Monday, April 28, 2008

Perfect roast potatoes

The trouble with having a girlfriend is that you get into the habit of putting kisses on everything. It shouldn't be a big problem, but it is when you send a text message to the Wonderful Withers of WoS inquiring about that night's boozing activities and he sends one back asking: "Why did you put kisses on the end of my text message?"
Now I have always been a bit sceptical about Withers' preferences anyway, as has his family I understand, so now I am afraid to make eye contact in case he thinks it's a come on. Not too afraid to go drinking with him every night of last week, though. That's mainly because he is the only person who finishes at roughly the same time as me when I'm working on t'South Wales Echo.
It was pretty hard-core last week, working at least 10 hours a day on the new hub, getting up at six, walking comatosed into work and not finishing until around 5.30 that evening.
It meant the ritual cooking of tea fell by the wayside, too. In fact I seem to recall heating up popcorn for my supper twice last week, then having a can of soup and finally falling back on that old staple diet, the pork scratchings. Mmm, healthy.
On Friday night there was a bit of a do and I ended up in the Yard with Withers and David (not the goalkeeper) James, the Prince of Darkness and his mate, photographer Andy. But after a few pints I hit the wall and struggled home.
Good thing, too, because Wren came over on Saturday and after letting me get over the remains of my hangover by watching Chelsea beat Manchester United and close the title race to nil points we then went to the cinema to watch a film called In Bruges. I've got to say it was excellent. Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson are superb as Irishmen on the run after a shooting in London. It was darkly comic and the hidden treat of the year as far as cinema goes.
That evening we went to the Thai Garden in City Road for a Chinese meal and I must admit I had to suffer the embarrassment of falling through my chair half the way through - and I hadn't even eaten that much! I had some kind of seafood mixture with Singapore Fried Rice. In truth, it was all a bit bland and with the furniture fiasco, too, I'm not sure I'll be going back.
Anyway, Sunday was spent doing a bit of shopping in town. Wren bought new jeans and I bought the third series of the West Wing and the first series of Spooks. Oh, and a double ice cream: Toffee and caramel with a fudge stick and chocolate sprayed over the top. From Thayers.
Shows the embarrassment of breaking furniture didn't last long.
When we finally got home we were pretty bushed but it was time to cook my favourite roast beef in Madeira Sauce. Having given the recipe on this blog before I'll just tell you about the roast potatoes, following Nigel Slater's perfect recipe.
I cut them into fairly sizeable chunks, then boiled them in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Removing them from the heat I then drained off the hot water, returned them over the flame for a few seconds and shook them around the pan to rough up the edges.
I then placed them in a 180 degree oven and brushed them with goose fat then added more sea salt. I cooked them for just over an hour until they browned and crisped nicely. Yum!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


NEWS from the Smoke and it's a salient message for go-getting, exclusive breaking, byline bandits everywhere. Yesterday I had a message on my e-mail that simply read:
"Hello everyone, I lost my mobile at the weekend, it has been a complete nightmare. Lost all my contacts and London friends! Anyhow, can you send me your mob numbers as I begin to rebuild my life."
So it seems that the Fabulous Baker Boy is stumbling from one catastrophe to another as he tries to make his way in the hard-nosed world of what used to be called Fleet Street.
I have nothing but sympathy for the lad, personally. Having lost my mobile phone on too numerous occasions to mention - normally after an extended session on the ale - I can vouch for the fact it throws your life into turmoil. Many a time I have spent going through my itemised calls bill trying to work out which number belongs to which person. It has been accompanied by rather extended sessions of ranting and raving, as my patient girlfriend Wren can vouch.
One such occasion happened last year at a retail park outside Braintree. Having returned to the car I was alarmed to find that the mobile phone which had been nestling safely in my pocket was no longer there.
There followed a period of door slamming, shouting and self-flagellation before I finally settled down to go and search for the bloody thing. Luckily it had turned up in the security hut at the site. Phew!
So what of the Baker Boy's phone? Well, judging by his hectic social life it could be anywhere between SW1 and NE10. His only response to my inquiry: "I guess I must have left it in a taxi." If that's the case the London Cabbie has probably got a bit more knowledge than he has need for right now.
And the alternative doesn't bare thinking about. Right now there could be some rather shady characters trying to get in touch with his No 1 contact, Charlotte Church's Voice Coach.

Otherwise, it was another boozeday Tuesday on the hub, which doesn't have quite the same ring as when it was part of the WoS routine. I managed to extricate myself from working on the South Wales Ego at around 4.45 having been up since six in the morning and working hard from seven.
I effected my escape with the Wonderful Withers, who was sitting, cleaning his nails and looking particularly bored. We made straight for the Yard and waited for the usual suspects, who timed their arrivals perfectly.
Every time we got to the dregs of our pints another would turn up to replenish the round. First came Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes), then Smashy. But while the others waited for the arrival of the Prince of Darkness I made sharply for the exit.
Now, I'm not saying the Prince had a thirst on by the time he left the office but rumour has it that he was still going strong at 2 in the morning. Apparently he managed to empty the contents of his wallet in a den of iniquity where no self-respecting creature of the night Should ever venture.

I didn't get much sleep this weekend. It was all down to the big fight in Vegas between that fantastic Welsh sporting icon Joe Calzaghe and the legendary Executioner Bernard Hopkins. Shutts and the Fugitive both ventured out to the States to see their hero perform while I had to settle for booking it through Setanta (not something I really wanted to do, particularly as the Boss was quick to chime in: "Eh, Wee man yous got Setanta eh. That means yous can watch the Glasgi derby between the Bhoys and Rangers, the noo." Um, the no, as it happens. I would rather watch a Take That tribute band singing Boney M covers, as it happens.
Anyway, it was at about 11.30 when I decided to take the plunge and book the fight. The original plan was to go and watch it at Chez Withers but I learned by 7pm that he had already headed off to bed, having got blindingly drunk on Friday playing Man About The House to Amazing Grace and his other new flatmate, who I have yet to meet.
Strange boy, Withers. He jogged off home early on Thursday to buy provisions and did not even accompany us for a pint in the Yard on Friday. We think he is becoming a kind of Richard O'Sullivan character from the 1970s sitcom, co-incidentally called Man About The House. Personally, I think this rather second-rate remake should be called Two women and a Twat.
Still, I digress. Having finally signed up to Setanta and having heard from the radio that the fight wouldn't start until four I set my alarm for 3.30. When I woke a few hours later I zipped into the front room, turned on the TV and, to my horror, discovered four rounds had gone and that Calzaghe had been dumped on his bum in the first. I wasn't thrilled.
Still, I managed to watch the rest of the fight and was delighted when Joe got the verdict, even though the commentary had hinted he was losing. What do these boxing experts know?
Just to make sure that he had, indeed, deserved victory I watched the fight twice more on Sunday and was convinced by the end that the judges' verdict was right.
I got to sleep at 5.20am, only to be woken on the dot of six by a text message bleeping in my ear.
"In Joe we trust," announced the Fugitive, obviously by now totally oblivious to everything, including the time difference between Vegas and Wales.

Wren came over to visit on Sunday and we spent a good hour touring around Morrisons, buying food for a nice indoor picnic. We had green olives, chicken pakoras, chicken legs, coleslaw and some nice crusty bread. Great.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tuna and tomato noodles

Pap, the p*ss artist formerly known as Nicey, nudged me the other day and said: "Hey, you haven't updated your blog for a week now."
Well, my mind has been so befuddled by the new happy hub that I nearly answered: "What blog?"
So what's been happening? Well, at last I have got the recognition I deserve and have been elevated to God-like status in the eyes of the good people of Cardiff. In other words, my face now appears on Viewpoints, the letters page of the South Wales Echo. It means that every sad sod with something to moan about seems to get in touch with me. I must admit I always envisaged this role when I was slaving away planning award-winning sports pages for Wales on Sunday or designing 16-page supplements for the Irish Sunday Mirror.
Amazingly, it does make a bigger impression on the public, too. I have been using my laundrette for as long as I can remember and have quite often waltzed in, dropping the odd hint to Cardiff's version of Dot Cotton that "I'm in the papers".
Until now, I think she thought I had been up in Cardiff Magistrates Court on a charge of drunk and dishevelled and that it had been reported in the local rag.
This Sunday was different, however. "Hey, I see you're working for the Echo now. Editing the letters." Fame at bloody last.
I am also now readers champion, so anyone with a complaint seems to be shown straight to my door. I hope to God they spell world champion boxer Joe Calzaghe's name right when he appears in Las Vegas in the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Meanwhile, I am now sitting here on a Friday night, at least one-and-a-half hours after my normal boozing time, working away on the Western Mail. Well, not working I suppose, just blogging. But being on the happy hub, which sits just behind the editor's office, I have to keep closing down my blog every time he wanders past and pretending to be busy.
At the same time I keep getting assorted texts from the Prince of Darkness, Smashy, Pap and Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) who are all getting steadily merry in Sh**ty O'Grim's. The swines!
Still, I have Boston to look forward to. Boston? Well, sitting around messing about on Wren's computer on Sunday morning I decided to book a B and B there, then hope we can get some Red Sox tickets for one of the September games. We've still to book flights, too.
That followed a very enjoyable Saturday night in Bristol walking across the suspension bridge then having a pint in the pub next to the Avon Gorge Hotel followed by a yummy takeaway curry. Unfortunately, due to working hours we haven't seen each other much, but are hoping to rectify that in the near future.
As for cooking, I just don't feel up to it these days. Last week I put in more than 50 hours and this week must be closing in on the same figure. I did rustle up a quick meal the other day, though, and very nice it was, too.
It involved quickly whisking two cloves of chopped garlic and two dried red chillis around a hot wok, then adding half a red onion after about 10 seconds. Turning the heat down, I cooked the onion until it was fairly soft then added a drained tin of tuna and some parsley and cooked for a short while. In the recipe it said to add black olives but as I had none I settled instead for mushrooms.
When they started to cook well I added a tin of tomatoes and seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper. Leaving on a low heat for 15 minutes I then cooked up some egg noodles in a pan of salted water, boiling them for four minutes before dunking them in cold water and then adding to the tuna and tomatoes. Nice and simple and pretty tasty.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A broken record

Well, life is going pretty well on the happy hub, apart from the fact I am getting into work at half past sparrow fart and leaving at about midnight. Even my exertions are beaten by Nicey, however, who is a walking zombie at the moment, has forgotten where he lives and doesn't even know how to get out of the office any more.
But the website seems to be working wonderfully well with the cast of thousands now ploughing stuff onto it. We've got videos, picture galleries and lots of stories to entertain the readers. Perhaps the best one, though, is the tale that will never see the light of day in any of the Meeja Wales outlets.
On Wednesday we sent out our intrepid video guru Jamie "Lee" Cuff to visit a Cardiff City fan of indeterminate age who had told us of an old 78 record he owned which marked the 1927 cup final, which all Bluebirds fans will tell you was the time they won the FA Cup.
It was the first time, also, that Abide With Me was sung at a Wembley final and, shock of shocks, this old gent owned a recording of the very moment when the thousands of fans at the game broke into the famous hymn.
The kindly old guy lent us his disk on the basis that we could play it over the web. Unfortunately things didn't quite go to plan.
Having handed Jamie Lee his treasured possession, the keen upstart held it gingerly in his hand and walked away. Unfortunately he was holding the sleeve upside down. The record slipped out and, on contact with the pavement, received a rather large dent. Poor Jamie Lee was in torment.
Unfortunately, he didn't receive the same kind of sympathy from his colleagues.
Picture Editor Rob "a job?" Norman told a packed conference with a glint in his eye: "We've changed all our ring tones to the theme tune from record breakers."
The swines!

Monday, April 07, 2008

A Cadbury's Creme Egg

SO the new hubba bubba has begun at Meeja Wales and, as had been predicted, it was pretty chaotic, though perhaps not as chaotic as was first anticipated. The main problem has been with people's phones being moved. Others have been unable to pick up calls coming to different numbers. Still, the Echo's special "Cardiff City reach the FA Cup final (I NEVER thought I would write those words)" special came out as planned. I also never considered my immense talents and skills would be utilised in collating the Echo letters page. Ow!

With things changing so rapidly, Friday night was the chance for everyone to get together for a "ring out the old, ring in the new" party. Kempy and the Robot had a joint leaving do and there was a huge gathering of past and future colleagues. It gave the Wonderful Withers the chance to whip out his camera and become Pap for the night, clicking off a number of pictures of the great and the good. Included in the rogues gallery was the Fabulous Baker Boy, who regaled us of wonderful tales from the crypt (or should I say the Sunday Peeps).
One of them included how he had to engage Brucie Forsythe in a 30-minute conversation as he tried to present the bon viveur with a mock front page to celebrate his 80th birthday. The problem came about because the photographer taking the pics couldn't get his camera to work. Sound familiar?
In the end Brucie could wait no longer. "Nice to see you... now f*** off!"
The Great Peter Corrigan, father of Coggsy, was also there in all his glory, telling stories of past days of greatness on the South Wales Eggo.
Wren came over for the night and I was told afterwards by all in sundry what a wonderful person she was, while others asked: what the hell is she doing with you? Nice.

Sunday was a lazy pre-hub day but at least I got a chance to throw the plastic around, buying numerous dvd's like the first series of Gavin and Stacey - a masterpiece - the fourth series of 24 and some other films that came highly recommended. I could be spending a few nights in - particularly as I have to get up by half past sparrow's fart every morning to work on the Evening rag.
At least on arrival this morning I was greeted with the sight of a Cadbury's Creme egg - a present from the editors to all our journos. It's all gone now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Creole Seafood Risotto

THAT'S it. The end of Boozeday Tuesday as we know it. On Monday the new hub at Meeja Wales comes into operation and all the fun and frivolities will be over for good... well, maybe.
There was a good turnout for the Boozeday session. Even the Robot turned up belatedly to say his goodbyes (before his official goodbye on Friday - anyone realise he was leaving?).
He was mortified to discover that the big boss man at our old drinking den The Yard was so grateful for our custom over the last year or so that he furnished the usual suspects with a free meal. Not ones to take advantage, Wathanovski, the Fugitive, the Prince of Darkness, Shutts and Smashy all had burger and chips. But there's always one who is apt to bite the hand that feeds them.
Step forward the glutinous Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes). "I'm gonna have the ribeye steak," he announced without a blush of embarrassment. He then proceeded to wolf it down in a mere few seconds.
The Prince, meanwhile, needed something to wash it down with. So out came the double voddies. At that stage I made my excuses and left, but I hear the festivities went on until well into the early hours with the usual suspects ending up amid a throng of whippersnappers at Barfly. The Poipes was left holding his cape as the Prince, not one to be put off by dancing amid youngsters old enough to be his grandchildren, decided to weave his magic on the dancefloor. Wowie, wowie as he is known to say.

Wathanovski, meantime, is in the last week of singledom before tying the knot with his girlfriend, the teacher. He is still having a battle with his clothing for the big day, however. Remember this is the guy who walked all the way home in a shrink-wrapped jacket once, only to realise that he was actually in possession of one belonging to the Wonderful Withers of WoS.
Well, the other day he took delivery of a new pair of shoes and decided a trip to the cobblers was in order so that he could have the heels elevated slightly, to save him the humiliation of being shorter than his good lady on the big day.
What he forgot to check, though, was whether the shoes were fit for purpose. Too late, he realised that they were for a person with two right feet. Doh!
Mind you, I've encountered a similar problem before. I once bought a glamorous new pair of trainers down at Bessemer Road market in Cardiff. I had taken the fat kid there to buy a new school uniform and when I saw the all-singing, all-dancing daps I knew I just had to have them. I tried on one of the ones on display and quickly agreed to buy them, handing over my £50 as the salesman went to put them in the box.
I whistled all the way home with a smile on my face.. until I went to put them on and found out that not only were they different sizes but different patterns, too. By then the market trader from whom I had made my purchase was long gone.

On Friday my good lady Wren came to meet me in The Yard as Wathanovski had his latest "I'm getting married" celebration drink. By the time she arrived I was already three pints down the road to oblivion, and everyone else seemed full of high spirits too.
Wathanovski was so happy that he burst into song in the middle of the pub, treating us to some boy band medleys and his warmingly Welsh imitation of Tom Jones. You can take the boy out of Neath but you cannot take Neath out of the boy.
At least I have a new nickname for him... Wathanovski is now known as Take Twat.

As for myself I think Wren decided it was time for me to leave when I hoisted myself onto a stool to dance away to Cockney Rebels Come up and See Me. I think her exact words were: "No, you come down here and see me.. now!"

Saturday was a hard day in the office, with many grey faces around. Thankfully Sunday was a beautiful day and Wren and I travelled out to a little place to Skenfrith near Monmouth. There is a lovely old church there and the ruins of a 13th century castle. The Bell pub is a popular watering hole, too, and seems to have moved upmarket with some very interesting meals on the menu, with much of the produce sourced locally.
After that we moved on to Ross on Wye for a walk along the river, getting much needed air into our lungs after a heavy weekend.
On Monday I decided to visit the international swimming pool, only to find that my best kept secret was out. Mums and their kids were queueing out of the door, with it still somehow being the Easter holidays. I gave it up as a bad job, not wanting to be surrounded by ankle-biters in the pool. Surely if you have a facility this good it shouldn't be wasted on terrible tots.

Recently I bought some fresh squid from Morristons then looked back through my Observer mags to find a recipe. I came up with a very tasty dish called Creole Seafood Risotto.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
6 basil leaves, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
8 shallots, finely chopped
2 red chillis or 1/2 Scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
Seafood like cockles, mussels, squid etc. I used cooked mussels and raw squid
8 raw prawns
1/2 tsp saffron threads
salt and black pepper
1.5 litres vegetable stock (with added fish sauce) or fish stock
200 gms arborio rice
Juice of one lime
2 tbsp creme fraiche
100gms parmesan

Heated the oil in a wok
Fried the onion, basil, garlic, shallots and chilli for 2/3 minutes
Mixed in the seafood and prawns
added saffron, mixed well
Covered the mixture with the stock and cooked for two minutes
Rinsed the rice then added it a bit of the time, stirring it until it soaked up juices.
Cooked gently on a low heat, adding stock if it evaporated away and stirred until the rice absorbed the stock and took on a creamy appearance.
Removed from the heat then added the lime juice and creme fraiche.
Mixed well, then served immediately with a sprinkling of parmesan and garlic bread.