datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Month: August 2017

Risotto

I’m extravagantly proud of my risotto. So proud I suspect there may be something wrong with it. Or me. Is my uncultured palette just easily pleased? It’s by far the most complex dish I can make. It has ten, yes ten, different ingredients. And yes, I’m including water as an ingredient. Ten is bigger than nine. That’s science.

I don’t make it very often. Rarely more than once a month. Paula loves it. She literally licks the plate. And I use ‘literally’ as the gods intended it to be used. I wouldn’t cook it for anyone else though. I came to food late in life, something I entirely blame my mother for. I grew up liking bland and overcooked. I was militant in my embrace of bland and overcooked. It was friends made as an adult who introduced me to joyous food. I’m not cooking for them. They’ve had too much of a head start.

If pushed, I’d do a roast chicken. With a modicum of care and minimal embellishment, a roast chicken is beyond reproach. And that’s it. But Paula literally licks the plate clean when I give her my risotto. Paula has been depressed for some time now. I get to play the role of platitudinous bystander while the centre of my world suffers. Just waiting the requisite number of weeks to see if these meds are the correct meds.

I remember the evening I learned the basics of my dish. And I remember the first time I ate risotto. They were different evenings and the learning came before the eating. Sometime before in fact.

I acquired this dish, about fifteen years ago, from an Australian lady. I can’t remember her name but I remember the evening she cooked that risotto, as if it were yesterday. And no, it wasn’t like that at all. We were colleagues and we were in work. We were Care Workers dealing with a family in a very stressful environment and she decided that a risotto was exactly what that evening needed. I’d never even heard of risotto. That it was essentially rice, boiled a lot, did not inspire me. But it was a stressful evening and she’d decided risotto was what was needed. I was directed to cut and slice and crush and stir. Always stir. Never stop stirring. It’s a delicate business this risotto, an overlong pause and it will surely burn.

She didn’t speak like that. But I like to pretend she did. I didn’t taste the risotto I’d helped to make. It was rice after all and why would one voluntarily eat rice? I was not a curious person back then. But I do remember feeling good making it. That risotto didn’t have ten ingredients, even including water, but there was cutting, slicing, crushing and stirring. That evening became less stressful.

Paula has bipolar disorder. We don’t say ‘Paula is bipolar’ because she is not her illness. Though we do say she is Coeliac because who the fuck cares about Coeliac Disease? Yes, Revenue care, so we keep the gluten-free receipts. And there’s an entire industry devoted to pushing the ‘gluten-free lifestyle’ on the kind of buffoons who will pay extra to eat less palatable food because they believe in panaceas. And yes, I much prefer discussing Coeliac Disease because it does not scare me. Neither does it make me feel inadequate or anxious. And I don’t have to stand idly by while she suffers.

The first time I ate a risotto was in an Italian restaurant in Wicklow Town. I was off cigarettes at the time, so I had serviceable taste buds. I was also determined to impress my foodie friends with my new found adventurous spirit. It was a seafood risotto. It did not impact on me the same way as the first time I tried an Indian Curry did, but it’s the only eating experience I’ve had that comes close. Except perhaps for my lamb flavoured mash. You really can’t believe lamb flavoured mash until you’ve tried it.

Paula is not bipolar but she has it and it is for life. And as I’m infinitely self-centred it is now my bipolar disorder and I will be dealing with it for the rest of my life. What do I do in the face of such a sneaky incurable disease? How do I stave off the anxiety, the suffocating inadequacy, the episodes, weeks long episodes, of watching the centre of my world suffer? How do I stand idly by?

I once hated onions, spring onions and garlic. I feared chillies, disdained rice and was appalled by soft cheeses. Did I mention I blame my mother for this? I won’t have responsibility laid at the feet of culture. I used to delight in burnt steak. Now I cut a single onion, slice several spring onions and chillies, crush half a bulb of garlic and boil the kettle. And it makes me so happy. Fry them for a few minutes and stir chicken stock (gluten-free of course) into the water. Then there’s the Arborio rice. Half a cup thrown in and fried for another precisely two minutes.

The only issue I ever have with this dish is the amount of chilli. I like lots, Paula likes a little. We compromise and I do it her way so I don’t come across as the dick I truly am. Despite the bipolar thingy and the depression Paula is never not rational. She saw me fall apart due to her previous bout of depression and has had to hold my hand through this one. It’s a little unfair of her to be able to deal with her crushing despair and a husband being crushed by that despair. Yet that is what she does, as I stand idly by, uttering blandishments. What else is there?

But she does love my risotto. And risotto is a fiddly bastard to make. So, I make risotto. A promise of a risotto for every day she is depressed. And because its her risotto I add mushrooms. I can’t eat mushrooms. I love them, but I can’t eat them. So, I add thinly sliced chestnut mushrooms at the beginning. They are the true tenth ingredient. Did I forget to mention the smoked rashers? I did. I do that sometimes and it’s very irritating. I’d heard the term lardons once and hadn’t a clue what they were. Someone told me they were basically little bits of bacon/ham or some such. I decided they should be in my risotto.

Take six smoked rashers (go for a brand, it’s a cure for depression, anxiety and a man’s inadequacy after all) and cut them into little pieces. Put them in the oven for twenty minutes or so at 180 degrees Celsius.

The alchemy begins after the rice has been fried for exactly two minutes. Add a quarter of the chicken stock and keep stirring. I always set my timer for five minutes, but the liquid always disappears before that time. Soaked up by the now increasingly tumescent rice. Then add another quarter, then the third and then the fourth. Keep the heat at a simmer and keep stirring. I’ve never once burned a risotto. I do not know what it looks, smells or tastes like, when burned. I may acknowledge scientific curiosity as the font of all that is worthy about our species, but I’m not burning a risotto. She licks the plate.

I don’t have to cook it every day of this bout. Every second day is sufficient. Half goes in the fridge. And on the days I don’t cook, I get to watch her heat it and eat it and I know I’ve done something. I’ve not stood idly by.

Once all the liquid is absorbed add the rashers. Turn off the heat and add half a portion of feta cheese, cubed. The extent to which the feta dissolves in entirely up you. Paula likes it a bit over half melted. And she licks the plate. And as I cook and as I watch her eat, my anxiety, my inadequacy, my helplessness, all feel that little bit less burdensome. And I imagine I’m helping. And she knows I’m imagining I’m helping and that’s really the best we can do while we wait for the meds to kick in.

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Weekly Links #27

Another week. Wow, they do go by quite quickly these days. Anyway, the twitterverse has, as always, provided me with manifold distractions from the inexorable march of time. The first link it to an interview with Aziz Ansari. It is, to say the least, a tad disquieting. His eschewing of all not only social media, but the internet itself, is compelling. Much food for thought.

There’s also an update on the Neymar situation, which I’d brought up in a previous Weekly Links. As usual, there’s a lot of nerdy stuff. This is a wonderful time to like nerdy TV. In fact this is the most nerd heavy Weekly Links I’ve ever compiled. I fear the world is becoming so unpleasant that this retreat to fantasy is a necessary tactic in protecting my mental health. Or perhaps fantasy is the most palatable way of undertaking the nonsensical state of our planet? Either way, there’s a lot of the nerd this week.

And as always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“But there’s another possible explanation, too. Before meeting Aziz, I received a tip that he’d unplugged from everything but text messaging. He’s off social media. He deleted the Internet browser from his phone and laptop. No e-mail, either. Technologically speaking, he’s living in, like, 1999. ” Aziz Ansari on Quitting the Internet, Loneliness, and Season 3 of Master of None

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“It’s neither. The most-coveted individual honour in football is decided by financial journalists who might never watch a football match all year. It’s the Forbes List of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes, which the American money magazine has published every year since 2012, and when we tally the football players who have made it to the top of that most-exclusive list, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo 2, all other footballers 0.” Neymar intent on being best-paid if not the best

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“That’s right, Discovery is introducing a genetic reason for the ridges. Traditionally, they’ve been viewed as part of each Klingon House’s lineage, showing other Klingons what families each person belongs to. While that’s still true, Page adds that the ridges have extra-sensory receptors, running from the top of their heads to their backs.” Klingon Head Ridges Will Finally Be Explained onStar Trek: Discovery, with Science

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“This is not surprising. The Great War has always been a publishing phenomenon. Around 25,000 books and scholarly articles have been written on it since 1918. The arguments have been conducted with forensic intensity and unwavering moral passion. The fascination with the war, which exerts its grip most powerfully in the “Anglosphere” countries, is justified.” Still in the grip of the Great War

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“One of the episode’s most stunning elements had nothing to do with the dragons. For years, we’ve been hearing about the battle prowess of the Dothraki riders—and now, for the first time, we’ve seen it. It was Thrones horse coordinator Camilla Naprous who came up with the idea of having the screamers stand up on their mounts as they charged the Lannister forces.” Game Of Thrones: Behind the Scenes of That Record-Breaking Fire Battle

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“During the panel, it was mentioned that the original plan for the show was to go out and explore the rest of the fleet a lot more than the show actually ended up doing. “Well, part of the pitch was, ‘Here’s this whole civilian fleet,’ and TV was much more episodic than it is now,” said Moore. “So part of the way to sell the network on what we were doing was, ‘Don’t worry, there will be all of these individual stories.” Ron Moore and David Eick on Their Original Battlestar Galactica Pitch and the Problem With Streaming

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“Listen, before you angrily @me, hear me out. I can already see all of you Next Generation folks yelling at me through the computer screen, but here’s the thing: when was the last time you rewatched The Next Generation? Because I’ve recently rewatched all of the series (save Enterprise—I don’t hate myself that much), and I hate to break it to you, but TNG does not hold up as well as you remember it holding.” Which Star Trek Is the Best Star Trek? Let’s Settle This Once and for All

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Weekly Links #26

Another week and more links from the Great Link that is the twitterverse. You can have no idea how smugly satisfied I am by that reference.  Unless, of course, you get the allusion. Then you too can feel the smug. This week’s links manage to combine sex and nerdism. Not something that happens very often. And a wonderful piece on why it feels impossible to explain to someone why they should care about poor/sick people.

Writing goes well. Am now over half way through the first draft. The World continues to fall apart, but that’s not new. But at least its falling apart in this era pf peak-TV. Just remember, correlation is not causation.

And as always, feel free to subscribe to my blog and perhaps even have a look at some of my published works on Amazon.

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“But their union leaves open a lot of questions, especially since Grey Worm, from a very young age, has been conditioned — as are all Unsullied — not to have empathy, fear, or feelings(especially sexual feelings, which his castration was supposed to extinguish).” 6 Sexperts on Grey Worm and Missandei’s Future As a Couple

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“Not only do characters on Star Trek explicitly have sex, but their sexual relationships create important storylines. The obvious example is the classic original series episode “Amok Time,” in which Spock has to fuck or he will literally die. Many fans consider this to be one of the best episodes of all of Star Trek.” The Real Difference Between ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ is Sex

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“Feeding on this tension, science fiction and futurism entered their “golden age” by the 1950s and ’60s, both predicting the bright future that would replace the Cold War. Technological advances would automate society; the necessity of work would fade away. Industrial wealth would be distributed as a universal basic income, and an age of leisure and vitality would follow.” ‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism

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“I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see (do you make anywhere close to the median American salary? Less? Congrats, this tax break is not for you). I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.” I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People

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“The proper use of the word ‘fascist’ has been stripped away, meaning reduced to a verbal tick. “You fascist” and the no less unimaginative “You fascist pig” are self-reverential: you don’t know what the target of your abuse really is, but you’re sure it’s terrible, fearsome and antithetical to your own values. But if you can’t dissect the opposition, what is it you stand for?” Umberto Eco Lists The 14 Common Features of The Eternal Fascist

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“Politics, in other words, did not reinforce my identity, but helped me reach beyond it. If I was growing up today, though, it is quite possible that my political education would be much narrower, because it would be shaped primarily by my personal identity and experience, rather than providing a means of transcending it; because all politics has, for so many, come to be seen as identity politics.” NOT ALL POLITICS IS IDENTITY POLITICS

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“The use of these images in their campaign is, to me, wrong. As a parent, it should be my choice as to when and how I have conversations with my child about difficult issues. My son is three. His world is small and insular, and for the moment, that is how I want to keep it. He knows nothing but love and compassion, the most difficult things he knows is not getting his way at bedtime, or when asking for more treats.” Youth Defence tactics and the Abortion Debate

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Uneasy Liberal Alert

Kevin Myers has managed to become an international news story. Free Speech is being threatened. So obviously this liberal has to give his two European cents worth.

I have a complicated relationship with Kevin Myers. Before I went to college, in 1993, my house would get a few tabloids on a Sunday. That was my family’s entire interaction with print media. I would look at them for the sport and give a surreptitious glance or seven at the scantily clad women. In college however, one of my lecturers insisted we read the Irish Times as part of the course work. Thus, was my introduction to the intricacies of folding a big paper.

To this day one of my favourite memories of college, is lunchtime and a group of us bunched around a copy of the IT, completing the crossword. I quickly began to enjoy reading the Irish Times. For one thing, the sports coverage was far superior to what I’d been accustomed to. It never occurred to me that a staid broadsheet would have better and more interesting things to say about sport than what were basically lads-mags touted as newspapers. I think this is when and where I learned snobbery too.

Over the next several years I began to deviate from my ‘sports section first’ approach to IT reading. Three or four days a week my first port of call was Kevin Myers’ ‘An Irishman’s Diary.’ I loved it. He managed to appeal to every single thought and concern I had about issues it just didn’t feel safe to discuss. He took on Sinn Féin/IRA, Fianna Fáil, the brand of blind nationalism that passed for serious thought at the time, our complicated relationship with the UK in general and England in particular, the apparent anti-Semitism that animated much of the anti-Israel sentiment of that era and he introduced me to Patrick O’Brian. For Patrick O’Brian alone, I adored him.

I read him religiously. Then something happened. I’m not sure what, but something changed. I don’t know if it was him or me, but I remember trying to see the point behind his ‘mothers of bastards’ column and not only could I not see a point, I wasn’t all that motivated to find one. It just seemed so needlessly self-indulgent. Needlessly offensive. Needlessly directed at a group who did not need the extra scorn.

I’m a liberal and in my not too crystal-clear memory, I remember him as once being a liberal. And a brave one too. I don’t know who changed, him or me, but even his defence of Israel began to grate. I’m 100% for its right to exist. I won’t be moved on that. But somehow this defence stopped being about defending that right and more about excusing criminality. It became, for want of a better description, an identity. An identity that blinded him and his ilk to the responsibilities of friendship.

I simply stopped reading his columns. I’d see his picture in whatever newspaper he was writing for at the time and feel a mix of sadness and nostalgia. He was my first columnist. I don’t know who changed, but all I began to see was bitterness, entitlement, certainty and a lack of empathy.

But I’ve never questioned his right to wound with words. That is not to say I’m dismayed he has lost his current job. I believe in Free Speech, not in tenured platforms. If it wasn’t all so sad and pathetic I would delight in the irony of his dismissal. The irony of losing his job because of an arrogant belief in his right to delve into anti-Semitic tropes to bolster a sexist argument. I would bet my house he isn’t in anyway anti-Semitic but perhaps he has written too many self-indulgent columns to find a less self-indulgent way to simply be wrong about women.

I have written several boring posts about my struggle to combine my belief in both unfettered Free Speech and Political Correctness. And I fear this one has already become another one of those posts. I’m one of those annoying centrist liberals so beloved of Left and Right, so I have to explain why I’m comfortable with Myers’ sacking and why I’m also uncomfortable. And yes, I see the memes ridiculing this liberal prevarication too. They’re only partly funny because they’re only party true. Well, sometimes entirely true as well.

What function does Free Speech serve? I can think of three functions. First it ensures that no idea, belief, or value is free from examination, interrogation and mockery. Anyone who has lived on this island for a few decades and has given even a cursory glance at this island’s history must see the necessity of that. Secondly, it ensures that no one in power is ever comfortable. Our laws against defamation have stymied this most vital function of Free Speech. I cannot remember a time in this country where the powerful have ever felt anything but comfortable. The third function is perhaps a bit more ephemeral. It is the recognition that speaking one’s mind without fear of the State knocking on your door is a good in of itself.

In this conception of Free Speech there isn’t any apparent stricture against ‘punching down.’ That is its greatest weakness. I haven’t the intellect or education to imagine a form of words that ensures unfettered Free Speech but also ensures it isn’t used to abuse unmarried mothers, AIDS victims, Africans, gay men, Palestinians and any other vulnerable group Myers’ made a living attacking. Those strictures, if they existed, would need to be written into law, policed by the State and I’m already getting all faint at the power someone is going to have over what I may and may not say.

Yet his words and the words of those like him, do material harm. I just cannot square that circle.

Yet, in this instance, there was no squaring of any navel gazing liberal’s circles. He lost his job because, capitalism. The State, good taste, empowered minorities, basic decency nor solidarity, played any part in his dismissal. He threatened his employers’ bottom line, so he went. We have capitalism to thank for his being fired. We also have capitalism to thank for the fact he has made a successful living saying much worse things for several years now. He lost his job because he delved into lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes, which risked financial penalties for his employers. He did not lose his job for using lazy anti-Semitic stereotypes to make a grossly sexist argument.

He won’t be unemployed for long. He’s probably already writing his next column for his next employer.

I’m uncomfortable because I don’t know how to create a law that protects minorities but not orthodoxies. But I am even more discomforted by the fact that Myers’ has such lucrative appeal. There is a market for his kind of anti-liberal, both pseudo (and anti) intellectualist, faux-common-sense take on the ever-increasing complexity and careful use of language demanded of us by this multicultural world. This world where the certainties of the past are no longer given their due deference.

The market for his brand of illiberalism is increasingly febrile and well paid. He remains free to pander to those who feel left behind and confused. Free to communicate back to them their own prejudices and fears. I’m a Free Speech absolutist. My response to his snide hate should be to call for him to be taken on, fought to a stand-still with better ideas, more skilfully communicated, for him to be eviscerated with sharp words. But I know that’s just bullshit. I’m a Free Speech absolutist and I have absolutely no idea how to stop someone making money out of attacking those more vulnerable than me.

So yes, this liberal is troubled by the dismissal of a writer from a major newspaper. He didn’t find himself out of fashion. He didn’t find himself suddenly irrelevant. He just used a few ill-advised words to justify his peevish hate. If he’d expressed his peevish hate with different words he’d still have his job. So yes, this liberal is troubled. Perhaps the memes are right after all.

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