Wednesday, July 29, 2020

sriracha comin' atcha

Here's a follow-up to the chilli sauce post of a few years ago and this more specific sriracha taste comparison one from a year or so later. As an adjunct to my relentless bulk purchasing of noodles I usually order a couple of other products as well, sometimes basic essentials like kimchi, for which I have developed a bit of a habit, but sometimes more outlandish stuff like the grass jelly drink from 2014 which still haunts my nightmares. A while back I ordered a couple of bottles of sriracha of a couple of brands I hadn't tried before, and I note that I have not yet opined on their merits in this forum. Furthermore, as I was running low on my regular go-to sriracha (Flying Goose brand) I instructed my wife to keep an eye out for it when she went to Sainsbury's last weekend. She returned with two bottles with a red cap/nozzle instead of the normal green, which turns out to be the extra-hot variety, and so since I now had multiple untested srirachas (srirachae? srirachata?) I decided a comparison might be in order.

Left to right in the picture below are: my regular (and, as you can see, nearly empty) green-capped Flying Goose sriracha, the newly-purchased red-capped turbo nutter Flying Goose sriracha, and a larger bottle of Chef's Choice sriracha purchased from Wing Yip with a previous noodle order some time back. A blob from each bottle is presented on the chopping board in front of them.

What I conclude from my experience here with the Chef's Choice sriracha in particular, and also from its hitherto-unblogged predecessor, the excellently-named Healthy Boy brand, is that there are at least two schools of thought when it comes to things you might decide to label "sriracha" - one is the orthodox darkish red chilli sauce of the type represented by the Flying Goose and Cock brands, as well as various other branded versions, and the other is a lighter-coloured, generally slightly milder and sweeter product of the sort represented by the Chef's Choice and Healthy Boy brands which I would describe as more a sort of hotter version of the sweet chilli sauce widely sold in supermarkets. Nothing at all wrong with it, but I wouldn't describe it as "sriracha", exactly. 

Anyway, as you can see, the red-capped version of the Flying Goose brand (one of a bewildering variety of variants available) is slightly darker than the regular version, as befits something which presumably has a higher concentration of chillies in it. I'm pleased to report that while being appreciably hotter than the green-capped variety it is not absurdly, inedibly hot and is in fact very good, maybe even better than the regular variety (caveat: I am extremely fond of spicy food and have quite a high tolerance for Scoville units).

Moving on, here are a couple of slightly different bottles: this is the more Central/South American variety of chilli sauce, specifically a smoky variety made from chipotle chilles. I encountered the Asda version pictured on a camping trip and was quite impressed: it's not particularly hot, but it is very tasty and a thoroughly excellent accompaniment to a sausage sandwich, for instance. I don't shop in Asda very often - not through snobbery or anything, just geographical convenience - so when I was in Tesco a while back I picked up a bottle of Wahaca-branded sauce of a similar description. I was quite impressed with the restaurant food when I visited their Cardiff branch a couple of years ago, but I have to say this isn't as tangy as the Asda version, so I'd recommend that one instead. As you can see I've gone to the trouble of making a trip to Asda to stock up.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

headline of the day

Picture the scene: YOU, a hardworking professional helicopter pilot for hire, get the call to deliver a BOAT to a HOSPITAL, pronto. But WHY does a HOSPITAL need a BOAT, you think to yourself, but, as befits a consummate professional, you don't stop to actually ask piddling inconsequential questions like this - no, you leap into action, fire up the helicopter, attach a boat to it, presumably dangling below via some sort of rope, and set off as fast as you can (while observing all the rules of the air applicable to helicopters with boats dangling beneath them, naturally: you're a professional, albeit ruggedly unconventional and with a fine disregard for the pompous stuffed shirts at Helicopter Central) for the hospital. You're just crossing the car park heading for the rooftop helipad and the crack boat-untethering team that the hospital administrators have assembled there when disaster strikes: the rope frays and the boat plummets two hundred feet to the ground, pancaking some unfortunate bloke just gingerly returning to his car after a minor surgical procedure on some troublesome haemorrhoids. NOOOOOOOOOO, you wail to yourself in the cockpit, WHYYYYYY did I buy that cheap foreign rope instead of some stout reliable English rope? But it's too late, and you skulk morosely off back to base to cultivate a ferocious drinking habit and a vow never to fly again until disaster move cliché demands it. Tomorrow's newspaper headlines read as follows:

I'll let you into a little secret: the story above is a fabrication, devised specifically to lead the unsuspecting reader to the headline above, gleaned from the BBC News website earlier today. Needless to say this is a crash blossom, and it was in fact the man (who had been crushed by a boat) who was flown to hospital, not the boat itself. Also needless to say, or at least I would hope so, is that my intention here is to mock the careless headline-writing of the people who maintain the BBC website, rather than the plight of the man who had the argument with the boat. I wish him all the best for a speedy recovery, and hope that he SAILS through the experience without being, erm, KEELed.

Previous crash blossoms on this blog (the Language Log link above has lots more) can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and my all-time favourite one here

Monday, July 13, 2020

the last book I read

by Colm Tóibín.

Let's examine the options open to young Irish womenfolk in the early 1950s: grow up, meet a nice man in the village, squeeze out a platoon of kids (Catholics, don't forget), raise and care for them largely single-handed while your husband is either off tilling the soil or knocking back the Guinness down the pub, live to an exhausted and embittered old age, die. Or possibly, not meet a nice young man, live to a ripe and embittered spinsterish old age. If you don't fancy either of those, then your remaining options can be enumerated as follows: nun. 

To be honest, Eilis Lacey isn't the especially ambitious type and is reasonably sanguine about the whole nice young man/kids route through life. But when her older sister Rose - more outgoing, more socially confident and on the face of it more likely to be the one to flee in search of a brighter future life - makes use of some of her contacts to wangle Eilis a job and some accommodation in Brooklyn, Eilis doesn't feel able to refuse.

She starts to wish she had, though, on the trip across - a rough crossing from Liverpool which Eilis mostly spends confined to the cramped third-class cabin vomiting copiously and competing for access to the shared bathroom with the people in the next cabin along. But eventually that particular ordeal is over, and the land of opportunity is reached. 

Eilis moves into the house run by Mrs. Kehoe, a mostly kindly but spiky old bird who takes a dim view of nonsense, which encompasses everything from intemperate unladylike levity at mealtimes and failure to behave with the proper decorum to the more serious stuff involving relations with Men, particularly Unsuitable Men, i.e. those who might try to tempt the girls into inappropriate behaviour like smoking, drinking and noisily penetrative sexual intercourse. Precious little time for Eilis to get involved with any of that in the short term anyway as she's busy making herself indispensable at her job in Bartocci's department store during the days and attending to her own personal betterment at bookkeeping and accountancy classes in the evenings.

But you've got to let your hair down sometimes, and eventually Eilis agrees to go to a local dance with some of the other girls from Mrs. Kehoe's, and meets a nice young man called Tony. Tony seems nice, and a series of chaste and respectful dates ensues, although Tony does get a little bit frisky in the sea at Coney Island, as men tend to do. Eilis is invited to meet his family, a typically demonstratively hand-wavey and meatball-obsessed bunch of Italian-Americans, and all seems to be proceeding in the time-honoured manner until Eilis receives a bombshell from home: Rose has died unexpectedly of a hitherto-unsuspected heart defect. Eilis dithers a bit but then decides that she needs to go home to see her mother. Tony is sympathetic to Eilis' plight, but not so trusting of her promises to return that he doesn't seek to secure their relationship status by a) sleeping with her and b) arranging a quickie registry-office marriage before her ship sails. 

Her mother, while obviously genuinely devastated at the loss of her elder daughter and primary companion, isn't above a bit of emotional blackmail to get Eilis to prolong her stay in Ireland. Obviously Eilis has to keep herself amused while she's looking after Mum, and she does so by re-inserting herself into her old life, including going on what amount to a couple of double-dates with her friend Nancy, Nancy's fiancé George, and George's friend Jim Farrell. Jim seems like a nice lad and is obviously quite keen on Eilis, which presents Eilis with something of a dilemma: stay in Ireland with Jim or return to Brooklyn and Tony. Obviously option A carries a few problems, not least the fact that she and Tony are already married to each other. Eilis is not the ruthlessly decisive type, so basically she drifts around putting off making a decision until her two worlds start to bleed into one another and the decision is effectively made for her.

Here is the opposite end of the novelistic spectrum from the absurdly showy, ostentatiously complex stuff like House Of Leaves. This, by contrast, is deceptively simple, written exclusively from Eilis' fairly naïve and innocent perspective, and with the slightly darker stuff buried where you have to look quite carefully for it: Rose's motivations for sending Eilis off across the Atlantic, Bartocci's pioneering choice to allow black customers into their store, Eilis' more senior colleague Miss Fortini's slightly too intimate interest in helping Eilis try on bathing suits for her trip to Coney Island with Tony, Tony's own seizing on Eilis' vulnerability in the wake of Rose's death to get his end away.

Some or all of the above could have been avoided if Eilis had been a less infuriatingly passive character with barely any agency of her own. That, combined with the stultifyingly oppressive social mores of 1950s Ireland (and 1950s Irish-Americans in New York), makes this in some ways a slightly frustrating read, but of course that's a reflection of the prevailing reality of the period in which the book is set, rather than a criticism of the book itself or its author. I didn't, for what it's worth, think it was quite as good as Tóibín's The Blackwater Lightship (a book with a more contemporary setting). The other Tóibín on this list is The Heather Blazing

Brooklyn won the Costa Novel Award in 2009, as did a couple of recent featurees here (the Picture Palace review contains a full list), and was made into a film in 2015

Monday, July 06, 2020

celebrifry woodylikey of the day

Just looking through some photos from a couple of walks we've done in the last couple of weeks, and found this photo of a rather splendid old oak tree that we encountered by the side of the path between the car park at Llanfoist Crossing and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal at Llanfoist Wharf. I'd been up here before as part of our ascent of the Blorenge in late 2009, but not (I think) since. I daresay the tree hasn't changed much in the intervening ten-and-a-half years.

Anyway, I snapped a photo because from one angle you can clearly see something resembling a face; I say "clearly see" but of course what I mean is see something with a sufficient number of markers in the right places for the weird wiring of the human brain to go into a pareidolia frenzy and go FAAAAACE LOOOOK IT'S A FAAAAACE. 

But whose face? Well once you've got past the usual Green Man and Ent references you notice that the nose and the prominent chin point in slightly different directions. This and the general air of benign treely wisdom immediately made me think of broadcaster, author, actor, polymath and general National Treasure Stephen Fry. Obvious, isn't it?

I don't mean to be mean, but look at your mean

I recall a question being asked on some cricket forum or other, possibly this one: who is the worst best player in Test history? In other words, who has (considering batsmen as an example) scored the most runs at the lowest average? That turns out to be an almost impossible question to answer, but one answer given was Mike Atherton, who has the lowest batting average of any player with over 6000 runs. This seems a bit harsh on Atherton, a fine and combative batsman and a key player in the not-exactly-world-beating England teams of the 1990s, but it set me off on a train of thought which resulted in the tables below.

As with the tables here, here and here, a bit of preparatory mental calibration is probably required: for each of the entries in the batting table, no-one has made more runs at a lower average.

RT Ponting (AUS)1681337851.85
AN Cook (ENG)1611247245.35
GA Gooch (ENG)118890042.58
AJ Stewart (ENG)133846339.54
MA Atherton (ENG)115772837.69
N Hussain (ENG)96576437.18
CL Hooper (WI)102576236.46
MV Boucher (ICC/SA)147551530.30
DL Vettori (ICC/NZ)113453130.00
IA Healy (AUS)119435627.39
RW Marsh (AUS)96363326.51
SCJ Broad (ENG)138321118.66
SK Warne (AUS)145315417.32
HMRKB Herath (SL)93169914.64
CEL Ambrose (WI)98143912.40
M Muralitharan (ICC/SL)133126111.67
JM Anderson (ENG)15111859.63
CA Walsh (WI)1329367.54
GD McGrath (AUS)1246417.36
LR Gibbs (WI)794886.97
FH Edwards (WI)553946.56
DE Malcolm (ENG)402366.05
PT Collins (WI)322355.87
MS Panesar (ENG)502204.88
ST Gabriel (WI)452004.76
BS Chandrasekhar (INDIA)581674.07
N Pradeep (SL)281324.00
CS Martin (NZ)711232.36

This seems a bit harsh on Ricky Ponting in particular, but he just happens to be second on the overall list of highest Test run-scorers and to have an average that's a couple of runs per innings lower than that of the top man on the list, Sachin Tendulkar.

It is interesting to see that there are a few distinct zones on the list: once you get past Ponting and Cook you're into the English Batsmen Of The 1990s Zone featuring Gooch, Stewart, Atherton and Hussain and providing an insight into why England didn't win a lot during that era: not enough runs. Then there is a brief Wicketkeeper-Batsmen Zone featuring Boucher, Healy and Marsh, and then a Long-Serving And Distinguished Bowler Zone in reverse order of batting competence (Broad through Gibbs, say), and then a Proper Incompetents Zone at the end. Obviously there are probably people with a Test average of zero from one or two innings, but the rule of thumb I applied was to go down as far as Chris Martin, fine bowler but famously one of the worst batsmen in history, and then stop. As it happens he has the lowest average of anyone with over 100 Test runs, so that provided a nice sensible cut-off point anyway. Martin and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar are the most distinguished members of the select club of players who have more Test wickets than runs.

Here's the bowling table - this time the qualifying criterion is: no-one has taken more wickets at a higher average.

SK Warne (AUS)14570825.41
A Kumble (INDIA)13261929.65
Harbhajan Singh (INDIA)10341732.46
DL Vettori (ICC/NZ)11336234.36
Danish Kaneria (PAK)6126134.79
MM Ali (ENG)6018136.59
FH Edwards (WI)5516537.87
RJ Shastri (INDIA)8015140.96
CL Hooper (WI)10211449.42
Mohammad Sami (PAK)368552.74
SR Tendulkar (INDIA)2004654.17
MN Samuels (WI)714159.63
Rubel Hossain (BDESH)273676.77
IDK Salisbury (ENG)152076.95
Mohammad Sharif (BDESH)101479.00
KP Pietersen (ENG)1041088.60
S Chanderpaul (WI)164998.11
EAR de Silva (SL)108129.00
MA Atherton (ENG)1152151.00
CA Davis (WI)152165.00
NM Kulkarni (INDIA)32166.00
S Matsikenyeri (ZIM)82172.50
CS Nayudu (INDIA)112179.50
KLT Arthurton (WI)331183.00
RS Bopara (ENG)131290.00
Naeem Islam (BDESH)81303.00

Once again there are some distinct zones here, the Distinguished Spinners Zone at the top (Warne through Kaneria), the All-Rounders Zone (Ali, Shastri, Hooper), and then a mixture of specialist bowlers with short and unproductive careers and specialist batsmen who occasionally turned their arm over as light relief, say at the tail-end of a drawn game. Note that you don't see the long list of long-serving batsmen (Pietersen, Chanderpaul and Atherton apart) to match the bowlers in the other list; this is just a consequence of the way the game works. Even confirmed number 11 batsmen like McGrath and Walsh have to bat reasonably frequently; no-one has to bowl. For example, Alastair Cook's long and distinguished 161-Test career included a paltry three overs as a bowler, although to be fair he did take one wicket during those overs, which incidentally gives him an overall strike rate (i.e. balls per wicket) of 18.00, far superior to even the likes of Dale Steyn.

But I digress. Players who appear on both lists are Mike Atherton, Carl Hooper, Daniel Vettori, Shane Warne and Fidel Edwards. Note also that the top men from the overall batting and bowling lists (Tendulkar and Muralitharan) each appear on the opposite list here.