Monthly Archives: January 2010

My Mongetes a la Catalana recipe

Catalan food, as observed by my friend Sebina, can be a little heavy sometimes. This mainly comes down to a love of recipes involving beans, especially in conjunction with lots of pork products. A classic combination is Botifarra amb Mongetes, sausage and beans… but that’s a tad dull if you ask me. Instead, I prefer ‘Beans a la Catalana’, made with either mongetes (big white beans) or fabes (young green broad beans). This is my made up recipe for Mongetes a la Catalana, another great rustic dish for wintry days and evenings. The measures are based on serving four or five people.

What you will need:

About 700g of good Mongetes blanques. Go for ‘ganxet’ type as these seem to be better. When I say 700g, I mean when they’re still in their water, in the jar. Strain them but do not wash them.
3 strips of good panceta/cansalada/pork belly, cut into large postage stamp-sized pieces. Not too large, mind
Sausage. Go for about 400g of botifarra sausage (chopped up as well). I used some mini chipolatas with black truffle but I don’t know how easy these are to come by
2 cloves garlic, minced (or whatever you call it)
Handful of chopped parsley
Dash of white wine
Good olive oil
About 15 mins

What you need to do:

Heat a nice amount olive oil to medium-high temperature (around level 5 on my cooker) in a large, heavy frying pan. Add the panceta, making sure to add plenty of salt (it’ll be a bit tasteless otherwise). After a minute or two, add the sausages. Fry the meat for 5-10 minutes, until it browns. Ensure the oil doesn’t get too hot and that the meat doesn’t burn. It might well spit a bit at this point (the fatty panceta does like to ‘pop’ from time to time). When browned, remove the meat with a slatted device, and place in a bowl.

Let the oil cool down a little bit before continuing. Get the heat down to medium/medium-low.

Now throw the garlic and parsley into the pan. If you got the oil temperature right, it’ll fry but not burn immediately (that happened to me the first time I tried this). Fry for about a minute. Now add the strained beans and stir together for another minute. Here, I like to add a dash of white wine, just to provide a bit of liquid to the dish. Don’t add more than a glass. When the wine has reduced down, add the meat again. Cook it all together for about four or five minutes (keeping the heat really low), and that’s it.

Serve a fairly small portion in a bowl with pa amb tomaquet and a glass of decent red wine. This dish is filling, warming and really yummy. Hope you enjoy it!

thebadPoll: what’s correct: Catalonia or Catalunya… or Cataluña?

This new poll is borne from a post I read today at Jeremy Holland’s From Barcelona blog. But it’s also, I must admit, something I’ve probably grumbled about before.

Among the people writing about Catalonia in English, there seems to be little consensus as to what we call the place. I always use the English form ‘Catalonia’, Jeremy uses the Catalan ‘Catalunya’, Graeme at South of Watford uses the Spanish ‘Cataluña’… doubtless someone out there (Trevor?) uses the archaic ‘Cathalunya’.

My reasons for using the English form are fairly simple: firstly, consistency. In my guise as a sort-of-managing-editor, I spend plenty of time making sure that everyone writing for our website writes as consistently as possible. That is, we have a house style which should always be applied. So we write in American English, generally try to avoid jargon – sometimes a difficult task when writing about technology, and use the same naming conventions when referring to organisations, places or people. The idea of consistency in such writing is that a reader should never have to trouble themselves as to why we’re suddenly using a different word to describe something. I use ‘Catalonia’, ‘Spain’ and ‘Seville’ because I’m attempting to maintain some sense of consistency in the way I write (though a quick search shows that I have used ‘Sevilla’ a few times!). I feel that the majority of news organisations and works of reference would agree with me when I say that as a rule, toponyms ought to be written in the same language as the rest of the article.

The second reason I prefer the English form of the name is that when I’m writing in English, I’ll use an English word wherever possible. This has nothing to do with any kind of linguistic conservatism: though my ‘trade’ involves the constant use of English, I’m the first to proclaim that one of its great strengths is the lack of an Academy that protects it from foreign influence. I do, however, broadly agree with George Orwell’s Six Rules for clear political writing. As far as I’m concerned, ‘Catalonia’ is a perfectly decent English word that has been in use for hundreds of years and, like ‘Spain’ does the job admirably well. So why opt for the Catalan version? To me, it sounds like an affectation, particularly when this exception – this break in consistency – is applied only to ‘Catalunya’, and not to ‘Spain’.

Jeremy makes a couple of points when explaining why he prefers the Catalan form. He’s right to say that using ‘Catalunya’ hardly makes a piece of writing harder to understand. Pretty much anyone reading either of our blogs would be perfectly comfortable with the Catalan toponym. He also talks about the fluidity of English and its willingness to absorb words from other languages and cultures – something I mentioned above. But he does rather cloud the issue I thought we were talking about: whether there’s a correct way to name the place in English. He also introduces something of a red herring: street names and people’s names. To me, calling Joan, ‘John’ is incorrect… and calling the Plaça de Catalunya ‘Catalonia Square’ just aren’t the same thing as calling Catalunya, Catalonia.

But I may be wrong. Jeremy has promised that he’ll change and start using the English form if that’s what most Catalans say they prefer. I’m not going to change the naming conventions I use, no matter what you say. But I am interested in hearing what you think. So the question is: when writing in English, what’s the correct way to refer to the place? Catalonia, Catalunya, Cataluña, or something else entirely? As always, vote early & often to the right >>>

I have not given up

I’ve got various ideas for blog posts but I must admit that none of them have really turned out very well. Added to that, I’m very busy at work (as usual in January). But, whatever I might have said on Twitter, I’ve not given up on

I’ll hopefully be able to post a couple of times over the weekend.


Avatar: Is this what we’ve come to?

Last night, Gemma, Jon and I went to see James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar. I don’t usually go to see big-budget blockbusters at the cinema but with all the hype that had built up around this film (pernicious hype!), I’d started to think that if I didn’t see it on the big screen, I might regret it in years to come. It is, after all, far better to regret that you wasted time doing something than it is to regret sitting on your arse at home, reading a good book and drinking some good red wine. Or something like that.

We saw Avatar at the Yelmo Cineplex Icària, near the Ciutadella metro stop. The Icària cinema is one of those awful new-style multiplex joints with 15 fairly small screens. Nowhere near as atmospheric or impressive as the Odeon or Cannon of my youth in Plymouth. But the seats are more comfortable. The tickets cost €10.50 (Estafadors!), apparently because the film was popular. We were each given a pair of heavy, highly tinted sunglasses as we took our seats: these would make the 3-D work.

Yes, that’s right: Avatar is a movie which employs that most current of fads: pretend 3-D. Touted by many idiots in the film industry as being ‘as important as colour!’, pretend 3-D essentially makes the background a bit blurry while whichever character is in the foreground looks a bit shiny. More on this later.

The film itself is incredibly bad. Everything about it is bad. That is to say, it has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The storyline is basically Pocahontas with more explosions. The script is unbelievably explanatory – at no point was the viewer able to question what might be happening, because everything had been clumsily foreshadowed in the first 25 minutes. The acting was melodramatic and amateurish. The ‘goodies’ were flawlessly ‘good’, the baddies seemed like they were involved in some sort of excruciating self-parody. Except they weren’t. There wasn’t a single moment of intended humour, soul or suspense – all in a film that lasted three hours. Three long, dull hours.


As I mentioned, the story is effectively Pocahontas: invading outsider meets beautiful warrior princess, they fight then become friends, she introduces him to her dad (the king), and her betrothed one (a warrior); no one likes the invader but he proves himself by undergoing their initiation rites; invader has sex with princess; invader’s fellow invaders turn up, intent on killing everyone; invader decides to be warrior, fights on the side of the tribe, big battle ensues, invader and princess survive, FIN.

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that: it’s an old story which, when done properly, can be very moving. The problem with Avatar is that James Cameron failed to do anything about the fact that we already know this story. So nothing happened that you couldn’t predict from the beginning.

The film has been praised in other reviews for the richness of its visuals and the lush imaginary landscapes which Cameron invented for the land of Pandora (yes, Pandora). Actually, the visuals were not particularly stunning and watching the Blu-ray of the BBC’s Planet Earth allows you to experience stunningly beautiful and far more detailed landscapes and forests… and it’s all real!

Other annoying aspects of the film include: the annoying American insistence on rousing speeches just before a confrontation (cf. Independence Day, a movie that at least had some humour) – the main character’s pre-battle speech in Avatar wouldn’t have sounded out of place had it been barked by George W. Bush. Sigourney Weaver, who I once thought was a great actress, proves that like most actors she’s actually not that bright and prefers $$$ to quality. Near-constant music. Action scenes that lack any excitement. 3-D.


The very idea of making films in ‘3-D’ is flawed. As has been pointed out, we are not dogs. As humans, most of us are capable of seeing a flat image and perceiving depth. It’s why we have films in the first place. And anyway, 3-D in films isn’t 3-D at all. It’s 2-D with an effect applied to it. It can’t touch you and it is no more ‘realistic’ or thrilling than standard 2-D. As well as these systematic flaws, Cameron clearly didn’t want to be accused of just employing a gimmick, giving the audience cheap thrills by making objects jump out of the screen at them. So he didn’t have any of that in the film. Surely, if 3-D is to have a point, it’s to make stuff jump out of the screen at you?!

Instead, the pretend 3-D in Avatar is done more ‘subtly’, making characters in the foreground appear more defined than what’s going on in the background. What this means is that the cheap trick of messing with depth of field in order to stop the viewer from seeing into the distance, finds its zenith in Avatar. At no point are you really able to enjoy the visuals. At no point does the ‘camera’ slow down enough to take in any of the allegedly stunning vistas. What’s worse is that because you’re forced to wear these heavy, uncomfortable corrective spectacles all the way through the film (I took mine off quite a lot, though, as it seemed to have little effect on my enjoyment), there are plenty of parts of the film that are actually not 3-D at all. When you see these scenes through the glasses, what you see is a hell of a lot of shimmering and glitching that simply should be there.

And that’s the funniest thing about Avatar: the film that was supposed to bring 3-D to life for cinema audiences, like Gone With The Wind or the Wizard Of Oz did for colour, actually confirms 3-D to be a technology that doesn’t look great and that we don’t need. I doubt that I’ll ever watch another film in 3-D – at least, not if I can help it.’s binary review: Avatar – 2009 – Dir. James Cameron. 0/1