Sunday, July 30, 2017

Video Night

Very near the end of Breaking Bad: at the end of the last episode, there was a stand-off out in the desert, Hank and Gomez against Todd, his Uncle Jack and a bunch of other armed men. I spent the week hoping that Hank would survive or at least his death would be referred to but not seen on screen. Poor Hank. Walt did try to save him, by offering his money, but I guess Jack had already decided it was his (surprisingly, he leaves a share for Walt). Then there's Jesse - who scrambled away but it turns out not so far. Although Walt gives the nod for him to be shot, Jack has a problem with the quality of his product and Jesse is the solution, as he well knows. So Jesse is taken back to their lab, and chained up so he can be put to work.

The rest of the episode is really about Walt and his family. Marie has convinced Skyler that Hank has arrested Walt and must tell Walt Jr - this is what Walt walks into when he gets home. Of course, his arrival makes it clear Hank's arrest did not take - "where is Hank" doesn't really need answering. He wants them all to go on the run with him, and when they refuse, he takes off with Holly - he's not really thinking very straight by now (as suggested by the episode title, Ozymandias). To his credit, when he phones, he does make an attempt to shift all the blame to himself. I'm not sure how long he planned to keep Holly, but when she keeps saying Mama (and not Dada), it seems to get to him and he leaves her somewhere safe.

Then we come to the penultimate episode: Walt uses the same identity change bloke they were going to use for Jesse. In an odd twist, Saul and Walt are put up together for a bit - I think Saul is well and truly over Walt by now, as he has been the destruction of his life and career (not that Saul is all pure and the like!). Walt has mad schemes to get hitmen to go after Jack so he can get his money back - thanks to a flash-forward or two, we kind of know this is not going to happen - which tends to make him appear a bit demented on the topic.

It has become clear Todd has a bit of a thing for Lydia, which is why he wants Jesse, so he can keep dealing with her - the appeal of getting a supply of high quality product means she's OK about doing more business with him. Jack tidies up a couple of loose ends - taking Jesse's confession from Hank's house, threatening Skyler so she won't identify Lydia. When Jesse escapes, they shoot his (former?) girlfriend so he gets the message that her boy, Brock, is next - this boy is an odd vulnerability for Jesse (was also the source of problems with Walt).

Poor old Walt - he's taken to a remote cabin up in New Hampshire and told to stay there, that he'll get monthly supplies until some other arrangement can be made. He sticks it out for a bit, but seems to have a death wish - he tries to convince Walt Jr to accept some money and then phones the DEA so they can trace the call. 

Picket Fences had a proper crime to solve, but resolved it in typical unorthodox fashion. There's a serial killer on the loose, who responds to lonely hearts adds in the newspaper. Max works out the kind of message that will appeal, and runs an add, suggesting a meet in a restaurant on Valentines Day. What she didn't count on was the number of lonely men in Rome - she is kept very busy (including with Carter). Were any of these men the killer? With the evening over, an FBI agent identifies himself, profiles the killer. One of the dates might be the man. Max and the FBI man work out a plot in which Max will date the man, take him back to her place (because that's how he operates) and the FBI man will rescue her.

But is the FBI man all that he seems? His wife was murdered and he was thrown out of the service. Jimmy becomes convinced that he's the man they're after and reluctantly sets Max up with a wire to catch him. But have they got it right? Things get very tense in Max's apartment at the end: it is not secret or surprise that she's fine, but I didn't quite anticipate how things were resolved with the serial killer. 

For comic relief, there's also a bloke going round shooting arrows at guys, hitting them in the bum - including Jimmy.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading 28 July

Although I have been reading a fair amount, I have also been busy and so not really keeping up with making any sort of record of the books I'm reading. The last book I mentioned is Michael Crummey's Sweetland. Moses is left alone on the island, apart from Loveless's wee dog, who takes a while to make friends with Moses. It is finally revealed how Moses got the scar on his face - it is mentioned a few times in passing, but as with many things, full disclosure is deferred. The same happens with Effie, and the story of why they never married - same cause as the scar, as it happens. Moses makes it through winter with stored supplies, but with no way off the island, it is made pretty clear another winter is in his future. He also goes mad, after a fashion - unable to differentiate between hallucination and reality: as a reader, we get caught up in his hallucinations as well. And yet, it seems there is something revelatory about some of them - particularly his encounter with the Priddle brothers. My only regret about this book is that my reading of it was interrupted: I think total immersion in it would have given me an experience a bit closer to Moses's own immersion in his isolation, his memories and his descent away from sanity.
The book I most recently finished is No Chopsticks Required (Katrina Beikoff) - an odd title in that the lack of need of chopsticks is never mentioned and I suspect they were used more than once. She and her husband work in newspapers on the Gold Coast until they decide to move (along with two very young children) to Shanghai to take up, in effect, sub-editor roles on the English language newspaper there. Ostensibly, they are to take articles written by local journalists and wrangle them into making sense for an English-reading audience. They soon learn that very little actual journalism is done and that there is a lot of political control of what goes in as well as how it is presented.

It is a pretty important year to be there: the poisoned milk, the Sechuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics all happen. There are some quite journalistic chapters on these (as well as Chinese education) - when it came to the Olympics, the author thought it would be good to publish an article praising a Chinese sports-person and basically talking China up. The powers that be took against this, China was not to big-note, and she was pulled from any Olympic story. The earthquake story was different - the populace took to social media and it forced a new kind of honesty from the mainstream media.

A lot of the chapters were just about the expat experience - landing in a completely different country, learning how to cross the road, find food, parks etc - just as hard as getting somewhere to live and the major change to living arising from having someone in to look after the kids. These chapters were entertaining and at times very funny. One of the funniest chapters involved her husband getting a doctor - he has some sort of recurring stomach bug, and his GP arranges a couple of specialists to look at him, specialists who have nothing to do with stomach bugs. One wants to run an ECG test, but despite the best efforts of about 6 nurses, they cannot clear enough hair from his chest to attach the electrodes. Eventually, the specialist just checks his pulse and says he's fine. The husband has an equally productive encounter with a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Masterchef #9

This was the first team challenge of the series, cooking in a modern Italian restaurant (Gradi at Crown). The owner (Johnny Di Francesco) is a world champion pizza chef! This should work in Pia’s favour, as she’s Italian. Johnny wants simplicity - George kicks off simply - he barges into the group of contestants and splits it in half by pushing them apart. The red captain is Eloise, green is Diana. What they have to do is cook for 250 guests: one pasta, two pizzas and a dessert - sounds not too bad. Green chooses seafood pizza - garlic prawns on one, with pancetta and rocket, buffalo and a balsamic reduction on the other. The pasta is a spicey tomato sauce - arrabbiata. Red team - it just leaves pasta choice to Pia (it turns out to be spaghetti aglio e oilo), one pizza is mushroom, olive and sopressa salami; the other is caramelised onion, tallegio and rocket. Both do tiramisu, with variations. The Green team is making a coffee jelly (Bryan thinks he'll speed things up by putting it in the freezer to set - will they take it too far?).

First make your dough - this takes a couple of hours, and there's not much longer than that until service. Follow the recipe - what could go wrong? Red's well sorted. Half an hour in and Green is not started! Eliza calculating pasta amount - is she right? Using palm for portion control - Johnny not happy. Red for its tiramasu is using pound cake not sponge! Diana as captain worried but doesn’t interfere. Greens still have no pizza dough! Not even two hours until service. Red's first go at a sponge - more like an omelette than sponge! One hour to go. Pia has nailed her pasta. But no pasta sauce yet. Green has the opposite problem to what I expected - its coffee jelly is not setting. But it has to! Try more gelatine. 15 minutes: Green start toppings for pizza. Warned about wet cheese - release of liquid into pizzas if they cook too long, yet use it for both. Johnny gives them a bit of training on dough stretching. Red has nice puffy pizza in wood fired oven. Eloise - "it’s perfect". Diners coming in - 5 minutes.

Both teams ready for service? Seems so - pizzas are go. I'm hungry! Judging - Red pizzas up first. Better than 90% of pizza out there - done well. Green - getting some pizzas back, not quite cooked. Dough not quite as puffy, looks wet - that cheese, then balsamic. Great flavour - but a problem.

Pasta - Red has no pasta sauce! 10 minutes to service! Chili, bacon, roast tomato, olive oil and garlic - shouldn’t be too hard, if ingredients prepped. Benjamin “This is insane!” Greens way ahead on this. Judges - good pasta, bright sauce “yum”! Delicious.
Gary cleans his plate, wants another. They love it. Red - sending out bland pasta as short on ingredients. Doesn’t look as good as judges expect. Pasta good, not enchanted by dish - ingredients not integrated, mixed with pasta. Dull.

Dessert - Red sponge “really dense”, Diana calls it a “hard rock”. What to do? Soak in coffee syrup. Green - how is the jelly? Bryan worried - but it has set, although very strong. They make a deconstructed tiramisu. Red sponges still hard in parts and they're short on syrup. Hope for the best. It doesn’t look like tiramisu - more like doused shortbread, with some ingredients on top. Judges - “interesting”, but not enough to eat. The balance off and it is dry, although Matt's is OK - “a tale if two plates”. Green team - Bryan in his element, calling out orders like a pro! But short of mousse. Maybe more in the fridge? Ad break. Make another batch. Callan on to it. Five minutes to do it. He does it!
Judges - not what expected, but like the look, good step up with presentation. Gary eats jelly by itself. Matt - “love it”. Bryan - “good on him” from George. Amazing job all round. Best first team challenge.

Elimination: Johnny “congratulations” “amazing job”. Bryan and Samuel - players of the day. Red team - great pizzas, pasta great, not ingredients. Green - pizza good flavour but wet. Pasta “a triumph”. That’s Sarah. Green dessert - big thumbs up. Green shoe in for the win.

The episode leaves me keen to visit Gradi and to have arrabbiata - something I can make myself. I did actually go to La Porchetta earlier in the week: the pasta tasted like dried store bought, and there was very little chicken or mushroom. Today I was down at St Clair for a late breakfast at Starfish - people had glorious looking pasta at the Esplanade, so I must pay a return visit. My breakfast was good - a bowl of fried potatoes, bacon, spinach, poached eggs and hollandaise. The only other notable food of the week was from my visit to Harry's Kitchen - a couple of months ago, there were no Korean Fried Chicken places in town, now there are two! Harry's looked better in terms of its seating arrangement than Miga, which is why I picked it. The chicken itself was great - but it was just wings and it was in a very crunchy coating. I'll have to try the other place, to see if they do the real thing.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mountains May Depart

Film Society this week had a Chinese movie, Mountains May Depart (dir Jia Zhang-ke). Its a film in three parts: I found the first two very moving, beautifully paced, but the last part dragged a bit. It opens with a group dance - the sort I saw a lot when in China, done as a type of exercise - to the Pet Shop Boys (no doubt to give a hint of the Western influences that come into play - the song is Go West). The first third is more or less a love triangle, set in 1999, in Fenyang (north of Xi'an). Tao has two mates - Liang and Jingsheng. They are both coalminers, sot of: Liang distributes helmets and ends up working at the coalface, while Jingsheng owns coalmines, is an "elite" compared to the other two (Tao's dear old dad has some sort of shop). They're all pretty relaxed with each other, she's perky and one of the gang,  until Jingsheng realises he likes Tao in that special way. Instead of winning her affection just by being a good bloke, he kind of bullies her, and buys the coalmine in which Liang works and fires him. It is only at this point that it becomes obvious that Liang has the same sort of idea about Tao. She has to choose, and it is never clear why, she picks Jingsheng. Liang leaves town, and to make it clear he's not coming back, throws his keys inside his house.

There are lots of scenes of a China in transition - road building projects, a road bridge with the pillars of a bridge under construction towering above it. Jingsheng himself is a sign of this future, with his capitalist ways - when he and Tao marry, he even calls their son Dollar!

The next section is set in 2014. Jingsheng has moved off to Shanghai, and doesn't make a showing. Instead, this part is mainly about Liang, Tao, her dad and her son. Liang comes back home with a new wife and wee baby - remarkably, his house is still unoccupied so he can move back in. He's sick, cancer, and needs expensive medical treatment, which he can't afford. His wife suggests he touch his friends and family for a loan - this is clearly why he meets with an old workmate, but when he hears that this fellow has himself borrowed heavily to get together enough to start a new life elsewhere (coal is finished), doesn't say a word about his cancer or need for money. Completely classy. His wife goes to see Tao - this is the bit that really got to me - who comes by and gives him the money he needs.

Sadly, her dad dies: she gets Dollar to come home for the funeral (flying into the strangest airport I've seen - she's walking around the apron and the grass beside the runway, there's an airbridge that deposits passengers on to the tarmac but no apparent terminal. Maybe they had no permission to film it.) Dollar really doesn't know her, but they spend time together - they go driving, listen to some songs, take a slow train trip, and she cooks for him. Eventually, he opens up to her, and reveals his dad has plans to move to Melbourne.

This is where the third section takes place, in 2025. The only futuristic elements were with tablets and phones - they're transparent. All of the unpleasant, bullying elements of Jingsheng have come to the fore - he's really a caricature at this point. He has a rant about freedom at one point, but the only thing he does with his freedom is buy lots of guns. Dollar seems to be a nice young man, learning Chinese - an obvious signal of how far from his roots he has come - and befriends his teacher, who's about his mother's age. To avoid having to invent a futuristic car, she drives an impeccably preserved 1970's Valiant, like this one.

This does progress to bed, but the future they might have is deliberately left vague. Again, Dollar finally opens up and talks about what he remembers of Tao - he says her name, she hears him in China and the movie ends with her dancing - resuming a long-abandoned tradition of dancing in the New Year.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Watching - Wednesday 12 July

Another programme that I have been watching is Spotless, about two French brothers - Jean and Martin - in London. Jean is a forensic cleaner - cleaning up crime scenes, who's got himself in with bad company - originally a bent cop called Kendrick, then a crim by the name of Nelson. Martin is also in trouble - he ripped off some French drug dealers, who have sent a couple of blokes to sort him out. He's also made an unauthorised deal with a Turkish gang, run by Veysal. I just watched # 6 - Fallowfield: its a while since I’ve watched this, so have to pick up some details as I go.

Julie's a bit cool with Jean - but then she did find his bank records last time which showed he’s living a lie - he's borrowed a fortune against the house and not told her. Martin is quite good with his niece, Maddy, has built a nice rapport - she’s feeling lost in her new school, but I bet her parents don’t know. He organises a ride to school on back of noisy motorbike to give her some cred. Martin shoplifting books - The Fault in Our Stars, so he can talk about it with Maddy. Now Veysal is tightening the noose, wants him to do the dirty on Nelson, find out who his supplier is. Jean thinks he is building a collection of evidence from the various jobs he does for Nelson, to get him - will it work? He has a portable drive he took from Kendrick at some stage: it is encrypted but the word Fallowfield is clear. Julie has a new client, "Hilliard", actually a creep we've seen before. The conversation gets a bit personal - about his dead wife. Jean’s girl-friend, Claire, hasn’t given up on him, summons a meeting - wants to take him to dinner at a pop up in Hoxton. He's called away to see Inspector Squire. Later on, Jean sees Mrs Kendrick, asks about Fallowfield - the cottage where they honeymooned, bought when it came up for sale.

The French guys Martin crossed finally catch up with him - want to sort it out the “old school” way. They have a civilised drink, then a beating - except that Martin fights back, wins - or maybe it’s a draw. Maybe Martin is right - they are quite similar. Tough man - funny that his ulcer is “killing him. They have an odd bonding session in empty pub, interrupted by more fighting. The bloke pushes too hard, Martin strangles him. His off-sider, Nico, not best pleased - what to do? Martin manipulates him - saved by Veysal's man, who shoots Nico. Lucky he knows how to clean up a murder scene.

Jean and Squire: plays it cool when she asks if he knows Nelson. Police seem to have a good idea of what Kendrick had been up to. Pictures of missing men, believed to be dead, no bodies - are these the men Jean cleaned up? Squire “full support” to those who help me. Nelson in his car - concerned about what Squire knows.

At school, the teachers are worried about Oliver’s unhealthy interest in death, talking about his dad’s work - if only teacher had seen the lego men he had - dismembered and covered in blood.

Is Jean going to stand Claire up, have dinner at home? Julie confronts him about finances - he denies anything is going on. And then there’s sex on the table. Literally! Bit awkward for Martin when he gets home - he watches, just a bit! Oliver shows him his Lego art, says it is good the bad men are dead: Martin bites.

The show ends with jean going to Fallowfield, where he finds Kendrick’s money, plus a video of Nelson setting someone on fire. This triggers yet another flashback to his boyhood: Dad beating one of the boys, the other kills Dad with a pick!

Love the subtlety of the soundtrack for this programme.

We had a double episode of Breaking Bad this week. Things are pretty serious as the show comes close to its end. In Rabid Dog, we get some of the story involving Walter's house - Jesse goes in and sprays petrol, ready to torch the place - he's only stopped because Hank shows up, talks him into going home with him and taping an account of the whole story. Jesse makes a lot of sense when he suggests his testimony might not have much weight. Walt, meanwhile, can't get the petrol smell out of the house, so lies (so obviously) to Walt Jr and Skyler about some incident at a petrol pump where he sprayed petrol all over himself. Saul tries to convince him it is time that Jesse is killed, like "old Yeller", the rabid dog of the title. Walt not buying it, not even when Skyler says pretty much the same thing. In a parallel show of support, Marie helps Hank with his hosting of Jessie.

The show ends with Jesse setting up a meeting with Walt in a public place, where Walt says he wants to explain everything - Hank has him all wired up, but Jesse is properly scared, thinks Walt is the devil, will kill him. When he sees someone who looks a bit thuglike (but turns out to be a random) he flees. He calls Walt to threaten him - Walt in turn calls Todd with another job for his uncle.

The next episode was a bit strange: Walt sets Todd's uncle up to kill Jesse, but when it comes to it, he doesn't want the job to proceed. Hank and Jesse trick Walt into leading them to where he has hidden his money: he panics to the point that he phones Jesse (the man he wants dead) and confesses to quite a lot of what he's done - all of which goes straight to Hank, of course. They all turn up out in the desert where the money is buried, Walt is handcuffed and put in the car when Todd and his family arrive (after very clearly being told not to proceed). Its half a dozen or more of them with machine guns against Hank and Gomez: the episode ends before anyone actually dies. Walt is still important to Todd's family - because Todd is not making very good meth, and it isn't blue - Lydia wants better standards.

The night finished with Picket Fences - The Body Politic. Howard is convinced that a body was taken into what is supposedly an empty house. It turns out a bloke moved in, but he refuses entry and Judge Bone is reluctant to give a warrant on the basis of evidence from someone with Alzheimers. Eventually, Max persuades him, and it is revealed that the man has his braindead wife on life support, because she's pregnant. Her mother wants the life support switched off - Judge Bone has to sort this out, eventually orders that the life support continue. In an interesting footnote, a Brazillian Judge ordered exactly the same thing this week, apparently for the first time ever. In another storyline, the town dentist is revealed to be HIV positive - something Jill new but did not reveal to Jimmy - more familial tension. The mayor fires the dentist - not for being HIV positive, but for not letting his patients know - Jill gives evidence to the effect that the risks are so low, this is ridiculous. Judge Bone reinstates the dentist but warns him that he can't make the townsfolk attend his practice. Jill has some sort of revelation - of course patients should be told so they can make informed choices: this leads to her and Jimmy settling their differences and agreeing that their children (and their own parental role) should be put ahead of the town's interests. Kenny is still dating the twins - even though the Mayor comes close to ordering him not to.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Masterchef #7 & 8

First up is a pressure test - Lee, Ray and Pete face elimination. Oddly, we get a bit of the backstory for just the first two, some self-reflection from all three. Gary cooks a dish in front of them - they have to cook the same dish in the same time, just following his lead, and finish within 10 seconds of him. Still home cooking week, so no special equipment. Matt lays it on a bit thick about what they’ll be doing. At least he says what it is - roast chicken, peas and potatoes. Break chicken down. Fry to give colour. Ray behind. Then he burns his chicken! Breast into oven, bones into pan. Vege prep - now Lee is behind, Pete even more so, has done it wrong.

Pea custard.Hard to see where the guys have got to. Ray and Pete maybe OK. Pea custard is blended pea and spinach, seasoned, then baked in the oven. Ray gets the cream amount wrong, 3 times what he needs. Lee has now caught up. Taste the jus. Cut the potato just right. Pete goes up, measures his against Gary’s. Ray still on the custard! Frying raw potato in butter - to be fondant potato. Fire! Ray’s butter has caught fire, set off the alarms! At least its not his jus. Lee’s doesn’t look much like Gary’s, Pete’s is much better looking. Gary’s custard not set, but Pete’s is. Pea puree. Ray has caught up! Pick your best chicken breast - crisp in pan. Lee not paying attention, “going rogue”, chicken quite pink. Pete is looking like the winner. Serving. They’ve made four pea custards - but only need a quenelle. Ray’s is still sloshy. I like the way that Pete keeps going up to check Gary’s version. 10 seconds to go! They’re all somewhere in the ballpark. Big hugs all round.

Gary and Matt taste Gary’s dish! Just as well they like it. Pete’s feeling good, recovered from yesterday. Did enjoy it. His plate looks like a banger, very close to Gary’s. George motors through his! Just as good as Gary’s? Would they say if it was better? Ray: you guys are tough critics, but my daughters are way tougher. Spuds too dark, yet hard. Matt’s is right. Chicken and sauce seem to be OK. Lee: shattered by what I’ve done, but proud. Colour is popping, very appetising - but chicken is “absolutely not cooked” - sad because so much is right. All he needed   to do was turn his chicken in the pan. “Undercooked chicken always sends you home.”

Next episode is the immunity challenge for the top three - Karlie, Sarah, Eliza. Sarah - "I’m riding the wave, I stand a chance". Once again, Shannon Bennett (now GQ Chef of the Year) is there to mentor - it seems to have an impact on Sarah; she's star-struck, blushing “Please let me stop talking”.  

Eliza also confident - "I smash it out, every time I hit the kitchen". Karlie - not so much. Round one: new, quick dinner recipe - they get 32 minutes to cook dinner, family meal for four. One time only in the pantry. Karlie slow packing basket. Eliza grabs everything - herb and macadamia crust lamb, frenched! Slow! Will push to the final second, but will her lamb even be cooked. Smokey eggplant puree. Parsnip chips. Sarah - braised bok choy (looks nice, with the soy and ginger, caramelised ends), vinaigrette with Asian flavours, barramundi. Matt impressed? Lot of punch in the vinaigrette. She’s stoked with her dish. Karlie also Asian styled - lamb loin, pickled mushroom. Left a couple of important things in pantry. Lamb perfectly cooked. Eliza’s? No - way off and 2 minutes to go! Into the pan.

Judging: Eliza - lamb cooked OK - except for Gary’s. Good flavours, a lot going on. Karlie: Clever pairing, super delicious. Sarah: knows hers is left of centre - who likes bok choy? Looks fabulous. Gary - "getting a little burney". He never eats bok choy - but this is "revelation". So delicious, smashing says Matt. George - happy to sweat for it. Thumbs up all round. Go Sarah. She’s done it - no huddle, even.

Round 2 - Victoria’s Young Chef of the Year - Sarah knows who he is, “I’m just scared”. Jared Di Blasi - started when he was about 16.

Judges’ personal fridges are the pantries. I’m enjoying Sarah’s combination of confidence and freaking. She has to choose fridge without seeing what is inside! How well does she know the judges? She picks Gary - veges, chillis, sauces, meats, herbs - good choice and bang on in her expectations. Scotch fillet, potatoes, pickled mushroom - how to elevate? Western and Eastern - marinate steak in XO oil. Shannon - how well does mash mesh with Asian flavour? Pommes anna. Burnt! Back to the mash. Nice char on the steak, properly medium rare. Her dish looks good. Judges - Gary a bit confused by the mash. Good elements and connected, deft hand.

Jared - whiting, all sorts of sauces and herbs. Sushimi. Does whiting work? Shannon: enough to impress the judges? “I’m in trouble” but he’s barely started. Certainly not my sort of thing.Uses rest of fish to make a sauce. Back to fridge - make some pickle, fry some kale. Fish not sliced, 3 minutes to go. Delicate - George thinks appetising. Raw fish with cooked fish broth - “interesting”. Gary - “beautiful”. George shocked it came out of home fridge. Matt - the sauce is “supercharged pot of joy”. On brief for home cook?

Both really good - who wins? Sarah - 7, 8, 8 (Matt a bigger fan of the pairing than Gary). Jared - 9, 9, 9! Still no way that I’d eat what he cooked.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Masterchef #6

This was a mystery box challenge, leading on to the first chance for immunity of the season. There's a big cube at front, more than the height of a man, under black sheet. Home cooking week - so all the fancy equipment has been locked in the cage. Ice cream maker, sous vide, blast chiller… Making it all about “raw talent”. Many look lost! George loses his tweezers! Each judge selects 3 common ingredients for mystery box -  chillies, prawns, green beans, anchovies, olive oil, a fermented milk product (Kefir - if so common, George should not have needed to explain it), parmesian, pumpkin and pineapple. As normal - they'll be tasting only top five, despite all preaching about how important taste is.

Callan the star needs his gadgets, doesn’t have ideas - he’s a big molecular gastronomist. I know - a tuile, but plus what? Sarah's happy with her prawns. Pia happy too - ricotta donuts with pineapple sauce. Michelle - where’s my blast chiller? Pineapple rings at heart of her dish. A couple of pineapple tarte tatins - Eloise is adding chilli to hers. Matt harrases her about the pastry. With under an hour to go, Callan still hasn’t worked out the dish, in struggle town. Judges come over “where’s your stuff?” “Interesting”.

Diana backstory - family in Malaysia - prawns (sounds like competing with Sarah’s prawn dish - she has a lot going on “a little bit crazy”. Michelle - pickled pineapple with chilli? Pia needs her donuts light and fluffy, but does she have time? More on Eloise’s pastry - forgot to turn oven on! How will it puff? Four minute warning. Sarah likes her strange combination. We’ve only really watched a handful of cooks - are these the one being tasted? What were the rest cooking? Eloise’s pastry looks properly flaky but is it cooked? Callan’s prawns still have their eyes, looking balefully at me.

Tasting: Sarah - prawn pineapple salsa and pineapple vinaigrette with roasted pumpkin. Judges keep eating, her risk-taking works. Pia - are your donuts a “shameless appeal to our weakness for fried stuff?” Donuts good - judges forget people are watching. Diana - grilled prawn, parmesian tuile, anchovy and pineapple sauce - worked in unexpected way, delicious.

Michelle - smiling! Glazed pineapple. Eloise - judges “I’m ordering that” - “mind-bending tarte tatin”, pastry exactly what it needs to be with pineapple and toffee.

Winner: tough call! Eloise. Now she has the advantage: choose between fennel, mussels and buffalo haloumi for the invention test. She picks haloumi - this would be no good for me, the only things I've ever seen done with it is frying or grilling it. I’d have said the mystery box also involved inventiveness. Eloise had an idea from beginning - grilled haloumi tasting plate - shortbread, fritter, haloumi itself, with a sherry reduction. Pete going with Heston’s influence - lamb with a haloumi mash. Karlie - haloumi fritter, with sesame seeds. Ray haloumi and vegetable stack. Eliza has the problem I have - what to do with haloumi? Ends up baking - some sort of pastry dish (ah, pasties) with a jam. Sarah - pickled beetroot and haloumi cigar with whiting!

Lee's also doing fish - snapper, with haloumi in a mash. Judges give Lee a warning - make haloumi the hero, cooking great fish won’t win. Scraps the fish! Now phyllo baked haloumi. 20 minutes from the end! Sarah - have I done enough? Deep fried crumbed haloumi! Pete is trouble - no haloumi in his dish! Nice lamb, interesting gel but haloumi is only in crust. 8 minutes to fix it. Ray just hoping to not be in bottom three. 30 seconds and Pete on his way to pantry! Instant vinaigrette. Thinks has no dish.

Judging: Sarah - looks good - two strips of fish, greens, rolled beetroot, fish stock. Judges love it. “I could be top three.” Eloise - wants whiskey and dessert bar. Some great elements, but not the fritters.

Tamara - macarons. Rush through random cooks. All seem to do well, Then comes Lee. Is it even cooked? Looks weird, unappetising. Karlie - fritters look stylish, different. Yum! Ray - Judges don’t seem keen. Haloumi is lost in mass of veges, maybe just do it with red peppers. Belongs in the 80’s. Poor Ray - he just hopes someone has done worse. And then up comes Pete - all he has to show is some fried haloumi and dukkah. Judges' advice: "You’re not Heston, focus on what you do." Eliza - they seem very happy to see her pasties. Excellent technique, simple, George reminded of his childhood - haloumi and mint. I really liked that they liked her dish.

Winners: Eliza! Sarah. Karlie! Girl power. Losers: Lee, Pete, Ray. All blokes.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Wednesday 28 June


Another double header of Breaking Bad - Buried and Confessions. Last week, Hank discovered Walt is Heisenberg, and could not hide his discovery from Walt. We also had a teaser to suggest not all goes well for Walt in the future: before the credits, we saw the family home in ruins, Walt stopping by to retrieve his ricin. Hank hoped that Skyler would tell him all she knows and thus be the lever he could use to get him, but he doesn't know the level of her involvement. No dice. She and Walt seem to be firmly in this together. There's a lot of shooting in Buried - despite her deal with Walt to sell exclusively to the export market, Lydia tries to have Todd become the chief chemist for the local distribution gang. When they refuse, she has them all killed. Two regular cops pick Jesse up, because he'd randomly thrown bundles of banknotes out the window of his car - when Hank hears of this, he wants in. Saul gets involved - lets the cops know of Hank's former involvement with Jesse, warns of trouble if Hank has further contact. It is an old-fashioned show down between good and evil, and it seems unthinkable that Hank won't win. But then Walt stitches him up badly: they have a really awkward family dinner trying to sort things out (impossible, I'd have thought), then Walt hands Hank a videod "confession", admitting that he has been cooking meth, but only because Hank made him. He plays being pitiful so well and is so good at manipulating details that people might buy it. But Walt has Jesse problems. He'd decided to get a new identity, had paid his money to Saul and was waiting to be picked up when he realised that Saul or his off-sider had picked his pocket, taken the weed he'd been carrying. This led Jesse to a discovery - that his cigarettes had been taken off him in a similar fashion, and this was the means by which Walt had given ricin to the boy Jesse got so wound up about before. This discovery led Jesse to go back to Saul's and basically go berserk. The episode finishes with him going to the White house and throwing a lot of petrol about (although we've seen that the house is still standing a year later).

We also watched Picket Fences - Nuclear Meltdowns: this episode took on the nature of love and religion. Max was on a quest to find out who had taken Elisabeth Moss's (yes, that Elisabeth Moss!) mallard duck. There's a dodgy bloke she suspects, as he has been implicated in other animal disappearances. He rapidly confesses to taking it, but says it was to feed his dying father, in the hope it would buy him some extra time. Carter's autopsy reveals the father has eaten no duck but there is a duck feather up his nose. Max goes undercover to their suspect's church for the funeral, but puts a halt to matters when a goat is about to be sacrificed, by firing her weapon and arresting everyone.

Judge Bone is not impressed with preventing goat sacrifices in the name of religion: half the blokes go hunting for sport, and animals are routinely slaughtered to be eaten. Then there is the right to freedom of religion. He does tell the fellow off for eating people's pets - that's not right.

Kenny finds love - he has to pull a woman over for going through a red light: she says she felt a compulsion to come to Rome, maybe it was to meet him? She persuades him to have dinner that evening and one thing leads to another. Meanwhile, Jimmy is on his way home and sees who he takes to be this woman pulled over, making all the sounds of a woman having an orgasm. It turns out there are two women, separated at birth and unaware of each other's existence - for some reason, they're drawn to Rome at the same time, and they finally meet. They're both into Kenny, and suggest they can both be his girlfriend - he's a little sheepish, but goes along with it.

More importantly, Kimberley's "best friend", who we've never seen before, is pregnant. Kimberley overhears her talking to her father, and decides he's the father of the baby. She confronts the friend, who basically pleads for her understanding and pleads for her to not saying anything. Of course, Kimberley tells Jill who is a bit outraged but promises to say nothing. This doesn't stop her telling Jimmy, who is determined to arrest the father. This all comes before Judge Bone as well, when it is finally revealed that the friend is 2 years older than she'd said, and not daughter but wife of the arrested man - who happens to already have a wife. Rather than throw the book at him for bigamy, Judge Bone has a bit of a spiel about the changing nature of family, tells the father than if he divorces the girl, he can still be her common law husband and the needs of the law will be satisfied.

I had the chance to watch SBS, and saw a couple of great programmes. The first was about the making of luxury cruise ships: fascinating to see they're built in modules, about 57 of them, which are then welded together to make the whole. I was doing other stuff, so when it finished, I didn't really pay much attention but I found myself dragged into a story about Rodriquez - featuring two South Africans: a journalist and a musicologist. They'd heard his music, heard he had died (by shooting himself in the head on stage) and wanted to find out more - who is he? Their way of tracking him was to follow the money - he was selling records by the million in South Africa, so the money had to be going somewhere. After some false leads (it didn't seem that had to me) they find the owner of the US based record label who licensed distribution in South Africa - he basically told them off for being worried just about the money, Rodriguez was a real person, a musician - but not one he knew. So the guys tried another tack, calling the producer of the record, which was more productive - for a start, they learned that Rodriguez was not dead! Then they get a random phone call from his daughter, who had Rodriguez give them a call. This movie is, of course, Searching for Sugarman - when I learned that, I switched the TV off, as I now plan to see the whole movie and to listen to his music.


I finished the Denise Mina book, Still Midnight. Alex, as expected, broke the case through good police work. There was talk at the beginning of her inability to be sensitive to minorities, but she doesn't really show any problems, less than her colleagues. Her off-sider (Bannerman) became worried that he wasn't going to be able to crack the case and so basically pulled a sickie and left Alex to do it, with the help of a couple of trusted junior officers. The kidnap didn't quite go as planned - Mr Anwar was able to kill the poor wee druggie Eddie left in charge while Eddie tried to sort out the money side of things. We learn quite a lot about Mr Anwar, while he's locked up and then when he gets away - particularly the awful way in which his mother secured their release from Uganda. She is almost a physical presence in his life now, and he considers himself unworthy of the sacrifice she made (I almost thought he wouldn't escape when he could). 

As the novel progressed, Eddie was closer and closer to the verge of boiling over. Things got a bit strange at the end for him - his Irish leader turns up, suggests this has been a test that Eddie has passed and promptly has a fatal heart attack. As for Joe, things are equally strange, but in a good way. He seems to have re-connected with his family but at the cost of being responsible for the money it turns out they lent Eddie for the operation. He and the girl had a connection when he was at the kidnapping - their eyes met through his balaclava and it was game on. Even though he (accidentally) shot her, when he visits her in hospital she obviously knew who he was but didn't hold it against him. Love triumphs! It is a bit more difficult with Alex - she's revealed as afraid to go home, more willing to be at work, so when she does go home, I was expecting something bad to happen. It didn't: she and Bruce largely glided around each other as if the other was not there. Later, it is revealed that their boy died, and that's created this huge gap between them, mutual uncertainty as to whether to persist. In an odd wee moment, they're in the car toghether, and one hand finds another and they're on the path back to each other.

Still on Sweetland. Moses has taken the money to leave the island, but "left" without telling anyone - he, of course, hasn't gone anywhere and is a little surprised to find a cross put up in his honour in the cemetery. He does a lot of recollecting, now that he's on his own - there have been a couple of chapters about him and Effie, the girl everyone expected him to marry. Still haven't got to exactly why they did not: she seems like a remarkable girl. There's an incident when they're riding out together in the cart and her hand finds its way into his pants: he chooses to tell her when they've finished that he's likely going to Toronto. I think it is after that that she says he's someone she would marry, and when he does go to Toronto, they write to each other - although he has virtually nothing to say for himself because he is only working. There's an amusing side to his preparations for living on the island - he can't go to the normal mainland towns to buy supplies as everyone would know what he is up to. Instead, he goes to Miquelon. I was a bit confused when he asked if Canadian money was any good, even more confused when he got his change in Euros and thoroughly confused when he is confronted by a customs officer, who won't let him leave without a full search of his provisions (his bullets are seized). Who knew there's a French territory 25 km from the coast of Newfoundland?