Sunday, 29 November 2015

Lamborghinis and Lesbians

There were a series of ups and downs in the kitchen this week, with Ole turning his hand to making brownies. Unfortunately, we had no eggs, so he decided that bananas and milk would be a good substitute. They weren’t. The resulting mess was quickly binned, and I offered to show him how to make them properly the following night. He declined, so I made them anyway. Ole has a brazil nut allergy, and possibly because of this the only nuts he really likes can be found in a jar of Nutella. To replace the substance that the nuts would have provided I opted for white chocolate chips. The result was a tray of brownies that were cakey around the outside and gooey in the middle. Interestingly, Felicity Cloake, one of my kitchen heroines, would not like this result, whereas Nigella, another of my kitchen heroines, definitely would! Research is a wonderful thing, something that Ms Cloake is noted for in search of culinary perfection, and there was certainly a hint of the green eyed monster as she first praised and then dismissed Nigella’s sumptuously gooey brown pleasures.

(Nigel) Slater reckons his is the "crumbliest, gooiest brownie recipe ever" but, of course, it's not – Nigella's is. With six eggs and 375g butter, what lies beneath the surprisingly crisp crust is something more akin to a baked fudge than anything which could be politely eaten with one's hands, which is probably the whole point – I expect she eats it messily, and in a crumpled silk dressing gown.
Aside from the richness of the ingredients, the lack of a raising agent is telling: no baking powder is allowed to lighten the load here – this is pure, unadulterated, chocolatey goo. It's got many fans, but, although I court the contempt of brownie lovers everywhere with this admission, for me it's too much.
Unlike Nigel's recipe, which seeks to trap air in the mixture before baking, Nigella's method melts the chocolate and butter together, and then quickly stirs in the eggs and dry ingredients to give a smooth, glossy batter. This technique obviously helps keep things nice and dense – if you like that kind of thing.

To be honest, the silk dressing gown bit is generally how I picture Nigella too! Now, where was I? Ah yes, my brownies. The ones with white chocolate chips in. Twenty four hours later they were still relatively untouched, except of course for Sally dipping the cakey parts into the gooey parts to make a nice, somewhat guiltily pleasurable mouthful. So I asked Ole and he admitted that he didn’t like brownies with nuts in. After a brief debate in which I explained that the nuts were actually white chocolate chips, he set about them intent on making up for lost time.

Zac had a much simpler explanation for not eating them. ‘I thought Ole made them.’ And once again, when the truth was revealed he was quickly up to his eyes in them.

I was going to take a picture of them, but when I got around to it they had all gone. I guess I will just have to make some more.

Sausage rolls are usually a winner with a hungry teenager, and when you can get a pack of pastry in a roll, and a pack of sausage meat from Sainsbury’s, 20 minutes later they are ready to eat. Not forgetting the egg wash! A picture would again have been nice, but Ole ensured that this was not possible.

I went to a funeral last week. It was my dad’s mum’s sister’s son’s wife, so clearly not a close relative, but respects still have to be paid. I accompanied my mum, and as we milled around outside we did not recognise many people. This is perhaps understandable, as they were mainly Brian’s (my late father’s) relatives. The hearse had still not arrived as the undertaker mingled with the mourners, asking people to fill in attendance cards so that the family of the deceased would know who attended. A bit of a strange tradition if you ask me, but my mum was happy to oblige. I watched her fill in the card and hand it to the undertaker, really before I realised what she was doing. Anyway, when the family of the departed read the attendees they may be a little surprised to find ‘Mary and Brian’ were there, though I am sure he was watching over the whole thing and chuckling away!

Back to the kitchen, and there have been many changes in that area recently, almost obsessive, some might say. Anyway, I have run out of Balti Paste, and although it is on my ‘To Do’ list, I have not yet got around to making some more. So, I decided that chicken jalfrezi would have to be created from scratch, and that is where my problems began. The cinnamon, that had been on the same shelf for months, if not years, was no longer there. I searched high and low, but not low enough as I eventually found it in amongst a bag of new spices, those that will form the basis of the next batch of Balti paste, on the floor behind the kitchen door. ‘Grind the ajwain seeds’ the recipe said, so I went to get the pestle and mortar from the kitchen dresser where it had resided ever since the huge piece of period carpentry arrived seemingly years before. But wait, it has disappeared. Again, a thorough search revealed that it must have fallen out of favour, as where once it sat proudly amongst quaint preserves, ornate crockery and often distraught gingerbread houses, it was now banished to the dark depths within the dresser, with only muscovado sugar, a mountain of coffee and the functional but rather clinical kitchen scales. Fifteen minutes in to the recipe I was still trying to find the utensils and ingredients. After locating the jar of cloves I was finally able to get on with it, and even though I say so myself it was well worth the wait.

Last Friday I got a call that was quite unbelievable. It started by a familiar pause followed by an automated announcement. ‘Are you fed up of getting unwanted calls?’ You mean like this one? I thought. I continued to listen and it turned out that the automated call was selling a phone that claimed to block 100%, thats right, 100% of ALL automated calls. So, no more automated calls? They might have to change their sales pitch. Another thing that concerned me about this approach is that I am registered with the TPS. That is also supposed to block unwanted call, though of course unscrupulous firms still cold call by ignoring this legal obligation. So not only are you trying to sell me a phone to block calls like the one you are making, the manner of your sales pitch is illegal! If they call me back I might just point that out, and then buy one!

Another bugbear, I used to carry bags of shopping in to the house and store the bags to use for all sorts of things. Vegetable peelings, kids lunches, errr, not much else, which probably explains why I ended up with a huge wad of them. In October the government introduced a bag charge, and the supermarkets swapped out their ever flimsier bags for the 5 or 10p much sturdier replacements. However, I can count the number of times I have remembered to take one of these all purpose bags to the supermarket on one finger. I have remembered to put them in the car, but then, that’s where they stay. So now my cupboard is filling with 'Bags For Life', and they are so sturdy, and deserve so much respect, that it seems such a waste to put vegetable peelings in. I guess they will just grow and grow, and I will get poorer and poorer. One thing that I do take pleasure in, on the one occasion that I have remembered to do it, is to never go into the supermarket with the right bag. If you are in Tesco, use a Sainsbury’s bag. In Sainsbury’s use a Morrison’s bag. In Waitrose, use an Aldi bag. In Aldi, well just don’t go in to Aldi.

Saturday saw Zac's long awaited driving experience. It was a bitterly cold day, and the 90 minute drive to deepest, darkest Staffordshire saw Zac fall asleep. When we got there it seemed somewhat disorganised, but he registered for his drive and we went outside to watch the action. There was a ten minute briefing session, actually it was just a video that proved to be out of date, and then we were ready. After about 20 minutes of standing around in the icy wind Zac's name was called and he marched across to a bright yellow Lamborghini Gallardo. No lessons, just sit in the drive's seat with an instructor to your left and off you go. It wasn't even dual control.

The driver had to tug the steering wheel to prevent Zac hitting several girls with clipboards and the barrier that separated the spectators from the track, but then they got going. Zac managed to steer onto the oval circuit that had a twisty bit at one end. He got overtaken by a Porsche and a Subaru, but after a couple of laps he seemed to have mastered the controls and he got some speed up. Now, he only managed about 50 miles per hour, (I am sure this increases depending upon who is listening), but he did manage to negotiate about six miles in a car that retails at around £150,000.

It was cold on Monday. Very cold. And my white car showed just how cold by illuminating not one but two warning lights. The first one was now familiar, telling me that the outside temperature had dropped to below five degrees. The second was quite different, a squiggly line below an exclamation mark enclosed by two brackets, all in bright yellow. I looked it up in the book, thinking that I was missing a snow handbrake or something equally important, but it actually meant that the tyre pressure system had detected reduced pressure in one of my tyres. It suggested that the display would tell me which one, but it didn’t. I had a look around, a quick kick, and they all seemed ok, so I carried on. Its having a service tomorrow – I’ll let the professionals deal with it.

D-Day is getting nearer. I saw my consultant on Monday, and we discussed the options for my knee. He said I could try a brace, but that would just be a temporary thing. He did some more straight leg x-rays, and told me that my left leg needed to be realigned by seven degrees. In my mind, the decision was made. The High Tibial Osteotomy (HTO) has a very good success rate, often halting the onset of osteoarthritis and giving ten plus years to the life of the knee. The prospect of wearing a brace that realigned the knee by that much was not one that I considered. The thought of moving it seven degrees, and having it revert by the same seven degrees every time I put the brace on or took it off, seemed more like a destabilising exercise. Anyway, those who are a bit squeamish should look away now, as these are the images from inside my knee, taken during my arthroscopy, that gave my surgeon the information he required.


The operation itself is now scheduled for 4th December. Originally he told me it was weight bearing as much as could be tolerated from day one. Now he is kind of backtracking. Crutches for a couple of weeks, maybe. Maybe longer. Everyone’s different. Certainly no driving. Then he explained why. ‘We actually break your leg and then take a saw to it so that we can insert a titanium plate.’

And the dangers…'well the arteries are very close to the bone so there is a chance we could slice into them with the saw. We know when this happens because your foot quickly goes white.' (Presumably there is also a lot of blood pissing out from the incision!) 'Then we would have to get the vascular surgeons involved. Touch wood I haven’t done this so far!'

Touch wood?! I’d rather have something a bit more certain than that! He then mentioned the very slight possibility of something called compartmentalisation. As someone who can’t even watch Casualty I turned off at this point. Friday 4th December – can’t wait!

Amazing what you can get on the internet these days. First Christmas present for Pixie sorted. She will be pleased!

With The Apprentice, I'm A Celebrity, and various other high profile tv shows on at the moment, its no surprise that the televisual event of the year (if not longer) has somewhat gone under the radar. Fortunately you can still see it on Sky One Catch Up TV. It is episode 4 of After Hours, starring Ardal O'Hanlon. I say 'starring Ardal O'Hanlon', but really its all about the stunning extra work of Lady M. Of course, Ole and Ethan can be seen in the distance, but the allegedly reluctant Lady came to the fore in three separate shots. Steering the trolley in a manner reminiscent of Lewis Hamilton circumnavigating the streets of Monte Carlo, she kept Mr O'Hanlon on his toes as she rounded the juice aisle and headed for the milk. If she had been Elvis, no doubt her shopping trolley would have been on eBay by now, but she is far too shy and retiring to let that happen. Actually, has anyone checked the auction site listings recently?

Just waiting for the inscription...

I don't really put football in the blog, but I have to say that the Man United performance at home to PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday was truly awful. It made David Moyes seem positively adventurous, and Dave Sexton was sacked for playing football that was less dull than this game. The club should move for Pep Guardiola before its too late.

Thanksgiving came and went yesterday, but was marked in a special way by Zac. 'I made the tea for me and Alex,' he proudly announced. 'What did you make?' 'Sausages in the microwave and oven chips. We didn't have any micro chips so I got frozen ones and made them in the oven.' He went on to explain how he managed this gastronomic feat. 'I looked at the instructions and preheated the oven for about 2 minutes. I used the oven gloves and took them out after about 15 minutes. A few were not properly cooked but most were ok. I had a couple that were still cold. So its now official. I can make my own tea.' I suspect the consumption of oven chips is about to go through the roof!

The disturbing sight of a couple of young girls kissing on the street caused Zac some concern this week, and of course he had an opinion on it. 'They are only lesbians because they can't get a man.' I blame the sex education at Chapel School.

We drove past Memories Of India, and you may have noticed extensive work going on next door, in what used to be the taxi base. Zac was curious.
Zac: 'What are they actually building there?'
Me: 'A wine bar.'
Zac: 'I guess mum will be spending a lot of time in there. Will it be posh?'
Me: 'Well it will be ok I suppose. It will be a wine bar. In Whaley Bridge. So I guess it won't be too fancy.'
Zac: 'I reckon mum will be having a lot of nights out in there, with Jan and Helen.'

Ole's gone out tonight. Round to his friend's house, and then they are going for a Chinese. And somehow he expects me to pay for it! I've made tomato soup, barbeque pork and flapjacks today, There is plenty to eat, but he still expects me to pay for any food that he wants to eat at any time of the day. He's got a lot to learn that boy!

And speaking of a lot to learn, here's an exchange between Zac (12) and Ole (16) playing 20 questions. Ole had thought of an animal - Zac had to guess what it was.
Zac, 'Is it an amphibian?'
Ole, 'What's an amphibian?'

Finally, Zac, concerned about the potential loss of limbs from terrorist bombings, decided that he would create some robotic arms. A noble cause but then it went a bit awry.
Zac: 'I could win the Nobel peace prize.'
Me: 'Don't you mean the Nobel prize for science, or medicine?'
Zac: 'Maybe, but then I could use the robotic arms to hold guns and other weapons. I could actually make a whole robot to go to war for me so none of my army ever get killed.' A Bond plot perhaps?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Poinsettia & Pumpkins

When Zac went to Taxal School the question of lunch was always a straightforward one. He would take a lunchbox filled with a sandwich (with nothing on it), crisps, either grapes or an apple (peeled and sliced), and a drink of water. More often than not the lunchbox got left at school, but after a week or so we had a rounding up exercise, gathering as many as five of Zac's lunchboxes complete with uneaten fruit and bread in various stages of decay. At Chapel it is not so simple. The schoolbag stays with the child all day, so Zac does not really have a lunchbox any more. I have tried to put a smaller version in his rucksack, but the result is inevitably the same. Last weekend I emptied the lot. It was not a pretty sight. There was a schoolbook that had to be put on a radiator to dry. That will hopefully alleviate the smell. There were four bags of grapes, well they used to be grapes, now they were rotting and fermenting, probably not far off being wine. A number of bags of apples oozed a brown liquid, and then there were the socks. The socks were damp, though I am not sure whether this was with regular rainwater, or some of the grape and apple liquid. Either way they stank of rancid fermentation. The odd thing was that they were odd socks. One football and one school. No idea where the other halves of the pairs are. Once emptied the bag went into the washing machine, and I await the next inspection in a week or so.

Done a lot of cooking this week. Chocolate Pie that was a little more difficult than I thought it would be, and then there were pumpkins! As mentioned previously there was pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin chilli, and now I embarked on a variety of pumpkin muffins. These had less fat than normal and the pumpkin puree gave them a very sticky texture. I flavoured some with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, some with coffee, and of course, some with chocolate. Zac loved these, though he has meticulously avoided the coffee ones. Today is a cold, wet, blustery one, perfect for experimenting with Mexican lentil soup, adapting a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten. Grated cheese on top of a steaming, spicy bowl...Mmmm! Later today its another one of Ina's meals with home made fish & chips, and tomorrow its slow cooked brisket - got to do the dry rub in the next few minutes.

Not too long until Christmas, which has started with Sally doing a mass rearrangement of various cupboards (she also got around to throwing away all of those orphaned pan lids - though at one point she considered putting them on eBay!). Anyway, in one cupboard there was a shortbread tin, and whatever was inside the tin rattled. I opened it, and lo and behold, five of the jars of spices that I believed were lost forever stood side by side. There will be an infusion of ground cloves, sesame seeds, mixed spice etc over the coming weeks!

Monday sees a historic televisual event as Sally stars in the Sky One show After Hours. Some of you may know the circumstances, as Sally took Ole to be an extra in the show, which was being filmed in Tesco at Handforth Dean. Anyway, they were a few extras short, so they asked Sally, 'Oh no, I couldn't possibly, that's not why I'm here....oh go on then, just this once' and she found herself picking orange juice off the shelf as Ardal O'Hanlon looked on, bemused. The show has not had good reviews to date, but I fully expect this to change on Monday. Helen made the mistake of saying, 'Its not all about you, Lady M,' but I think she will soon discover that Lady M is exactly what it is all about. By the way, I'm not sure whether Ole makes an appearance this week too, his part seems to have been overlooked! If you are interested I think its Monday at 9.30pm on Sky One.

There should be some good pictures in the next edition of the blog, with Zac heading to deepest darkest Staffordshire for his Lamborghini driving experience next Saturday. I have taken out excess insurance just in case.

I was holed up in the very lovely Colwick Hall on Monday night, and I spent the time doing more voiceovers for IT courses. Strange how certain words trip you up when you are trying to record something. In this case it was 'tasks'. Its an easy enough word to say, but when I had to do it clearly, on a recording, it suddenly became a real tongue twister.

Sometimes it is good to know that you are heard, and an ex colleague of mine followed up on my recommendation for the best kebab shop in the world - Al Aqsa in Longsight. Good to also know that it is still as good as ever!

Here's an interesting one. Have you ever gone in to a supermarket, bought a load of stuff, then got home and realised you have lost something? Maybe a tin of beans, maybe a lemon, or in this case a Poinsettia. In my view, it is my fault, and the loss of a £1.50 plant is not worth a return trip. Or was it a £2.50 plant? Hold that thought. If it was me, and I really wanted the plant, I would buy another one. So what would you do? I know someone who not only returned to the shop, she also persuaded the assistant that she had forgotten to take her Poinsettia home two days earlier, and she was now going to collect a replacement at no extra charge. As Rolf would say, 'Can you guess who it is yet?' Not content with that, she also decided that the £2.50 version was definitely the one that she had left behind, and not the slightly smaller £1.50 one. I will let you know if and when the original turns up! I doubt whether it will be returned.

Finally, we went to see Phoneix yesterday. Mother and baby are doing really well, unfortunately we did not take any more pictures. Just so you don't feel left out, here's a picture of Bagpuss!

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Lady Is Not For Downgrading

Adverts in America are very different to those in the UK. The first difference is that they appear anywhere in a tv program, without warning. The second difference is that they are still able to blatantly lie. So, one particular advert showed a group of joggers, followed by a group of rowers, and finally a group of all terrain runners. What could these three healthy groups possibly be advertising? Michelob Ultra Lite Beer. It wasn't even a funny advert. The third difference is more about the American attitude to healthcare.

So, if you've got a headache, take Tylenol, followed by a rather stern warning about possible side effects. Nothing wrong with that, but there was one product designed to alleviate gut pain (stomach ache on this side of the pond). However, there were side effects, including constipation. No problem, just order the next medication, specifically designed to cater for the side effects of the original tincture. And of course, this came with side effects too. But much more severe! Diarrhoea, gas, depression, etc. If you suffer from any of these, or if you get suicidal thoughts (I kid you not), tell your doctor immediately. Bloody hell, I only went in with a headache!

Halloween is still far bigger over there than it is over here, and this year we went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. Its like the scarefest at Alton Towers, but much bigger and much scarier. There were 9 haunted houses with themes such as Insidious, Freddy versus Jason, Walking Dead etc. There were also 5 scare zones where zombies with chainsaws, clowns, yes lots of clowns, and werewolves would leap out at unsuspecting guests.

The event was well staged. The park emptied of day visitors around 5pm, as the Halloween crowd queued at the gates. We had checked online, and the advice was DO NOT GO ON A SATURDAY, and DO NOT GO ON HALLOWEEN due to the size of the crowds. This year Halloween fell on a Saturday, and that's the day we chose to go! We had Express passes bought for us, and actually the queues were not as big as the internet horror stories would have us believe. So, we queued at the gate as the time drew near for the grand opening. Zombies started to appear inside the park, and the tension mounted. Zac spotted several discarded Express passes from those leaving the park, and although these single use passes were now worthless, the lanyards were on sale for $9 each! So he picked up a load and then he did something quite inexplicable. He picked out an unsuspecting young lady, maybe late teens or early twenties, and he dropped an expired pass right in front of her to see what she did. She picked it up, and rather than tell Zac he had dropped his pass (that cost $130 each), she pocketed it. Zac came back to where we were stood to tell us what had happened, and he also explained that he was going to try to follow the lady to see her reaction when her pass got rejected!

Anyway, the gates opened, the younger guests cried in genuine fear, and we walked through two scare zones to get to Insidious on the far side of the park (another internet tip). Zac put on a determined face throughout, but Ole was vulnerable, especially when someone disguised as a tree jumped out from behind, well, a tree. Not sure how you are supposed to see that one coming.

Over the next three or four hours we went on several rides - including the deserted Harry Potter Gringotts ride, and all 9 haunted houses. It was a lot of fun, particularly watching Ole categorically state that he was not going first into the Walking Dead house.

And then came Zac's big moment. He went o the Rock-It rollercoaster. The biggest one he'd ever been on, and I must admit - it was a bit scary. He loved it, so maybe his fear of these beasts, dating back many years to Journey To Atlantis, has finally been overcome!

Whilst all of this was going on Whaley Bridge became a national sensation with the story that the Co-Op is haunted. Just before Halloween. I bet that boosted sales! It gave me an idea, as there have been spooky goings on at Henlay House recently, I will give more details in the next few editions!

Anyway, the following day we returned home, but not before several relaxing hours around the pools of the Ritz Carlton. We headed for the airport, and the most remarkable thing happened. I had been trying to check in online but it wouldn't let me, coming up with a ridiculous error message indicating that Ole's date of birth had changed. When we got to the airport we found that there was a note against the booking, As Sally looked on the check in girl wen to her supervisor, came back, and without a smirk or a smile asked a bemused Lady M if she would like to DOWNGRADE the flight to economy. At first she thought that she had misheard, but no, they really did want Lady M to downgrade to an economy flight, albeit with extra leg room. The answer was a short, sharp, 'No', but the girl had an offer and she had to explain it. 'You will be upstairs on an exit row.' Lady M did not even bother to reply. 'You will get £250 towards your next flight.' Actually, this last statement annoyed me because not only was it not a cash offer, the difference in cost of the respective seats was more than £250! Anyway, Lady M made a counter offer. 'I know you have to make the offer but my answer is absolutely NO. But I am quite happy to UPgrade.' We checked in without further drama!

Of course the big excitement the following day was to see Phoenix Isabelle, or Nixie as her mum calls her, or Pixie as I call her. The boys, sadly, had to go to school, so they missed out on an early meeting with their niece.

All week it has been a bit of struggle getting up, and really I need another holiday.

There have been some very seasonal products in the shops, notably pumpkins. And when you don't have to scoop out the flesh to carve a face you find that there is a hell of a lot of flesh in a pumpkin. I've made pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chips and pumpkin chilli, and there's still a rather large half of pumpkin in the fridge. Any suggestions?

I also made onion rings using an unusual batter of flour and sparking water, Think I'll put that one in MMM...No2...Cookbook.

Yesterday the boys finally got to meet their niece. Zac was a bit apprehensive but Ole, as ever, was a natural.

Meanwhile, Sally met an ex MP this morning at the remembrance service. Seems like they are now best buddies, though Ole was disappointed that his mum didn't ask her about Kendra!

Last week I went to the mainframe conference in leafy Oxfordshire. Makes you realise why you are trying to modernise all of this old technology, though trying to convince the dinosaurs in attendance is a whole different matter.