Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is this a Dada I see before me?

This is what happened when the dishwasher gave up the ghost: The Dada looking cutlery used to be Viners, and the Art Deco swirls used to be the wheels which transport the trays.
I'm glad to report that the dishwasher saga (1) has come to an end, and the new one is finally humming away in the kitchen as we speak, or rather, as I type. Actually, I can't hear the dishwasher at all, because the washing machine is making such a racket - but that's another story (and incidentally, related to a racket-free sport, s.b.). The one about the dishwasher is as follows: In order to speed up the process of replacing the old one, we thought we'd order it on-line. Argos had the same brand in their catalogue, so we went for it as the old one had had a good innings (sorry, these sport related metaphors just keep coming...).
(Nearly 20 years, I should think. The baby I was still breast-feeding when I decided, admittedly in one of my less lucid moments, to study for an MBA, is 20 now. How on earth would I have coped without that dishwasher, when I was also teaching part-time? - Yeah, actually, how did I cope? These days, I hardly manage clearing up, shopping and cooking before anyone's home... - So, if I didn't have it during the first year, I certainly had it during my second year. And apart from losing the use of the dishwasher tablet compartment and the opening mechanism/handle, which had lately added the danger of electrocution if you forgot to switch it off prior to opening, it had been a good kitchen slave.)
Delivery should have been within 7 days, which sounded normal, but then I got a message that they'd contact me within 7 days to arrange delivery. That day passed and it was 2 days later before they rang, with the delivery date yet another couple of days away. When the man arrived he declared he could not get through into the kitchen without the fridge-freezer removed, and wasn't to be convinced otherwise even when I told him that we got the old cooker out and the new cooker in, both being the 60cm norm, and HEAVY, without moving the fridge-freezer. He was adamant that this could only be done with 2 people (granted) and a trolley. Wasn't there a way into the kitchen from the back? Hmm, yes, in fact there's a service road to the back of the property, which would be very convenient IF one could actually open the back gate, and IF said gate wasn't totally blocked from this side with - how shall I put it? - garden debris. I said if that was the only way to do it then we'd have to get all this sorted over the weekend. He said the only other thing he could do is leave the machine in the hall. Well, that was not exactly where I wanted it, and I had paid the extra for the old machine to be removed. Ah, he said, but we expect the old machine to be disconnected and ready for us outside. Nothing of the sort had been specified when I made my payment, I said, and he explained to me that he comes directly from the manufacturer, whereas my payment went to Argos, and did I understand that they would not connect the new machine either. Well, from what I could see this did not exactly need an electrician or plumber, did one not just unscrew this hose and screw the new one back on? He wasn't at liberty to tell. SO, he left me with a number to ring, taking my dishwasher back with him.
Only people who know my BH will appreciate exactly what ensued when I had to explain the absence of a new dishwasher, and the necessity of clearing the back garden. Apparently, the new dishwasher in the hall would have been the better choice... As it was, I did eventually locate the correct key for the padlock but - as usual - it was too rusty to be opened.
To cut a long story short: the dishwasher was delivered last Thursday, 15 days after ordering it. So much for speeding up the process! I could just as well have done the research for the best offer or indeed bought one on ebay! Especially as we had to move the old one ourselves anyway! Once outside, it was gone within hours, by the way. So much for paying the extra. (Oh yes, and dis- and re-connecting IS as easy as I thought.)

I cannot describe just how much better life is now. It was hard to believe just how much time it took to do the washing up (and that was with just 2 of us in the house most of the time), and also how badly the dishes were done! Had we become de-skilled, or had we been spoilt by a sparkling perfection that couldn't be achieved by hand? We'll never know. My eldest, the above mentioned baby, the one who never had to do the washing up in this house but, ironically, now earns his living as a "wash pig", had seriously suggested not to get the dishwasher replaced, for ecological reasons. I simply smiled mildly, and kept my thoughts to myself. You know, the ones that you'd love to ram down their throats, like "Just because you are foolish enough to think washing dishes is an appropriate career move for a bright lad with plenty of GCSEs and a couple of A-levels, doesn't mean that the rest of us have to follow!"

We might have been able to live with a faulty cooker and toilet for more years than any other family would have managed, but life without a dishwasher??!! That's almost as ridiculous as life without a washing machine! For Pete's sake, let's not even think about the
grumbling of the latter, and hope that it is going to keep up with the ever increasing onslaught of mud and grit - wherever the boy plays (no 8 for school; flanker/7 for club; flanker/6 for county (2)), he always seems to be at the bottom of the rook (or whatever the impromptu pile-ups are called), bringing a sizeable percentage of the pitch back with him. It's a good job that the training sessions are on astro-turf!

PS: Oh yes, just in case you were wondering: it is Macbeth,
"Is this a dagger which I see before me..." (Macbeth, II, i, 33)
(1) Why does everything we do, result in a saga? I've got friends in Germany who dubbed me Katastrophenmaus because I never managed to arrive at their house without a narrative of a disaster that had befallen me on the way over (hence, catastrophe; mouse because I'm little...)
(2) They won their first match on Sunday, beating Herefordshire by 20 - 0; yeah!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scrum-ptious: The Joey

It probably doesn't look that scrumptious to you (sorry, my photography still hasn't got any better, though at least I've found out a little more about the focus...), but a) it actually was, and b) this is , of course, a rugby related post.
The letter, long awaited with baited breath, confirming that the filius has been chosen to join the Greater Birmingham squad (i.e. County level), finally arrived - hooray - and
training sessions will be on a Wednesday at 6:30. No time for dinner, only for a fast food fix, something to eat on the hoof, in other words: fist food.

And some time earlier, when reading about New Orleans, I had come across a veritable carb & calorie cluster that seemed to fit the bill, the Muffuletta:

giant quadruple-decker sesame bap, essentially Sicilian, stuffed with mortadella, prosciutto, provolone (1) and salami, further enhanced by olives and capers, and something called giardiniera (2).

That was the first thing I had to investigate. It's a pickled vegetable & garlic mixture. Sounded like just the thing to get some of the 5-a-day veg into an otherwise unwilling teenager. But all recipes stated that it needed to mature, so not for today. Also, I had no celery in. Apparently, in Cajun/Creole cooking, this would never happen, as all dishes seem to start with three blessed ingredients, also called The Holy Trinity: namely, onions, peppers and celery.

Never mind, I could probably make some garlic pickle and mayonnaise. But I found that we had run out of Patak's garlic pickle, and anyway, this didn't quite fit in with the Sicilian provenance. Also, did I really want to add more fat content to the 4 meat cuts and cheese?
So, in the end, I created a healthier sandwich filler/sauce, inspired by LaBelga of Leafy Cooking, namely a variation on her Budwig Mayonnaise. see there.

I used avocado oil (because I couldn't open the linseed oil bottle!!), cottage cheese, vinegar, mustard, smoked paprika and walnuts. I would have added gherkins but I couldn't open the jar (what's wrong with me?). I forgot the cheese (probably just as well), and I simply HAD to re-name it (c'mon, the boy is 14... -- "Yr 9! " need I say more?). The 4-fold meat filling and Sicilian connection made me immediately think of Joey from 'Friends', who is - certainly on the food front - one of my son's icons.

The Joey was very well received (in terms of taste, too), except for the walnuts and what he thought was feta cheese. So, blitzing it is, next time.

As it is the half term holiday, he's going on a rugby development programme on Thursday and Friday, so I think some baking is in order. BBD # 16 was so inspirational, I'm hoping to bake some bread for his lunch time requirement of 'complex sandwiches' (my boys' euphemism for multi-storey fillings).
(1) Possible replacement: mozzarella
(2) Recipe to follow when I've made some

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Tie me up, tie me down!

When contemplating what to do for Valentine's Day - go out/ stay in? - it occurred to me that I couldn't remember at all what we did last year. Just before the gruesome spectre of Mr Alzheimer got hold of me (again), it came back to me: of course, it was half term, and I'd taken two 13-year olds to Germany.
In the evening, I had a flotsam threesome (1) with my girl-friend of 30+ years (or was that 40??) and an ex-boyfriend.
And the year before that, I spent Valentine's Day with another girl-friend (whose husband was also away on business) and Antonio Banderas.
Only on screen, of course; but a large one; in Pedro Almodóvar's 1990 film 'Tie me up! Tie me down!'.

We had a veritable Spanish feast to go with it. Spanish wine and olives, of course.
Cherry tomatoes stuffed with black olive tapenade,
kumquats and chorizo on skewers,
kebabs of stuffed dates, melon balls and serrano ham.

All very decorative, all very time-consuming. Very tasty, quick and a keeper, however, was the Tomato, Spinach and Garbonzo (chickpea) Salad. It's also healthy and not too calorific (probably ~ 270 calories per portion).Unfortunately, I didn't write down the recipe, but from looking at the various ones on-line, it was - as usual - a conglomerate, probably like this:

Tomato, Spinach & Garbonzo (Chickpea) Salad, serves 4

3 ripe tomatoes (chopped)
baby spinach
1 can chick peas (drained)
1 medium red onion (finely chopped)
2 or more cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
juice of 1 lime
coriander or mint
flat-leafed parsley (optional)

Sauté 1/2 the onion for a few minutes, then the garlic, then wilt the torn spinach, leave to cool. Place with the chopped tomatoes , can of chickpeas, torn herbs and the rest of the onion in a large bowl.
For the dressing, combine extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently to combine.
Tonight we're going out, by the way. The dishwasher couldn't be delivered, so we want to avoid at least one lot of washing up!

Have a happy Valentine's Day, everyone!
(1) The original German expression is 'ein flotter Dreier' and means quite the opposite, a 'racy threesome' (in his dreams!), but as neither of us are as 'perky' and 'zippy' as we once were (two of the many other meanings of 'flott'), and the fact that we had nothing better to do on a day like Valentine's Day, brought about the idea of flotsam....

Monday, February 09, 2009

Chinese Cracker

The Chinese New Year Celebrations, which started at midnight on January, 25th, culminate in a lantern procession on the last of the 15 days. So we had a little feast with a Chinese theme last Sunday. As you can see, there aren't any crackers. I was going to make them myself (only as decorations!!) and kept all the loo rolls but in the end didn't get round to it. I was also going to make little lanterns... well, maybe I'll get round to those for St. Martin's in November (1).

Note to Self:
  • make decorations well in advance
  • buy ingredients on Friday, not Saturday
I had two red paper lanterns (love and peace, see below), but the cracker of the title refers to the soy braised chicken I decided to do.
I adapted it from: Taste of the East by Deh-Ta Hsiung, Rafi Fernandez & Steven Wheeler, a cookery book I've had for so long that its sleeve has developed a kind of cooking related patina (2), but haven't actually cooked from that much.
The main change was that I 'deep-fried' the chicken in what is essentially a stock pot because I threw out the wok before Christmas, and that I braised the chicken subsequently in the oven and not on the hob. I also added some Chinese 5 spice, because I had just made some (more about that some other time...), but the pepper in it, as well as in the rub, wasn't actually Sichuan (more about that also some other time...) but black and pink respectively.
The chicken does look rather spectacular when it's ready, unfortunately, I didn't take a picture, and even more annoyingly, I followed the cookery book's instructions to leave it to cool down and to cut it into 30 pieces...

First of all: 30??? Don't be ridiculous!
Secondly: all the great looking skin came off, it all looked messy, and in the end, the meat was nearly cold.

So, another note to self:
  • Arrange chicken on a plate with lettuce and present to guests, pour gravy into gravy boat, carve at the table.
Below is the complete menu, followed by the recipe.

Chinese New Year Menu

Pickled sweet and sour cucumber
Hot and Sour Soup (3)
Soy-Braised Chicken

Red Prawns (4)
Stir-fry Veg
Rice, Noodles, dipping sauces
Mango jelly
Mango, Pineapple, Lychees & Cherries
Spiced syrup
'Fish of plenty' rice pudding/sweet (5)
Fortune cookies (6)
Good luck sweets

Soy-Braised Chicken (Serves 4)

1 whole chicken

1 tbsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • mix and rub the chicken with the mixture, inside out
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp Chinese Rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • marinate chicken in this marinade for 3 hours, turning frequently
vegetable oil
  • fry the whole chicken in the hot oil until brown all over
575ml/1 pint/2 1/2 basic stock or water
2tsp salt
25g/1oz rock (crystal) sugar
some 5-spice seasoning (freshly made if possible)
  • put the chicken into an ovenproof dish with lid, add the marinade, stock and seasoning; cook at 190°C/375°F/5 for 35 - 40 minutes (Römertopf: 50 - 55); 5 - 10 minutes without lid

lettuce leaves
  • arrange whole chicken on lettuce leaves

I'm not sure what all my little ornaments mean, hopefully they're all lucky symbols.
RED, of course, is the lucky colour, and 8 the lucky number (8 = a homophone for wealth). Everything for the New Year has to be in even numbers, but not in 4s, four is a homophone for death. (I therefore laid two more sets, even though we were only 4 people at this dinner, and we also had 8 fortune cookies - which are not traditionally Chinese, by the way, but an American-Chinese addition.) It is also a custom to give red envelopes to juniors (containing money), to have hair-cuts before the New Year, and to wear new clothing (but you mustn't wear black and white). Wearing a new pair of slippers, bought just before the NY means you will step on the people who gossip about you.

As with festivities in other cultures, there has to be a thorough cleaning of the house, from top to bottom, before the festival and the a reunion dinner, and sweet goods are made/baked to bribe the Kitchen God. Talking about death is inappropriate for the first days of Chinese New Year.
It's important to have a bath the night before the New Year, and if you bathe in pomelo leaves, it assures health for the rest of the year.

In terms of decor, mandarins are always important, and so is bamboo - I was therefore particularly pleased to find knives with a bamboo pattern at the market. Peach blossom = luck; kumquats = prosperity; narcissi = prosperity; Chrysanthemums = longevity; sunflowers = to have a good year; fish icons = surplus, having additional savings.

Jade is supposed to be particularly lucky for the Year Of The OX.
was born in the year of the Ox (1961, also my brother's year), other famous Ox people are: Robert Redford, George Clooney, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin, J.S. Bach, van Gogh, Hitler.

All in all, it's supposed to be a year for 'modest reaping' in spite of the Global meltdown. Hmm, maybe for the Chinese...
Love and Peace to you all, anyway!
(1) St. Martin is celebrated in Germany on November, 11th, with the St. Martin's goose, and a lantern procession for the children.
(2) Those of you who keep their cookery books in the kitchen, probably know what I mean...
(3) The soup was made with home-made stock but otherwise, it was a cheat. I saw the paste at the supermarket in Brum's Chinatown, and thought, why not. And I can only recommend it. Asian Home Gourmet, Special Paste for Soup, Szechuan Hot & Sour Soup, Suan La Tang.
I added a little bit of my own Chinese 5 Spice, thin strips of red pepper to look like chilli (it doesn't need any, it's hot enough!), bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms (tinned). It also required the addition of corn flour, and at the end, you gradually stir in an egg. I'd probably leave out the latter next time.
(4) These were based on another recipe from the aforementioned book, and they tasted very Chinese indeed, but I found it very messy, so I won't be making those again.
(5) I saw it at the supermarket, so I had to have it (more about it some other time...)
(6) One of mine announced an addition to the family, which has been worrying me ever since. No, no, I myself am past it, I'm more thinking: girl-friend No1? Girl-friend No3? -- Hopefully though it means that my brother has finally found himself a lady-friend!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Snowballs on Ice

Just a snapshot in Canon Hill Park yesterday. (For the Cocktail, see below!) I was lucky enough to be able to spend the day in the snow with both my boys. One had the day off anyway, and the Birmingham schools were closed, too. Apparently, the Midlands were least affected by the snow, and nice as it was, it has to be said: it wasn't a lot. This amount would never warrant 'no school' in Germany. Mind you, the kids would be able to enjoy it anyway, with lessons finishing at 1:30 the latest. (Unless you go to a Gesamtschule , a school based on a Comprehensive; and there aren't many of those about.)
It is a source of never ending amusement to me, how there's method in this madness of maintaining the myth that it never snows in this country. Not often enough to have enough snow ploughs anyway, or any other policies concerning snow. I'm not complaining!! If this were Germany, I would have been forced last night to go out (again) and remove all snow and ice from the pavement in front of the house. As a house-owner, or a resident of a ground-floor flat, it's your liability if someone slips and injures themselves.
I think it's also law by now that, during the months of October to April (or thereabouts), cars have to change their tyres to the winter variety. Whereas here, they gave me a look normally reserved for the mentally insane, when I inquired about winter tyres!

For the Cocktail,
you need 2 shots of advocaat over ice in a long-drink glass, top up with lemonade.

Did you know that 'advocaat' is so-called because it was originally made from avocados? Want to make your own advocaat? You can check it out in an old post of mine: December 2005 - Was mache ich mit dem Eigelb? (What do I do with the egg yolk?)
[I wish I could just link it, but alas, that's far too technical for little me....] [edit, 02/09]