Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Deposing Nero burns Rome, your PC, but not BT

If you're not mildly techie, do not read on, only heed the warning not to install Nero Essentials!

Just a very quick blog; I spent most of the weekend and part of last night trying to revive my file associations. Let me explain; I have a lovely new quiet PC - after having mistakenly thought that a water-cooled PC would be quiet (it's like having a swimming pool pump next to your ear), I decided that I would go for quiet. And it is; it also came with Nero Essentials pre-installed. Now I used Nero some 5 versions ago without any problems, but I started noticing some persistent activities in terms of programmes checking stuff and doing stuff in background.

So I de-installed Nero; then did it again, then searched on the web to find that it needs a utility (as a side-note, this is a really well-known problem) . To quote their own blurb "The Nero General CleanTool has removed all selected Nero entries from your computer." Well, actually, no it hasn't - my StartUp inspector shows that there are still four entries in the startup routine that refer to Nero files that are no longer there. So I have to go into the registry and remove the entries manually - a tricky process.

So, after 5 hours of effort I thought 'killed it" - good. And then I noticed that one of my icons had changed; it was a humble Word 2000 file. I double-clicked on it and it then asked me to search for the appropriate application. Word and Office 2007 aren't there!?! What the **** Hmmm. So I check that Office 2007 is still installed - it is. I then see that there are an awful lot of file associations that have disappeared.

Apparently, Nero Essentials, grabs file associations on install unless you tell it not to. And if you install stuff (as I had) afterwards, when it updates itself, it grabs all the file associations, including those you told it not to grab in the first instance. So when you double click on an icon, it goes through Nero first! As the recommended solution appears to be to deinstall and reinstall everything, I am now havering between trying to live with it, doing as it says or a factory settings reboot, a deinstall, nuke Nero Essentials and then start again. Oh, and that means a series of downloads of updates for Windows and Office 2007 that amounts to over a gigabyte on a 0.5 Mbps broadband line. Update: 25/2: Office 2007 Repair recovers the Office associations - now for the rest!

And that brings me onto BT. Spit. They rang me last night offering cheap broadband. They are the clowns who've split my line down to provide capacity for other numbers in the area to the extent that I now have a maximum theoretical line speed of 1Gb, which works out for contention reasons to between 0.5 and 0.8 Mbps. When I raised this with the caller (who I'd already roasted because I'm registered with the TPS; her response that I was one of their customers was squelched by the fact that I'd said on all and every communication not to use telephone) she still persisted on trying to use my time and telephone line to sell me something!

Re, the bandwidth, I've tried Oftel and also lodging a fault report, but nothing works.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Taste and Cobblers

I thought I'd do a quick review blog, but it's turned into a bit of a monster. But first an aside; I used to read in my teens some 4-8 books a week, sometimes many more; even in my late thirties and forties I read at least one book a week. And then, working with computers and print for such a long time got to my eyes and I had to wear reading glasses. The point of this is that I now select very carefully what I read - part of this is that I get headaches when I read, so it has to be worth it.

So to "A Taste of My Life" by Raymond Blanc. (Corgi books, £8.99 pbk) I've always been fascinated by this man; why did he come to the UK, why has he stayed, how did he get started - it's a fascinating story. But, don't expect a connected narrative; it is more a collection of stories, ideas and recipes and is very cleverly put together so that each informs the other in the sequence of his life. I'm guessing that M. Blanc does not get much time for writing and wants to make it count!

I found particularly interesting some of the general comments on cooking; Chapter Twenty-four is called Thought and is about salt and seasoning in general. And not the least is the observation which I have known, mutely, all my latter cooking life, that when you add seasoning during the progress of the cooking, it will differ in strength and effect. I know that's obvious, but boy, does it need saying. With some dishes if you forget an ingredient it behoves you to think long and hard about the effects of adding it in later; garlic and salt are two things that spring to mind where the effects are totally different, if added at the start or at the end.

The insight into his childhood and French country life is fascinating to a francophile like myself (and for more of the same in visual form, watch the beautiful and poetic Etre et Avoir; it's subtitled, but very much worth watching).

His final chapter is about the future and particularly the future in terms of the food chain and what and how we get our food. The mere mention of the word carbon footprint raises the spectre of things like responsible eating! Which brings me on to something I bought from my local Tesco's. I was looking for some reasonably dense-fleshed white fish to cook - going past the counters I spotted Pangasius hypophthalmus or River Cobbler as it's known in English. I read the label (I do that nowadays, even if it means laboriously taking my glasses out of their case) and discovered that it was farmed fish from Vietnam. Now I knew it was from Vietnam, because I'd watched Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. But I hadn't realised that it was also farmed.

So I thought I'd try it. It comes in fillets and the structure of the flesh is firm, but there are what appears to be sorts of, hmm, ligaments running in the same way that bones would run, so I guess this this is why there are nil bones in it. After unwrapping the fish I saw that it has a slight pink tinge to them, but don't have a fishy smell; in fact hardly any smell at all.

The bony ligaments (for want of a better word) are held together by one central ligament, which I decided to remove, so making two half fillets; I then cut the remaining into chunks. Now this is a really solid flesh and the ligaments that remained are quite evident when you cut them and also when you eat the fish. I tried these twice - once by giving them about 12 minutes cooking (with other ingredients) and once about 8 minutes cooking. For my taste (given that I use a lot of SE Asian spices in my cooking) the former is better as the extra 4 minutes helps to break down the ?collagen in the ligament thingies. There's a springy texture when you bite into it which I found disconcerting when cooked the 8 minute time.

One review by Tune57 on Ciao gives the following method: "Having not tasted them before, I decided to keep the cooking of them relatively simple by dipping them in flour and then beaten egg before coating them in fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, mixed with some lemon zest and a little dill. These were then lightly fried in a little olive oil for around 5 minutes on each side, before being devoured alongside a green salad and some new potatoes.

The flesh of this fish turned a delectable ivory colour once cooked and had a lovely clean, juicy and delicate taste, not that dissimilar to Cod or Sole, but without the hefty price tag."

I've since googled around and come across some horrifying stories of food poisoning, polluted environments, and so on. A bit reminiscent of the salmon with sea lice stories that applied to one particular farm and hit the livelihood of all those farming salmon. Given that we eat fish like sole, cod and monkfish that spend their lives sucking the bottom of the seas around our coastline, I think it behoves us to try and keep a sense of proportion!

I think air miles may be more of a problem than pollution, but the amount of sustainable fish available in the UK is pretty limited and the bottom-feeders like cod, monkfish or plaice are already very much at risk. When did you last see plaice in any quantity (wonderful with beurre noisette and new potatoes)? But unlike Tune57 I felt river cobbler was more of a carrier food than having any special merit.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Creation of the Devil

I know it's hard to credit, but every so often I try, again, an ingredient I've disliked before. Semolina is one such. A variant of this which gives me the gag reflex even just thinking about it is couscous - so bad they named it twice. It always tastes to me as though it's slightly off and has the texture of sawdust.

Semolina I first encountered in the pudding form at school; it was the horrible white viscous liquid into which you put jam in the vain hope that it would magically transform into something edible. It never did - we called it frogspawn, and with the jam, bloody frogspawn. (Go to the head's study, boy, and request three; three whacks across the top of the thigh with a slipper - very very painful.) Yet another reason to hate the verdammt stuff. There was a small group of fellow pupils who loved it and the rest of us hated it; boy was it fat time for those who did.

But I've found a satisfactory use is to coat something with when you want a crispy crust without the pain of making breadcrumbs. It also has the advantage over breadcrumbs (proper ones) in that if you're putting it onto something damp, it doesn't soak all the dampness up and become claggy, if you're frying straight away. I'd heard of this before on TV cheffy programmes and I have to say, this wheeze works rather well.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Samurai wakes

The strangest thing; (forgive typos - getting used to one of those shaped MS keyboards) and was reminded by Meemalee's latest blog entry of how much I have loved and been perplexed by things Japanese all my life. My father hated the Japanese with an absolute passion - understandable one of his friends died in a Japanese PoW camp. I don't need to expand on that, I hope. My next peripheral encounter was with a biology teacher, a really nice man who had the misfortune to teach in a Secondary Modern who loved to torment teachers. One of the things I am proudest of in my life is that I found out his background (tortured in a Japanese PoW camp where his nerves were destroyed by three years of captivity) and managed to persuade even the nastiest of the members of my class to leave him alone. And yet, and yet, I could not believe that a race that could produce Hokusai could be all monsters...

Some years later I read Clavell, who managed to get into the way of life; and that lead to Jessica Salmondsen and Tomoe Gozen, Cherryh (who is so influenced by Japanese culture), and finally to Ghost in the Shell - oh Ghods and that unlocks the key to the Japanese soul I think - the Manga to some extent, which is so fatalistic and so expectant of disaster, but which like Origa's stunning initial theme (goose bumps here - playing it now), gives the lie to the character which is, I think, controlled passion. The music for the manga is brilliant.

The control is everything and the concentration on it is so at the heart of their soul that almost everything else is either a disguise or rebellion. My bro was a very high-ranking officer in a Japanese bank and I worked with another Japanese bank for a short while - they are absolutely immersed in control structures. But they worship those who can find new paradigm for that control. They will follow and look within their culture for those to follow. When social structures break down, they look for individuals and the credos they put forward. But they also love? respect? the breakaway individual, the ronin*, the loner and outsider who provides a different perspective.

*And the resonance of Japanese ideas and culture is filtering into our own; try the switching perspectives in the eponymous film - stunning performances by all the cast, but for me Robert de Niro's best film and also the film which made me realise what an excellent actor Jean Reno is. Gods - I even recognise the steps outside the cafe. The picture is courtesy of Invisible Paris - a blog which I wish I'd found before I went there!

Thanks MiMi, a really valuable capsule of a post...

Damn, damn, damn - I've gone and bought the sound track to Ghost in the Shell II - at nearly £30 - I must be mad... time to get plastered so I can't type.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Pas du Vin?

Every so often I have to go to France; sadly nowadays I go on my own, but it's worth it. I drink three or four glasses of wine a day and at UK prices that would be prohibitive. So I make a trip every three to four months and stock up.

This is very cost-effective. In the UK, 110 bottles of the stuff I buy would cost me £352. I've just spent a total (including all goods, wine, petrol and crossing) of £242.50. Besides that, I also bought enough ground coffee for me to have a pot of coffee filter coffee every day for 4 months, a bottle of old Calvados, and another of old Armagnac, which are not easy to find in this country. Also 3 cans of artichoke hearts, a St Agur (addicted I am), some finely sliced Serrano ham, 2 jars of Amora dijon mustard which is brilliant for cooking, 3 litre bottles of extra virgin olive oil. Oh, and a baguette.

I've therefore saved about £110, ands got 4 months supply of spirits, coffee. Free. Note to self and others though, that olive oil is no longer the massive saving it once was - the saving is only £1 a bottle, whereas you still save pretty much £2 a bottle on wine.

I live in Aylesbury (as does the bear), so having got up at 5.45 am and leaving at 6.30, I got through the tunnel, went twice to Carrefours (that quantity of wine you can't put in a trolley, it's two trips) and drove back and had racked the wine and put everything away by 2.30 pm. Amazing (distance driven 256 miles).

Now I'm going to go and drink some of it!