Friday, 27 February 2009

Oh, Dia

Ever since we moved to Madrid, I've been doing the shopping at the local Dia. This is a super-cheap supermarket brand that belongs to Carrefour, and I sometimes think they get the crap that Carrefour can't sell. They certainly have an interesting employment policy: anyone with any trace of charm or positivity is either not hired or given some kind of programming to make them miserable, rude and unhelpful - or maybe it's the shite wages. They also have an interesting attitude to queues: they will only open a second checkout when the queue at the first has reached thirty or forty people. And they don't like to keep money in the tills in case somebody steals it: whenever a till has more than 200 Euros in it, the 'manager' comes and takes it away to put in the safe. This means, of course, that the next person in the queue who presents a fifty Euro note to pay for ten Euros worth of purchases (and it's always me), gets a mouthful of abuse from the checkout operator, who then has to go and find the 'manager' to get some change. In short, I hated it. If there's a worse word than 'hated', I did that too.

So, a month ago, they closed it. For refurbishment.

This was slightly inconvenient, because the next nearest supermarket (also a sodding Dia), is at least twice as far away, and it's half the size. Although they do manage to keep their queues down, and there is a rather nice Irish bar close by.

The local Dia re-opened about a week ago. It's nice and shiny and fresh and clean. They seem to have an expanded range of stuff, and they sometimes have more than one checkout open at a time. The staff are still not exactly wonderful, but I no longer dread my little shopping expeditions.

So I guess the only loser is the guy who used to open the street doors in the hope that you would tip him (as if: these people shop at Dia, for God's sake - that means they have no money!) - it now has automatic sliding doors.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Save a Bit More of the World

An astonishing bit of news today. Most of the major mobile phone manufacturers have agreed to adopt a standard charger (sounds a bit Medieval and horsey, but you know what I mean). They must have read my earlier post about refilling printer cartridges.

We have a bag full of chargers for old phones, and I'm sure you have too. This move will eliminate the need for all that plastic rubbish.

The next thing I want to see happening, is buildings wired with low-voltage power outlets, so that I don't have to have a transformer-brick for every laptop, low-energy lamp, and all the other rubbish we have to have to live these days.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Tortilla de Patatas

I posted about my early attempts at making this classic Spanish staple here and here.

A year later, I reckon I'm an expert, so here's how you do it.

You will need:
8 or 9 eggs
about half a kilo of spuds, peeled and sliced thinly
a generous pinch of salt
50% olive oil, 50% vegetable oil
possibly some lemon juice
a proper non-stick 20 cm frying pan
a circular dinner plate
45 - 60 minutes

And here's what you do:
Half fill the pan with the oil. Heat it gently. Put the spuds in the oil, and stir to make sure they are all coated. The idea is to soften the spuds without browning them. It will take about half an hour, and you need to give them a stir every now and again. When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oil. If you don't expect to eat the tortilla all in one go, you can sprinkle lemon juice on them - this will stop them from going grey over the next few days (there's nothing wrong with the spuds in your tortilla going grey - it just doesn't look very appetising).

Break your eggs into a bowl, throw in the salt, and beat with a whisk or fork until the egg whites and yolks are thoroughly mixed. Add the potatoes and stir.

Drain most of the oil from the pan, leaving a thin coating. Turn up the heat a little (about 60% of full), and pour the egg and potato mixture in. When the mixture has begun to set, pull the edges away from the pan with a spatula - you're trying to get a rounded shape to the edge of the tortilla.

Now we come to the tricky bit - turning it over. Traditionally this is done by holding an oiled dinner plate against the top of the pan, and turning them over. In Spain, you can buy a thing called a vuelca de tortilla, basically a plastic lid with a knob on one side for holding it.

Once you have the tortilla on the plate, slide it back into the pan and continue cooking and shaping the edge. Turn it two more times, so each side gets cooked twice, and when you have a nice golden colour on both sides, you're done.

It's important not to overcook the tortilla. I prefer ones that still have a little bit of runniness in the centre, but more sensitive souls prefer them to be cooked solid. Let it cool for a bit, and then cut yourself a wedge and serve with a hunk of crunchy baguette and a caffe con leche. Perfect!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

I Saved A Bit Of The World Today refilling the toner cartridge of my laser printer.

One thing I've always absolutely hated about the computer printer industry is the sheer waste and expense involved in replacing inkjet and toner cartridges. These things are quite complex bits of engineering (especially toner carts), and it makes no sense whatsoever to me to throw them away just because they're empty. But the manufacturers of these things go to great lengths to make it difficult or impossible to refill them. It's often said that printer makers are in the business of selling ink, rather than printers.

My laser printer has been complaining about low toner for a few months now. When this happens, I pick the machine up and give it a bloody good shake. That normally sorts it out. But a week ago, it really was empty, and I really was not happy at the prospect of buying a new cartridge - not least because it would cost about 80 Euros; that's very nearly the cost of a new printer.

So I set about finding a supplier who could refill my cartridge, and came across U Refill Toner Ltd, in Birmingham ( They have kits to refill pretty much any laser printer ever made, including colour ones. I ordered one for mine, and it cost about 15 Euros plus 5 for delivery. It arrived this morning, and includes everything you need - bottle of toner, pouring spout, little screwdriver to lever the plug off with, syringe of sealant in case it leaks afterward and an alcohol-soaked cleaning cloth in case you get thirsty. There's also a face mask and surgical gloves, and most importantly, full, illustrated instructions on how to do it, and what to do if things go wrong.

Very impressed, I am. And the printer worked first time with identical print quality to what I was getting before.