Spaghetti with a mushroom ragu for two

This is a delightful little dish that’s simple and fairly quick to make. You can use fresh mushrooms, but I suggest using dried because they are cheaper, have much more flavor, and you can use the soaking liquor for the stock. If you do choose to use fresh mushrooms, then use vegetable stock. Chicken or chicken-style vegan stock will overpower the flavor of the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, I used a mixture of shiitake, button, cep, and black fungus, but I don’t think the black fungus worked all that well (except for giving the dish a dramatic look!). I think dried mushrooms are excellent, but if you do use fresh, you’ll need about five times the weight. If you use nice mushrooms, that’ll be expensive, but you might be rich so you do you. Either way, don’t bother using just baby button mushrooms, and certainly don’t use oyster mushrooms because your sauce will taste of nothing.

It serves two people. Or one person twice.

Ingredients

  • 50 g dried mushrooms
  • Olive oil (about twice as much as you think you’ll need, but not so much that you’ll be deep frying)
  • 1 onion (or a couple of banana shallots would be nice)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, minced (or two big dollops out of a jar)
  • 60 ml or so of vermouth, or whatever you have – sherry, Madeira, Marsala etc.
  • 2 tbsp thickened cream (double cream in the UK, heavy cream in America)
  • Some basil, parsley, and parmesan cheese (as much as you like of each)
  • 250 g spaghetti (I use Barilla no. 7 spaghettoni)

Method

Begin by soaking the mushrooms in warm water for about half an hour (you’re going to ask me how much water to use: use enough to cover them in whatever vessel you’re soaking them in, and in any case at least 300 ml to 400 ml, but not too much, otherwise the lovely stock will be too weak.) While they are soaking, chop the onion and have a glass of wine. Add the chopped onion and garlic along with a good pinch of salt to the oil in a large frying pan, but don’t put it on the heat yet.

Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, drain and chop them, reserving 250 ml of the soaking liquor.

Now put the frying pan on a medium-ish heat and soften the onion, not until it’s brown, but until it’s really soft; it’ll take five to ten minutes, depending on the heat, but don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to rush it.

Next, add the mushrooms to the pan, and grind in some black pepper. If it’s a special occasion, you could grate in some nutmeg too – mushrooms love nutmeg. Cook the mushrooms over a fairly high heat until they are tender and any liquid that went in with them has evaporated.

Now pour in the vermouth (or whatever you are using) and allow that to evaporate too (it’s flavor we’re after here; we’re not making soup). Then pour in the reserved soaking liquor (or if you used fresh mushrooms, add 250 ml vegetable stock or something with an inoffensive amount of flavor). Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about half an hour – until the liquid has reduced by about half and it’s thickened up.

While all that’s going on, bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a frightening amount of salt (like, I grab a handful of rock salt and throw it in), add the pasta and cook it for one minute less than it tells you on the packet, unless you’ve got dentures you’re worried about, then add some extra time so it all goes soft. Time it all so that the pasta will not be sitting around waiting for the sauce.

After the sauce has been cooking for half an hour and has reduced sufficiently, add the herbs and the cream (you can use more or less cream, depending on your taste, but don’t drown out the taste of the mushrooms, and remember you’re not making soup!). Bring it back up to a simmer (it shouldn’t curdle, unless you’ve used reduced fat cream for some reason, though I can’t imagine why you would). Then immediately drain the pasta and add it to the pan, mix it all together thoroughly, then serve onto warmed plates. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan cheese (or shaved if you’re trying to impress).

Enjoy!

 

Knitting supplies: advice for beginners

A question I often answer and am sometimes asked is:

I want to learn to knit; what basic supplies do I need?

I’m going to answer this with what I think are the basics, with some specific recommendations on products. Note, this is my biased view; other people will give you different advice, but this is definitely my opinion on the best and most versatile products to get started with.

Assumptions:

  1. I’m going to assume you don’t want to spend a fortune, but do want some borderline decent supplies to get started.
  2. I’m also going to assume you just want to pick up some needles and yarn and start knitting. You don’t want to knit a thing (at first), you just want to practise the stitches.

A note: while understanding that you don’t want to spend a lot of money initially, knitting is an expensive hobby. You can, of course, buy a pair of needles and some acrylic yarn from the $2 store and knit with them, but I promise you that you’ll hate knitting if you do that.

Needles

I think for beginners, the best way to get started is to buy a 24″/60cm circular needle, size 4mm or 4.5mm (US size 6 or 7), and made of wood. (A lot of beginners start with bamboo, but I think that’s way too sticky. While having a bit of grip is good so your stitches won’t fall off the needle, if you’re constantly dragging the stitches along it will be irritating and you won’t enjoy knitting.)

With a circular needle you’ll be able to practise basic flat knitting, as well as circular knitting and magic loop knitting.

I am going to recommend KnitPro Symphonie fixed circular needle size 4mm. It’s AU$10.38 from LoveCrafts – or check your local yarn store.

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Yarn

There are loads of yarns available and it can be very confusing when you’re starting out. Most beginners start with acrylic yarn because it’s cheap and available everywhere – DON’T DO IT. The quality of cheap acrylic yarn can be so bad that it is genuinely unpleasant to knit with, and you’ll end up thinking you hate knitting when you just hate the yarn.

I recommend starting with wool yarn, in weight 4/medium/worsted/10-ply (it’s all the same thing, just different names depending on your location). Buy two 50g balls in two different light colors. 

This weight of yarn is probably the easiest to work with, and your stitches will be big enough for you to see. It’s also a good weight for your needles. Wool generally feels nice to work with and is really forgiving. It’ll have a bit more grip on your needles too. It’s really important to get light colors so you’ll be able to see your stitches easily.

If you’re in Australia I recommend Morris & Sons Estate 10-ply available from their website for AU$6.45.

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Other supplies

Aside from needles and yarn, there are a couple of other things I recommend you get. Not essential, but they’ll make life easier.

  • A crochet hook. I recommend an aluminium one with a soft grip handle, in the same size or a size smaller than your knitting needles. They are useful for practising picking up dropped stitches, as well as provisional cast-ons (I don’t expect you to know what that means!). KnitPro has one that’s good value: AU$4.37 from Love Crafts.
  • A yarn needle/tapestry needle. You’ll almost certainly want to practise weaving in ends or seaming, and these are essential for those things. They’re available everywhere (even supermarkets) for a couple of bucks, and the cheapest ones are fine.
  • Stitch markers are very useful for when you are practising increases or decreases. You can buy them, but for beginners you can make them by just cutting up a plastic drinking straw (one of the thick ones for milkshakes) into thin hoops.

Things you probably already have

  • A ruler. A 6″/15cm one is fine, as is a 12″/30cm one. A metre stick/yardstick is probably a bit too big.
  • A tape measure. The flexible 60″ ones that are everywhere are perfect. No need for a fancy retractable one.
  • Scissors, any size – even nail scissors will do, but massive kitchen ones might be a bit unwieldy.

A teacher

I think going to a beginners’ class at your local yarn store is the best way to get started, but that might well be impractical or unaffordable. There are lots of YouTube channels, some of them are good, and some of them are not. I recommend VeryPink Knits – Staci Perry of VeryPink is an excellent knitting teacher, and her videos are very well produced.

Please feel free to get in touch if you want more advice or if you dispute any of this! I’d love to chat knitting with you!

The One

A glance to the left. This is not a date, but oh! he is so beautiful.

The rocking of the ship moves with the beat. Ah ah ah ah.

I’m the one.
Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Another glance. Was it reciprocated or are my eyes deceiving me?
The urge to kiss him is so strong. Don’t do it. Keep it together, hold it in.

I’ll go and get pizza and maybe he’ll be there. Maybe he’ll say hello. I’m too shy to call him. Too shy to walk up to him and say hello. I’d do anything to have you near me.

Falling in love with him would be a very bad idea. If I get hurt again I’ll need a lifetime to repair.
But it’s too late.
Time is short.
I look at him again and again, over and over. Every photograph of him is a work of art, but to be in his presence, to look at his face, his physical body is perfection. I pull him in for a selfie. It’s the worst photo of him in existence. I cannot record this, only remember it.

Can you imagine…? Just suppose.

Vegan Chili

I like vegetarian cooking, but have long had a problem with vegetarian chili, and in particular the texture. Without overcooking the beans and vegetables it’s always seemed like a spicy vegetable and bean soup. A friend suggested blending it a bit with a stick blender. I loved it!

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 people whose appetites are smaller

Ingredients

  • Oil (I used sunflower oil, but olive oil is good too.)
  • 1 onion (I used a red onion, but a brown onion would be just as good)
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 carrots (on the larger size, but not the tree-trunk sized ones)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (or three big dollops of already-crushed garlic from a jar)
  • About a heaped pudding spoonful of ground cayenne pepper (be bold; trust me)
  • Ground cumin, more than a teaspoon, less than a tablespoon
  • Ground smoked paprika, about the same amount as the cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (I know, it sounds ridic, but it works)
  • A good heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
  • 2 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 400 g cans of beans (I used Woolworths Mexican Beans mix, which is a mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans but you can use any beans you like)
  • 1 400 g can of sweetcorn kernels (or you can use frozen if you have some in the freezer)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock (I used stock powder and an empty tomato can full of hot water)
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce (enough to put the willies up you a bit, but not so much you’re genuinely afraid)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar

Note: try to get the “no added salt” version of the canned stuff; it’ll taste better.

Method

Chop up the capsicum, carrots and celery and dice the onion. Warm the oil in a big saucepan or pot or casserole or something (I used the 3 litre Ikea 365+ pot, which was a bit snug, and I reckon the 5-litre one would have been better) and toss in the chopped vegetables. Keep the heat low and turn them over in the oil before putting a lid on. Stir them every now and then and after about fifteen minutes they should be tender. If not, leave them a bit longer, but you don’t want them mushy; just tender.

Now turn up the heat and put in the garlic, the spices and the herbs stirring to combine, and then add the cocoa powder. Stir that in too: it will combine with the oil and vegetable juices and go lovely and glossy – that’s when it’s time to add the tomatoes, drained beans, and drained corn, as well as the stock (or water and stock powder). Use the stock too rinse out the tomato cans. Stir it all together and bring it up to a simmer.

Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down so it’s simmering gently and let it cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom.

After half an hour add salt and pepper to taste (if you add salt before you cook the beans they’ll end up tasting of nothing – that’s also why I recommending using cans with no added salt).

Now take it off the heat and leave it to cool down for a couple of minutes. It won’t get cold. Use a stick blender to give it a bit of a whizz – just a couple of pulses, but don’t go crazy: you’re not making soup. If you don’t have a stick blender (and honestly, if you don’t you really should get one, and a decent one – the best you can afford) you can put a couple of ladlefuls into an ordinary blender and whizzy whizzy before adding it back to the pot (and if you don’t have any kind of blender you could put a couple of ladlefuls through a mouli, or go at it with a potato masher, but I really do recommend doing something to get the contrasting textures).

Finally stir in a splash of white wine vinegar, check the seasoning and serve! I put some slices of avocado on top and it was delicious. I often put broken tortilla chips on chili too, and, while I don’t really like it, a lot of people put corriander leaves on the top. A dollop of sour cream and that grated Monterrey Jack cheese is nice if you’re not concerned about it not being vegan

M People videos, a full rundown

I wrote a short thread on twitter earlier about my thoughts on some M People videos. Here is a full rundown.

Colour My Life

For a first video it’s okay. It’s just the band playing the song in a studio. but it’s well shot. Heather’s outfit is extremely 1991. We have a lady guitarist, which was very progressive back then. The backing vocalists do a bizarre dance that uses only their arms and bobbing up and down a bit. It’s quite endearing. ⭐⭐⭐

How Can I Love You More

More of the same really; just the and performing the song in a studio, but without the backing singers and their dance. Disappointing tbh. ⭐⭐

Someday

A further slide downhill. This is Heather singing alone against a black backdrop with some lighting , interspersed with some live show footage. They’d clearly run out of money by single #3. ⭐

Excited

Excited has two videos! The UK video is Heather dancing in front of interesting backdrops wearing office attire while the boys play pinball, with some shots of Heather wearing a rather gorgeous evening dress on a couch. It’s quite cute! ⭐⭐⭐

The US remake is where we finally get a LOCATION! They’re in the courtyard of a nice house with a stage set up in the middle of the pond (???) singing the song. People dance. They’ve thrown a bit of money at this, but not much. ⭐⭐⭐

One Night In Heaven

They went to Barcelona to film this video. They’re all drunk and/or high and carrying on while being filmed. Heather has two outfits – a lovely, if plain, dress and cardigan (a cardigan in Summer in Barcelona?!), and a horrible checked waistcoat and a shirt with a massive collar combo. The video’s a bit boring, but it’s nice to see them outside. ⭐⭐⭐

Moving On Up

We’re at a party and M People have been booked to perform. Some couples on the dance floor are fighting, Suddenly there is a cat and an iguana for some reason. Heather is wearing a long black dress and a lovely choker with matching earings. The boys are wearing pajamas. It’s all a bit confusing, but it’s fun and extremely 1994. ⭐⭐⭐

Don’t Look Any Further

They sent Heather and Mark to Berlin to film this and apparently left Mike, Paul, and Shovel at home. As such, Heather appears to have stayed sober. They’ve put her in gorgeous makeup with cute little heart earrings. It’s moody and dark. A really solid video actually. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Renaissance

I think this could be San Francisco? We have a few shots of them singing and dancing in a studio that we’re supposed to believe is a hotel or something, and the rest of the video is Heather driving an enormous car around the streets of wherever they are and basically losing control. They must have used up all the budget for this album because we’ve got the dress from Moving on up and the earrings from Don’t Look Any Further. It’s fun, but not all that great. ⭐⭐

Sight For Sore Eyes

We’re back in the studio. There are some car shells and mechanics welding, but the car/mechanic theme is a bit half-arsed, because other than that it’s basically the Colour My Life video. Heather has finally discovered hoop earrings, and she is wearing what is honestly the most horrible jumper I have ever seen; it’s either from C&A or Dior. Paul is starting to look a bit rugged and has CHEEKBONES. Mike has grown a beard and his hair and is clearly starting his mid-life crisis. The only good bit of this video is when the drummer pretends to use spanners instead of drumsticks. ⭐⭐

Open Your Heart

Some solid CGI here. Heather’s in a CGI lift that might be in a hotel ur club or something and different characters & groups get in and out f the lift. Heather has a very lovely East-Asian-inspired dress and a diamond hair band. Paul’s eyes are BLUE. Mike’s mid-life crisis deepens he looks like he hasn’t even washed his hair.  There are gays, there are trans people, there are loads of people of color as well as Heather, there’s a supernatural spooky bit where Heather walks away and her reflection doesn’t until a few seconds later. It’s a bloody amazing video. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Search for the Hero

An abandones warehouse or school or tower block or something. Children throw rocks at windows. The band stands in the middle of it and performs. Suddenly there is fire, and then the sprinklers activate. Another outstanding video that’s worth watching even if you hate the song. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Love Rendezvous

A re-run of Renaissance, but they’re high in Rio instead of Barcelona. There’s a bit more narrative here as we’re also following a couple running through the streets to find each other and then they kiss. There’s some live footage from the tour, and shome travel show type shots of Rio and it’s people. ⭐⭐⭐

Itchycoo Park

Heather’s on the bed in a spotlight dreaming of walking through a country house and its gardens. She levitates. Gorgeous blue velvet dress and ruby choker. The video’s crap but the fashion is excellent. ⭐⭐

Just For You

Heather’s on a couch in a studio while the band play around her. Paul’s finally lost all his hair and has developed the sort of cheekbones that could cut diamond. There’s an orchestra. Oh, and CGI bugs. It looks like they spent a LOT of money on this. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fantasy Island

In a studio on a spinning platform with some CGI texture going on underneath. It’s extremely boring. ⭐

Angel St

This is mostly live footage and footage from rehearsals, backstage and stuff. It’s pretty good for what it is, but it’s not winning any prizes or anything. ⭐⭐⭐

Testify

ZOMG this video. Heather’s wearing a cloak and wandering through the forest in the snow while the Northern Lights are happening in the sky. She gets to where she’s going, shakes of the cloak and is there singing in the snow in a Warrior Princess outfit made of diamonds. It is amazing. It’s all CGI. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dreaming

Heather’s walking through the streets of London with a horrible filter applied to the video, like as if someone has gone to town with Snapseed. It is not good. Clearly they threw some money at this, but it was not well spent. ⭐⭐

A morning walk

Every morning on my walk to work from the station I pass an elderly couple walking into town. They walk quite slowly; it probably takes them an hour or more to get into town so it doesn’t matter which train I get on or how early or late I’m running; I always pass them.

They are old. So old. Certainly in their eighties at least. I’d guess they have half a lifetime of memories in India, shared. And they walk together, side-by-side, always in silence, and always very slowly.

They are always immaculately dressed, beautiful clothes, clean and pressed. Sandals even in winter. Long, flowing, and brightly colored fabric, probably decades old. And the smell of beautifully scented soaps and lotions fills the air as I walk by them,

It’s actually been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen them. We’ve never interacted, so I haven’t noticed that I haven’t seen them, I haven’t missed them — except yesterday I wondered about them as I walked past the tree where I would sometimes have to give way to them if we arrived there at the same time because the footpath isn’t wide enough. But it didn’t dwell on my mind.

Until today as I was walking to work from the station I passed him in the street. He was walking a little faster than normal. Alone. Wearing pajamas and slippers. Smelling slightly stale. I said hello; he didn’t answer me. I could see the pain on his face.

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