Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reality Bites

sounds like a new product, doesn't it? [read in cheezy announcer voice] "Try new Reality Bites! The little chunks of life that are hard to swallow!" Hmm. Needs a jingle. You wanna get on that, Herebe?

I'm still chewing on the Reality Bite that the Pirate fed me this weekend. Still havn't managed to swallow it. (get your collective filthy minds out of the gutter.)

Basically, he got the news from his boss of where and when the company will be transferring him. We knew this was coming, and he told me about it last year. But last summer it seemed so far away still, and it was all so abstract -- undefined date, undefined location -- that it was easy to forget. Now that he's been told where (a city 2 1/2 hours drive from bristol) and when (January fucking 2nd) it's a lot more real.

There's a bit more to the story, but the gist is that as of the New Year we'll officially be a long-distance couple. Blech.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Boozeberry Muffins!

I am a GYNIUS!

Last July the Pirate and I picked a bunch of loganberries, some of which we ate, and some of which i dropped into bottles of gin, the better for drinking.

This week I extracted the berries from the gin, which is now such a deep red it looks blacker than red wine and it totaly opaque, and holy SHIT does it taste good!

The berries i strained in a cheesecloth, but it seemed senseless to waste the pulp (for it was nothing but pale pink, gin-soaked pulp at that point), so what did I do?

I put the berries in muffins -- boozeberry muffins! Fucking GENIUS, me.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Suburban, white hypocrisy

Continuing with the theme of racism from over at Q.E., have a look at this article from the BBC website about the sub-prime lending fiasco over in the states that's mucking up the world's finacial markets:

Shrewd Lenders Spark US Mortgage Chaos

Scroll down a bit and you'll find a quote from a journalist at the Milwaukee Sentinal Journal, the city's major newspaper, explaining just how serious the problem has become:

"This is not a poor, black, or Hispanic thing," explains Michelle Derus from the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, who has been following the growth of sub-prime loans for more than two years. "This is a suburban white problem."

You can almost hear her add "so we know it's gotten really serious."

The thing is, I bet you a million bucks that if you asked this woman she would swear she's not racist. Yet here she is explicitly stating that because a problem has spread from the black and Hispanic communities into the white middle-classes, it is a serious problem. She is using the concept of white people suffering synonymously with significant suffering. Clearly if the problem had remained a black and Hispanic problem she wouldn't be bothered.

Do not make excuses for this woman. This is a racist statement born of a racist mind, and anyone who fails to observe the blatant racism contained therein is equally racist. The fact that so few Americans will observe this is proof of how far we have to go to overcome racism.

Don't ever let anyone tell you the battle is won.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cheesy Veggie Chowdah

UPDATE: i just noticed that i said to simmer the chowder for 3-5 minutes. that should be 35 minutes!!! if you've already copied the recipe down, make that change!

I didn't make this recipe up, and I don't remember where I copied it from (probably my mom's 101 things to do with cheese cookbook from 1974). So if whoever invented this recipe is reading this, I'm not taking credit, and I'd cite you but I don't know who you are.


3 Tbs butter
1 large onion, finely chopped so your boyfriend doesn't know it's in there
1 large leek, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 Tbs flour
6 cups vetable or fish broth or water, hot
3 carrots, sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
several sprigs fresh thyme
5-6 bay leaves
1 2/2 cups light cream (single cream to you brits)
2 1/2 cups really sharp cheddar cheese, grated

To make:
  • Melt butter on med-low heat in a very large pot
  • Add onion, leek, garlic. cook gently for 5 mins until translucent. do not brown.
  • Add flour, mix well with butter until all flour is incorporated and covers onion and leek like sticky paste
  • Increase heat under pot to high
  • Add a little of the hot broth and boil, stirring constantly. continue adding the broth in small increments, making sure the soup boils in between and all the previous addition is completely incorporated before adding more. (This is to ensure that the chowder is thick at the end process and the butter doesn't separate out.)
  • Add all the remaining ingredients except the cream and cheese.
  • Reduce heat back to med-low, cover, and simmer for 35 mins, stirring occassionally.
  • Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves.
  • Stir in cream. Simmer very low for 5 mins. Do not boil.

At this point you have 2 options. If you are serving the whole lot straight away (serves 6 generously) you can slowly add the grated cheese and incorporate it into the soup. If you are only serving a portion of it and want to keep the rest in the fridge for leftovers, ladel out the portion you are serving and sprinkle the cheese on top, in the individual bowls. This is becuase once you add the cheese the chowder doesn't keep well. It makes the texture all gross. So only add cheese to the quantity that will be eaten right away.

Serve this chowder hot with a crust of good, solid bread and glass of malty beer.

Tips: becuase this is such a simple recipe (really, it is. You only need one pot and the whole thing takes less than an hour start to finish), the outcome depends largely upon the quality of the ingredients. It is well worth it to go to a good organic grocery store and buy a block of organic cheddar that still has veins of mould through it. That is how cheese should be, and it will make a huge difference to your finished product. It is also well worth keeping a small pot of fresh tyme on your windowsill. Dried thyme doesn't have nearly the flavor, and you can't remove it after because it's in powder form, so it destroys the nice pure, creamy appearance of the chowder. And if you eat this chowder with stay-fresher-longer extra-sodiumbenzoate bread I will personally come and bludgeon you with a turnip.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Today for lunch

Today's soup is homemade cheese and vegetable chowder -- a thick, creamy, buttery chowder loaded with carrots, potatoes, leeks, onions, green beans, and fennel, seasoned with thyme and bay leaves, and covered with melted extra-sharp, mature, organic cheddar. Served with a chunky slice of organic, malty-rye bread.
Recommended beverage: Williams Red ruby malt ale.

Veg and cheese for soup: 6 pounds
Loaf of organic malted rye bread: 2.89
Bottle of Williams Red: 2.19
Eating better in your own kitchen than any restaurant in town: priceless!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

In the Burgh of Edin, day 1

It's time for the vacation update!!! [in Kermit the frog voice] YAAAAY!!! *waves arms in air*

We left the Preston area on Sunday August 5th and drove north. I would have liked to have gotten an earlier start, but Mrs. Pirate had made a huge sunday dinner/lunch thing with lamb and the works, so we couldn't skive off early.

The drive up was lovely: up the M6 for a couple hours, hang a right onto the A702, and voila! Edinburgh. I like driving the M6 on the norhtern stretch. It's always grey and rainy, and the moors and hills are bleak and lonely little whisps of mist and fog hang about here and there and never seem so go away completely. Pirate's been reading "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet, so to pass the time I read to him from the book while he drove. There was cricket on the radio, but the reception was shitty at the best of times, so we gave up on that.

Turning onto the A702 was a surprise. This is the major route to Edinburgh from the southward direction, and it was a 2-lane (one each way) undivided country road, twisting and winding through tiny villages and hamlet. It was grey and drippy and I was enchanted and was hypnotized by the windshield wipers and enchanted by the surroundings.

We found our B&B with little difficulty, and a pleasant French girl showed us to our room. I had been told beforehand that it was small. Small, in this case, meaning the double bed takes up fully HALF of the total sqare footage of the room. I've seen bigger prison cells.

The bathroom was down the hall, but we had it all to ourselves, and it had a FANTASTIC shower, which was a treat. (The shower in my room here is warm on a good day, and doesn't so much spray as pee.)

It was almost 6 pm by that point, and on a Sunday nothing is open at that hour, so it's a bit of a stupid time to arrive someplace, but we decided to wander in to town (about 1 1/2 miles) and see what there was to see. What there was to see, was this:

It's the Fringe, baby!

Neither of us had ANY idea we were arriving on the opening weekend of the famed Fringe Festival. It never factored in to our travel plans. I had only heard of the thing once, from a chinese student in my building telling me about it during a trip in the elevator. We selected the timing of our holiday based on when Pirate could get time off work, and I selected the location based on
a. I'd never been to Scotland
b. my brother said it was awesome and I should go
c. Sal made it look pretty cool in his blog
d. It was a convenient distance from our setting-off point
e. I know a few people there, notably Hendrix Cat and a good mate of mine from the boat club

As we walked along toward town, a man handed us a flyer. It said "One night only: Norman Lovatt reads the phone book!"
Normally I don't look at flyers but, being a Red Dwarf fan, the name Norman Lovatt caught the Pirate's eye. The man said he was giving away free tickets. We didn't have anything to do, so we took them. And that was how the whole thing started.

The Fringe Festival, for those of you who don't know, is a crazy cultural festival of performing arts that takes place every August in Edinburgh. It's manic. Every square inch of usable space in the city is turned into a performace venue. We saw shows in attics, in the Grand Masons' Lodge of Scotland, in a low stone-vaulted crevice under a road, in a giant upside-down purple cow (called The Udderbelly, not to be confused with The Underbelly -- that's something else entirely). We stumbled into the main Fringe info office on the Royal Mile (which Pirate referred to as "Fringe Central." Think about it for a second. There ya go.), elbowing our way through the crowds and stopping to watch a few of the myriad street performers and living statues along the way. At the Fringe info office we got a schedule of events and sat down in a pub to examine it. We were stunned.

Even Pirate had no idea the scale of the thing. The program of events is a magazine of over a hundred pages, and it's all scheduling. There are over 250 venues, with something going on in each of them from midmorning to well after midnight all day long for a month. Pirate took a pen out of my purse and we dove into the comedy section. Within minutes we had lined up a schedule for ourselves for the next three days. We then ran to the box office to get ourselves tickets.

The major advantage to going on the first weekend is the reduced ticket prices. Most shows are offering "preview" rates or 2-for-1 discounts to get butts in the seats early and spread the word. So we got tons of tickets. Hey, why not? We never did manage to see Edinburgh Castle, but that will still be there later. And I got meet Marcus Brigstocke!!! But that happened later. Right after I got locked in the portaloo with 7 other women by the giant, dead, purple cow.*

After hearing Norman Lovatt read the phone book (which was funny in one of those wierd, awkward ways were people laugh more out of nervousness than humor) and stuffing some chips in our faces we sprinted over to where some unknown guy was giving a standup called "Why All Daily Mail Writers Must DIE." We just couldn't resist the title. The show was hilarious, although it got a bit preachy toward the end. We were sitting in the front row and, being a Yank, i got riddiculed quite a bit (not for the last time that week, I might add). It was all in good fun, and by the end of the show my sides were actually aching (also, not for the last time that week).

We wandered back to the B&B and collapsed into bed.

The end of day 1.

*At the Fringe, exciting things happen even to boring, normal people like me. They just doo.

Happy Birthday, M.E.!

Mental Exrement turned three years old this month. I think I'll go eat a cake, now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Frivolous II: The Guilt Strikes Back

Seeking advise from those I trust most, here are the words of my dear pater:

You may want to read Ann Rand's book on selfishness for a bit of philosophy on human nature and why it may not be so bad as it first appears by my and your Christian moral heritage. Also, there is an issue of pleasing the father and looking accomplished in his eyes, but that's probably well buried deep in the Pirates's sense of worth or accomplishment. I bought a Rambler sedan rather than the Jag I really wanted when I came home from Vietnam, looking back I would have been no worse off and would have had many happy hours cruising in the Jag vs the more rational Rambler. You have a limited time on earth so perhaps, when you're young is the best time to reach for the brass ring and damn the consequences. Enjoy the ride, don't worry too much about the trade-offs.... both his and your economic potential over the next 50 years is very substantial, you are poor as a church mouse now, but that is a temporary affliction.


Perhaps a touch of hedonism isn't a bad thing. Again, as with all things, it's a matter of scale. Dad is also of the ilk that my feelings are the result of my temporary poverty, and such feelings will disperse when I'm back on a more sound economic footing. This may be partially true, but I'm pretty sure that even if/when I have that kind of money, I would still consider that level of luxury unecessary and decadant.

I've been giving this whole issue a LOT of thought lately, in an attempt to understand exactly what is upsetting me, why, and what steps, if any, I should take. Here are some ideas that have occured to me:

It may simply be human nature to view all those with less than us as unfortunate and underpriveledged, while those with more than us are spoiled, greedy, mean, priveledged, etc. I think every one of us feels that our personal balance between frugality and indulgence is an appropriate balance, and anyone differing significantly from out own spending habits is in the wrong, one way or t'other.

It may also be partly due to the fact that growing up in a very working-class and pro-labor household I was taught to resent on some level those people who were more affluent than myself. Furthermore, such people were often described in terms of their material wealth, such as "people who live in houses like that X___." or "people who drive cars like that Y___" etc. I think the unfortunate coincidence that Pirate has purchased an item which in my youth was made out to be an indicator of greed and selfishness is, when I really think about it, at the bottom of what's troubling me.

So I'm left to reconcile the apparent paradox that either my parents were wrong and wealthy people with unnecessary and expensive cars aren't necessarily the greedy bastards who are the source of all the world's ailments,
I have critically misjudged the Pirate and actually he's not the amazing guy I thought he was, but actually he's one of the rich, greedy baddies. (I am exaggering slightly for the sake of clarity, but I think you can forgive me for that.)

On the surface this doesn't appear very difficult. The first statement assumes a lot of absolutes (all problems are caused by rich people, all people who drive nice cars are rich, it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, etc.), and absolutes are rarely true. So it should be easy to write an addendum to that philosophy pertaining to exceptions and accept that my parents are not always right and that wealthy people can be good people.

It should be easy. But accepting a change in your views, a change in a philosophy that has colored the way you've seen the world since you were old enough to open your eyes, rarely is. In some ways it would be easier for me to admit that I was wrong about the Pirate, because that's a view that I've only had for a year, as opposed to a lifetime. Furthermore, changing your view about one person does not shatter one's whole socio-economic mindset.

But of course I love the Pirate deeply and I don't want to be wrong about him. I want to continue to believe that he is a good, moral, ethical, generous, honest man. As I've often pointed out before, though, wishing don't make it so, and wanting to believe something, even believing it, doesn't make it true.

Do I really think that buying a car suggests that I've grossly misjudged the Pirate's character? No, not really. I'm just trying to explain to you lot why this whole situation has made me squirm so much. Fundamentally it boiled down to me being wrong about something, either the strong, anti-money values I'd been raised with, or my assessment of Pirate's character. And that, I think, is what this whole thing is all about. It's forced me to confront and re-evaluate some of the assumptions I make about people and the world regarding material wealth. And questioning one's fundamental assumptions about the world is a very squirmy process indeed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

the new Pirate Ship: HMS Frivolous

The Pirate just bought a new ship. It's this:

Not to replace his nice, practical little Skoda, mind. In addition to. For fun on weekends and for something to tinker with and restore. (The structure and engine are sound, but it needs a load of cosmetic detail work. The perfect fixer-upper.)

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I'm happy for him. He's been an Aston Martin freak all his life (inherited from his father), and he's just bought his first, his very own, AM. (It's a 1973 Vantage.) Yay for him.

But it's such a total frivolity. To behonest, I'm just not comfortable with that level of decadance. Even if I had a million pounds, I probably wouldn't buy something that totally unnecessary.

But is that me being a hypocrite? I'm pretty sure that if I had a million quid I would buy something unnecessary, probably several somethings. So is it that I'm genuinely uncomfortable with this kind of decacance in a world where so many people are suffering, or is that I just prefer differenct luxuries, like a giant garden, my own scull, 4 dogs and a cider press?

Is it fair to make a distinction between small luxuries (like a really nice meal out), medium luxuries (like a new scull), and huge luxuries (like a sports car)? It's just a matter of scale, really.

It seems to me that for people our age (30 minus a tad), spending money on non-necessities isn't wise. The time value of money makes clear that saving now will pay off hugely in the future. So if I'm rich when I'm 50 and have no money worries, then will I be comfortable with decadance? Or am I just too tight-fisted by nature (having grown up in a home that was super-frugal by necessity) to ever feel comfortable with spending such large sums on things that aren't needed? And is that a bad thing? What are the implications of that for our long-term relationship?

I suppose I'll have to express these feelings to the Pirate at some point, but he's so damn happy, I really hate to rain on his parade. I surely don't want him to think I'm being disaproving or trying to make him feel guilty.

Or is that exactly what I'm doing?...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Save the Planes

This week crowds of people have been protesting at Heathrow Airport against expansions they argue would contibute to global climate change, which is bad.

This may be the first time in my life I have taken a stance against the pro-enviroment protestors. Here's why:

I like planes.

I'm an expat living on a different continent from my family. I fly. Rather a lot.
I also like travelling the world.
And sending gifts to people, especially my family in America.
All this requires flight.

I completely acknowledge that global warming is a catastrophe on a scale that has never before been witnessed in human history. We have it in our power to minimize the damage done to ecosystems the world over (and ultimately to ourselves) by making technological and lifestyle changes. I absolutely believe these changes can and should take place on a national/commercial/industrial scale (more fuel efficient cars, alternative energy sources, etc) as well as a personal scale (turn off your fucking lights, hang the laundry on line, ride a bike to work, etc.).

But please please please please please can we leave the planes alone?

This is what I think: I think we should do everything possible to arrest global warming, and if all that stuff doesn't work, then we can get rid of the planes. But can we leave them as a last resort, pretty please with a cherry on top?

Oh, and while we're on the subject of the environment, I would like to point out this article, which gets my vote for The Most Obvious Headline Of The Year Award.

Um, hi guys

*all conversations suddenly stop while CB timidly pokes her head through the swinging doors of the interwebs*

I'm back.

That was some piss-poor piss-taking, my friends. Thanks to all who participated; you cracked me up. The prize goes to Dave, whom I already owe some non-burnt scones anyway.

To answer the burning question on everyone's mind, no, Pirate didn't propose. :-(
But the m-word was discussed, and we had a lovely holiday, declared it a success, and agreed to do it again sometime. (There's talk of going to South Africa next February.)

Right now I'm doing laundry and watering my plants, but there will be details of the trip forthcoming at some point. I'm reluctant to write much at this point because it would be so much better illustrated, but I accidently left my camera in Preston with Mr. and Mrs. Pirate. Grrrr. So I will post details and photos as soon as I have retrieved the necessary electronics, probably sometime next week.

I will, however, say this much:

High Points:
  • the weather (in Scotland. I know. It's amazing.)
  • Marcus Brigstocke
  • the food -- we ate like kings for a week
  • golden eagles and house martins
  • lack of parental Pirates
  • Fringe central
Points of a lower elevation than high:
  • getting locked in the porto-loo outside the Udderbelly
  • HENDRIX CAT STOOD ME UP!!!!! (no, she didn't, she just got busy and had to cancel. boo-hoo!)
  • Lack of sleep becuase Pirate is teething
  • Food poisoning (hey, it wouldn't be a holiday without a touch of food poisoning!)

how are you all? did anything exciting happen while I was away? are Billy and Llewtrah tying the knot yet? Has LC come out of the closet? Is FN running for president? (FN and HomoE in 2008!) Has Annie Rhiannon been cast to play herself in the film biopic of her life? Catch me up on the latest, please. I can't be bothered to read 10 days of back blogs.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cop out

Hi. I'm not back yet. I'm blogging from the parental home of the Pirate. This is just to say that we had a fabulous time. Details will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I would like to suggest some entirely unoriginal entertainment. I know Billy and Spinsterella have done this, but I'll be buggered if I can find the right links in their archives. What I propose is that you all write a short post in the comments in the style of my writing. Pretend to be me. Write what you think my holiday blog post will be. When I get back I'll pick a weinner and send him/her something. Don't ask what, I havn't thought that far yet.

So for the next 48 hours you all get to be Chaucer's Bitch.

On you keyboard...

Get set...

Take the piss!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I am going

where am i going?


Not forever. Just for a couple weeks.

Pirate and I are taking our first ever proper holiday together. We are going up to his parents' house near Preston for a couple days (so he can get in a couple games of cricket at his old hometown club, where he learned cricket as a mere sprog), and then we are going...



We'll be a few days in the burgh of Edin, and then we're spending a couple days at a farm in the middel of nowhere, out in the countryside, where we cannot hear cars
or sirens
or shitehawks
or drunk people
or shitehawks
or the tittybar downstairs
or the drunk people chasing the shitehawks outside the tittybar downstairs.

All I want to hear at night, just for a couple nights, is crickets, cattle lowing, and nightengales. And maybe owls. Owls are ok, too.

Peace. and. quiet.

I can't wait. I will bring you excellent stories of broken beds in B&B's when I return. And there may possibly be a blogmeet, if the lovely and vibrant Hendrix Cat can arrange her schedule. Updates in a couple weeks, peeps!

Fare thee weel, my luve!