Kitchen sculptures, oil and oats

I tried to make some porridge this morning; I hadn’t done this since last winter and I was in a hurry. I looked at the instructions on the side of the box, expecting to see something along the lines of “Add one cup of oats and two cups of milk, per person, to a large bowl. Microwave on full power for four minutes”; I didn’t have time for the far more aesthetically pleasing saucepan method, although, as it turns out, this approach would have been quicker, and easier to fix when things started going wrong.

For some bizarre reason, the well known manufacturers of our favoured brand of porridge have decided that their instructions didn’t present the sort of challenge any self respecting porridge eater would expect, nay demand. The “X cups of oats to Y cups of milk” approach has been replaced with “Add 340ml of milk to 45g of oats”. For how many portions? Will this feed one small child, or will it expand, once heat is applied, to an amount sufficient for a ravening football squad?

I scoured the box for further clues, but there were none. I’d have to find some kitchen scales, so I could weigh the oats, and a measuring jug, so I could add the required amount of milk. After much banging of cupboard doors and slamming of kitchen drawers, I’d succeeded in creating a sort of modernist sculpture out of all the items I’d chucked about, in a frenzied attempt to locate the scales and measuring jug. If I’d had the time to admire my inadvertent creation, I might have called it “Egg-cup with saucepan, blender and crewit”. But I didn’t have time and I swept the unstable structure to one side, to make way for the weighing and mixing of the long overdue porridge. As the pile of implements settled into a new shape, the tiny funnel I use for filling my hip-flask fell to the floor and rolled under the cooker, where it remains amongst a sea of fluff, punctuated by the occasional dessicated – formerly frozen – pea. Now I was really cross.

Based on my supreme ignorance of the subject, I guessed that 45g of oats would be for one person and added 135g to the bowl, allowing enough for myself and two hungry children. I realized my mistake too late; 135g is an awful lot of oats. I decided that I probably only needed half the amount. I couldn’t just waste 67.5g of oats, so I decided to return them from whence they had come. The box design allows a small square pouring hole to be opened via perforations in the cardboard. Returning a not inconsiderable amount of oats through this orifice was clearly not going to work. In a moment of inspiration, I tore a sheet of kitchen towel from the roll, folded it in half and then fashioned it into a crude, and slightly too floppy funnel, the end of which I positioned over the opening in the oats box. I grabbed a handful of oats from the bowl and emptied it into my makeshift refilling device. Around fifty percent made it back into the box, the remainder scattering itself over a surprisingly wide area and adding a snow-like enhancement to “Egg-cup with saucepan, blender and crewit”. I persevered and finally reduced the amount of oats in the bowl to a level I deemed appropriate. All I needed to do now was add the milk. The measuring jug was next to the sculpture and glistening in a way a clean measuring jug shouldn’t. It was also surrounded by a rapidly expanding pool of extra virgin olive oil. The last rearrangement of “EC with S, B & C” had not only consigned my valuable little funnel to a dusty grave, but had also dislodged a bottle of oil.

I grabbed the jug and attempted to clean it with my kitchen towel funnel. Take it from me, you don’t want to mix porridge oats and olive oil. The sudden increase in the level of lubrication, brought about by the unholy union of oats and oil, caught me by surprise. The jug slipped from my hand and fell the short, but fatal distance to the stone flagged floor. A traditional, stone flagged, country kitchen looks great until someone like me tries to prepare a simple bowl of porridge in it.

My only option now was to estimate the amount of milk required. I poured enough in to cover the oats completely and placed the bowl in the microwave. After four minutes cooking on on full power, I’d managed to create a congealed mass, which could be removed from its container as a single, bowl shaped, lump. In a larger size, I suspect it would have made a very hard wearing trampoline. I didn’t have the time, or fortitude to start again, so I just added more milk to the trampoline and attempted to mix the two together.

“I suggest you have extra syrup with your porridge this morning kids.” They eyed me with suspicion – normally I lecture them on the damage such concentrated sugar can do to their teeth. We chewed our way through breakfast in an uneasy silence. My relief at them departing to clean their teeth was short lived; as they attempted to achieve any sort of brushing motion in their porridge cloyed mouths, I turned to face the bomb-site, which had been a kitchen a mere half hour earlier.

I will spend this morning tidying the kitchen and will then set out to purchase a measuring jug. If I’m feeling brave, I may fish around under the cooker with a piece of bent wire, in the hope of retrieving that precious little funnel.

Tomorrow we’re having muesli.

Underarm chemical warfare

We had a little Euro-break last week, starting with a weekend trip to Brussels, to stay with friends. As tradition dictates, we visited a number of bars and sampled several splendid Belgian beers. At the first hostelry to be blessed with our custom, I was shocked to see a woman at a nearby table light up a cigarette. “Aha!” I thought, as the barman swiftly made his way through the thronging room towards her. “The home of the European Union is not a sensible place to flout the international smoking ban”. He loomed over her, she looked up from her beer, exhaled a blue-grey plume of banned smoke and he gave her an ashtray. The ban has been implemented comprehensively and without opposition or revolt in the UK; Parisians light up outside cafes but don’t venture in with an ignited Gitane, Gallouise, or Disque Bleu. Even in deepest, most rural Ireland, where I imagined they would just turn a blind eye to the new law, a couple of pubs tried it on, got fined and then towed the line. But in Brussels, the seat of European policy making power, they couldn’t give a toss. Later on we visited an establishment which had an ashtray on every table and a row of them all along the bar; not only were half the clientèle puffing away happily, but most of the staff had a tab on the go as they poured frothing demis of Jupiler and Leffe Blonde. For the first time in a year or so, I returned home from a bar with my clothes stinking of smoke, but couldn’t find it in my heart to condemn the Belgians; in fact, a tiny part of me almost admired them.

We spent the remainder of the week in France and on the first day there, I ran out of deodorant. I favour the stick type product and set off to a local pharmacie to find one. Once I’d got over the shock of the price – I know the Euro is strong against Sterling at the moment, but five quid? Anyway, I decided I really couldn’t face spending a week smelling like the inside of Zinedine Zidane’s jock-strap every morning, after the short trip to buy a fresh baguette, via the four stories of steep spiralling stairs in our ‘historic’ apartment block, so I made the purchase. I rushed home, showered, dried myself and applied the newly acquired deodorant. The aftermath of this simple toiletry operation took me on a journey across a sensory spectrum of remarkable scale. Initially, I was aware of a cool, not unpleasant sensation, which gave way to an invigorating, if mildly alarming, tingling. The tingling subsided as I walked into the bedroom to get dressed. A couple of minutes later, just as I was popping my arm into the sleeve of a shirt, the tingling returned. This time it was a little more intense and my alarm progressed from mild to the twitchy-eyed stage. It became clear that my armpits were hosting some sort of synchronised chemical reaction, as the intensity of the tingling increased to a level, which can only be described as burning. The only way I could think of ending my increasing underarm agony, was a return to the shower – BIG mistake. Whatever chemical process was going on, it was clearly enhanced by the addition of water; if you’ve ever seen a lump of sodium dropped in a bucket of water, you’ll know what I mean. In a panic stricken frenzy, I grabbed the soap and set to work, whipping up so much lather that I looked like a failed attempt at cavity arm insulation. Eventually, the pain subsided and I was able to complete my ablutions, dress and head out into the glorious, if expensive, neighbourhood. An hour later, as I sat in a small cafe, enjoying a large espresso – a snip at 6.50 Euros – I noticed the aroma. At first, I thought the waiter must be sporting an excessive amount of very cheap after-shave, although this seemed unlikely – most French waiters would rather gnaw their own limbs off than be caught in possession of poor quality toiletries. It was when I raised my arm to attract his attention that the awful truth dawned on me. I had applied the aromatic equivalent of a permanent tattoo. It didn’t so much prevent odour and perspiration as completely mask it, rather like the smell of a sewage farm might overwhelm that of a buttercup.

As the week progressed, I got used to applying the minute amount of deodorant required to provide at least seventy-two hour protection and my armpits developed a bit of resistance to the chemicals. I thought the offending toiletry device might be confiscated by customs, but no such luck, so I’m still in possession of it. I’ve tried using it as an air freshener in the shed, but quite frankly, the aroma of stale cat food, weed-killer and rotting mouse is infinitely preferable. I daren’t throw it away, as I’m terrified of causing some sort of rural biohazard incident. I’ll have to settle for leaving it in a lead-lined box in the cellar for its half-life, which must run into decades. Give me weapons grade plutonium any day; it’s odourless and far kinder to your armpits.

Edible golf tees

In these times of financial hardship, an increasing number of people are turning to the old war-time practice of ‘make do and mend’. I thought I’d share a few tips, inspired by those passed down to me by my parents and grandparents.

  • Grow lots of carrots and use them for everything. Here are some ideas to start you off:
    • Edible golf tees
    • Novel wine bottle stoppers
    • Aerodynamic improvements to the fronts of roller-skates
    • Cut into the right shapes, artificial goldfish
    • Any labour-saving device, which can be fashioned from a carrot
    • Exciting and original knee-cap decorations
    • Very realistic toy carrots
  • Short car journeys are less fuel efficient, so always use the longest possible route to any destination.
  • When following a recipe, don’t rush out to buy missing ingredients. Just substitute a carrot for each item you don’t have in the cupboard. Carrot and butter pudding has become a particular favourite in our household.
  • Treat your house spiders as pets. They’re free, don’t need feeding and look after themselves whilst you’re on holiday.
  • Save money-off coupons from magazines, your local supermarket etc. Boiled up with some grated carrot, they can make an appetizing meal.
  • Potato peelings can be sewn together to make stylish and eye-catching leg-warmers.
  • If you must buy new clothes, sew fragments of old clothes to them immediately after purchase. This will make them last longer and stop poorer people from feeling jealous.
  • Individual strands, from a carefully dismantled hair-net, can be tied together to make an excellent hair-net.

Vegetable confusion

Are you easily confused by vegetables? If so, you might be interested in the ‘Vegetable Simplifier™’ – new from AnnestyCo™.

With the vegetable simplifier, you need never be frustrated by fava beans, baboozled by brassica, stymied by spinach, perplexed by a potato, confounded by a carrot, or astonished by an avocado again.

Yes! With the ‘Vegetable Simplifier™’ you can feel better than beetroot, superior to sorrel, lord it over lettuce and rule the radish.

How does it work? Well, just place the vegetable which is causing you consternation in the simplifer and press the ‘SimpliVeg™’ button. Within minutes the ‘Vegetable Simplifier™’ will have simplified the vegetable to a level where even the most vegetably challenged of us can look it in the eye without confusion or fear.

All this can be yours for 99.99 + tax, in the currency of your choice.

Order now and get a free herb negotiating kit (while stocks last).

Please allow up to 14 years for delivery.

Please note:
Owing to the fact that the ‘Vegetable Simplifier™’ and ‘herb negotiating kit’ are figments of the writer’s imagination, there may be a delay in the fulfilment of your order of anything up to for ever.

I know where the bees are going

I think I’ve found out where all the bees are going. They’re hiding inside the light fitting in my cellar. I can hear them buzzing away in there, but they know I suspect something and have lookout bees warning the light fitting hive if I start to look in their direction. Somewhere just beyond my peripheral vision a spotter bee performs one of those intricate little dances, which communicate so much to those of an apian persuasion. The dance of the spotter bee says “Watch out, he’s turning his head towards us.” My gaze fixes on the light fitting, but the bees, having been pre-warned, have already fallen silent.

I discussed this phenomenon with a couple of friends, both of whom tried to fob me off with the same implausible explanation. They suggested that the electrical wiring of the light fitting is generating the noise itself. They allege that the fluctuating electro-magnetic field, generated by the alternating current of the mains electricity, causes tiny mechanical effects in the wiring, hence the noise.

“Aha!” said I “If that’s the case, why does it stop when I look at the light fitting?”

They suggested this is because my ears are on the sides of my head.

“For goodness’ sake” I said, “I suppose you’re suggesting that I’d still hear the noise whilst looking at the light fitting if I had an ear on my forehead?”

“Well, yes.” they replied.

But they’re wrong. It’s the bees.

Martyr Chef

I’m not entirely comfortable with the revised format of Master Chef. It’s gone down the same ‘X-factor style hyper-critical judges’ route as most other programmes at the moment.

I preferred the old Loyd Grossman version, which was far more cosy and closer to the ‘Galloping Gourmet’ end of the cookery programme scale.

If you need a reminder, here’s the Reeves and Mortimer take on Master Chef 1995, also featuring the brilliant Morwena Banks, Matt Lucas and Charlie Higson:

If the programme makers insist on sticking to the modern format, I think they should take it further and really embrace the reality TV concept. How about if they were to rename it Martyr Chef, move into a domestic, ‘Wife Swap’ style setting and focus on how each cook suffers in the the creation of the meal?

“I spent four hours in this kitchen preparing something special for you and YOUR friends. All you’ve done is slob around and drink beer. You could at least have loaded the dishwasher for me. Have you any idea what’s involved in making filo pastry? No, sit down – I’ve nearly finished tidying up now. I’ll be up at 7:30 to prepare your breakfast, while you sleep off your hangover.”

A rabbit under the dryer

I’m not a big fan of shampoo commercials.  They try to make out that their products are full of special chemicals that, whilst being entirely safe, can actually change the molecular structure of your hair to make it shinier, straighter, or curlier, (depending on the current fashion).  Rather cleverly, I think – if it were true, the chemicals also undo all the damage done by the other straightening, curling and colouring products the same people try to sell you.  When all’s said and done, shampoo is just over-priced detergent.  It’s washing up liquid with a bit of scent and the silky looking stuff you find in those squishy rubber eyeball things, available from the dubious toys counter at your local newsagent.  You’ve only got to look at the shower-gel most hotels insist on providing, instead of decent, honest soap; the claims printed on the average shower-gel bottle usually suggest that its contents are optimised for your hair, face, under-arms and even your nether regions; one dreads to think what effect the anti-wrinkling agent may have down there.

The manufacturers try to justify their outrageously inflated detergent prices by inventing scientific sounding names for PH neutral surfactant, with a bit of colouring and some harmless additive with a made up name – curlystraightium, or something similar.  Perhaps the additional cost arises from the necessity for ethical animal testing?

“Is everything OK under the dryer Mrs Flopsy?  Would you like a magazine and another carrot?  Have you been on holiday?”

Paper hair

Caption + ALT
Paper hair

Since I shall be spending my Monday being turned upside down by a variety of roller coasters, probably in the rain, I won’t have time to write a post, so I’ve uploaded a nice picture of a friend of mine instead.

It’s hardly the last word in fashion for the follically challenged, but it’s a lot more honest than a syrup.

The power of dressing gowns

So, it’s Sunday morning and I’m in my dressing gown. Why is it called a ‘dressing gown’? I don’t wear it when I’m getting dressed; I take it off first. Perhaps it’s a contraction of something like ‘addressing gown’.

“I addressed the large and unruly crowd, my un-amplified voice carrying to the back, thanks to the excellent acoustic qualities of the House of Lords’ principal lavatory. My ultimate authority was assured by my choice of blue paisley silk ‘dressing gown. The mass acquiesced and the day was saved.”

Mind your head!

Eventually something will hit it. Be ready for that eventuality. A skateboard helmet is light, but surprisingly sturdy. Being of open-face design, it doesn’t get in the way of eating, drinking, licking postage stamps etc. and can be decorated with small herbs; I favour the chive.

I’m sure there are spiders living behind my noticeboard. I can hear them whispering to each other and giggling at each other’s arachnid quips. I wonder if they post their own notices on the back of the board, which they consider to be the front? If so, perhaps they have discussions about the human they suspect lives on the back of their noticeboard, commenting on the fact that they’re sure they can hear the occasional, unmistakable sound of a chive falling from his skateboard helmet.