Monday 28 February 2011

Proper Recycling Containers and Improper Sushi

FRIDAY: Lunch on this stimulatingly creative Friday is a bit exciting: smoky Cheddar with a sliced pepperoncini pepper, two sliced green olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh coriander leaf. And it's muy bueno! If it could have been in a proper corn tortilla and heated instead of in a white breadcake it would be even better. But it is a nice juicy chewy savoury smoky picante surprise. Fruit is a glorious mixture of satsuma, Sharon fruit (persimmon), grapes, and apple, with a lychee for dessert. Ooh-la-la, ooh-mama!

For some mysterious reason our street was omitted last week for the biweekly recycling bin pick-up. A neighbour phoned the Council and was told it was because our street was inaccessible that day for the bin lorry, which to all of us sounded like your proverbial crock of shit. So now we're having to wait another two weeks for a pick-up.

The only real worry for my household is the paper receptacle, because we do buy a daily newspaper among other things and it's only a small crate. The cans and bottles are no problem, because the larger wheelie bin is for those, and in another 2 weeks, although it's bound to be quite heavy, it won't be more than half full.

I'm happy we finally have kerbside recycling, but I don't think the Sheffield recyclers have thought it through very well. When I first moved to the green-green city of Seattle back in 1990, they were well into kerbside recycling. For a decade I lived on the South Side of the Washington Ship Canal that had the better of the city's two recycling arrangements. Although our pickup was only once a month we had a huge covered wheelie bin for paper, cardboard, tin cans, aluminium, and #1 and #2 plastics. And the bottles went into a separate crate. Meanwhile my mother in Southern California has had one massive wheelie bin in which she puts everything recyclable, and that's wheeled from her garage down the driveway to the kerb to be picked up once a week.

The problem with Sheffield's system is not so much that they can't take everything -- eg. no plastic other than drinks bottles -- because obviously that's a cost issue. The problem is in their choice of what goes into what container. The little soft plastic shower caps that stretch over the paper crates fail miserably at keeping the paper dry during heavy rainstorms, which we tend to have a lot of in Yorkshire. And dumping the first load of bottles into the tall bin after it's been emptied is such a cacophonic experience it will wake the dead across the Pennines in Manchester. Although I used to enjoy hurling glass bottles into the public recycling bins, delighting at the sound of breaking glass, in my own back garden on a peaceful morning the sound is about as comforting as a multi-car collision or a building collapsing.

Why not have us put the glass into the crate and the other recyclables into the bin? It makes a hell of a lot more sense to me. But what do I know? I've only been recycling for the past 40 years.

WEDNESDAY: Lunch is lovely: some chevre on a white breadcake with pine nuts, a chopped Kalamata olive, sun-dried tomatoes, a bit of spring onion and red pepper, fresh basil, and fresh ground black pepper. It's a Mediterranean festival: absolutely scrumptious.

Last night I experienced something extremely disturbing. Obviously life is disturbing at the moment. The Middle East and North Africa have erupted, with citizens demonstrating, often with horridly violent results, in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Sudan, Morocco, and Bahrain, where Formula 1's grand prix has just been cancelled, and all of this while a British firm is at the Abu Dhabi Arms Fair selling crowd control weapons to Libya. Meanwhile an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand has had disastrous results, with an estimated 148 reported dead so far and buildings toppled and roads collapsed, while Australia is still reeling from the recent floods and cyclone. And in the wake of the student demos in Britain in reaction to the rise in tuition fees while jobs and benefits are being slashed by the coalition government's machetes, the banks are avoiding paying taxes and continue to reward their executives with lush bonuses.

Obviously what disturbed me last night will seem trivial compared to the disturbing global news reports we watch, read, and hear every day. But perhaps we need to focus on the smaller everyday atrocities that we might actually have the power to do something about. In a world that can build container ships big enough to carry 860,000,000 bananas at one time, why in the world would anybody produce and sell, much less think up in the first place, a product such as tuna mayonnaise sushi?

In Seattle we occasionally bought those small supermarket pack of maki-zushi (aka sushi rolls) to share for lunch. Not only would they contain California rolls, which were usually crab meat and cucumber or courgette wrapped in rice and seaweed, but also the Seattle version, which was filled with smoked salmon, cream cheese, and avocado. The pack would also include samples of soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger slices. This would make a lovely lunch for two as a pleasant change from our usual pesto pizza, calamari tacos, falafel, spanakopeta, and the like.

But the crab and the smoked salmon were simple and undressed, nothing like tinned tuna, and the raw vegetable, rice, and seaweed was all the dressing needed, aside from perhaps a dash of soy sauce, a tiny smear of wasabi, and a slice of ginger. I'm sorry, but mayonnaise has no place in a maki-zushi, much less in a presentation of food claiming to be slightly Japanese. I nearly gagged when I bit into the roll to discover the filling tasted like your average supermarket pre-wrapped tuna mayo sandwich. It wasn't even imaginative tuna mayo like I would make. It was truly awful. I was shocked and dismayed. And it was from Tesco, who should have known better.

I was told by a friend that one can get proper California rolls in pre-made packets in Sheffield; but when I Googled "California rolls" and "Sheffield" all of my results included the word mayonnaise. I do hope my friend wasn't just telling me this to stop me packing my bags and booking a one-way flight to America. I do sincerely hope he's right. I shall keep looking, and hoping...

Monday 21 February 2011

The Rules of Ish

WEDNESDAY: I'm eating another eclectic sandwich I have been looking forward to all morning: smoked Cheddar with Waitrose smoky aubergine dip on a Co-Op sunflower seed roll with spring onion, chopped red pepper, chopped green olives, and fresh coriander leaf. It's the UN all in one sandwich, and it's very smoky. It's a wonderfully smoky United Nations, like the UN building on fire. Delicious!

THURSDAY: Today I've got a new tofu from Waitrose: smoked tofu with sesame seeds and almonds. To stay with the Far Eastern theme I've added some coriander leaf and a bit of cayenne-pepper heat, a la Thai cuisine, with the usual vegetable accoutrements. It's a bit of a Japanese Thai marriage in my mouth. Open, Sesame!

THE FOLLOWING WEDNESDAY: I've got smoky cheddar with sun-dried tomatoes and olives today, and more fresh coriander leaf. I can't believe how perfectly smoke-like this cheddar is. Many "smoked" cheese one buys are only a bit smoky and more salty than anything. You could call them smoky-ish.

Ish-ness is a uniquely British concept. When used as a suffix it's more immediately understandable, as in "I'll be there noon-ish". It becomes a bit more abstract and sometimes mysterious when it's used alone, as in "Are you all right?" "Ish." In this context it can be construed to be a contraction of "Yes, I'm all right -ish" which means "Yes, I'm all right, I think, but perhaps not entirely -- and maybe not very all right at all." Or take the question "Are you coming to the party tonight?" If a person is indeed coming to the party they might say "Yes, definitely" or "Is the Pope Catholic?" But if they reply with "Ish" they mean "Yes, I think so -- I mean it would probably be fun. It depends on if I can get away from work/if I can get my laundry done/if I don't suddenly come up with prior commitments/if I don't fall asleep in my chair. I'm probably not that bothered, actually, but I'll see if I feel like it."

The other day I was involved in an argument about the rules of ish. One friend texted saying he would meet us at the pub at "5:50-ish". At 6:03 he texted again saying he would be "5 minutes-ish". Upon his arrival my other friend claimed that he had broken the laws of ish-ness because he was not allowed to do any other ish inside of an existing ish. When I learned he had taken the 52 bus from town to the pub, I submitted that because the 52 route that time of day is an especially ishy route (because the time it takes to travel from town to the pub can be variable in the extreme), nested ishes are permissible in such cases.

Obviously in nested ishes each succeeding generation of ish becomes more subjective and less credible, with a great-great-great-great grandchild ish being negligibly believable.

And so it continues, this debate about the Rules of Ish and the potentially complicated process of amending an existing ish.

Is this why Ishi was discovered in the mountains of Northern California in 1911, still living an ancient Native American lifestyle?

Sunday 6 February 2011

On Being an Expat in a Facebook World

WEDNESDAY: Lunch today is some gorgeous Waitrose houmus with toasted pine nuts and whole chick peas with Primula, spring onion, and red pepper on a fresh wheat breadcake. This is my first work lunch this week, as I was off for two days with a bit of an achy chest and a wonderfully sexy but irritatingly scratching hoarse voice. I can finally speak again, as the hoarse has gone out to pasture.

This weekend I successfully completed my birthday week after starting celebrations on the previous Sunday. Although I believe everyone should celebrate their birthday for at least a week, it's even more important when one's birthday falls on a Monday like mine has this year. In that case, the two surrounding weekends definitely count.

THURSDAY: Lunch is a Things That Need Finishing sandwich: a bit of olive marinated tofu with some Waitrose aubergine mayonnaise on a white breadcake, with spring onion, red pepper, black and Cayenne pepper, and fresh basil. One might call it a Greco-Japanese concoction, sort of a Samurai Parthenon. But then again one might not.

Although I received only two tiny birthday presents this year, and only three physical birthday cards, I received Facebook birthday greetings from lots of people including local friends and workmates, American friends, and distant cousins. Obviously this is because if one has their birthday on their Facebook profile, then all of one's Facebook friends who opt in to birthday reminders (which is undoubtedly a default setting), then receiving all those Facebook greetings is no surprise and merely indicative of how many of one's Facebook "friends" happen to be logged into Facebook on the day of one's birthday or even the day after.

It's like a card that's passed around in an office on a circulation list: it's so easy to say "Happy Birthday -- Have a great day - x" and feel like you've made somebody's day without having to go through the effort of buying a card or a present and without having to remember a date.

And to think that not so long ago we didn't even have e-mail. My god, how did we survive?

Obviously Facebook has its life-negating aspects, such as providing a public platform for people to post their level of boredom, their lack of sleep, their disappointment that there's nothing good on telly tonight, or their suicide notes. But the fact that in the mornings before work, when I quickly log onto my computer to check my e-mail, I have found myself chatting several times with a British friend who lives in India whom I haven't physically seen or spoken to for 15 years, or that I can see how an American friend's travels through the UK are going on a daily basis as she uploads her photos, show how truly amazing this Facebook phenomenon can be. When one moves to another country and lives so far away from one's family and old friends, the ability to connect instantly brings a bit of magic into one's life.

And if I want to be left alone in my foreign reverie, the solution is so simple: just don't turn on the computer.

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