Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oh, the Guilt.

One of those write-off days as far as work is concerned, so I'm just completely giving up now. I could, of course, be dutifully consolidating my very confused view of parent offspring conflict and the battle of the sexes, in glorified graphed out optimality model / Evolutionarily Stable Strategy format, but you know. Literary stardom calls. Hnah.

There isn't much to write about in the usual attempt to wring something interesting out of my life, as revision is wobbling along rather fitfully between long bouts of procrastination and guilt (I do not so much take breaks from revising as study between my main occupation of breaks) so randomness follows.

I was sitting in Caffe Nero today, pretending to work; two distinguished looking old men at another table chatting over coffee and muffins. Got to thinking, one rarely separates 'distinguished' and 'old man' here in Cambridge. They all look like they have headed entire departments and are chatting not about their pensions, but about the next Nobel Prize and which of their friends might win it. (This doesn't really apply to old women here so much, but that is a whole other morass which I won't jump into, I'm not entirely sure what brand of feminism I subscribe to, anyway -- so probably the confused brand.) It is something I suppose you find in any academic institution and because the whole of Cambridge essentially is an academic instution (take that, townies), it is perhaps more noticeable. I like it, quite a lot really. When I am 60 I want to be having coffee and croissants and discussing the new wave of thinking about fish behaviour. They never stop, these people, never seem to stop being excited; thinking about things isn't something that you stop doing at 65 when people decide to stop paying you to sit at a desk every day -- so much the better, therefore, if thinking about things is what you do for a living. This drives me a lot more than thoughts of retiring in wealth and going to the ballet every evening, really it does. Perhaps 5 years into my academic career, poor and tiring of the fish (no!), I will wish I had just gotten a real job like everyone else. But hopefully not.

Not particularly original thoughts, but I must do all I can to convince myself dull academia isn't dull after all!

By the way, anybody still out there? ;)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Cake blisters

Spent a few days in London doing very little work indeed. But 'twas fun, I re-read two Pratchett books in four days -- a sorely needed break from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which I am wading through oh so slowly, I really can't deal with more than four continuous pages about Hell and Stephen's rather annoying internal battles with his sin, his heinous sin, blahblahblah. And also spent over five continuous hours doing absolutely nothing but cooking.

I haven't the photos but we made my second sister a going away feast as she is moving to the Big Apple. It consisted of all the most labour intensive recipes we could find, by accident rather than any sort of masochistic urge. We made:
1. Lamb and turnip stew (an Indian one). This spent about 3 hours on the stove. :)
2. Okra stuffed with spiced finely chopped onions. These did turn out nice, but I'm really not convinced they're worth the effort. I spent literally hours sitting there stuffing these damn things and started having all sorts of thoughts about stuffing, viz. is somebody employed to stuff fishball mixture into all those stuffed okras and chillis we get for yong tau foo, and are there machines that stuff those rambutans you get with cubes of pineapple in them? (When I was very very little I once asked an unsuspecting family how they got rambutans to grow with pineapple cubes in them... what, it was a valid question okay.)
3. Lentils and spinach. A scant hour to make!
4. Kulfi (Indian ice cream). Made from first principles, meaning hours of the milk reducing on the stove. Seriously yummy stuff, and quite healthy -- no cream in Indian ice cream! With almonds and pistachios. And some melon balls. I didn't know there were such devices as 'melon ballers', but you learn something new everyday.
4. Choc'lit cake! Yummy, yummy choc'lit cake with only about 12 oz sugar and quarter of a kilo of butter and 200 g chocolate and we're only talking cake here, nevermind the chocolate butter ganache and the mounds of icing that went piled on top of it. I got shortlived cake blisters on my right hand from all the attempts to get a whole bowl of coarse sugar and butter 'light and fluffy', but it was all worth it! We put white royal icing around it and piped on little green dots and a good luck clover (which was hilariously wonky). It turned out to be huge, and my other sister is also off on holiday, so I had to bring the remains back to Cambridge. I have been feeding chunks of it to friends to prevent myself from eating it all.

I think I think about food too much. ;)

Oh yes, I've decided to stay on in Cambridge. This news is a little stale now but I think I did tell all the most important people immediately so I didn't bother to write about it. This dear little town has grown on me, but most importantly, I wanted to stay so that I could work on my beloved fish back home in Malaysia (my supervisor did his own PhD on the same system and has a lot of contacts). It's something I know I would love to do, and I thought why take a gamble on the unknown when I can have what I want now. Maybe it's playing it safe, but I'm happy with my decision ultimately -- there is a lot of personal peace in it.

Meanwhile it's back to the work. I am now trying to write an essay plan about why females often copulate with more than one male. Doing behavioural ecology does funny things to your view of the world. Did you know that in reed buntings which appear on the surface to be monogamous, 86% of a male's reproductive success comes from extra marital affairs? And that in dunnocks (a little brown bird), females do this wonderful balancing act where they shag two males just enough so that both males help to look after their chicks, but they make sure to shag the alpha male more so that the chicks are of better genetic quality -- the beta male often ends up helping to raise offspring which just aren't his. Ah, the joy of internal fertilization... (beats spewing eggs into the sea any day, surely). Ahem.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Illustrated culinary adventures

Some recent things that have come out of my very own little gyp room (kitchenette). It is not to be sniffed at and remarkably well equipped for being small enough that only one person can actually stand in it. And it has been helped by the likes of Gary Rhodes, my Mum, many years of eating, and the team that wrote something called the Food of China.

1. Salmon with a tomato and herb salad (and some potatoes thrown in for carb value)

2. Roast chicken with sauteed potatoes (and A LOT of salad thanks to K). I forgot to take a photo of the bird so here it is in the process of being mutilated by Daniel. So we aren't very good at carving...

3. Panfried pork fillet, with home made chips, lemon herb sauce and random green bits.

4. Roast pork with crackling, home made chips and spinach/tomato salad. Also made an apple sauce as well as the trusty Bisto gravy. No photo because I was too busy eating.

5. Hainan Ji Fan!! Okay so I've never seen Hainan Ji Fan served with a beautifully arranged ring of cucumber before but I was feeling decorative... not, of course, anything like Nam Heong but it's actually recognisably tasting of what it is supposed to taste like.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Oh, the beauty

Saw Kenneth Macmillan's Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House on Thursday. Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg. Forced myself out of bed at the unheard of time of 9am to queue briefly for day tickets -- got one in the stalls circle, so a sideways on view but close to the stage. Turned out to be a gorgeous place to sit, as Macmillan's ballets call for acting as well as perfect pirouettes, and from that close the acting is visible -- and what acting it was. Not that they are mutually exclusive: his steps are always an illustration of a personal emotion. Whether Lady Capulet's soul-shattering grief, clenched fists beating the ground over Tybalt; or Romeo's sheer joy (perhaps with a tinge of macho showing off?) at the beginning of the balcony scene, turns in attitude and exuberant tours jetes; or Juliet's stiffness as she dances with Paris after her lover has left with the morning sun.

It has been a while since a ballet has affected me so deeply, not since Cranko's Onegin several years ago, also with Alina. (Mayerling was for me a bit too much; syphilictic madness I can't relate to as much I can love..) Alina is so small she is totally believable as Juliet, but not just in the girlish first scenes -- she grows so much with the ballet, it is apparent already as she begs Romeo not to leave; as she sits for that interminable time on her bed gathering her courage to run to Friar Lawrence; and it is truly heartrending when she awakes to find Romeo dead, kisses his lifeless lips. Kobborg's Romeo was interesting, heroic but with a careless side, a dark side; his dancing was clean and perfect. The marketplace scenes had so much little detail for each corps dancer you never tired of picking out new vignettes happening in a corner of the stage. The sheer power of the balcony scene, lifted by Prokofiev's soaring music, confirmed it for me as my favourite piece of ballet ever. And in Act III as the tragedy wound its way to its conclusion, I thought that the power of ballet to tell a story and to move audiences surely must be at its pinnacle here. It was not Shakespeare made pretty and put en pointe; it was Shakespeare itself, dance proving a more than able replacement for words -- and perhaps more global.