6 ways I fought food blandness after (mostly) quitting meat

cashew nuts in a bowl

Six or seven years ago I became a dreaded ‘flexitarian’.

Not fully my choice, really – like Jules in Pulp Fiction, my partner went veggie so I pretty much had to as well. I somewhat resented the hassle at first, but in the ensuing years I’ve found that the maxim ‘constraints breed creativity’ can be applied to cooking, too. And it’s followed that I’ve gone on to think of cooking not just as a means to produce edible food, but an entire creative pursuit in itself, with the same rewards and frustrations as any other.

I suppose the first step to reconfiguring how I thought about cooking was to approach it as a battle against blandness. If you’re cutting out a sizeable part of your diet, what’s left needs to be appealing and satisfying. So I thought I’d make a list of things that have helped me fight that battle. Will the war ever be won? ‘Tis not for me to say. All I can do is remain resolute, put my faith in capers, and try to endure.

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Farewell to CDs


With a baby on the way, I needed to create some room at home. This meant there was no getting around it: it was time for the last remaining boxes of CDs to go.

Fellow obsessive music fans ‘of a certain age’ will recognise the gut-wrench that hit me following this realisation. I felt an almost physical resistance to getting rid of something in which I’d invested so much, both financially and emotionally.

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The Olympic Games are a wonder of the world

buffer rings

And we know how those tend to be built…

This post is an example of my newsletter of curiosities & curations,Waterman’s Fortnightly. You can can subscribe at tinyletter.com/stuartw.

  • “How did we traverse the nation with a railroad so quickly? We just threw Chinese people in caves and blew them up and didn’t give a shit what happened to them. There’s no end to what you can do when you don’t give a fuck about people. You can do anything! That’s where human greatness comes from — that we’re shitty people, we fuck others over.” Louis CK’s ‘Of course… but maybe’ bit came to mind as I was reading…
  • … Marina Hyde, anticipating the start of athletic competition at the Olympics, who wrote: “(The athletes’) feats and fables eradicate the months and years of government overspending, martial displays, human rights abuses, neighbourhood cleansing, and all the other adorable fascist quirks that are an essential part of the undercard to any modern sporting mega-event.”
  • From the forced eviction of an estimated 1.5m people prior to the Beijing Olympics, to the forced labour (and unspecified number of deaths) of passport-stripped migrant workers behind the construction of facilities for Qatar’s World Cup in 2022, to a combination of all of the above thatenabled Sochi 2014 to be staged, it could be said that ‘modern sporting mega-events’ are today’s versions of world wonders built on slavery.
  • Like the Colosseum, they take years to produce, rely on the toil of thousands of oft-exploited people, are a significant logistical & financial commitment, draw fascination from around the world… and look terrific. On the subject of which, consider the irony of the Rio opening ceremony acknowledging Brazil’s slavery record while people covering the event were housed in a media centre built on a mass grave which African slave descendants regard as sacred.
  • Meanwhile, on the official Olympics website: “The Olympic Movement unites all people and builds bridges between all cultures. In Olympic sport, all people are equal, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or faith.” The paradox: you can’t help but suspect that if the Olympic vision of humanity were to become a reality, the Olympic Games wouldn’t exist at all.

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The chef who creates seven-hour podcasts about horror movies

The Secret History Of Hollywood podcast

In a recent edition of my newsletter I covered a wealth of great podcasts and related resources, one of which was my new podcast app of choice, Pocketcasts.

The Pocketcasts ‘Discover’ feature has since led me to find a podcast called The Secret History of Hollywood. I thought I might need to get my eyes checked when one of its episodes – ‘Hunting Witches With Walt Disney’ – was listed as coming in at 171 minutes. Then I noticed that another episode, ‘A Universe Of Horrors’ – which tells the tale of Universal Studios’ iconic horror movies – ran to 429 minutes. That’s over seven hours.

As a man who once catalogued every articIe I read in a year, the level of dedication & obsession involved here piqued my interest.

Having listened to ‘Hunting Witches With Walt Disney’, and thoroughly enjoyed the wry tone and detailed historical context (it looks at the HUAC witch-hunts and how they affected Hollywood stars – plus the social conditions that led to them), I decided I had to learn more about the people who produced it.

Only, there is no collection of film journalists or content production behemoth behind The Secret History Of Hollywood. It is but one person: a chap called Adam Roche. And he has no background in radio, or audio of any kind. In fact, he’s a chef.

Adam kindly agreed to answer lots of my questions, and did so in great detail.

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17 great podcasts that aren’t Serial, StartUp or This American Life

This list of somewhat lesser-known podcasts originally appeared in Waterman’s Fortnightly – my regular newsletter of curations and curiosities. Subscribe to Waterman’s Fortnightly here.

It’s 2015 and everyone’s going bonkers over podcasts like it’s 2006 (I remember you, Odeo!). Obligatory references to Serial and StartUp go here.

But as the Gimlet Media folk have alluded to, there’s currently a lack of tools to help discovery (especially if you’re a non-iTunes user). So for the past few weeks I’ve been digging into the podcastiverse and sampling a variety of aural delights outside of the big guns mentioned above. These are some of my findlings.

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Introducing Waterman’s Fortnightly

Waterman's Fortnightly newsletter

Waterman’s Fortnightly is a new thing I’m doing every, er, fortnight or so. It’s a newsletter covering interesting things, with a slight slant towards digital content and community stuff.

This is a glimpse of the fourth one – if you find it interesting you might want to sign up for future dispatches.

  • Has any work software ever received as much glowing coverage as Slack? You can barely open a browser without encountering an article claiming how it’s set to change workplace culture forever
  • …depending on your workplace. The majority of office workers are more likely to identify with the story of the US government employee who worked from the bathroom in order to bypass his employer’s IT security measures.
  • Slack is supposed to be so compulsive that users are reluctant to leave the office. And while we’re all addicted to web-enabled devices these days, this dispatch from 1982 illustrates computers’ ability to transfix us before you could even do much with them.
  • If smug Slackers’ screenshots are the summit of #LoveMyJob self-satisfaction, what’s the opposite? Toshers are certainly contenders for Quite Likely The Worst Job Ever, having made their living sifting through raw sewage in 19th century London. Pure-finders run them close, though.

Shared recently in Non-Fiction Addiction

The self-castrated hatmaker who killed the guy who killed Abraham Lincoln; why the FBI investigated The Kingsmen and their hit ‘Louie Louie’; what became of the children who survived the Holocaust; and more at Non-Fiction Addiction.

A little suntin suntin for the marketomatons

Links for online content and marketing folk. Skip ahead to Phew glad that bit’s over if that sentence makes you spit chips.

Phew, glad that bit’s over

Stuart Waterman


Secrid Miniwallet v. Jimi wallet: woyal wallet wumble

I hate fat wallets, and I cannot lie. And I don’t want to end up like this guy:

This is why, a few years ago, I started using a Jimi wallet. A slim, hard plastic card wallet billed as ‘The wallet for people who hate wallets’, the Jimi wallet won’t be to everyone’s taste. What you gain in svelteness of wallet, you lose in… well, it’s hard plastic. If you’re used to leather, the Jimi wallet could feel a bit tacky. You also lose the compartment where you store your money. That’s not a big deal to me as I tend to carry it loose, but I appreciate that for others this is the raison d’etre for having a wallet.

Anyway, my Jimi boy has been on its last legs for a few months now. The plastic fold that acts as a hinge has half-torn, and I managed to snap off half of a piece of its innards, which means I have a jagged piece of plastic about to slice my fingers every time I open it up.

I got some good usage out of my Jimi wallet, and I was quite prepared to buy another one (albeit perhaps in a snazzier colour than the original, which was black). However, it seems they’re a bit harder to get hold of in the UK these days, and I wasn’t inclined to pay for international shipping. So I started researching alternatives, which is how I encountered the Secrid range – and after one look at the Secrid Miniwallet’s whizzy card release mechanism, I was pretty much sold. At the time of writing I’ve owned it for about three weeks, and am thus far very happy with it.

Secrid is a Dutch brand whose wallets all contain an aluminium RFID card protector (one of the wallets even contains two of them). They call this feature, enigmatically, the Cardprotector. The Cardprotector is intended to prevent your RFID cards – that is, travel passes, chipped debit/credit cards, etc – from being read when they shouldn’t be. The card release mechanism means you can eject your cards and select the one you want to use at any particular time.

For anyone else wondering about the pros and cons of a Secrid Miniwallet versus a Jimi wallet, here are my findlings. I’ve compared them on price, size, style, bouncebackability, durability and capacity.

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Opportunity! Head of Digital Engagement – Latin American Multinational

Head of Digital Engagement (Latin America)

Was approached for this terrific role recently. I’m not too keen on travelling for work, so the recruiter asked me to share it with my ‘network’. Good luck if you apply!

Full job ad: Head of Digital Engagement – Latin American Multinational (PDF)

My first post on Medium.com: ‘Start Failing Immediately’

Success-oriented failure blueprint

Live not ye in fear ye

Do you like to feel small? I do

Eiffel Tower at nightOn my wall there’s a print of a photo by Andreas Gursky called Chicago Board of Trade II. It depicts The Windy City’s stock exchange as a bewildering blur of frantic activity, with individuals barely identifiable unless you squint to pick them out in their jaunty red jackets or white shirts. And if you unfocus your eyes and stare at it for long enough, it transforms from a richly detailed scene featuring hundreds of human beings into a colourful collection of abstract, Pollock-esque splashes.

The original piece, to which my little print does scant justice, first mesmerised me in a passageway at Tate Modern. It was hard to imagine any order emerging from the chaos in the scene, despite the fact it showed people at work, performing a job; and this sense was enhanced by the fact that it was literally bigger than me and everyone else gazing at it – it was about two and a half metres wide and almost as tall. It was, in the real sense of the word, awesome. (I’ve argued elsewhere about my hatred of the word ‘awesome’, but here it’s justified.) It was probably bigger than the wall in my flat on which my print hangs. I felt dwarfed by a massive picture of hundreds of little people, and I loved it.

A few years later I was at Tate Modern again to see Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment exhibition. It comprised 14,000 white boxes, stacked in seemingly random configurations, all over the Turbine Hall. It was weird, and I wasn’t sure if it felt like art to me. But it was big, and overwhelming, and the kind of thing you don’t see everyday. Again, I liked it because it made me feel small.

Being made to feel small, for many, probably has negative connotations. It’s a common lyrical trope in pop music, and it’s come to have more of an emotional than physical resonance. But I think the physical sensation of feeling small, whether in the face of nature, or art, or architecture, is one of the most inspirational things a human being can experience. Like magic, or technology, it gives a sense of wonder. I might feel differently if King Kong or Godzilla came thundering down the street towards me, but thankfully that’s unlikely to happen.

Why do I like to feel small? Maybe because it’s stirring to be exposed to big (unthreatening) things over which you have no control, which you can’t fathom. Things that overwhelm you physically, but not emotionally.

Everyday life requires you exert control. You have to get up at a certain time, get to work, actually do work, remember to eat, look after kids, pay bills… Maybe it’s a perspective thing. Sometimes you just want to be wowed and remember that there are bigger things than remembering to take out the rubbish. Although landfills can be quite a spectacle, too.

There’s an appealing madness in man-made big stuff, too. What kind of lunatic would create The Eiffel Tower? 19th Century Paris had its fair share of pressing issues – here are ten of them, for example. And yet, for some, a gargantuan metal phallus to mark the 1889 World’s Fair took precedence.

I’m a sucker for big art, in a pretty ignorant way. I’m not sure I even have any other criteria by which to judge big art, except for that I like its bigness. Take The Writer by Giancarlo Neri, which was exhibited on London’s Hampstead Heath a few years ago. This was, simply, a massive table and chair.

The Writer by Giancarlo Neri

Photo by BabyDinosaur on Flickr

The Writer by Giancarlo Neri

Photo by DLNY on Flickr

It got a lot of people riled up. Was it art? Was it an eyesore? I went to see it and thought it was great, mainly because – well, when else are you going to see a bloody massive table and chair in the middle of a field? It was ridiculous, and something I’ll probably never forget. Lots of other people evidently felt the same, since there were plenty staring at it in wonder/confusion. I also found it interesting that one of my first thoughts on seeing it was, “I wonder if I could climb that?” (I couldn’t, but I hear others did.) I like to feel small, but maybe I feel urged to challenge the things that make me feel that way, as they have to really earn it.

“To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.” —  E. M. Forster

I like this quote. But what about small women who like really tall men?

I always feel small when I’m about to fly somewhere. It’s still a shock to round a corner into a departure gate and see a hulking great metal bird sitting there, as if it’s waiting to eat you. Of course, the feeling of smallness is demolished once you take your seat, when (unless you’re flying posh class) your cramped surroundings suddenly make you, and whoever’s next to you, feel like an imprisoned giant.

Nevertheless, is there anything more amazing than being rammed into a crappy seat and staring dolefully out the window at featureless tarmac and scrub, before taking off and suddenly, out of nowhere, the sea appears over your shoulder? It looks like it goes on forever, and then you remember that what you see is only something like 0.1% of all the bodies of water on the planet.

(Confession: sometimes when I’m on a beach and I’m staring out at the vast, endless sea, and I think about how many unexplored regions there are beneath the surface, and how many waves there have ever been… Well, I wonder how many human bodies there are under the sea. There, I said it.)

You can’t help but feel small looking at the sea, and it blows my mind to think about its size. 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. There are mountain ranges under the Pacific Ocean. The sea is deeper than the land on earth is tall. The sea floor goes down a couple of miles or more. As you read this, the human race is the most advanced it has ever been – and yet experts reckon we’ve explored 7% of the sea floor, tops. It’s so dark down there that for years we thought nothing could live there – but loads of things live there that we know about, and probably even more that we don’t. And so on.

Nature’s always going to win out against man-made structures when it comes to making you feel small. But man can document nature pretty effectively, and perhaps no photo has had an impact on the human race like 1968’s Earthrise. The first photo of Earth from space, it was taken by the Apollo 8 crew, who were the first people to orbit the Moon.

NASA Apollo 8 Earthrise

And if you want to feel small, quotes from cosmonauts, astronauts and astronomers on the view of the Earth do a grand job. Here are some of my favourites:

“Once during the mission I was asked by ground control what I could see. ‘What do I see?’ I replied. ‘Half a world to the left, half a world to the right, I can see it all. The Earth is so small.'” — Vitali Sevastyanov, Soviet Cosmonaut 

“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.” — James B. Irwin, Apollo 15

“I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape . . . It makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.” — Frank Borman, Apollo 8

“It’s tiny out there… it’s inconsequential. It’s ironic that we had come to study the Moon and it was really discovering the Earth.” — Bill Anders, Apollo 8

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” — Neil Armstrong

I suppose nobody has ever felt smaller than those who have been into space and looked back at our planet. But while looking at the sea or a massive chair might imbue you with a sense of majesty at the abilities of both Mother Nature and man, this surely is a different feeling. To be able to see your planet and everything you’ve ever known hanging there, like a conker waiting to be smashed? Armstrong’s awe must have been laced with a fair dose of helplessness. While David Bowie’s Space Oddity wasn’t written about the moon landings, on reading Armstrong’s quote I couldn’t help thinking of the line: ‘Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do.’

(If you want a nice long dose of feeling infinitesimal, I’d recommend watching In The Shadow of the Moon, the 2008 documentary which features interviews with NASA astronauts who went to the Moon. If you’re in the UK, it’s available on 4OD.) 

I find that beyond pictures of the Earth, my mind is unable to latch onto most other space wonders in any meaningful way. I mean, how do you get your head around the fact that there are solar flares bigger than our planet? A centuries-long storm on Jupiter that is, again, bigger than Earth? That doesn’t make me feel small. It doesn’t make me feel anything, except thankful for Britain’s mercurial but considerably less life-threatening climate.

Do you like to feel small? What does it for you – skyscrapers? Stadiums? The Grand Canyon? I’m keen for new ways to get smallness hits.

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