Monthly Archives: February 2009

Vegetarian Chilli Experiment

Today marked the start of my week long experiment with vegetarianism.

I’ve never really thought about going veggie full time before.
I’m all for humane treatment of animals and all that sort of thing but generally I see meat as an essential part of a good diet and far too tasty to give up. I know very well where meat comes from and in fact would have no problem with killing an animal if i needed to for food. I like seeking out new food and have eaten kangaroo, Zebra, Ostrich, Wild Boar, Tripe and Shark, all pretty good. The only exceptions I make to eating anything is a refusal to eat foie gras, veal or any other cruel food. Basically my view is if the animal doesnt suffer, you treat it with respect and know where it comes from its fair game.

So after spending most of the day in much the same way as i would normally, cereal for breakfast, cheese sandwhich for lunch, I started on dinner.

I started with the attitude of simply exchanging the meat in the meals i would normally cook for a veggie alternative. So armed with a bag of soya Mince i set to work on a chilli con carne.

The Soya mince looked alarmingly like sawdust

I was pretty skeptical but carried on making the chilli in the same was as i normally would just exchanging the mince for soya mince.
I didnt seem quite the same so i added more chilli powder to overpower whatever might be the taste of the soya. dscf04361The end result was definately edible, if not entirely filling, could help but think that what it really needed…was some meat.

Update: well after a couple of days of cheese pizzas and beans on toast I lost inspiration and again and failed in giving something up. I just like meat too much. I’ve decided that giving things up just isn’t for me.

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Filed under Projects, Veggie Week

An absence of abstinence

I’ve been set the challenge of giving something up for one week.

Only I’ve never been particularly good at giving things up. I could try and blame that on my live-for-the-moment never say never always say yes attitude to life but the truth is probably just that I have no self control. Abstinence has always seemed like a dirty word to me but when it was suggested that I try documenting giving something up for a week via this blog an old idea came back to me.

I’m a music obsessive, I constantly listen to music, and constantly play music, (I’m a singer-songwritey guitar type person) and have a knack for accumulating vast amounts of useless music trivia. One of the stories which has always intrigued me is the one about Kraftwerk sealing their KlingKlang studio off to all external sounds, going so far as to have a silent ring-tone on their phone which they only picked up at pre-arranged times, apparently as an attempt to avoid all outside influences in their hermetically sealed music of the future.

So there was the plan. Give up music for a week, it’d be an interesting experiment to see whether it worked and even more interesting to see if it made my music any more independent of my vast range of influences.
The first 24 hours went well, I simply avoided my music system, I went and cooked a meal and watched TV( yes i know TV has a lot of music in it but I had to do something to keep myself entertained,) and the time flew by.
but then I got bored of TV and ran out of books, my fingers began to itch for my guitar and I snapped.

I lasted just over a day with my incompetent attempt at sonic deprevation.

So, I needed another idea, something to give up for a week. My mind froze. I don’t have any particular vices, I don’t smoke, I don’t to drink a dramatic amount and so a whole host of other ideas leapt to my mind.

Attempt to live in the dark, eat only bread, avoid buying from corporations, but none of them seemed to work.

I went out with some friends and over a few drinks decided that a great idea would be to live without shoes for a week.
Five minutes later I’d trodden in broken glass and had had my foot skewered by a stiletto heel. The idea quickly lost its appeal.

So after much deliberation this week I’ve decided to experiment with vegetarianism. For a student who views bacon and sausage as seperate food groups this could be tricky…..

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Political Blogs

I’ve been researching political logs lately, and specifically how many of the more forward thinking political minds (or those with a half decent PR team) are using blogging and the internet to get their messages across.

A great example of an MP who has fully embraced blogging is Iain Dale whose blog uses a good mix of political commentary and information on the MP to be highly informative and also raise his profile amongst a group who may not normally be politically minded or have Tory sympathies. He’s also using RSS and Twitterfeeds to keep followers interested and keep them coming back to his blog.

As good an example of a blog as this is it can hardly be described as impartial though seeing as its primary aim is to interest people in Iain Dale and the conservatives. The internet, as the great tool of public free expression, is also being used by a good number of independent bloggers. They often use many of the same techniques as the pro industry backed outlets, such as the aforementioned RSS and Twitterfeeds but often also gain momentum by creating communities around the blog for like-minded individuals.
Some of the major Blogs in this category are Harry’s Place and Guido Fawkes’ Blog which both have strong liberal leanings and give a vociferous if not always PC account of the major political stories as well as opinion pieces. I have mixed feelings about them.

On the one hand they give a voice to a section of political thought which can be marginalised by the popular press. Socialist newspapers are pretty rare and anaemic occurences these days and if they were to write with the kind of gung-ho accusations that blogs can they would be simply sued into the ground. In this way Blogs fill a vital political void giving air to all viewpoints which might have too limited a readership for print. Perhaps more blogs can help against the horrifying trend to centrism in modern politics which makes both Tory and Labour near identical.

But on the other hand it gives a voice to zealots, madmen and racists a chance to gain supporters and legitimise themselves.

To sum up, blogging is no longer possibly changing politics, it has and will continue to, its forming communities and creating debate, which can only be a good thing, just as long as people remember that blogs can be unreliable and that the people writing them may not be all they seem.

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Here Comes the Wind by Envelopes

Envelopes may be an obscure half swedish half french indie band but please don’t let that put you off…they really are quite good.

Here Comes the Wind came out about this time last year and after I gave it a quick listen online I pretty much forgot about it. It was quirky and fun, but more than a tad incohesive full of  wildly different songs that sounded good on their own but didnt really fit together as an album.

I stumbled upon them again recently and got my hands on a copy of the album, after a couple more listens I started to realise just how much better it was than I originally thought.

My original impressions of the album still stand, there are a lot of different sounds going on in this album, from the garage rock of “Life on the Beach,” down to the full on electro of “Put on Hold” but it becomes forgiveable just on the strength of each track alone. In fact being all over the place and a little disorganised kind of works in the bands favour, the songs feel anarchic and playful as does the album as a whole and maybe a more uniform album wouldnt have that.

An overwhelming sense of fun is what the album gives you, and the band are obviously having a lot of it when writing and performing their songs. Unexpected instruments and nonsensical lyrics abound, stylophone anyone?

If Envelopes are to be compared to anyone it’d be to the pixies, especially the Kim Deal tracks which is certainly no bad thing. They share the one guy one girl dual singer set up and the same dedication to sonic experimentation and the pop single. Although similar to the pixies, Envelopes have built on their sound exploring more electronic sounds and taking influence from a large amount modern indie bands, theres occasionally hints of Franz Ferdinand style twangy guitars.

In short, any Pixies fans should love them as should any fans of innovative playful indie pop.

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The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow


Of all the musical awards that get thrown around each year and forgotten the next the only one I’ve ever tended to pay any attention to is the Mercury awards. The past list of nominees and winners is pretty impressive and its a list of musicians which i generally agree with as well. In fact my favourite album of all time was a winner, Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast (which might have had a slight influence on the name of this blog.) This years list was no exception either, the nominees including the amazing albums by British Sea Power, Neon Neon and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, any of which could easily have one. However they were beaten to the prize by what i am starting to realise is a truly phenomenal album, The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow.

I’ve known about Elbow for years but they were one of those bands who just kind of washed over me. I had a couple of singles, ripped from compilations but nothing had ever grabbed me enough for me to invest the amount of time into it that it probably deserved. This is something i think will definately change now that I’ve listened to The Seldom Seen Kid a fair few times.

The track everyone will know from the album is the pretty ridiculously successful single “Grounds for Divorce ,” used in everything from Top Gear to the latest Coen brothers film. Its definately the most obvious single off of the album and also by far the most rocking with what is surely the best riff I’ve heard in years.

I don’t think that Grounds for divorce is really the best impression of what the whole album is like though. Instead the main body of the album concerns itself with introverted string sections and unexpected crescendoes. There are dark creepy paranoid tracks like “The Fix” featuring Richard Hawley which then in just a couple of songs turn into something like the amazingly uplifting “One Day Like This.”
It runs the whole emotional spectrum but keeps true to a unified sound which builds throughout the album and grows on you at every listen.

It’s a really spectacular album which after enough listens can be really rewarding. I Wish I had discovered Elbow sooner but now look forward to investing in the rest of their back catalogue.

If you like the album, push the red button on your remote in the next few days or so and check out Elbow performing the album with the BBC concert orchestra, which is really absolutely jawdroppingly good. Another band you might want to check out are one of my favourite bands who really don’t get enough coverage I Am Kloot, long time friends of Elbow whose first album was produced by the lead singer of Elbow, Guy Garvey and whose latest album will be produced by him as well.

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The Great Vegetable Massacre

[First posted on 29.10.08 on my old site and featured in the b3ta newsletter on 31.10.08, updated 20.10.09]

Every year millions of people across the world gather together at Halloween to carve pumpkins. As I saw the pumpkins piled up in sainsburys, suspiciously close to the watermelons an idea came to me.

What other vegetables work?…

Surely there was no reason it had to be a pumpkin, I thought I’d gather together the following….

  • A Pumpkin (as a control)
  • A Watermelon
  • A Pepper
  • An Apple
  • A Butternut Squash
  • A Gem Squash
  • An Aubergine
  • A Pineapple
  • A Swede
  • A Mango


With everything set up I decided to start upon the pumpkin for a bit of practice.

The completed pumpkin, simple, elegant, a modern classic…
The pumpkin went perfectly well. I had proved to myself that i was at least capable of that.

Butternut Squash

Now it was time to start on the interesting stuff, as the most closely related vegetable I’d bought I thought the butternut squash would be fairly simple.

Not one of natures most elegant creations.

So far so good

This stage was particularly hard, apparently butternut squash is mostly solid till you get to the bulbous seedy bit at the bottom, forcing me to adapt a complex knifey spooney technique to get the job done. Once I had gotten most of the top portion emptied I realised my error at starting at the narrow end, getting the flesh out of the bottom was a serious task.

The outside was also rather brittle leading to a nasty crack down by the mouth.

Gem Squash

I’d never seen or eaten a gem squash before but I assumed that it would be like a sort of miniature pumpkin.

The skin was like leather, but once in was as I expected.
Raawr I am gem squash!

With the possibilities of the squash family pretty thoroughly explored it was time to move onto other types of veg.


I really wasnt sure about this one, with no hard skin it was liable to fall apart.

Carving the inside out was fairly easy, until the very bottom when the shape gave me the same problems as with the butternut squash.

There wasnt much room inside for the candle, so we had to wedge it in on its side, the skin however was perfect for carving.


Fangtastic…sorry…It was actually pretty tricky, I had to leave a fair bit of flesh in there in order to keep the sides rigid leaving barely any room for the candle


This was probably the easiest of them all, it’s practically hollow anyway and it’s so soft it’s easy to cut.

The group, so far.

According to wikipedia “Throughout Ireland and Britain, there is a long tradition of carving lanterns from vegetables, particularly the turnip, mangelwurzel, or swede

This is of course, rubbish. It is utterly utterly impossible to carve a swede, turnips are actually too small and mangelwurzel….well I have no idea what a mangelwurzel is…

I got about this far before giving up. Swedes are just too bloody tough, I might as well have been trying to carve a solid lump of wood

I do however happen to have one exceedingly determined flatmate who spent what must have been at least an hour attacking that accursed root vegetable.

Eventually the eyes and mouth began to emerge but it was still exceedingly tough going.


The big seed in the middle was a real challenge to get out and I slightly mangled it a bit in the process.

I decided to christen it the Mang-O-Lantern.


Compared with some of the other fruits the pineapple was a breeze to hollow out despite some harder bits in the centre.

The nature of the skin made it difficult to cut, which explains the rudimentary carvings on this one. Despite that though this was one of my favourite’s as it had a cool voodoo vibe to it.


This was the one I was looking forward to the most. The one with the most promise, the one which had inspired the project.

The top came off without a hitch

It was probably easist of all to disembowel, although it did take a while to get all the juice out.

It was also really easy to carve stuff in. if anything easier than the pumpkin.

A happy side effect

We also discovered a great side effect of scooping out all those fruits.

Tropical fruit cocktails! Made with the melon, mango and pineapple that we didnt use…plus a fair bit of malibu.

Now suitably liquored up it was time to play with fire.

The finished results

The Butternut was impossibly hard to light.

The Pumpkin, one thing the classic had over the others was a far more room for candles.

The main problem with the apple is that there wasn’t enough air flow to keep the candle alight so we had to cut vents in the lid

We had to cut a hole in the top of the gem squash as well, not because of air flow but because it kept threatening to catch fire


The pepper glowed really bright red, which was thoroughly awesome.

After a while the wax from the aubergines candle began to drip out like the slavering drool of a demonic vegetable.


The smaller ones didn’t work too well due to the way that there wasn’t enough room for the candles, there wasn’t good enough air flow and they kept catching fire. The fleshy ones weren’t too great either and I wouldn’t recommend the ones which didn’t stand up on their own.

also..the smell of burning rotting mixed vegetables isnt all that pleasant

Still if theres one thing I shall take from this it is….forget pumpkins next time im going for a melon, its better in every way, and tastes better too.

Cheers to Nobby and Nat, and the rest of my flatmates for giving a hand/not thinking im mental.

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