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...