The Great Tortilla Fiasco

During the summer months when we had guests staying for long periods, our three hens obligingly provided three beautiful free range eggs every day. They are a happy little band, strutting around importantly and sending our doomed vegetable seedlings into orbit with their fearsome claws. Being sociable creatures, they often go to visit our new neighbours’ three hens and spend a while exchanging news and views.

Egg production fell off a month or so ago, down to two a day, which we put down to one of them taking a well-earned break. But strangely, at the same time, our neighbours found that their three hens were apparently laying four eggs a day. You may draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, back to the present, when the hens seem unaware that they are entitled to a winter break, and they are still firing out eggs at the rate of three a day, which is far more than the two of us can eat, nor do we know anybody locally who wants eggs; virtually everybody in this little corner has their own chookies. One of our summer guests was Miguel, a lovely Spaniard and a brilliant cook, and he made the best tortillas I’ve ever eaten. His recipe is simple, and involves cooking chunks of potato, and garlic, very slowly in oil until the potatoes are tender enough to mash. Once they are cool, he beats in eggs and salt, and cooks them in the cast iron frying pan. When the bottom side is cooked, he flips the tortilla onto a plate and returns it to the pan to finish cooking on the raw side.

Our egg mountain was starting to become unmanageable, so yesterday I decided to tackle it by making tortillas and freezing them. As I was cooking them in bulk I cheated a little and cooked the garlic and potatoes in the pressure cooker, with a little water and plenty of olive oil. When they were cooled and mashed, I beat in the eggs and began the Great Tortilla Fry. The first one sizzled fragrantly, and when I could shake it around in the pan and it was beginning to set, I took a large plate, flipped it ……. …. and it landed with an unpleasant flumping noise and disintegrated into an eggy mess. That wasn’t meant to happen. I scraped the mess back into the pan and crushed it together with a spatula and continued cooking it. The result was a cross between scrambled eggs and a broken omelette.

I tried again, with the same result. And again! I knew it was wrong, but couldn’t work out why. It had looked so simple when Miguel did it. Next time instead of flipping the thing, I put it under the grill to finish cooking, which it did, so I finished off the whole batch that way.

But I wasn’t happy. There were still 20 eggs waiting to be used up and I wanted to do it properly. I went to bed in pensive mood, reliving the nasty flumpy noise, the sticky plates, the total failure of what should have been a simple project. There had to be a simple solution.

Which, of course, there was. I expect you worked it out. Sliding the cooked part of the tortilla onto the plate before flipping it, not flipping the uncooked part onto the plate. Doh! Mind you, it was a full moon last night. That could explain it. Must go, next batch ready for cooking.

Powerless in Poitou

We take for granted water coming out of taps and electricity springing into action at the flick of a switch, and it’s easy to forget how frustrating life can be when we are without them.

As yet, despite early morning temperatures down to minus 4C, our water has continued to flow. The electricity did give cause for concern when friends came for lunch a few days ago, as it went off just after I put the lasagne in the oven. It went off and on a few times. Not for long, just long enough to make me wonder if the worst came to the worst, could I scrape the lasagne into a large saucepan and cook it on the gas.

Yesterday morning we were reminded of the terrible power (pun?) electricity holds over our lives.Our charming new doctor asked us to go to the surgery early in the morning so that he could personally arrange appointments for both of us with specialists .“It will be much quicker if I do it for you,” he explained. “If you try, it will take months.”

He picked up the phone, began to dial, and ping! Off went the lights. Off went the computer. Off went the telephone.

“Zut,” he said.

Ping! On came the power, on came the lights, on came the computer, on came the telephone. The computer groaned and grumbled as it sorted out its files, and the doctor picked up the phone again. This time he got through.

“’Allo!” he said. “It’s Dr. xxx. I want an appointment…..”

Ping! Off went the lights. Off went the computer. Off went the telephone.

“Shit,” he said.

We waited for a few moments, and everything pinged and groaned and grumbled back into life.

He picked up the phone and dialled.

Nobody answered.“Shit, shit,” he said yet again, putting the phone down rather harshly.

Then there was another ping off, and a ping on, immediately followed by a ping off.

“Pff, I can’t believe this. Shit.”

We suggested that we could return later, but he said, No, don’t worry, I’ll sort it out when this nonsense is finished, and I’ll telephone you with the appointments. Which he duly did today.

465px-Familiar_Introduction_to_Electricity_by_Joseph_Priestly,_plate_7

The 7th plate from the 1st edition (1768) of Joseph Priestley’s ”A Familiar Introduction to the Study of Electricity”, depicting an electrical machine designed by Priestley |Source=Photographed from Medical Historical Library – Wikipedia

But our journey to the little town hadn’t been wasted, because there was a parcel to be collected which we had missed the previous day. Had it been during the summer, the dogs would have announced the arrival of the post-person. But being winter they have resigned from their role as guard dogs, and spend all their time curled up on the chairs in the living room (smothering them with hair), and nothing short of a nuclear explosion is likely to wake them. Hence we had missed the parcel delivery, but a little slip of paper said we could pick it up next morning.

So here we were, a couple of hundred metres from the post office where our parcel awaited. It would take no time at all to collect it.

Outside the post office, standing in the warm morning sunshine, was a very old lady, immaculately made up and coiffed, dressed in an elegant black coat with a velvet collar and a neat little belt with two buttons at the back.

“We have to wait!” she sang, with a big smile.

“For what?” I asked.

“For her,” she replied, pointing out the post office lady who was across the road talking to a group of council workers clustered around a giant digging machine. “There’s no electricity!”

“Ah,” I said. “We’ve just come from the doctor, he has the same problem.”

The post office lady came back, and the old lady explained that the doctor was also affected by the power cuts, which were caused by the road workers.

We went in to the post office and stood in murky gloom, while the old lady bought a special envelope to send a gift to Reunion, but she couldn’t see to write on it, so the post office lady tried, but she could also not see in the gloom. We would have to wait a while. In the meantime the old lady had another small packet to post, which needed to be weighed. But of course the scales are electronic, and they were out of action, so we would still have to wait a while. Which we did, to no avail. The post office lady bounced the little packet up and down in her hand and made a guess at the weight, and squinted very hard at the paperwork for the packet and the envelope until she was able to fill it in. It would cost the old lady 12 euros, which she thought was a very fair price. She tendered her debit card. But – you guessed this I expect – the card machine didn’t work because there was no electricity! She would write a cheque, which she did with screwed up eyes, and just as she tore it off, the electricity came back on.

Much relieved laughter followed, not least from TOH and myself who had now been waiting for over 10 minutes just to collect a parcel – which would normally take no more than two minutes – when we had another important medical appointment 40 miles away, and time was seeping away.

With a beautiful smile the elegant old lady bade us au revoir, and I stepped up to the counter waving the piece of paper.The post office lady found the parcel – it was just behind her on the floor. Picking it up, she scanned the bar code, but the scanner was not working, because the computer was not working because although the electricity was now working, the Internet was not.

600px-Internet_map_1024

Partial map of the Internet based on the January 15, 2005 data found on opte.org. Each line is drawn between two nodes, representing two IP addresses. The length of the lines are indicative of the delay between those two nodes. This graph represents less than 30% of the Class C networks reachable by the data collection program in early 2005. Lines are color-coded according to their corresponding RFC 1918 allocation as follows:
Dark blue: net, ca, us
Green: com, org
Red: mil, gov, edu
Yellow: jp, cn, tw, au, de
Magenta: uk, it, pl, fr
Gold: br, kr, nl
White: unknown
Wikipedia

The post office lady banged the space bar a few times and made some exasperated tutting noises, and smiled apologetically, but that did not make the Internet work. Tantalisingly our parcel sat on the counter, so near yet so far away. While the post office lady kept tapping the space bar and murmuring, I wondered whether to just snatch the parcel and run away with it. By the time she had come out from behind the counter and unlocked the door we could be driving off in the car. I shuffled my feet. TOH was muttering impatiently. With a sigh and a smile, at last the post office lady jumped up, rummaged around in a drawer, dug out a sheaf of papers, and with a pen carefully filled in the bar code, scribbled on the box, and handed it over.

Driving home, I thought how lucky we had been that neither of us had suffered a heart attack that morning.

Lou Messugo

 

More on Amazon reviews

Following on from my previous blog regarding Amazon reviews, there was an interesting discussion in a Facebook writer’s group where we talked about the effects of positive and negative reviews and our own reviewing strategy. Here are some of the points raised.

It is too easy for somebody to leave a damaging comment, without having to justify their reason. An example was given by a writer who has been a journalist all her working life. Somebody commented that her book was badly written. However, the person who wrote the comment didn’t mention their own qualifications. Do they have a degree in English, are they an editor in a large publishing house? Of what value is their remark without knowing their credentials?

One suggestion made is that the review facility on Amazon should be re-worked, so that when someone leaves a review, they have to justify it. Something vaguely along the lines of:

  1. What was it about this book that first appealed to you and made you want to read it?
  2. Having read it, would you recommend it to others, and if so, to what readership?
  3. What genres most appeal to you?
  4. Have you read, or would you be likely to read more books by this author? Why?
  5. What was it that you most enjoyed or disliked about this book?
  6. What encouraged you to write a review of this book?

The current single requirement for a minimum of 20 words makes it far too easy for anybody to write: “Brilliant, the best book I’ve ever read. Somebody Something is such a wonderful writer I’m going to buy all their books” or “This book shouldn’t have been published because it’s very bad and I’m surprised at Amazon for selling it. Don’t they check these things first?” These are comments, not reviews, and serve no useful purpose.

Another suggestion is that reviewers should be graded and show icons according to the number of quality reviews they have written, to give potential buyers an idea as to their credibility and experience.

I was asked whether I review every book I read. The answer is not always, purely due to time constraints, although I do make a point of leaving a star rating on Goodreads.

Somebody also asked whether I leave harsh reviews.

No, for two reasons.

Firstly I think spiteful reviews say more about the reviewer than the author of the book. Why be unkind to somebody? They’re all doing their best. To a writer, their book is their child, brought into the world by long months of sweat and toil and for which the parent has high hopes and plans. So maybe it’s an ugly little thing, but you’re not going to say that to its mother, are you? 🙂

Secondly, and probably more pertinently, if I don’t enjoy a book, I stop reading it. Simples! And because I stop reading it, I don’t have anything to say about it.

Why would anybody read something they don’t like? When I see comments like: “I hated every word of this boring book, and couldn’t wait to get to the end. Although it was free, it was still a waste of my time. Rubbish.” I think “Oh dear, how sad. You could have gone and done something useful and fun, so why on earth did you spend so much time being bored?” As I mentioned above, sometimes reviews say more about the person writing them, than the book they’re reviewing.

Any comments?

Out of touch

A few months ago on my annual flying visit to England, one item on my shopping list was tinted moisturiser.

I’ve been blessed with satisfactory skin that is self-sufficient and low maintenance, and as a result it receives very little attention. Thus a moisturiser will probably last at least a couple of years. There’s a drawer full of half-used bottles and tubes in the bathroom, but I thought I’d treat myself to a new one, so off I set to Boots.

For twenty minutes I trawled the aisles. Shelves and shelves of every brand; day creams, night creams, neck creams, eye creams, rejuvenating creams, blemish covering creams, wrinkle smoothers, creams to make skin glow, firming creams, peeling products, skin fresheners,  skin toners, blushes, non-comedogenic, alcohol-free, two for three, special offers, pure, gentle, hydrating …………….. But of tinted moisturiser, not a blob to be seen.

I made another circuit, scoured the shelves from left to right, right to left, highest to lowest,  lowest to highest. How could they not stock such a basic product?

Eventually I had to ask a pretty salesgirl. “Do you not sell tinted moisturiser?”

“Yes, Madame, of course we do. Were you after any particular make?”

“No, anything will do,” I said, not being a fussy person.

She led the way to the shelves I’d searched so thoroughly. “Here you are,” she smiled. “These are our BBs. ”

“What is BB?” I asked.

“Beauty balm.”

“Is that the same as tinted moisturiser?”

“Yes, but with lots of other things added – like primer and sunscreen.”

bb

“Oh,” I said, “I see.”

“But,” she went on, “we also have CCs now, if you’d like to see some?”

“What is CC?” I asked.

“It’s like BB, but with added colour corrector,” she explained. “I’ll show you.”

She reached up to a shelf behind her and took down a tube.

“No,” I said hurriedly. “Just two tubes of BB, please.”

I don’t think I’m quite ready for CC yet. By the time I am, I expect it will be JJ, or something similar.