Conspiracy Theory

Docklands March 2010 103I am not normally a great friend or spinner of conspiracy theories. However, the fact that right now and out of the blue so-called intelligence emerges, informing of immediate and severe terrorist threads, based on intelligence gathered from intercepted communications, I find that highly suspicious.

Right now, the US and most other countries need to justify their insane Big Brother attitude, and we are going to loose out big time, no matter how it ends. We of course means us, people who believe in the freedom of speech and that an mass-gathering of data and blanket observation without well-defined and published rules of who against whom, when and how and all that… You and me, Ed Snowden, and quite a few but not enough others.

Assume nothing happens in the Yemen or somewhere else in the middle-east, Africa or elsewhere, one of these days. I guess they’ll say that they have successfully warned and defused the threat. I suppose a whole month or so without any anti-US thread or protest is unlikely in the extreme, so they’ll use that to argue that they need to intensify their spying. Whichever way, they will use it to demonstrate that more surveillance is needed and Ed Snowden needs punishing.

Who would have thought we’d find ourselves so quickly in a steadily widening totalitarian regime? I never did, but I fear that we might.


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Wild West

DSC_0440W7 is once again in the land of the free, in the land of the almighty superlative, in the land where Adele’s songs still play up and down the radio, in the land of gigantic portions, in the land where people think freedom of expression means the ability to drive the biggest car that fits on public highways.

Hmm, looks like I might suffer a slight attitude problem here. I’m counting on my local friends coming to the rescue.

Real-life Circus

DSCF3724I don’t know how much more of the Julian Assange circus I can stomach. Allow me:

He’s on bail by the British justice system. He breaches the Bail Act by walking into the London Embassy of Ecuador, asking for political asylum. He can’t leave the embassy for fear of being arrested (because he breached the British bail conditions). All this in order to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of rape and sexual assault (which he denies). He fears that, once in Sweden, he might be extradited to the US, where he is wanted over espionage allegations, and he fears that the US of A may not give him a fair trial.

Come on.

He pleads not guilty over sex crime allegations, but makes every effort not to stand trial and see his innocence proven. He pisses off the US (and others) via WikiLeaks, claiming moral high ground all the way, and is now worried that they might be upset?

I’d really like to know which piece of the puzzle I am missing.


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Whiter Than White

bibendumThose who have been to the U.S. before will know them as the country of superlatives: strawberries are larger and sweeter than elsewhere in the world. Coffee cream is whiter, roads are wider, cars are bigger, supermarkets are larger (and so are the steaks), people are louder, portions are bigger and petrol is cheaper. In fact, the list of superlatives is longer than anywhere else.

When shopping for food in a local supermarket, I found another peculiarity previously unknown to me: eggs are white.

Back home in Britain, you’d struggle to find a white egg on the shelves; the vast majority of chicken eggs sold are brown eggs. Over here, I found a few brown ones on a specials shelf, but hundreds of cartons of white eggs.

I haven’t cracked a white egg in a long time, so I conducted an experiment over the weekend. This took the shape of Tagliatelle Carbonara with smoked salmon, with sauteed spinach and Shitake mushrooms on the side, and a soft boiled egg for Sunday morning.

The world is in order and I am at peace. The American white egg is just what it claims to be: an egg.

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A Reason to Join Twitter

lost duck I never knew a reason to join twitter, but I am seriously contemplating doing so, ever since I heard that the US Library of Congress decided to archive every tweet ever made.

I think everyone should sign up to Twitter right away, and inundate them with so much inane babble (also known as a 140 character maximum tweet) that they stop such nonsense and focus on a more selective method of preserving knowledge and history.

They must be out of their minds, but it’s kind-a difficult to explain in 140 characters.


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The Good and the Bad


oranutang Speaking of grumpy old men, here’s a book warning, and a book recommendation.


The warning is about Paolo Coelho‘s The Alchemist. I bought and read it, because I was lead to believe that this is a household essential in America. Poor America.


It’s a long time since I was so insulted by a book. The pretty thin book delivers a single morale, sickenly repeated and spread thickly more than anyone can endure, and it does make sure that you get the point. It goes like so:


Sentence one tells you what is about to happen, and why. Sentence two repeats part of the statements made in sentence one, just in case you didn’t get it. Sentence three describes what sentence one already announced, number four explains the moral (confirming the expectations raised in previous sentences). Then it moves on to repeat the same spiel over and over again, but doesn’t even bother changing the moral at all.


Try living your dream, is what the book says. It’s not very difficult to say, is it?


Now nice and completely refreshing on the other hand is Sarah Gruen’s Water for Elephants. A lovely story, told by a 91-year old man, who looks back on his live with a circus during the years of the Great Depression.


Water for Elephants. Highly recommended.

The Alchemist. You have been warned.





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Restaurant Overkill

football I am ashamed of myself, for lacking the courage necessary to make my point right there and then. Very sad, I know. Eventually, I’ll be a grumpy old man, and nothing will hold me back.

For example, I would stand up in the middle of the restaurant, and deliver an impromptu lecture on table manners to the waiting staff. Do not, I would say, do not start clearing the table while half of my company are still eating. Do not say “Finished?” when I haven’t even replaced my fork back onto the plate. Oh, I would add, and don’t ask “How would you like it cooked” when the customer orders liver.

How they expect to deliver a civilized dining experience is beyond me.

I would also want to stand up and deliver an impromptu lecture on table manners to some of the guests. Do not, I would say, do not stand up and walk around the restaurant during the meal. Do not eat with your elbows on the table or your hands on your knees, and don’t start until everyone has his or her serving. Use knife and fork for eating. Do not consider eating a burger fine dining.

Arrrrg. I guess I just had enough restaurant food for a while. America might make this experience even more special, but the bottom line is that I am glad to be back home.

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Last-minute Shopping

endive We made some last minute shopping back home, just a quick trip into town and to the local farmers’ market on the Saturday morning to buy two large heads of curly Endive. Interesting to read-up on Endive in my new copy of the great Larousse Gastronomique (Thanks to Santa!), which explains the relation between Endive, Frisee and Chicorée, and explains that what is Endive to some (Britain, Italy, Germany) is Chicorée (or Chicory) to some others (France, USA). There’s also Radicchio from the same family, and Red Chicorée (whose strength is chiefly in being decorative rather than tasty).

No wonder there is confusion in all this. This is no excuse for not growing or for not selling curly Endive, as depicted here (whatever you might prefer to call it) on my local market in W7.  No excuse at all.

I saw seeds on sale in the local garden centre some while back. Once our building work is done and our garden has been restored to a new and better place, I’ll have to start another battle against the slugs when trying to grow my own.

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Welcome to the United States

statueOfLiberty Effective January 12, 2009, all visitors to the US traveling on a visa waiver program are required to obtain an electronic travel authorization before boarding.

So, I click In the name of fighting terrorism, I obtain the following warm welcome to the United States of America:

“This Department of Homeland Security (DHS) computer system and any related equipment is subject to monitoring for administrative oversight, law enforcement, criminal investigative purposes, inquiries into alleged wrongdoing or misuse, and to ensure proper performance of applicable security features and procedures. As part of this monitoring, DHS may acquire, access, retain, intercept, capture, record, read, inspect, analyze, audit, copy and disclose any information processed, transmitted, received communicated and stored within the computer system. If monitoring reveals misuse or criminal activity, notice of such may may be provided to appropriate supervisory personnel and law enforcement officials. DHS may conduct these activities in any manner without further notice. By clicking OK below or by using this system, you consent to the terms set forth in this notice.”

If they could shoot me through the Internet, I am sure they would also allow for that possibility as a precautionary measure.

While DHS reserves the rights to conduct these activities in any manner, they apparently fail to prevent everyone else from conducting a new kind of business: While the DHS seeks to fight terrorists, they forgot the common crooks, who were quick to set up genuine looking web sites that charge anything from $49 upwards to assistance with the process – which is free and simple if you ignore the crooks and go for the not so intuitive official URL.

Muffin Season

muffins It’s Muffin Season once more! This is mostly because I bought a dozen full-sized silicone muffin cases, which are an absolute delight. No-fat no-stick, just fill in the muffin base, pop in the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then pop out of the cases, followed by very easy cleaning.

No more fumbling with tearing and half-burnt paper, and no more fumbling with cases not strong enough to hold the base before baking. I strongly recommend that you get yourself some. I find them very hard to find here in the UK (if not, in fact, impossible), but they are abundant and readily available in the US (check out Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma stores for starters). I’d imagine other countries are ahead of the UK, cooking-wise, too.

So, now you’ve got those lovely muffin cases. Here’s the under 10 minute yet perfect muffin base – makes 6 to 10 muffins, depending on size and amount of fillings:

100g white wheat flour, 80g melted butter, 75g sugar, 80ml whole milk. One free range egg yolk, seeds from half a vanilla pod, and one generous teaspoon of baking powder. Put ingredients into bowl, start mixer on low gear and mix thoroughly. You’ll find the base will be fairly runny, maybe like a thick yogurt. That’s OK.

When the basic base is ready, gently stir in fillings. Only the sky and your fantasy is the limit, but you might want to stop one step prior to reaching olives and anchovies. Here are some pretty obvious suggestions:

  • Whole milk choc chips with a tiny pinch of fresh nutmeg
  • Cherries (from a jar), fresh blueberries, fresh peach (pieces)
  • Semi-dried cranberries, tossed in cinnamon
  • Apple pieces, sprinkled with lime juice, then tossed in cinnamon and sugar.
  • Crushed poppy seeds (with bitter almond oil?)

Gently stir in the fillings, then fill each cup to about 3/4 of its height. When using heavy fillings, add one or two pieces on top of each base (those won’t sink all the way to the bottom). Pop into the pre-heated oven at 180 Celcius for 10..15 minutes – use a wooden stick or visual judgement to determine when they are ready.

The next job is to figure out a savoury muffin base. I want the same consistency and lightness, but want to use them as appetizers. Fillings could include anchovies, rosemary, olives, bacon, mushrooms, … again the sky will be the limit, but it will be a whole new sky!

(For those of you familiar with The Alice Project, yes, this would be part of it.)

So, tell us all about your favourite muffin fillings.


Turning a Long One Into a Short One

DSCF3700 Note to self: Do not start return journey from US at the beginning of a long US weekend. Airport is full, all waiting lines are full, plane is full. Extra foolish if US long weekend coincides with UK long weekend, as it turns a long one into a short one.

Glad to be back home as always, inspite the miserable weather, though.

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Americans: Stay at Home

Statue of Liberty The Wall Street Journal writes on Friday, 26-October-2007 under the title Expat Life Gets Less Cushy about the cost of living abroad. Basically, the argument is that the dollar exchange rate sucks, and that living abroad while drawing income from US resources gets increasingly unattractive. With a dollar exchange rate as far down as £0.49 per dollar (=2.04 £/$), that’s no surprise.

Even less surprising if you read on, and explore the cost of living in London – according to Wall Street Journal’s article. According to them, a “two-bedroom apartment near the American School of London rents for at least £500 per week .”

To buy, a two-bedroom costs about $1.5..£2.5 million. Kensington and Chelsea, areas also popular with Americans, are even more expensive: A two-bed flat starts at more than £780 per week, … A nice restaurant dinner, so the Wall Street Journal knows, without much wine, will set diners back £80..£125.

On the upside, they note, travel to other European cities [from London] is easy.

I guess that means we are safe from an American invasion, and we are left at peace to enjoy the many other upsides of life in London, and to enjoy the much more affordable London.

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