Saturday, July 28, 2007

Two giant sausage rolls

WE had to send out a search party today. Fears were that Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) had fallen into the rising Taff and been swept away. Either that or he had just drowned in the liquid he had managed to imbibe on a particularly strenuous mission last night. Rumour had it the wife was away for a few days.
The Prince of Darkness was first to notice that his prodigy was missing. He called every number he had available, but just got a ring tone and then an answer phone message. The rest of us looked at each other, knowing full well that when we last saw Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) he was moving swiftly from The Yard to the City Arms in search of more partying and was showing no sign of flagging.
His plight made me so glad that I decided, despite the little devil whispering in my ear, that it might be an idea to call it a day around 10pm on the basis I had a 16-hour Saturday ahead. Oh yes, and with the pace of the rounds, I don't think I could physically drink any more.
You see, Kempy left yesterday on maternity leave and though she didn't take up the chance of a leaving do (not much fun watching your colleagues get mashed while you have to stay Teetotal, I guess) the rest of us decided to give her a good send off anyway.
The Fab BB, Roberts, the wonderful Withers, Catherine Mary, the Voice of God, Smashy... you name them, they were there. And there was also an Echo birthday do going on. As soon as the first person in the round finished a drink, they demanded a new one, so the pace setting was really something to behold.
Danny Boy was sailing through it, but I did detect a sparkle in his eye not noticeable at times when alcohol isn't around.

Anyway, on to the following day. It's now 10.50 and the worries are growing. The Prince is really quite concerned. He speaks to Liz the photographer and asks her whether she could pop over the River to the missing person's house and knock on the door and generally make discreet inquiries. He is, after all, 50 minutes late and the fear is something has gone drastically wrong.
At that moment I decided to have a cigarette break and headed for the side lodge. As I turned the corner, however, I bumped into a running Danny Boy, who looked particularly drawn with a midnight shadow of stubble around his chin.
"Oh, my God, I got in and forgot to set the alarm. The Mrs is away. I would definitely have been up if she had been in."
Mystery solved then. Noticeable, though, that Danny Boy has been particularly sheepish all day.

The wonderful Withers had an interesting encounter with an open window this week. From the other side of the office comes all manner of banging and crashing, followed by heavy muttering under his breath. Finally, after wacking the window twice more and failing to get it to close, he gives up. "That window will never close again and I shall freeze to death," he announces.
Just then Kempy offers a hand. "Why don't you lift the handle a bit, then push," she says. He tries. Problem solved. Cue unbridled laughter from the watching gallery.

Rumour has it the wonderful one, who only recently declared "I'll never sleep with a woman again" - managed to cop on last week.
For some reason that is not completely clear he was in a gay club.
And hooked up with a heterosexual woman.
So he claims.
Sadly, though, the liaison is unlikely to continue.

Friday, July 27, 2007

creamy risotto

EUREKA! I have just hit on a new idea which, patented and marketed in the right way, could become a huge hit. I call it Comic Book and it is a web-based programme for Under-10s. The format couldn't be simpler.
What you do is enter yourself on the site, either as yourself or as someone completely different, and then go around picking up "friends". To pick up said friends you have to "poke" them, a bit like when the annoying kid in class jabs the one in front with his pencil.
As the game continues you go on building up more and more friends, telling them silly jokes on line or spreading made-up stories about other "friends", rumours they are not in a position to counter or didn't want circulating in the first place.
The winner is the one with the most friends at the end. Got it?
I'm just gonna register the idea at the patent offi... What do you mean, it's been done? It's called Facebook? And it's not for Under 10s but for adults? Lummy days!
But it certainly makes sense now I think about it. You see, Shutts keeps going on about being poked by people when we know he hasn't had a poke in ages, while the wonderful Withers has suddenly started claiming that he has "friends", which is news to the rest of us.
Wathanovski is another one with a group of Facebook pals. I've heard him muttering as he types: "I don't want to talk to you any more, I've got a new bestest friend. Nah nah nah nah nah."
The brilliant thing about this new trend is that in the end none of us will have to actually speak to each other ever again!!!
Bliss, we can just sit inside on our computers and try and gain as many friends as we can - people who, if we met them in the street, we wouldn't even give the time of day. I hear, for instance, that Shakey-Hands Man, that well-known Cardiff bon viveur (or tramp if you prefer), has already amassed 200 friends while claiming to be Keanu Reeves.
And there's another guy known to many of us who is about to break the 300 friends barrier. Surprising really, because most of the people I know think he's an utter tw*t.

MADE risotto last night, which was very nice and came from another Nigella programme (I'm getting a bit of a Nigella fixation at the moment, think it's because she can make even an ordinary ham sandwich sound lush).
This recipe, with my new risotto rice, really did hit the spot though.
What to do:
Heat olive oil in a saucepan or wok, then add sliced celery and shallot.
Add the risotto rice and mix with a touch of vegetable stock.
As the veggie stock is soaked up by the rice add a bit more and a bit more, then cook for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Put an egg yolk into about 5/6ozs of double cream, mix and add to the risotto. Then stir until it's done. Heat through and serve.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Paella rice

OH the shame of it! During Tuesday's rather expansive Boozeday session I briefly recall a conversation with my bank manager to arrange a meeting. Of course, by Wednesday morning the date and time of that meeting had completely slipped my mind. That put me in a quandary. How do I broach the subject with her without letting on that my temporary amnesia was due to a rather large amount of Carling lager?
The simple way was to put in a call and say: "Is it right that we agreed to meet on Thursday at 1?" hoping that she would then correct me and spare me any embarrassment. Um, it didn't work quite like that.
First I had to leave a message on her answer phone. This morning she rang me back. "Hi," I said cheerfully. "I was just calling because I didn't write down the date of our meeting."
"I'm not surprised," she said. "You sounded a bit worse for wear. Were you in the pub?"
Guilty as charged.
It reminds me of the day I was offered the job on Wales on Sunday way back in 1988. The interview just happened to take place on the morning of the South Wales Evening Post's Christmas Party in Swansea.
Racing back from the interview, which had seemed to go pretty well, I headed straight for the No Sign wine bar in Wind Street to meet up with my already-celebrating colleagues. Four hours into the frivolities I realised that I was supposed to ring to find out whether I had the job. A brief conversation ensued with the sports editor. Yes, indeed, they wanted me. He gave me a start date.
Next day I couldn't remember for the life of me when I was supposed to begin my new job and I had to come up with an ingenious way of uncovering the information without letting my new employers know the reason for my forgetfulness. It involved a call to one of my colleagues, who had been offered a rugby writer's job on the same newspaper. I explained to him my predicament and begged him: "Can you ring my new sports editor, strike up a conversation and throw in the fact you know I am starting and inquire to what date I will be taking up the new post."
Thankfully, he obliged and on that occasion I spared myself huge embarrassment.
What is it about booze that makes you forget nearly everything - baseball caps, wallets, credit cards... even your name? I know your supposed to lose a vast quantity of brain cells every time you have a drink, but this really is quite an alarming side effect.
Last night I made a paella, aided brilliantly by some paella rice I found hidden away on the shelves at Tesco. I bought three packs because a label on it announced that it was a "discontinued line". Honestly, it makes a whole world of difference to both paellas and risottos.
You just have to follow the usual paella recipe, contained way back in a past blog entry, but substitute the paella rice for the normal basmati variety. After cooking it in the olive oil for a minute you then gradually add stock and stir it in, then repeat the process regularly.
What you get is a tasty, nutty rice, and the effect on the paella is creamy and tasty. I won't be able to go back to ordinary rice again, so hopefully I can find somewhere else that stocks the same product.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

two mouthfuls of reheated curry

I have decided that I am not suited to hats. In fact, they seem to do everything they can to get away from me. I started wearing baseball caps in Australia because a. they looked cool; and b. they prevented my shaven scalp from turning bright red (ok, my bald head if you must).
By the time I returned I had seven of the things, quite an impressive collection.
But since being back with my motley crew over here in Wales that number has been whittled down to four - even though I added a couple of new ones in the process.
On Boozeday Tuesday my white New York Yankees cap disappeared. There seems to be a theme here. It goes: Wear cap to work, go out on lash, leave cap in some pub or other, forget where you had been the next morning when you realise cap has gone missing. Give it up as lost.
Mind you, it used to be far worse. I don't know what it is about alcohol, but my previous tendency used to be to empty the contents of my pockets - including credit cards, money, cigarette papers, tobacco and chewing gums - onto a pub table then walk away in blissful ignorance, forgetting to collect said property on my departure.
At one stage I was on my eighth credit card for the year, having had to phone in and cancel about one every week. I'm sure the bank thought it was a scam.
This in turn reminds me of Saturday when, leaving the office after a typically gruelling 15-hour day, I had scrounged a lift from Brammy in his Morris Minor circa 1920.
I sank into the well-worn seats, helpless, and scrabbled around for 10 minutes before finally locating the two loose, frayed pieces ofplastic masquerading as a seatbelt.
Thirty minutes later, after a pleasant trip in which passing drunks had lapped us on a circuit of Cardiff, he finally dropped me off at my house.
What better thing to do after such a hard day than make a lovely cup of tea, put your feet out and smoke a cigarette. Relaxing.
At least it would be if you could find your cigarettes. Patting down my pockets, the niggling thought crossed my mind that my tobacco didn't seem to be anywhere on my person. I turned the flat upside down and then rang Smashy to see if I had left it in the office. Nada. I even went outside barefoot to see if it was in the rain-sodden driveway. Then it dawned on me: My baccy must have fallen out when I was lying virtually horizontal on Brammy's unstuffed car seats, trying to locate the safety belt.
Panic set in and what should have been a cool, relaxing moment turned into a stressful search around the flat for any leftover grains of baccy.
At that moment I even sent Brammy a text knowing full well that he wouldn't reply because not only was he half way back to Newport but also he never, ever answers his mobile phone. Brammy, you see, is so scared his mobile will run out of batteries that he only turns it on for a brief few seconds every time he wants to send a message. Then it stays off for the next two days so if you want to reply to the message you are stuffed.
Anyway, no reply.
Finally my eyes fixed on the ashtray and I didn't feel good about myself, in fact I felt like a common criminal scrabbling for snout on the floor of his cell, picking up strands of baccy along with hair, dead beetles etc to turn into the thinnest roll up of all time.
Well, maybe not that bad. But I did go through the ashtray, take out the butts, empty the tobacco from them onto a rizla paper, until I had enough for an exceedingly thin roll up. And yes, dear reader, I smoked it. Terrible.
Two days later my mobile phone announces a text has arrived. "I HAVE FOUND YOUR BACCY" says the message, the giveaway is that it is in caps as always.
Well, thanks Brammy, you b*!?*+d. Don't ever think of giving me a lift home again.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thai salmon and squash curry

MOST of us journos think we're damn funny, and tend to laugh at our own jokes. In the pub many of us play to the audience, but getting up on stage and actually performing is a different matter. Ask Withers. He talked himself up brilliantly when he applied to be a contestant on a novice stand-up show a couple of months back. Come the day, though, and the wonderful one had a nasty case of squeeky bum, as Manchester United soccer boss Sir Alex Ferguson calls it, and came up with a whole host of excuses why the world wasn't quite ready for his talent.
Now another of our number has gone one step further. Enter Tucker.
We are not talking here about the character played by Todd Carty in Grange Hill, who later starred in that brilliant 70s spin-off Tucker's Luck, but rather the scruffy, bearded, stella-swigging, ex-teacher who worked in Japan and is now a soccer writer on our sister newspaper, The Snail.
As such he has ideal material for stand-up, even though most of it wouldn't pass the board of censors of Daytime TV.
On Friday Smashy suggested we all go to see him at the Chapter Arts Theatre in Canton where Tucker was performing his particular brand of the genre in front of an audience of, well, tens. Wren and I accepted the challenge, while others made their excuses and opted out.
After a few beers in the torrential rain (what a lovely summer we're having) because of the smoking ban, we then took our seats in a tiny little room upstairs. It was packed and the MC came on to warm up the audience. He did ok, though I wasn't sure about the material of the first comedian, who seemed to think rape in Swansea was a good topic of amusement.
Then came the big moment. Our compere compared Tucker to an out-of-work "pottery teacher" and on strode our man.
He appeared full of confidence, which was a surprise seeing that just 20 minutes before I had seen a completely different individual, jiggling nervously from foot to foot and drinking, shockingly, from a half-pint glass.
The routine was original and got quite a few laughs, too, even though I can't remember too many of the jokes, having consumed several pints of lager before the show. I know that most of it was porn, self-abuse and toilet humour but, hey, that's all he talks about when he is out in the pub anyway. Well done, Tucker, we enjoyed it immensely.
Wren and I had pizza on the way home and then she headed off to see Keane play live at the Millennium Dome the following day while I went in for a hard Saturday slog at work. The rest of the weekend was a washout, mainly due to the weather and the fact that with wall-to-wall sport on the TV there wasn't much reason to move. Plus the fact, two weeks on and Charlie STILL has my car. Oh well.
On the Thursday night, however, I made Wren and myself an interestingly different curry that I had attempted to remember after picking up the basis off one of Nigella Lawson's shows on the Food Channel. It was really quite nice and based mainly around a tin of coconut milk. Nice, too, to add some uncooked prawns as Nigella did. She insists cooked prawns wouldn't cut it at all.
Two boneless Salmon fillets cut into big chunks.
Tin of Coconut milk/cream.
Tablespoon of Madras Curry Paste.
Butternut squash cut into big chunks.
Uncooked prawns (I used 12)
fish oil
vegetable stock
Bunch of coriander
Scrape the firmer coconut milk from the top of the tin and splosh into a wok, heat and mix in the curry paste. Then add the squash chunks.
Mix in then add the rest of the coconut milk. Season with some salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Then put a good couple of tablespoons of fish oil in the vegetable stock and add about 1/2 pint of that to the mix. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and continue to cook for another five minutes.
Add in the salmon, turning over after a couple of times but be careful not to stir vigorously because it will break up too easily.
Add in the prawns and keep turning over until they go a beautiful reddy-orange colour.
Add a bunch of ripped coriander and a squeeze of lemon, then serve on a bed of rice.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That's shallot!

BRAMMY puts on his other hat as PR guru tonight as he tries once again to flog a dead horse (ie attract some clientele to his favourite pub the Boar's Backside). It has reached my attention that the little entrepeneur has actually been charging a tidy wack for his services, and has been receiving free pints of old scroat as well.
Some rather naive publican has fallen for his spiel that he knows everything there is to know about newspapers and will fill local pages and radio airwaves with the news that the bar stewards in The Boar's speak Welsh as a first language.
To that end he has tried to sell WoS a story that our news editor Kempy has wisely decided to completely ignore. Not only that but he has sent letters out to all the leading lights in the Welsh political parties including First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Lib-Dems leader Mike German, Plaid Cymru's Ieuan Wyn Jones and Tory top dog Nick Bourne inviting them to tonight's launch.
Sadly for Wales' dilapidated equivalent of Alastair Campbell his pleas have fallen on deaf ears. For some unfathomable reason Doddery Rhodri has decided it might not be a good time to visit the local boozer just a few days after leaving hospital following heart surgery. He is also a bit busy at the mo, forming a coallition goverment with Ieuan Wyn. As for the other two, I'm sure they can find better things to do with their time than support Brammy's latest ill-fated attempt to boost his bank balance and beer credits.

Last night I ventured into the world of Anthony Bourdain again and attempted his version of Filet of Beef, sauce porto and roasted shallots. Without having any Port, however, I decided that Madeira would probably ably fill the void.
12 whole, peeled shallots plus one shallot, thinly sliced.
5 tablespoons of butter
cooking oil
A joint of beef cut into thick slices, or steaks.
pint of vegetable stock
three fluid ozs of madeira or port

Heat the oven, then turn the temperature to low. Put the whole shallots in a roasting tin, together with 2 tbsp of butter. Cover with foil and cook, monitoring and turning occasionally, for 45 mins. They should remain in shape but soften.
Season the cuts of beef, or steak, with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a deep saucepan with a tablespoon of butter, let it foam and subside then sear the meat on all sides.
When it is brown remove from the pan and let stand
Transfer to a roasting pan later and cook for seven to 10 mins so that it is medium to medium rare (I left it in a bit too long on too high a heat, overcooking some of the beef)
Fry the shallots in the meat juices. then add flour and stir around and mix in. Then add the madeira and mix in with wooden spoon, scraping the sidesl of the pan. Reduce wine then add a decent amount of veggie stock, keeping some back in case the sauce thickens too much.
Bring to the boil and reduce by half. Add a knob of butter at the end and season.
Serve the meat surrounded by the shallots and cover with thick sauce. It's nice to have some veg, too, and I did baby glazed carrots. This is easy. Peel the carrots then cover with water and add a knob of butter and cook until most of the water has evaporated but the carrots havent burnt. Put in a serving dish with the remaining liquid and then spoon onto plate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Jacket spuds

THE power of observation is a vital tool for any journalist. That's why my flabber was completely gasted by a story that came out of Friday night's "quiet drink after work" involving two of our key reporters. Step forward Wathanovski and Withers.
Having departed the scene early feeling rather ropey after my first experience of Sushi the previous night, I did not join my colleagues as they moved on to join a stag night organised by a Real Radio journo. I understand the night went rather swimmingly, however.
In fact, it wasn't until 1.30 that Wathanovski, the new boy facing up to only his second busy Saturday since joining this esteemed organisation, teetered back to his home on the outskirts of Newport. On entering through the door he was greeted by his girlfriend, teacher Jen, who inquired: "Whose jacket have you got on?"
The rather tired and emotional soccer writer was perplexed by the question. So teacher Jen explained how she had arrived at her Sherlock Holmes-style piece of deduction.
"For a start that's navy blue and your jacket is black, it also contains a mobile phone and pen which don't belong to you and if that isn't enough it is so small the sleeves finish just below your elbows."
At that moment it occured to Wathanovski that he might, indeed, have walked off with the wrong jacket, meaning that his own garment was missing.
Next day he brought the jacket to work, keeping his fingers crossed that he would be able to do a swap with the person who had obtained his during the previous night of alcohol-fueled skullduggery.
Eventually it was the Wonderful Withers who responded to the typically Welsh question: "Whose coat is this jacket?"
"Mine!" he declared, giving it a hug as it is passed across to him.
"Can I have mine back now?" inquired Wathanovski, quite reasonably.
But the Wonderful One could not oblige. "When I left I forgot I even had a jacket so walked all the way home without one," he pointed out.
Fortunately one of the many hostelries Wathanovski had visited on Friday night was able to furnish him with the missing garment some time later.
Bozos both, I reckon.

I'm getting pretty fed up with Withers these days. Not only does he continually do impressions of Zippy (ie me) from the far end of the newsroom, but he also makes spurious comments about my love life at every opportunity.
The problem is jealousy, I gather, because he continues to insist: "With this face I will never EVER get a girlfriend again."
Anyway, he went too far in The Yard on Boozeday Tuesday. In fact, my normal laid-back demeanor finally snapped and I ended up hurling a small white vase in his direction and covering him in water. "Bloody hell, Rippers, what did you do that for? I will reap a terrible vengeance on you for this."
I'm not worried, though, for two reasons. One, Withers is a 22-carat wimp who runs a hundred yards at the mere sniff of confrontation and, two, he still relies on me to furnish him with roll-ups when he runs out of fags.

Withers is quite delighted that the number of "party-lovers" on Wales on Sunday is back on the increase. As well as Wathanovski, we have just recruited Smashy to the Sports team ranks, and he is quite partial to the odd beer. Danny Boy, too, is proving a mainstay of the Boozeday Tuesday crowd and an able apprentice to the Prince of Darkness. I assure you it's pure coincidence that I was part of the interview process in all three appointments.
Anyway, when I crept home after a particularly stiff boozing session on Tuesday, Danny Boy and the wonderful one were still going at it hammer and tongs.
I hear that they finished in the City Arms at gone 11pm and Danny Boy, then rather the worse for wear, was unable to track down his keys.
His solution was to beg to stay on Withers' sofa for the night, not braving the inevitable confrontation with the angry Missus, who just so happens to be a solicitor to boot. Creeping home after 7am this morning he thought he was on safe territory, knowing his better half would be on the way to work. Wrong.
Danny Boy breezed into the house only to be stopped in his tracks by the angered party sitting on the sofa and directing him with an icy glare. There followed a familiar courtroom drama:
"Where were you on the night of Tuesday, July 17, between the hours of 11.15 and 12.30?" she demanded in typical Old Bailey prosecutor fashion. Danny Boy could only hang his head in shame, admit his guilt and utter apologies.
As she stormed for the door she let out a final sigh, looked at the pitiful sight standing in front of her; then muttered between gritted teeth: "I hate your new work mates!"
Does she mean us?
He has a lot of making up to do.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Chilli mussels - from Chile!!

I'VE come up with a name for my old, new car. The little white Corsa has already provided me with endless hours of, ahem, amusement.
It all started on Sunday morning when I was going to take it for a nice long drive for the first time. The plan was to collect Wren in Bristol and then drive to the parents for lunch. My new vehicle had other ideas.
Thinking I had turned the alarm off I tried to enter, only for a piercing scream to attack my ears. I pressed the key fob a number of times and finally it pip, pipped and stopped, just before I received a severe beating from annoyed neighbours being woken from their Sunday morning slumbers.
Good to go, I climbed into the car, connected the stereo system Charlie, my friendly neighbourhood mechanic, had fitted for me, and turned the key. Splutter, gurgle, stop. And nothing but nothing was going to make it start. The battery was dead.
Brilliant. There followed a round of phonecalls to parents, Wren and the AA. Was I going to dinner or not? Didn't look like it at that point.
Fortunately the repair vehicle turned up a mere 10 minutes later. Fortunately I lived around the corner from him, he was just starting off on his shift and decided it was an easy first call to make.
He fitted wires to the battery, charged the car up then tested it. "You're going to need a new one pretty soon, but it should get you to Bristol," he told me. Happy days. Back on the phone to parents and Wren to alert them the plans were back on.
The journey was pretty uneventful, but at least my new car showed a bit of poke on the motorway. The only slight worry was that when I turned the engine off, my CD continued to play on regardless. Hmmm.

Next day I was woken at 7am. The car alarm was going again. Doh. I reached out of the window, pressed the key fob and thankfully it stopped. It did seem a bit flakey to me, though.
I took my purchase for a drive though and he seemed fine. I stopped off for a swim then went to the doctor's for an appointment to test my collesterol. Just as I was leaving the car I noticed that the passenger side door lock was up. I could have sworn I closed it the day before.
Walking around the car I found out the reason. Some little git had decided to shoehorn open my door at the top, in exactly the same way they did to Boo last year, forcing me to drive around without being able to open my windows. I've had the car for less than a week. So it's off back to Charlie's for more repairs. I haven't seen my new vehicle since.
Oh yes, the name?
Basil, of course. Because it has been nothing but Faulty since I bought it (boom, boom!). Also I can imagine whipping it with a branch a la that comedy creation of John Cleese pretty damn soon.

The Prince of Darkness is Lord of the Ales. No doubt about it. I think I enjoy the taste of more than the odd lager but the Prince is on a different plane.
A story comes to my attention that on a Sunday morning he likes nothing better than to lie in bed, watching the Andrew Marr political programme on the BBC.
Apparently his young son, eager to please the Master, pops his head around the door and asks if he can get him something. A cup of tea in bed, perhaps, or maybe a croissant?
Not a bit of it. "There's a can of Stella in the fridge, son, that will start the day off well," orders the Dark Lord. Salute him, you must.

I bought some Chilean Mussels from Sainsbury's the other day. They were cooked and you can store them in the freezer which is handy. So I got them out the other day and wondered what I might do with them.
I found a recipe in the Observer mag, but I didn't have all the ingredients (particularly shell-on uncooked mussels) so decided to adlib.
Pack of cooked mussels
Peanut oil
three red chillis, chopped
two cloves garlic, chopped
Pepper and salt
A large dollop of Oyster sauce
A small number of parsley and basil leaves, ripped up.
A couple of cubes of stock which I had stored in the refrigerator, made from roasted carrots, roasted celery, shallots and some flour (see below)

What I did:
Heat the oil in a wok, then add chillis and garlic and stir and cook for about a minute
Add the mussels and stir around
Add pepper and a bit of salt
Then add a dollop of Oyster sauce and some stock and bring to the boil, cooking and stirring.
Stir in the leaves (you can use coriander) then serve.

The stock:
This takes a bit of time, but is pretty nice.
You roast up some carrots, celery and sliced shallots in the oven on gas mark 4 or equivalent for about 2o mins, sprinkling oil over the top.
Then put some oil in a large saucepan, put in the roasted veg and add the flour. Stir and mix in, then add a pint or more of vegetable or chicken stock or even water. Add also some peppercorns. Bring to boil and then simmer and reduce for three or four hours. This should be thick and coating back of the spoon at some stage. Drain out all the veg then fill up ice cube trays in the freezer to use on occasions like these.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Benecol and floor cleaner

OH, the irony of it! There I am sitting with the Prince of Darkness on a particularly rain-lashed evening outside The Yard when the evil one lets out an undignified yelp.
Now normally the only noises you hear from the Prince are gulps, gurgles and splutters as he sinks his Amstels and wheezes and sucks as he puffs gratefully on a ciggie... and a nearby virgin, should one become available.
Showing just the right degree of fake concern I inquire: "What's up with you, mate?"
"I don't really know," he says, "it happens now and again. I suppose I should see the doctor about it. I turn my neck and I get a shooting pain. Doesn't help with the driving either."
This he announces as he considers next week's daunting journey in a hire car to Bordeaux with the family. He doesn't want to hand over the driving reins because last year his Missus spent most of the time driving through the French countryside on the wrong side of the road.
Hopefully, the problem will be sorted out, but the Prince with a neck injury... is that a case of the biter bit?

The first signs of age, and too many prolonged excursions on the razz, are beginning to take their toll I fear. I am becoming a bit too forgetful for my own liking, and this can cause dire consequences on occasion.
Already I have woken in the morning to find the pepper in the fridge and the Milk in the cupboard, not to mention my keys in the bin. But the other morning it all went a bit too far.
Stretching my arms wide and yawning in the manner of Simon Pegg's character in Shaun of the Dead, I dragged myself, eyes half closed to the kitchen.
I put the kettle on, went into the fridge and removed one of those Benecol yoghurt drinks which are supposed to help lower your cholesterol - pretty important in my case, with a blood test due at the docs on Monday.
While the kettle boiled I paid a quick visit to the loo, then returned to pour hot water over the tea bag in my cup, adding milk to just the required amount.
Ah, now for the Benecol. I picked up the little bottle, shook it violently... and decorated both myself and the kitchen in a sticky, yoghurty mess. I'd forgotten that I had opened it when I first removed it from the fridge.
The men in the white coats aren't far away...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Veggie fried rice

I MISSED out on TWO parties last night, but it was no surprise when I heard that a couple of my colleagues had attended.
The Fab BB who, rather strangely, only seems to go to parties that are hosted in shops, went to some shindig arranged by Top Man.
I thought he might have been put off following his previous disastrous experience at Habitat but no... like a brave soldier he ploughed on, determined to suffer for his art.
And this time he was rewarded. Full of the joys of spring this morning he announced he had bought up plenty of bargains.
Roberts, ever the snob when it comes to clothes, expressed amazement that the original Gucci guy would lower himself to buy from a high street department store, but the Fab BB brushed aside his protests. "Work clothes, Mr Roberts, work clothes," he pointed out.
But even the Fab one is outdone by Party girl Lyds when it comes to the freebie do. Not only did the Penarth babe go to Top Shop, but she then wandered on to a new six-bar superclub called Oceana, which was hosting a Champagne reception.
Before leaving Top Shop, however, she politely asked the hosts if they wouldn't mind looking after her shopping - it would, apparently, cramp her style.
So off she toddled to have a good old rave around the new place.
Things turned sour, however, at the end of the night when she arrived at the cloakrooms and asked for her coat back, only to find the belt was missing.
"I don't suppose it's worth logging it as lost property," said the unhelpful cloakroom attendant who, no doubt, was eyeing a sharp exit at the end of the night.
Lyds was having none of it. "Course it is, my coat will be ruined without that belt!" she stormed, bringing the head honchos of the new club racing to see what the commotion was.
Our heroin then departed with her dignity, only to learn that some rather enthusiastic bouncers had turfed her boyfriend out for "loitering around" in the foyer. How very dare they!
Next morning and Lyds, as usual, looks bright as a button as she regales the story of the lost belt, adding the rider: "Actually, now I think about it I probably left it in Top Shop - but its the principle, isn't it?"
Quite right, girl.

As for me I had a boring night in front of Big Brother on TV as I was still feeling pretty shattered from the Boozeday Tuesday extravaganza.
So I opted to cook a favourite Chinese recipe of mine which contains Preserved Vegetables that you can buy in a jar from many continental shops.
4 oz preserved vegetable,
11/2 teaspoons groundnut oil
1lb minced beef or pork
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
Heat a wok until it is hot and smoking, add the oil and keep it hot.
Then cook the beef or pork until it is brow.
Add the chopped, preserved veg and stir in, then add the other ingredients.
Serve with vegetable fried rice
Rice (boiled then cooled)
2 tsp sesame oil
2 eggs
2 tsp sesame oil
chopped carrot
chopped mange tout
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tsp spring onion, white parts only, chopped
Tin of bean sprouts.

Mix the eggs with sesame oil and leave to stand.
Heat the oil in a frying pan till smoking
Add the chopped carrot and mange tout
Stir fry for a while then add the cooked rice.
Add salt and pepper, then pour in the egg.
Cook for a minute then add the spring onions and tin of bean sprouts
Cook and stir for 3-5 mins until egg sets.
Serve with the minced beef

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

chinese rice crackers and mucho beers

HERE on WoS we have a little thing we call the Initiation ceremony. And Wathanovski (the p*ss artist formerly known as Wathan) had to endure his welcome to the team yesterday. Of course, it just happened to co-incide with Boozeday Tuesday, but that can't be helped.
The reason Rosey's replacement is called Wathanovski isn't particularly clear, although my sources tell me he once managed to drink his way through a working trip to Moscow. He apparently stayed up until something approaching five in the morning, regaling a group of fellow west Walians with colourful tales of his Neath heritage, at the same time downing the odd vodka or 15.
For this reason he appeared to be the perfect candidate for a job on this rather modest newspaper, stickability being the name of the game.
Four hours into the job, it's one o'clock and Roberts can wait no longer. Twirling his umbrella ferociously with the zeal of a latter day Zorro he announces: "Come on Wathanovski - pub!"
I am delayed by a bit of blogging, but join a seriously large Boozeday contingent at The Yard just over an hour later. Not only are the Prince of Darkness, his new apprentice Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes are calling), Roberts, Wathanovski and the Wonderful Withers in attendance, but so too are some of the new boy's old cronies - the legendary JK, Son of Bono and the Dazzler (who unfortunately was once wrongly dubbed Wetcock in our sister paper the Echo and has never really lived it down).
Also, looking totally perplexed by the whole Tuesday afternoon drinking tradition, was Westgate's French temp Audrey, who was spending her last day in Wales before leaving for Toulouse and a welcome home party.
Quite a number of people to sit around a smoking table for four I think you'll agree, but at least the weather was dry for a change.
The beers began to flow along with the banter and the first sign that the initiation ceremony was working came when Wathanovski teetered on the way back to his seat and just managed to avoid falling through a plate glass window. "It was the sun in my eyes," he complains.
Withers, meantime, warns that he can only have a couple of pints because he leaves on holiday for Trieste in Italy at 3 the following morning. He then proceeds to order another Brains SA.
The next sign of Wathanovski's tired and emotional state comes when he returns to the table with some Japanese rice crackers - the munchies have started.
By now even Roberts has deserted us. He has been scared into going home by the fact that all he had to say to Funny Girl behind the bar was "a pint of..." and she finished the sentence with "Amstels, three Carlings, and an SA."
So now it is just myself, Danny Boy, Withers (I'm not staying long) and the new boy.
Finally Wathanovski himself admits defeat and wobbles off towards the bus stop. A poor show after the tale of his games of Russian Vodka Roulette, but he'll learn.
Danny, though, is proving to be a chip off the Prince's coffin. The Prince has taught him well. "Come on, let's just have another pint", he suggests, before trying to get away with a freebie plate of Japanese rice crackers only to be informed that they, in fact, cost £1.50. Withers, having forgotten totally about his 3am alarm call, readily agrees to continue the drinking.
Finally, pints empty, we decide to head for home. But passing the City Arms on the way we decide on one for the road. Hell, looking at my phone I realise it is 7.30. Some Boozeday sesh, it's like the old days. When we finally leave I think I can hear the Prince's prodigy singing. "Danny Boy, the poipes, the poipes..."

I wake at 1.45 in the morning. I'm fully dressed, I've missed two calls from Wren and my TV is blaring out. Sadly, I had put a Simpsons DVD on but hadn't had the energy to actually press play, so the opening bars of the theme tune have been playing repeatedly for the last six hours. Doh! The only thing that makes me feel better is the image of Withers (I'm not staying long) rolling out of bed, head spinning, and trying to pack his case for the trip.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lots of E numbers

DURING my formative years as a confirmed punk rocker I must admit one band past me by. The Fall were the legendary John Peel's favourite group but for some reason they slipped under the radar while I was pogoing to the Clash, the Sex Pistols and the Ruts.
Wren, by contrast, is a mad Fall fan and if I didn't know better I would think she was actually in love with the shambolic-looking being that is Mark E Smith (perhaps the similarities have something to do with why she actually spends more time with me than is probably good for her).
Anyway back in the dim and distant past that was the early days of our relationship she extracted a promise from me which she spent little time in acting upon. It was to go and see a Fall gig, in whichever part of the country Mark E had managed to stumble into at that time.
Next thing I knew we were booked to see this legendary band, which has gone through more changes than David Beckham's hairstyle, at the Roxy Ballroom in downtown Manchester.
On Sunday, the great day came to pass. The Fall were appearing at the Roxy as part of the Manchester Music Festival, the gig promoting a book called Perverted by Language which is, very loosely, based on the works of the Fall and their off-the-wall frontman.
With Boo now sitting lonely in a street outside Charlie's garage trying to prostitute her dubious talents for as little as £200, and my new car (still to be christened) lacking tax, petrol and a stereo, it was Wren's Micra Millie that transported us oop north on the Sunday.
I was a bit apprehensive beforehand, on the basis that it was the first smoke-free day across the border in England. What a mare! But I rang the Castlefields Hotel where we were staying and they assured me that I was still able to puff away freely in the smoking room I had booked. Wouldn't get that in Rhodri's fascist Wales. I immediately treated this as a victory over the Thought Police and Nanny State.
The journey, what with various stopovers for things like a yummy double whopper in Burger King, took over five hours but we eventually pulled in at the hotel, the rain sheeting it down as you might expect for Manchester, a little after 5pm.
Lovely hotel, £40 per night with a huge swimming pool at your disposal etc, can't be bad.
After settling in and getting dressed up for the occasion we then wandered in the direction of the gig looking for somewhere to get some money. Haven't they heard of cashpoints in Manchester? We passed the venue and then walked on... and on... and on... finally coming across a NatWest.
About to put my card in the warning flashed out: "This machine is temporarily out of order".
Hot, bothered and getting the occasional soaking from the intermitent showers we finally found one near the bus station. I reckon we had walked about a mile, so the need for beer was getting critical.
Back at the venue we picked up our tickets only to be warned: "There's no smoking inside, and no passouts either". Nightmare. Wren smiled apologetically at me. I smiled back through gritted teeth. Whatever happened to rebellion and anarchy? No smoking at a rock gig? Next thing you know Ozzy Osborne will be chewing off jelly baby heads and swigging from bottles of ribena.
Upstairs we found a couple of stools right on the balcony edge and proceeded to swig back much needed Fosters. There then came some rather amusing, albeit art house mental, films on screen followed by poetry readings. The first guy, Stuart Lee, a Manc-based comedian, was particularly amusing, expecially when he railed against the changing face of his beloved hometown, so twee now that even the BBC had moved there. Brilliant.
As the night wore on and the beers went down, the need for cigarettes intensified. I was queueing at the bar for another Fosters when the music started pounding out, rhythm layered on rhythm. Sounds good, I thought, trying to attract the attention of the doziest barmaid in Britain (straight out of Corry, I wouldn't wonder).
Returning to my seat, on walked this stick insect of a man looking like a cross between the comic actor Martin Clunes and Kate Moss on a diet. And as soon as he started ranting into the mic I knew I was going to enjoy it.
Marc E Smith may come across as some reject from Alcoholics Annonymous but beneath that withered exterior you know there is a clever man. I might not be able to make out all the lyrics slurred one after the other into the mic but you can tell they mean something, if only to the loonies in the Mosh pit below. You can't survive for 30 years, produce 2o-odd different albums with an assortment of different musicians, and not have that X factor quality.
There were little side shows as well, besides the music. I'm sure the Fall's new roadie had been told that every time the man in the middle moved anything, it had to be returned to its original place as soon as possible.
Mark E drops a mic stand of the ground? Roadie runs on and retrieves it.
Mark E puts a microphone in the bass drum? Roadie has to bend down, pick it up and prop it back on the mic stand.
Mark E pumps up the bass to top volume? Roadie has to return it to its original position.
My God that Roadie was on stage so much he will probably be asked to play Glastonbury next year.
In the dying moments during the second encore Mark E, wise to the joke, managed to tangle the four mics on stage together, leaving the roadie with a complex rubic's cube of a puzzle to sort out - Fair play to the lad he managed it. I was almost clapping as much for him as for the band by the end of it all.
Meantime, the Moshpit fans were flinging cigarettes onto the stage in the vain hope that their anti-hero would light one up and give them all cause to rebel. No such luck.
Walking back to the hotel I realised that I had survived the entire gig without a cigarette. Mind you, if I had been watching something less animated and all round fun that might not have been the case.
Sadly Sunday night in the centre of Manchester is pretty quiet. No pubs open after 11 so it was back to the hotel for a nightcap.
As I fell asleep that night I could still hear the relentless beat of Fall tunes in my head. A good band, a good show. Long may they reign.