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Why Are We Cool With Lenin?

30 Aug

The other day I met up with my friend and colleague Scott Handcock for lunch at the Cardiff branch of Cosy Club. For the uninitiated, Cosy Club is a vaguely hipsterish chain of restaurants describing themselves as “gents club meets village hall meets cricket club”. If the food wasn’t so nice, it’s the kind of place that would make me break out in hives. Anyway… It was only as we were leaving that I noticed, fixed to the wall, a giant wooden bas relief of Lenin.

Highlighted here (in a pic taken from Cosy Club's website) by the blue arrow.

Highlighted here (in a pic taken from Cosy Club’s website) by the blue arrow.

And this got me thinking. Why are we OK with Lenin? After all, you wouldn’t expect to see images of, say, Hitler or Mussolini taking pride of place in a Harvester. It reminded me of the episode of Peep Show in which Sophie (Olivia Coleman) takes Mark (David Mitchell) shopping for clothes, and he sees a t-shirt emblazoned with the image of Mao Tse Tung. 

 

Now, while this is just a small, throwaway moment from a sitcom, like the great big Lenin profile in Cosy Club it points to the very weird inconsistency we have with despots. Media outlets in the UK and US were apoplectic at the news that a weird craze for all things Hitler-related was sweeping across Thailand, with the toothbrush-moustached mass murderer himself adorning t-shirts and posters, and that’s understandable. Hitler is not a pop culture icon. 

But neither is Lenin. 

In Koba the Dread, his book about Stalin, Martin Amis asks (and without a copy to hand, I’m paraphrasing) why we laugh so much more easily at Stalin et al than at Hitler, why we take the latter more seriously than the former. Of course, as is often the case with Amis, he’s not quite right. From Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator to both versions of The Producers, we’ve always laughed at Hitler, but at the same time we have still treated his crimes with greater seriousness than we have atrocities committed in the USSR – making the Holocaust a staple of the history syllabus, but leaving many students ignorant of Stalin’s purges or the Holodomor.

As Mark says in Peep Show, it’s not a competition, but while it’s true that the industrialised nature of the Holocaust – not to mention its incomprehensibly short time span – make it stand out against all horrors of the 20th Century, the sheer numbers when it comes to those killed by the Soviets are truly staggering, with even the most conservative estimates offering a death toll of 15 million for the Stalin era alone. 

When discussing the (most likely exaggerated) Thai “Hitler craze”, many people put it down to historical ignorance, rather than anything ideological (though, of course, the two may overlap), but if this is true of Thai culture, it is also true of ours. When Cosy Club bought that bas relief of Lenin, did the purchaser have any idea who he was? If they did, perhaps they thought, “Well… It’s only Lenin. I mean… Lenin didn’t do any harm, now did he? All the bad stuff came with Stalin.”

Which – excuse my language – is just bollocks.

Terror and mass murder were a part of communism from the very start, long before Stalin got his claws into it. In his excellent book Black Mass, the writer and philosopher John Gray reminds us that from their earliest speeches, Marx and Engels knew that terror would be an essential part of any revolution. Here they are in an 1850 speech to the London Communist League: 

Above all, during and after the struggle the workers… must oppose bourgeois attempts at pacification and force the democrats to carry out their terroristic phases… Far from opposing so-called excesses – instances of popular vengeance against hated individuals etc – the workers’ party must not only tolerate these actions but give them direction.

 

Nice guys.

Nice guys.

 

That culture of violence and violent retribution didn’t skip a couple of generations after the Russian Revolution; it was there from the start. Even if we’re to ignore the shooting of the Romanovs, the years 1917-1924 (Lenin’s tenure) saw more people interned and executed by the Soviet regime than were killed in the preceding century of Emperors. Lenin’s lovely, cuddly, second-in-command Trotsky, so beloved by artists and writers around the globe during his later exile, and mourned in many quarters as a martyr of the one true faith, played an integral role in establishing the Gulags in which over a million people died of torture, execution, starvation and disease.

Even if one was to argue that it’s a time thing, that no-one would complain about a picture of Napoleon or Genghis Khan, and that Lenin’s crimes are almost a century old while survivors of Hitler’s death camps are still with us, that still doesn’t wash, because the knock-on effects of the Soviet experiment are still being felt, nowhere more so than along the border of Russia and Ukraine. 

So my question remains… Why are we cool with Lenin?

 

References

  • Gulag: A history – Anne Applebaum
  • The Great Terror – Robert Conquest
  • Black Mass: Apocalyptic religion and the death of Utopia – John Gray
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Life Hack Kitchen: Ridiculously Easy Homemade Pizza

10 Jul

Pizza 0

Okay… So most of the time this blog is about books, films, music and bad television, but if there’s something in this world I love more than books, films, music and bad television it’s food.

I won’t pretend to be a kitchen whizz. When flicking through most cookery books I’ll skim past anything that requires me to go hunting for some obscure spice I’m unlikely to use more than once every quarter century, and if the preparation time exceeds 15 minutes and the cooking part involves more than 2 pans, I’m not interested.

"Add the rosemary to your particle accelerator..." Fuck off, Heston.

“And simply add the rosemary to your particle accelerator…”

Now, granted, the easiest way to have pizza in the comfort of your own home is to order one online and have it delivered, but that can cost you anywhere between about £7 and £15. You could always buy one in the supermarket, but a decent supermarket pizza will still come to around £4 or £5. This recipe is for those of you who are on a bit of a budget but still want some of that calorific, doughy, cheesy goodness. I’ve worked out that for two vegetarian versions of this pizza, you won’t need to spend much more than £2.50. For two. And you can make them, from start to finish, in less than 30 minutes.

Seriously… If I’d come up with this when I was in university I may well have been crowned King of the Students.

For this you will need:

  • 2 x Plain Naan Breads
  • ½  tube of tomato puree
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried basil and oregano
  • 1 x ball of mozzarella
  • Your choice of toppings – Olives, sliced peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, jalapenos etc
  • Grated cheddar

Here we go.

1) Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. (You can use steps 2-5 as your pre-heat time.) Before the oven has heated up, remove the shelf and place the naans on it, side by side.

Pizza 1

2) Squeeze the tomato puree into a bowl. Add a sprinkling of oregano and basil and a glug of extra virgin olive oil and mix well with a whisk. The aim is to turn this into your sauce, so add a little water (not too much) if necessary until you have the right consistency.

3) Spread the sauce on the naan breads using a dessert spoon, making sure to spread it evenly.

Pizza 2

4) Add your toppings. I’ve used sliced red peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos and sweetcorn, but feel free to improvise.

Pizza 3

5) Chop up the mozzarella ball into cubes or strips, and add these. A single ball won’t cover them both, so top this up with some grated cheddar to make sure your pizzas are covered.

Pizza 4

6) Place these in the oven for 15 minutes.

7) Take pizzas from the oven. Eat.

Pizza 5

My Jalapeno Hummus Recipe

26 Jan

In a break from normal programming, I thought I’d share a recipe with you. Don’t worry… This isn’t about to turn into a cookery blog. For one thing, I can only cook about 3 different dishes, and for another thing, this recipe doesn’t actually involve any cooking.

Neither does this recipe.

Neither does this recipe.

My partner and I were given one of those hand blender things for Christmas by my in-laws, and one of the first things I wanted to try my hand at was hummus (or houmous, or however the fuck you spell it.) I found one recipe online which said that the tahini (a weird, icky paste made from sesame seeds) was optional, and that all you really need is a tin of chickpeas, 2 cloves of garlic, some olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice and that’s it.

Bull. Shit.

Bullshit Cat

Try making hummus without tahini and you’ll end up with intensely garlic-flavoured cement, no matter how much lemon juice and salt you add in a desperate attempt to make it edible.

Pictured: Caterers in Bahrain attempt to make a bumper batch of hummus without tahini.

Pictured: Caterers in Bahrain attempt to make a bumper batch of hummus without tahini.

After much experimenting I’ve finally nailed hummus, and what’s more I’ve added jalapenos to give it a bit of a kick. So here’s my recipe for Ultimate Jalapeno Hummus. Seriously… You can make this in about 5 minutes. The only appliance you’ll need is a food processor of some sort. I used one like this:

Using the little fella on the far right.

Using the little fella on the far right.

Ingredients:

  • 1 x tin of chickpeas
  • 1/2 a big clove of garlic, or 1 small clove
  • lemon juice (bottled is fine)
  • 2 teaspoons of tahini
  • 1 x glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 x splash of water
  • 4 or 5 slices of jalapeno pepper
  • salt and pepper to season

Instructions:

  1. Crush or chop the garlic glove up into little pieces and add to the blender.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, put aside 7 or 8 for later, and add the rest to the blender.
  3. Add the lemon juice.
  4. Add the tahini.
  5. Add the olive oil (just a little glug)
  6. Add the water (don’t overdo it, just a splash – you can add more later if needed.)
  7. Add the jalapeno slices.
  8. Add the salt and pepper.
  9. Blitz the living fuck out of it until it’s the consistency of hummus.
  10. Serve with the unblitzed chickpeas and, if you like, a sprinkling of paprika (smoked paprika is particularly nice.)

And that’s literally it. Jalapeno Hummus. Great with celery or a great big fucking bag of crisps.

Not pictured: A great big fucking bag of crisps.

Not pictured: A great big fucking bag of crisps.