Monsterchef

It started with a conversation in the office. Jo and Mandy were egging me on to experiment with the rest of a loin of pork I’d essentially ruined on Sunday last. With Mrs T away and only the cats to scare with my cooking, now did seem like the perfect time to try the skills that we all, undoubtedly, pick up by watching GBBO and sponsoring Greggs. A pie. What could be more seasonal than that?

I hadn’t realised that you could just buy pastry in a shop, which made we wonder what all the fuss is on the telly. What I failed to do was to ask the team exactly where in the supermarket they keep it. I picked up the essentials first (sprouts, soy sauce, nutmeg) so that I wouldn’t let the pastry get warm. I chose Tesco own brand Shortcrust. Largely on price. Game on.

Back in the office, we hadn’t settled on a sauce to suit the cold pork loin and sprouts. I eventually figured that I couldn’t just rely on the natural ooze from the meat and veg so, as usual, I made a paste from overcooking an onion with too much garlic and soy sauce. Too much soy sauce.

I paired this, my first ever pie, with ETAP: a brilliant Scottish Belgian DDH brewed with New Zealand hops. It was bright and slightly floral and I’d miscalculated how long the pie would take in the oven so I’d finished the beer with about twenty minutes to go. So I had a Carling, which was fine too.

There wasn’t much to this but, needless to say, I went out of my way to fanny with it. To my astonishment, the pastry was really good. It needed the leftover baked beans, for definite.

Do enjoy it yourself.

Pork loin and sprout pie

SERVES ONE

INGREDIENTS

  • One onion, any kind
  • Some garlic. No: more than that
  • The good dark soy sauce
  • Pork of the day, basically whatever you’ve got to hand – here I’ve used the rest of Sunday’s roast
  • One pack of shortcrust pastry
  • Nutmeg (too much)
  • Pepper (some)
  • Sprouts, perhaps 800g or so – you need about 100g for the filling but you’ll want to have some to eat whilst the pie is cooking
  • Advocaat
  • Baked beans for the dressing

METHOD

  1. Get your colleagues set up on a WhatsApp group: you’re going to need their advice unless you want to look stuff up yourself
  2. Finely chop the onion, garlic and brutalise them in too much soy sauce. Put to one side and have a think about whether that was a good idea
  3. You should probably have put the sprouts on maybe five minutes ago
  4. Get the oven on. I tried 200 somethings (C or F or maybe K for all I know). Remember to get the stuff you normally store in the oven out before pre-heating. That’s a great idea for next time
  5. Get one of those enamel bowls you’ve seen your wife do food in before, and rub some oil over the surface. Just because everyone told you not to do a pie bottom does not mean you need to take that advice. You are a strong and innovative baker and you can do this. So you’d better make sure you don’t just cement dough to an otherwise reusable container, like a div
  6. Get the sprouts off the heat, drain them and set them to one side to dry properly. The drying process will be helped if you graze them during the remainder of the preparation
  7. Right: pastry – go go go!! Roll out the block, remembering that you should flour the board as well as just the rolling pin. Remember Jo said that it should be really thin. Halfway through, when you’ve had to rest some of the pastry dustbin lid on the windowsill, if not before, you’ll have a good idea that you don’t need all of the block. Cut out the bits you need and put one in the tin base. Oh yes you can
  8. Slice the pork removing some of the fat. You don’t need to eat that. But you will. Slice the sprouts roughly. In sequence then: onion spoodge, pork parts, sprout layer
  9. You need to make a decision here: you don’t need to use all the nutmeg nor all the pepper, but it would be a shame to waste them
  10. Top the pie. You’ll probably have got the thickness wrong so do your best to get it to stretch across the main parts of the pie. See that bit that’s stuck to the board you didn’t flour? Scrape that off with a knife and make a sort of eye-patch for the biggest of the holes. Disappoint Mandy by not having sufficient pastry left over to make a rude ornamentation. Make some slits in the lid
  11. You can use a milk or egg wash to glaze the lid for a lovely golden colour. You can; or you can realise that Advocaat is, essentially, the same thing, plus sugar, and that if they sussed that in the Bake Off tent, someone would be getting Prue’s vote, damn straight
  12. In the oven. No time to waste. By which we can agree this wasn’t a dish to start making at half eight at night
  13. Do the washing up then text the group to ask how long the pie they haven’t seen might take to cook. Realise that doing the washing up means that you’ve forgotten when it went in anyway
  14. Find the plastic tub of “some” baked beans in the fridge. Assume that your wife probably had the other half sometime close to when she went on holiday last week and anyway beans are pretty inert, I’d guess. Sniff them just in case, then microwave. Don’t bother putting them on a microwaveable plate: that’s for snowflakes
  15. Pause the cricket highlights and take the pie out of the oven as soon as Jo texts to ask whether the pie is “still in the oven”. Grab the beans out of the microwave. Run your hand under the cold tap for a bit
  16. Be, genuinely, astonished that the pie comes cleanly out of the tin and that it looks like it might have worked
  17. Mount the pie on a plate and dress with the beans and some brown sauce
  18. Photograph and post on FaceBook
  19. Rue the whole soy and nutmeg thing

With thanks to J & M for goading and advice

(And just because I’m still astonished that this kind of worked, here’s a picture of the pie tin that’s nearly clean…)

Pork bastard

So I’ve finally given in and decided to share my signature recipe. As usual with these things, it’s important that you experiment with what works for you, but the basic recipe will get you close to the real deal.

I came across this dish originally in a Chinese restaurant in Doncaster. It’s not there now; don’t look for it. What caught my attention was the note that said it was made with “pork, of the day”. When I asked the manager what that meant he said: “you wan?” Irish, as I recall.

That original dish was simultaneously oily and breathtakingly hot. Over the years I’ve refined the preparation, but it’s important that the ingredients are, basically, whatever you’ve got.

There is, of course, a small risk of lung damage during the preparation. And it’s perfectly normal for some of your face to go numb after a few bites. But I’m sure you’ll agree it’s worth it when the whole thing comes together in a bowl or plate or just right out of the pan.

PORK BASTARD WITH A SIDE OF SPROUTS

SERVES ONE

INGREDIENTS

  • One onion, any kind
  • Some garlic. No: more than that
  • Chillis from the bag in the freezer
  • Pork of the day, basically whatever you’ve got to hand – here I’ve used some roasted gammon
  • Sugar
  • Maple syrup
  • Pomegranate molasses, if you’re feeling fancy
  • Nam pla
  • Sprouts, perhaps 800g or so

METHOD

  1. You’ll want to have a drink before you start
  2. Finely chop the onion, garlic and chilli and start to sweat them with some oil (any will do, let’s not get daft)
  3. You should probably have put the sprouts on maybe five minutes ago
  4. Turn the heat up on the onion mix. Give it a stir and retreat to another room whilst the worst of the chilli vapour dissipates. Maybe watch some sport
  5. Hey: remember you were cooking? Head back to the kitchen and catch your breath – gasaaah too late. You’ll need to get on the floor and stay there for a while until your vision clears and the coughing relents. Maybe fuss a cat whilst you’re down there
  6. Time to make that onion mix consumable! Sprinkle some sugar onto the still-frying onion mix. It won’t be enough, but rather than put more on, use maple syrup instead. Still not enough though, yeah? Pomegranate the life out of it. Shit it’s probably too sweet now, right? Use enough Nam Pla to make the house smell like horse urine. Take the caramelised mix off the heat and scrape what you can into a bowl
  7. Heat the pork. If it’s raw, you’ll need to cook it, obviously. For everything else, just wag it at the heat until it starts to wilt a bit
  8. Drain the sprouts and put them all in a bowl
  9. Decant the sprouts into a bigger bowl: there are more sprouts than you were expecting, right? Make a well in the centre of the sprouts
  10. Tip the onion mix onto the pork and shake the pan. Pick up the bits that’ve escaped and pop them back in the pan, unless there’s cat hair on them, in which case, just eat them
  11. Tip the pork and onion mix onto the sprouts and stick your fork into the centre
  12. Photograph and post on FaceBook
  13. Eat, cry a little

Poems

I got a bit ruthless with my entertainment about ten years ago:

– stopped going to the cinema because of all the noise and because the films I went to see were flashing light shows (I used to like a bit of “arthouse” cinema but we never got to see that)

– stopped watching TV because the whole box-set thing stole your time: we lost a whole bank holiday watching a Danish detective thing and that was the end for me

– I love to read but Twitter finds me poems and newspaper stories that mean I read for two hours each day, but I barely read a book.

I finished a book of poems yesterday but only because our cricket match was rained off. We sat for three hours waiting to agree that it was off. I carry books in my cricket bag for just such an occasion. There I was sitting reading poems (the collection was terrible, btw) when one of them totally got to me. It was about a woman’s experience with her father’s Alzheimer’s and a verse about incontinence made me cry. So I’m sitting amongst these kids who think I’m weird for reading (let alone reading poems) and trying not to let them see that I’m properly blubbing. But of course, that’s the point of poems, right: to make you feel.

Let’s play a game

Last month, I was reviewing an USDAW publication that included Personal injury/ Employer liability claims that they had supported, during a training course at a warehouse.

As usual, there were lots of small claims for everything from bruising to back injury. Worth noting that the claims for discrimination were properly bigger than those for injury. (Well done USDAW).

But the problem with publishing these numbers is that you can play the “would you” game. It looks like this: would you take £500 for your employer to cause you to “sprain your wrist”?

Of course the answer is “yes” almost all the time: since the collateral damage isn’t considered (impact on work relationships, potential for it to be non-work-related, etc), and it’s 500 quid.

Trouble is, there are some shocking findings. Here’s a big one: “how much to break your arm”? Those of us who consider “Escape to Victory” to be the greatest movie of all time, that’s a tricky one. For my group, 14 out of 14 would do it for £16k

Clearly there are some trickier ones: how much to lose an eye? How much to have your leg crushed?

So: Merry Christmas. Why not play this fun game round the dinner table tomorrow?

You’re welcome!

Yes men

So the problem for Sparky is being in a band with me. The bigger part of that is being in *two* bands with me, one of which offers him no protection from my whims (see “Whims“). And I’m on what can only be called a “hot streak” of whims right now.

First up: our friend Amanda called to ask whether, after the success of me and him playing for an hour to a largely apathetic summer fete crowd at her children’s’ school last year, I would be prepared to “host” the music stage at this year’s do.

My response: “it’s not really what I do.”

Her: “you’ll be great”

Me: “but I don’t like children”

Her: “you were great with them last year”

Me: “no, Amanda: I actively dislike children. They scare me”

Her: ” I know; you’ll be great”

Me: “you weren’t paying attention, were you?”*

Her: “well the committee took a vote last night and they think you’ll be great for it”.

Me: “that’s not how comm…”

Me: “Sparky: we’ve um… we’ve got this gig”

So, that’s the first thing.

Second thing happened last Friday. Got a message on the band Facebook page asking whether we’d play a 45 minute set on May 4th and then let the “second band” use our PA. Now: you don’t have to know much about the natural order of things to know that that’s not how it normally works. The big band brings the kit and any support just plugs in to that.

I knew something was up.

So, adjunct information: it’s our local pub; the landlady has told the gig organiser that we’re the sort of band who’ll do nice things for charity; it’s a great charity; who are we to let people down?

I know enough that the answer to “is the band available to turn up and play for 45 minutes” is “no”, without even troubling the Cato WhatsApp group. Not least because we have two gigs the next day (get us!).

But for a bunch of reasons, I figured that I could say yes for Fatzorro & Sparky:

  • We like playing whatever
  • 45 minutes is a good slot for us
  • We get brownie points from the pub
  • The woman organising it seems innocently lovely
  • It’s for “Living without Abuse” which sadly is an important charity in Charnwood
  • Sparky wants an opportunity to try out some of his PA with a full band

Sure enough, he’s game on. I let “Kez” know the band’s not available, but we are. Her reply?

“Have you got any video of you playing?”

So, now, we’re having to audition for a slot on a charity gig where they want to borrow our PA. I know all of my friends in bands would have cut comms at this point but I thought it was funny.

Some minutes later, we’re hired. Phew.

I get the number of the main act and I’m asked to contact them. I text Richard and he says that they have no PA, just a bunch of cables. And no microphones. I ask him what kind of band they are and he goes quiet.

Two days later, a message from Kez: “richard’s gone on holiday. Can you contact the drummer Ezra”. Sure. Yes, yes I can. I do.

Me: “hi Ezra: can you let us know the type of band you are, and your setup, so we can figure out what PA you might need?”

Ezra (who sounds delightful): “Excellent, we are a 5 piece and we play death metal with 2 vocals and we usually DI the bass, since he only has a medium small combo”

I had a moment where I thought he might be the funniest amateur band member I’d ever met. Then he sent me the link to this:

Two hours earlier, Kez had asked me to confirm what our act was called, so she could print the posters. So now we’re locked in.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how our acoustic duo got to be the opening act for the first death metal band to play Loughborough since the millennium.

I *might* need to learn to say “no” sometime soon. But not today.

I’ll let you know how we go.

*cut to us playing last year, for a field full of children and drunk parents:

Me: “You won’t know this kids, but do sing along and you can delight your grandparents next time you see them by singing this song. That’s if they’re still with us, of course. And if they’re not, sorry. But they will die one day, y’know”

Sparky: “stop it!”

Not crossing the Rubicon

So last night my band played its first ever Corporate gig. It was a 30th anniversary party for a recycling company held at a local football ground. A good friend of ours organised the whole thing and we’re delighted she invited us. We’ve never done corporate before and a bunch of heavy things needed to happen to enable it:

  • we now have public liability insurance (though how we could do £1million of harm is anyone’s guess (Sparky says “fall on the audience”)
  • we had to provide our electrical safety assurance to the venue.

Both of which were the kind of thing that people who take this seriously probably do to make themselves feel better.

Long story short: the day took us eight hours from set-up to break down. We played really well, a “best of” set for an hour. At five to eleven a Polish man told me that he didn’t know any of our songs and that if we played songs he knew then the dance floor would be full. I stopped the band as they were mid-way through the opening of “Monster” and asked the DJ to start playing.

We were clear of the venue by 1150 and on our way home. Sometimes gigs are euphoric and transcendental and sometimes they’re a transaction.

These are not our songs. This is our hobby. I doubt there’s joy in playing for audiences who are not ours. We’re deeply grateful for the opportunity to play at all, and to our friend Shirlene who booked us.

Needless to say, I had a great time and here’s a photo of me and their photographer, who’s also one of their drivers. If you’re ever at a “do” and there’s an amateur photographer, do take their photo: I’ve never met one who wasn’t deeply grateful to be noticed. I know the feeling.

I’m not sure we’re destined for the Corporate circuit!

Negotiain’t

Last week I was working in London in one of those anonymous meetings venues. Our group were the epitome of self-determining civil servants. They’ve been brilliant and conscientious and humane and thoughtful in all of our dealings.

On Thursday, we arrived at the venue and straightaway, one of our learners complained that the room was cold. Now, since 1999, I haven’t really thermoregulated terribly well, so I’m often the last to find out that a room is too cold.

Her peers confirmed that the room was cold.

Since I am in de facto control here (and either way, if the room’s cold it’s a rubbish place to learn and it’ll show up in the course evaluation) I announced that I would go and see what the options were for the room.

I met the two front of house staff almost immediately I left the room. They told me that the whole building was too hot, so the heating had been turned off. And since our room was cold, we were the exception. The building was full, so the option of a room move wasn’t possible. They were polite, apologetic, and clear that all that was on offer was a fan heater that they would bring to the room as soon as they could. I expressed my disappointment but recognised they had laid out the options and there was only one I could take. I am not a skilled negotiator, but I know when I have no cards left.

I returned to the room and announced my success. The learner in question told me that a heater wasn’t good enough. I told her that I was satisfied that I had gone as far as I could and that she was welcome to do better. “I’ll sort it”, she said with a purposeful swish out of the room.

Whilst she was gone, her colleagues agreed that they wish they were as assertive as her. I felt like a complete spanner, returning from a simple negotiation with a bum deal.

Ten minutes later, we had a fan heater in our room.

I’m going to suggest that it was a run-through for this week’s Brexit Stage 1 negotiation.

We ended up with the only possible option, but we had to wave our arms a bit to get the thing that was offered in the first place.

Onwards.

(Above is me standing in front of the EU parliament earlier this week. I think they’ve already moved our flag round the back)

The National Guard

We kept wondering what the National Guard was, for no big reason, the last two weeks whilst we were guests of America. 
Eventually, on the tram back from Tijuana, I remembered to check Wikipedia. 

Turns out it’s a set of state-specific reserve soldiers, who can be called upon to assist Federally but who are bound to their home state as a priority. Like a “well regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free State”. It’d be terrifying in the UK (Lancashire and Yorkshire would compete for stupid, Leicestershire would accidentally find it had an Italian manager and a mercurial striker, and Surrey would have bought a militia composed entirely of psychopathic Chechnyas and Jean Claude Van Damme). 


But it seems like a great idea in immediately-post-independence USA. 

That’s all you need, States, a militia. Just them. Probably best if you arm them: that was they can fight down when the people get unruly, as well as up if the Feds get a bit heavy-handed. 
And when you stop crying, let Jim Jeffries tell you what the rest of us did when this happened. 

Then buy a musket. 

Tijuana Brass

Well. I know I said there might be problems, but in the end, it was the easiest part of the journey. 

After another run (this time along the harbour of San Diego) and, to counter that, the biggest breakfast burrito, we took the trolley to the border.

It was an easy crossing. 

Of course as soon as we were on Mexican soil, the selling began. Not as bad as Mumbai, but pretty bad. 

I got Mrs T all the way into Tijuana to the weird St Louis arch and back. This is her photograph

We stopped to have a crazy number of fabulous margueritas on the walk back to the border. Here are some of those 

As a child, one of the first records I heard was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I pinched the album from my father’s record collection and it became a favourite of mine as a student. I can’t help thinking that the Tijuana Herb was thinking of wasn’t the gaudy mix of dentists, cialis pharmacists and trinket sellers that we encountered.
As a twenty-something, I fell in love with the music of Tim Buckley. I’m guessing that his Tijuana Moon wasn’t written about the hurried tourist crossing point to get your gob or knob sorted before queuing to head back to California. 
So here’s the thing. For most of my life Tijuana was shorthand for the most exotic place on earth. Having been there twice, I can confirm that it’s time has passed. (I just sang along to the Herb Alpert version of TGILWY and Mrs T will tell you that I cried. Of course I cried. I’m Welsh and it’s beautiful). 

As it happens, our trip was as good as I think it might have been. We crossed the border both ways with limited delay, were bothered by street peddlers relatively little, and had the correct quantity of frozen cocktails that the border guards didn’t hear us slurring. 

Tonight we will head to a piano bar that I remember from last time I was here, and tomorrow we’ll fold up the tent and head to LAX, thence to our home. 

This has been just the most delightful trip. Everything we’ve done has been fun and mostly effortless. 

We spent another hour in our favourite bar talking to our favourite SD lawyer (Tim Richardson – look him up if you ever need a defence lawyer for a crime you’ve committed in Southern California). Here’s Tim with us, last night. 

We shared thoughts on sports, Brexit, Scottish Independence, and he was astonished that if we had a referendum on capital punishment, it would be a landslide for hanging. 
Bless you, America. We’ve had the best time. You’ll understand that we can’t wait to get home. 

 

Choice

So we treated LA just like the great big freeway that Dionne told you it was and San Diego has already turned out to be a great final destination. 

From lucking out in a legendary hotel (here’s us on the roof terrace)

 we had an amazing hour with a local lawyer discussing medieval England in a brilliant Sports Bar/microbrewery. Claire battled on points of history; I drank beer and occasionally refereed. Then we struck out for what TripAdvisor said was the best pizza in SD. 

It was 20 blocks away. 

It was a studenty takeaway place. 

I liked it. 

There may well have been better, closer. 

There might always be better. 

That’s the problem with the internet. 

Next month I’m away with Finbar, the man with whom I did this trip in 2000 (pre-smartphone). He and I were in Bruges a couple of years ago. The effect of tripadvisor on him appeared to be paralysing. Everywhere he found that we could eat, we’d agree on. In the time it took to get there, he’d have found three other places that might be better. He eventually admitted that even his wife wants to kill him when he does it. It’s like an addiction.

There may well have been better, closer. 

We’ll never know. And that’s cool. 

Here’s the pizza