Cognitive Dissonance: reminiscing about my first encounter with the D&D memes

I know it’s kinda hard to imagine now, especially for young whippersnappers, but there was a time when the concepts and memes of Dungeons and Dragons’ conceit of fantasy were not mainstream.

I remember my first exposure to Dungeons and Dragons. I was 9 or 10, in 4th grade I believe, when a substitute teacher brought DnD (the Italian translation of the Mentzer Basic box, the first to come to Italy) to school and made me and three other kids try the game (I told the story elsewhere). What I’m focusing here is how strange and bizarre some of the concepts of Dungeons and Dragons were to an Italian kid of the mid eighties.

Clerics do what?

First and foremost: Clerics. Not only the concept of the warrior mace wielding priest/healer sounded completely weird to me (I knew two or three priests and they were middle-aged mild guys always dressed in black, or in the case of our local priest in white Dominican robes, that told mass each Sunday), but the name, in Italian, of the class, made even less sense! You see, the Cleric in Italian is Chierico, an old term that just means “member of the clergy” and that nobody uses anymore. On the other hand, an “endearing” version of it, chierichetto (roughly, “little cleric”) is the Italian name for an altar boy! And moreover… I was an altar boy at that time, serving each sunday at mass. What the hell was this “Chierico” then?

It was something completely new.

A thief? And he’s on our side?

This was another big conceptual hurdle. One of the classes for the heroes was the Thief[1]. This made zero sense to me. Why would one not only admit to being a thief, but even call themselves one? Isn’t being a criminal bad? Why don’t the police (or the guards, or something like that) arrest them?

After proper explanation, I could see the role was really of the “expert in entering where one should not be” and disarming traps, and so on, so not a Thief at all. But at first, yeah, completely bizarre idea.

Bonus: Dual Wielding Rangers

This one isn’t from my first experience with DnD proper, but I can lump it with my other WTF moments. I never got in contact with Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in any way. It was never published in Italian, and what little came to Italy in English was relatively rare (one would need to be able to read well in English) and often misread and misinterpreted. But anyway, in those years I was playing the Italian edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st ed and a lot of the super-common memes from DnD I knew only later, and at a remove. The ADnD alignments, for example (lawful/good, chaotic/neutral, etc). And yes, the Ranger.


To me Ranger meant a forest, mountain and outdoors expert. A guide, a park guard, maybe even a scout, or an Alpine Troops soldier… none of these have anything to do with the ADnD Ranger concept (the striker, damage dealing expert with accompanying pet/familiar wild beast), let alone with the later infinite Drizzt[2] clones, dual wielding scimitars.

The conclusion

All this just to say… careful when assuming something is widely known, just because it is well known to you. It might just be a factor of your own circles and exposure.

[1] I don’t know if the Mentzer edition had the Rogue or the Thief in English, frankly, I’m no DnD scholar, but in Italian it was “Ladro” (thief) for sure. Rogue doesn’t even have a proper translation! (go back)

[2] Another unknown: not having read any of the Forgotten Realms books (or game boxes/books), I only discovered the emo darkelven marysue from people complaining online about him. (go back)

The Climb: Arconate 2013 Expedition

on the summit

This is an Actual Play report for the first Italian game of The Climb by Jason Morningstar (Bully Pulpit Games).

Throughout the article, notes and comments from Flavio Mortarino are indicated in [Blue and in brackets].

The Setup

At ArCONate 2013, a small con in Lombardy, near Milan, Mauro and Flavio were thinking about possibly running/playing The Climb, a new LARP by Jason Morningstar. They recruited the other members for the expedition, several of whom had zero larping experience (me included). [Challenge Accepted!]

For a while it wasn’t clear who would be available for the game, so I gave a read to the game materials too, to be able to act as a facilitator.
[In the end we actually had 3 facilitators: Mauro who was unsure about how the game needed to be played, me who was brought in by Mauro in order to help understanding the game and Renato who I brought in because I wasn’t sure if in the I could be part of the team.]

Mauro and Flavio had come prepared though: we found a room to play in, made some IMG_20131207_150727space and laid out three actual tents. We had a stereo to play the soundtrack on, tiny radios, torchlights (even one head mounted torchlight) and just for shows we also had a mountain backpack some wool caps and jackets.

When the room was ready, we did a brief intro, then selected roles; here is how they were distributed:

To enhance the feeling (and to avoid sweating like mad) we also opened the windows to lower the temperature a bit. The fact that we were playing in the afternoon and light became scarcer and scarcer during the game was a lucky coincidence that just added to the feeling.

IMG_20131207_180450

For the second part of the game, the summit, we decided to use a space upstairs in the courtyard. In retrospect I think that maybe we could have done in reverse. This way the people that were still playing in-character would have been in the cold.

  • Hayes – Expedition Leader (Francesco)
  • Lund – Expedition Physician (Mauro)
  • Dorsey – Himalayan Expert (Flavio)
  • Mercer – Internet Zillionaire (Patrizia)
  • Sweet – Meteorologist (Lapo)
  • Wójcik – Expert Mountain Guide (Renato)

First Act

Mercer chose Wójcik as tent mate, while Hayes chose Lund, leaving Sweet and Dorsey for the third tent.

The Team

The Team

We started the soundtrack as loud as we were allowed. The sound of wind engulfed the room. The tents were close to one another, but we had to shout pretty loud to be able to call each other from one tent to another. I was pretty amazed at how well such small details added to create the right atmosphere.

I (Wójcik) started talking with Mercer. So close to summit, she was obviously thinking that she should go all the way up. I was accommodating, but noncommittal: it wasn’t my decision after all.

The others in the other tents started talking… and soon enough we started calling each other to private, one-on-one chats, but also three people meetings. People continued moving from one tent to the other (always remembering to zip them close… a detail that made me smile in retrospect, but everybody was committed to the idea that outside it was hellishly cold).
[I actually had to ask to zip close the tent at least a couple of time.]

I (Renato) can only speak for what I experienced: I started pretty convinced that Mercer would insist on summiting, and that Dorsey was a selfish asshole who had left me for dead.
[Flavio speaking: As for me I started without knowing if my character was an asshole or not. I just decided that I would give the impression that I could be. So I created nicknames for everyone. Wojcik was “the Pole”, Mercer was “the Lady”(she was played by a woman), Sweet was “the Kid”, Lund was simply “the Doctor” and Hayes was “the Boss”.]

Hayes seemed a competent, no-nonsense leader that wasn’t ready to leave the fate of the expedition in the hands of Mercer or one of the less experienced climbers. Lund was clearly worried about Dorsey’s health. Sweet wasn’t positive that we could summit at all, and certainly didn’t want to risk his life going himself.
[Flavio speaking: I started in the tent with Sweet, and we actually just sniffed each other. I think that this was the moment I decided to play the character as someone that could be mistaken for an asshole, and I started saying things with some kind of arrogance. I helped that Sweet was talking about how much he was afraid.]

There were two turning points, from my personal POV.

First was how Mercer, throughout several conversations, accepted to not summit. Mercer had confessed that even with all her success, she saw it as all temporary, and petty in a way… she wanted to do something, something that would write her name in history. One of the highlights was me (Wojcik, the slightly disillusioned working mule of the mountains) telling her “When all is said and done, if we DO this, how do you think this expedition will be known to the world? The Mercer Expedition. And when they’ll do the Special on Discovery Channel who do you think they’ll call and interview? Me, the unremarkable Pole? Nah. You, the Internet Sensation, the Millionaire self-made-woman, THAT will be news. Even if we’ll be in the background as the guys that actually stepped on the summit of the mountain”.
[Flavio: right after the conversation with Sweet I was summoned to Lund’s tent. The good doctor was worried about my health. Since this discussion took place I started coughing loud every time I finished a sentence, because it would have been more funny to be ok but continuing to give the doubt that I was sick.]

And the second was the little private conversation I had as Wójcik, with Dorsey: I started pretty hostile (“You left me for dead ten years ago, why do you think we never worked together again?”), and both me and Flavio improvised a lot of backstory details about that previous Himalayan expedition all those years before (man, that Finn was a dick!). [Flavio: I decided on the fly that at least I wanted to believe to be right when Dorsey left Wojcik years ago. Whether I was a dick too or just someone who did a tough call is something that actually came out from Renato’s response to my half-assed explanation] In the end… we were both men of the mountains. We lived for the climb. We had nothing else. I was now about the age he was at that time… and really, would I do different, in good conscience, in such a situation? I had to admit, I could see how he could make such decision without particularly ill intentions. We closed shaking hands, with me saying “But this time, you take me to the summit. Deal?”. We had a deal. We just needed to convince Hayes to bring us to Camp IV. [Flavio speaking: so it seems I was not an asshole after all. ^__^ I was just some guy hardened by the mountain, that managed to find a new friend at 7000 meters. BLAH ^_^]

An opening in the Storm

After the second Chinese weather dispatch, we scrambled: the opening was coming. We had to decide.

The summit team was Hayes, Dorsey and Wójcik. We took the backpack, checked that the radio was working, took a flashlight (it was really dark by then)… and for a long, looong moment it seemed the opening was not really coming.

Just then, stillness.

We exited the room.

Emerging in the light of the main game room, removing the backpack and other props, was a startling change of pace, after so much dark and wind.

Second Act

The six coupons in the envelope were:

  • A narrow escape from danger—a fall, a crevasse, an avalanche, a mistake—due to teamwork. “If anybody summits, we all summit.”
  • Trapped at Camp IV. What’s the problem? Whoever survives the summit attempt will require a rescue by a two-person team from Camp III… one of whom will die. This happens after an attempt on the summit.
  • Two gift cards worth $2000 at Mountain Sports Incorporated, redeemable upon safe return. Each has “From Your Pal Mercer” written on it in blue ink.
  • A dexamethasone self-injector, in case the altitude becomes problematic. Dexamethasone is a powerful anti-inflammatory, but not completely safe. It’ll tear up your liver but mitigate High Altitude Cerebral Edema. If anybody starts acting crazy, give ‘em a jab fast.
  • A battered Russian titanium ice screw. It’s been lovingly cared for and is the sort of tool that might be counted on to stop a multiclimber fall and prevent a disaster
  • A letter, carefully shepherded in the folds of a pack pocket. Who is it from? What does it say? (The summit team will decide)

[So in the end a not so dramatic summit expedition. This is because just one of us(me) put a “negative” coupon into the envelope. /Flavio]

IMG_20131207_172153The summit team created the narrative of the summit expedition using the small radios. We enjoyed playing with the radios and being in characters only when we were talking through them.

We actually sat down at a table in the courtyard, in the cold and the fog but with illumination. Using paper and pen to help us we planned what we were going to act as a radio-drama of sorts.

We managed to alternate moments when we did not answer the radio to moments in which we faked a loss of signal. The very first communication from Camp III was Lund: “Everything OK?”.  Given how worried Lund/Mauro had acted all the game, that made us all laugh hard.

We created a timeline of events in order to ease the narration, even defining who had to be the talker on the radio.

We decided to thank Mercer for the gift cards on the way to Camp IV.

We then merged the russian ice screw and the narrow escape. We decided that on the way to Camp IV Dorsey was going to fall and that only the teamwork of Wojick and Hayes with the help of the Russian ice screw was going to result in resolving the problem.

We also decided that even with all the luck, Hayes hurt his legs, or maybe his back, helping Wojcik.

Hayes reported to Camp III that the summit expedition departed safely from Camp IV, but only after a bit he confessed that he had stayed at Camp IV because he was hurt and Dorsey took his place in the summit expedition.

At this point Hayes informed Lund that he had a letter to him and his wife in the jacket pocket. In case he didn’t managed to come back alive, the letter was for Lund to open. Francesco’s idea was that the letter was a mean to reconciliation between Lund and his wife.

At this point the summit expedition didn’t have the radio, and during the last steps of the summit attempt Wojcik showed symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema, it was up to Dorsey to save him giving him a shot of dexamethasone.

After reaching the summit Dorsey and Wojcik reached again Camp IV where it was clear that Hayes conditions have worsened.

IMG_20131207_174230

Hayes (Francesco) gleefully spreading partial information over the radio

Only at this point we called back to Camp III and report to them that the mission was a success. After a couple of minute we communicated again informing that Hayes couldn’t walk anymore and that we needed help from Camp III.

We started taking turns in calling for help on the radio: two people would have to come form Camp III. Hayes acting professional, but tired and hurt, Wojcik actually trying to leverage Mercer’s drive to a place in History (dick move, I know).

In the end, Lund and Sweet decided to come to the rescue. We had to choose on the fly which one of them was going to die. And we chose Sweet, the young and the least motivated of all the expedition. When Mauro and Lapo arrived, we welcomed them and I patted on Lapo’s shoulder: congratulations! You’re dead! Sorry!

Poor Sweet.  A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Poor Sweet.
A very 1800 photo, foreboding his fate.

Debriefing and impressions

After the end of the game we gathered ‘round a table, explained just what had exactly happened at Camp IV to the other three players, and shared details of what had happened in the various tents, what each character thought of the others, and so on.

First impression: whew, this was good! For me (Renato) it was the very first larp of any kind. The very subjective nature of this kind of game is interesting: in the end I never experienced some of those conversations that changed the game (just like nobody was there for the peace between Dorsey and Wojcik). This is intriguing (and makes the debriefing doubly important).

Second impression: man, this was an incredibly sensible expedition! I want to play again, and this time I’ll be a completely unreasonable asshole. [I’m going to convince Ing. Veluttini to play in a more realistic setup.]

Interesting bits: the people that stayed at Camp III during the Second Act told us that not only they stayed in character, chatting about what could be happening to the other three, and so on, but that time literally fled by. This was the one thing me and Flavio were a bit concerned about (they don’t technically have anything to do for 40 minutes), but when we told them how much time had passed (nobody used a watch during the game) they were AMAZED, thinking it must have been 20 minutes, tops.

The Second Act is very fun for the Expedition Team! Switching gears, workshopping a coherent narrative, with time still running (people at Camp III are waiting for news!), and then inventing and acting the radio communications… very fun. Francesco especially had a LOT of fun doing this. Oh, sidenote: small/cheap radios were PERFECT for this. Audio quality was bad enough that we often had to repeat, and people misheard (like Mauro’s favorite moment: we said “We need help!” and they heard “Somebody’s dead!”… it makes more sense in Italian, trust me).

Props: they helped a lot, IMO. Especially the tents. I can easily see how actually playing it outside, in the cold and with heavier clothes would enhance the feeling even more. The soundtrack was EXCELLENT: a couple of times I genuinely reacted to the sudden very loud gusts of wind with a “Holy shit, this weather is a nightmare”. Big thumb up for Flavio and Mauro for bringing the tents and the rest of the props.[Thanks dude. ^_^/Flavio]

The strange case of the missing Index Card

index-cardsI have told this story before, but it’s a fun bit of unexpected cultural difference.

Index cards. They are ubiquitous in the English speaking world. Especially in the US, I think. They are used to study (there is a whole method of study based on flashcards!), they are used to jot down ideas, to organize them, to… well, to play story games, for example (writing sad things on index cards, anyone?). And they are so handy! The standard size is “just right” to store a short concept, it has a space for a title, they come in several colors and the paper is rather thick and holds a fold very well…

Here is the shocking reveal: Index Cards are completely unknown in Italy. And unless things have changed in the last 3 years, they are also almost impossible to acquire. Office suppliers and stationery sellers don’t have them, even for custom order online. Rolodex contact cards are the ONLY kind one can (with a bit of effort) find.

They don’t even have a name in Italian!

English-language story game authors for example take them completely for granted. “To play this game you’ll need a couple of pencils, two dice and some index cards”. Right. Translating the books often took some linguistic gymnastics, paraphrasing, or calling them “little sheets of note paper” (we have small rowed or more often squared notebooks with tearable sheets… but they are quite thinner than index cards and for example it’s not that handy to make tents out of them: paper is too soft!).

From what I gather, it seems that Index Cards started being in wide use (and standardized in size) around the ’10s and ’20s of 1900. They started as filing cabinet cards, to store contacts and other sortable content, such as book cards in libraries. Entire filing systems were created, including mechanical means to do crude “queries” on the card drawers, using pins and punched holes. From there, they spread. People had them around, and they used them for other stuff.

During those years… well, Italy was quite busy becoming a militaristic dictatorship completely closed off to foreign “bad influences”. During fascism we had laws forbidding to use foreign words, new foreign concepts and methods were scoffed at, and what little cultural development there was, it was certainly not in the bettering of knowledge organization. So index cards never came to Italy.

What’s even weirder is that it’s pretty hard to order them, even from abroad! Last time I tried, it looked like shipping them to Italy was never an option. I came to suspect that there is some patent issues, because that’s pretty weird.

Anyway, that’s my version of the story. If anyone knows better, I’m all ears. This is the kind of silly detail that always delights me.

Recipe: Seulle Céne


Or, I should say, “Seùlle, Peverùi, Sucùi e Sciue Céne”
Which, in my native Ligurian dialect means “Stuffed Onions, Bell Peppers, Squashes and Flowers” (yes, you get the usual unsolicited bit of linguistics in the recipe… I can try to approximate the pronunciation if you are curious).

Check out the full gallery with useful captions here on Google+ to see all the steps of the recipe.

This is one of my mom’s recipes, and as always it has variants across the whole region, but this is my mother’s version and is the one I love since I was a kid.

Also, if your dietary restrictions allow for cheese (parmigiano) and eggs, then your are good to go: this is another “mostly vegetarian” recipe of the Ligurian tradition. I’ve never seen one without these ingredients, but if you do the vegan experiment, let me know: apart for risking some breakage… they should be quite good anyway.

A note on the ingredients… I guess my mom is the one that taught me not to bother too much with the exact quantities (a recurring trend with my recipes, isn’t it?) so… there you go, no precise amounts in this recipe, either.

This recipe is a bit longer than usual, so I stockpiled on pictures: between my instructions and the photos (and their captions) it should be fairly clear.

Ingredients:

  • 2 or 3 White onions (seulle). Not huge but not too small: you’ll have to fill them later.
  • Potatoes
  • 2 or 3 Trombetta Squashes. These are what I grew up calling simply “zucchini” (sucùi in Ligurian). They are much, much better than the dark, angular, bland things that pass for zucchini in the rest of Italy. Sadly, they seem to be almost unknown outside my native province. Do an image search for “trombetta squash” or check herehttp://www.reneesgarden.com/seeds/packpg/veg/squash-trombetta.htm to see what they are.
  • Trombetta Squash Flowers. See above. In both cases I guess you can substitute with regular zucchini (and flowers) but know that you are missing out. Also, I would not advise stuffing the regular zucchini: too small and… what’s the point? ;)
  • 1 or 2 Bell Peppers (peverùi). The sweetest and thickest the better. Ideally, Piedmontese bell peppers from the Cuneo area: their pulp is more than half a cm thick and they are so good.
  • Basil (a handful of leaves).
  • Parmigiano cheese (I guess pecorino could do, too).
  • An egg.
  • Finely-ground breadcrumb.
  • Salt.
  • Frying oil (my mom uses corn I think; sunflower or other seeds should do). Not olive oil this time: not the best for frying stuff.

Tools:
* A large bowl
* Potato masher. I’m not sure how common this tool is abroad. Check the pictures to see which kind. If you don’t have one you’ll have to find a way to perform the same functions (you’ll see later).
* A large frying pan
* Mezzaluna knife (optional but useful)

Preparation:

The fill:
Clean and cut the squashes in 3-4cm chunks and the onions in halves. If your squashes are big and ripe enough they’ll have big round “heads”. Put them in, but only cut them in half and don’t mash them, you’ll use them later. Boil them in abundant salted water: they have to be cooked enough that the squash can easily be… well, squashed :)
Same goes for the potatoes. Boil them, preferably with the skin on to prevent them disintegrating in the water. Again, they need to be softened enough to be mashed.

Use a colander to dry the squashes, potatoes and onions.

Now take the potato masher (there is a picture of the device I mean), peel the potatoes (careful not to burn your fingers!), put a couple of them in and squeeze hard! Don’t overfill the masher, it will be super-hard to squeeze and you won’t save much time on the whole.

After the potatoes it’s time to work on the squashes. Put some pieces in, and careful now: close the masher, put it on a spare bowl (the one in the picture holds the potato peels) and squeeze lightly to let the excess water out. Not only the squashes tend to retain water, but they are quite watery themselves. When you notice it’s green juicy stuff coming out instead of water, switch to your potato bowl and squeeze.

When you are done mashing the squashes, mix them and the potatoes with a spoon.
Then, grate a good amount of Parmigiano on the bowl, then mix again.

Now take some basil leaves, chop them, then reduce them to bits (using a mezzaluna knife, or otherwise), then sprinkle them on the bowl, and mix again.

Separate the yolk of an egg, and add that too to the mix: it will help the whole thing to stay together.
Then, add a generous pinch of salt, mix, spread some breadcrumb and mix again. Whee! The fill is ready!

The “containers”:

Take the onions (hopefully they are now just warm, but be careful), and start separating the layers. Be careful, you need them whole, because you’ll be filling them like little cups. The smallest, innermost layers aren’t useful for this recipe… you can just eat them right away if you are so inclined ^__^
Keep the “onion cups” spread on a surface, you’ll soon need them again.

Take the zucchini flowers (please, only do this if you have access to some proper, big flowers: the tiny things I’ve seen in supermarkets are super pricey and will probably be too small), carefully remove the stigma and styles from the inside, and the green (and slightly spiky) sepals and bottom of the flower. You should obtain some nice empty flower-tubes (see picture).

Now to the bell peppers: cut them too in pieces big and curved enough to act as cups (carefully remove the seeds and white bits), then put them on a grill for a while: they need to soften a bit, but don’t let them burn. As you can see in the pictures, they are only a bit shriveled and you can pick up the grill lines.

What you see next is one of the “big head” halves of the trombetta squashes, if you have any: remove the inside with a spoon (it’s often full of tiny “seedlings” so it’s not that appetizing anyway) and make cups with them, too.

Filling in:

Take the flowers and very carefully fill them with the mix from the bowl using a spoon: watch it, they rip easy. Fold the top of the petals, and you have a nice closed pocket.

Fill the onions: you want them to go very slightly over the brim.

Same with the peppers, and the squash heads.

You’re almost there!

Spread breadcrumbs on the exposed filling: this will help forming a thin crust that will keep the thing together.

Time to fry!

Ok, take your large frying pan, cover the bottom in oil, heat it. Start with the onions: put them with the filling facing down. This is important: starting the fry on that side will help the general cohesion of the filling. You don’t want it to break, or lose too many bits in the frying pan (they start to burn very fast). So, cover the whole bottom of the pan, and let it fry.
Check the bottom side of the onions: when you see that nice brownish crust, turn them on the other side, and let the onion cook, too.

Have a serving plate handy, covered with kitchen paper towel to absorb the excess oil. In the close-ups you can see one of the onions, expertly cooked (I’m getting hungry just by looking at it).

Keep swapping the onions in the pan until you run out. Throw away the oil and start from scratch, if you have a lot and it starts having too many burned bits in it.

Now proceed with the rest of the veggies: same procedure with the peppers and squash heads. The flowers obviously don’t have an upper side, so just remember to flip them over. The photos show how they look when they are ready: mostly green, with the orange and tender petal tops browned and shriveled.

Enjoy!

Serve your Seulle Cene (and SciuePeverui and Succui) hot… or not. They are just as good when cold, in the evening or the day after.

…assuming any remain!

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

Recipe: Plaice with curry and onions

20130405_202958This recipe has been suggested to me by my sister-in-law, let me give you the rundown in my usual disorganized style (no quantities, I went by heart and don’t know).

Ingredients:

  • Plaice fillets (Filetti di Platessa)
  • 5-7 small onions (I used small borettane onions)
  • Tomato sauce (I used Mutti sauce, which isn’t too runny and tastes good)
  • Curry powder. I’m no expert, I just bought one from an Italian brand.
  • Olive oil, salt, sugar.

Preparation:

Put some water in a pan, with salt and a bit of olive oil. Chop the onions in thin slices (cry a bit… but if you remember to keep splashing your blade and onions in running water you’ll cry much less), then put them in the pan. Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on the onions, it should help with the taste. Put a lid on the pan, better if transparent to keep track of the contents.

Let the onions cook on a rather lively fire for a while, without letting the water evaporate completely (add some, as needed).  See picture 1.

20130405_201243

Picture 1: onions in the pan.

After a while the onions will start to change color. In Italy we say “they turn blond” (imbiondiscono), not sure what’s the correct terminology in English… but anyway, check the Picture 2, that’s the color they had when I went forward with the recipe.

Picture 2: Imbiondite.

Picture 2: Imbiondite.

Now add some tomato sauce, stir, add the curry powder according to your taste, and add some water if needed (you don’t want the mix to dry up, it must still cook with the fish, and you’ll want the end result to be saucy and moist). See Picture 3.

Picture 3

Picture 3: add tomato and curry.

Lay the plaice fillets on the mix (Picture 4) and put the lid back.

Picture 4: lay the plaice in the pan

Picture 4: lay the plaice in the pan

Let fire go for some more minutes, adding some more water if it’s getting too dry. The plaice will be ready in a matter of a few minutes.

Here you can see the end result.
Best enjoyed with some bread to pick up the sauce :)

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

20130405_202958

Gnome-ish icon theme for Calibre 0.4: it’s back!

calibre-theme-renatoram-preview-web

A couple of years ago I cobbled up an icon theme pack for Calibre, the awesome ebook manager and converter, to give it a look that’s both more appealing to my personal taste, and a bit more uniform with the general style of Linux applications. It’s mostly a cherry-picking of icons from various Gnome icon themes, plus some modified slightly by me: I don’t want to take any credit where it’s not due (all license details are in the README.txt in the package).

That package pretty much fell in disrepair, and even the independently made 0.3 version has pretty much disappeared from the web.

But no more! I decided to give it a whirl again and so, without further ado, the 0.4 version of the package! It should be compatible with Calibre 0.9.x and subsequent versions (probably 0.8 too, and at least up to 1.0.x), and it contains instructions for very simple installation (it’s a matter of copying one folder).

It’s now much more complete than before, though far from being a 100% replacement. Some icons are pretty hard to replace… and many icons are for functions I have never encountered in Calibre: it’s a big tool!

Here is a bigger preview (click to enlarge):

calibre-theme-renatoram_PREVIEW

Download from Box.com the calibre-theme-renatoram-0.4.zip

Enjoy your spiffied-up Calibre, and please let me know if there are any problems with the hosting of the file (or if you want to offer a hosting place that allows hotlinking).

Recipe: Polenta with Borettane onions and pork

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This is a recipe I mostly copied from my mother-in-law, and the pics are from the very first time I tried making it.

It’s a plate for cold weather, it’s simple and tasty, and easy to prepare in a completely vegan/vegetarian fashion if you want.

Here it goes:

Ingredients:

  • Polenta: 80g per person. This is a generous amount, but change according to how hungry people are. Polenta is rarely left-over.
  • Onions: I used Borettane onions, but I guess any small and sweet onions will do. 2013-03-24 14.22.02Here’s a pic of what I used. I don’t have a weight: I put some 6 small onions in the pot.
  • Pork: you can add a small quantity of pork Italian sausage and/or meat to the pot, it just goes great with polenta. Or not, and you get a great vegetarian recipe (vegan too, I guess).
  • Tomato sauce. I used the Mutti sauce because it tastes great. I used probably 400ml of it, but again, I didn’t measure it because that’s how I roll.
  • Olive oil, salt: as needed.

Preparation:

Put a bit of oil in a pot, then add the pork (if any) and start cooking it. After a minute or so, add the tomato sauce, some salt and a pinch of sugar (it reduces the tomato sourness). Add water to the mix to thin down the tomato and to have enough liquid to cook the onions.

This step will take some 40-45 minutes: you will know that the onions are ready when poking them with a wooden spoon will cause them to break. Furthermore, do break some of the onions: they will mix with the sauce and the flavor of the whole dish will be better. Keep a couple of small onions whole if you want: the inside will be sweet and super-moist.

2013-03-24 14.22.45Keep stirring the mix once in a while, and keep adding water if the sauce gets too thick: you will want a relatively runny sauce for your polenta (note that in my picture the sauce is a bit too thick: I went back and added some more water to the rest of it in the pot, putting it back on the flame for a couple of minutes).

Plan ahead your timing: you want the polenta to be ready when the onions are.

Personally, I used the “instant” Polenta Valsugana because I am a heathen barbarian from the land of the Southern Sealands (aka: Liguria), and the people of the Po plains would probably burn me at the stake for this… but what the hell, it takes too much time to make regular polenta. But hey, if you can get your hands on traditionally mill-ground integral corn flour and have the time and wherewithal… go ahead: your polenta will be heavenly.

When both the polenta and the onions are ready, pour your yellow ambrosia in the plates and the onions and sauce on top of it, and enjoy!

Note: this is a repost from my g+ account.

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