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Archive for May, 2011

“Flash! Flash, I love you! But we only have ten minutes to save the Earth!”
Serves two tired, hungry adults with a ludicrously over-scheduled evening and no time whatsoever to spend on preparing anything for dinner.

Ingredients
2 chicken breasts or 4 chicken thighs, depending what you can unearth from the freezer
1 large onion
1 red bell-pepper (in any condition)
2 cloves garlic
1 jar red pesto
1 glug olive oil
1 glass red wine (the dregs of the bottle you’ve had around the place for a week will do nicely. Alternatively, take it as your cue to open a new bottle)
Rice or bread to go with it

Takes 5 mins to prepare, and 45 minutes to an hour to cook
1 oven-proof casserole (no lid required)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C

Method
1.      Hastily hack the chicken breasts into inept, mis-shapen lumps. If you have forgotten to defrost them first, don’t worry. This works equally well with frozen chicken lumps.

2.      Coarsely chop the onion and the red pepper. Coarse language when you cut your finger is optional.
3.      Crush, slice or otherwise beat into submission your garlic cloves. If you’re especially pushed for time, feel free to substitute garlic puree.
4.      Shovel the whole lot into the casserole.
5.      Disembowel the pesto jar over the chicken and vegetables.
6.      Pour over a glug of olive oil.
7.      Slosh over the red wine.
8.      Stir everything round a bit.
9.      Survey the resultant raw, unpromising mess in complete disbelief. Wonder if maybe you missed a step and you were supposed to brown off the chicken or soften the onion or something before putting it in the oven. Have faith. I promise this will work.
10.  Shove the casserole in the oven. Do not put a lid on. Seriously. Do not put a lid on. A lid will stop the magic from happening.
11.  Charge off to do whatever came next on your to-do list.
12.  Come back 45 minutes to an hour later, tired and hungry and cross. If you can stand to wait, put some rice on to cook. If you can’t stand to wait, tear a loaf of bread into lumps.
13.  When your carbohydrate of choice is prepared, gingerly open the oven, where an authentic culinary miracle will have occurred. Your raw chicken breasts, tired red pepper and dubious onion have now transformed into a delicious casserole, with meltingly tender chicken pieces and vegetables which are slightly caramelised, verging on burnt, but in that good way.

14. Serve to your grateful and incredulous spouse. Assure them that it was incredibly complex and difficult to prepare, but you did it anyway, because you don’t like to compromise on nutrition. Bask in the knowledge that you have just re-proved your credentials as a true Domestic God or Goddess.

Stupidly Easy Recipes are just that – stupidly easy. Every single ingredient they contain can be bought from my local supermarket, and most of them are stuff I just happen to have in the house most of the time. They all produce results which are insanely nice compared to how little work you need to put into preparing them, and most can be eaten one-handed, with a fork, over the head of a Moray Eel nursing baby. Quantities are usually for two people.

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In Which I Prove In At Least Two Ways That Even A Stopped Clock Is Right Twice A Day

I absolutely guarantee we are going to have a row about this later

I confidently predict that responses to this post will divide entirely along gender lines. There, I said it.

Thing is, I like to think of myself as someone who, most of the time, avoids gender stereotyping. This is because gender-based assumptions are, in the words of one of my tutors at university, “essentialist bullshit”. Most of the time, I am a paid-up subscriber to the theory that it’s ridiculous and damaging to make value judgments about people’s opinions, responses and views based solely on outdated cultural notions ascribed to their biological sex.

Mostly.

So, onwards. You’re looking at a picture of a cardboard box. As you may be able to see, this cardboard box once contained an electronic gadget. Note the important word in this sentence: “once”. This is now an empty box. Furthermore, this box has been empty for at least a year. The gadget it once contained is stored somewhere else. From memory, this gadget has its own little protective case, purchased as a separate item. Said protective case has been specially designed to snugly yet carefully encase this gadget, shielding it from the outside world.

Do you see what I’m saying here? This box – this box you are staring at – is entirely redundant. It contains absolutely nothing of value. Its purpose was to provide a safe yet stackable means of transport for the gadget on its journey from factory to home. This journey is now complete. While we sometimes keep cardboard boxes for the kids to make sculptures that have to live on the mantelpiece for the next year, that never happens to these boxes. Craft with these boxes is Not Allowed.

The box you are looking at, therefore, has no function whatsoever. It is literally doing nothing other than take up space.

And yet somehow it’s still in the frickin’ house!!!!!

If it was just this box and no others, I would probably sigh, and let it go. After all, I have a lot of face-creams, and several pairs of shoes that get worn about once every two years. Unfortunately, this box is just the tip of the iceberg – as long as you’re willing to allow the iceberg metaphor to accommodate excessive amounts of cardboard. Whenever a new gadget comes into our home – and this happens a lot – it automatically occupies at least twice the amount of space it actually needs, because we always seem to end up keeping the box as well.

The jury will please note that I said “at least twice the amount of space”. Modern packaging being what it is, this frequently ends up being much more than twice the amount of space. The box you’re now looking at  takes up, at a conservative estimate, approximately eight times as much room as the gadget it once contained. We have a reasonably big house, but it ain’t the Tardis. There are four of us living here, and we really only have room to compulsively hoard one class of object each. My son dreams about plastic action figures from  TV series; my daughter has no upper limit for the number of cuddly toys she can welcome into her heart; I have never, in my life, sent a book to a charity shop. My husband likes gadgets. The  gadgets I can live with. The boxes, not so much.
So what I like to do is this. I let things build up to what I think of as the “Box Event Horizon” – the point at which I become convinced that, if I don’t do something about the box problem, the very fabric of reality will buckle and collapse under the weight of all that cardboard. Then I wait until my husband is out for the evening. I tidy the kids away into their beds; I kiss them goodnight; and  then I roll up my sleeves and fetch several industrial-strength black bin-liners. And I purge our house of every single cardboard box I come across. I tear them to pieces with my hands and viciously crush them into the bin-liners, before forcing them into the outside bin. Then I put something really damp and horrible, like the sawdust out of the guinea-pigs’ cage, on top of them – just in case Anyone was thinking of trying to resurrect them.

If you’re a woman reading this, I’m pretty sure you are now nodding vigorously and saying something along the lines of, “I hear you, sister!” If you’re a man reading this, you’re probably disgusted by this irrefutable evidence that Women Just Don’t Get It. If you scroll down to the comments section, you may well find that my husband’s been there before you, and posted an eloquent and well-planned defence of his box-hoarding tendencies for you to passionately agree with. What can I tell you? Sometimes, Essentialist Bullshit turns out to be the truth.

With that in mind, it’s probably not surprising that the very next thing that happens after a Box Purge is that we will have a row. There aren’t many things that upset us enough to really make us snarl at each other like wild animals, but cardboard boxes are one of them. During this row, one or more of the following defences for cardboard-box-hoarding will be offered;

1. The gadget may stop working during its guarantee period. If this happens, it will need to be sent back in its original packaging.
2. At some point in the future, we may move house, and the boxes will be needed to pack the gadgets in.
3. The gadget may at some point be traded in or re-gifted to someone else. If this happens, the box will be re-used.
4. (Usually a desperate rear-guard action) The bin is now full of cardboard, leaving no room for the real rubbish, and this is all my fault for throwing the boxes out.

Thing is, Number One sounds rational, but doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Some of the boxes I have thrown away belong to gadgets which are three generations out of date. One of the very first boxes I threw away was for our VHS video-recorder. Seriously! I’m not convinced we even still have that video-recorder. But we sure as hell still had the box it came in.

Number Two has actually been proven to be false. The last time we moved house, the movers brought their own boxes, and their own packing stuff. Furthermore, the only thing that got broken – literally the only thing – was an ornament that had been packed by us, in case the movers broke it during the packing process.

Number Three has never, to my knowledge, actually happened. We have recycled a few mobile phones, but – as we all know – the recycling company send you a padded envelope. This envelope is designed to hold the phone. Not the box it came in. Just the phone. If there are recycling companies for MP3 players, please let me know; we may be able to do business.

And Number Four…well, this mostly interests me for what it says about the gulf between our thought-processes on this one. I feel the phrase “real rubbish” is especially revealing.

So there; I win this argument, now and forever, and all about it what it is. There is no need for these cardboard boxes to stay in the house for more than a couple of months, and I am allowed to carry on throwing them away. Hoorah.

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The Scott Prize  is an international competition for a first collection of short stories by a single author, run by the renowned independent publisher Salt Publishing.

For the last year or so, I’ve been working on New World Fairy Tales – a collection of seven short stories based on tales from the Grimm brothers’ Kinder und Hausmarchen, re-told in contemporary American settings. They were originally written as Christmas and birthday presents for a group of seven much-beloved friends and family.

OMG! I made the shortlist!
So in March this year, I was thrilled to discover that New World Fairy Tales had made the shortlist. Because this is the twenty-first century, I found out this out in what is clearly the only proper way to learn anything these days, which is to have someone you’ve only met once tell you via a comment on a mutual friend’s Facebook feed. I think we were discussing cake recipes or trolls in the attic or something, and then my once-met friend-of-a-friend suddenly posted the following:

“PS are you the Cassandra Parkin who’s just been nominated for the Scott Prize? If so, congratulations!”

So I went to the Salt blog, and, blimey – I had made the shortlist.

A Hundred And One Things To Do While You’re Waiting For The Announcement To Be Made

On May 9th, possibly the longest day of my life so far commenced. I waited as patiently as I could for the announcement, but I’m really not very good with patient, so this was “patient” in the very special sense of “haunting the Salt blog, muttering, eating stuff and pressing F5 a lot” . Having been caught napping on the shortlist announcement, I was determined that this time at least, I was going to be the first to know what was happening.

Hours passed. F5. F5. F5. Several boxes of raisins. F5. F5. F5. F5. Prawns in filo pastry. F5. F5. F5. Fruitbread. F5. F5. F5. Elderly chunk of marzipan found in the back of the cupboard.  F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. F5. Nothing.

I went out for a long walk, just me and the sunshine and my BlackBerry. Browser – favourites – blog.saltpublishing.com – refresh. Nothing. Repeat for about five miles. Still nothing. Finally return back  home to continue stalking activities.

F5. F5. F5. Fourth Diet Coke of the day. F5. F5. F5. Oh my GOD, it’s a new post. Here we go. Take a deep breath…remember, it was an honour just to be shortlisted…

…and…it’s not the shortlist. And I have no more reserves in me. This is honestly all the cyber-stalking I am capable of undertaking. If I keep doing this I may actually die from the pain of anticipation.

Now what happens?

So I went to the supermarket, and did the shopping, and came home. And just as I was unpacking the yoghurts, my lovely husband rang me, and said, “You’ve won.” He’d been keeping a sneaky eye on the Salt Twitter feed, and had exited his meeting at maximum velocity to tell me the news.

So, in November 2011, New World Fairy Tales will be published. And I feel like a proper writer at last.

 


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From: May, Ian
Sent: 10 June 2011 15:53
To: ‘Deborah May’; Louise Fowle; ‘Cassandra’; ‘judy may’
Subject: Wednesday, bottled

This was the outcome of my Wednesday’s work. I have to write a technical report on it.

Ian

From: Cassandra
To: ‘Ian May’; ‘Deborah May’; Louise Fowle; ‘Cassandra’; ‘judy may’
Sent: Saturday, June 11, 2011 12:13 PM
Subject: Re: Wednesday, bottled

You know, what that report clearly needs is a bad haiku, as follows:

Jar of nastiness
What the hell do you contain?
Better not to know. 

C x

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