Thursday, December 07, 2006

Three Things A Day

Today's entry is inspired by Joe Hyam from Now's The Time, which was itself inspired by Clare's blogspot. (Sorry, can't be more specific than that. )
Every day, he describes three things - things that delight or amuse him, things he finds beautiful.
What a wonderful idea, I thought. Maybe something like that would revive my feeble blog, which was never supposed to be just about food anyway. And let's face it, there are more excellent food blogs out there than you could ever read, even if that was your preferred pursuit when trying to escape the call for more important things to do. (Too numerous to mention...)
And all the while I marvel at just how wonderful and inventive other people's food creations are, and despair over just how dull my photographs are in comparison to the absolute masterpieces other people produce, I
don't get round to writing my own entries.
So, a few words on nothing more than three noteworthy things struck a chord with me, especially as no photographs are required. (Having said that: Joe does have some, in fact, check out his marvellous puddle photo.)
Of course, it wouldn't be three things a day, that would be far too frequent. A chore, a straightjacket, far too consistent. (The only thing I'm consistent about is being inconsistent.)
It wouldn't exclusively be about beautiful things either. Life is not just about beauty and wellbeing. There is also a lot of sorrow and a lot of anger. - Ah! Now you can see where this is going, can't you ?
"Disgruntled from A.G." - "Zabeena's Daily Bellyache" - "Three Axes I have to Grind"
Whinge, Whine, and Whimper; ... the Triple Thump: Rile, Rage, Rant; ... the Helly Trinity: the Gripe, the Groan and the Grumble...
Any three things really... it's a magic number (and not only since this was used as a slogan for some programme or other, as one of my students thought... where exactly do they breed these imbeciles??!! ).
So, let's see, what's been bugging me today

... the fact that I have them and that all too often they are not being fulfilled by other people. The question being, am I too demanding or are other people too selfish? Well, clearly, other people are too selfish. Certainly from where I am sitting. Under the coat of self-preservation, the mantle of lame excuses, the cap of indifference, they hurt me, hurt me deeply, hurt me more than I'd ever willingly disclose. And if I told them, if I ever expressed what their lack of love, their literal carelessness, their callousness does to me, they still couldn't bring themselves to say sorry. Because their world is so different from mine that they'd even argue that I ask too much of them, that I'm unreasonable, that I am selfish. Not so. I am not expecting what I wouldn't do, what I'm not willing to give, what I haven't done many times before in the past, what I'd never hesitate to do. That and a lot more. And that's why it hurts. That they are never ever able to put themselves second - let alone last.
But I won't beg, and I won't bid. That's just not me.
But I won't forget and I won't forgive.
I'm afraid, that is me.

... when there were real ones, at least they were an asset, as in: an investment, and therefore looked after, whereas lowly paid staff are dispensable. At my own place of work they wring everything out of me, now even shifting part of their admin, not only in terms of time but also resources, from full-time, properly paid staff with pension schemes and increments, holiday and sickness pay, and opportunities to progress and eligibility for training courses, to part-time, seasonal staff with, well, none of the above. I 'm obviously supposed to print this stuff out at home, i.e. on my printer, my cartridge, my paper, not to mention my internet connection that makes this possible, and then to photocopy it in my own time, which is paid on a pro rata basis. This basis being the actually taught hour. Are you still with me? 'Taught' is the instrumental word here. Just how many hours do you think would be reasonable to expect for a gross (that's before tax, in this particular context) £22-£24? Hang on, don't answer this yet! Consider the following: selling produce at the German Christmas Market, which does not require any qualification - and as I found out the other day, not even the ability to speak either English or German, or even simply to possess a brain capable of any sort of logic - pays £5.50/hour. Being able to supply brute force and some rudimentary knowledge of building work (but again, not necessarily any formal qualifications or basic spelling/grammar) warrants something more in the region of £30/hour. Now let me ask you again - just how many hours should I add to every paid hour of teaching??!!

... or: what comes round goes round.
EH? Well, there's Frank dressing up in everybody else's clothes - mine, J's, my Dad's, his Dad's, J's Dad's, it's all vintage and everything goes.
This house, of course, is quite a treasure trove, as we are hoarders and don't throw things away. Well, yes, unfortunately, sometimes we do. I did throw out a lot of stuff simply on the grounds that I would never ever be this size again (fallacy!); or when I was young, on the grounds that this would never be fashionable again (despite my mother constantly telling me that history would repeat itself); but generally, we still own most things. Except, of course, the very things that would be soooo fashionable now. Those brown suede stretch boots; the red short coat, the bottle green leather jacket... How absolutely great they'd be now.
But other things survived.
Frank has worn my Dad's hat from the 70s, his skiing jacket from the 40s, and his other granddad's scarf from the 30s. Ozzy will one day find my brother's fringed suede coat from the 80s and his Dad's panama hat from the 90s.
And how I wish I'd know where that lilac moiré evening dress ended up! We used it when we were enacting the Robin Hood play (the one with the aggressive Maid Marian - played by me, of course - ) from the "Let's play" drama book. As far as I'm concerned, it was last seen on Renate Schlieper, playing a rich lady about to be robbed by a rather meek R.H. and a rather emancipated MM.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What do you think of my Potty?

Well, I’m extremely pleased with it. Not only is it just what I wanted for a Rumtopf, it’s also just about the only one that the kids liked. I bought it from ebay Germany (there were only a handful on offer at ebay UK), and the poor thing had quite an adventurous journey before arriving here: By post to my brother’s place of work in Germany, by motorbike (in a rucksack) back to his house, by plane in my son’s hand luggage.

Rumtopf (rum pot) is the German and Austrian tradition of soaking seasonal fruit in high percentage rum and sugar, leaving the mixture to ferment in a cool place for at least a month (preferably three). Traditionally, this process would take several months, starting with strawberries in the spring, finishing with plums in the autumn, and the Rumtopf would be ready to be sampled on the first Sunday in Advent (which this year is Dec, 3rd, I believe). Emphasis is on ‘sample’, as it also seems to be tradition to drink the Rumtopf no earlier than Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Why am I telling you this when it’s already October? Hmm, because this is the time when we start thinking about what to have for Christmas, and also because it’s not too late yet if you want to start a little Rumtopf of your own. The good news is: there are only a few hard and fast rules. Yes, it’s probably nicest to use each type of fruit as it ripens and becomes seasonally available throughout the year and layer it in your pot (see calendar below), but if you missed a particular window, or if you start as late as this, you can use simply all the fruit you can lay your hands on in one go. I have seen strawberries in the shops only the other day and even raspberries. In fact, that was my last lot that went in today, after the plums and the pears! --I know, I know, we shouldn't buy out of season... Well, if it bothers you, you can always use frozen fruit (defrost completely, pat dry, don’t use any of the liquid). In fact, there are even Rumtopf versions in which
I had to do that with the apricots, because I completely missed that window. It's just the last instalment of a long line of disappointments: my romantic ideas of filling my pot with fruit exclusively from pick-your-own-farms did not quite materialise. In the first instance, I settled for strawberries from Marks & Spencer’s. (Mind you, they humour middle class sentiments by not only telling you which variety of berry you’ve purchased but also in which county they were picked and by which farmer ... gosh, they do know their market segment, don’t they?) Other fruit were "gathered" from a variety of supermarkets.

But what the heck! In the end, all that counts is whether I'll have yummy, tipsy Rum fruit for Christmas!!

Opinion is divided as to which fruit should go into the Rumtopf. There are 1000s of recipes on the net, and I have found a school of thought that excludes quite a few fruit for a variety of reasons:

black fruit: blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries
(too hard, too soft, and making the mixture too dark)
gooseberries, rhubarb
(too tart)
apples, pears
(too hard)
raspberries (too soft)
cherries (too hard) [1 person]
(too wooden)

Most people do include raspberries. Likewise, there were legions of people who use some or all of the black fruit. My pot (and many others!) specifically shows apples and pears, so it seems to make little sense to leave them out. Cox Orange was recommended for the apples (I used Pink Lady) and a hard variety for the pears (I chose Conference pears). Gooseberries aren’t that abundant in this country but if you happen to have a large supply in your garden, choose the sweeter ones and prick them. Pineapple seems too exotic for a “classic” Rumtopf in my opinion, but quite a few people use seedless grapes and/or raisins and sultanas. In the case of the latter, no further sugar is needed. Redcurrants can also be used, but according to some, sparingly. I’ve also seen melon mentioned. In a few recipes green walnuts are added after the plums, and mandarins (peeled, segmented, skinned) in December. Quinces weren’t mentioned anywhere but I read a recipe elsewhere for quinces in rum, so presumably they could be added (peel, quarter, pit, cut into 2 cm slices; mix with sugar and bake in the oven for 45 min at 175°C). Other exotic fruit, like mango, papaya and kiwi, have also found their way into up-dated versions, and some people like to experiment with vanilla pods or even cinnamon sticks.

As I said, there is no definitive recipe, just a few basic rules, and after that it’s a matter of taste, and like any good ‘house’recipe, it develops and matures over time into a secret formula. Below are those basic rules, some ideas of how to use your Rumtopf once it’s ready for consumption, how to create a Rumtopf from dried fruit, and a calendar if you want to do it ‘properly’.

Basic Rules

Obviously, a purpose-made Rumtopf would be nice but other large earthenware or porcelain pots (at least 3 l vol.) could be used, especially if they have a lid. If they haven’t then cellophane will do the trick. Glass jars do not seem to be favoured as the light affects the colour of the fruit. I have come across some actual Rumtopf containers made from glass though, so it must be otherwise okay, especially if you have a cellar where to keep it. If you haven’t, then keep your Rumtopf in some other dark, cool place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate. Only use a silver or stainless steel spoon to avoid rust particles or bacteria interfering with the fermentation process. – Some people, however, discourage stirring altogether. You might also need a small dish which will fit into your pot – some people use this to ensure that the fruit is kept fully immersed in the rum.

English recipes call for rum that is at least 80 Proof (40% alcohol by volume) but on the German/Austrian sites, the verdict was unanimous: it has to be 54%. Not more, not less (you will find advice on how to mix different volumes to achieve the right result, and everybody agrees that Austrian Strohrum, which has 80% is not suitable). This is a bit tricky though, I think. Maybe I haven’t looked hard enough but I haven’t seen rum of that strength in the UK except once at a deli, where the bottle cost nearly £30! I brought a few (inordinately cheaper) bottles back with me from Germany, but if I hadn’t been able to do that, I would have risked the 40% path and just hoped for the best. The worst that could happen is that your fruit starts fermenting too much – if you can see tiny bubbles appearing. The mixture can be salvaged by carefully removing any foam, then adding 96% pure alcohol (in Germany you can get this from a pharmacist’s, I’m not sure whether that’s possible in the UK); you need ¼ l for a 5 l pot.
In France, Bourbon is used instead of rum, and generally speaking, one could use any high percentage alcohol to preserve fruit. From vodka to grappa via slivovitz – anything goes.

Divided opinions again – recommendations range from caster, preserving and even icing sugar, all the way to brown sugar. Your run-of-the-mill granulated sugar should be okay. I’m pretty certain that even using different ones at different times (Zabeena’s ‘whatever-is-at-hand School of Thought’) shouldn’t pose a problem.

As a general rule, this seems to be 1 pound of fruit to ½ pound of sugar (or 500g/250g) plus 0.2 l of rum, except for the very first time when you need a whole 0.7 l bottle, and 4 weeks after your last fruit when you add another half bottle. The important thing is to keep your fruit well covered (2cm/1inch/thumb width) with rum. (Mind you - I don't seem to be able to achieve that, there's always some fruit floating on top...)

Wash and sterilize your container in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Fruit should be in perfect condition without any blemishes and just ripe. Don't use over ripe fruits. Clean and dry fruit, remove stalks, pit and cut into pieces as suggested (above and below). Sprinkle each pound of fruit with ½ pound of sugar, and let soak for one hour before placing in the Rumtopf. To avoid loss of aroma or the evaporation of the rum, place cellophane across the top, under the lid. Check occasionally that there is sufficient rum to keep the mixture covered; add more rum if necessary.

It will keep indefinitely as long as it is completely covered with the rum. Add rum if necessary, make sure fruit are still covered.

Not everyone starts in Spring. I read about someone whose birthday is in September and who starts then, leaving it over the winter months, adding fruit in the spring and summer, so that each year, there is one ready to consume on his birthday.
The busy housewife might want to do the whole lot in one go by choosing a time when virtually all the necessary fruit are in the supermarket – for instance mid August.


Rumtopf can be enjoyed over ice cream/frozen yoghurt, plain yoghurt, cake, toasted waffles, lemon pound cake, vanilla or chocolate pudding etc., or by itself with a topping of fresh whipped cream. It’s also great as a topping for tartlets.

Or you might want to try it as an accompaniment to game dishes.

Rumtopf Cocktail

2 tsp Rumtopf per champagne glass, top with sparkling wine or champagne

Rumtopf Jelly

Heat 10 heaped tablespoons of Rumtopf, add a splash of Rum for good measure, add 3 sheets of gelatine, fill into glasses and leave to cool.

Making Rumtopf from dried fruit

1kg dried fruit (apricots, prunes, figs, dates)
1 l 54% rum
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod

Wash the fruit, dry for two hours in the oven and cut into pieces
Layer the fruit into the Rumtopf, interspersed with lemon zest and vanilla
Top with the rum (make sure your pot is only ¾ full – the fruit is still swelling up)
Needs at least a week of soaking

Calendar for a Classic Rumtopf

May + June
One pound of strawberries (hulled) + half a pound of sugar + one 0.7-l-bottle of rum.

June + July
One pound of cherries (with the stone) + half a pound of sugar + 0.2 l rum.

July + August
One pound of apricots or peaches (blanched, skinned, pitted and halved/quartered) + half a pound of sugar + 0.2 l rum.

August + September
Half a pound of greengages, damsons or mirabelles (pitted and halved) + half a pound of raspberries (hulled, cleaned but not washed) + half a pound of sugar + 0.2 l rum.

September + October
Half a pound of apples (peel, core and cut into slices - then drop them into a water and lemon juice bath to keep them from discolouring; some people even simmer them) or fresh pineapple (peeled, cut into pieces) + half a pound of blackberries (picked over) + half a pound of sugar + 0.2 l rum.

October + November
Half a pound of pears (see apples ) and half a pound of plums (pitted and halved) + half a pound of sugar + 0.2 l rum. Four weeks after the last fruit, add half a 0.7 l bottle of rum.

Enjoy the fruits of thy labour: sampling begins on the first Sunday in Advent.

Short formula:

3l (min) pot
· 2l (min) rum (54% if possible) [3bottles @ 0.7l]
· fruit – sugar ratio = 2:1
· leave fruit to soak up sugar for 1hour
· rum – per pound of fruit:
first time = 0.7l
subsequent times = 0.2l
last time = 0.35l
leave to ferment for 1 month (min)

  • rule of thumb: fruit needs to be covered by at least a thumb’s breadth of rum

Sunday, September 24, 2006

St. Bernhard

Der große Sankt Bernhard - I had searched for this image, and I'd been ever so pleased when I found it. Because it shows the pass and it shows a motorbike. I wanted it for the 'cover' of a CD I was putting together for a friend of mine. A friend who was into motorbikes and who was called Bernhard, or Bernd for short. I never made it. I never got it done. I've got the playlist, yes. But it was too long. It needed decisions - I'm useless at decisions. And now he's dead. Dead and gone. Forever and ever. At his own hand. In the most horrid way possible.

I'm not the one who found him - and yet, I cannot get rid of the picture. How can it ever go away? How on earth could that have been the end of Bernd? The most vivacious, fun-loving, easy-going bloke you could ever come across. He was kind, funny, andthe sort of person you'd call a real brick. His giggly laugh is inimitable and unforgettable.

We're all devastated. -- If you know anyone with a heart disease who seems unusually low, PLEASE do all you can to make him/her see someone who's aware of the connection between heart disease and depression. There's only an 80% chance that treatment will work -- but we didn't even think it was depression. He just seemed low, subdued, not quite the same. It seemed understandable after a heart-attack at 39. We didn't realise it was depression. We didn't know there's a connection.

I think I was 14 when I first met him, and 17 when I went out with him. Going to his funeral was like burying my youth.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Curry & Sausage?!! Na klar, Currywurst!!!

Well, I have to report that sadly, none of my plans for football-inspired food have really come to fruition so far as I’m far too busy watching the games to go in for elaborate dishes...

So, we had fish and chips from the chippy for one of the England matches, and Argentinian steaks done in the George Foreman (very tough), and for one of the Mexico matches, Tom cooked some very hot chicken, which we ate in flour tortillas. I was rather hoping to get rid of the Swedish meatballs which have been lingering in the freezer, but I didn’t want to do that for the England match, and certainly not against Germany, and sadly now Sweden are out of the competition. Ozzy wanted me to do German meatballs (by which he means Königsberger Klopse) instead but with the match so early, I really needed something much faster. And what is Germany’s favourite fast food? Of course! Currywurst!!

Yes, to the rest of you the idea of Bratwurst swimming in a curry sauce is probably stomach turning, but ever since someone had the idea of cutting up a Bratwurst into slices, laying them out on a narrow paper tray, and topping them with lashings of curry-laced tomato sauce sprinkled with curry powder, this No 1 snack (“Imbiss”) had no rival until the rise of the mighty Döner Kebab.

So popular is this sausage that it now has its own museum in Berlin, and three areas claiming to be the home of the originator: the Ruhr-area (Ruhrgebiet, aka Kohlenpott = coalpot), Hamburg and Berlin.
I found no less than four different websites (all in German) – and there are probably more - devoted to the cult sausage.

From what I can tell, there is quite a dispute over the true story of its origins. As a Kohlenpott-girl, I had always assumed it was a regional dish – and after all, had not Herbert Grönemeyer[1] himself praised the humble sausage as something to still your hunger, to make you feel better when you feel down, just the right thing when you come from your shift? ( In ‘Die Currywurst’ - sung in the local sociolect.)
I also quite like the accidental nature of the ketchup-curry sauce discovery in the myth that links the sausage to Essen. But read all about it here:
And if your curiosity is not stilled yet – there is also a short film (2004) by an LA woman, Grace Lee, “Best of the Wurst”, exploring legend, Imbissbuden, Berlin and expert opinions. – Apparently, a topic hotly debated is the sausage itself – does it have to be a skinless sausage?

Well, mine wasn't. It was simply Bratwurst from Lidl, fried in a little vegetable oil (by now I’ve learnt that it has to be peanut oil if you want it to be authentic), sliced and kept warm, while I poured water into the pan, followed by a Knorr Currywurst sachet, stirred until thickened and there you have it! – I know it’s cheating but I had to try it out (and no, you can’t buy the sachets here unless you happen to have a very strange German delicatessen nearby, hmmm... that reminds me, but that’s another story, which will feature here soon...). Here are the ingredients:

Sugar, tomato powder, salt, flour, 7% curry, vegetable oil, apple powder (??!!), corn flour, monosodiumglutamate, disodiumanate (??!!), disodiumguaylate (??!!), maltodextrin, onions, beetroot powder (??!!), soy sauce, aroma (??!!), sodiumdiacetate (??!!), citric acid, garlic, ginger, milk sugar, dextrose, nutmeg, rosemary

So you see, apart from the chemicals, it’s quite easy to replicate. There are a number of recipes on the net, but I really think the basic ingredients are a tomato base, curry powder, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, salt and chili powder. So, next time, I shall experiment and make my very own special sauce, for Currywurst und Pommes Spezial.

For yesterday's England match, we simply had strawberries and cream but I'm planning a St. George's cross pizza for next Saturday, and something of a "Last 8" canapé platter - with Argentina and Brazil[2]
causing me a bit of a problem... (LOL!)

[1] German actor/singer; his 1984 album “Bochum” is the best selling German language record of all time. Fittingly, his “Zeit, dass sich was dreht”/Celebrate the day (2006), is the official FIFA 2006 anthem!
[2] That is, assuming that Brazil will beat Ghana – which, according to Ozzy, is not going to happen... After his adventure in Germany he’s an ardent Ghana supporter – which reminds me, I have to dash off and get his Ghana shirt washed and ready for tomorrow... Tooodleloo!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Der Ball ist rund - World Cup 2006 in Germany

Finally, the first day of the World Cup, and my first glass of beer after a teetotal period of four or five weeks now. Had to give that poor liver of mine a bit of a break. Unfortunately, I didn’t even lose any weight, which surprised (and annoyed !) me. I think this was due to creating non-alcoholic cocktails, which use a lot of fruit juice, and probably were more calorific than the beer I’m drinking at the moment – Jever light – which is low-cal and low-alc. I bought myself a crate of the stuff when I was over in Germany.
Now there’s a country with REAL football fever!! There was no way at all that you could have missed that the World Cup is upon us soon! There were flags and footballs in every shop’s display, whether it was a bakery or a pharmacist’s. And anything, from bikinis to foldable chairs, was available in Germany’s colours, Schwarz-Rot-Gold. (I was very tempted by a beach towel to drape over the best seat in the living room...). But just in case you now think that Germany is as flag obsessed and singularly patriotic as England – the Schwarz-Rot-Gold isn’t the only flag you can see. Wherever you went there were products with the flags of every other team that plays in the tournament, and a lot of the buntings were also a bright, multi-flag affair, which lends a wonderful festival atmosphere, as opposed to the slightly menacing air of only England flags everywhere, and nothing but white and red face paint...
My favourite item was a shirt with a little velcro patch and a variety of small flags, so that you could change allegiance, depending on which match you are watching or when your own team has been eliminated...
I’m very happy that it’s so international in Germany, and the only reason why I would like to display a Schwarz-Rot-Gold here would be to introduce a bit of variety (4 years ago on a campsite in Dorset, we put a Welsh flag up for that very reason), but this allegedly tolerant society really isn’t when it comes to football – time and time again, German cars are scratched after matches, and my Brazilian friend had a brick through her window when she displayed a Brazilian flag. So I shall keep it all indoors, with my selection of little flags and football inspired food. Today, for the Germany match: Black Tagliatelle, Red Sauce and Yellow Peppers.And as far as support is concerned: this time, for the first time, I really feel I have to support Germany, because Lehmann, their goalie, is from my home town of Essen and used to play (early in his career) for Schwarz-Weiß Essen (in the 4th league, I think), the team my Dad supported. But of course, I’ll be supporting England, when they play, we’ll also look out for Togo and Ghana and any other underdog who takes our fancy. And should Brazil win the World Cup for the 6th time, I won’t cry either – after all, we all know they play the most beautiful game!!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Henley Food Fair

Andrew from spittoon had invited us to this event way back in December or so, and originally my intentions had been to make a weekend of it, organising it around seeing friends in the area. As it happened, I left arrangements to the last minute (hey, what else is new?), which was just as well, as the friends I had earmarked (ouch!) had just moved into cramped rented accommodation and Tom suddenly developed such severe angina pains that he had to go into hospital. He spent the whole of Easter there and had to have two more stents put in!
However, this sudden heartache had prompted me to send an e-mail to Joanna (a fellow blogger with a sweet-heart problem) who hadn’t posted since January, which had already got me a bit worried. She got back to me immediately, to say that luckily, nothing of the sort had been happening to her husband, and was I coming to the Henley Food Fair, she could pick me up from Reading station. Said and done (as if anything could ever be this straight forward in my household!), after buying a horrendously expensive train ticket - three times as much as my brother recently paid for a three-day trip to Prague, inclusive of bed and breakfast (buffet bar!) in a three star hotel!!
[1] - for a Virgin train (as if I’m not needlessly sponsoring Richard Branson’s Empire enough by paying handsomely for the privilege of my Virgin Active – in Sally’s and my case: Virgin Inactive – membership), I was heading down South.
I had been planning on getting a bit of reading done (admittedly, not Stephen King’s Green Mile, as required by the book group, but Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove), but that turned out harder than anticipated. No, it was not James’ overly baroque style, it was the rather more prosaic mobile and other conversations I was relentlessly subjected to. By the time I arrived in Reading, I knew the entire ins-and-outs of the love-life and domestic arrangements of the two young ladies sitting behind me, AND that of most of their siblings and in-laws, who happened to be scattered around the globe, which made it marginally more interesting than listening to two girls from Balsall Heath.
Joanna and I got straight into medias res, as if we’d known each other for a life-time, and had already covered a lot of ground by the time we met Andrew in the delightful Henley market square, where most of the action took place. As it was rather crowded, we retired to the Queen’s Head, downed a few pints of the local Bitter, Brakspear, and talked ‘shop’ (well, as much shop as one can talk with two muddle heads like Joanna and me, who can cover low cholesterol, techno trouble and the total eclipse of the sun in two swift breath strokes...).

For the actual produce stalls, one had to queue for rather a long time, which we wiled away with wine talk, Both Andrew and Joanna thought there was probably a good point in my wine-literature analogy (I – just like the average reader who needs characters to identify with, a ‘proper’ plot and a certain page-turner quality – like my wines easy: full, fruity and smooth, whereas a real wine connoisseur would be looking for something with an edge, a bit of a challenge, with subtle and exciting sub-tones – which is what I can appreciate in prose, but clearly not in wine...), and think I should write about it...[2]
Needless to say, I tried loads of food and drink and bought plenty (see above), after all, I had my mini foodie at home to satisfy (Ozzy in reply to “What do you want me to bring back: olives, sausages or cheese?” “All three, Mum!”), leaving Andrew and Joanna to grow roots (sorreeee!).
The eatery tent was filled with food offerings of various provenances, but it was claustrophobically packed and there was nowhere to sit. So, temptation being one thing (AWT’s Thai Beef, for instance), and comfort zone quite another, we headed towards the river for the picturesque outdoor seating area of the Angel on the Bridge. Unfortunately, their pub menu is nothing to write home about, which is a crying shame. You don’t have to be a culinary crusader to feel that any restaurant worth its salt needs to be well reflected in their pub offerings, too. The most interesting dish were Cheese and Jalapeno Bites – they looked like chicken nuggets and contained a bland cream cheese paired with a slice of jalapeno almost cooked to a pulp. Andrew summed it all up like this:

I couldn’t agree more. I had a great time and I’m very much looking forward to the next blog meeting, especially as Johanna couldn’t make it, after all, and we managed to miss Celia.

PS: I didn’t choose my photograph of Joanna and Andrew because it’s not focussed.... (stop sniggering, you two!!)

[1] Okay, so it was a coach journey, starting out from Germany, but still!!!
[2] I have a feeling it would read like this:

Freixenet Cava, Rosado Seco:
“Jilly Cooper”
- light weight, but by no means without (predictable) character(s) and sparkle; so easy to drink, you’ll be asking where the rest of the bottle went; won’t fail to get you into the mood for you know what...

Lacoste-Borie, Pauillac, 1997:
“James Joyce” - unless you can distinguish between your nose and your body: startlingly edgy; this one will prove fairly impenetrable to the untrained palate, but at 12.5% guaranteed to get you pissed...

And I’m not sure this would be anybody’s cup of wine!

Monday, February 27, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day-Tuesday #9: Red Camargue Rice Fry-Up

This really does look good on the plate: a mixture of red Camargue rice, brown rice, black wild rice, and colourful vegetables. Mine contained some left overs from Sunday (carrots and broccoli), cut into smaller units, plus fresh vegetables, cut into very small cubes or julienned (carrots, red pepper, leek). I also added half a red chili and toasted sesame oil to heat everything up. Plus sweet chili sauce, nam pla, lime juice and coriander. Totally yum; at least 5-a-day, and entirely vegetarian.
(Don't overdo the sesame oil - it swamps out all the other delicate tastes.)

Oooops... I did it again: forgot to mention what this is all about! It is, of course, another entry for sweetnicks' health-conscious Tuesday, when we all try to create a dish which contains 5 vegetables and/or ARF (rich in antioxidants) foods.
Check it out on sweetnicks' fabulous site!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday #7:In the Pink - Beetroot Cocktail

As part of sweetnicks' weekly appeal to eat a healthier diet - at least every Tuesday - and just in time for Valentine’s Day:

Beetroot Cocktail... Well, as you can probably see, it’s more of a starter masquerading as a cocktail. It was originally inspired by a sudden yearning for Danish Herring Salad when I saw my jar of baby beetroot in the fridge. I also had uncooked beetroot but that was reserved for a beetroot curry, and this Herring Salad is a vinegary affair, so pickled beetroots are just right.
Of course, I had no herring in the house, but I concluded that it wasn’t the herring I was after (besides, it has far too many calories...), it was the pink, creamy sauce with gherkins and tart apples. So I concocted the following.

2-3 pickled baby beetroots, cubed
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and cubed
diced onion or shallot
Philadelphia light
juice of 1 orange
pickled jalapenos
cumin and coriander seeds, pounded as finely as possible with pestle and mortar
fresh mint, chopped finely and for decoration

At least I think that’s all I used. I’m vague on the exact amount of Philadelphia and mayonnaise because it was a gradual process of not letting either the mayonnaise taste or the chalkiness of the cheese dominate. I used an orange because it had to go – lemon juice would be an alternative though it might make it too acidic. I replaced the gherkins with the jalapenos for a bit more kick, and that worked a treat. Cumin and coriander are perfect partners for beetroot, so they are a must. (The powdered variety might work, too.) Mint complements beetroot really well, but obviously, fresh coriander would also have fitted, and I bet dill would work a treat.

I loved it, and Tom - who hates beetroot, and rather suspected the striking colour could only be achieved by adding the detested tuber - also thought it was rather nice!! Wow!

He absolutely hated the beetroot curry though, which I served later. ... And in all fairness, I have to report that the alleged uses as an aphrodisiac leave something to be desired...

Yes, really, beetroot is said to have those magic qualities; in fact it's quite amazing what you can find out about this humble root vegetable once you get started. Unfortunately, I can't quite lay my hand on the notebook in which I recorded the properties of beetroot and the myths it is associated with, and it's also rather late, so this will have to wait until I get the next opportunity to try out some other interesting beetroot recipe.

Tom thinks I've been taken over by some strange sick bug which compells me to rise to the challenge of cooking the inedible, of making the unspeakable palatable. -- Whatever next? Radish icecream with rhubarb sauce?? Melon soup with liver dumplings??? *And why do we have a brain in the vegetable rack?!!

Well, as I said, more about beetroot (and also about 'brains') some other time. I must fly. (No, actually - drive - the fatherland calls...)

'See' you soon.

* Careful! Heston Blumenthal might nick these ideas!!!

Do make sure you check everyone else's fabulous ideas for a vegetable and antioxidant rich dish over at sweetnicks. And thank you sweetnicks, for being so efficient!!!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday #6: Roasted Red Pepper & Blueberry Soup

Well, this 'creation' only came about because of one of my all too frequent kitchen mishaps, if not to say 'disasters'. - Tom thinks I should call this blog 'Zabeena's Kitchen Catastrophies', and I think he's got a point, tonight's 'blackened carrots' being a prime example (just think hazelnut macaroons - see 'Biscuit Bonanza' - and replace 'attic' with 'ebay', and you get the general idea).

In this instance, I had to make a quick U-turn when the 'soup' I had de-frosted turned out to be apple puree. (Do you not label your frozen food?!! -- I hear you ask - eh ... no...; the labels kept coming off, and most of the time, I do know what I'm de-frosting...).

So, a dead-easy, dead quick soup had to be invented (as SOUP it had to be -- diets always turn me into a Homo Soupiens®© - please quote me if you want to use this expression! -, because soups are so satisfying even when they don't contain many calories).

I took a carton of passata, whizzed a few roasted red peppers with onions, garlic, basil and a handful of blueberries. This I added to the passata, alongside Worcestershire sauce, a dash of tabasco and a dash of jalapeno relish, salt and pepper. I then heated it all up, while the sunflower seed roll was being browned in the oven. (Still the one where the door has to be kept shut with the stepladders, oh yes...)

Quick, easy and effective. Just how I like things.

For those of you who like to cook things completely from scratch, here is
my Mum's recipe for a wonderful Irish Tomato Soup - to which, I daresay, one could add roasted red peppers and blueberry quite easily.
(What exactly is supposed to be Irish about it, I don't know... there aren't even potatoes in it..., sorry, stereotypes, stereotypes..., nah, sorry, no time fopr a discussion tonight...)


500g very ripe tomatoes
1 medium sized onion
4 TBsp of butter
3 TBsp of flour
3/4 l stock
3 TBsp of tomato puree
1/8 l milk
1 Tbsp herbs (basil, parsley, thyme)
salt, pepper, 1 tsp of sugar
1/8 l cream


Scald tomatoes with boiling water, remove skin and seeds; cut into strips. Dice onions finely, fry in butter until transluscent; add flour, bring to the boil. add tomatoes and broth. Boil for 10 minutes, without lid. Pasteurize, add tomato puree, milk and seasoning.
Pour into soup bowls and add whipped cream.

PS: This is actually last week's contribution, which I didn't manage to upload! (There is something very strange going on - that's twice in a row that I couldn't upload in time!!)
PPS: up-date on the diet front: only 1/2 kg last week, but that was quite an achievement, considering the amount of alc I had, and the girlie night with Tiramisu, of all things! -- And again, only 1/2 kg this week --- well, better than nothing...

Thanks to
sweetnicks for coming up with the idea of ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday, and for doing the round-up! It's always chock-a-block with ideas for using high profile veg in your next meal. I tried out the red potatoes grilled in the GF straight away! (Which worked a treat, though my definition of parboiled certainly needs some re-adjusting!!)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

EoMEoTE#14 - Poetic Injustice: Two-Tone Crema Pasticcera

It was Rosa, our wonderful Neapolitan au-pair, who introduced me to Crema Pasticcera, in one of our long 'let's compare recipes' sessions. Really, she should have taken advantage of all the Strategic Management Books in the house, as she was going on to take an MBA after this stint with us to improve her English, but instead, she chose to take one of my cookery books upstairs every night. And then we would end up discussing the differences - Italian - English - German. In the case of Crema Pasticcera coming to the conclusion that it is, in effect, nothing else but a thick custard. (But again - doesn't it sound so much better in Italian??!!)

The two-tone version was a great success with the children at the time, and when Frank saw me making a Tiramisu for a friend's dinner party the other day, he reminded me of (and insisted on having soon) this child-friendly version of a trifle without fruit, jelly or cream. So, here it is, in time for EoMEoTE#14. (The one and only ovo-literal event, organised by the wonderful Jeanne over at cook sister!)It contains egg (3 yolks) and carbohydrates in the form of spongefingers (also confusingly known as ladyfingers).

My poem is based on Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' --This is terribly flippant, so apologies are in order, I expect...


You do not do, you do not do
Any whites, oh no.
Just 3 yolks, beaten well
With 30 sugars, pure & white,
One hundred grams to be precise.

Eggy, I have had to kill you.
I beat you up in time.
Flour-heavy, heat to boiling point.
When it’s creamy, go and add
Butter, vanilla, straight from the pod.

Two-tone crema – o you!
Cocoa-man, cocoa-man, you too!
Ladyfingers soaked in juice,
Sugar syrup in the German tongue,
- Zucker! And Orange juice, Ach du!


3 egg yolks
100g sugar
50 g flour
1/2 l of whole milk
juice of half an orange (1 lemon)
sugar, water

Cover a serving dish with spongefingers; soak them with orange or lemon juice and sugar syrup.
Mix the eggs with the sugar, beat to a cream, put in the flour (sieved) and milk, and then heat up to boiling point, stirring the whole time; ca. 10 minutes.
When it's creamy, add 1 tsp of butter and vanilla sugar.
For the two-tone effect, add cocoa powder to half the cream. Pour the two types of cream on top of the soaked spongefingers. Leave to cool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday #4: Cipolle Ripiene

Well, to you and me that’s just “Stuffed Onion”, but my, doesn’t it sound a hell of a lot better in Italian?

There are thousands of recipes out there, and mine is a variation of loads of them, driven by my desire to get as many vegetables and/or ARF foods into it,

As it was, I managed:

onions (obviously!), red pepper, carrot, courgette, garlic (does that qualify as a vegetable??!!)

My portion was served on a spinach salad (see above), and we also had mash from russet potatoes (well, at least I assume they were russet potatoes, I bought them at my wonderful Indian supermarket as ‘red’ potatoes). They made a lovely mash, which my three men enjoyed a lot (ultimate comfort food, apparently!). I had only a bit of that because I had added a generous knob of butter (how do you replace the butter in mash? Would olive oil have done? Joanna? What do you do?)

The following recipe is a rough approximation of what I did tonight.

Cipolle Ripiene


3 large Spanish Onions
½ pound of very lean turkey mince
1 red pepper
1 courgette, grated
1 carrot, grated
2 slices of prosciutto/Parma ham*
1 egg, beaten
½ pack of Philadelphia light
nutmeg, freshly grated
olive oil
1 chilli
salt, pepper
dash of tabasco


Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, grease a baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Peel onions and slice off tops, boil them for 12-15 minutes until tender but not mushy; drain, cool, and remove centres, leaving shell intact. Chop centres. In the meantime, fry chopped tops and garlic, add mince meat and finely chopped pepper. In a large bowl, combine meat mixture, egg, cream cheese, vegetables, chopped onion centres, herbs and spices. Mix well. Place the onion shells in the greased baking dish, fill with meat mixture, sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Form any remaining mixture into balls and add to the dish. Cover dish and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5-15 minutes.
Serve on bed of spinach or rocket salad (with a balsamic, olive oil, mustard dressing) and/or potato mash.

* I actually use Schwarzwälder Schinken from Lidl, which is cheaper, and which I personally prefer.
** I had a lot of coriander to use up; any other fresh herb will do (in the various recipes, I came across basil, thyme, parsley, rosemary & oregano)

Other variants

Other combinations in terms of filling I came across: sausage meat instead of mince; chilli sauce, mustard, paprika, parmiggiano reggiano, 1 amaretti (crushed), thin breadsticks (crushed), 1 TBsp grappa; grated cheddar, tomato sauce, capers, anchovies, pine nuts, bread, borlotti beans, olives, peas, chopped mushrooms, ¼ cup dried cranberries, ¼ cup currants, white wine

In one version, each stuffed onion was topped with mashed potato


Well, it looks great, but to be quite honest, it’s not really worth all the bother. Still, I’d call it a success, as everyone finished everything, which means they’ve all ingested vegetables they wouldn’t normally have eaten.


PS: Where did this week go?
PPS: I lost 1 kg (14 to go...), even though I didn’t go teetotal, and despite my working through the nut bowl! Yeah!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday: Black Beluga Lentils

Yesterday, I finally started the diet. I need to lose at least 15 kg, which roughly translates into 2 ½ stones. I’ve done it before, so I reckon I can do it again. For my ideal weight, I would have to lose even more than that but last time I came near, I had got rather wrinkly, and even bony in areas where my husband doesn’t like me bony (in fact, my husband would be quite happy with me staying as I am – mainly so that he doesn’t have to go on a diet...). More on that topic later.

sweetnicks’ ARF/5-A-Day-Tuesday fits in nicely with the intentions to eat a healthier diet, s
o I intend to be part of it from now on.

If you already know all about it, skip the following, and go straight to the recipe, which probably only just qualifies but has the added advantage of using a pulse type I had not tried before.

ARF stands for Antioxidant Rich Foods

Below, I have reproduced sweetnicks' list of the top 20, but I have grouped them into categories because that way they can be checked more easily for adding them to recipes and/or thinking up recipes:

Antioxidant Rich Foods (the Top 20):

Wild blueberries
Other fruit:
Red Delicious Apples
Granny Smith Apples
Gala Apples
Sweet cherries
Black plums
Small red beans (dried)
Red kidney beans
Pinto beans
Black beans (dried)
Artichokes (cooked)
Russet potatoes (cooked)

sweetnicks also provided this link and Alanna,
trying to find more VEGETABLES for this list, reports the following:

“I did find this helpful list, many thanks to the Heart Center from the Cleveland Clinic.
Antioxidant - Good Food Sources
For Vitamin C -- Citrus fruits and their juices, berries, dark green vegetables (
spinach, asparagus, green peppers, brussel sprouts, broccoli, watercress, other greens), red and yellow peppers, tomatoes and tomato juice, pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, papaya and guava.
For Vitamin E -- Vegetable oils such as olive, soybean, corn, cottonseed and safflower, nuts and nut butters, seeds, whole grains, wheat, wheat germ, brown rice, oatmeal, soybeans,
sweet potatoes, legumes (beans, lentils, split peas) and dark leafy green vegetables.
For Selenium -- Brazil nuts, brewer’s yeast, oatmeal, brown rice, chicken, eggs, dairy products, garlic, molasses, onions, salmon, seafood, tuna, wheat germ, whole grains,
most vegetables.
For Beta Carotene -- Variety of dark orange, red, yellow and green vegetables and fruits such as
broccoli, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, red and yellow peppers, apricots, cantaloupe and mangos.
In my search, one name keeps popping up. It's MJ Smith, a nutritionist and
cookbook author who ten years ago wrote a great book on cooking with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables called The Miracle Foods Cookbook. Her book is everywhere! Written before its time, just at the start of the scientific research boom about antioxidant foods, the book remains an extraordinarily useful reference for home cooks preparing healthful meals for their families.”

And I think it’s this author which she then quotes as saying, "The best vegetables are the ones you actually eat!" Couldn’t agree more!

And what an effort it is, in a household dominated by men ! With my boys, I have to actually slip them one, play Hide the Veg, and PASTEURISE.
Ozzy is the worst, he doesn’t really eat any vegetables (which proved a bit of a stumbling block whenever he’s tried to become a vegetarian), except for broccoli, peas (now that he can manage to get enough of them on the fork) and cold (!) sweetcorn (yes, directly from the can!). Unless, of course, you put them into a very rich cheese sauce, when he will quite happily eat cauliflower and leeks.
Frank, on the other hand, loves carrots, especially raw, but will painstakingly fork through his food in order to eliminate even the tiniest sliver of a vegetable he doesn’t like (his plate always contains a heap of apparently inedible food at the end of every meal...).
Tom, of course, brought up at a time when grown-ups forced you to eat whatever was on the table – never mind your preferences or the fact that you were gagging – will eat anything (unless it’s beetroot or radish), as long as you smother it with butter or cream or cheese, or preferably a combination of all three. (There is no hope, is there
But more on Food Terrorism later. Here’s the recipe:

Black Beluga Lentil Salad

110g Black Beluga Lentils
½ red pepper
2 TBsp sweetcorn
1 spring onion

Cranberry jelly*
Blackberry vinegar**
lemon juice
lemon zest
olive oil
dash of tabasco (optional)

Cook the lentils as per packet instructions (no pre-soaking necessary), then rinse in cold water and refrigerate. Slice the spring onion, cube the red pepper (I used preserved roasted peppers, which adds a certain piquancy, but a fresh red pepper would be more nutritious and adds fragrance and crunchiness), then prepare the dressing. Toss all the ingredients into the dressing and let flavours develop.

I loved the contrast of the sweet-and-sour effect of the dressing with the earthiness of the lentils, and it also looked a lot more exciting than on my photo (any hints as to how I can get this camera – Sony DSC-P51 – to focus are greatly appreciated). Though it has to be said, while the lentils do resemble Beluga before they’re cooked, their black- and shinyness fades considerably once cooked. Still, they make an interesting change, and would certainly look good with their orange cousins, methinks.

* As this recipe mainly came about in order to include one or two ARF foods, using a jelly is probably not quite the original idea. But it was all I had in and it worked a treat. But I’m sure other ‘forms’ of cranberry would work, too. In particular, dried cranberries, I reckon.

** Berry vinegars: They can be very easily made by mixing fruit and white wine vinegar or even cider vinegar. Any form of reduced/preserved berries should work. I used homemade blackberry jam. Berry syrup can also be used. I made a very tart dressing with cider vinegar*** and Elderberry Syrup with Cloves from Pinks Farm (I buy the syrup from the Farmers’market but I’ve also seen them at Waitrose. Ultimately, I’d like to make my own, of course...) For less of a sugar content, I’m sure one can use fruit pulp, it simply has to be used up more quickly. Very nice little bottles can be bought at Oil & Vinegar. (See my earlier entry ‘Not so much waxing lyrical than burning the house down’. They also sell small 0.2l flip-top bottles like the one shown in Johanna’s Choco Mocca Liqueur post – just in case you were hunting for them...).

*** Cider vinegar: On Severine’s blog, Mes recettes de cuisine favorites, I found the following information:
Did you know that it is rich in minerals, such as phosphor, magnesium, calcium, sulphur, fluor, iron and silicon? Apparently, it is good for fighting obesity and cellulite because it destroys excess fat in your cells.

Gosh, in that case I would have to drink it by the gallon! I wonder whether bathing in it would show any significant effects?!!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Some Like It Hot

Ozzy came home from school on Friday and declared that he'd cook some pasta now if that was all right with me - it was indeed, I said, especially if he could cook for all of us (Frank and his friend S., who were playing guitar in the front room, and me). And he did: pasta with tuna & sweetcorn in a spicy tomato sauce. And above, you can see a spiced up photograph of how he gave some 'kick' to the sauce: Worcestershire sauce plus a variety of pepper/chili products. It was very good indeed.
And yes, I did have to nip into the kitchen from time to time, to 'correct' some of his assumptions..., for starters, he had put the pasta into the cold water... But all in all, I think the boy is well on his way!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois, this buttery rich cake filled with almond paste (frangipane), which is eaten in France around January 6th (usually on a Sunday close to the date), is the treat associated with the feast of Epiphany.

Epiphany is a much overused word these days, I find, especially in the world of food journalism. Of course, with its meaning of "the appearance; miraculous phenomenon" (from the Greek), or in a verbal variations, "to make known" or even "to reveal", and signifying a climax (i.e. of the Christmas season and the twelve days of Christmas), it is easy to see why some ecstatic food enthusiasts reach for it when they want to describe an out-of-this-world taste experience.

According to Wikipedia, the feast was initially based on, and viewed as a fulfillment of, the Jewish Feast of Lights, Hanukkah. It was fixed on January 6th, and commemorates the visit of the three Kings, presenting their gifts of gold, frankincense and mhyrr to the Christ Child. In other cultures, Epiphany is therefore known as Three Kings’ Day:
Spanish: el Dia de los Tres Reyes, la Fiesta de Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag; German: Heilige Drei Könige.

The Three Kings are also otherwise known as the Three Magi, or Three Wise Men, and it is not at all certain that they were kings. Some claim they were Zoroastrian priests. Apparently, the Medes of ancient Western Iran (Persia/Kurdistan) had a priestly class named the Magi. When they adopted the Zoroastrian religion, their priests became Zoroastrian priests. (cf: Zarathustra)

The bible also refers to them not as kings or priests but as magi/wise men, and does not specify their number as three. In fact, according to Eastern tradition, there were twelve. About their origin the bible is not very specific either. They are said to come ‘from the East’, with Arabia, Babylonia, and Persia being popular interpretations of ‘the East’.
There is also a tradition, which claims that Balthasar was king of Arabia, Gaspar (Caspar) was king of India, and Melchior was king of Persia. There are no such references as to names or appearance in the Bible, however.

It was in fact the venerable Bede, in the 8th century, who described the magi as follows, "The first was called Melchior; he was an old man, with white hair and long beard; he offered gold to the Lord as to his king. The second, Gaspar by name, young, beardless, of ruddy hue, offered to Jesus his gift of incense, the homage due to Divinity. The third, of black complexion, with heavy beard, was called Baltasar; the myrrh he held in his hands prefigured the death of the Son of man." This is presumably where the concept of the magi representing different races comes from.

Further spinning of the tale doesn’t stop here either. There are stories that the magi were baptized by St. Thomas, that they became bishops and that they were reunited at the end of their lives when they saw the Star of Bethlehem again. According to one legend, they were over 100 years old when they celebrated Christmas together and then died within a few days of each other.
St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine (4th century), who is responsible for a great number of unsubstantial claims – which have nevertheless been adopted by Christianity – brought their purported remains to Constantinople. They first ended up in Milan, from where the Holy Roman Emperor Friederich Barbarossa appropriated them in order to give them to the Archbishop of Cologne, Germany. Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) was apparently specifically built (12th century) to house the precious relics.
(cf: Cinderella)

But back to the food. Clotilde reminded me of the ‘magic’ rituals associated with celebrating ‘en famille’, and how I, as the guest of my Parisian friend P., won the fève and received the crown. A golden paper crown, by the way, which I kept for years and years as a memento. (Maybe I’ve even still got it – but I have a feeling I sacrificed it to dressing up games...). There is a link to recipe there, and Dara also has a recipe – both are in French.

The picture above shows galettes, but clearly also ducks. That is because it is a photograph from the wonderful foodie present I received on my birthday from the incomparable Sally – a book on food festivals in France, a month by month guide. And this photograph is from Foire des Rois/Fair of the three Kings in Brive-la-Gaillarde/Corrèze, Limousin, which focusses on the galettes but also on foie gras.

Accordingly, the recipe given here is for foie gras en terrine. Luckily for me, I happen to have one already prepared for me. All that remains for me to do is to find a broad brimmed black hat (and would that be for me or Tom?), a dark floral-patterned shawl, and a tape that features accordions, violas and fiddles for my own little village fête.

I might have to settle for Georges Moustaki... but hey, I’ve already gone from Christianity via Judaism to Zoroastrianism (or should that be the other way round?), from Iran via the whole of the Middle East all the way to India, only to end up in Cologne (so close to home), I don’t think his gueule de métèque (his words, not mine!!) is inappropriate at all.

After all, as I failed to bring back a Sauternes (though we did have a tasting...) for this occasion, we will have to wash the foie gras down with a Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Bernkastel-Kues) Riesling Spätlese, and instead of the galette, we still have traditional English Christmas Cake to finish off before the diet. Mind you, there are a few paper crowns left over from the Christmas crackers...
Is it just me, or does the ‘favour’ suddenly remind you of the fève, and wasn’t there traditionally a penny hidden in the Christmas pudding?

PS: In order to include a bit of the “New World”, I should probably point out that the carol "We Three Kings" was written in 1857 by an American minister, John Henry Hopkins Jr., for use in a Christmas pageant.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

MEME: Top Three Diet Tips

(picture to follow when my batteries are re-chareged... actually, that's my camera's batteries, really, although mine could do with re-charging , too...)
Now, imagine the above struck out (which I can't do...)
Also, note that the above is Frank's photo as - don't you just love your offsprings??!! - "You take crap photos, mum!"
Recipe below

I've been nominated by Joanna to continue the above meme which was initiated by her. She's already mentioned cutting out saturated fats and adding loads more fresh fruit, and as for her weak tea, I'd like to add that I personally love peppermint tea of which I manage to drink a lot, far more than if I tried to drink just water. I find peppermint tea particularly good because one can still drink it when it's got cold. Another non-caffeine tea is redbush which is very similar to black tea, and the Earl Grey variety from Waitrose is absolutely fantastic.

As already mentioned in the last post, a change of diet and losing weight is definitely on the agenda. Goodness knows how much we've gained over the holidays, and we're not through all the supplies yet... (we had a cheese fondue, and a chocolate one, and I've still got raclette cheese, loads of other cheeses, half a Christmas cake, etc, etc, etc....), but however much it is, it's going to be insignificant in comparison to the amount I've gained over the past 1 1/2 years. Basically since my brother and I had to take the dreadfully hard decision to place our Mum into a safe environment because her Alzheimer's had progressed too far for her to cope any longer with living on her own.
It's not exactly Kummerspeck (lit.: "worry fat", aka fat gained from comfort eating) but it's certainly true that it all started with comfort eating at the time, and when I'd put on 3 kg, I was so cross that I stopped watching it altogether. When Tom was then diagnosed with Angina Pectoris and subsequently had to have stents put in, that wasn't really the time either to get back to dieting and WW points counting because it was more important that Tom gave up smoking.
I haven't been on the scales since before Christmas but just before, I weighed 17 kg more than in June 04, and this morning, I finally gave in and searched for my bra extensions... So, yes, as soon as the unhealthy, fattening supplies are used up, we'll have to draw up a plan...

Of all the things that one can and has to do in order to lose weight, apart from the dreaded exercise, I think the following three will be the most important for me:

1) Always eat breakfast
2) Always carry a small bag of fruit & nuts
3) Don't buy foods you will pig out on

Ad 1:
This might seem like a very strange one for some of you but there really are people who are too fat because they don't eat enough. Tom for instance (who probably needs to lose ~ 5 stone), never has breakfast and hardly ever has lunch, then come 4/5/6 o'clock, he starts stuffing himself. Of course, the body can't cope. To start with, it 'thinks' there's a famine coming, and therefore holds on to the fat. Then when it hasn't been needed for most of the day, there is an onslaught of food which the neglected metabolism can't cope with... For your metabolism to work (i.e. burn off fat) you have to give it fuel!
For me, a very small portion of mini bix with skimmed milk works best, but when I'm in a hurry, I just grab a banana or two apples. BUT I haven't kept to that formula for quite some time now...

Ad 2:
It's the best 'convenience food' there is. A handful packed into small freezer bags, stashed into your handbag and your gym bag - just the right thing when you find yourself having skipped a meal, you're out shopping, etc and suddenly overcome by hunger pangs. It doesn't go off if you don't need it (unlike fruit... I once found a very nasty banana surprise in my bag).

Ad 3:
Ah, yes, that's where number two is difficult for me. If I buy nuts in bulk, I usually end up eating them in bulk... While nuts and raisins are good for you, they're still fattening in THOSE quantities...

There are loads more tips but I must give someone else a chance... ;-)

I shall nominate Mel/the laughing snail who has just posted an interesting piece on a healthier and less fattening chocolate spread on hecticium, and Debbie of Words to Eat By.

I recently stumbled over Debbie's blog, which is of course about food, but also about dieting (on and off). Debbie lost 108 lbs with WW and became a life member in 1998. She has put on about 20kg since getting married (ooh, I know all about that one - am I not married to the man who declared, "Oh, I thought that was what getting married was all about - stop watching your weight, watch TV instead... " ?!!! - I really ought to post some before and after photographs!!). There are lots of interesting stories on her blog (including her own journey), as well as links to other related sites and stories.

She recently published a list of diet blogs, which some of you might be interested in:

Fitness Blogs (click on the “links” to see more than 500 diet blogs!)
The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl
Do You Have That in My Size?
Mr. Ointy
Jim at
Coleen at
Weight Challenged
Tracy at
Health Diaries
Erin at
Lose the Buddha (although it looks like she’s just closed up shop)
Yvonne at
Hope Is the Thing

I haven't looked at all of them, but Diet Girl is funny (especially her other site, What's new pussycat?).
Well, as a first attempt at less fattening, low cholesterol eating this year, I tried to serve the very plain chicken breasts, boiled/steamed potatoes and vegetables with green and black olive tapenade yesterday. Tom, hoping this was some butter concoction, put a lot on his plate - where it stayed when he realized it was not melting on his sprouts... I thought it was very nice, and though probably not really a 'losing weight' meal, it's certainly suitable for a de-tox or low cholesterol diet.
I didn't have any anchovies in, which resulted in a very olivy/capery taste, neither of which Tom likes; he adores anchovies though, so I will give this another go, I think a stripey effect on chicken or fish would be nice...
(On the left hand side: quantities of one recipe, in brackets those of another)
20 olives (200g)
TBsp capers (100g)
tsp lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
2 tsp olive oil (unlimited olive oil)
½ tsp anchovy paste (opt.) (100g unsalted anchovy fillets)
black pepper

additional ingredients: (optional and varying from recipe to recipe)
- garlic
- salt
- shallots
- thyme/rosemary/parsley/chives

Process all ingredients in a food processor until desired consistency is achieved.

dip; on crostini/bruschetta; on meat or fish before baking; or as separate ‘sauce’ for potatoes, vegetables and meat/fish instead of butter/sauces containing saturated fats

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bye bye 2005, hello 2006

What sort of a year was it for us? I’d say it was one of those Blink of an Eye’, ‘What, Christmas again?’, ‘Whoosh – was that 2005 which just ran past? sort of a year. They say it gets worse the older you get – how can it possibly get worse?
It was only yesterday that I sat here, in this very place (in front of the PC, right next to the radiator) with all the best intentions to write back to/phone all those nice people who had made an effort... (not to mention all the best intentions to finally deal with the Inland Revenue... but let’s not go there today...), and here I am again.
And it’s only when I summon all my strength in order to get these diminishing grey cells of mine to perform a few memory pull-ups that I can see that we were actually quite busy.
There is a very noticeable domination of ballet performances (something that may need some counter balance next year) but that is entirely understandable because I have become a sponsor of the Birmingham Royal Ballet despite the deplorable fact that my personal income still wouldn’t keep me in the quantity (or quality!!) of red wine that I’ve become accustomed to. With my golden coloured ‘Director’s Appeal’ card, I can go to several dress rehearsals, AND bring a friend! So, with this on top of the ‘regular’ performances, I sometimes saw three ballet performances in one month!

What follows is a list of some of the (cultural) events this year – mainly as a reminder/memento for myself. (Partly to be filled in later, as some of those grey cells weren’t quite up to it...)
We started off by taking the whole family to see ‘Manon’ at Covent Garden (Ozzy was more impressed with the train journey than the ballet – apparently, good ballets need giant rats – and kept saying, "When does it land?", which makes you realize that these kids are more used to flights than trains these days...), and Frank and Syvvy to see ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Birmingham, which was immediately followed by my first dress rehearsal, ( ). The next performance in the series was Duo Concertant (Balanchine), Scènes de ballet (Ashton), Rites of Spring (Nijinsky) & Dumbarton Oaks, all set to Stravinsky. In June, Ozzy and I made it into Brum City centre for “Stars of the Royal Ballet” (Covent Garden) on the big screen, and with a couple of friends we saw Holst’s ‘The Planets’ and ‘Into the Ferment’ (mostly by young choreographers) at the Hippodrome, which was followed by a matinee dress rehearsal, ( ). The next one wasn’t until October – ( ). There are three more to come next year, but ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the beginning of December with my mother-in-law rounded this year off nicely.
Music-wise, I went to the Tsunami Concert in Cardiff, and another very ethnic one at a community centre, including Louis’ band; we saw an interesting film on John Coltrane and the song ‘Strange Fruit’; the Hugh Warren Quintett, and a Cuban Jazz band at the MAC, and numerous artists at the Cropredy Festival in August, most notably, Jah Wobble, the Hamsters, the absolutely fantastic Muffin Men and of course, Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson. We went to see Trevor Burton several times, of course, and even ventured into opera once: Rigoletto. (Was that when we saw John Nettles at the Hippodrome?). Ah, mustn’t forget Nitin Sawhney at the Medicine Bar of the Custard Factory (felt very out of place...), and the Destroyers at the Symphony Hall (great entertainment for all the family)!
Plays were few and far between, Pinter’s The Birthday Party (fantastic), the Reduced Shakespeare Company (absolutely hilarious) and The Tempest as interpreted by oddsocks (really good fun) with the teenagers. Frank and I also saw Brecht’s Gallileo (Syvvy had already seen it as part of her young playwrights programme), which was disappointing as Timothy West seemed to have problems with his lines. There should have been ‘Hecuba’ at Stratford, but that was cancelled due to an operation Vanessa Redgrave had to undergo. To be fair – we were offered tickets for the London performances but did not want another trip, when we’d already been down at the beginning of February and then Tom had taken Ozzy for Half Term
[2], and the Caravaggio exhibition warranted another visit in May. In the event, it was only I who managed[3] to see the latter because we left it for the very last weekend, and Ozzy fell seriously ill, which was all the worse because he was due to go on a school trip the following Monday. This in turn, could not be put into jeopardy as I was going to use his absence to visit my Mum in Germany...
As it happened, this was to be the only trip to Germany this year as we felt we could finally go elsewhere. Easter and the May half term were sabotaged by Frank’s school putting on GCSE revision classes, but we said hello to some old haunts such as Wookey Hole, Glastonbury, Padstow and Sandymouth over Tom’s birthday.
[4] In July, I went to Bordeaux with my College friends, and just a week later to Prague for our Wedding Anniversary. Then we took the tent, first to Cropredy, then to Normandy[5] and Brittany. Apart from seeing stately houses, landscapes and gardens up and down the country[6], that was it really, in terms of travelling.

Other than that, we have mainly sat around watching TV, drinking increasingly more expensive red wine, and bemoaning the state of the world. Tom still dreams of cigarettes but has been nicotine-free for over a year now. Unfortunately, diet-wise we have gone back to the bad old ways with predictable results. In fact, instead of being obsessed with points and WW meals, or at least trying to keep the cholesterol down, I fell in with the foodies when I discovered Chocolate & Zucchini... – hence this blog, wonderful new friends, and a huge array of recipes. The downside: once again I spend too much time on the PC (and too little in the gym), and the focus is on yumminess, not necessarily health and losing weight. BUT as Joanna so admirably shows, a food blog can be about healthy eating, too. So, who knows, I might yet be able set up a new regime and post about our successes... If yesterday’s meal is anything to go by, it’s going to be an uphill struggle. As many of you know, Tom believes that calories are actually what makes food tasty, and any meal cooked by him seems to come from a recipe book entitled ‘Give your Arteries Hell – Dr Tom’s Fast Track to Coronary Disease’: Chicken breast in garlic butter, cheesy leeks, creamy mushrooms (double cream, no doubt) and roast potatoes cooked in dripping... See what I mean?!!
But after another year of impossible time schedules and demands most mere mortals are not capable of meeting, such as being physically present at project meetings in Glasgow and Bracknell at the same time, I’m just glad that it only ever resulted in panic over certain bids
[7] but not in him going back to smoking. I hope that we can tackle the food question this year.
Talking about tackling questions – Frank passed his GCSE’s this year with more or less success
[8], and Ozzy had to brave the waves of 11+ reasoning papers. He came out of the first test as if he’d been in the trenches, and there was no way he was going to go back in to pretend sitting the test for a BBC camera crew.[9] I had quietly predicted this, and I was quite proud that appearing on TV held so little fascination for him. (Even though I knew that the main reason would be his desire to get home, crash out in front of said TV, thumb firmly inserted in his mouth...; yes, still a sucker at 10 and 11...).
As for myself, nothing much to report really, I’m falling apart at approximately the same rate as the house and have been avoiding to tackle the repairs on either front (me: teeth
[10]; knees; house: front and back, top to bottom; cellar, kitchen, bathroom, attic, outhouses/garage, patio – everything really...). I’m not going to list all the resolutions which exist in my head as there is one single phenomenon which overshadows them all: P. Yes, the dreaded P-word: PROCRASTINATION. If I manage to curb my P this year, then I’m well on my way as far as all other things are concerned. Apparently, at the bottom of P lies perfectionism and the fear of not being able to achieve self-imposed standards. So, as a first step, I’m just going to leave it at that. This entry that is. Even though it isn’t by any means as well constructed, complete or funny as I would like it to be...
Happy New Year!!!

[1] Though as usual not with the house, which is in the same deplorable state as described in every Christmas letter of mine – including the ‘Oh, are you moving?’ installation art of boxes lining the hall, which, incidentally, for Christmas this year, we cleverly disguised as ‘interesting mess’ with the aid of my huge array of Christmas books and several see-through boxes of those Christmas decorations which we weren’t using this year. Very festive. An absolute stroke of genius by my better half.
[2] where they saw The Pirates of Penzanze, which Ozzy loved – the costumes were blatantly based on a well known Jimi Hendrix outfit by the way, which reminds me that the “Stars of the Royal Ballet” included Nigel Kennedy playing Jimi Hendrix!!!
[3] only just, that is... At this point, one could not reserve tickets online (or any other way), and one was advised to get there early. Well, I took the train after dispatching Ozzy but, of course, only arrived around midday, and there were no tickets left!! So, what to do? As I didn't have to be back until Tue night for my summer course teaching, I was theoretically able to spend the night in London, get to the National early the next morning, see the exhibition and then return to B'ham as long as it was in time for my teaching. But short of sleeping under a bridge, which is only romantic in Paris (and even there, only in novels...), where could I spend the night? I have a friend who lives in Lewisham (how far that is from the centre, I do not even know) but I've only got her home phone number not her work number. The phone situation was further complicated by the fact that I had taken Ozzy's mobile because mine hasn't had any money on it for the past two years now (a testimonial to the fact that one can actually live quite happily without permanently having a phone attached to one's ear), but it now inexplicably asked me for some strange number, which of course I had no way of knowing... Luckily, I was still able to use it as an electronic phone book. So, I positioned myself in a café just opposite two phone boxes, drank a large cappuccino and thought it all through. I could phone Tom and ask him to find my friend’s phone number for me via her place of work... Then again, to Tom, this would seem a very complicated and annoying activity distracting him from the relative serenity of multi-digit numbers and fancy formulae (= financial modelling on enormous spreadsheets), so I thought I could just as well ask him whether I could spend the night at his hotel in Bracknell, which is, after all, not too far away from London. Of course, I had to ask him to phone me back as nobody carries enough spare change on them to actually conduct a conversation on a public telephone... To cut a long story short, that's what I did, I took the train to Bracknell, Tom picked me up, and I bought a toothbrush and contact lens lotion as part of his expenses. As it turned out, his hotel this time was close to Reading station - which of course, I could have gone to, had I only known this before, and which would have avoided the awkward situation of John having to get me to the station for my 5:30 train, which was the only one to guarantee that I would be at the National early enough to get hold of a ticket for that morning's 'show', i.e. 8:30! So, in actual fact, I was 1 1/2 hours away from London, which is ironic if you consider that Birmingham is only two hours away... Still, I did get there early, though I was by no means the first. And by the time the exhibition opened, the queue went all the way from the Sainsbury wing to the main entrance!
[4] He was even interviewed by Cornish Radio and was able to express his “surprise” at the somewhat incongruous circumstance that the ‘Obby ‘Oss wasn’t taking place on the correct date, because it fell on a Sunday ...
[5] Where Tom was interviewed again! This time by French television who were filming people and their reactions in the totally fantastic Eric Satie museum in Honfleur.
[6] We went to see where King John lost the crown jewels in the Wash (why was he transporting them in the first place?), and noticed in Boston that the postcards proclaimed that the horrid man had been King until 1261! (When of course, it should have been 1216!!)
[7] especially the £8 billion BBC one which they were in danger of losing when Tom’s laptop was stolen at the Hilton while he was the breakfast bar...
[8] He managed to get 17, not quite all with A and A*, but with only one C – which was not in French, as expected! His oral contained a role-play that had never been covered in class (or revision notes!): breaking down with the car (why a 16-year old needs to know this, is quite beyond me) – the vocabulary of which I nearly needed to conjure up on the way back from Brittany when I caused the Focus to huff and puff and burst into flames while attempting to drive for a few miles with the hand brake on...
[9] While waiting, I had been approached by a reporter of a programme which will show one little boy’s progress; to be broadcast in March after they will have received their ‘results’.
[10] I actually lost a tooth in France – biting into a Madeleine, of all things...