Cooking a Simple Curry

The simplest curry I’ve ever eaten was during a camel safari near Jaisalmer. Made over a fire of twigs and branches, the plates were cleaned by scouring with sand afterwards. And it tasted pretty good. But what is the simplest curry I can cook?

When you’re a terrible cook, people like to give you cookbooks as presents. It’s as if the right combination of words are going to make up for lack of experience. A lot of these presents were potentially deadly – given the disasters I’ve produced, why give me a book whose recipes involve cooking things in pans of deep oil? It’s one thing to produce an inedible meal with a cooking disaster, quite another to need skin grafts.

Student cookbooks are the lowest form of cookbook. These are aimed at people who have never cooked. The ones I have date back to the days when students arrived at university with a new set of pans from Woolworths. They are aimed at people who have no idea what they are doing, and would rather be in a bar. The only simpler recipes you’ll find for a curry are ready meal instructions. They are almost a joke – unless you know very little about cooking, in which case they’re a lifeline.

I won’t name the cookbook I’m using, but the edition I’ve got comes from 1997. Its recipe for ‘Vegetable Curry’ fills me with suspicion for its simplicity as well as its enthusiasm for fruit. The ingredients include a huge amount of coconut, something I’m not a huge fan of, and the introduction suggests the use of “slices of banana and apple as a tasty side dish“. There’s a whole post to be written sometime about the English and Australian obsession for linking fruit and curry.

The recipe uses potato, onion, cauliflower and carrot as the vegetables. The curry-ness is provided by a tablespoon of curry powder at the start. While the ingredients are all ones you might find in a takeaway curry, I think they’d need a little more excitement to make something of them. This is basically a stew with a sprinkle of curry flavour.

More than anything, this dish is reminiscent of the one I was served at ‘Slices of Balti’ a few months back. It tastes a little better, because I’m capable of not cooking vegetables until all texture is destroyed. But it’s still bland. This is what vegetarianism used to be like, when the mockery of meat-eaters was a little more justified. Look at this picture, to get an idea of how joyless this recipe turned out to be:

Taking this photo, I realised that it’s more difficult than I thought to take decent photos of food at home. I guess the lighting in restaurants is better for this. I know I did a half decent job, solely because some of the photos I took are much, much worse:

That’s the simplest curry recipe I can find on my bookshelves. It’s interesting to compare to what I’d normally make: I can do much better.

What’s the best curry house in Brighton?

Picking the best curry house in Brighton is not easy. It’s also more difficult for me after a couple of restaurants closed.

Two favourite places recently vanished from Preston Street. The Bombay, down at the sea end, used to be my go-to place for a straightforward British curry. Nothing flash, but a decent, consistent meal – consistency being one of the big problems with curry houses. More recently, the Nishat Tandoori closed for renovations (or relocation, according to the website). I’m hoping this is indeed the case, and it’s not one of those situations where shut ‘temporarily’ and never re-open.

The Nishat was great because the regular curry menu was combined with various Goan options. They did a good Xacuti and an excellent Goan-style vindaloo. Instead of assaulting you with chilli, it was done in the vinegary Goan style. They also had the regular dishes you’d expect from a British curry house. It was always fun mixing Goan- and British-style curry dishes.

The Curry Leaf Cafe gets a lot of respect, but that is on probation after managing to serve a hunk of lamb in my vegetable Thali. They did offer a free tea and coffee to apologise, but that isn’t much use when you’re on a lunch break and don’t have time to linger anyhow. I’m sure I’ll go back, but it’s taking me a while to feel comfortable about the idea.

Some of those who know me are probably wondering why I’m not listing Planet India as my favourite curry house. I love Planet India. It has by far the best menu I’ve ever read, with a brief commentary on each of the dishes – a simple touch that always made me feel at home.

But I don’t consider Planet India a curry house, as it aims to provide more ‘authentic’ Indian dishes than the British-Indian places usually offer. It’s a great place for a treat, but not what I’m after for a standard takeaway curry.

With Nishat gone, I have a few go-to places. There’s the Raj Pavilion or the Shahi, which I know from when I used to live that side of town. My nearest restaurant if the Ashoka, which is pretty good. But right now, I don’t have a strong favourite. So what is the best curry house in Brighton?



The Horrors of the Beach Planner

My day job involves managing projects across several countries, and this means fiendishly complicated documents. Booking a trip to Goa for later this year seemed like the perfect way to unwind. But, reading the Lonely Planet guide to Goa, I encountered a document more disturbing than the schedules I’ve been reading:

Goa is famous for its attitude of susegad. This is said to be a national mood of laid-back, easy-going hospitality and tolerance, which apparently comes from the Portuguese word sossegado, meaning silence. The idea of susegad might well be linked to colonialist ideas of Goa, it’s still something used to sell the state to tourists, even as deserted beaches become bustling resorts.

Goa promises miles of relaxing beaches. but the idea of a Beach Planner just makes me nervous. For a start, there’s that introduction talking about how that Goa’s “tropical island” feel means “it’s easy to forget that you’re in India“. I’m not sure why this should be something that improves your holiday.

The section then goes on to categorise the beaches.I booked to stay in Mandrem (Relaxing with a Good Book) last year, when I meant to book a place in Arambol (Backpackers and Budget Travellers). It worked out OK, as Mandrem seemed to suit me better than Arambol would (although I was robbed on the price of the hotel room).

The categories for the beaches sound OK: Water Sports; Family Fun; Partying and Drinking; Yoga and Spirituality (including both Mandrem and Arambol); Five Star Treatment; Nature; and Beach Huts (Mandrem, again).

But there’s something aggressively organised about this planner. I imagine it being reduced to a diagram, a series of intersecting circles, which must be navigated to get your holiday right. Apparently “the decision shouldn’t be made on just the aesthetics of sand and sea: it’s about choosing the beach community that suits your style of travel and sense of place.” This is very much the sort of decision I booked a holiday to get away from.

The book is firm on the importance of the right place: “Locating the perfect beach is the secret to making the most of your stay“. Getting the wrong beach will ruin the everything. The choice of beach feels like destiny, as great a challenge as if I was forced to choose my own star sign.

But two things reassure me – the first is that the LP has not bothered to classify every beach, missing out, for example, quiet Querim. I hiked through here on the way to Fort Tiracol, a tiny fort on the very Northern edge of Goa. It was small and peaceful and empty, although much of the beach was too steep for easy swimming.

And, secondly, the Beach Planner itself ends on a reassuring note: “Goa is small enough that you can jump on a scooter or in a taxi and explore.” You don’t have to stay anywhere you don’t want to. So I’m thinking of getting a taxi to the very south of the island, and working my way up. There are other ways to find beaches than a Beach Planner.

How to distribute a zine

I don’t normally take Brighton busses, but I was running late. I’d had to pick up a parcel then head into town, so I was waiting for the number 7 near Hove station. Bored, I spotted something odd in a box of leaflets. At first I thought someone had sneaked in a flyer.

Moving a little closer, I saw it was a zine. So I picked it up and read it.

This is the sort of thing I love about zines. You certainly don’t get this from a website. You don’t find websites carefully hidden when you’re wandering away from your usual routes.

Secret Desires is by Cynical Elliot, and the cover features “the bloke from Keane”. Now, there’s a band I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve listened to their records in the past, but can’t recall the names of any songs without checking Wikipedia.

The zine features portraits of various musicians, and invites us to “leave our musical prejudices at the door”. Now, I’m giving no quarter on my dislike of Jamiroquai’s music, but Dolly Parton I do have time for. And Bananarama.

Finding this on the way to work was a Good Thing. I love the idea of media that’s not tied to clicks and referrers, but is distributed by leaving it somewhere. Maybe there should be more of this sort of thing. (Maybe I should be doing this sort of thing?). Media like messages in bottles.

Final Day on the Ridgeway

I’ve walked three complete trails this year: North Downs, Limestone and Ridgeway. In each of these cases, the ending of the trail has been a strange experience. Given all the work that goes into promoting and maintaining these routes, I’m surprised more thought doesn’t go into the ends.

Walking the Ridgeway against the grain, from Aylesbury to Avebury, meant a more exciting destination, but a less impressive final stage. Much of day five was open countryside and tame scenery – but it was good to spend a night in Avebury, a short distance from the stone circle.

The final day began with a boring stretch of roadway. The weather was cloudy which was a relief after four days of harsh sun.

As usual there were strange sights along the way. The sign on the tree shown below read “Christmas is the warm, happy ending to our family’s story each year”

The endings of these hikes often feel odd. You’ve achieved something, but often the only marker of the trail’s end is a signpost pointing in only one direction

Avebury is a fascinating place to visit, with some incredible ancient sites. As it was mid-Summer, the hill up to Kennet Long-Barrow was covered in golden corn. I somehow missed this the last time I came to Avebury, so it was good to explore.

I think it’s a shame we’re no longer allowed to climb Silbury Hill. Who are we saving it for?

As it was just after the solstice, Avebury had been visited by people on the way back from Stonehenge. The Red Lion pub, inside the stone circle, was surrounded by fences. Security guards kept watch. I learned these were not designed to keep hippies out, but to keep everyone safe from stumbling into the road.

Avebury is a great place to explore. Putting your head against these stones, you can feel the energy thrumming through them.

In the local Avebury shop there is a binder with pictures of the year’s crop circles.

After a couple of hours exploring, we took buses and trains to make our way back to Brighton, just in time to set off on my next hike with Katharine and Romi. The Ridgeway was a fun trail to explore. The route followed did have the feeling of one followed in ancient times.

Hiking in the Brexit Summer

I’ve walked hundreds of miles on British trails this year; and I keep on thinking about Brexit.

I’ve spoken about the connections between walking and politics in my recent post on Teresa May. While my walks had no explicit connection with politics, I often thought about the coming changes.

Last year, walking the South Downs Way, it was a few months after the referendum. I was sure that nobody would be stupid to trigger article 50 without a plan, and any sort of plan was obviously some way off. It was still not clear what the simplistic question in the referendum actually meant – beyond ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

Then, in March this year, Article 50 was enacted and Britain is set to leave the EU. Months have passed and we’re no nearer knowing what that means, despite having a hard deadline of March 2019. Whatever happens, it looks like the country has a tough time ahead.

This Summer has had a feeling of pre-emptive nostalgia. As if right now might be as good as it gets for Britain in my lifetime. The banks are preparing to fly from the financial towers of London to Frankfurt and Dublin and Paris. Numbers of foreign workers are falling, despite the importance of imported labour for various part of the economy, like the fruit farms we strolled last weekend. After six months, little progress has been made on the negotiations. Project Fear was the wrong way to argue against Brexit, but I suspect it was closer to the truth than the sunlit uplands we were promised. Sovereignty is all very well, but it doesn’t help people pay their mortgages.

I’m a patriot about Britain. Just like Daniel Hannan and Teresa May, I love walking in the English countryside. I’m not proud of being British – it is just a coincidence, nothing to do with me. But I do like it – and hiking in Britain would be much more difficult in the future if I was European but not British.

My hiking has taken me through areas that voted both leave and remain. Everyone is friendly, but there is a tension growing. People who still want to remain in the EU have been called traitors by the mainstream press. Meanwhile, I’m about to lose a lot of rights I was born with. I am about to be dragged into a country I don’t really know. (I saw a ‘remainer’ told that, if they liked Europe so much, they should go and live there; they already do).

There is no real opposition to Brexit at the moment. Apart from tarnished Tony Blair, nobody has put forward a serious rallying cry for stopping Brexit, despite the numbers who are angry and confused by it. Simon Indelicate writes about the rift in his essay Which People Have Spoken? – “It will never, ever, be OK. Something has broken between us.” If Brexit does not go very well, there will always be a simmering resentment.

Walking the Pennine Way, I stayed at a peaceful B&B. Over breakfast, the conversation turned to Brexit. I had been avoiding the subject, as I didn’t want the confrontation. Why spoil the holiday? But the host bought it up, she told us how eastern Europeans were laughing at us, explaining how people from one nation spent their welfare money on drink at the weekends, and on Monday demanded nappies from the state. My companion had voted leave, but was also strongly in favour of EU immigration. He had often employed such nationals, seeing them as hard workers, and his business relied on them.

I stayed polite as I objected, but I know that these conversations will become more difficult, less patient. I’m not sure how easy it will be to tolerate each other if things go wrong. If Brexit is a success, we can all laugh at how foolish the remoaners and the traitors were. If it doesn’t work out, then there is nothing to make up for the things being stolen from the people who voted to remain.

I walked another part of the Pennine Way during the run-up to the May election. There seemed little sign of that in the countryside – unlike the referendum, where farmers would put out signs in their fields. Maybe we saw few traces of the election because we were walking through safe seats (although, it turns out, not as safe as first thought). Or maybe it was because the election was irrelevant. The referendum overrules representational democracy, and parliament has become subservient to it; a narrow victory in a non-binding vote is now being taken for a permanent mandate. The return of sovereignty seems to involve Parliament being removed from the constitutional process.

It will never, ever, be OK.” Last weekend, on the North Downs Way, we followed part of Watling Street, the subject of John Higgs’ recent book. We found ourselves at one end of the road while, coincidentally, Mr. Higgs was at the other end in Anglesey. John wrote his book in the summer just after the referendum, when the questions of nationality were first stirred up. John looks at the different ways of being British, and his vision is a wide, inclusive one – nationality, he says, “only exists at a distance”.

In the book, John refers to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s theory of the noosphere, the world of human thought. This is the highest in a hierarchy of spheres, from the geosphere of rock and ocean, through the biosphere, the world of living things. They interact, but change at different speeds. In some places, the noosphere has altered the geosphere, like the Uffington horse or the stones at Avebury.

Hiking has given me a feel for the British geosphere that I never had before. Much of that will remain unchanged by what’s coming. The geosphere, the rock and damp that created the first ideas of Britishness, that will ensure. But the noosphere is in a mess, a tangle of broken ideas. It may never be OK again in my lifetime.

I find myself wondering if it is time to leave the UK. I want to stay, because this was my home; but it’s feeling less and less like home. The metric weights and European nature that were part of my Britain are being removed. I want to stay, but I feel unwelcome.

Between my two most recent hikes I went to Dublin on business. The city is booming and preparing for more growth after Brexit. From what I read, so are Frankfurt and Paris. There will be jobs there for British people after Brexit. I don’t know if I want to stay in this country, rather I might be better to treat it as a holiday destination. A place to go hiking.

These are the sorts of thoughts I consider while hiking. I’m sure Daniel Hannan has equally profound thoughts on the English hills. While mine are all over the place, I have some very particular things to discuss in detail next month, as part of The Indelicate’s October Ritual event (which also features John Higgs). Beyond my personal feelings, there are some deep links between hiking and Brexit.

Networked Lucid Dreaming

One of the most moving pieces of art I’ve seen was a video by Emilia Telese. It was shown late at night in Brighton’s Lanes. Down one of the narrow twittens, a window was open to a room where the film was projected onto a wall. It showed the artist sleeping outside in the New Forest. Much of the emotion came from the story behind the piece; but also the vulnerability of someone sleeping out of doors.

I think there should be more art around sleeping – not just portrayals of sleeping, but involving actual sleep. Like this theatre show Lullaby, where the audience was supposed to fall asleep. Sleeping used to be a communal act, not a private one.

It’s something I’ve been wondering about with my Alexa experiments, thinking about skills that can be used in that near-sleep state to lull you towards dreams. But, although I’ll never have time to work on such a thing, there is one piece of sleep technology I would love to see.

Back at school, many years ago, I read a New Scientist article about lucid dreaming. It pointed out that, while the body is paralysed during sleep, some voluntary muscle control is retained and accessible to lucid dreamers. People in this state can use blinking to communicate with the world. As a Guardian article explains:

Some of the most interesting studies involve in-dream experiments, where participants are asked to complete pre-arranged actions in their lucid dreams while using eye movements to signal the beginning and end of their behavioural sequences

Since it is also possible for dreamers to receive sound cues from the outside world, we now have the technology to connect lucid dreamers to one another, to send messages between them.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of technology for a few years, but it turns out to be closer than I’d realised. People have built prototypes for controlling robotic arms from within dreams; or there are software projects to take transcriptions from dreams. This sort of thing has little practical use, but it could make produce some interesting art.

Update 20/3/21 – Someone has done a proof of concept for this method

The End of the North Downs Way

The final hike on the North Down’s Way was far more interesting than yesterday’s dull section. But, sadly, the trail’s end in Dover is a bit of fiasco.

I’ve been walking this route with Katharine and Romi since January, inspired by the section of it at the start of the Downs Link path. We continued in FebruaryApril and June before finishing this weekend. While weekend walks are easier to schedule than complete hikes, they are hard work. There is a lot of car shuffling and I miss being able to just walk from a B&B onto the trail.

At the start of the walk, it looked like it was going to another trudge through empty fields.

Soon we found ourself walking through some cornfields, which was much more exciting. The sky was cloudy, but the day was warm and dry.

I decided not to use the gate here. Romi claims that this means I didn’t complete the actual North Downs Way.

In this field a cow stood on the path. Katharine and I have had some bad experiences in cattle fields. These cows were quite calm, although passing through was tense.

Just like yesterday, one of the road names appeared to be a metafictional comment on the walk. Five miles to go!

Can you see where the signpost is in the scene below? It took us a while. I’m not sure how many people actual walk the North Downs Way. We met very few people, and some parts of the trail were hard to follow.

On the last few hundred yards, the North Downs Way takes in this scenic car park. Dover is a discordant note at the end of the trail – it’s not a pleasant place to visit.

The end of the trail is almost as bad as the Limestone Way, which concluded with just a one-armed signpost. He we reached the end point in Market Square to find no mention of the trail. We had to google the Rambling Man website to find out that the trail end had moved to the seafront.

We found it in the end, and ate salted caramel icecream on the seashore. Then we had coffee and drove home.

It took a couple of hours to drive home. Along the M25 I passed a section of the walk from February. I’ve enjoyed the project of walking this trail over the last nine months. The question is: what next?

A flat day on the North Downs Way

Every trail tells a story, a sort of narrative. This story depends on the weather, the company, the time of year. It depends on the people you encounter, some of whom share stories about their own journeys on the trail; or about the people ahead of you, who they’ve already met.

Walking the North Downs Way from Chilham to Shepherdwell is not a particularly interesting story.

All trails have sections that are marking time. Sometimes this is forced by roads, other times it’s unavoidable, the dull bits between great views. This section of the North Downs way was a flat and wearisome walk from Canterbury towards Dover.

We started walking the North Downs Way in January, doing a stage every month or two. This weekend is our fifth one on the path, where we will be completing the main part of the route.

The start was promising. The weather was good and the day warm. We passed through a churchyard with a 1300 year old yew tree, killed by falling trees during 1987’s Great Storm.

We passed through orchards full of fat apples where there may have been some scrumping (but not from me). According to Rambling Man, the fruit farm we crossed is the largest in the UK. I was moved to see a grave placed among the trees.

But this section of the walk suffered from missing signs. Even the guidebook didn’t help much, as we kept being sent in the wrong direction. One sign we did find was a road name one doesn’t want to when hiking.

Some of the fields might have been quite interesting to walk if they had crops. Instead we crossed empty flat landscapes, nothing beyond the fields but more flat countryside. Some of the maps were mostly white space.

The middle of our day’s walk took us through Canterbury, where the signs dried up completely. It did allow me a chance to look through some bookshops, but I couldn’t see anything worth carrying for ten miles.

It felt a little strange to have our hike take us through the Saturday afternoon shopping crowds.

We passed through an area or cornfields, pheasants and keep-out signs.

The rest of the day we hardly saw anyone. This is one of the strangest things about the hikes, how few people take advantage of the routes.

Near the end, a pile of litter.

It was well Brexit.

John le Carré Bucket List 2: A Murder of Quality

Yesterday evening I was in Dublin airport, on the way back from a business trip. I had a few books to read (including Naomi Foyle‘s new novel) but I felt jittery and a little burned-out. I needed something light, so instead I settled down to read John le Carré’s second novel, A Murder of Quality.

Similar to the previous book, A Call for the Dead, this is a mystery – although this one has no connection to espionage. A woman in fear of her life contacts a newspaper. The editor calls in George Smiley, a colleague from the war who has now retired. Smiley learns that the woman has since been murdered and sets off to Carne school where he is drawn into the investigation. This recruitment of a retired spy reminded me a little of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The mystery itself isn’t particularly exciting; there’s the obvious suspect, the red herring and the culprit. On the way we get some satirical social comment. The school’s masters are grotesque snobs, unprepared for the changes coming in post-war Britain.

The rigorous social codes and how characters are classified as being the ‘right sort’ or not are terrifying. Arch comments are made about Smiley’s lack of a dinner jacket when invited to supper. One character is admired because “she did such clever things with the same dress”. Smiley doesn’t like this world, but is at home in it.

The most fascinating thing in the book are the descriptions of George Smiley; physically uncharismatic, he induces great love and faith in the people who know him. He is described by one character as “the most forgettable man she had ever met” with clothes “which were costly and unsuitable, for he was clay in the hands of his tailor, who robbed him”. Another character describes him as “Looks like a frog, dresses like a bookie, and has a brain I’d give my eyes for. Had a very nasty war. Very nasty indeed.”

We see how traumatised Smiley is by his experiences: “so many men learnt strength during the war, learnt terrible things, and put aside their knowledge with a shudder when it ended.” Despite being very good at his job, Smiley is repelled by this, having “the cunning of Satan and the conscience of a virgin”. He takes little pride in solving the mystery.

I wouldn’t have read this book were I not reading the complete Le Carré. Like 1971’s the Naive and Sentimental Lover, if suffers in comparison to the spy novels – although the tone and ambience are interesting in places. Next up, however, is the Spy Who Came in From the Cold.