Carrot & Tomato Soup with Basil & Tarragon

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Carrot and Tomato Soup with Basil and Tarragon: Output
Carrot and Tomato Soup with Basil and Tarragon

This easy soup is one for the tomato lovers. I’ve used tinned chopped tomato, but be very picky with tinned tomato and don’t just buy the cheapest. The tomatoes I use (Napolina brand) are 70% tomato by weight, in tomato juice with added citric acid (preservative) and that’s the entire ingredient list. It could be replaced with an equivalent weight of blanched and skinned Roma tomatoes and a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, but I’m after low-effort here.

Use fresh tarragon if you can get it (to taste, maybe 2 or 3 tbsp of packed chopped leaf), and add it with the basil. The last time I bought fresh tarragon from Tesco what I got was not tarragon, I’m 100% certain of this, it didn’t look like tarragon and it didn’t have even slightly the right flavour!


Carrot and Tomato Soup with Basil and Tarragon: Input
  • 200g Brown Onion — peeled and diced
  • 25g Unsalted Butter
  • 400g Carrot — peeled, topped, and tailed
  • 10g (small knob) Ginger — skin scraped off and thinly sliced
  • 15g (4 cloves) Garlic — peeled and sliced
  • 1 (10g) Chicken Stock Cube
  • 1200g canned Chopped Tomatoes (in “Rich Tomato Juice”)
  • 3tsp (heaped) Dried Tarragon
  • 2tsp Black Pepper — fresh ground
  • 100ml dry White Wine
  • 25g fresh Basil — chopped


  1. In a large pot melt the butter and start frying the onion, with the dried tarragon, sliced ginger, and black pepper.
  2. Meanwhile peel/slice carrot as required and place in with softened onion (not browned!).
  3. Toss carrot with onion then pour in wine and let simmer away.
  4. Now add chopped tomato, stock cube melted in 500ml of hot water, and the sliced garlic.
  5. Put on very low heat and let simmer until the carrot is granny-cooked (30 minutes should do), then remove from heat and let cool.
  6. When cool enough that you could eat it without pain it’s time to emulsify!.
  7. First fine-chop the basil and stir through the soup, then blend to a smooth consistency in whatever sized batches fit your emulsifier.


Heat to desired temperature and eat, or package and fridge/freeze. I’d serve
this with some fresh chopped basil, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a
dollop of natural yoghurt.

Carrot and Tomato Soup with Basil and Tarragon: +Beer!

The serve to the right has all this except the basil, there’s a generous grinding of pepper on there though. The small serve (100g) of new potatoes adds a bit of extra fodder to this meal. They’re microwaved for 3 minutes, tossed in EVOO, pepper and a little salt and then browned under an overhead grill. The beer is Innis & Gunn — Oak Aged Beer. It’s taking a long time to find a decent variety of drinkable British beer and this is a new favourite — now if only the Poms sold decent beer by the case like we do in Australia!


A serving for me is around 300ml and this recipe makes 6 servings, but could probably make 8 if you prefer a less thick soup (add 1.2l of water instead of 500ml). Based on a serving being 1/6th of this recipe with a 2g drizzle of EVOO and a 20g dollop of natural yoghurt I’ve calculated this approximate nutritional information (thanks to gourmet, USDA and a few manual database entries). The essentials and highlights:

Thing Value
Energy 142 Calories
Carbs 20g
Protein 5g
Fat 6g
  Saturated 2g
Sodium 379mg
Dietry Fibre 4g
Calcium 153mg
Iron 2mg
Folate 35µg
Vitamin A 8598IU
Vitamin C 26mg

The potatoes and beer aren’t accounted for here. Around 70Cals for the spuds with 15g of carbs. Beer? That’s just getting daft.

Goth Keating

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I dream more often than I used to, or maybe it’s more that I’ve become better at remembering my dreams. The other night has to go down as the strangest for a long time, seriously strange.

My memory of the dream starts off with some flickering glimpses of some sort of legal proceeding involving Paul Keating and a woman who we know (I’m always intrigued how there often seems to be a taken-as-fact back-story in dreams, knowing things to be the case with no reason or experience of them) is his wife (though in reality this older blond woman certainly isn’t AFAIK, and is certainly unlike Anita, his ex). They’re sitting next to each other behind a simple desk and I think they’re being questioned. The woman is crying in some scenes. That’s about it for that thread.

The scene shifts in a patchwork manner, I think there might be a gap in my memory here but ultimately we come to our namesake. The viewpoint from one side of a busy room, a high-society soirée, women wearing colourful and extravagant gowns and men in three piece suits. The view focuses on the far side of the room and seems to zoom in on one figure — it’s Paul Keating wearing a single breasted suit. But there’s more, our Paul has full white face-paint on, heavy black eye-shadow and mascara, and blood-red lipstick. This is Goth Keating.

Some time passes, I’m not sure if this jumps or something happens — all I have is a sense of time passed.

We see Goth Keating exiting the venue hand on the shoulder of a young tan skinned woman of indeterminate origin. Unlike most of the women in the room she wears a very simple dress, though it has a glittering metallic sheen.

Now a sudden shift of scene.

It’s dark, Goth Keating is being chased by a large hairy man wearing a dirty polo top. We know this is because Paul’s been getting it on with his pursuer’s daughter, presumably the woman we saw earlier but this is not known as fact (no obvious family resemblance either). The scene is outdoors, green grass, low light (dusk I suspect) and some low stone walls reminiscent of the foundations of some ruined monastery.

Scene shift again.

We’re in a building. The architecture is known instinctively, we’re familiar with this building. It is octagonal (or thereabouts) with two, very high roofed, stories. It’s a giant lecture theatre (or something like a parliament of former times?), with a standing podium space in the centre and stadium seating on all sides. Lots of wood and wrought-iron. The second level of the building is a wide circular gallery providing entry to the top tier of seating, there are also small lecture rooms off the second level though I’m not sure how they fit into the physical space (they remind me of the little tutorial rooms between lecture theatres back in the Carslaw building at USyd). The outer wall of the second level features a huge barn door on each edge of the octagon. Why do I know all this about the building?

Immediately, in this new scene, we see Goth Keating running up the stairs to the second level, large hairy man not far behind. At this point things get skewed, there is an effect of the viewer (me) and Goth Keating merging. We’re seeing and experiencing from Goth Keating’s perspective now. We run around the upper level full circle, at some point the hairy man tears some piece of woodwork from a railing and throws it at us — it strikes us hard on the shoulder and we stumble. Next we round the bend of the hall and make for a barn door (is it open already? I don’t know) and leap through — to fall 20 feet to the ground and suffer a jarring impact, the knees and feet hurt considerably.

At a stumbling run we continue into the darkness and it’s at this point that I wake up, or the memory ends.

Analyse that one.

Win32 Tab Completion

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Here’s a little tip I picked up from a colleague. If you’re stuck in a Win32 world where the cmd.exe completion setting isn’t defaulted to enable tab completion (like on Windows 2000). Look here: CompletionChar.

To cut right to the important bit, run regedit and navigate to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftwareMicrosoftCommand Processor in here you’ll find CompletionChar and PathCompletionChar – change both their values to 0x09.

There are equivalent CURRENT_USERS entries too if you prefer not to do it system-wide.

This is probably only Win2k … I’m stuck in the ancient past here. 😉

Prompt Insanity

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

My $PS1 is a creature evolved over the years, it amazes me to consider how much accumulated time I must have spent on this simple little critter. For the last couple of years it’s been pretty stable as the simple “u@h:W$” with some occasional colour. I’ve been through phases of executing commands in my $PS1 to add further data (don’t, it fucks with $?) and I have a custom $PROMPT_COMMAND to issue a terminal control sequence to put similar info in titlebars (where I execute a $(date …) to add a timestamp, this doesn’t bother $? though).

Yesterday I noticed a recurring problem… I keep loosing a $? that I’m interested in. Often because I go to another terminal and do something else while something executes, then I return and do something silly like “automatic ls“. Does anyone else do “automatic ls” I wonder, it’s where you run ls for no particular reason — I tend to do it every time I switch to another terminal, also if I’m just looking at an existing terminal and thinking my fingers seem to have a “background ls” function. It’s like looking around the room I guess.

Anyway, back onto the point. This little problem prompted me to redo my prompt and along the way find a better way to do the terminal title:

    ps1xt='[33[1;35m]$?[33[0m]' # Last exit code, magenta
    ps1us='[33[1;32m]u[33[0m]' # Current username, green
    ps1mc='[33[1;36m]h[33[0m]' # Current hostname, cyan
    ps1wd='[33[0;32m]w[33[0m]' # Current working dir (w is full, W is basename), dark green
    export PS1="[33]0;<$?>u@h:w(t)07]<$ps1xt>$ps1us@$ps1mc:$ps1wd$"

So, no more $PROMPT_COMMAND as the control sequence is embedded in $PS1 now (everything within the first […] group). This gives an added bonus of being able to simply use $PS1 substitutions for all the info. The only real difference between this prompt and what I had before is the addition of the <$?> at the start, so now my exit codes will always been in the terminal backlog! (Until I do something else automatic like a ^L.) Also added the $? to the title bar, which works well since I can see the code when I’m in another window frame this way.

One possible annoyance is the extra length of the prompt, the last thing you want is a prompt taking up overt character width. Two possible reductions would be to” 1) remove the u part, how often are you not sure who you are? 2) Make w a W so the CWD part can’t get too long so easily. Given the colour differences you could also remove the punctuation I guess, save yourself 4 chars. You could also stick a n in before the final $ and make a two-line prompt I guess, I used to have one like that (a long time ago when I first discovered PS1 and put everything but the kitchen sink in there).

A lot of people will hate the colourfulness, I hate it myself sometimes. The main function is that I use different colours for the h on different machines so I can very quickly recognise which machine I’m looking at. The rest of the colour is just for the sake of being garish.

<0>yseth@odysseus:~$ls -e
ls: invalid option -- e
Try `ls --help' for more information.
<2>yseth@odysseus:~$ls -e

“:;”? OR Re: Re: Prompt Insanity

Really, one of these days I might do something about comments.

Sometimes I do get upset at my long and garish prompt and blast it with PS1=’>’.

I hit the good old ‘arg list too long’ fairly often, dealing with very large HTTP corpora. I’m rarely in a corpus directory though so this has yet to break my auto-ls habit.

As for other shells, I’m not diverse enough in my shell usage to consider the world outside of bash. I would have thought that .bashrc’s PS1 setting wouldn’t matter there.

Finally, I pretty soon realised that embedding my usual PROMPT_COMMAND into PS1 has some occasional issues – it isn’t “magically invisible” when you have a console login … so now I have made it conditional in a $TERM case…esac

For the “good” of the web:

    ps1xt='[33[1;35m]$?[33[0m]' # Last exit code, magenta
    ps1us='[33[1;32m]u[33[0m]' # Current username, green
    ps1mc='[33[1;36m]h[33[0m]' # Current hostname, cyan
    ps1wd='[33[0;32m]w[33[0m]' # Current working dir (w is full, W is basename), dark green
    case x$TERM in
    export PS1="$ps1pc$ps1xt:$ps1us@$ps1mc:$ps1wd$"

Wherever you go, “agents” are the same

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Real Estate Agents I mean.

The “Real Estate” industry is seriously full of turds. What we have is a group of people who’s job function is little better than commission-paid sales floor staff but who have inane delusions of grandeur, I’m sick of stupid yet condescending “agents”. Unfortunately many people in the industry are actually very well off, and I guess that’s all the grandeur you need in this day and age. Just try not to forget that it doesn’t matter who you are, tenant, landlord, buyer or seller, the industry is geared as best it can be to rip you off if you let your guard down.

As in Australia there are fairly standard tenancy agreements here in the UK, though not so standard that there’s a specific form you can expect. Thankfully the language in the contracts is kept in reasonable “plain English” too, no problem understanding it (the one I have is actually clearer than the one in Australia, it covers exceptions/rules with far less detail though). Back in April 2006 I signed a 12 month contract with a 4 month “break clause” for our place in Rickmansworth. What this means is that after 4 months I’m allowed to end the tenancy if I give two months notice — essentially it is a 6 month assured tenancy and very hard for either the tenant or landlord to exit unless exit is mutually acceptable. The following 6 months continue to be covered by the two month notice rule and, in fact, the wording of the contract is that this case continues indefinitely until either the tenant or the landlord gives notice.

Simple enough, strong lock-in periods are not nice and 2 months is a lot of notice but I can live with that.

So, here’s what a letting agency will (and did) try to do when the 12 months draws to a close. They’ll send you a new contract with a renewed assured tenancy period and do their best to communicate the point “you’d better enter a new contract or you’re turfed”. This seems rather ridiculous, seeing as the current protections of the contract continue indefinitely — the letting agent is pushing the assured tenancy period as “safety” (and push this bit or marketing to both parties as a positive, personally I think this lock-in is a negative for both parties, but less so for the landlord). Even more annoying is the fact that the lock-in was 2 months longer in the renewal than in the original contract.

Why bother with all this paperwork? Simple, it’s for the $$$. The money grubbing sales monkeys in the estate agency get dosh for this. I pay 55 quid for processing, which is stuff all — OK. The landlord pays 1000 quid!

Insane. What’s worse is that immediately the agency posts advertising that the place you’re in is available for let — even if you’ve applied for an extension and no 2 month period of notice is in place until the landlord rejects the extension. They’re really pushing the tenant to become uncomfortable and not question anything and just sign the contract ASAP with no consideration. Worse than that? Nearby agencies in the same chain start calling the landlord asking to be able to show the property and informing him that the current tenants (me!) have chosen to leave, a complete lie! A bunch of cats fighting over that morsel of commission.

Unfortunately the landlord isn’t too keen on contracts and isn’t keen on upsetting the agents — agents are scary. Fortunately he’s a good bloke and is more than willing to let the break clause in the contract cover the whole period. End result? The new contract is completely useless since it provides the same continuing protections that we already have. I still pay my 55 quid, the landlord still pays his 1000 quid and the dirty little agents get their commission. I get out of the uncomfortable situation of being very solidly tied to paying the rent for the property for 8 months, so I’m happy enough despite this not being an ideal outcome in my mind (I’d really prefer it if the agents didn’t get the landlord’s money).

I don’t particularly want to move but I consider my job in the UK to be volatile (at core it’s based around a R&D contract with another company) and in this case being locked into a 950 quid PCM tenancy for 8 months is too high a risk — 2 months is bad enough! We have considered moving, but I can’t see how it could fit in with current complexities in my schedule. Moving is hard, the current place is good, and the location is extremely convenient — the only issue is that quality and convenience come at a high price tag which has been difficult with Kat not working.

Down with the agents I say!

New Zealand Wasabi

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

NZ Wasabi powder
NZ Wasabi


Not long ago, while trawling the web for wasabi, I found New Zealand Wasabi, and with little delay I put in an order. It’s not fresh wasabi unfortunately (which could be a bit of a shipping problem from NZ to the UK! Wasabi might even be a weapon of terror.) The story is that anything other than real, fresh wasabi is just not right — alas I have not had the pleasure of real wasabi’s company and it doesn’t seem overly eager to meet me.

NZ Wasabi goes a long way to bringing you the real thing: “It only contains one ingredient — Wasabia Japonica rhizome.“. I imagine it’d be possible to have fresh wasabi delivered too, but you’d need to come to some sort of commercial arrangement. Our humble buying power only allows access to the snorting-grade powdered goods. Judging from information on their website they’ve put a lot of effort into perfecting the growing conditions; so much so they have patented their growing system. It sounds like a great business they’ve got running there, I hope their success continues.

We eagerly awaited the arrival of our wasabi package, the fateful day came upon us and we were the proud recipients of three small jars (12g) and three medium cannisters (50g) of real wasabi powder. One hiccup did occur, the smaller jars were a bit old and the wasabi powder had a rather disturbing “bruised avocado” colour when mixed with water, while the powder from the larger containers produced a more appetising bright green colour. All is well though, the NZ Wasabi people immediately dispatched replacements along with some bonus chocolate! Not just real wasabi, also real customer service.

Wasabi powder
Wasabi powder

The wasabi is quite a different creature to the tubed horseradish “wasabi” we’re used to. The colour is much the same, as is the nature of the nose-tingling hotness. The flavour is significantly different, the horseradish “wasabi” tastes much like horseradish — the real wasabi tastes like, well, like wasabi I guess. On the matter of “ouch” the fake wasabi initially seemed to have significantly more bite, but we’re discovering that the potential bite of the rehydrated wasabi powder seems to increase with the level-of and time-since rehydration. The wetter and longer-rehydrated the hotter it gets. (Within reason! I’m talking thick paste for 30 minutes, we’re not laying down bottles of watery wasabi to age.)

I recommend giving this real wasabi a go if you’re keen to explore such things, with the buying power of the GBP against the NZD it doesn’t seem too horrific — our 186g of wasabi cost us 18GBP. That’s OK, considering that a 43g tube of very wet wasabi horseradish paste from Tesco costs 89p. I can’t guess exactly how much wasabi powder is used to make a gram of paste, but I think the cost delta wouldn’t be all that terrible with hydration taken into account. Based on our usage so far this supply will last us a good while. However at this price it’d be difficult to consider the cost worthwhile in Australia, where the price would be the same.

BAA BAA Whisky

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

BAA BAA Whisky
BAA BAA Whisky

Who would have thought there was a positive to BAA airports? Today (Wednesday) I found a definite one. Expecting the worst for security-check time I appeared at Heathrow nice and early, only to walk through to the terror-free inner sanctum with barely a halt. Not sure what to do with more than an hour in a terminal I wandered duty-free outlets until I found Whiskies of the World. On the lookout for my favourite, Lavavulin 16yo, I soon attracted sales staff… it wasn’t long before I parted with 70 quid in exchange for two litres of the golden spirit, not the old favourite 16yo though. [“old favourite”, heh – I’ve only been interested in whisky for about a year, mostly thanks to the lyrical waxing of James and Matt.]

Considering that a bottle of good whisky at Tesco prices is 35 quid (Lagavulin 16yo) I think this turned out fairly well. Especially since what I actually got was a Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition (£41.99) and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask (£29.99). Before I left, Michael (sales guy) pointed out that if I went to their other outlet, at the other end of Terminal 1, I could taste the Laphroaig. So go there I did, and it was a great way to while away the next 45 minutes. The guy in charge there, Raj, was extremely helpful and informative. He and his off-sider (a 20yo law student who made me feel rather old) introduced me to a few whiskies, though I kept it to a conservative 4 tastings.

BAA departure terminal 1, Heathrow: the place to go whisky tasting! Who’da thunk it? They seriously must have had more than 50 whiskies available for sampling. I tried the same distiller’s edition labels of Cragganmore and Talisker – my preference order is:

  1. Laphroaig Quarter Cask
  2. Cragganmore Distillers Edition
  3. Talisker Distillers Edition
  4. Other one I forgot the name of :-/

An interesting point is that, in the normal labels, I rate Cragganmore and Talisker the other way around. The port oak the Cragganmore has been aged in seems to leap-frog it over the equivalent Talisker (Amoroso Sherry cask), it was divine! Ultimately the Laphroaig wins hands-down though. The Lagavulin I can’t rate yet since it wasn’t available for tasting. I’m hoping for an excellent double-whammy with it and the Laphroaig… I’ll find out when I get back into the UK! The tastings were educational, the flavour of each whisky had very similar features to the equivalent “regular” whisky I’m familiar with but extended/deepened by the extra cask time.

This whole duty-free game seems somewhat of a scam – you can buy duty-free on your way out and then pick up your goods on your way back in. If you travel regularly between the UK and EU this is certainly the way to buy your alcohol! What’s more, the guys from these shops aren’t aware of any restrictions on the volume. They know people who’ll take a trip across to Paris just so they can pick up a couple of cases of very expensive champagne at duty-free prices. There are restrictions when bringing alcohol in via air (10 litres of spirit, 80 litres of wine – including fortified; makes Australia seem positively shitty about the whole thing — however the numbers given to me at the airport don’t 100% match what’s on the Heathrow website). These restrictions don’t apply when you’re buying in Heathrow and then picking up on the way back.

On the topic of that which I first sought: they don’t actually supply Lagavulin 16yo. An interesting story there too, essentially they can’t sell it because Tesco does. Since nobody has the buying power and economies of scale to match Tesco it’s simply not worth selling a premium spirit that they’ve added to their line, even at duty-free prices. So the Whiskies of the World guys tell me.

For bonus entertainment, while I was there Jim Murray showed up … just passing through and he thought he’d sign a few copies of his latest bible for them. He even rearranged them so they were in front of all the other books on display. When he first showed up he told a sales guy he wanted to buy 20 copies of his book, the poor dude didn’t recognise him (I think he can probably be forgiven!) but Raj recognised him immediately and “got the joke” (they’d clearly met previously).

I was genuinely impressed by how friendly and knowledgeable the staff at Whiskies of the World were (especially knowing I wasn’t there to buy anything, I’d already done by buying). Of course, since my own knowledge of whisky is decidedly limited, I can only assume they knew what they were talking about 🙂