Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snow Joke

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's snowing! Yes, really. 

It's snowing in Norwich, Norfolk, UK, in the winter.

The view from my study window as I write

Boy rightly pointed out last night, for people in the UK, Facebook has become the 2nd Met Office, 

Readers on the other side of the pond, naming no names (Pearl and Ponita), for whom the first snowfall of the year appears promptly when expected, but sometimes leaves a bit late, you might be slightly confused at this excitement over a 2 inch snowfall. Let me explain.

Snow in the UK can be a bit hit and miss.

The year before I rocked up to Norfolk, there was huge snowfall. So much so, round here you can start a conversation "It was during that snow in '87..." and you'll have people nodding in time with your anecdote. Coming from hot and humid Trinidad, I got all excited. Ice and fog, I saw a lot of; snow, not so much. It was a big disappointment. It was three years before I saw snow that settled for more than two minutes. 

There was snow on the ground on the day I got married, and for my honeymoon weekend it was gone. 

Over the years since then, the British winter has more often than not, been snow free. That seems to have changed over the past four years. The last four years, there has been snow in Norfolk every year.

I say that like it's a big thing. You in Denmark, hush. It is a big thing.

The problem is we can't ever properly prepare for it. Not being funny or anything, I'm a writer; money leaves me faster than rats on the Titanic. I just don't have the required £700 for a set of winter tyres for my precious Shiny Car. It's cheaper for me to work from home or just take the bus to the office for the few days I get snowed in.

Now, if you've been paying attention (wake up, you in the back), you'll be aware that I live in a city. You'll be scratching your head, wondering how the hell I could get snowed in.

This is my view from my bedroom window. You'll note there's only space for one car to pass with everyone parked on both sides of the road.

Imagine that partially melting during day, no grit/salt, and then freezing again at night. I live in a small dip, think of it as a small valley. There are steep roads leading down to my little valley. Now imagine them also only having room enough for one car to pass, no salt or grit, partially melting and then freezing.

You're now beginning to get the idea that it's a little bit exciting round here in these conditions. Trying to stop a car traveling at 5 mph, becomes a 50/50 chance of metamorphosing into an insurance claim.

This is why I'm glad I'm writing at home for the next couple of days. I'll have to take the bus to the office on Thursday. Happily, the bus stop into town isn't far from here and they run regularly. Even better than that, I purchased these bad boys a few weeks ago:

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are Magnum Raptor, tactical urban utility boot. Designed for the security services, they turn me into The Amazing Spider Woman when I walk on ice. 

At this point, I know several of my gay friends are sobbing piteously into their lace hankies that such un-sparkly, un-fashionable and frankly darling, ugly shoes, see my feet. All their gentle teachings on fashion and sexy shoes have been for naught. 

Darlings, I'm so sorry.

I chose comfort over style yet again.

These boots are made for walking and kicking ass. And this winter I'm ready and prepared to do both!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Adventures with Lemons

I first had preserved lemons in the deli up the road called 103 (sadly now, no more). They had been finely chopped with spring onions, tomatoes, chick peas, tossed with olive oil, served under grilled snapper. Simple food made delicious. I recreated the recipe at home, but could not find preserved lemons and it didn't taste the same. 

Time passed.

My favourite foodie across the pond, La Diva blogged about preserving lemons soon after I saw Ottolenghi's Mediterranean Feast. He was in Morocco and pretty much all of the dishes had preserved lemons. I remembered 103's dish and a bee settled in my bonnet.

I am fortunate to spend time with a man who isn't at all phased by bees in bonnets, Lawrence seems to think it's completely normal. So when I said to him that I wanted to find preserved lemons, he didn't blink. He did however, walk me all over Norwich through every flippin ethnic food shop we could think of, to see if we could find preserved lemons. To no avail. 


We talked about making it ourselves. 

I did this 'sure, let's' noise and focused on other things. It was Lawrence who researched recipes for preserving lemons. There are many ways to skin that cat. He found this recipe and as it was from the man himself, and it looked fairly straightforward, we went with that one. 

We bought a Kilner jar and a couple of nets full of unwaxed lemons. Oh yeah, and a fuck load of salt. Yes, we really did end up spending about 10 minutes debating the kind of salt to buy. This is the side-effect of dating someone who is a Details Person*. 

Lawrence then spent the journey home thinking about sterilising the jar. As a food scientist, he has slightly different ideas about hygiene than me. Also, he was concerned about the comment in the blog where he found the recipe; a guy called Dave complained that his lemons went mouldy in the first week of the process. 

In the end, we boiled the bejeezus out of the jar (the rubber seal we did separately), with Lawrence checking the temperature of the boiling water with his handy-dandy thermometer. Doesn't everyone walk around with a digital food thermometer? He measured out the salt, adjusting for the fact we were doing 10 lemons instead of 6. I quartered them, but not fully; just enough to open them up and pack the salt into them. We stuffed them into the jar, and sealed it all up. It then went into my kitchen cupboard. It's where I store my booze. It's cool and dark, apparently perfect for preserving lemons.

There they sat, undisturbed for a week. Until Sunday. The salt had drawn the juice and filled half the jar already. I bought a couple of nets of cheap lemons which I juiced and poured in to cover them. Lawrence had been concerned that we'd put too much salt. My argument was we didn't want them to go mouldy, and was there really such a thing as too much salt when preserving? I couldn't figure out why I couldn't cover the lemons fully. I had to add cooled boiled water and those suckers kept bobbing up. Afterwards, my favourite food scientist said that much salt changed the gravity of the juice - hence they kept trying to float. In the end, I threw in a couple of sprigs of rosemary from my garden and three dried chillies and added olive oil to cover everything by a couple of centimetres. I sealed it all up, and back into the cupboard it went.

And now we wait. The longer we wait, the better the flavour. 


But here's a picture of our hard work:

It's going to be awhile until we get to the middle of February. Oh boy.

*Details Person. The title my brother gives to people, like our father, who love the details involved in any given task. They have OCD tendencies when following recipes, instructions, putting together flat-pack furniture. Not a character trait he and I inherited - we're more liassez-faire in our approach.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Life of Pi

I've not particularly been in a party mood recently, and when considering seeing out 2012, I was pleased when Lawrence suggested going to see the new movie adaptation of Life of Pi. I'd seen the book lurking in bookshops over the years and never felt moved enough to pick it up and dive in. The movie on the other hand looked gorgeous.

We headed out into the cold and wet to Cinema City. Both Lawrence and I happily agreed on the 2D version. Lawrence's preferences are his own; but I don't particularly need to be visually immersed into a film, I find the more whizzy the effects, the more I feel nauseous and uncomfortable. I like big screen cinema in the 2D I grew up with. I don't need it bigger, better, faster, more. Yes, I know, I'm old-fashioned and boring. I'm fine with it.

Lawrence rightly pointed out occasionally Ang Lee disappeared up his own arse to focus on the 3D moments, and it really could have done with a heavier hand in the editing suite. But on the whole I thought it was stunning and the CGI was nigh-on realistic. 

I loved it. 

It made me cry.

Click here for a wiki synopsis and plot spoiler.

As a writer, I appreciated the marriage of the mystical, the realistic and the use flagrant use of metaphor in this sumptuous adventure. I loved the jumping narrative, seeing Pi grow up in Pondicherry; the juxtaposition between that, and his telling his tale to the writer in the present day works. Pi is established as a trustworthy, though dreamy narrator. At the end, it's obvious Pi is not 'telling the truth'. Would it have been a different story without the tiger, Richard Parker? Absolutely. And as the movie points out, it would not have been as palatable. We know which version is the truth and the tiger wins every time. 

Are we more susceptible to the version of Pi's story with Richard Parker the tiger, because of Pi's spiritual nature established so early on? After all, religions use metaphor to tell their stories. Very possibly.

I know which version I would rather. Richard Parker, the tiger is portrayed as a tiger, in all his tigernessess (if you see what I mean?). He's not a Disney tiger that will become a talking pussy cat before the end of the movie. He is a wild and scary animal...and yet, there is glimpse of something within his (CGIed) eyes. There is more. Could I have coped as well with the cannibalistic cook, the suffering sailor and the death of Pi's mother? Not as well. I don't need that much realism in my life. 

It is this something more that makes Pi's enigmatic words resonate at the end of the film.

"And so it is with God."