Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Curries

Two (very similar) curries I made this week.

Chicken Curry With Green Peas And Yellow Peppers

From Tale of two curries

This recipe makes a medium spiced curry, so use less Madras if you don't like it hot, or more if you do. The yellow peppers are sweet and add juiciness to the dish, whilst the green peas add some texture and, well, greenness. The coconut milk makes it slightly creamy and the coconut flavour really adds something (in fact may be nice to add some grated coconut to this!)

What you need

3-4 chicken breasts, skinned and washed
1 Yellow pepper
Fistful of frozen peas
1 Medium onion
3 Cloves of garlic
4 tsp Hot Madras curry powder
2 tsp ginger powder or sliced fresh ginger
1 cup Vegetable stock (or a sodium free stock cube and a cup of water)
1 cup of basmati rice
2 tbsp Olive oil
1/2 can of Coconut milk
salt and pepper

What you do

Make some rice at the same time (see the end of the post if you don't know how to do that).

Get a frying pan, add some of the oil and heat it until it's steaming and the chicken would sizzle if you put it in. Use a pair of scissors or sharp knife to cut the Chicken into generous sized chunks, then dump them in there. Make sure it doesn't burn, by turning it and turning the heat down if need be, but you want the chicken to be seered so it keeps it's juices. After a few minutes, the chicken should be white all over, and possibly a bit brown in places, now you can turn the pan down and let it cook for 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile you coarsely chop the onion, wash and chop the yellow pepper, peel and chop the garlic and slice as thinly as possible.

Now remove the chicken from the pan, and remove excess fat, and put the pan back on the heat. Add the onions and peppers and cook until soft. Just before they're ready add the garlic, but careful not to brown it.

Add the chicken again.

Now mix the Madras powder and ginger with the stock in a jug, stir it up really well and add it to the frying pan. Turn the heat up to nearly high, let it al l boil and then turn it down so it simmers. Add the frozen peas and do the same again, boil it, then turn it down so it's happily simmering.

Stir it now and then to make sure everything is mixed up and getting the same amount of heat. Leave it cooking for about 5 minutes then pour in the Coconut milk and stir that around, leave it cooking for another 4-5 minutes. Should be pretty much done! Serve with Basmati rice.

Super-fast Vegetable Curry (15 minutes, 10 if you have microwave rice and you're super fast)

From Tale of two curries

Vegetable curries are lower fat than meaty ones, the washing up is easier, and they're healthier for your heart. I liven this one up with a dollop of fresh yoghurt on the side.

What you need

Pretty much any vegetables, but in this case:
3 medium carrots
1/3 of a cauliflower
1 medium broccoli
Frozen sweet corn
1 medium onion
3 cloves of garlic
Small bunch of of fresh Coriander, chopped (Cilantro)
2 tsp Hot Madras curry powder
1 tsp ginger powder or sliced fresh ginger
1 cup Vegetable stock (or a sodium stock cube and a cup of water)
1 cup of basmati rice (if you're really in a hurry get some microwavable rice)
2 tbsp Olive oil
1 tin salt free chopped tomatoes
Optionally: splash lemon juice, red wine
salt and pepper

What you do

OK I said it was super fast; I made this when I came home from work one day and wanted to eat very soon. I usually boil vegetables, the carrots take a good 15-18 minutes, so to get the time down I sliced the carrots and steamed them in the microwave (3 minutes, 3 tbsp of water, wrap in cling film tight).

Stick a frying pan on between medium and high and coarsly chop the onion and stick it in there with 2 tbsp olive oil, and sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Stir it so it doesn't burn and fry until soft. Meanwhile peel the garlic and slice it thinly as possible. Turn the onions down when they're almost done and add the garlic, turn the hear down to medium, you don't want to over cook the garlic.

Add the carrots to the frying pan, then wash the broccoli and cauliflower and cut into mini florettes. Put these under cling film like the carrots and microwave those for 3 minutes too).

Mix the curry powder and vegetable stock in a jug then pour over the vegetables in the pan, then add the tin of tomatoes. Bring it to the boil, wait a bit. When it's nearly done a few minutes later chop and add the fresh coriander and stir in. Serve with plain yoghurt and basmati rice.

Cooking rice in super easy, works every time, kinda way... (we hope)

From Tale of two curries

Put some water in a large pan for the rice, you'll need one with a lid. You want exactly 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring it to the boil, add 1 cup of rice and bring it to the boil again, then turn down to about medium, stick the lid on it, and forget about it for about 16 minutes. Then it will be done.

Microwave rice - The packet has instructions. Duh!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Funny white men with big noses, Blankets and Belly Buttons

I've been reading a few graphic novels this year, and I'll cover a few briefly here.

Bottomless Belly Button

This is a lovely fat comic book, over 700 pages, but much of the story is portrayed eloquently with pictures, and there is little dialogue, so this is a quick read. The main story is of a married couple breaking up after decades of marriage, which to them seems natural if sad, but to their oldest son seems traumatic and affects him deeply. Inviting the family to join them for perhaps one last family reunion, they announce the divorce.

My favourite character is the youngest son, Peter. An awkward geeky kid, portrayed with a frogs head, literally, emphasising perhaps that he feels different and exposed in a world where everyone else seems to be confident and cool. He has his first sexual relationship with a young woman he meets on the beach near his parents house, and comes of age belatedly.

It's an engaging and charmingly told story and definitely worth reading.



Blankets is in a very similar vein to Bottomless Belly Button, covering coming of age and first love in much the same way, but capturing and conveying the emotions of that time extremely well. Craig Thompson wrote this autobiographical account of growing up in an Evangelical Christian family, making it a very person and vivid story.

He has certainly captured the joy and magic of first love, and of finding a special person to sneak away from the world with, which they do quite literally in the story. The Blanket from the title, a gift from his girl, is like a symbol of the warmth and comfort they give each other.

Sometimes the art itself tells the story, as the size of the panels grows to emphasise the emotions of the characters. For example, when he is driving away from her after a long visit, knowing his heart will be breaking in two, there's a beautiful full page image showing the world as if rent in two, with the family car plummeting off the edge into the void. Great stuff.


Bone (Parts 1 - 9)

I picked book one of Bone up on a recommendation by a friend, and read it to my son at bedtimes. We soon got hooked and bought the whole series. It's a fun adventure, originally drawn in black and white, but coloured and printed in great glossy pages.

Bone and his cousins, the only funny looking Smurf characters in the story, had to flee their home, Boneville, due to the illegal antics of his cousin. Arriving in a mysterious valley they wind up in an unravelling adventure.

This story is filled with slap stick humour, the bad guys rarely hurt anything but their own pride. There are a few scenes I had to read over and over to my son as he hooted with laughter, much as I often play the same Road Runner cartoons to him twenty or thirty times.

There's plenty of depth to the story however, and it gets dark in places. Never really straying far from the Asterix the Gaul comic violence, yet always thoughtful and and with an authentic vibe.

Although I bought this to read to my seven year old son, it's certainly something I'd have read to myself.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Zombies to Milton

So far this year, in what I've been reading, story of creation in Genesis, human freedom, Zombies, Milton, Revolution and Godels incompleteness theorem, have all woven themselves into a colourful tapestry of ideas and themes which I'd love to be able to express.

This blog entry will be the start of trying to do that, beginning with a quick review of a book on Godel's theory by Margerat Goldstein.

"Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel"

Kurt Godel is the kind of guy you think of when you think of a mad mathematician. He's reclusive, uncomfortable in public and not at all patient when dealing with people with less intelligence, which is almost everybody. One of his best friends in life was Einstein, who he often walked with while at Princeton. Indeed, Einstein was one of his few intellectual equals, and he once surprised the physicist on his birthday with a reformulation of his relativity theory that allowed for time travel. Einstein also drove Godel to his citizenship test in the US, where Godel worried him by pointing out he had found a flaw in the constitution of that country that could make the whole government illegal. Despite Einstein's warning not to, Godel illucidated this theory of his to the examiner in his test. Luckily it did not count against him and he became a US citizen.

This book explores the beginning of his intellectual life in an elitist intellectual club known as the Vienna Circle. The story then discuess his move to Princeton before the second world war. Although not Jewish, he was eligible for conscription to the German army, and through being stubborn and difficult he very nearly did not make it to the US to work there.

An amusing part of the story is when Godel presented his paper at a European conference and it was almost completely ignored. Only a single person there understood the great significance of the theory; John von Neumann.

Although a book like this can't hope to teach all the mathematics you need to understand a complex paper like the two proofs of incompleteness, from my layman view it certainly seemed to present a tangible feel for how Godel developed the proof, and what it consisted of.
People looking for a deeper understanding may want to check out "Godel, Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" which I will talk about in another post.

The Vienna Circle represented the philosophy that experience is the only valid source of knowledge, and that only formal logic can be used to manipulate this knowledge to study philisophy. Although a member of the group, Godel did not share their views. Although his proof is a magnificent piece of work in formal logic, what he achieved was to show that not everything we can know can be produced in such a system. His later life was spent studying Liebniz, looking for clues in the work of that great genius, for how human knowledge differed from knowledge that was entirely empirical or generated mechanically from a formal system.

Sadly he became very paranoid in later life and shut out everybody, eventually starving himself to avoid being poisoned by his imagined enemies. This paranoia was no doubt caused by some mental illness, but seemed to reflect the the intellectual loneliness he suffered both in Vienna and in Princeton.

To summarise Goldstein takes us on a tour that explores Godel's life in a way that is very accessible and highly interesting, yet still apparently with plenty of depth.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Proust and the Squid. Processing: A guide for designers.

"Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists"

In the words of the website

"Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions."

This is a great book about Processing. Written for non-programmers, it explores the things you can do with Processing. Each section starts with a selection of cool things that artists or designers have made, including many colour pictures of them, then shows you how to use some part of Processing. This is a nice format for practical books on programming environments. It gives you something to be inspired or excited about, then gives you the tools to do it.

Processing is a brilliantly simple programming environment for creating interactive artwork, and this book is a fun and authorative.


"Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain", Maryanne Wolf

I can't remember if it was the intriguing title, or the promised topics of this book that made me pick it up. Unfortunately, I found the book dissapointing. I was hoping to learn, as an aside, about Proust, or the neurology of the squid, in a Steven Pinker style exploration of the science of reading.

The book felt somewhat aimless, and doesn't have a compelling pace. Those interested in the reading difficulties of dyslexics may find it all more interesting. There were of course some areas she explored that I enjoyed, for example, that Socrates was against the written word. Preferring instead the intelectual effort required to remember everything in your head, and be able to deliver it verbally to students. Perhaps for a genius of the ancient world that makes a lot of sense. There wasn't a lot of knowledge to remember back then, at least compared to the mass available today. But Maryanne extends this argument to modern day technology. Kids growing up today are surely exposed to an unimaginably huge quantity of information, and in many different forms. So it's certainly not imbecilic to stop and ask if we are losing something as we move from pen and paper to digital communication.

Personally I don't see the same ground shaking shift in human culture that must have happened as we went from oral to written communication. Shifting to a way to write down facts and information was huge. Changing from ink to digital media is not as huge. In fact, what modern technology really brings to communication of ideas is outside the books remit, since it is all about learning to read.

Still, some interesting ideas in the book, and one to look up if you're interested in this kind of thing.