East Wittering Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole

Months ago my wife started talking about going for a summer holiday. As we now have a two year old and a 5 month old the idea of packing the whole family up and flying somewhere didn’t really appeal, especially since we’d have to spend so much time tending to a baby that we wouldn’t be able to take advantage of being wherever we’d gone. So going somewhere within easy driving distance was definitely the plan. Claire did some research and we decided that we’d do a real family holiday with Claire’s parents, brother and his girlfriend and their 8 month old daughter. So it was going to be 6 adults and three small children in a house by the beach in East Wittering on the south coast of England for a week of sun and sand castles!
It was a really good idea, the only problem with it was that the weather hasn’t cooperated. We arrived Friday in gale force winds and rain, the next day was beautiful except for winds gusting up to 45mph which sandblasted us nicely. Then on Sunday nature in her infinite wisdom saw fit to dump an entire month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Yesterday (Monday) we woke up to the sound of rain drumming on the roof, which was pretty familiar to us by then, it was the sheet volume of it which amazed. It was is a giant hose was spraying a constant stream of ocean onto our house. Not knowing that the local area was experiencing serious flooding I decided to take my son to a big store in Chichester in order to buy him a raincoat and umbrella which we hadn’t anticipated him needing. Swimsuit yes, bucket yes, sun cream yes, rain gear no, so I set about to rectify the situation so my little guy could at least leave the house once in the week.
Once we were in the car a few minutes the impact that the rain was having on the local area started to become apparent and I began to think that perhaps I would be better off getting my son a floatation device rather than a rain slicker. The fire department was out in force, busy pumping water out of the local homes and businesses. One of the roads out of town was closed and the other was passable with some massive ponds to cross. Nevertheless I soldiered on, determined to bring home the bacon (literally, as bacon was on the shopping list). I had successfully navigated the enormous lake that the road had become and I had an immense sense of satisfaction from it.
Two things stopped me. One, the A27 was backed up 12 miles and getting the last mile to the store would have taken hours. Second, the snoring from the back seat notified me that my son was fast asleep and he was having an early nap. Quitter! Still, we weren’t getting there anyway because of the massive traffic problems, it took me 20 minutes just to get into a position to turn around. Anyway, unable to get to a big store we fell back on the small local ones which were remarkably well stocked considering the natural disaster taking place around us and we were able to get enough for me to make the concoction I’m about to tell. This was completely ad-libbed, I ‘ve never seen any recipe like this, it was all completely improvised. I wanted to make a rich, hearty dish to warm the insides that can serve a bunch of big eaters and came up with this, my Sausage and Chicken Curry Casserole:
7 chicken thighs
14 sausages (meaty ones like italian or solid pork sausages)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 carrots, sliced
1 head of brocolli, florets separated from the stem. Chop the stem in the same size pieces as the carrots
2 cups peas, thawed
900ml chicken stock (about 4 cups)
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce (or 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp sugar)
150ml low fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup corn meal (polenta)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp curry powder

Preheat the oven to 180c, 375f. First we want to get color on the meats, so grill or fry the sausages to brown them. Don’t worry about cooking them the whole way through, we want the color. Next heat oil in a frying pan to medium-hot and mix the flour, corn meal, and salt in a bowl. Coat the chicken thighs in the flour mixture and brown both sides in the frying pan. Again, don’t cook them through, just get the color on them. Make your chicken stock and let it cool to room temperature, then add the yogurt to it. If you add the yogurt to hot liquid it will probably split. Transfer some of the oil from the frying pan into another pan (don’t get all the burnt gritty bits through, they don’t taste good) on medium heat. Add the carrots and brocolli stem pieces and saute for 3-4 minutes. This is because the carrots and brocolli stems take much longer to cook, without this step they will be tough when the rest is done. Add the onion and saute another couple of minutes, add the garlic and saute another minute. Add the curry powder and one tablespoon of the flour mixture and fry a couple of minutes. The flour will thicken the sauce, and frying it will keep it from tasting uncooked. Frying the curry powder will help release its flavor and frying it will keep it from tasting powdery, especially in hard-water areas.
Next add your liquid mixture. If you didn’t add your yogurt to the cooled stock before then add the stock and take it off the heat, then add the yogurt a spoon at a time, then put it back on the heat. Add the sweet soy or soy and sugar, then taste. You want the sweetness of the sweet soy or sugar to balance out the sourness of the yogurt, with just enough salt to taste. You want it to be thickened a bit but not too much, don’t worry it will thicken more later. In a casserole dish (don’t ask me how big, this is cookware in a rented house, if you can fit it all in, then it’s just right 😉 put the chicken on the bottom, then the brocolli, then the sausage. Pour the liquid in, then put it in the oven uncovered. Make sure all the brocolli is submerged, don’t worry about the sausages. Bake for 20 minutes after the mixture starts to bubble. 5 minutes before the end put the peas on top. Once it is done let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving over rice.

This fed 6 but could stretch to 8 if you had some bread and/or salad on the side. Variation-wise you could add some ginger, or put in some fish, or try other vegetables, it’s very flexible.

Swine flu – It’s better than dying (I think)

Having swine flu is like being doped up, then locked in a sauna and beaten up by angry French-Canadian separatists armed with oars. It’s that fun. Somebody kept sticking knives in my lower back and twisting them, and this same vicious bastard also turned up the gravity to 6 timer Earth-normal so I couldn’t move and do anything about it. Not fair! Oh yes, let’s not forget that my throat was constricted so breathing was difficult, and my nose was running so much that what space there was left in my windpipe was being closed off by a torrent of mucus. Yummy!

The only positive is that it hasn’t lasted that long. 2 days of 104 degree fever, agonizing pain, and extreme discomfort has been followed by 2 days of much lower fever, dull aching, and major discomfort. Now my only complaint is being a bit weak and having a nasty cough, whoo-ho!

Some would say about an experience like that “I wouldn’t wish that on my own worst enemy”. Well why not, it’s perfect! Hideoous discomfort but extremely unlikely to be anything more than a really bad experience, it’s just what I’d like to see my worst enemy experiencing, except of course I don’t have any that I know of. Maybe if I had enemies I’d think differently. unfortunately far from my worst enemy getting it exactly the opposite – my 16 month old son Joshua’s got it as well, poor guy.

stuff-alanche? sheesh, learn to deal!

A friend of mine sent me a link to a UK guardian article which is basically a big whine about the complexity of life.

To me it sounds like he’s blaming a lack of purchasing self-control on society providing him with choices. In the 70s there were still plenty of books to buy and not read. Why should everyone give up such a wealth of opportunities simply because one journalist lacks discipline?

When I was growing up I used to go with my mother to the supermarket, where you have a billion varieties of everything. My mother taught me how to analyse and make a choice based on cost, quality, and purpose, and to avoid impulse buys. When there are 10 different cans of tomatoes what do you buy and why? The value is cheapest but tends to taste like soggy cardboard, but are the really expensive ones better than the mid-prices ones? If you spend a bit of time studying your options and keep in mind what you really need you’ll spend less, enjoy your purchases more, and not have stuff you won’t use. If you took a full-grown adult who had never been to a supermarket before and told them to go shopping they would probably feel a bit overloaded, similarly if you take someone who has never been online and let them loose it can be a bit overwhelming. The question is will they learn to focus on what they want and make their own choices or let the choices make them? Whether it’s the supermarket or the internet in the end how they deal is more about their personality.

In an age where there is so much choice you have to become more discerning about what you decide to buy or see. You have to become a data connoisseur and be willing to invest the time to make good choices. It’s a skill, not some innate ability.

Outsourcing – cutting costs and brainpower at the same time

Outsourcing is the process where a company takes jobs from locals and gives them to the citizens of an impoverished nation who know nothing about how or where you live in an effort to decrease costs. When dealing with one of these people you frequently get the telephonic equivalent of the blank stare after you try and explain something and they have not the faintest glimmer of a clue what you are talking about. Most of the time this is aggravating but occasionally can actually be funny.

A case in point is this latest episode with BT. BT is British Telecom, the UK equivalent of Ma Bell. BT have outsourced their call centers to India, and since nobody there has any idea how Britain works they have an extensive system to lead them through whatever comes up. When what you want isn’t on this system the results can be….. interesting.

A couple of years ago I changed my last name from Pendergrass to Dolph (to make a long story short I was born Greg Dolph and I wanted to stay that way). The legal mechanism for doing this is by Deed Poll, which is the same thing as a statutory declaration in the States. When I sent in a name change request and a copy of my deed poll I thought there we go, job done. Today I got my first BT bill since the change and it was sent to a Mr. D Poll. My wife, who has been wonderful in helping me get all these details changed, called them to explain that my new name was not Deed Poll, that was simply the legal document sent as proof of my name change. The guy on the phone looked at the letter, looked at the deed poll, and simply didn’t get it. After numerous more attempts to bring the ray of knowledge to this understanding-impoverished man she eventually gave up and just told him what to type in.

It just goes to show that you can cut costs but you end up spending more than you think simply to make up for these knowledge gaps.

I have no doubt that the next bill will have something equally bizzarre on it.

when you think you’ve seen everything…

I’ve been living in NYC and London, 2 of the world’s biggest tourist destinations, most of my life. As you can imagine I’ve seen some really weird things, and after you see so many weird things you kind of develop a weirdness baseline, or a sort of bell-curve where unless it’s out on the tails of the odd curve you don’t really pay that much attention to it. It’s not that your definition of weird changes, it’s that you learn how far weirdness can go and you become less interested in lower levels of weirdness. I still notice things that are weird but routine weird doesn’t really get on the radar. I know the living statue of a sphinx is there, and if someone asks later if I saw one I would say yes, but I’d never bring it up unless the subject of kicking living statues’ heads in came up as it’s something I’d like to try someday if I could do it without fear of prosecution. Somehow I don’t think that “I was just minding my own business when this nutcase in a tiger suit jumped at me claws-first! I felt my life was in mortal danger so naturally I had to feed him his own testicles before individually crushing each of his vertebra,” is going to work with the police.

Occasionally I see something that trips my weird threshold. Like the time I saw a Irish bagpiper and an African drummer try to jam together at the 42nd st. uptown 1 subway platform. I can only assume that both of them showed up to the same patch and rather than argue tried to get along. People stopped and watched out of sheer horror. More recently I saw an obviously disturbed man, about 6’5″ wearing pink tights, heavy make-up, and leather boots, which was weird but sad.

Today I saw something weird enough that I had to look. I was out for a walk to get some air and some lunch and I saw someone ahead wearing a cloak and deerstalker cap, ie dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Usually in Covent Garden when you see that it usually means that person is going to spin around and try to pawn a leaflet of some kind off on you, or try and hound you into donating to a charity. In other words it’s not weird, but annoying. The reality in this case was far different; as I walked by I realized to my astonishment that this was a Japanese woman wearing a traditional Kimono, toe socks and flip-flops, with the cloak and deerstalker cap over it all. To use the word mismatch barely even begins to convey the horribleness of this combo. It was impossible not to stare, and I was so surprised I even broke stride. What made her think this was an intelligent combination of clothing I cannot fathom. My only regret was I couldn’t get my camera phone to work in time.

I’m overjoyed to know that the world still has some amazing things in store. Can’t wait until tomorrow!