part two follows the reaction to a trip to see Guns ‘n Roses, but don’t bother reading my wretched bleatings, just head straight for the comments.

Incidentally, part one in the series is still going strong.

merry christmas

Merry Christmas, one and all. If you insert your name below and press submit, you’ll get a special festive message from myself and my imaginary Missus.

Rather fantastically, a couple of readers have sent me items from my Amazon wishlist, so thanks very much to them.

First mention goes to Alex in America, who wrote a very nice note and tells me to keep up the experimental cooking. Thanks Alex – I’ll be certain to carry on, and I’ll be trying to come up with something spectacular I can create with the Le Creuset Silicone Cook ‘n Bake 24cm Rectangular Loaf Mould you sent me. Thanks again, and a very Merry Xmas to you!

Next up is my old friend Keith, who sent a me copy of John Peel’s autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes. Thanks Keith, and the best of the season to you. You’re a gentleman, a scholar, and the most generous Scotsman I’ve ever met.

Finally, a very large Christmas thank-you goes out to Mike, who sent me a lovely copy of Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art after pulling my name from the digital hat in this year’s Secret Santa bonanza. I’m moving to the same area as Mike next year, so I’ll be inviting him round for some ‘Wind in the Pines’ Chicken Loaf with steam-simmered octopus when I do.

I’ll be spending the day with friends, eating vast amounts of food. I’m responsible for the deserts this year, and have created two rather special dishes for the occasion. First up we have a pear and chocolate pie from an ancient Piedmontese recipe. The pears were poached in red wine prior to cooking, and a scattering of crushed amaretto biscuits in the base of the pie gives the end result a fairly festive feel.

Alternatively, diners can choose the lemon saboyon tart with pine-nut and vanilla crust, which will come served with honeyed mascarpone cream.

Mmm, lovely. And once again, Merry Christmas!

gob shite

My dentist looks like Eugene Levy. For some reason, this does not fill me with confidence.

Anyway, Eugene takes a look inside my mouth, and declares that the tooth (the one he filled four years ago) has decayed. I have a choice. He can re-cap the rotting stub, which will only be a temporary fix, or we can go for extraction. Extraction doesn’t sound too bad – I’ve had it done before, and it’s a less painful option than you might expect. He injects a local anesthetic, and I retire to the waiting room for the effects to kick in.

15 minutes later I’m back in the chair. Eugene prods and probes, declares the rest of my teeth to be fighting fit, then begins to dig and delve. He applies something that feels like a cross between a screwdriver and a clamp to the tooth, and begins to wriggle. Nothing. After five or ten minutes of this process, every crack and wrench and tug and grind amplified in my skull, he reaches for a drill. I think (it’s difficult to tell what’s going on) he uses this to break up the tooth. Either way, I catch a glimpse of something small and blood-covered being whisked from my jaws, and a tell-tale tinkle as it drops into a receptacle.

Success? Not yet. Eugene tells me that he’s managed to get two-thirds of the tooth extracted, but one prong remains. Normally, he tells me, this is a two minute job. Normally it doesn’t take anything like this long, he says. Eugene fires some more anesthetic into my jaw.

After further grinding and crunching and scraping and pulling, the root is still holding firm. Eugene looks at me and tells me that he could have sent me to hospital for this extraction, but I’d be faced with a 14-month waiting list. He says this as if he’s doing me a favour. It really doesn’t feel like he is.

Eugene decides we need to X-Ray the remnants. With this done, I retire to the waiting room one more time.

Another 20 minutes later, I’m back in the chair, and it’s obvious that Eugene is beginning to struggle. With one hand he’s gripping my chin so hard it hurts, while with the other he applies every ounce of force he can to levering what’s left of this obstinate molar from its home.





And then he admits defeat. Eugene shows me the tiny X-Ray printout and tells me that the decayed root has “fused” itself to the bone in my jaw. He can send me to hospital to get this (and the surrounding bone) chiselled out, or we can let it heal as it is, the root remaining planted in my skull. As the tooth hasn’t been causing me pain, he thinks this is the best option. At the moment, I’m too dazed to argue. Besides, he’s the dentist; he knows what he’s doing, right?

His assistant hands me a mirror and a cloth to clean myself up. My cheeks are swollen up, the corner of my mouth is actually grazed where his tools have been angled in for optimum attack, and my chin is flecked with blood.

It’s nearly two hours since I first sat in the chair, part of the tooth remains embedded in my mouth, and Eugene’s bill has doubled in price since his original quote – due mainly, I guess, to all that extra work he put in failing to remove the damn thing. I get a prescription (the non-alcohol-friendly variety of antibiotic), some cotton-wool swabs in case of further bleeding, and am advised to book an appointment with the hygienist.

I’ll be easy to spot this Christmas. I’ll be the one eating mashed potato and angel delight. And sipping mineral water.


budget bling breakdown

Ooh, look: the top of my bling tooth just fell out. That’ll teach me to eat Toblerone for breakfast.

If anyone wants me, I’ll be at the dentist.

a google christmas

Out of the blue, I got a Christmas present from Google.

Opening up the box, there’s a large leather wallet inside, featuring an embossed Google logo.

Unzipping the wallet, it folds open to reveal:

  • A Google-branded USB hub
  • A Google-branded 128MB pen drive
  • A Google-branded wireless optical mouse
  • A Google-branded headset
  • A USB-powered notebook light
  • An extendable USB to mini-USB adapter

Crikey. You gotta love Google.

five years

Blogjam is five years old today.

I never expected for a moment to get this far, churning out the same old twaddle week after week, so I’d like to thank the academy, as they say. Thanks, first of all, to David Hudson, for brilliantly showing the way. Thanks to Vittorio Bertola for demonstrating (very ably) that geekdom isn’t necessarily uncool. Thanks to Dave Roozendaal for being an early brother in arms. Thanks to the all those geniuses (ginger and otherwise) that run b3ta, for providing more direction than they’ll ever probably realise. And thanks, most of all, to anyone who’s read or commented or trolled on these pitiful, shameful, idiotic pages over the last one thousand, eight-hundred and twenty five days.

I’d like to buy you all a pint, but I’ve got no bloody idea who you are.

Also, I can’t afford it. So here’s a picture of a really nice hamster. Enjoy.

new york city

It’s extremely cold, but I’m feeling extremely toasty inside. This is because I’ve discovered that the Moscow Cat Theatre are in town. This may well be the best news ever. Ticketmaster beckons.

In the mean time, however, I’m off to Bristol, Connecticut, to visit the headquaters of sports channel ESPN. I will explain later.

air farce

Those of you who didn’t bugger off to more entertaining weblogs months ago will remember that my recent journey to North Korea was marred by the failure of my luggage to join me on my trip. Naturally enough, I wrote a lengthy missive to Air France’s ‘customer-care’ department on my return, detailing my experience.

To whom it may concern,

I took an Air France flight (AF2271) to Hong Kong on October 1st. Due to a baggage handlers strike in Paris my bag never arrived at its destination, and while I appreciate that this kind of event is not under your direct control, my subsequent experiences dealing with your staff and agents in trying to recover my bag have been little short of woeful.

1. After making contact with ground-staff in Hong Kong, I was given a tracking code (HGGAF 17673) and told that my bag would be arriving the following evening – I was told to expect a call whether the bag arrived or not and stayed at my hotel to intercept this. It never came.

2. The following day I called Hong Kong airport again, to be told for the first time of the strike, and informed that my bag would now be arriving the following day. As I was travelling on to China, I gave your agents my hotel details in Beijing and was promised that the bag would be forwarded there.

3. I was based at my hotel in Beijing until 15th October (two weeks after my original flight), but neither my baggage nor any contact from Air France was forthcoming.

4. On leaving Beijing, I queried Air-France check-in staff on the matter to be told (with a grin) “don’t worry – we’re always losing bags”.

5. On my return to London, I contacted Lost Luggage at Heathrow to be told that I should have been greeted by ground staff in Paris and reunited with my bag. Obviously, this did not happen. I was then told that my luggage would be arriving the following day, and gave my office details for delivery during the week.

6. When the bag did not arrive the following day, I called the number on your website (0870 850 1839), was told that no-one could confirm where my bag was, and asked to call back in fifteen minutes, giving them time to locate it. The subsequent call did not reveal this information.

7. Tues 18th – I called again, to be told that my bag had still not been located.

8. Wed 19th – called again to be told that my bag was now in Paris and would hopefully be delivered in “the next few days”

9. Thursday 20th – told that my bag should have been sent to Paris on Oct 16th but wasn\’t, that you had “no idea” when it would reach London, and that Air France in Hong Kong did not have for contact details during my time away. This is completely untrue – my copy of the documentation I received in Hong Kong clearly shows these details, and I notified your staff of my forwarding details went I went on to China.

10. An attempt to deliver by bag was finally made on Saturday 22nd – to my office address, despite me making it absolutely clear to your staff that this address was only to be used during office hours, Monday-Friday. After speaking to the delivery company I finally received my bag at my home address at 11.45pm that evening.

The most frustrating aspects of this experience have been as follows:

Firstly, the information given to me by your staff, although generally relayed in a polite manner, has been almost universally inconsistent, ill-informed and misleading.

Secondly, I’ve had to spend a large amount of time originally earmarked for site-seeing replacing the items that never showed up. As one of the events I was attending was a formal affair, this included having to purchase shoes, shirt and trousers that I will, in all likelihood, never wear again. I also had to spend several hours in Beijing tracking down a charger for my camera.

The cost of this is largely irrelevant, but the effect it had on my overall experience was certainly not. This was meant to be a trip of a lifetime, but Air France’s continued ineptitude over the course of this matter has left an extremely nasty taste in my mouth, and impacted greatly on what otherwise would have been a fantastic trip.



A month passed. No response. I wrote again. This time, I was more direct.

To whom it may concern,

It has been a month since my last letter (attached).

While my previous experience with your ‘customer-care\’ representatives had led me to believe that any response was likely to slow in arriving, I am truly staggered that such a period has passed without an acknowledgement of my complaint being received.

Do you plan to string this misery out for much longer, or are you simply determined that my experience of your post-holiday service should be as woeful as that I received during my vacation?



And guess what? Still no response.

So bollocks to them. I’m off to New York. And this time I’m traveling with a much more reputable airline.

blogged: 2005

You should buy this book. I’ve read every word of it*, and it’s BETTER THAN THE BIBLE.

Well, bits of it are. OK, one bit. The top bit of page 64. It’s fucking amazing. Funniest thing I’ve ever read. No, really.

So Buy it. Buy it hard.

*This is a lie. I’ve only actually read the bit that I did. The rest of the book is probably rubbish. Apart from the bit that Scaryduck did. He’s funny, so I reckon it’s probably a good piece. He wrote about his nadgers, apparently.

beef bourguignon

Mmm, beef bourguignon, yummy.

This is one of my favourite dishes, and it’s very easy to make. It’s not strictly named for the Burgundy region of France, but rather a method of cooking popularly used in the area, where beef is cooked in a red wine sauce. Traditionally, the bæuf à la beef bourguignonne, to give it its full title, would be made with pearl onions, mushrooms and small pieces of bacon, but I generally follow the recipe set by our old friend Anthony Bourdain, which simplifies the shopping list and uses carrots to add a dash of variety and a splash of colour to the dish. To celebrate this choice, I’m going to write this entry in the style of Mr Bourdain. Ready, motherfucker?

Actually, I’m not. But the idea was amusing for a second.

First up, the meat. I was able to procure close to a kilo of Aberdeen Angus braising steak from my favourite butcher, the good people at Kent & Sons of St. John’s Wood.

After heating a tablespoon of olive oil in my faithful Le Creuset casserole dish until it’s almost smoking, I dump the seasoned meat into the base of the pan, one small batch at a time, ensuring that the flesh is well browned before removing and setting aside. In the picture below you can see the fond beginning to form in the pan. This is the sticky, concentrated residue formed by food as it cooks and caramelises, and is to be revered; it’s culinary nectar. Worried about cleaning it off the pan? Don’t be, and don’t bother. This stuff is packed with incredible flavour, and you want it to develop. With a little bit of de-glazing, its presence will enhance the flavour of any dish, and the pot will be easy to clean. But we’ll get to that.

With the meat removed, I add four thinly sliced onions to the pot.

Dropping the heat to medium, I cook this for about ten minutes, until it’s a lovely golden brown, then add a couple of tablespoons of plain flour. After mixing this in and cooking for a few minutes further, a large glass of burgundy finds its way into the pot. At this point your best friend is a wooden spoon, which you use to scrape all that delicious fond from the bottom and sides of the pan, making sure it’s well mixed in.

Bring the wine to the boil, whack the meat back in the pot, then add six sliced carrots, a couple of cloves of garlic, bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, and bay leaf, tied together in a bundle, usually wrapped in cheesecloth), enough water to cover the ingredients comfortably, and a couple of spoonfuls of demi-glace. If you don’t have veal bones, an enormous stock pot, a spare couple of days and a lot of patience, a pretty reasonable demi-glace can be obtained from the More Than Gourmet company.

And then? Simmer the bugger for a couple of hours, taking time out every fifteen minutes or so to check that nothing is sticking to the pan. Discard the bouquet garni, serve up with a sprinkling of parsley, and add a couple of bay leaves to the centre of the dish if you happen to be taking a photograph. This small touch makes it look like you really know what you’re doing.