Plum position.

Behold my muffin-top and tremble before it.

Sometimes, okay… most of the time, our intentions and the reality of what ends up actually happening are about as far apart as the legs of a particularly bendy stripper.

It’s annoying, because even the word ‘intentions’ has got that pathetic acknowledgment of failure inbuilt into its meaning, and so you know you’re fucked as soon as it comes out your mouth.

It’s on my mind at the moment because the last three weeks have been a spectacular failure on my part to bring together what I’d like to happen with what actually ended up happening. It also explains how I ended up eating about 49 toasted sandwiches in the space of 11 days or so, and inevitably what that’s done to my a) self-esteem, and b) my internal organs – which have by now mostly been replaced by melted cheese.

Let me explain how post-production on a commercial (which is what I do for a living) works. After you’ve shot, you go to what’s called ‘First Light’, which is where you see your footage for the first time and you do a very rough grade of the film, mainly just to get it to match so that it doesn’t jump all over the place in the edit. This takes pace in a very dim room where the first thing that happens is that you get offered coffee and toasted sandwiches, which of course, because it’s 7am on Monday morning and you were at the cricket all the previous day drinking tequila, you gratefully accept. Maybe you have two. You know, just to make sure.

After that you go through to your offline edit, which is in a similar darkened room, but this time there are couches. Which you gratefully lie on a lot. Mostly because you’re still hungover and also now full of toasted sandwiches and caffeine and you need to just be still for a bit so that between those two they can figure out who’s boss. But now of course it’s lunchtime, so there’s more offerings of toasted sandwiches and coffee. Maybe pizza too. Which you technically say yes to, because you were semi-comatose, and that was taken as a thumbs up.

And then you spend three days there.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

And like clockwork, every 20 minutes or so, someone pops their head around the door to offer you more coffee and toasted sandwiches, which of course you always say yes to, because you don’t want to seem rude. This happens so much that after a while you suspect you may have been sucked into a worm-hole where you now exist as a fictional character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (which if you haven’t read, could be the basis of an incredibly successful drinking game where you take a shot every time someone has “coffee and a sandwich”, which is seemingly every half a page).

Then your clients and your agency arrive, and to celebrate that – everyone has some coffee and a toasted sandwich, and because you don’t want to be left out, you join in. Then you trundle off to your grade, where the dude who’s making all the colours come out prettily, asks if you want ‘the special’ which is apparently a toasted sandwich made with bacon and brie. Which sounds like the last three days, but on steroids, and because by this point (in your head), you’ve elevated eating fried bread and drinking coffee to almost martial-arts-like divine heights, you can’t exactly say no, now that the equivalent of a Bruce Lee-esque fight to the death has been laid down.

Then you go next door to do the online edit, and the burly Chinese guy with the bad-ass ink who’s operating the suite offers you something to eat or drink. And because he quite scary you say yes, otherwise you’re afraid you might get stuffed into a dustbin or something.  Even though at this point, your mouth doesn’t work so well, your skin feels like its being rubbed with dead leaves, and generally you just wish someone would scrub you from the inside with a wire brush. A nice lady arrives ten minutes later with a tray of, yes…those things.

Because this is getting repetitive, all I’m going to say is that after that comes a music recording session, a VO recording and a final audio mix, all of which are accompanied by a never-ending, inexorable supply of coffee and toasted sandwiches, all made with more melted cheese than you thought possible to fit between two pieces of butter-grilled bread, and all impossible to resist.

All of this has contributed significantly to the fact that I probably won’t make it to Haley’s Comet’s return (which will be when I’m 84 and was near the top of my bucket list), and was also a huge contributing factor to me just sitting at home this weekend failing to muster up enthusiasm for anything other than season three of Community.

Last night was then the final straw, the moment where I decided ‘enough’, and hauled myself bodily out of the murderous pit of my own design with a handful of plums, some couscous and a chicken. Which sounds like the beginning of a joke, but is not.

Plum Chicken

Ingredients (for 2)

4 pieces chicken, skin on (use what you prefer, if youre a leg enthusiast, so be it. Me, wild horses couldnt drag me away from a good bit of thigh)

5 large ripe plums

1 cinnamon stick

2 shallots, very finely chopped

1 tbsp butter

Half a glass of red wine

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp assorted seeds ( I used the woollies mix of sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds)

1 cup of couscous

1 handful of dried dates (chopped)

1 handful of rosa tomatoes ( quartered)

1 stick of celery (chopped)

A splash of olive oil

Salt

Pepper

What to do 

In a pan, heat a splash of olive oil – season the chicken pieces and fry over a high heat until browned but by no means cooked through, then set aside.

Chop up the plums, removing the stone from each and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter – and just as its  beginning to foam, throw in the chopped shallots. When they’ve softened and have turned translucent, add the chopped plums stirring vigorously until they’ve started to break up a bit. Get the heat so that the mix is energetically simmering away, add the cinnamon stick, a splash of water to loosen and the sugar. Stir again for about 2 minutes, turn the heat down and leave on a gentle bubble for about 20 minutes, until the plums have fully disintegrated and its taken on a thickish saucy quality.  At this point, add the red wine, stir again and leave for another 10 minutes to bubble away. Then, remove the cinnamon stick, and empty into a blender or use a stick blender to pulse until smooth. Generously coat the chicken in the plum sauce, and set aside for half an hour.

Turn your oven up to 200 degrees Celsius, lay the chicken out on a roasting and get them in the heat until golden and plummy and sticky (about half an hour should do it), sprinkle with the seeds for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Quickly fry the dates, celery and tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil. Decant the couscous into a pot, then cover with just enough freshly boiled water. Stir vigorously with a fork, then put on the lid to let it steam. After about five minutes, loosen with the fork again, then replace the lid for another 5 minutes. The third time you stir, the couscous should be lovely and fluffy. Add the celery, dates and tomatoes and stir them in.

Serve the chicken with the couscous, a crisp glass of Chardonnay and try to get your arteries to be your friend again.

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Chicken Nerdvana

Disclaimer!

Okay, all you heart-ridden Valentines boobies. Listen up. There will be none of that Hallmark rubbish in this little corner of the Internet today. It will be business as usual here, which means at least one dubious joke about genitals, a picture of something in my only good serving bowl, and a couple of pop-culture references that are hopelessly out of date, which just illustrates how direly out of touch I am.
Right. Carry on.

This how how they should have taught me topography at school

While some people might say ‘let Jesus take the wheel’, I’m usually more comfortable when my wheel is being taken by a 15th-level Barbarian with a Greatsword +5.

And by ‘wheel’ I don’t mean…okay never mind.

Surprise. I can be a gigantic raging nerd sometimes, but here’s the thing; the older I get the less inclined I am to hide it. Back in the day, it was a one-way ticket to getting either my head stuffed down a toilet or having to lick a door handle, but these days it’s a totally viable alternative to, like…having children. Or pets. Or a job.

I mean, in a world where pushing a ‘like’ button on the bajillionth picture of a cat doing something cute can be passed off as a legitimate way to spend one’s free time, I feel I can be totally left alone to read books that have wizards with pointy hats on the cover and play boardgames that require me every now and again to say something like: “Agarthan the Bard casts Flaming Hands at the Orc leader.” You know?

Better than scraping clean the grouting in the guest-shower I say.

So, when about two weeks ago I stumbled onto this:

aaaaah.....choirs of angels choirs of angels choirs of angels

…there was absolutely no way I was going to leave it there for some sweaty fifteen year-old to buy for his friends to touch (sweatily), rather than me buying it for mine (look, we’re just as sweaty, but the reason for that is all the expensive drugs we take, not pre-teen slime). So I pushed aside the gaggle of rank, shiny kids who were trying to pool R10 notes and some guy who swore he could remember the numbers off his mom’s credit card, and got that thing in a plastic bag and into my car before any of them knew what hit them.

It’s like bullying, just with money.

The nice thing about playing these types of games when you’re (slightly) more grown up. Is that the catering is always a lot better. For one thing, we can drink whiskey now, and our perception of what makes a legitimate party snack has progressed beyond “I don’t really care, as long as its got melted cheese on it.”

For example, as a kid, our gaming menu was always inevitably something along the lines of:

Soya mince bolognese.
Cheese Curls (or, Cheese Hurls as we thought we were so clever calling them)
Coke (a cola, not the other kind)
Unfathomably sweet tea and Marie biscuits.
Scully and Mulder impressions.

So, because people need to eat when they’re locked in a death-struggle for the Iron Throne (and I mean something other than the flesh and blood of their enemies), some wine was thrown on the table, a pot and pan or two were theatrically rattled in the kitchen, and people happily got their fantasy ass-kick on.

Chicken Nerdvana (adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe in the 2011 round-up edition of his magazine)

This recipe makes truly the best sauce ever, and the use of the limes really does give it a fantastically fresh zing which I reeeally like.

"I think I can I think I can," said Jono's one good serving dish.

Ingredients


a whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 large carrot, chopped up
1 large stick of celery, chopped up
1 large red onion, chopped up
1 large handful of button mushrooms, quartered
A splash of olive oil
1 large bunch of thyme, bound up with string
500 ml of chicken stock
1 glass of white wine
5 bay leaves
1 knob of butter
2 egg yolks
40 g of flour
1 cup of cream
The juice of one lime
2 tbsp dried tarragon
Salt
Pepper

What to do


Heat some olive oil in a pan, season your chicken pieces with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and brown them until golden. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towel to drain off the excess oil.

Pour some of the olive oil and chicken juices from the frying pan you’ve just used into a fresh, large pot, heat and add the celery, onion and carrot. Fry it all up until soft and fragrant – which should take about five minutes or so. Then pour in the wine and vigorously simmer that off until about reduced in volume by half. Now bung in the thyme, the mushrooms and the bay leaves, stir it up and let that simmer for another ten minutes. Finally add the chicken pieces and the stock, reduce the heat so that it settles into a gentle bubbling, and leave it for an hour.

Once that’s done, remove the pot from the heat and strain out the liquid into a bowl to set aside (you can also fish out and throw away the thyme at this point, it’s done it’s job). Gently heat the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and quickly stir together. When it’s just foaming and starting to bubble, mix in the liquid from the chicken that you’ve strained out. Whisk it up and let that roll for ten minutes or so until silky.

While that’s on the go, whisk together the two egg yolks with the cream and then sprinkle in the dried tarragon. Combine this with the chicken liquid mix, stir it up good and proper, and as a finishing kick, add the lime juice. Season to taste, then pour over the chicken pieces and vegetables. Top with a bit of chopped parsley if you fancy, and serve it with potatoes and crusty bread to a room full of hungry nerds doing this:

This is what slaughtering your cowardly enemies looks like at my house on a Sunday.