Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Cookblog: How to boil an egg

There is a hilarious moment, in the 14th minute of Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, when the master chef who teaches Ms Audrey Hepburn’s gourmet cooking class speaks the immortal words: ‘Bonjours, mesdames et messieurs. Yesterday we have learned the correct way how to boil water…’

Ah, how we all laughed when we first heard that! How could anybody not know how to boil water?? Is there anything simpler and more obvious? Unfortunately, the joke is not all that farfetched. Some of the simplest and most obvious processes cause people tremendous trouble. Thus, to my utter astonishment, I learned quite recently that more than half the population of the civilised West does not know how to boil an egg! Will you believe it???

Now, not all our cases are as desperate as that of Mr Ivan Lendl, the grand Czech tennis champion, who once during an interview confessed that his mother and sister always cooked for him and that he had no idea how a kitchen worked. To illustrate this, Mr Lendl told of this one evening when both his beloved women were out and he was hungry. He decided to boil an egg for himself. So he put an egg in a pan and the pan on the fire and went to watch TV while waiting for the process to run its course. Three minutes later there was an immense blast in the kitchen, and when he rushed over, he found that the egg had exploded and was now plastered all over the ceiling and the kitchen walls. ‘You see,’ Mr Lendl explained with a smile, ‘I had no idea that one has to put water into the pan when one boils an egg…’

No, 99.99 % of the population, will never make such a mistake. But what the greater majority of that same population does not know how to do is to cook an egg to their full satisfaction. As we all know there are three states of boiled egg: soft, medium and hard. And only all too many people can only get the hard-boiled egg right (by letting it cook for 20 minutes…). When they try to produce a soft-boiled egg, it often comes out like runny goo. When they aspire to a semi-soft egg (and most do), it usually turns out too hard. A family breakfast fails dismally once again… Lawyers and divorce papers appear on the horizon…

All sorts of ingenious devices have been invented, produced, brought onto the market and propagandized to help house wives and tennis champions to produce the boiled eggs of their choice and preference. There are kitchen timers, hour glasses, miniature pressure cookers, smart phone apps, litmus tests and termo-chemical adhesive strips that must be wrapped around the egg shell and change colour when the prescribed cooking period has passed. In ultra religious Spain there even used to be an apostolically approved pious method to guarantee the perfect egg: a house wife would mutter four Ave Maria’s over the pan for a soft boiled egg, six for a semi-soft one, and an entire rosary for the harder variety. The Holy Virgin of Miracles took care, we hope, of the rest…

But all this is perfectly needless. Come now, people: it ain’t rocket science. If only you know what you’re doing, you will need no expensive aids, electronic devices, satellite guidance or help from on high. All you need are the instructions from a man who knows what he’s doing, and the discipline to follow those instructions to the letter.

So here is…

Alfred B. Mittington’s ‘Correct Way To Boil An Egg…’

Put a normal sized egg in a pan and fill the pan with cold water until the egg is completely submerged. Do not punch holes in the shell or mistreat the egg in any other way. It makes no sense and no difference for the end result. Do not use already boiling water either; it will completely disturb the timing.

Put half a teaspoon of salt, or a fair splash of vinegar into the water. This raises the boiling temperature slightly, but – more importantly – it seals a crack if the shell happens to burst, so that you do not end up with an empty wind-egg floating in ugly egg soup.

Put the pan onto a high fire and bring to a boil.

As soon as sturdy, unstoppable bubbles rise up from beneath the egg, making it dance, lower the fire to medium height (the water must continue to bubble) and bring out the stopwatch or any other sort of watch with a second-hand.

From this very moment:
            If you want a soft-boiled egg: count 3 minutes, and not a second more!
            If you want a semi-soft egg: count 4 minutes, and not a second more!
            If you want a hard-boiled egg: let the water boil for 5 minutes at least.

As soon as the prescribed time is over – and not a second more! – remove the egg from the pan and submerge it entirely in cold water. This stops the congealing process. If you want your egg warm, you can take it out of it cool bath after some 30 seconds and serve it. If you want your egg cold you will need to keep it in there for a considerable time (10 minutes usually).

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Golden Quotebook: Ambrose Bierce on reliquaries

Well, as it is Sunday and time for some light relief from a short hilarious quote, I offer you today the incomparable wit of Ambrose Bierce's 'Devil's Dictionary' on the subject of reliquaries.

RELIQUARY, n.  A receptacle for such sacred objects as pieces of the true cross, short-ribs of the saints, the ears of Balaam's ass, the lung of the cock that called Peter to repentance and so forth. Reliquaries are commonly of metal, and provided with a lock to prevent the contents from coming out and performing miracles at unseasonable times. A feather from the wing of the Angel of the Annunciation once escaped during a sermon in Saint Peter's and so tickled the noses of the congregation that they woke and sneezed with great vehemence three times each. It is related in the "Gesta Sanctorum" that a sacristan in the Canterbury cathedral surprised the head of Saint Dennis in the library. Reprimanded by its stern custodian, it explained that it was seeking a body of doctrine. This unseemly levity so raged the diocesan that the offender was publicly anathematized, thrown into the Stour and replaced by another head of Saint Dennis, brought from Rome.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Humpty-dumpty parliament

Sometimes silence is better than gold, dear reader. And today is one such day. When I got up this morning, it was with the intent of writing an elaborate, lengthy, well-argued and utterly profound analysis of yesterday’s general elections in Spain. But what do you think I discovered, when – for a quick check-up - I re-read previous political comments Alfred B Mittington had made? Well, I discovered that the Mittington Analysis of the municipal elections of May 24th last, is still perfectly valid and applicable to yesterday’s national elections! All you need to do is ignore the timeframe and pretend we’re talking about the national parliament instead of local councils. Read it here if you’re interested.

So that simply leaves giving you yesterday’s results and the forecast for the future. The former is pretty easy; the latter less so. Limiting myself to the four big parties that really matter the seats won in the Madrid Cortes are:

PP (conservative)       123
Ciudadanos (liberal)     40
PSOE (socialist)          90
Podemos (radical left)  69

This result is hailed as a triumph by the two new parties (Ciudadanos and Podemos) and by everyone who is sick or tired of the old petrified two-party system in which PP and PSOE alternated in power, both abusing it to their heart’s delight when their turn came. However, it is one thing to applaud a socio-political watershed for the history book, Max Weber style; and quite another to govern a country in deep trouble, like Spain is today. This fragmented, shattered & scattered, parliament obliges the political leadership to form some sort of coalition; and even if Spaniards were temperamentally fit for that (and believe me they are not!), it would still be an impossible job, as no workable combination (i.e. naturally left-leaning or right-leaning) reaches the parliamentary majority of 176 in the 350 seat lower house.

You can do the math for yourselves; but believe ol’ Al’ when he says that there are only two, equally unthinkable combinations which add up numerically.

The first is a coalition of the PP and the PSOE, good for over 210 seats This would be a laugh, after the 40 years these two have been at each other’s throats like Cain and Abel, and it would immediately be seen as the Coalition of the Biparty Dinosaurs, trying to hold on to their old dominance of power. Let’s see how well that goes down with an electorate which has just shown it is sick and tired of just that.

'You first…' - 'No! You!'

The second is what was already dubbed long ago as the Coalition of Losers: PSOE, Podemos and Ciudadanos, leaving the formal victor out of the loop. In a northern country, like Germany or The Netherland, this might work, as these places have a long democratic history and much experience with the subtleties of coalition-building and maintaining stability. But Spanish democracy is young and passions are strong and honour is a (deadly) virtue among the Dons. So I fail to see how these Three Graces could possibly decide upon a threesome. I mean: one of them would have to undress first, and then they’d have to agree upon all sorts of positions

In short: Spain is living in interesting times, as the Chinese curse goes.

You want my wildest guess as to the future? My wildest guess is that they will put in some minority government supported by the tiny arms of a whole range of Lilliput lower house factions. It will be the shortest-lived government of Spanish democracy; and in 2016 we’ll have new elections. And then let’s see if the Bipartisan Jurassic truly ended yesterday evening…

Monday, October 12, 2015

Photoshop Phraud

Recently, and all over the globe, an epidemic of scandals has broken out concerning the horrible and hypocrite use of the Photoshop program to jazz things up and make people appear far more sexy and youthful than they are in their flesh and blood. I must say the indignation of the public is justified. The things you see are shocking! Society matrons who are far beyond their sell-by date are made to look like fillies straight out of the stud farm; top models are moulded and polished and liposucked the pixel way until they are beyond all recognition; and even politicians are being digitally enhanced so as to increase their potential to attract electoral attention (I mean… does anybody really think that hair on Mr Trump’s skull is real??)

Now, normally, Alfred B Mittington could not care less about such Vanitas Vanitatum of the under-aged world into which he was born far too early… But he draws the line, dear reader, there where these Digital Reprobates and Barefacebookies tamper with the respectable appearance of a dear old close personal friend of his, who cannot defend himself for being dead! How dare they! J’Accuse with a vengeance, and I will soon take legal action against the lads and lassies who dared to turn this picture of dear old Winston:

Into THIS shocking travesty of truth for the advertisements of a top hat manufacturer:

Shame, I say! Shame shame shame…!!!!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ten selfies of the Invisible Man

Now that the holidays are over, it is time to share our snapshots with the rest of humanity. As I myself do not use them modern digital devices, and the tripod of the Camera Obscurae really becomes a little too heavy and clumsy to schlepp around at my age, I have asked a good old friend to provide me with his holiday pictures. And so I offer you today, dear reader, a unique peek into the Selfies of the Invisible Man, snapped during his recent World Tour.

In the Kheops Burial chamber, Giza

At the Victoria Falls

Before the Coliseum, Rome


Père Lachaise, Paris

Taking coffee in Florence with his wife

In front of the Tree of Ténéré, Niger

At the Norwegian coast

Sitting on the Toros de Guisando, Avila, Spain

South Pole !!!!