It used to be that I hated potatoes with a burning passion. My parents never made them, so thankfully I was safe at home, but it seemed like every time I went to a friend’s house for dinner there would be piles and piles of this tasteless white froth, and having been raised to be polite at the dinner table (and above all not picky), I would always feel obligated to take a few scoops, as small as I could make them.

That changed very suddenly in my third year of university. I was working in a French restaurant at the time. Normally we ate omelettes, quiches, salads or steak with steamed vegetables on the side for our staff meals. But once, just once, the chef brought out a giant bowl of mashed potatoes. “Ugh,” I said to myself, but since I was starving and the only other thing to eat was steak and I was vegetarian at the time, I reluctantly took a few scoops. It was, of course, delicious.

Since then, armed with the chef’s one piece of sage advice — “Il est impossible d’ajouter trop de beurre” — I’ve probably tried about 30 ways of making mashed potatoes : with milk, without milk, with cream, with different flavourings, with peel, without peel, cooked whole, cooked in bits. I think I have finally picked out the few rules for making mashed potatoes that even a picky potato-hater like me can eat.

1. There really is no such thing as too much butter. One gram of butter per 10 grams of potatos, really, should be the minimum. That’s about 1/4 cup for 4 smallish-medium potatoes. And it has to be butter, not margarine.

2. You can use whatever liquid you like, really. I mean, I guess using heavy cream will make the potatoes taste better if you’re low on butter, but as long as you follow the first rule, it tastes fine even with just plain water, though sometimes I also add in a bit of chicken stock or dashi.

3. A tiny dash of freshly grated nutmeg (really, tiny, less than 1/4 tsp per 4 potatoes if you’re using the freshly grated stuff) adds untold depths of flavour.

4. If you have to eat mashed potatoes while on a diet, please consider reducing the serving size instead of trying to make it low-fat. Mashed potatoes just aren’t supposed to be a low fat food.


I heard about TERA when plans for a North America-based English version was first announced. That version came out last month. With rather a lot of free time coming up and rather little to do with it, this week seemed like a good time to check out the seven day trial.

Verdict so far: the “action-based combat” system is really fun, although would probably seem clunky to players coming from other MMOs. It requires finesse, but sacrifices speed. I like the user interface — having a different mode for combat really helps to minimize screen clutter. The questing and levelling system are old fashioned and mind-numblingly boring. The graphics are pretty. And the character models, oh boy, the character models…

That’s the least revealing armor my level 12 female Castanic — that’s TERA-speak for demonic dominatrix, I think — has had since the start of the game. For most of level 1-10 she was fighting in a G-string and nipple pasties. I could swear at one point she even had tassels. The game developers also made liberal use of ladders in the game. Every other quest chain seems to have an objective that is conveniently on a high ledge that can only be reached by climbing a ladder. Wanna venture a guess at what the default camera angle swivels to, when I click the button to interact with a ladder? And then of course there’s her proportions: her head is the same width as her waist, and her legs make up more than half of her body length.

And now here’s my terrible, dirty, worst-feminist-ever secret: I enjoy playing characters that look like this in video games. My character is an in-game representation of me; I guess I just like being represented by a sexy, even if slightly exaggerated, woman. If there were a game that only had unattractive female avatars, I would be very disinclined to play it. That probably sums up why no game developer has ever made or will ever make a game with only unattractive female avatars. I even like the revealing armor. When World of Warcraft introduced the transmogrification feature to change the appearance of armor, the first thing I did was put all of my characters into midriff-baring tops.

There are a few things I wouldn’t mind seeing implemented in a video game every now and then, namely, equally revealing armor for men. TERA does have a few mankini tops, but, sadly, no man-thongs. Oh, and being able to choose a female avatar with East Asian facial features who is attractive and doesn’t look like a schoolgirl. It’s just not as easy for me to identify with schoolgirls.