November 30, 2003
Burmese curry

Well - I had a go at cooking a Burmese style chicken curry.

Thanks to Lisa at Burnt Toast for pointing this particular combination out (she having just come back from an adventure holiday in Burma recently.)

I have to admit that cooking this dish was very much an Indian/Chinese “fusion” experience: it’s effectively a Punjabi-style chicken dish - but without tomatoes or peppers - and instead: coconut milk and besan (gram flour) with a dash of Thai fish sauce at the finish.

Here is a Route79-style illustrated guide to cooking this exquisite dish:

First prepare all the ingredients:

  • 8 medium-size chicken thighs - no bone - no skin - chopped into bite-size chunks.
  • 2 medium onions - sliced relatively finely.
  • 400ml of chicken broth. I made this from a Marks and Spencer concentrate jar - although you could just use Oxo or “bouillon” chicken cubes.
  • 100ml of coconut milk - I made this from “Rajah creamed coconut” bar - chopping off a chunk and dissolving it in warm water.
  • 3 tablespoons of gram flour (which is ground chick-pea flour - otherwise called “besan”).
  • 1 chunk of pre-pulped garlic. (See a previous recipe where I explain what these pre-pulped garlic and ginger pieces are.)
  • 1 chunk of pre-pulped ginger.
  • 1 cinnamon stick (otherwise known as dal-chini) slit into two pieces.
  • 2 bay leaves. (Did you know that bay leaf is the leaf of the “laurel” tree? The leaves of this tree were considered holy in the days of the Roman Empire - and were used to “crown” honoured people - hence the laurel wreath and hence the term “resting on your laurels”.)
  • Spices: Ground coriander, garam masala, chillie, salt, turmeric.
  • A bottle of Thai fish sauce - just a few drops needed for this dish.

Fry the onions in some vegetable oil for a few minutes - until they are translucentish. Then add the spices - a teapoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of chillie powder, a teaspoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of coriander and 2 teaspoons of garam masala. Stir well.

Once the onions/spice mixture has been stirred well - add the chopped chicken thigh pieces - and stir fry on high heat:

Thoroughly coat the chicken in the onion/spice mixture - until the chicken has gone “rubbery”. Then add the pre-prepared chicken broth, as well as the bay leaves and cinnamon stick pieces:

Simmer the pot for around 20 minutes. Whilst that is simmering - add about half-glass of warm water to the gram flour powder and stir until all lumps are out. Sieve through a tea-strainer to make sure you remove all lumps of clumped gram flour - and then pour into chicken pot. Stir and then pour in the coconut milk. Stir thoroughly - at this point the pot should be thickening a bit. Keep stirring until you get to a consistent simmer. Leave it simmering with lid off for another 30 mins.

After the 30 mins of simmering - add a few drops of Thai fish sauce from the bottle and stir thoroughly:

Taste to ensure that there’s enough salt - and add some if needed. Stir thoroughly.

Turn off the heat - and it’s done! Serve on a bed of freshly-cooked rice noodles - or else (as in my case) on a bed of freshly-cooked Basmati rice.


I really enjoyed cooking that - the coconut milk, gram flour and fish sauce add a completely different dimension to the sort of North Indian cooking that I’m used to - but I certainly will be cooking something like this again!

Posted by jag at 10:15 PM | Comments (17)
Oriental City

Less than two minutes drive from where I live in North West London is a little known shopping centre called Oriental City. When I first moved into my neighbourhood in the mid-nineties this shopping mall used to be called Yaohan Plaza - and boasted being the largest covered Japanese shopping mall outside Japan - but over the years it seems to have evolved to form a melting pot of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Thai etc. in terms of customers as well as retail influences.

My neighbourhood has an unusually unproportionately large Japanese community and I can never figure out any obvious reasons why - e.g. local Japanese school or diplomatic residences etc. Perhaps it’s because of the shopping centre? That might not be such a silly explanation - as I am reliably informed by a few of my Chinese and Japanese friends that people travel from awfully far away to spend the day here. Given that it’s just around the corner from where I live - I do go there quite often - and it’s conveniently sited right next door to an Asda that’s bigger than than the entire Oriental City itself!

Anyway - I never did quite understand the claim to be the largest covered oriental shopping centre outside the far East - because it’s not at all very big - but I can see why people come to spend the day here. There are around a dozen “boutique” style shops selling all sorts of things from crockery (piled high but not sold cheap) to books, magazines, curiosity items. Then there are several top-class “formal” restuarants. There is also a massive “Sega Centre” - which is a haven for teenagers and their Dads - with all the latest in state of the art video gaming. And the Food Court; this is very special indeed - it’s at this point you begin to realise one of the best things about this place. Forget everything you’ve ever had from your local Chinese takeaway - and forget everything you’ve ever had at the authentic-looking chinese buffet at your normal shopping centre food court. Entering the food court at Oriental City is like entering into a totally different country - and you could spend the entire day just watching what and how people eat here. The shopping centre management also seem to organise cultural weeks and events at weekends too - for example there appears to be a Malaysian food and crafts showcase during the early part of December.

I’m saving what I think is the best thing about Oriental City to last - and that’s the supermarket. Yep - tucked away in one corner of the shopping mall - adjacent to the food court - is an oriental supermarket. Unlike the stores that you typically find in places like your local Chinatown - this supermarket is more “conventionally” laid out; the format being very much like a Safeway or Tesco - with wide aisles and a row of checkouts to one side. However - if you thought you could spend an entire day browsing a few shops and a food court - be prepared to spend even longer in this supermarket! Practically everything from fish, meat and perishables to tins, dried goods and sauces carries an exotic sort of curiosity value the first time you shop here. For more regularly ad-hoc customers like me - it’s knowing that you can get here practically everything that you need to cook any form of Eastern dish - whether it be Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean etc. And the pricing indicates great value.

I was reminded to go there today by a little mental note that I made to myself about cooking up a dish that Lisa from Burnt Toast mentioned the other day. (And Lisa - do make time for daytrip to Oriental City at some point - because I think you will really like it.)

Photo montage: Ms.79 examining the receipt of the stuff we bought
as I took a pic of the ingredients in our kitchen when we got home:
Large bag of cinnamon sticks from China (60p). 750ml bottle of fish sauce from Thailand (£1)
and a small box of “Himalayan Masala - Exotic Spice Mixture” from Nepal (£3.50) -
“Prepared after ancient Ayurvedic Principle” (Finished off in Photoshop Elements!)

In fact - I would recommend that anybody who’s set aside some time in their diaries for doing something “London” or something “culture” to visit Oriental City. It’s a real gem - and has the advantage of not being in Central London.

Posted by jag at 03:59 PM | Comments (35)
November 26, 2003

Every time the bus drives past my house - the designer Harmon Kardon loudspeakers connected to my computer buzzes for a couple of seconds and this is quickly followed by the emission of a loud sharp click. This leaves me with the impression that there is a powerful radio system installed on the bus. Which is probably true. What’s interesting is that in some way the radio system on the bus is more powerful than those installed in police cars, ambulances, fire engines or taxi cabs - because none of those do that to my speakers when they drive past. I’m not complaining - because the buzz-click is a very useful signal for me. In fact, as I sit here right now - the last buzz-click occured around 3 minutes ago - which means that the next buzz-click will probably happen in around 7 minutes time. Which means that if I want to to get the next bus to work - I’ve got 7 minutes to power down my laptop, brush my hair, run downstairs, slip on my shoes, put on my jacket, set the alarm and walk to the bus stop.

On the way to the bus stop I will change my voicemail greeting on my mobile phone - and if, whilst concentrating on changing my voicemail greeting, I only notice at the last second that the bus is going to beat me as it drives past me, I’m going to run as fast as I can to try get there before it does. And roughly 9 times out of 10 if this situation occurs - I will get on the bus. And if I don’t - well the traffic jams are usually on my side - because there is a fair chance that I could run all the way to the next bus stop - and still stand a good chance of beating the bus there. If this “two-bus-stop dash” situation occurs then there is usually more determination in my soul - because now all the folks already on the bus will be watching the contest. They will be sitting there watching me running. I will now have an audience. And it’s usually the folks on the top-deck who are my audience. And in their minds they will probably either be cheering me on - or more likely willing the bus to go faster so that I don’t make it. So - in this situation I am running flat out. And like I say - 9 times out of 10 - I will make it on the bus. And when I do get on the bus - I will triumphantly climb up to the top deck and be greeted by two columns of expressionless faces - the column on the left who are probably wondering why I’m smiling and out of breath - and the column on the right who witnessed the challenge and saw me win.

And then I will spend at least the next 5 minutes trying to work out how the bus knows that I’ve got a valid Oystercard.

Posted by jag at 07:14 AM | Comments (12)
November 19, 2003
Distraction thieves

Just another ordinary bus journey home. Reflecting on an incident that occured at lunchtime today. I’d heard so much about it over the last 12 months or so - but had never experienced it first-hand until today …

A guy who works for me at the office decided that it was time for lunch. He’s half-Vietnamese, half Korean. But he’s Australian through and through. I jokingly reminded him that the Australian flag has a UK flag embedded into one corner. He informed me that it was there to remind Aussies who the colonial perpetrators were. We both laughed. He asked if I wanted to go lunch. I agreed. Over wandered another colleague - a Greek Cypriot chap - who asked the same thing. He joined us on the way to the lift. Along the way we spontaneously picked up another colleague - a spritely Asian (UK Punjabi) girl from the Ops team. So - that made four of us. We decided upon an upmarket pub in an upmarket “cafe” style square in a corner of the Hammersmith Broadway shopping centre. It’s called “The Old Trout”. Just two minutes walk away. I haven’t had a “pub lunch” in a long time - nor, in fact, any sort of proper “sit-down” lunch for a while so was looking forward to it. To some extent - it was the idea of “bangers and mash” that enticed us all. The multi-cultured spontaneity of socialising is what I love about my workplace. Our office is truly a melting pot of mixed-up cultures and backgrounds. English, Scottish, French, Greek, German, Romanian, Indian, British-Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Chinese, New Zealandish - and also Chinese-New-Zealindish, as well as American, Canadian, Irish, Irish-Canadian and Spanish - to name just a few.

Diet Cokes ordered, from bottles - not the post-mix stuff out of the tap - we placed our lunch orders and got seated at a table in a relatively quiet area of the pub. Indoors but not far from a door to the outside patio sqaure area. About quarter-hour later - the food arrived and we tucked in - each in turn first pouring on the ketchup in liberal fashion. Conversational chatter starting with talk about wasp infestations, and then about the boring-ness of boiled peas. (Some came with the sausage and mash you see.)

And then - about halfway through the lunch, out of the blue - arrived what looked like a beggar. Seen this type before many a time. Distinctly Kossovan, Bosnian, Albanian or Macedonian. Forgive my overt stereotyping here - but given the well-known refugee mix in this part of West London - it had to be someone from that area of Europe. He was half-unshaven - shirt hanging out of trousers, bedraggled and dirty overcoat and greasy-looking hair. A few metres away were two middle aged women associates - bright headscarves and holding baby-like bundles. He thrusts what looks like a copy of Ms.London magazine opened on a page rich in text and no pictures - onto the table we were at - practically touching the dinner plate of the Greek Cypriot colleague sat to my right. And he muttered something in some foriegn language that none of us understood. My Greek-Cypriot friend was slightly startled by his assertiveness.

Remembering in a split-second flash something that our “Security Team” had warned so many times about in numerous global emails in recent months - I shouted to my Greek-Cypriot colleauge: “YOUR PHONE!”. He was equally startled by my yelling. As was the so-called “beggar”. My colleague immediately pushed aside the magazine being held by the beggar - and grabbed his mobile phone - which was lying on the table adjacent to his dinner plate - and for a few seconds was being cleverly concealed by the beggar’s magazine. The beggar - realising that his cover was literally blown - left through the patio-square door in a hurry - and his accompanying women-folk friends followed him rapidly.

When they were gone - I explained to my colleagues that we had just experienced an attempt at classic “distraction theft”. The chap who thrust the paper onto the table had done so in a premeditated, targeted attempt to conceal my colleague’s mobile phone - which was an easy target of theft lying on the table - whilst we all had our hands full with knives and forks at our dinner-plates - and had pretended to ask for a translation or something of the words on the paper. In the meantime - the way in which he was holding the paper was such that he would grab the phone from underneath and then walk off in the hope that none of us noticed that he had stolen the phone - hopefully after we ultimately declared that we didn’t understand what he wanted. When he realised that we were wise to this - he shamefully walked off in a hurry. I was tempted to go after him and shout a volley of abuse and threaten to call the police or something - but common-sense restrained me: I didn’t want to risk the possibility of him coming back to pull a knife on us - or tip tomato ketchup all over us - or whatever. (This sort of vengeance act has happened before by unsuccessful thieves and pickpockets in Hammersmith.)

So - the moral of the story is DON‘T leave your mobile phone lying on the table next to you when you’re having lunch in a public place! And beware of anybody who comes up to you thrusting a piece of paper or newspaper or map onto your table. This is a well-known method of distraction - and if it works - chances are that you won’t know until much later that something of yours has been stolen! Be warned!

Anyway - whilst we finished off our lunch I was thanked several times by my other colleagues - who I could tell were visibly shaken by the whole incident. I coolly and calmly continued eating and gloated in my “coolness” as well. I was the hero and I was loving every minute of it! I reminded them that I ALWAYS kept my mobile phone in the inside of my jacket pocket - and I also proudly declared that NOBODY IN THE WORLD would want to steal MY phone. “Why not?” they asked. So I proudly pulled out my mobile phone from the inside of my jacket pocket and held it up for them all to see:

My mobile phone: Big. Old. Ugly. More like a weapon than a phone!
Who would want to steal one of these?!!!

We all laughed loudly! They understood perfectly why!

Posted by jag at 10:11 PM | Comments (12)
November 15, 2003
Normal curves

Standing at the Route 79 bus stop outside Alperton tube station on the way home from work last night. The darkness and sharp gusts of wind made me shrink back into my jacket as far as I could go. Winter, it seems, is definitely setting in.

My mind wanders as I half-notice several Route 83 buses go by. Why are there so many more 83s than 79s? The scientist in me suggested that I was just imagining it. “It just feels that way” - I tried to convince myself. I’m sure if I were to count the inter-arrival times of the 79 bus I would get a perfectly normal distribution around a mean wait time of around 10 minutes.

My mind wandered further - yes - “normal distribution”. Imagery of me sitting in a concrete-block lecture theatre at college flash through my mind. Me sitting there chewing the end of my biro - staring down at row upon row of student droids listening attentively to the statistics lecturer droning on in monotone about “how important the standard normal distribution is to society”. Daydreaming - when I should have been paying attention.

I read Physics at college. Unfortunately, Statistics was a compulsory module. I failed the first-year paper - and had to sit a re-take in the summer holidays - which I luckily only just passed. Little did I appreciate then how important this mind-numbing topic would be later on in life.

Because that’s exactly the point: of all the abstract things I learned at university (apart from the extra-cirricular stuff) there really is only ONE thing that has carried through as essential in later life. And that’s statistics. Yes - damned statistics! The biggest truth that the statistics lecturer didn’t lie about! In fact - I quite often at work find myself applying the methods of the “normal distribution” (or “bell curve” as some people call it) to the raw data that I have in my posession from time to time. Without it - life would be so hard to predict - and I really mean that.

To underline my firm belief in the importance of the normal distribution - this most GENIUS of a statistical method - I am going to give a brief treatment on it - and I am appealing to you to spend a couple of minutes of your precious time and pay attention. Especially all you college students out there - who are not supposed to be wasting your time aimlessly surfing the Internet and reading other people’s blogs: if there’s one thing that you should certainly value from your college education it is this. (In fact, your exam results and final grade are probably determined by it!)

In order to make it more interesting for those of you who are bored already I have asked my second-best friend Aishwarya Rai (famous Indian cinema actress - rumoured to possibly be starring in a future James Bond movie?) to give the mathematics lesson.

Normal Distribution

Let me remind you that the most important continuous probability distribution in the entire field of statistics is the normal distribution. Its graph, called the normal curve, is the bell-shaped curve of Figure 1, which describes so many sets of data that occur in nature, industry and research. In 1733 Abraham DeMoivre developed the mathematical equation of the normal curve. It provided a basis upon which much of the theory of inductive statistics is founded. The normal distribution is often referred to as the Gaussian distribution in honour of Karl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), who also derived its equation from a study of errors in repeated measurements of the same quantity.

Figure 1. The normal curve.

A continuous random variable X having the bell-shaped distribution of Figure 1 is called a normal random variable. The mathematical equation for the probability distribution of the normal variable depends upon the two parameters u and o, its mean and standard deviation. Hence I denote the values of the density function of X by n(x;u,o)

The density function of the normal random variable X, with a mean u and standard deviation o, is

You think that’s intense? Once u and o are specified, the normal curve is completely determined. For example, if u=50 and o=5, then the ordinates n(x;50,5) can easily be computed for various values of x and the curve drawn. In Figure 2 I have sketched two normal curves having the same standard deviation but different means. The two curves are identical in form but are centred at different positions along the horizontal axis.

Figure 2. Normal curves with u1<u2 and o1=o2.

In Figure 3 I have sketched two normal curves with the same means but different standard deviations. This time you can see that the two curves are centred at exactly the same position on the horizontal axis, but the curve with the larger standard deviation is lower and spreads out farther. Remember that the area under a probability curve must be equal to 1 and therefore the more variable the set of observations the lower and wider the corresponding curve will be. Makes sense?

Figure 3. Normal curves with u1=u2 and o1<o2.

Figure 4 shows the results of me sketching two normal curves having different means and different standard deviations. Clearly, they are centred at different positions on the horizontal axis and their shapes reflect the two different values of o. Get it?

From an inspection of Figures 1 through 4 and by examination of the first and second derivatives of n(x;u,o), I can now list the following properties of the normal curve:

1. The mode, which is the point on the horizontal axis where the curve is a maximum, occurs at x=u.

2. The curve is symmetric about a vertical axis through the mean u.

3. The curve has its points of inflection at x=u+o and x=u-o

4. The normal curve approaches the horizontal axis asymptotically as we proceed in either direction away from the mean.

5. The total area under the curve above the horizontal axis is equal to 1.

Figure 4. Normal curves with u1<u2 and o1<o2.

Areas Under the Normal Curve

The curve of any continuous probability distribution or density function is constructed so that the area under the curve (yes under the curve) bounded by two ordinates x=x1 and x=x2, equals the probability that the random variable X assumes a value between x=x1 and x=x2. Thus for the normal curve in Figure 5,

is represented by the area of the shaded region. The shaded region under the curve below!

Figure 5. P(x1 < X < x2) = area of the shaded region


In Figures 2, 3 and 4 we saw how the normal curve is dependent on the mean and the standard deviation of the distribution under investigation.

The area under the curve between any two ordinates must then also depend on the values of u and o. This is evident in Figure 6, where I have shaded regions corresponding to P(x1 < X < x2) for two curves with different means and variances. The P(x1 < X < x2), where X is the random variable describing distribution I, is indicated by the darker shaded area. If X is the random variable describing distribution II, then P(x1 < X < x2) is given by the entire shaded region. Obviously, the two shaded regions are different in size; therefore, the probability associated with each distribution will be different for the two given values of X. Obviously.

Figure 6. P(x1 < X < x2) for different normal curves.

The difficulty encountered in solving integrals of normal density functions necessitates the tabulation of normal curve areas for quick reference. However, it would be a hopeless task to attempt to set up separate tables for every conceivable value of u and o. Fortunately, as you should already know, we are able to transform all the observations of any normal random variable Z with mean zero and variance 1. This can be done by the means of the transformation

Whenever X assumes a value x, the corresponding value of Z is given by z-(x-u)/o. Therefore, if X falls between the values x=x1 and x=x2, the random variable Z will fall between the corresponding values z1=(x1-u)/o and z2=(x2-u)/o. Beautiful isn’t it? Consequently, we may write

Where Z is seen to be a normal random variable with mean zero and variance 1.

Definition: The distribution of a normal random variable with mean zero and variance 1 is called a standard normal distribution.

The original and transformed distributions are illustrated in Figure 7. Since all the values of X falling between x1 and x2 have corresponding z values between z1 and z2, the area under the X curve between the ordinates x=x1 and x=x2 in Figure 7 equals the area under the Z curve between the transformed ordinates z=z1 and z=z2.

Figure 7. The original and transformed normal distributions..

So - we have now reduced the required number of tables of the normal-curve areas to one, that of the standard normal distribution! That was easy wasn’t it?

If you would like to download the Standard Normal Distribution table of z values - then you can do so by going to the this page.

And if you would like to see if any raw data that you have is normally distributed (and you have Microsoft Excel)- then all you have to to is follow these instructions:

Get your measured data into a column in a worksheet. Open up a new worksheet and create a new column for your “interval slots”. So - let’s say for example you are measuring the time it takes for the bus to arrrive over several hundred waits at your bus stop (although probably only Diamond Geezer would actually do something like that!) - then create a column with the values 1 through to say 30 - representing the minutes you might have to wait for the bus. Then enter an “array function” into the right hand colum just adjacent to it - but which is exactly one row longer (underneath) than the interval slots column. To enter an “array function” - you select the cells (as I said - the adjacent column but with an extra row at the bottom) and then press “equals” at the top to enter the function. The function you need is “FREQUENCY” and up should pop-up a “series filler” dialogue box. Fill the “data” series by going to the first worksheet and highlighting the data of your measured values column - and then fill the “results” series by re-highlighting your results column next to your interval slots in the second worksheet. And then: this is is the most important thing: press control-shift-enter to commit the function! And - as if by magic - your results column will contain the frequency counts for the intervals! Now all you need to do is to use the chartwizard to plot it as a line graph - and if it looks bell-shaped like in the above lesson - then the data can be said to be normally distributed!


Posted by jag at 11:13 AM | Comments (19)
November 12, 2003
A40 Westbound

As part of my work - I often find myself having to go to a place called Slough - which is a non-descript village-become-town around 30 miles West of London. Actually - Slough is like a big trading estate - rather than a village or a town.

Anyway - for me - there is one great pleasure associated with my days in Slough - and that’s the car journey there. Specifically: it’s the part of the car journey from Perivale to around the point that it hits the M25. The part of the journey entirely defined by the route of the A40 Westbound.

Yes - the A40 along that stretch is sheer and utter pleasure. I don’t normally drive as part of my daily routine of work, it’s mind-numbing to be sitting in traffic - but there isn’t much of a practical choice for Slough - and surprisingly - there isn’t much traffic - or the traffic flows fairly quickly. But it’s not the fact that it’s a fairly fast drive that makes it a pleasure - it’s not that at all. It’s actually a combination of things …

  • … it’s the delight associated with glancing up at the art deco facade of the front of the famous Hoover Building at the point that I join the A40 in Perivale. Simply marvellous!
  • … it’s the panoramic vista one gets as you get to the top of the incline just past the Target Roundabout. Especially at dawn - when the sun (behind you) is rising and the sharp sunlight at low angles lights up the valley ahead in a spectacular way. Absolutely breathtaking!
  • … it’s the weird spectacle of simmering fog that occupies the fields on either side of the three-lane highway as you pass the Polish War Memorial. Amazing!
  • … it’s the childish spookiness of the way in which the street-lamps suddenly become shorter in height as you enter the stretch of road that runs alongside Northolt RAF base towards the Master Brewer Hotel. And driving through this stretch - is itself like being in a toy car on a Scalectrix set. Facinating!
  • … it’s the innate sense of freedom you get diving-down, beneath the roads that criss-cross the highway - like you somehow are set free like a flying bird - free to avoid the chaos of the suburbs. I get this feeling normally as I just pass Hillingdon - the tube station high up above the road. Quite refreshing!

Yes - it’s all these things together that make the A40 Westbound such a pleasure to drive. And it doesn’t work Eastbound either - it just isn’t the same! It looks completely different driving back home on that stretch. The same charms just don’t exist on the Eastbound.

Simply put: I love the A40 Westbound!

The spectacular Hoover Building - now a Tesco - from the A40 Westbound at Perivale
(Image courtesy of )

This article adapted from an original written and published by moi at Views from Broadway in late 2001.

Posted by jag at 07:14 AM | Comments (3)
November 09, 2003
On being tagged

Well - just to show you how it looks in the morning light:

The stupid thing is; I can’t make out what it says. Can you?

Posted by jag at 10:04 AM | Comments (13)
November 08, 2003
Purple haze

Another week of back-to-back meetings and deadlines that involved working late and being so tired that I didn’t get a chance to even think about updating here. It’s amazing how you can do so much - and so many things happen - in seven long days - and yet when I put my mind to it - I still can’t seem to account for what I’ve done. I simply cannot remember! The “haze” stil hangs in there I suppose. And now it’s dark when you get up - and dark when you get home - which means that focussing on anything in the distance is hard - which means that daydreaming on the bus whilst staring out the window is difficult.

As I try to gather together my thoughts here, I seem to recall that last week I talked about “no lunch” days. This week I had two of them. I remember that much. So what did I have for lunch on the other three? (Long pause) I remember now: a tried a take-away food shop that looks like a rundown shack - staffed by old ladies that appear to have been there for the last 40 years - and frequented by Black Cab drivers and London Bus drivers who seem to gather in their hordes at the end of Hammersmith Grove at lunch times. It seems that this is a “big all-day breakfast bap” sort of place. And I mean BIG. Real “drivers” food. Sausages, bacons and dripping-yellow-yolk fried egg - prepared right in front of your eyes, laid out onto a large white-bread bap - smothered in your choice of brown sauce or tomato ketchup and then cut into two and wrapped up in grease-proof paper and popped into a brown paper bag. As I waited in the queue I couldn’t make up my mind - so when one of the ladies shouted “Who’s next!”, I just couldn’t decide. Much as the breakfast baps were tempting - i just couldn’t bring myself around to ordering one - so I asked after the “homemade” soup. “Spicy lentil” she shouted. “I’ll have one of those please” I returned - not knowing whether I really wanted one. I’ve never had “lentil” soup before. And I would never have ordered something like that from a place like this. Oh well - she went to the back of the shop and poured a couple of ladle-fulls of thick orangey stuff into a polystyrene cup and popped it into a brown paper bag with a plastic spoon and napkin. I took it back to my desk - tried a couple of spoons - put the lid back on and threw it into the bin. So - that lunch actually turned out to be no-lunch really.

The other two lunches were, I remember now, Macdonalds fish-burger and large fries - again eaten at my desk. And on Friday I treated myself to a take-away spicy-pasta (with extra Tabasco) from the Italian take-away in the back-corner of the Broadway Shopping centre. That was the only really enjoyable lunch that I had - even if it was eaten at my desk whilst being interrupted by colleagues stopping by the get an update on this, or an opinion on that, or the whereabouts of whomever.

Woke up one morning and found that one of the outside walls to the front of my house (which is an end-of-terrace “town” house which means that there is no barrier between my front door and the pavement of the road) had been “tagged”. Yes - it’s finally happened to me. Bright purple, spray-can, graffiti scrawl of someone’s alter-ego. I was furious. Subsquently found out that Brent Council offers a graffiti-removal service - which is free the first time you become a “victim” - and subsidised thereafter. What I also found out is that if anybody (and I mean anybody) reports visible graffiti on your property - the council “StreetCare” team send you an awfully official letter reminding you of byelaws that make the removal of the graffiti within 14 days mandatory - otherwise they will remove it themselves and charge you. I was beyond caring at this point. And I am too embarrassed to take a picture of it an put it up right here too. In a funny sort of way - I like graffiti - but what the stupid fucker put up on my wall was a simple, unreadbale, unaesthetic tag. If it has been a colourful work of complex art then I wouldn’t have minded. And if that were the case and the council sent me a nasty letter - then I would have written back to state that it was my own decoration. But alas …

Went to get my hair cut this morning. Barber shop on the high street. It’s really great that institutions like this still exist - unwritten rules - you take a random seat on one side of the shop as your waiting for one of the three barbers to become free - and even though you don’t sit in any particular order - everybody knows who’s next! I waited around 20 minutes before I got my seat at he swivel high-chair. 20 minutes of immersion into a random newspaper that I wouldn’t normally read. It was the Express I think - can’t actually remember - but the entire 20 minutes was taken up by me reading every word of a 4 page feature of the Soham girls murder trial.

Popped in to a few of the many Indian grocers on the high street on the way back - looking out keenly for the best fruits - at the best prices - and gathered up the week’s supply of fruit and veg. I declared myself a 21st century hunter-gatherer as I carried my bags home.

Please forgive me - but I’m going to post the details of this-afternoon’s cook-out. I know I posted one last week - so please don’t think that this journal is turning into a cookbook - it’s just that I’m feeling that I really ought to show something for all the endless work during the week, and the hunter-gathering on the weekend. After all - it seems that existence is all about working to keep a kitchen (who’s mortgage interest rate has just gone up this week) and cook food. This is what 21st-century survival is all about …

This time it’s “Chicken-a-la-Route79”.

Get some chicken: skinless, boneless, chicken thighs from your high-street butcher shop. Wash and chop up into bite-size pieces. I used around 750g today. This will cook enough for 4 hungry adults. Do not use chicken breast - as chicken breast is so dry and bland - and the end-result will be really crap. Goodness knows why chicken breast is so expensive here in UK - it’s the worst, most tasteless, pointless part of the chicken. The thigh or leg actually has the tastie and is a better texture when cooked - and yet it’s a lot cheaper than breast! Bizzare hey? Not sure I understand this logic - but I’m not complaining! Also peel around 4 small/medium onions - and wash and de-seed around 4 peppers - two large green, 2 small/medium red. You will also need a couple of tins of peeled plum tomato - and the usual spices: haldi (turmeric), salt, ground-dhania (coriander) and garam masala - as well as some pulped garlic, ginger and chillie. Plenty of garlic and ginger for this much chicken. Also - not shown in the picture is a bunch of fresh coriander. I used some frozen, chopped coriander - which was prepared weeks ago by moi from several bunches of fresh coriander from the grocer shop.


OK - so chop all the onions into coarse-ish strips. Also chop all the peppers into bite-sized chunks. And get an electric blender ready. Open up the tins of plum tomato - and pour the contents of one of them into the blender.

Then add some pieces of the chopped green pepper - about 1 peppers worth. Give it a good 15 second zap. Then add a bunch of fresh coriander leaf - stalks and all. Zap for another 15 seconds or so.

Then add the pre-pulped garlic, ginger and chillie - add the second tin of tomato - and zap it for another 10 seconds. What you should have is a thick dark green-ish sauce - which you should then pour into a large bowl. Then add the powdered spices to the sauce bowl: about 3 heaped teaspoons of haldi, 3 or 4 heaped teaspoons of garam masala - 2 teaspoons of salt, and 2 heaps of ground coriander. Don’t be put off by the colour of the sauce at this point - a dark dirty-green swamp type sauce - when it cooks it will go a wonderfully aromatic rich reddish-brown!

Stir in the ground spices thoroughly. It was at this point that little MissRoute79 came running into kitchen and pleaded with me if she could help me. So - I let her stir it around. (She had to stand on a foot-stool to reach!) You also need to get the onions cooking out now. Put plenty of oil into a large cooking pan - and stir fry the onions until they start to become translucentish. This might take around 10 mins.

Then add the remaining chunks of red and green pepper - and stir fry until the onions have started to go goldenish brown. At this point - pour in the chopped chicken thighs - and stir fry carefully.

Stir-fry the chicken until the chicken has turned from slimy-pink to rubbery-white. At this point you should pour the spicy sauce mixture over the chicken.

Give the pot a good, thorough stir - ensuring all the chicken is covered in the sauce. Do this whilst the flame is on really high - so that eventually the whole pot starts to boil nearly fiercely!

Now lower the flame to the lowest you can go - and place a lid on the pot - leaving a little gap for steam to escape - and the sauce to reduce. Leave it slow-simmering like this for about 1 hour - coming back to stir it around every 15 minutes or so. Then take a taste of the sauce with a spoon - to test if there’s enough salt or spices. If not - add some more salt and garam masala - and keep tasting until it tastes perfect.

Voila! It’s done. Put lid back on - and you can reheat it later when you wish to serve. You can call it a “chicken curry” if you like - but because it’s got green and red peppers in it - you might want to call it “chicken jalfrezi” - call it whatever you like. This way of cooking it was taught to me by my mum when I was a college kid. Serve it on a bed of freshly-cooked basmati rice - with a salad accompaniment - and a side-plate of a couple of fresh green chillies (if you can cope with biting into fresh green chillie) or achaar (pickle). Because that’s exactly how I’m going to have it tonight!

Cheers! (And I promise - no more step-by-step cooking guides for while)

Posted by jag at 05:53 PM | Comments (19)
November 01, 2003
Guerillas in the mist

Well: I haven’t posted anything here for over one week - because I’ve been real busy! Life is a bit of haze at the moment. In fact, come to think of it - life has been a bit of haze for quite a while. I don’t know about you - but over the last few years or so - life has seemed to be a constant haze of URLs, meetings, emails, text-messages, meetings, laptops, emails, meetings, text-messages, laptops, URLs, wireless LANs, websites, meetings, BBC News 24 and so on - all mixed up in a fuzzy sort of haze - where it’s impossible to work out whether the thing that’s occupying your mind is something that was stimulated by something that someone said - or whether it was stimulated by something that you read on an email or on a web-page, or on BBC News 24.

Or perhaps it was something I read whilst in the men’s bathroom at work? Read on … (and thanks to Ritu for providing the stimulus for this topic!)

Because modern-day living involves being bombarded with these 21st century things that we take for granted - e.g. emails, URLs, text-messages, 24-hour news, laptops, websites, meetings etc. - from the moment we step out of the door on the way to work in the morning - to the moment we get into bed last thing at night, a new kind of advertising is becoming commonplace. I call it “bathroom advertising”. This form of advertising acknowledges the fact that 21st-century living involves being bombarded with all things URL and text-message. It acknowledges the fact that today’s busy work-life (and home-life) involves being inundated with information. A very real information overload - where everyBODY and everyTHING is competing for as many brain-cycles of attention-span as possible.

Yep - bathroom advertising has arrived. For example - if you were to visit my office at work - and more specifically, if you were to visit the bathroom at my office - you would notice that there are bits of paper stuck to the wall: at eye-level just above the mens urinals - or at eye level on the large mirror just above the row of washbasins - or stuck to the chrome of the hand-dryer. And even outside the bathroom: just above the “call-lift” button of the lift-lobby on every floor - and even inside the lift - next to the button panel. And even on the the dispenser of the Flavia coffee machine - the bit that you insert your sachets of coffee-ground into when you go to the kitchenette to make yourself a cup of tea. Each little advertisement competing for your attention: Advertising the fact that email viruses are deadly - or that somebody is having a leaving do - or that some department has changed its processes or that there has been a recent departmental reorganisation. Whatever: it’s obvious that corporate culture is acknowledging the fact that corporate “global” emails do not have the impact that they once had. And this is entirely down to the fact that we are suffering from information overload; it’s not surprising that the only few moments of free time that we get are those that we spend in the bathroom pissing - or stand at the hand-dryer drying our hands, or standing in the lift-lobby waiting for a lift to arrive.

Totally unsurprising actually: ask yourself: how many of you have had lunch with your laptop lately? (i.e. sandwiches from M&S, Tesco or Pret - taken at your desk.) Or no lunch at all - because the only time that you can get a meeting room is at lunch time? Many I bet. (I reckon that I clock up at least 3 “no-lunch days” every week.) Ask yourself how many unread emails you have in your inbox? Emails that you haven’t read yet - or simply won’t read at all - ever. Your decision to read or not to read being made by “sophisticated subject line scanning technique” - or “senders name judgement”. I bet you’ve got loads of unread email with subject lines something like “Departmental Workstack Report for Week 43” or from senders something like “IT Department”. Just hope that people aren’t making judgements about you based on non-returned read receipts … (Have you ever been embarassed by someone coming up to your desk and bringing up a topic that they feel that you shoudl already be aware of because they sent you an email about it a few days ago? The embarassing moment arising when you swing round to your inbox and scroll back to emails from a few days ago - where said person watches over your shoulder and notices such large quantities of unread email - including all the ones from themself. Oops!)

The “ordinary members of the public” have even resorted to such forms of “dead time” advertising: I was sitting on the bus home earlier this week and I noticed a bit of “marker-pen” graffiti the back of the seat in front of me advertising the URL of somebody’s website - perhaps a blog site? Guerilla Marketing .…

Anyway - all this 21st-century information overload caused me to go back to basics: Tonight - being a Saturday night - Ms.79 and me decided to cook a simple but delicious dinner for ourselves: simply saag. A simple, uncomplicated, wholesome and very fulfilling Punjabi dish that we try to make a tradition of cooking every Saturday morning - to eat on Saturday night. And here follows the recipe:

All you need is a couple of medium-size finely chopped onions. some spices: haldi (turmeric), garam masala, ground coriander, salt - as well as some thawed, frozen lumps of chillie, garlic and ginger from your freezer. (For an explanation of what I mean by “thawed lumps” - you have to read a previous recipe) And some maize flour (otherwise known as polenta or cornmeal). Oh - and you also need some spinach leaves and leaves of “spring greens”.

Basic ingredients

Got these pretty cheap from Asda

We got some green leaves from the supermarket. Spinach and Spring Greens - 300g and 500g respectively. See how cheap they are! Wash all the leaves in your kitchen sink - and then chop them up in batches into coarse ribbons on a chopping board. Dump the chopped-up leaves into a large-ish pan one-third full of boiling water on the stove. (Thanks to Ms.79 for providing the graceful, sexy and sensuous, saag-cooking hands modelled in the kitchen photos.)

Boil the leaves for about 1 hour on a semi-agressive simmer

After about 45 mins of semi-agressive simmering - use a magi-mix blender to “zap” the mixture in 5 or six very-short bursts in order to break-down the coarse, stewing ribbons of leaf into more finely shredded bits:

Zap the mixture about six times in very short 1-second bursts

After another 20 minutes of simmering - give the mixture a good stir - and then prepare the cornmeal mixture: put two heaped dessert-spoons of maize-flour (polenta/cornmeal) into a glass and then add some water from the tap. Give it a good stir - ensuring that there are no lumps - and then add to the simmering saag mixture.

Add the polenta mixture to thicken the saag

Let it simmer for a few minutes - and then chop a generous knob of butter and add to the pot - stirring until melted.

You will especially enjoy the fact that at this point - the saag is not simmering as such - instead large bubbles start to form just below the surface of the mixture - and erupt like mini-volcanoes - making a gloopy sound - and splattering your kitchen in a 2 metre radius around the pot. So make sure that you keep a lid handy - just haf-covering the pot so that some of the water evaporates and thickens the mixture. Simmer like this gently for another half-hour - stirring occasionally - and then turn off the heat after it has reached your desired consistency.

The pot has been simmering for around 1.5 hours now.

Then get another small pot - put in a little oil - heat up and then add onions. Fry until the onions are slightly golden-brown. Then add the ginger, garlic and chillie. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the smell of it all spreads across the kitchen.

Then add the spices to the browned onions: 2 teaspoons salt, 3 teaspoons turmeric, 3 teaspons garam masala, two teaspoons ground coriander. By now - the special aroma will be wafting its way out of your kitchen and into your garden - and from there - onwards into the kitchens of your next door neighbours. They will be envious.

Add the spices and stir-fry until the spices are roasted and the aroma prevails

Then add the onion-spice mixture to the saag pot - and stir until well mixed:

Adding the spices to the saag

Then - when you are ready to eat - heat-up the completed saag until it’s just about to boil - serve into a bowl and accompany with either fresh roti - or naan bread (or pitta bread) and a fresh salad of chopped cucumber, halves of cherry tomato, chunky strips of carrot, halves of small radish, and chunkily-chopped red-onion - all tossed in a few dashes of tangy vinegar. Simply delicious!

Serve with fresh roti, naan or pitta bread - and a colourful salad!

Now turn up the volume loud, click on the red button below, close your eyes and immerse yourself in the sound and rhythm of traditional bhangra music as you imagine that you are a Punjabi village farmhand celebrating the end of a harvesting season by feasting on saag-roti, drinking whiskey and dancing into the night …

If there’s any saag remaining in the pot - just put it away into a microwaveable container with a lid - and store in your fridge. It will keep for around 2 days. Just take out of fridge at any time and put container in microwave for a few minutes of reheat - stirring and reheating until piping hot. You can even store in freezer - and will keep for weeks like that. Just make sure you defrost for a few hours before attempting to reheat in microwave. You could also try making “aloo saag” or “paneer saag” with the leftovers: in either case you simply get some cubes of potato or paneer and fry them until golden brown - perhaps adding some more masala spice and salt to the frying cubes - and then stir them into the saag and serve piping hot. Wonderfully simple - very nutritious and extremely delicious!

It’s funny - cos whilst I was researching links to embed in the above posting - I happened across a page with some interesting stories and facts regarding “Chicken Tikka Masala” as the UK’s national dish - even more popular than Fish & Chips. I just had to laugh when I heard that Chicken Tikka sandwiches from Marks & Spencer are the most popular!

Posted by jag at 10:36 PM | Comments (18)

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