Recently spotted in the Doctor’s kitchen

Magic, really. I thought I was marking exams, but suddenly there was a brownie occurrence. Specifically, goat’s cheese fudge and smoked almond brownies:

The best part? You can do this too!

All you need is:

1 good brownie recipe waiting for a new identity;

1 batch of goat’s cheese fudge lurking in the freezer (preferably homemade, and preferably blessed by Norwegian angels);

120 exam scripts to mark;

An oven.

In the approximate words of the immortal Nigella Lawson (or the Barefoot Contessa, or that Italian babe with the big head [GdL], or that annoying Brit who keeps annoying people whose job it is to involve themselves in childhood nutrition [JO], et al.), See how easy it is?

Thank God It’s No Longer #FollowFriday

Warning: another soapbox moment Twitter rant.

I like Twitter. I like it much more than Facebook, its evil not-so-twin. I particularly like the fact that, unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn’t force you to take part in social politics, like be-“friend”ing someone you went to school with two decades ago and never spoke to, and suddenly you are “remembering” when it’s their birthday and joining their other 500 “friends” to say Happy Birthday! Have a wonderful day!, to which they respond the next day with “Wow! Thanks all for the wonderful wishes. So special to be remembered!”. Yeah right.

#FollowFriday/#FF seems to me to veer dangerously close to this type of inanity. (For those of you with your heads in the sand not on Twitter, go look at How #FollowFriday works).

I understand the endorsement factor. Being included in a #FF tweet tells other people who might not otherwise find you worth following. But like the “friend” situation on Facebook, it messes with natural selection. I don’t want to follow someone because someone else says that I should. I choose to follow people based on discovering that their Twitter activity somehow adds value to my life. Sure, sometimes I’m wrong, and I may miss someone important, but I would rather miss someone important than end up following a bunch of people who haven’t earned my attention.

The beauty of Twitter is that by paying attention, you end up finding the people you want to follow without silly “traditions” like #FF. Like a particular columnist? Start following them on Twitter, and it’s likely that soon enough they’ll re-tweet someone else who you then discover is also worth following, and so on. Or if you retweet them, they may start following you, and so on. It’s the activity of attention that makes Twitter worthwhile – not attention for the sake of attention.

Which is why I also don’t like this “tradition” of welcoming new people on Twitter and asking your followers to follow them. I have good friends in real life who I enjoy having a glass of wine and a natter with. Chefs whose food I happily pay good money to eat. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to start following them just because they join Twitter. Show me that you’re worth following, and you’re in.

And if I then retweet or mention you, please don’t bother thanking me. I get that it’s polite to acknowledge acknowledgement, but can’t we just let the subtleties of interaction be without all the extra noise (“Thank you.” “No, thank you!” “No no, it’s you who must be thanked!”)? My mention of you is (perhaps) an endorsement to my followers to follow you, and you can thank me by continuing to add value to my life by tweeting interesting things. That’s it.

I am by no means a Twitter celeb, and neither is that my aspiration. But I guess some people who read this might get irritated by the grump I’ve got on. Maybe they will even unfollow me. That’s too bad. But if you’re following me for any reason other than the fact that you enjoy what I bring to the table, then you’re following me for the wrong reasons. Sorry, that’s it.

All I hope for is that Twitter doesn’t turn into Twitbook. So #TGINLFF. (And don’t get me started on #woofwednesday.)

Everyone’s a critic now

An older piece by Neal Gabler in The Observer, where he observes that the Internet has just actualised a very old idea:

‘ It is certainly no secret that the internet has eroded the authority of traditional critics and substituted Everyman opinion on blogs, websites, even on Facebook and Twitter where one’s friends and neighbours get to sound off. What is less widely acknowledged is just how deeply this populist blowback is embedded in America and how much of American culture has been predicated on a conscious resistance to cultural elites. It is virtually impossible to understand America without understanding the long ongoing battle between cultural commissars who have always attempted to define artistic standards and ordinary Americans who take umbrage at those commissars and their standards.

…  We live, then, in a new age of cultural populism – an age in which everyone is not only entitled to his opinion but is encouraged to share it. Nothing could be more American.’

Interesting take. Read it here.

My Bree moment #chocchipcookie

I’ve never been much into making biscuits, as we call them in this part of the world. (Apart from biscotti, of course. Those who know me well know that my own biscotti are the only ones I will deign to eat.) I like making biscotti because they keep for long enough not to go stale. And I like making brownies and blondies because they can live in the freezer, ready to provide sugary goodness at any given moment.

Anyhoo. Needed a gift for a dear aunt(-in-law), and needed to make something different. So I did what any good American housewife did, and I baked chocolate chip cookies. Not just any, of course. Only the best will do, which is apparently this number from the NYT. (They really are the best. All the bloggers say so.)

I’m usually intimidated by the sheer size of American-style things (those muffins: seriously?), but I must say I quite enjoyed scooping golf-ball size globs of batter onto the baking tray.

(That’s a sprinkle of salt on top, by the way. It’s the secret!) And then watching them turn into jumbo cookies:

Of course I tweaked the recipe. I added two teaspoons of ginger powder to the mix, and a handful of chopped preserved ginger. An inspired tweak it was!

But as good as these are – and I mostly hope aunty will think so too – I reckon my most important revelation was finally understanding why Americans confuse raw cookie dough with something that is appropriate for ice cream. I mean, just look at it. It’s suddenly an easy confusion to understand. Shame (as we say in this part of the world).

Getting smarter

So “they” came back to rob us a third time, and this time yes, they did take a shit on the floor (courteously enough, just outside the kitchen door). And they took pretty much everything else they could get their hands on. Third time lucky? Not so much. It’s been a pretty sordid five weeks.

On the bright side, while I remain mostly technologically defunct until we get all our stuff “back”, I have stepped up in the world of mobile telephony. Not only do I finally own a smart phone (and now I finally get What’s [TF?] App), but apparently the *best* one in, like, the world. (Apple geeks, back off):

No, I am not in Barcelona, and those are not my peeps. My own phone is of course much cooler, being kitted out with the weather for Cape Town, and some wavy grass instead of children playing on the beach.

So now I shop at the Apps market, and my phone can do pretty much everything except give me a massage. But if it had been really smart, it would also have been able to weigh up the odds of enjoying a night out yesterday by a comparative analysis of

1. all the user-comments from that (ridiculously expensive) restaurant in the last year or so,

2. my unpredictable mood swings thanks to having been burgled three times in five weeks, and

3. my bank balance.

Had it performed that (com’on!) basic little service, it would have saved me going to bed feeling ripped off and grumpy (which is no fun for the Philosophe either).

But we learn. So tonight I will keep my wallet off the streets of Cape Town, and look forward to a delicious bowl of stew that comes from my own freezer, and probably some dessert from in there too (I have a memory of making black pepper ice cream not so long ago. Impromptu apple crumble?). And when I’m not eating, I’ll be an angry bird on my “smart” phone.

Don’t mess with my re-tweet

Warning: soapbox moment

I woke up early today to get some work done before the “other” work took over the day (going to campus, teaching, marking). As usual, I spend my first cup of coffee trawling through my Google Reader and Twitter to catch up on the night’s news. Among these tidbits I found news that Heston Blumenthal et al. were now pledging to save the world. This is (interesting/odious/ridiculous) news, so I tweeted it.

A few hours later, paying attention to my Tweetdeck as I do, I noticed that two people whom I follow, and who I know follow me too (“disclaimer” [?]: one of them was my husband) tweeted the exact same piece of news.

Now the Philosophe and I have had numerous (philosophical) conversations about the business of re-tweeting, and the irritations that follow when people don’t observe the “rules”, which are really just the best-practice norms that we should be observing all the time: acknowledge your sources.

So I of course immediately thundered down on him that he had violated the code. To which, in his (just) defence, he said that he hadn’t seen that I had already tweeted it.

Fair enough. I imagine the other person hadn’t seen my tweet either. So it wasn’t a case of anyone not acknowledging their source, because that source was clearly not me.

But no. This is what irks me. For all the glory of Twitter as the news feed where you can filter out the crap and only pay attention to what you find worthy of your attention, what’s the point if you don’t actually pay attention to the people who you choose to follow? If there is “too much” out there, or if you are following too many people, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

Am I whining because I didn’t get my two minutes of re-tweet glory? Perhaps. But I’m much more concerned about this as a confirmation of the fact that social media platforms just encourage our narcissistic tendencies. Tweet tweet: as long as I’m making noise, who cares about the fact that someone else may be saying something which just may be worthwhile? (Or even the same bloody thing?) Is anyone actually stopping to think along the way?

From Neal Gabler’s very good, but depressing, essay on living in a post-idea world:

‘We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media, which have learned to service our narcissism.

What the future portends is more and more information — Everests of it. There won’t be anything we won’t know. But there will be no one thinking about it.

Think about that.’

On living in a post-idea world

By Neal Gabler, in The New York Times:

‘We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value. It keeps us in the loop, keeps us connected to our friends and our cohort. Ideas are too airy, too impractical, too much work for too little reward. Few talk ideas. Everyone talks information, usually personal information. Where are you going? What are you doing? Whom are you seeing? These are today’s big questions.

It is certainly no accident that the post-idea world has sprung up alongside the social networking world. Even though there are sites and blogs dedicated to ideas, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, etc., the most popular sites on the Web, are basically information exchanges, designed to feed the insatiable information hunger, though this is hardly the kind of information that generates ideas. It is largely useless except insofar as it makes the possessor of the information feel, well, informed. Of course, one could argue that these sites are no different than conversation was for previous generations, and that conversation seldom generated big ideas either, and one would be right.’

Read the full (sad) piece here.

Still sucking

Just a short note, really, to tell a true little story with no moral that I wish I didn’t know.

So you get robbed, and you put in new locks. You sleep badly for a few days, but eventually fatigue sets in and you have to get over it.  Ten days later your excellent insurance company delivers a brand new laptop which begins to make up for the irritations, the time lost, and the holes the assholes made in your world. Life approaches normal. How do you say? Oh yes, “shit happens”. How cathartic. You remember how to relax.

Then they come back. They take your brand new laptop and everything else they can get their grubby hands on (passports!). Your house is covered in foreign fingerprints you can’t see – and neither can the illiterate cops.

But of course. It could have been worse. We could have been here when it happened. We could have lost important work (praise be to Dropbox!). They could have taken my Kenwood Chef! They could have taken the single malts! They could have taken a shit on the floor!

They didn’t. But if that’s supposed to make it somehow better, it doesn’t. Neither does it make it better that “they” are quite likely among, or friends of, the group of builders renovating close by, who we continue to see every day, and who have been able to watch as we slowly turn our home into an impenetrable fortress. Will they bring a bazooka next time?

Things will be replaced, and deep sleep will return. But sadly I am not sure if I can re-find the Cape Town I have lived in for most of my adult life: the one un-threatened by “them”, and the nauseating idea of “next time”. I suspect I’ll be keeping my young friend close at hand, just in case:

Some Fridays Really Suck

Like yesterday.

I was actually looking forward to yesterday, because well, it was Friday. Which meant final lectures of the week, which meant a nice evening with a friend to look forward to, followed by a weekend of quiet time for some “real” work.

First, it rained, and here is the umbrella that I should have had with me, but didn’t:

Yes, it rained so much that I even contemplating cancelling the night out, and turning it into a nice night in instead. Fire, red wine, and good food, without having to go anywhere. That would have been nice. But my friend likes ‘out’, so we headed out, like people *should* on a Friday night. We even got adventurous and went to a restaurant neither of us had tried before. We drank nice wine and I ordered an ostrich burger which was just what I felt like.

The burger was full of gristle. I had two bites. The onion rings were nice though.

Then I came home, while my friend went off to a fancy dress party dressed like a demon. (She wore cool black wings.)

But I couldn’t get in because someone had bolted the door from the inside. Since it wasn’t me, and since the Philosophe is attending peace talks in Oslo, I fairly quickly deduced that this was bad news.

So I phoned the cops and waited hopefully outside for them to pitch up in the next five minutes to rescue me, and to get me into my home.

I ended up sitting in my car for an hour.

When I finally got inside (escorted by armed forces), it looked just like it does in the movies when someone walks into their house to find it has been ransacked and burgled. That was pretty sucky.

So were the next few hours, of statements, and locksmiths, and trying to find sleep many hours after my bedtime.

This morning: fingerprint detectives, insurance claims, and trying to figure out which detergent best removes the dirty feeling of strangers having rummaged through your stuff.

I know that it could have been worse than it was, and I’m glad that it wasn’t. But for a Friday, I think I deserved better. So to the idiots out there who can’t get into my laptop anyway,

On food, fashion, and el Bulli hero-worship

El Bulli closes today. Zoe Williams weighs in at The Guardian:

‘The sticking point is that art and fashion last, whereas food is evanescent. You think of great acts of creativity, and their value is tied up with what they left to posterity. There’s something unsettling about seeing so much effort, intellect and expertise, lavished upon something that you’re just about to eat. The higher the esteem in which you hold the chef, the more abashed you feel by your own role in the proceedings. It’s like going to an exhibition in which you demonstrated your appreciation by kicking the art off the walls. I saw an argument once between Marco Pierre White and the journalist Pete Clark – it would ill-behove me to call anybody drunk in this exchange, but they were, and they were having a fight about mushy peas. Pierre White said: “What’s your opinion, anyway? Tomorrow’s chip paper.” Clark replied: “And what’s your work going to look like tomorrow?”

The values of the old-school Michelin system, and the distended excellence that has grown in its wake, can all look like an elaborate disguise where the heightened refinement is there to distract you from the worldliness of food. You’ll eat it. You’ll digest it. You’ll expel it. And that will be that.’