Saturday, 24 March 2012

Misadventures in food packaging

The cure. 
Nothing beats the blues like Texas chile.

It's so easy to cook that you don't even have to be sober or awake to make it. Nor do you have to be Texan, even if you are both asleep and drunk. Texas chile is a comfort food that spans borders.

Here's how to make it:

  • saute an onion and several cloves of garlic
  • add a packet of mince 
  • throw in oregano, a tin of kidney beans, two tins of tomatoes, salt and cumin. 
  • chuck in the scalding chili additive of your choosing
  • drown the lot in cheap read wine. 
  • simmer a couple hours till nearly burnt, then wash it down with what remains of the cheap red wine. 

The trouble with Texas chile a la Chaos HQ, is that it has to go over corn bread and under sour cream. Sour cream is easy enough to come by in London, but cornbread ain't. 

Just say no. 
In the homeland a box of Jiffy cornbread will set you back about forty cents. Sadly Britain remains a Jiffy-less island, even though you can buy a $14 box Lucky Charms in Primrose Hill, which is proof that every expat has a super-gross junk food craving (I admit with shame that mine is Aunt Jemima fake maple syrup).

Last week  I reckoned I was in luck when I stumbled upon a box of Aunt Jemima corn bread in my local shop. I didn't think much about the phrase 'no mess baking' on the box until it actually came to cooking it. Regular readers such as my mother will recall that I have a visceral hatred of fake-lazy cooking products. 

Texas chili on the burner, I cracked open the cornbread and was nearly knocked down by a horrible fake cardboard baking tray. But then came the real horror: a pouch of cornbread mix and a note instructing me to dump an egg into the bag, squish it around into a slime concoction, and not puke while so doing. 

Make no mistake - no mess baking has its consequences. I can now confirm that chasing an egg yolk round a plastic bag with your fingertips is substantially grosser than just getting a mixing bowl dirty. 

And yet, all it took to wipe the memory of egg squishery from my fingertips was an overly gluttonous helping of Texas chile, and some cheap red wine. So I forgive Aunt Jemima. After all, she is the champion of fake maple syrup, which shines above and beyond your run of the mill fake food products. 

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mama FAQ

Happy day, British mamas! I should confess here that the word 'mothering' sounds to my American ear like 'smothering'. 

I might have forgotten Smothering Sunday had it not been for an intervention by the eternally wise Bibsey MamaHaving now remembered it in the nick of time (whew), here follows a motherhood faq a la Chaos HQ. 

For banana showers. 
Describe Motherhood in three words
Poo. Puke. Bananas. The universal uniform of motherhood. Some say this triplicate is good for the complexion, others say it builds character. Most agree it poses significant challenges to mental health. 

Does your experience differ from your mother's? How?
My mama raised three kids and several dozen chickens with only an occasional 'darn it'. I manage two kids and one toaster by speaking a sailor dialect. 

What's the hardest thing about being a mum?
Kids go bananas at the slightest provocation. 

What's the best thing?
Kids go bananas at the slightest provocation. 

How has it changed you?
I don't even remember what used to get me out of bed in the morning. I mean, no one was kicking me or demanding bananas in those days. 

What do you hope for your kids?
That they will never lose their joy and nonsense. 

What do you fear for them?
That they will lose their joy and nonsense. 

What makes it all worthwhile? 
The reasons are more numerous than stars in the sky. Like days spent jumping puddles and hunting invisible dragons, covered in finger paint, glitter, and bananas. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012


I read something last week that really captured my imagination: 
The narratives of the traditional "life-story" are breaking down into unrelated pieces. We work 40 jobs over a lifetime...we move location and we start again and again in the deregulated, privatised world of self-selling. We inhabit virtual places as much as we do real ones. Facts become blurred and we live out fictions. For works of writing to reflect this world, they also have to enter into the language and forms of our time, otherwise we end up with confused, over-stuffed, compromised books that use an old form to try to talk about a new time.
For better or for worse, I reckon this is what now feels like.

This paragraph comes from a piece about fiction's future in the Guardian. The writer, Ewen Morrison, is about to publish a new sort of novel: 'a mixture of facts and fictions, images and videos'.

As a former inhabitant of a 'department of factual verification', I agree that facts are pretty nauseatingly dull on their own. Mixing fact and fiction is where the good stuff comes from.  

Always with us. 
Morrison argues that novels should be novel. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't think Jonathan Franzen is God's gift to fiction.

Like some, I still love the smell and feel of old books. A dream of mine is to reanimate old, forgotten literature in novel ways. 

I know a local librarian who is very wise. He can, for instance, produce batmobile sketches on short notice, and he generally gives the impression of one who could have joined the space program but just couldn't be bothered with anti-gravity. 

This afternoon I got into a long conversation with my wise librarian over a common interest of ours: 'London Labour and the London Poor'. This book was written as a series of newspaper articles by Henry Mayhew in the 1840's. It is a journey into Victorian ethnography, economics, and grimmer than Dickens stuff. Have you ever considered the pay and working conditions of rat catchers, for instance? 

Mayhew's work is woven together from oral life histories. As with America's Federal Writers' Project, this makes the line between fact and fiction a blurry, complicated one. When telling your life history, what would you leave in? Take out? Change? 

Mayhew's work still resonates - perhaps in part because his subjects lived in a broken, deregulated world of self-selling. My wise librarian has photocopies of Mayhew illustrations up in the library billboard. 

I will follow the progress of Ewen Morrison's book with interest. And I will read Mayhew's 'Criminal Prisons of London and Scenes of London Life' as suggested by my wise librarian. My interest lies not only the ghost of literature future, but also the ghost of literature past.