strange_raptors: Samuel Whiskers from Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Tom Kitten" (Samuel Whiskers cooking)
Footnote and I picked up some reduced undyed smoked haddock from Tesco this morning (their Finest range from the fish counter). I would traditionally default to fish pie or kedgeree with such fish, but we agreed that it was too summery (in spite of rain) for the former and Footnote vetoed the latter unilaterally. A quick google for smoked haddock recipes led me to think that the fish would work very well in a risotto. 

In the event, I made up my own recipe, which took its inspiration from Nigel Slater's recipe and this BBC Food recipe by Curtis Stone.

Recipe details )
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Hello, hello! 

Is anyone on my flist interested in a vintage typewriter? It is an Olympia make (made in Western Germany), probably dating from the 50's (it was my grandfather's). It's portable(!), in that it has its own carrying case. The notion of portable ends there, however, as the case is made from metal and thus adds a couple of kg on to the already hefty weight. 

It makes very satisfying typewriter noises.

It probably needs a new ribbon, which can be bought on ebay.

I'd rather it went to someone who has an intent to use it for writing, rather than just a collectible to sit around and collect dust (after all, it can do that here!). 

Any takers? Email me, or drop a comment and I'll email you. Pretty happy to deliver to anywhere in Oxford.


Dear God

Oct. 18th, 2011 02:46 pm
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
 On the BBC news website today, there was this story (a brief summary: some Evangelical Christian pastors have been telling their congregations to stop taking their antiretroviral drugs because God will heal them. This has so far resulted in the predictable deaths of three women who did indeed stop taking their drugs). In the article there is, of course, condemnation:

Lord Fowler said, "It's just wrong, bad advice that should be confronted.".

Prof. Jane Anderson said, "We see patients quite often who will come having expressed the belief that if they pray frequently enough, their HIV will somehow be cured," she added. "We have seen people who choose not to take the tablets at all so sometimes die." 

A recent House of Lords committee report on HIV awareness stated, "It is essential that faith leaders engage with HIV as an issue and provide effective and truthful support and communication around the subject."

To me, this is not enough. As a direct result of these people's actions, people died. Nowhere in this article is there mention of any police involvement or illegality. Do we not have a consequentalist basis of law in this country? If, say, a pastor told their congregation, "Go out and shoot these people," and the people did, would they not be responsible for their actions? Would not the pastor also be implicated in murder? So, why, in the HIV case (and similar cases like this) are these misguided religious leaders not held to account? Why hasn't the Catholic Church been held to account for its condom policy in countries with high HIV rates? I can understand that in some cases there might be doubts over the causality links, but when it seems so cut and dried?  

When are people, religious or otherwise, going to start accepting responsibility for their actions? And why isn't the law making them face this?
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
[WARNING: This post may make you lose any remaining faith you had in the railway network in this country]

Recently, Erethorn discovered that by breaking his tickets into two (instead of buying a ticket for the whole of journey A->C, he bought a ticket from A->B and a ticket from B->C) the price did not, as you would expect, go up but instead went down.

This evening, just out of interest, I decided to look at the various prices resulting from breaking a journey from Oxford to Birmingham. Here are my results. All prices quoted are for a return for a single adult, travelling at off-peak times, using a 16-25 railcard. Ticket type is detailed in brackets.

Full journey
Oxford-Birmingham International: £20.60 (Off-peak return)

2 breaks:
Oxford-Banbury: £3.50 (Off-peak day return), Banbury-Birmingham International: £9.25 (Anytime day return). Total journey cost: £12.75

Oxford-Leamington Spa: £10.45 (Off-peak return), Leamington Spa-Birmingham International: £4.15 (Off-peak day return). Total journey cost: £14.60

Oxford-Coventry: £17.65 (Off-peak return), Coventry-Birmingham International: £1.15 (Off-peak day return). Total journey cost: £18.80

3 breaks:
Oxford-Banbury: £3.50 (Off-peak day return), Banbury-Leamington Spa: £4.60 (Off-peak day return), Leamington Spa-Birmingham International: £4.15 (Off-peak day return). Total journey cost: £12.25
Oxford-Leamington Spa: £10.45 (Off-peak return), Leaminton Spa-Coventry: £3.10 (Anytime day return), Coventry-Birmingham International: £1.15 (Off-peak day return). Total journey cost: £14.70

4 breaks:
Total cost: £3.50 + £4.60 + £3.10 + £1.15 = £12.35 (from journey details above, I just got bored writing out all the station names and ticket types).

This means that, assuming you want to travel to Birmingham and back on the same day, you will save 40% by buying three individual returns (the Oxford-Banbury-Leamington Spa-Birmingham International route above). 

Maybe you're thinking that it's a bit unfair to the rail companies to compare day returns with standard returns (which are valid for a month). I'd argue that, if they gave me the option of buying an off-peak day return to Birmingham, that would be unfair. Given that they don't, and force me to part with almost twice my money for the same journey, I don't think it's unfair at all. 

Feel free to share this post if you think it's relevant to people who use the trains often, and who aren't particularly phased by ordering all their tickets online and then picking them all up at the train station.
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
Next week MPs are voting on amendments to the health and social care bill, I'm specifically concerned about the amendment that women should be required to have independent counselling before having an abortion.

There's been quite a lot of news coverage on this issue. Some articles I found useful were Education for Choice's investigation into some independent organisations,  Zoe Williams' Comment is Free piece makes some very good points, a discussion of right-wing Christian activists and their influence on the coalition government, and ways in which Faith-based charities can do good, without restricting choice for women.

If that manages to sway you, or you were already convinced, then you could email your MP, using FindmyMP, with this draft letter that the nice people at FPA composed. 
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
The Guardian had a really awesome article/post on their website linking to short films about travel. I really enjoyed watching them. Even though the first three were very slick, the one I most enjoyed watching (but missed during its first rounds on the internet) was the "Where the hell is Matt?" one. It made me think "Wow, humanity is magical", which at times like this is what you need to be reminded of.

Food stuff

Jul. 2nd, 2011 12:59 pm
strange_raptors: Samuel Whiskers from Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Tom Kitten" (Samuel Whiskers cooking)
I have:
A tin of chickpeas (possibly 2)
A jar of harissa paste
Some uncooked chicken (~500g)
A large tub of yoghurt 
Lemons (not preserved)
Cinnamon sticks

I feel sure that there should be some Moroccan-style recipe which incorporates all of these, but I've yet to find it. What I would like is some kind of stew thing (maybe sans yoghurt) which I can reheat to have with couscous. Maybe with the yoghurt on the side, mixed with cucumber and mint (alá this recipe).

Opinion seems to be split about how to cook the aubergines -- you can marinate them in the harissa, brush them with oil and fry/grill them separately, or roast them. 

So, I guess a rough recipe could look like:
1) Chop into largeish chunks the tomatoes and aubergine and roast with lots of olive oil for about an hour at 180 (fan) (after this recipe)
2) Gently fry chopped onion and garlic for ~20 until very soft.
3) Add cumin, coriander, a cinnamon stick and cloves (all the c's!) to the onion and heat for a bit.
4) Add diced chicken to the spices and stir well to coat, then add the aubergine and tomatoes and chuck in rinsed chickpeas. 
5) Also add lemon zest! And 1-2 tspns of harissa.
6) Cook for half an hour or so.
7) I suspect this is one of those recipes which improves with age. Serve with couscous and yoghurt.

Note: You could add spinach. Spinach is tasty and healthy. 

Further note: I have not actually cooked this. Take this recipe to the kitchen with a healthy dose of common sense and scepticism. I'm not quite convinced by the separate cooking of the vegetables, because I feel that in a dish like this all the ingredients should be on very friendly terms/offering to babysit each other's children/leaping into bed with one another. 

Any thoughts?

In other news, ahahahaha, oh god wedding.
strange_raptors: Fruits Basket Yuki in rat form held in Tohru's hands (Yuki rat)
From this evening until Friday afternoon I'm at a conference in Cambridge. Breakfasts and lunches are provided, but dinners are not which leaves me in the (simultaneously enviable and unenviable) position of having to find places to eat. This is where you can help! I am looking for cheap (less than £10) places which do good food and are reasonably central (though I don't mind a walk if it's to somewhere good). I don't mind takeaway places, since Cambridge is quite pretty.
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Bleh, I'm feeling a little under the weather today. As I have now achieved the one thing on my to do list (email scary people), I hereby devote the rest of my energy to making a post of awesome things. If you have been on gtalk recently, you may have had me spamming you with some or all of these things. I make no apologies.

My first thing would have been CAT SNUGGLING DOLPHIN footage, recently posted on But it's been made private, and is therefore no longer available. I suspect government forces at work, trying to stop a complete meltdown of the internets due to the profound cuteness. As a substitute, I present this photo from Sloths ftw.

Dragon Age 2 have been posting many things in my facebook feed, but none more cute than this. Why yes, it is the companions from DA2 as My Little Ponies, why do you ask? (so cute, especially little emo grumpy Balthier Fenris -- *flail*)

This looks like a really nice recipe, or maybe it's just that the cold spring makes me long for clear flavours. Either way, the combination of egg, chicken, noodles, miso, and green stuff makes even my uncooperative stomach feel a bit hungry.
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (wtf?)
A couple of interesting articles appeared on the Guardian today. The first on the high court's disappointing ruling regarding early medical abortions by Zoe Williams, Abortion is quietly shoved off the agenda again.

The second regarding a couple of the court of protection's recent rulings, written by Deborah Orr, Hearings involving vulnerable people need close monitoring.
strange_raptors: Profile shot of Utena from Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Utena)
What's in a name? )

There seems to be a dilemma between what I would like to do, and what I think I should do. I'd be interested in other people's opinions on this.
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Anime news network is doing its previews of Winter 2011 anime. I was intrigued by one of them called Wandering Son, which was getting good write-ups. It's currently showing on Crunchy Roll, though only the introduction and episode 1 are up at the moment. From what I've seen so far, I've really liked it. Its main theme is gender identity, and it focuses on two friends who have just started middle school. The art style is very washed-out pastel colours, with some very lovely backdrops and close-ups of scenery. Don't be put off by the opening credits which are a little overly long, in my opinion (if illustrated with beautiful washed out scenes). The anime starts in the middle of the manga, and doesn't really orientate newcomers at all. However, it's easy enough to start recognising people/names, and I far prefer this style of story-telling to ones where the audience is treated like a goldfish. 

This is the sort of anime I wished I could have watched aged 10 or 11. Although I'm mostly happy with my gender now, it would have been nice to know that other people felt like me. 
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Concert tonight, at the University Church. Starts at (7.45pm for) 8pm. Programme is Britten, Handel, and some traditional carols. Many of my (and by extension some of your) flist will either be attending or singing. There's even going to be mulled wine and minced pies. Tickets £5/£3 on the door.
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Does anyone know of a website which lists children's drama made by the BBC in the 1990s-2000s, and which was typically shown in the Sunday early evening slot?

I remember watching most of these as a child, but for the life of me cannot remember anything about them - except that they were generally excellent and often fantasy stories. The last one shown, I think, (and which I was rather too old for so didn't watch much of) was Shoebox Zoo (broadcast from 2004-2005).

Following research I suspect at least one of them was The Magician's House which was broadcast from 1999-2000. There was also The Borrowers from 1992-1993. I also think that maybe The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-1990) and Five Children and It (1991 and 1993) came into this category, though I was too young to watch them when they were first released. I do recall watching The Phoenix and the Carpet (broadcast in 1997).

Anyone remember any others?
strange_raptors: Ellipsis (Angry)
So, the budget ... unsurprisingly regressive (unsurprising because it's the Tories and people seem to have forgotten after 12 years of Labour that budgets can be like this), except for a few cases, and one case in particular -- tuition fees. 

Unfortunately this government, like the previous government, has completely messed up the marketing of loans and all the usual rhetoric from the newspapers and the NUS has sprung up about the huge amount of debt hanging round the poor necks of the students. I'm rather fed up of reading it, and so many people seem to be misinformed about university funding that I've decided to set out the facts in this post. I'll happily debate any of the points in comments.

1) Tuition fees are unfair -- Universities require funding, most of which comes from the government, in order to do the things that universities do (e.g. teach students, pay researchers, provide facilities). As this funding comes from the government, people who pay taxes provide the money for this. In order to get more money, universities also charge tuition fees to students. Students often get loans from the government to pay these tuition fees (so the universities get money from the government in multiple ways), but they are expected to pay these loans back once they start earning money. If there were no tuition fees, a large proportion of  the population would be paying for the rest to go to university. However, with tuition fees, the people who have gone to university and who have benefited from this experience pay more than the people who have not. This, it seems to me, is a pretty fair system.

2) Tuition fees are debt --  It is true that throughout university, and after you finish, you are presented with statements which show how much you've borrowed from the government in loans, and that you are expected to pay this back at some point. In this way it is like debt, but only in this way.
  • Unlike debt, it does not affect your credit rating.
  • Unlike debt,  there is no real interest charged on it. Instead the debt rises with inflation -- so you continue paying the real value for your education.
  • Unlike debt, you are not expected to pay it whether you can afford to or not. You begin repaying your student loan after you earn over £15,000. Above this you pay 9% of what you earn each year until you have repaid the debt. This means that if you are earning £20,000, you only pay the 9% on £5000 -- so £450 a year.
  • Unlike debt, your balance is completely wiped after 25 years.  

3) Increases in fees will put off students from poor backgrounds going to university -- There has been no evidence so far to suggest that this is the case (university participation has been going up year on year despite the introduction and increase of tuition fees). However, nothing puts off students from poor backgrounds more than a load of newspapers and the NUS spreading misinformation and rhetoric about tuition fees.

4) Tuition fees are regressive -- It's true that graduates who get high paying jobs will pay their student loan off quicker than those graduates who get lower paying (but still above the £15,000 threshold) jobs. That's why the government is proposing that graduates who get high paying jobs should pay a higher rate of interest than those with lower paying jobs. They're also proposing to increase the repayment threshold to £21,000 -- going back to our earlier example, the graduate who was paying £450 a year will now pay nothing, whilst a graduate who earns £25,000 will only pay the 9% on £4000, rather than on £10,000 (so £360 a year, rather than £900). As well as these truly progressive measures, they're increasing the repayment time from 25 years to 30 years -- this means that graduates with middling incomes will end up paying more, because they'll be paying for longer. However, they're expecting that only the richest 40% of graduates will pay off the full "debt", whilst the poorest 20% of graduates will pay less than in the current system. 

5) A graduate tax would be better --  Tuition fees are effectively a graduate tax, but instead of paying more than your education was worth, you pay the amount it was worth. Like the best taxes, people who earn more pay more, whilst those who earn very little pay nothing. Ignoring these important points, there are various logistical difficulties with a graduate tax to do with EU students, however I think that pales into insignificance when the current system is viewed as a vast improvement on a graduate tax. 

It leaves me feeling sick in my stomach to defend the Tories and the coalition government in such a way, especially given all the other stupidly regressive measures in the budget. There are plenty of things to complain about -- the welfare cuts, the lack of an equality assessment, AHSS funding -- but please, please not the tuition fees.
strange_raptors: Samuel Whiskers from Beatrix Potter's "The Tale of Tom Kitten" (Samuel Whiskers cooking)
This afternoon, Footnote and I visited the fish wholesalers and bought two swordfish steaks, eight scallops (with roe still attached), and a piece of smoked haddock. We had the scallops for lunch, based on a Nigel Slater recipe:

1) Fry scallops in some oil on a high heat for a minute or two on the first side. (Warning: They will spit an awful lot)
2) Flip them (the cooked sides should now be a golden colour) and cook for another minute or two. 
3) Remove scallops from the pan, add a large piece of butter and some sliced garlic and stir butter and garlic in the pan so that the beautiful, beautiful pan scrapings melt into the butter. Cook for a minute or two.
4) Add freshly cooked pasta to the pan and coat with the garlicky, buttery, pan juices. Add lemon zest.
5) Serve, with some lemon on the side.

That went down exceedingly well (it's a lovely recipe, and really brings out the scallops' sweetness). Then for dinner we fried the swordfish steaks in the griddle, and served them with sautéed potatoes, green beans, and hollandaise sauce. It was the first time I'd tried swordfish and I can't say I was all that taken with it (certainly not as nice as tuna, and perhaps a little less nice than salmon). I thought the nicest part of the meal was dipping green beans into the hollandaise. 

People say making hollandaise is difficult, as it has a tendency to curdle. Generally I've found the following recipe fairly foolproof (using one egg yolk to approximately 66g of butter):

1)  Place the egg yolk(s) in a heatproof bowl (pyrex is really good) over a pan of gently simmering water. Add a splash of a water and whisk a little.
2) Cut the butter up into little cubes.
3) Add two of the cubes to the egg yolk(s) and whisk in.
4) Repeat step 3) until you have no more butter.
5) Remove the bowl from the heat and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Whilst on holiday in Lyme Regis we had some of the nicest fish and chips I've had for a long time -- the fish batter crisp, the fish inside soft and delicate, and the chips crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle. They were absolutely perfect. I do slightly despair of the fish and chip situation in Oxford, indeed I think it's one of the city's main food flaws. But when you're in the middle of the country, I guess you can't expect much. 
strange_raptors: Rat from Spirited Away reenacting Chihiro's defeat of the bug (Spirited Away)
Scott Lynch has made available an excerpt from the first chapter of The Republic of Thieves. For those of you wishing to avoid spoilers, I can safely say that (I believe) it starts at the beginning of the first chapter and runs for most of it. It's really quite exciting, and I think the writing is still quite sharp and enjoyable to read. For interest, you can find the link here. Fingers crossed for a release date next year some time. In the meantime, the new Miles Vorkosigan book Cryoburn is out at the beginning of November.
strange_raptors: And then raptors came through the stargate ... (Default)
Haymans Fisheries are opening a fish wholesaler next to (read: a block or two away from) the meat wholesaler in Osney Mead. I cannot quite express in words how excited this makes me. They are even getting a potentially exciting special guest to open the place, which means they are just as excited as I am (it's like combining sushi with a city Christmas light turning on ceremony!). 

Meat and fish a whole 8 minutes' walk away! Truly West Oxford is a food utopia (though still sadly lacking a Waitrose).