Issue 24
Volume 6 Number 3
August 2001

In This Issue

 •  Contents
 •  Cover Illustration
 •  Editorial
 •  Blessed are the Breadmakers
 •  The Pitter-Patter of Tiny Feet
 •  If Life Gives You Citroëns, Make Lemonade
 •  Many Happy Returns
 •  This Is Your Captain Speaking
 •  Lokta Plokta
 •  Lost
 •  Making Hay While the Sun Shines

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Blessed Are The Breadmakers

DESPITE the circles I move in, and despite thinking Plokta is more use than a chocolate teapot, I don't really like superfluous technology. Sorry about that, but I just want the job done simply and quickly. I realise this might mean resorting to technology, but if it involves reading a thirty page manual and making endless calls to a helpdesk to find out what the latest error message means, then there's a good chance the tech will end up being thrown out the nearest window. So I generally only buy tried and trusted devices which do stuff I don't have the time or expertise to do myself.

I can't make bread. Edible bread, along with non-soggy meringue and non-chewy cake, appears to be beyond my skills. But though I can't make it, I can buy it, and that's been fine until now. However, if I want fresh bread (and I do want fresh bread, as it is one of life's simple gastronomic pleasures, along with—though not generally at the same time as—Maya Gold chocolate, olives provencal and chargrilled peppers), that means getting to a supermarket. The attraction of getting my daily bread fresh and warm without having to visit the Hell That Is Sainsbury's has been steadily growing for some time, but it's never been quite strong enough to persuade me to invest in a breadmaker to further clutter my already overfull kitchen.

Until, that is, I found out about the transparent lid. You see, I am a graduate of the alchemy school of cooking. My kitchen technique owes more to Dr John Dee than to Delia Smith. In the privacy of my lab, I mean kitchen, I magically combine strange and interesting ingredients into unusual and delicious dishes (usually: if not, that's what delivery pizza is for). And I need to check the progress of my experiments, I mean dishes, regularly; not because I believe for a moment that I need to intervene, but just for the sheer pleasure of observing the transformation first hand. The idea of just putting a load of stuff into a box and having a loaf pop out the other end smacked of the Dark Arts to me. How would I unravel the secrets of the universe if I couldn't see the process of transformation for myself? But these days breadmakers come with a lid of curved clear plastic, so you can watch the breadmaking process every step of the way, as well as experiencing it with full surround-sound and smell-o-vision.

With my new transparent-topped breadmaker, I put all the ingredients in the big shiny container, plug everything in and press a couple of buttons (hurrah! controls simple enough that I don't have to read the instructions!), and a miracle occurs before my very eyes. Magically, and without me having to poke it, the mass of flour with icky oily bits running down it becomes a mass of glutinous goo, then a solid lump of dough, then an even bigger lump of dough, then a big hot lump of dough and then a beautiful fresh loaf of bread! Now that's what I call alchemy.

The only slight drawback I had to overcome was the need to follow recipes. Following recipes is not in the nature of the culinary alchemist. If it's written down, then someone has already done it. Where's the adventure, the discovery, the danger in that? But once I had got the hang of the general flour/yeast/sugar/salt/fat/wet stuff combination I could start to experiment. What if I use chilli oil instead of butter? How about sunflower seeds on top? Let's see what spelt flour tastes like? OK, there have been some less than successful loaves. The wheaty brick with a burnt apricot garnish was particularly unappetising. But one must expect accidents on the path to perfection. Every new loaf is a new possibility. Not to mention reducing the number of times I have to go shopping, and making the house smell fantastic.

Dave is amused at the fervour with which I have embraced my new toy. It's not like you, he says. You don't like technology. I say he doesn't have the soul of an alchemist. He just smiles and points out that in the time I spend watching the bread mix and prove and rise and cook I could have been down to Sainsbury's and back. Twice. So, I am not saving myself any time or effort. Bugger. That means it truly is superfluous. But I don't care

—Jaine Weddell

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Giulia Loses her Plokta Badge

The cabal went to Hay-on-Wye recently to attend Emmet and Jo's wedding (see back page).

I had a particularly good time because I was able to talk to Elise, who makes jewellery, and made the beautiful coronet that Jo wore. Elise offered to show me her technique so we sat side by side in the lounge on Saturday evening. Elise teaches by demonstrating, so she twisted wire and beads and explained what she did as I watched and listened intently.

Elise and Giulia

The usual fannish throng ebbed and flowed around us and I didn't pay them particular attention until I became aware that one little knot was not ebbing and flowing but had coagulated and coalesced. It was the usual fannish technophiles, including Jordin Kare, our own Dr Plokta and my Steve. What were they doing? They had two laptops which they were pushing ever closer to each other, all the while tapping keys and muttering arcanely. After a while I realised they weren't holding some kind of strange territorial battle or even playing very expensive tiddlywinks, but were trying to get the laptops to talk to each other through their IR ports so they could transmit digital photos. They failed in the end because Mac wouldn't speak unto Microsoft. (Jordin and Mary Kay are devoted to Macs, as Jordin's sister designed much of the look and feel of the original Macintosh. Jordin explained that she is sometimes known as ‘the mother of the trash can', which makes him the trash can's uncle.)

Elise and I sat there, data-sharing the old-fashioned, insufficiently-superfluous way. Maybe someday we'll be able to do it just by sticking our fingers in each others' ears or something but I bet it'll be less fun.

—Giulia De Cesare