Ricki did Homework for all of us

Ok, so I’m back in the driving seat after a long break due to a mixture of family commitments, dodgy broadband and a business trip to London. You’d better strap yourself in though because this is a sad one.

I have waited a long eight years for the new Daft Punk album. There’s been a lot of hype in the run up to the release of Random Access Memories and I had mixed emotions when I slid the CD into the car stereo this morning.

I have loved them since I first heard Homework, stood in awe for a while then danced my socks off when I saw them live at the first Creamfields in Winchester back in 1998. They make me want to dance, even if I’m sitting down. But here’s the sad part – every time I hear them I remember Ricki who was the one who introduced me to the two French mad geniuses.

Ricki was the joker in our pack. There was a crowd of us, all weekend, fair weather friends who loved our dance music, loved our DJs and loved our house parties. Ricki was always the one making us laugh and his Rubber Dance was legendary –  a mickey take of Riverdance, he’d be motionless from the waist up with a deadpan expression but his legs would be going ten to the dozen underneath him, flailing wildly and seemingly made of rubber.

He arrived in my flat clutching his newly bought copy of Homework demanding that I listen. He’d obviously listened to it a few times by then and through each track I got a running commentary with regular ‘Eh, but wait for the next bit – it’s genius’ thrown in, his forefingers going in time to the high hat. I had to admit it was a fabulous album and I bought a copy for myself the next day.

Everywhere Ricki went Daft Punk followed. We all travelled down to Newcastle for the wedding of two of our friends. After the usual party we’d been promised the bar to play some vinyl but somehow the arrangements got mixed up and the vinyl had been left in Scotland. Cue Ricki’s dash to his car to get the only CD in the stereo – Daft Punk’s Homework. We listened and danced to that CD all night till we could take no more. Ricki listened to it all the way home.

So in my mind Daft Punk and Ricki go together like all the best things do – I have him to thank for adopting them early and wondering why others weren’t catching on. I couldn’t believe that people didn’t realise that Kanye West couldn’t take the credit for Stronger. Call me a Daft Punk snob if you like.

But here’s the rub. Ricki was a gardener with Dundee City Council and one Friday he went from work to a union meeting. He wanted to meet up with us in town so he headed straight there but the bouncer wouldn’t let him in with his steel toe-capped boots and told him to go home and change. He did but he never made it back out that night. On his way home two teenagers attacked him and one stabbed him in the back with a knife bought that afternoon with the intent of stabbing a random stranger. Apparently a stab wound in the back just feels like a punch so Ricki stumbled home, not realising the extent of his injuries. He made it as far as his close where he died before help could come. He was 27.

The two teenagers were arrested later that night, after bragging in the pub about what they’d done. They went down for it but they would have been younger than Ricki was when they got out.

Ricki’s funeral was standing room only. It was heartbreaking. A few weeks after I got photos developed and there in amongst the normal ones were a few of Ricki taken at a party in a field. He was in a boxing ring bouncy castle with outsized boxing gloves on. We couldn’t get him off that for ages – I had a go at squaring up to him but I couldn’t move for laughing. Although I didn’t know her well I printed up some for his mum and visited to say how much he’d been a part of our lives. She loved those photos – said it summed up his love of life and laughter.

It took me a while to listen to Daft Punk again – in fact I missed their whole second album. But Daft Punk’s music is infectious. When I listen to it I still remember that awful night when we heard the news but with each track I can hear Ricki saying in my ear ‘Eh, but wait for the next bit – it’s genius’ – and it always is.

Miss you Ricki – the music sounds better with you 🙂

Today I have learned:

  • music is the key to life
  • Ricki was right – Daft Punk are genius
  • blogging is like riding a bike – if you’re saddle sore get off for a while

Tonight’s track

 

Today’s recipe

Turkey with sage and lemon sauce

Serves 4

wpid-20130430_191647_LLS.jpgIngredients

4 thin turkey breast slices, cut into bite sized pieces

3 lemons, 1 peeled and sliced thinly, the rest juiced

plain flour for dusting

60g butter

3 tbsp olive oil

a handful of mushrooms, sliced

100mls white wine

5 fresh sage leaves, chopped

salt and pepper

Method: Put the flour in a freezer bag with the turkey and some seasoning and shake till coated. Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the oil. Flash fry the turkey, in batches if you need to, until browned, with the lemon slices and the mushrooms. Pour in the lemon juice and win, stirring constantly to make the sauce creamy. Add the sage and some more seasoning and serve with pasta.

Overcoming food fears

I love cooking but there are things I avoid. They all have something two things in common:

  • they’re fiddly
  • there’s a high probability (in my head) that it’ll be disastrous and my ‘good cook’ cover will be blown

This ‘to be avoided’ list includes intricate desserts/cakes that need a light touch, fresh custard,and by default home-made ice-cream, finicky pastry, home-made ravioli and home-made gnocchi. The last was the first and only time I’ve tried to make gnocchi but it went so horribly wrong that certain recipes just get a wide berth.

Let me set the scene. It was a dinner party for some friends in the house of my then-boyfriend’s parents who were away on holiday – a kind of up-market empty, if you will. I was still cutting my cooking teeth and on this night I had mainly meat-eaters and one extremely picky vegetarian to cater for. I can’t even remember what the rest of us ate that night but I was already fretting about the gnocchi before the guests arrived.

I had everything under control until the vegetarian and her hubby turned. He was brandishing, not a bottle of wine, but a bottle of tequila for the hosts. I got the starter out of the way before it was cracked open but once the genie had been released we realised the only thing we had to slam it with was beer.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the night – I only have fleeting memories engrained on the back of my retinas in hallucinogenic Technicolor. This included a pot of glutinous potato (the vegetarian got crisps for dinner), someone surfing on the ironing board in the kitchen, one of the guests being walked round the back garden where he later fell asleep and was found the next morning with his head resting in the flower bed, oh and the stain on the lovely green carpet of my boyfriend’s parent’s bedroom carpet where I barfed whatever I’d managed to eat before the tequila/beer slammers took hold. We had to find an emergency carpet cleaner the next day because they were due back that night.

Now I reckon the tequila had a lot to do with my failure that night but I have a dread of my cooking going so badly wrong that people have to either go hungry or phone a takeaway. So, it was with trepidation that I attempted Gok Wan’s Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers last night.

I prepared well, left myself plenty of time in case we had to phone the Chinese takeaway down the road and I put on Craig Charles Funk and Soul show on the iPlayer to sooth my frayed nerves. And guess what – they only bloody worked! I wasn’t out my face on tequila or anything else, which helped.

From that I learned:

  • Gok Wan is a cookery genius
  • when it comes to cooking there’s nothing to fear except fear itself – and tequila

Tonight’s track

Tonight’s recipe

Magic Chicken and Leek Pot Stickers

wpid-20130505_184545_LLS.jpg

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main

Stolen unashamedly from Gok Cooks Chinese. I get my Chinese provisions from SeeWoo in Glasgow who I can’t recommend highly enough. If I’m ever stuck or confused the staff are really friendly and help me out. Go for a look at the live seafood and the fabulous cakes. You’re guaranteed to come out with a shopping bag full of goodies.

Ingredients

200g minced chicken

half a leek, finely chopped

2 spring onion, finely chopped

1 tsp Lazy Ginger

2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

salt and pepper

cornflour for dusting

1 egg yolk, whisked slightly

white wanton wrappers

1 tbsp groundnut oil

For the dipping sauce

2 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp chives, chopped

150 mls water

I added the juice of a lime

Method: Put all the ingredients up to and including the salt and pepper, into a bowl and mix together well with your hands.

Dust your work surface with cornflour and put out some wrappers. Put just over a teaspoon of chicken mixture into the middle of each one. Brush the edges with egg yolk then pick one up and fold over, squeezing out any air and sealing round the edges. Repeat till the chicken is used up. I got 21 out of it.

wpid-20130505_180648_LLS.jpg

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan with deep sides to medium/hot. Put the dumplings in the pan for 30 seconds to a minute until the one side is crispy and golden. Add about 200mls of water and cover for 5-8 minutes, topping up the water if the pan dries out. Transfer to a hot plate if you have to cook them in batches.

I served them as a main on a bed of salad with the dipping sauce drizzled over the top. Nom 🙂

Celebrating followers

Tonight’s another quick post because we’re going to watch Seven Psychopaths on DVD.

Today I reached my 1000th follower on Twitter and although the number of followers should never be taken as a measure of anything, it seemed like some kind of landmark worth celebrating. So I’ve sent them a copy of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember via Amazon. If they haven’t already read it I hope they enjoy as much as I did.

Today I have learned:

  • I really like a well-chilled Sauvignon blanc
  • Tosca florentines from Alexander Taylor in Strathaven are my new favourite cake

Tonight’s track

The video doesn’t do much for feminism but the track is the shizz.

Today’s recipe

Creamy tagliatelle with ham and mushrooms

wpid-20130504_185052_LLS.jpg

I’ve done an egg-free carbonara recipe before but this is slightly different.

Serves 4

Ingredients

oil for frying

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

6 large mushrooms, sliced

4-5 thick slices of cooked ham, chopped

some thyme leaves

freshly ground black pepper

a good slug of double cream

tagliatelle, cooked as per pack instructions

a couple of handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling

Method: Heat the oil and fry the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Add the ham, thyme, pepper, cream and cheese. Stir well and allow to bubble till the cheese is melted and everything is warmed through,

Serve on a bed of tagliatelle and sprinkled with the extra cheese.

Mapping out comms

I’m interrupting a particularly lovely glass Barbera d’Asti to bring you this so I’ll be quick.

I’ve been through a couple of lean management workouts at work and they are great but take ages if they’re done properly and people grudge the time away from doing the actual work.

On the last two channel shift projects I’ve worked on, a colleague from IT who sits on these groups with me does business process mapping. At a lean project this is usually done with Post Its on the wall but Margaret produces lovely flow diagrams and at a glance you can see the really complex bits, the double handling and the dead ends. Managers can also see the weak points in the process that can be tightened up and the areas for improvement.

From the US National Archives under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

From the US National Archives under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

Last week we had a comms meeting with one of our departments and the Roads Head of Service mentioned in passing that this year a priority for him will be for us to look at how we promote the roads investment programme. This has always been a tricky one for us. Reporting roads faults is one of the biggest hits on our website and one of the biggest volume of calls for the call centre. This makes it seem like our roads are really bad but I can assure you they’re actually very good in comparison to some other council areas. We have a lot of remote rural roads as well as urban roads and we are spending a lot of money improving them. The trouble is that regular features and press releases about either particular roads or the whole programme wind people up because all they are interested in is their own road or the pothole they drive round on the way to work. We’re good at telling people about the road closing but not so good about telling them when it’s open again and if it was opened on time and on budget.

Anyway, I had a flash of inspiration about a slightly different use for Margaret’s process maps. We’re going to sit down and work out the process on paper from when a fault is reported, to the inspection, to the road being closed, the work being done and the road opened again. Just by looking at that process from a comms perspective we should be able to identify points where our team can step in, whether it’s with a tweet, a press release, a web item, whatever. I’m guessing here, but there may be scope for the roads officer to get on Twitter and upload a photo as the road is being opened. We may even decide to go old school with a leaflet through the doors of the houses and businesses affected by the closure.

I love doing this kind of thing because I’m basically nosey about other people’s business but it usually takes someone like me who knows nothing about the process to see it with a new pairs of eyes and question the things that are done that way just because they always have been.

So the proposal is done we just have to find time in our diaries. I actually quite fancy getting some training in business process mapping because I think it could be used a lot for comms plans.

Today I have learned:

  • lie-ins give me a sore head
  • going by the responses to my intranet survey it looks like I’ll be running an employee photography club soon – eep!

Tonight’s track

Tonight’s recipe

Chinese five-spice chicken salad

wpid-20130502_200218_LLS.jpg

Serves 2

This is the quickest dinner ever – 10 minutes max – but healthy and tasty.

Ingredients

3 tsp Lazy ginger

1 tsp Lazy Red Chilli

2 tsp five-spice powder

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 chicken fillets, cubed

half a tsp sugar

juice of a lime

a good dash of sweet chilli sauce

a bag of baby salad

a good sprinkling of sprouted seeds (I used pea, bean and lentil)

Method: Put all the ingredients except the chilli sauce, salad and seeds in a bowl and mix well.

Heat a wok and tip in the chicken. Stir fry for about 5 minutes till cooked. Add the salad and stir till the leaves begin to wilt. Add the chilli sauce and heat through. Serve in bowls with the seeds sprinkled over the top.

Finding the time to read

This is a brief post because I bought a couple of books from Amazon which arrived yesterday. I started it on the bus this morning and I’m hooked so I want to get back to reading it if that’s OK with you.

It’s Super Freakonomics: Global cooling, patriotic prostitutes and why suicide bombers should buy life insurance by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner and it’s fuelling my need to know more about behavioural economics. I think if I had the money I’d track down another Masters course but I don’t have the money or the time.

The title of the book was enough for me to buy it and even the introduction is intriguing. If you’d had too much to drink at a party and your only options were to drive home or walk home which would you do? We’d all walk, right? Well, weighing up all the stats you’re less likely to cause injury to yourself or anyone else by driving drunk than walking drunk. So really we should get a taxi. Again it’s another of those books that has been written in an engaging and funny style but is based on academic research.

From the State Library of New South Wales collection under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

From the State Library of New South Wales collection under Creative Commons Licence via Flickr

So that’s about it for tonight so I can get back to reading about the fact that in the early 1900s in America, 1 in every 50 women aged between 15 and 44 was a prostitute and some made the equivalent of $76,000 each year – I can’t go to bed with that chapter unfinished!

Today I have learned:

  • business process mapping is becoming a necessary tool for my comms job
  • I should maybe do some process mapping training so I can do it myself

Today’s track

Today’s recipe

Chicken and pear tagine

wpid-20130429_185855_LLS.jpg

Ingredients

oil for frying and a slice of butter

2 onions, sliced

25g ginger chopped

2 cinnamon sticks

half a tsp turmeric

4 chicken fillets, cubed

a large slice of butter

3-4 tbsp runny homey

3 pears, peeled, cored and quartered

salt and pepper

1-2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Method:

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onions and ginger and fry till soft. Ad the cinnamon and turmeric. Put in the chicken and coat it well with the onions and spiced oil. Pour in 600mls water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile melt the butter in a frying pan and stir in the honey. Add the pears and coat with the butter. Cook gently till they start to caramelise. Add the pears to the chicken pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Serve with couscous and the sesame seeds scattered over the top.