Thursday, July 20

Computer Aid

Can you remember your first computer? The first one I ever owned was a green screen Amstrad PCW8256. It had two floppy disc drives and a bundled dot-matrix printer that made more noise than a version of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre directed by Quentin Tarantino.
I am now on my third computer(or fourth if you include the laptop). I have been using the things for twenty-one years now. It's difficult to remember how big and primitive the early (mainframe, not p.c.) models were. Now I am writing this sitting in a park during my lunch hour on a Palm pda the size of a packet of fags.
(remember cigarettes?)
I already take the technology for granted. My students don't know of anything else. For them it's mp3s (I remember playing 78s). They have digital video (anyone remember laser disc players and coffee-table sized Betamax video tape recorders?).
In my lifetime technological change has been considerable, but incremental. Babbage designed a workable computer in the century before last. During the last century computers got smaller and faster, but essentially worked in the same way, just better, smaller and quicker.
I really think that things are changing significantly now.Technological change is happening so fast, the technology of twenty one years from now is almost impossible to imagine.
One thing is certain though. The computers we are using now are already out of date, and we will find ourselves pushed into upgrading them sooner rather than later.
If anyone reading this has an old PC they no longer need please don't just dump it or take it to a charity shop. Instead, try contacting Computeraid. Based just up the road from me in the Nag's Head, they are a truly international charity. They specialize in supplying refurbished computers to educational and charitable groups in the less developed world. If you work for an organisation that is changing a number of PCs they can probably arrange to collect them from you. No need to worry about confidentiality or data protection either - they guarantee to wipe the hard drives to military secrecy standards.
Computeraid are an almost ideal solution to feeling guilty about getting rid of a computer that works perfectly but is out of date. It's a solution that is both green and truly global.
I gave them our old PC. Its a really good feeling knowing that it is still in use and helping people on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, July 18

I Have a Bream

Since Midsummer Day the only resolution I have kept faithfully has been the one about visiting an independent fishmonger once a week.

Over the last fortnight I have tried various types of bream, a fish new to me. Black headed bream was good, meaty and easy to eat with no nasty fine bones.

Next came Gilt head bream, known in the south of France as daurade. The gilt head was another class up, creamy, beautifully flavoured and obligingly easy to fillet.
Both types of fish are good value, wth an excellent meat-to-bone ratio.

I have an affection for the bream family. They are one of the fish that appear frequently in Psarotavernas (fish restaurants) in Greece. I understand that they are having some success in farming bream there. If the supply increases this can only be a good thing.

We had them plainly grilled. Try slashing the flesh around the thickest part of the sides and marinading for an hour or so in a little olive oil and the juice of a lemon or two.

They would be wonderful barbecued.

Monday, July 10

Pondering, and a Vegetable Voyeur...

Last week we went to our second RHS Flower Show of the summer. After scorching hot weather all week Wednesday was overcast. The Met. Office were promising (threatening?) torrential rain and thunderstorms. Luckily all we had was a couple of heavy showers.

The Hampton Court show is literally a breath of fresh air in comparison to Chelsea. The show takes place on a huge site next to the Thames, and the extra space means that the entire experience is more enjoyable. You can enter a lot of the show gardens, whilst at Chelsea you are always on the outside looking in.

One of the other bonuses of the larger site is that H.C. can include water gardens. We spent a good while investigating what was on offer, and checking out planting possibilities for our pond-to-be. There was plenty of inspiration…

Try getting that into Chelsea Flower Show!

Another plus point for Hampton Court is that a lot of exhibitors bring along plants to sell there and then. (Chelsea only ever sells ex-display plants, and then only on the last day). My good lady Phantomette and I returned with a scented rose, a second, rambling, one, an orchid for our bedroom and a young Acer, a slow-growing Japanese tree.

I managed to resist buying any more seeds. I never got round to planting the last lot I bought, and I have some Acer seeds from 2003 which I really must pop into some soil. There were some chillies that caught my eye, but I will save my pennies for now. As usual, Medwyn's, the Welsh show vegetable display, was enough to make your average allotment holder weep at the sight....

I like a leek as much as anyone, but even I draw the line at videoing vegetables…

Monday, July 3

Sunday, July 2

An interesting fish recipe

Can be found on the appropriately named Adhesive Fish blog. If there is something the Phantom likes more than fish, it is something fishy and soupy.

Support your Local Fishmonger: Week Two

Yesterday’s trip to Steve Hatt’s shop made up for the slight extravagance of last week.

I returned with a mackerel and a trout, both bright in the eyes and firm of flesh. (With mackerel in particular a really fresh specimen is practically rigid. You can hold it by the tip of the tail and it will barely bend at all).

The fish came to just over a fiver. The trout was farmed, the mackerel wild and line-caught. It was interesting to compare the tail fins of both fish. The trout’s fins were rounded and frayed from rubbing against the cage or net that contained them. The tail fins of the mackerel were sharp and angular, a sure sign it was sea-caught.

In this heat you don’t want to spend long in the kitchen. I used my trusty pressure cooker to cook some new potatoes, steamed some fresh spinach, and microwaved some left-over (homemade) chickpea curry. Grilling the fish, we had a meal on the table in less than fifteen minutes.