Daily View 2×2: 31 December 2009

A windmill made of the flags of Europe with the slogan "whatever the weather, we must move together"Good morning on New Year’s Eve 2009 as we here at LDV Towers celebrate the passing of the year and indeed the decade. There’ll be fizz spilled on the Night Desk for sure, and I’m cooking beef wellington canapés and a chocolate/chestnut torte.

But what, I hear you ask over the hubub, happened on this day in history? Well, did you know that until the 1750s, the new year actually began on Lady Day (no, not her) in March? And in fact that’s why the tax year is still based around that time of year?

New Year’s Eve is the day on which, in 1951, the Marshall Plan ended (did you know the UK got more money out of it than any other nation? It didn’t help we still had the vestiges of empire to spend it in). In 1960, the farthing ceased to be legal tender; and in 1998, the value of the Euro was first establised.

Birthdays include Ben Kinglsey, Donna Summer, Val Kilmer and Alex Salmond – together at last!

Don’t forget Lib Dem Voice is still seeking your nominations for Liberal Voice 2009.

And one more thing – today there will be a Blue Moon – the second full moon within one calendar month. This won’t happen again until full moons either side of the London Olympics, in August 2012

But, finally, what of the newspapers and blogposts? Read more, after this:

NYE Bonus

And it’s over to the Telegraph, where David Cameron’s New Year message has not found favour with Simon Heffer:

David Cameron opened the batting on Monday with his New Year message, at a time when most of us simply wished to get on with Boxing Day in peace. It was a ludicrous document – ludicrous in its content and the pomposity of its self-regard – which you will forgive my not repeating here. Masochists will find it on the Conservatives’ website, complete with video. Two features of it stood out. The first was a lecture detailing some (but not all) of the attributes of contemporary politics and politicians that we find so distasteful. These included the adversarial nature of our democracy and the inability of those who participate in it to admit error. Since it already defied credibility that Mr Cameron was going to reject such behaviour for his own part and on behalf of his colleagues, I was not sure whether I was relieved or disappointed when he not only said he was guilty of such things, but would no doubt do them again. As messages of hope go, it was not of the first rank.

Read the rest here.

2 Big Stories

Russia plans to stop asteroid crashing to Earth

In news bound to please Lembit, the Russians are looking into plans to save humanity from the rapacious asteroid with a 1 in 125,000 chance of hitting the planet.

Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia’s space agency, said it would assess the difficulties of knocking the asteroid Apophis out of harm’s way. The 885-foot-wide asteroid was first discovered in 2004. Astronomers estimated the chances of it smashing into Earth in its first flyby in 2029 were as high as 1-in-37, but have since lowered their estimate.

New Year partygoers told to keep a cool head as temperatures dip below zero

Wrap up warm, y’all.

Police chiefs, who will be trying to ensure the safety of huge crowds seeing in the new year in town and city centres, urged revellers to wrap up warm, but to keep a cool head. People should plan their route home before they start drinking, and be prepared for sleet and snow, they said.

2 Must-Read Blog Posts

What are other Liberal Democrat bloggers saying? Here are two posts that have caught the eye from the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator:

  • A comfortable place: what a waste!
  • Rob Parsons reports on recycling in Lewes:

    In this part of Sussex we face a waste crisis. LibDem controlled Lewes District Council would like to recycle more of its waste than it does. But it’s not allowed to.

  • Caron Lindsay: Labour undermines Royal Mail by using its competitors
  • Caron reports on parliamentary answers to questions of postage:

    The Government claims to care about Royal Mail’s future, yet Liberal Democrats have learned, through answers to Parliamentary Questions, that no fewer than eight Government Departments use its competitors. Three of these departments, Culture, Media and Sport, Communities and the Foreign Office don’t use Royal Mail at all, while the other five, Children, Schools and Families; Health; Justice; Transport; and Work and Pensions use other services for part of its mail.

Spotted any other great posts in the last day from blogs that aren’t on the aggregator? Do post up a comment sharing them with us all.

And if you’ll excuse me, these mushroom duxelles won’t make themselves.

Pudding Club: chocolate/chestnut torte

Previously, on Pudding Club

Back to our friends for a New Year’s extravaganza lasting all afternoon and into the night, and up until the change of decade if we’re not flagging by then.

Today’s pudding will be a chocolate/chestnut torte, made like this: blind bake a pastry case made from 8oz flour, 4oz butter, 1oz sugar, 1 egg and enough water to bring the breadcrumbs into the necessary paste. Chill the dough for an hour then press into a greased or lined tin, and blind bake at 180 deg C until golden brown.

Hmmm... Pie...

For the filling, heat 200 grams of dark belgian chocolate with half a tin of chestnut purée, 125 grams of sugar and 100mls of double cream. Heat in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water or in a double boiler, so as not to burn the chocolate. Do the best you can to desolidify the block of chestnut, since it comes out of the tin looking worryingly like cat food and is pretty tricky to get to break up.

Once the mix is smooth and lovely, pour it into the pastry case and allow to cool. If there is spare chocolate sauce, pour it into a jam jar – it will work as a toast spread for a few days, or can be reheated as chocolate fondue.

Posh people who know how to garnish can manage something amazing by putting a spot of cream in the centre of the cooling tart, and making swirly patterns. I’m not very good at the old presentation. When I do it, it looks unspeakably awful:

Chocolate chestnut tart

Beef Wellington Canapés

Although this is a pudding club post, there will be savouries as well. There will be a raclette! And I am contributing another recipe I just made up: beef wellington canapés.

Beef Wellington is something I’ve had at posh functions, but never actually cooked myself. It tends to be a little disappointing when it’s being cranked out by the hundred by the rubber chickeners, so one day I must try and make it myself. As far as I understand it, it’s a slice of beef steak, with either pâté or mushrooms duxelles, wrapped in pastry and baked. One day, I shall have to have a go. So to make canapés, after reading around a bit, I settled on thin slices of beef intended for sandwiches, a pot of Co-op Ardennes pâté, and homemade mushrooms duxelles all neatly (!) wrapped in filo.

For the mushrooms duxelles: first prepare about 200grams of mushrooms by chopping off the hard stalk bottoms and slooshing under the tap. Melt a big knob of butter in a frying pan and grate in some nutmeg. Add a little olive oil to stop it burning. Finely chop 50grams of streaky bacon into the pan with scissors and stir until cooked. Using the “slice” side of a box grater, finely slice the mushrooms into the butter / bacon mix. Stir occasionally to stop it from sticking. When all the mushrooms are in, keep stirring until they are cooked and given up their juices. Add a generous teaspoon of Bisto gravy granules (what? what made you think this was posh?!) and stir until dissolved. Add a good measure of sherry or port, and keep on a medium heat until almost all the liquid has boiled away. Don’t burn them, but don’t leave them too moist, or they will soak through the pastry.

Mushroom duxelles

To make the canapés, unfurl the filo pastry. Chop up the sandwich beef slices so that there is a portion of beef for each filo sheet. This meant quartering three slices to make 12 pieces, in my case. Fold two opposite corners of the sheet into the middle so they overlap to make 3 layers of pastry underneath the filling. Smear with pâté, add the slice of beef, and spoon a teaspoon of mushrooms on top. Close up the filo sheet so it is reasonably waterproof. Continue until the ingredients run out.

At this point they can be stored in the fridge for a day until they are needed. When they are, cook for 8-12 minutes on greaseproof paper. Try not to get the greaseproof and the filo mixed up when they come out of the oven.

Beef wellington canapés

Blue Moon

Today there will be a blue moon – the second full moon within one calendar month. This doesn’t happen very often – once every few years. The next one will be August 2012, with the full moons falling either side of the London Olympics.

This time, there will also be a partial lunar eclipse.

Those reading from Australia don’t get their full moon until January 1st, which makes January the blue moon month for them.

I read about this first on Wikipedia by accident quite some time ago, and put it in my diary to look out for when it happens next.

This piece on Yahoo News goes on to explain that it’s not really a significant occurrence for real astronomers:

A full moon occurs every 29.5 days, and most years have 12. On average, an extra full moon in a month — a blue moon — occurs every 2.5 years. The last time there was a lunar double take was in May 2007. New Year’s Eve blue moons are rarer, occurring every 19 years. The last time was in 1990; the next one won’t come again until 2028.

Blue moons have no astronomical significance, said Greg Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“`Blue moon’ is just a name in the same sense as a `hunter’s moon’ or a `harvest moon,’” Laughlin said in an e-mail.

Spoilsport.

A slightly unfair ellipsis

I’m reading a piece from tomorrow’s Times, thanks to the magic of the interweb, and this little possibility of sub-editing fair jumped out of the page at me. It makes it seem as if the Police don’t share Boris’s enthusiasm.

A big crowd is expected for the fireworks display at the London Eye tonight and Boris Johnson, the Mayor, promised a spectacle that would show the world that “the most exciting city on Earth” was looking forward to the future with “optimism and energy”.

[...] The Metropolitan Police urged people to wear warm, waterproof clothing and be prepared for crowd congestion and long delays.

Hmm, now I write it out, it seems less funny. Oh, well, I’ll hit publish anyway.

Tweets on 2009-12-30

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Daily Mail: it’s a scary place

As a paid up member of the liberal élite that’s ruining our country, I do like to pop over to Daily Mail Island every now and again to see what’s exercising the minds of Britain’s tablerati.

This week had two eye-poppingly awful pieces that I just had to pick up on.

Firstly, Leo McKinstry’s sensitive, and thought provoking piece deftly picking at the complex moral issues surrounding the execution in China of Akmal Shaikh: HEROIN TRAFFICKERS DESERVE TO DIE.

No, wait, sensitive and thought provoking it is not. For a line-by-line demolition of the mountains of crud streaming forth from the piece, I leave you with a fisking by Sara Scarlett at Liberal Vision: Should we execute Kate Moss?

A civilised society also knows that the Law isn’t a science, it is an art and can get it badly, badly wrong. A civilised society does not risk executing innocent people either. And as for “maintain morality,” well, I think drug taking is a moral act. If it does not violate another individuals sovereignty and is the partake of consenting adults then the use of my tax pennies being used to stop it is immoral, quite frankly.

(The Daily Mail is, of course, a big fan of China. Just see this story praising the speed of construction of a new high speed train system. Massive transport projects must be so much easier when you don’t have to worry about the rights of those displaced by infrastructure or those employed to do the work. The Chinese road-builder principle – you can build roads quickly with the minimum of equipment if you throw enough labour at the problem)

Secondly, Liz Jones. If you’ve not encountered the woman before, as I hadn’t until someone sent me the link, you are in for a treat. Poor Ms Jones has maxed out her credit cards and was turned away from her usual boutique hotel in Shepherds Bush, meaning that she suffered the unimaginable indignity of not having her Prada suitcase taken by a bellboy or her BMW valet parked.

And this shocking fall from grace led Ms Jones to ponder the awfulness of homelessness in a self indulgent piece that defies any sort of sense. Ms Jones had options, you see. She could have plumped her pampered posterior back into her buffed BMW and driven herself back to her actual home. In the end, she phoned her agent who popped down and bailed her out. But those five minutes of being not-even-vaguely homeless weighed heavy on her conscious:

The wind whipped around my legs and it was suddenly very dark. I had been tossed on to life’s rubbish tip. For the first time, I felt what it must be like to be homeless, to have no money, no one to turn to. I realised that this was about the worst thing that can happen to you. Your humanity is stripped away and you become something to be moved along, stepped over, ignored.
I had reached my low spot through my own stupidity. I had spent too much money and was temporarily broke (my agent eventually turned up to bail me out). But while the plight of the homeless has gone out of fashion in recent years, it hasn’t gone away. Thousands of people still end up on the street because of mental illness, addiction, abuse or sheer bad luck.

Yes indeed, homelessness is bad. But her five minutes without a roof do not seem to have prompted Ms Jones to take any action. Just to redeem something out of this awful article, I’d like to ask you to make a donation to a homelessness charity, right now. Here are some links to national charities working in this area:

Drop us a note in the comments, or donate privately. But please – don’t let Liz Jones’s suffering have been in vain.

How to lose Come Dine With Me

I’m a relatively late convert to the Channel 4 programme Come Dine With Me – it’s been running five years, and I’ve only just really started watching in the last few months. And yet it is compulsive viewing. I’m not sure when it’s actually on TV, but thankfully there’s almost always new episodes on 4OD for me to watch. I quite often find myself sitting and watching all four or five episodes of a particular city in one go.

It’s a brilliant format, with so many variables in each episode. Can the people cook? Will they be able to cook on the night? Will they get along? What are their houses like? How drunk will they get?

What absolutely makes the programme is the wry commentary of its VO guy Dave Lamb – and there’s an interesting interview with him here on the C4 website. Omniscience really helps him stay funny.

The other thing that sets CDWM apart from other programmes is its choice of music. I’m a little bit out of it when it comes to music, so I’m probably missing half the jokes, but there have been some hilarious pairings of music with actions. An artist got the Heartbeat “gallery” theme music played as his paintings were displayed. Some of the leitmotivs associated with particularly annoying or snobby guests are brilliant – but the best bit I’ve heard lately was when a flirty young man arrived first at a glamorous older woman’s house, and as she showed him into the parlour, the band struck up with… the theme from The Graduate

There are so many variables that there doesn’t seem to be a sure fire way of winning every time. But there definitely seem to be some things that regularly go down really badly and should be avoided:

  • Cooking something you’re unfamiliar with or have never tried before. Why would you do this? There’s £1,000 and your credibility on national TV at stake!  The least you could do is practice.  Cook the menu for friends beforehand!
  • Spending a fortune in an effort to impress. Srsly – hundreds of pounds on caviar and foie gras? A king’s ransome on the wine? Stick to good wholesome homecooked food.
  • Cooking something too complicated. Unless you have a kitchen/diner where you can cook and play host at the same time, you need a menu which doesn’t need too much last minute attention, so that you can spend time with your guests. Your saucepans already know what you look like.
  • Getting too much outside help. It’s all about whether you can cook, not whether you know top chefs who can come in and fix things up for you.
  • Being a complete nutter/having a complete lack of self-awareness. To be honest, if this is you, then a) you probably don’t realise it and b) you’ll have been chosen for the programme because of this and you should probably play to your strengths.

For the last few months, me and P have been jokingly discussing whether I could go on the programme, and I have looked into it. There are all sorts of hurdles to me doing it – the dish selection would be constrained by crockery (if the starter is in bowls the pudding can’t be!) The house is not ideal and would probably need a professional remedial clean.  I don’t even have matching cutlery for five.

Still, it would be interesting. I’d love to know how it all works.  How many camera crews are there? Do the guests leave one by one so that the camera can go home with them, then come back for the next drunken invité with the score cards?  How much kit do they put in your house? Do contestants ever even meet the VO man?

Tweets on 2009-12-29

  • @ChristofHughes heh – my Richard Wilson impression has gone from "I don't believe it!" to "This is no time for magic, Merlin!" in reply to ChristofHughes #
  • It's taken a full 24 hours for the heating on full pelt to get the house from 9 degrees to 19 degrees – guessing it won't get any warmer. #
  • Best. Handwarmer. Evar. http://flic.kr/p/7rg98L #
  • Grr. Should have been getting early night for return to normal hours, but instead spent hours browsing Amazon for corny old traxx. #
  • Oh, and randomly starting a sourdough starter for no good reason. Food Programme strikes again. #
  • @floatyhev @helenduffett still totally dark and totally silent here. #

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Tweets on 2009-12-28

  • New drinking game: knock back a sherry every time Sheila Dillon says "Chorleywood Bread Process" or speaks with her mouth full. #
  • So, who wins happy families? The person with the most families or the one who gets rid of cards quickest? #
  • @hughmcguire I've got an RSS feed of @ replies that helps with that. in reply to hughmcguire #
  • RT @DrSamuelJohnson: Christmas: a grim opportunity to visit Homes bless'd with neither Access to th'INTERNET nor Reception 'pon the MOBILE #
  • Safely home after magical mystery tour of relatives. Home to starving cats and an internal house temperature in single figures. #
  • @bykimbo I have recorded a free audio book of Invisible Man, if you're interested: http://tr.im/IMuj in reply to bykimbo #
  • Cor. Still cold. Brr. Waiting for egg to turn orange. http://flic.kr/p/7qYvAS #

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