Finally made it!

Tonight’s dinner was a partial success.

When I was putting together my latest grocery order, to arrive a couple of days ago, I decided to make a chile con carne as my main meal for the weekend (by which I mean that I would cook enough for several days, eat some both today and tomorrow and probably freeze the rest, not that I’d only have one proper meal over the weekend). Unlike the last several times this has been my plan, I actually remembered to add some chilli peppers to my order, so I’d count that as the first successful bit of the endeavour ūüôā

When it came to making the meal, things looked promising. As well as the usual minced beef, chillis, onion and suchlike, I put in a bit of finely diced carrot and courgette, as I had some of each vegetable that were in need of using up. I also added a dash of vermouth, and I had high hopes for this being a good one.

Unfortunately I got slightly distracted doing other things while I left it to simmer and got back to the kitchen just in time to find it starting to burn as the liquid, which had seemed ample when I left it, had by now all boiled off or been absorbed. I was able to rescue it from being a complete inedible disaster (or worse, setting fire to my kitchen) but suffice it to say that this chile con carbon was not quite the sumptuous delight I had been anticipating. It will be interesting to see how it is tomorrow, as such dishes are often better on the second day when the flavours have had time to develop but in this case the flavours may be a little on the smoky side!

More successful was the side dish, as I’ve finally got round to having a go at making guacamole almost 30 years after first being shown how to make it.

Back then I was still at school, and it was a different, more innocent era in which teachers could invite their pupils over to their homes for things like extra-curricular computer programming lessons, which I very much doubt any sensible and well-intentioned teacher would dare to do these days (even ignoring the minor issue of a global pandemic). One of my teachers had lent me a computer and was teaching me how to program it, which entailed fairly frequent bike journeys (usually on Saturday afternoons) from my village to his in order to take some lessons. As well as getting a good foundation in programming (I was learning Pascal, not a language I’ve ever seriously used since then, but the basic principles of how to program a computer have largely stuck with me), I was introduced to some seriously good music (the highlight being the Penguin Caf√© Orchestra, whose music I continue to enjoy to this day) and, on one occasion, was shown how to make guacamole. This was because my teacher, who had spent some time working in Mexico before joining our school, was preparing for a party that evening and was busy making some using an authentic Mexican recipe when I arrived.

Sadly I didn’t write down that recipe and don’t remember a huge amount from it, except that it involved mashing avocados with salt, pepper and a few other things in a bowl (with a fork, IIRC). Fast forward to this evening and I had an avocado that I’d bought pretty much on a whim in my grocery order the other day; rather than do my usual thing of cutting it in half and eating it out of the skin garnished with a bit of black pepper and perhaps some mayonnaise, I decided the time had come to try out making guacamole for myself. Fortunately there are plenty of recipes online, so I was able to get a general idea of how to do it (to supplement my memories from the last millenium) and then improvised from there. I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Basically, I finely chopped an onion and a chilli pepper (carefully saved from cooking my main dish) and stuck them in a pestle and mortar (well, technically just in the mortar) with the flesh of an avocado, a bit of salt and pepper and a couple of teaspoons of lime juice. I then mashed the whole lot down (with the pestle, of course) and enjoyed eating it with a bit of tortilla. It may be worth noting that I had previously used the pestle and mortar to grind up some cumin, salt and pepper for the chile and had only given it a brief wipe out in between, so there was almost certainly a little bit of cumin in the guacamole too.

The other components of the meal also worked pretty well (namely, a bottle of well-chilled Mexican lager – not generally the sort of beer I go for, but ideal in the right context – a lovely bit of brie and then a couple of Mr Kipling’s trifle bakewells, which happened to be on special offer this week, for dessert). So if you count each of the individual components more or less equally, I’d say the whole meal rated about 4.5 out of 5.

And hopefully it will be less than 30 years before I next get round to making guacamole!

Old Soldiers

I had a bit of a rude awakening today, when I came across an article on the Guardian news blog about the Warhammer battle game.

This was a game that I used to rather enjoy playing in my youth and it was a bit of a shock when the article pointed out that the game is now 32 years old. ¬†Admittedly it shouldn’t have been too much a shock since I’m well aware that I’m several years older than that and I am mathematically literate. ¬†Somehow, though, the realisation of how long it is since Warhammer came out made me feel somewhat older than reminiscing to the (younger) friends with whom I was watchingsome of the Star Wars movies last weekend about how I saw The Empire Strikes Back when it was first out in the cinema, even though that was several years earlier.

As I recall, my brother got a copy of the first edition Warhammer rules fairly shortly after they first came out (and when, of course, they were not “first edition” but just “Warhammer”) and it wasn’t too long before we had our first battles. ¬†We later got a copy of the 2nd edition, as well as Warhammer 40,000¬†(the futuristic, sci-fi version, which was my fairly firm favourite), and played these from time to time over the next decade or so.

In fact, we were generally more into roleplaying games (including the Warhammer spin-off, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which was our main RPG for a while before being supplanted in our affections by Shadowrun and various other games) but it was always nice to be able to have a bit of a tabletop battle for a change, even if we were limited to fairly small armies. ¬†That limitation, incidentally, was more due to our available playing space (growing up in a fairly small terraced house) than the size of our miniature figure collection, which was fairly extensive (and provided an early boost to my interest in painting – though in later years I’ve tended to paint pictures, when I get round to painting at all, rather than figures).

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve played Warhammer, or indeed any other tabletop battle game (I did have a few games of a Napoleonic battle game called Shako with a friend about 10 years ago, and I’ve a vague feeling we may have played a little bit of Warhammer then too) and I don’t particularly have any great desire to go back to it. ¬†I’d be much more interested in getting back into playing real RPGs – I still play occasional CRPGs (i.e. Computer RolePlaying Games) but it’s really not the same.

Nevertheless, Warhammer and other wargames did definitely have an important if not particularly large role in my early life and are a part of that rich tapestry of experiences that make me who I am.

And I’m probably not the only one to ever consider how the real world might be a much nicer place¬†if, when opposing groups had a territorial dispute or some other such cause for conflict, they got together round a large table with a bunch of miniature figures, a bag of dice and a tape measure and settled their differences that way without having to tear up the lives of thousands or millions of real people.

Two Horses

As cars go, the Citro√ęn 2CV is one that is quite close to my heart.

In general I’m not that interested in cars but I’ve always quite liked the 2CV mainly, I think, for reasons of nostalgia since one of these (in a lovely pea green colour) was our family car throughout the early years of my life.¬†¬† I think my parents got it fairly shortly before I was born and we had it until I was about 6 or 7, as I recall.

Apart from the colour of our 2CV, things I remember with particular fondness include the canvas top that could be rolled back in fine weather, the hand-crank that could be used to start it as an alternative to the ignition key (which, as I recall, we never actually needed to use though I did enjoy the rare occasions when my dad would demonstrate this capability) and the fake-leather seat upholstery that got painfully hot (especially if you were wearing shorts) when the sun shone.  OK, so fondness is probably not the appropriate word for that last recollection but it certainly burned itself well into my mind, not to mention my legs.

As far as I’m aware, the name 2CV came from the French phrase deux chevaux, meaning two horses or, in this context, two horsepower – a description of the power of the car’s engine.¬†¬†I’m fairly sure that¬†deux chevaux was the first phrase of French I ever learned, although it would probably be exaggerating to say that this did very much to fuel my lifelong interest in languages.¬† (Speaking of fuel, I seem to recall that our Citro√ęn used 3-star petrol, which I haven’t seen on sale for several decades now.)

I had a friend at university 12 or so years ago who used to drive a 2CV.¬† While helping him to bump start it one time, I discovered that the car’s body is made from incredibly soft metal that would visibly distort when you pushed against it.¬† I suspect it probably wouldn’t offer too much protection in the event of a crash, but I tried not to think too much about that while my friend was subsequently giving me a lift down the A55.

The reason I mention all this, or rather the reason I’ve been thinking about the 2CV today is that, after not having seen one for quite some time (several years, at least, I think) I saw two yesterday.¬† Both were the same colour (off-white / cream) but I’m fairly sure they were different vehicles as one was definitely a left-hand drive vehicle with French plates, being driven by a young-looking (and also rather nice looking, I might add) woman while the other was, I’m fairly sure right-hand drive and being driven by a bloke with a fairly impressive beard, who appeared to be enjoying the afternoon sunshine with the top of the car rolled down and a big smile on his face. I say that I’m fairly sure because I saw this one first (by several hours) and didn’t take particular note of what side the steering wheel was on; I would think that the very fact I didn’t notice it suggests that it was probably on the usual side for cars on British roads.