January 2009


It feels like this is all i’ve been doing for the last week, really.. sleeping away. I’ve been knocked over by some kind of bug, thats just wiped me of all energy – I’ve not walked Jess, or cooked meals some nights, sleeping 10+ hours a night and still falling asleep on the sofa.. Not Good.

Still, i seem to be on the mend now, having walked Jess the last couple of days, and having generally more energy to spare, and feeling more like.. well.. me.

Chilli Con Carne, with rice and peas

Chilli Con Carne, with rice and peas

Some photos to share: chilli con carne and kebab (Michiel had a special kebab, which is basically shish kebab, donner meat, tandoori chicken with whole pickled chillis, salad, dressing, all piled up in the middle of a big naan bread and rolled up. gorgeous. The other night i made chilli dogs, something my american friends have encouraged me to make. Hot dog buns cut in half, a layer of cheese, hot dog on top, chilli ontop of that, more cheese, onions and tomato ketchup. It wasn’t bad, although not the gorgeous thing that they promised it would be. I later find out that its a more dense chilli than the one i use (i.e. without veg and beans), i missed off the onions, and hot dogs out of a tin.. well.. probably not the best brand of hot dogs flavourwise. so that’s a dish to work on – when I get it a bit better, I’ll share the details and a photograph, of course.

kebab - Michiels!

kebab - Michiel's!

Not long to go before the Photo-a-day challenge instituted by Sez for the month of february. I’ve a few photos already i’m hoarding for that, for those days when i’m not feeling too well or just too plum run off my feet. Is that cheating? I don’t care if it is. LOL. Otherwise they fit the rules of the challenge. I’m looking forward to sharing them! I’ve also some ideas for other photographs, so we’ll see what happens. :)

well.. it’s finally here. Obama’s Inauguaration day. Its funny: such hope on the other side of the pond.. such a feeling of dread and doom here. Not because of Obama’s inauguration, i hasten to add, quite the opposite, he’s something of a beacon of light and hope for so many across the world. No, i mean a feeling of dread and doom to do with *our* government. The economic problems, which we all know about. The continuous erosion of personal liberties and freedoms by a government that is law-making happy, even when there are perfectly good laws on the statute books already. A government that rules by reaction, and worse still, by reaction to the media, so there’s a continual feed back loop of paranoia, hysteria and a general lack of common sense. Personally i feel a sense of dread of having possibly another 17 months of gordon brown and his cronies (he must call a general election on or before 3rd June 2010)… i just hope and pray it doesn’t cripple the country. We need, desperately, our own Obama, someone to lead and inspire the UK as i hope he can lead and inspire the USA.

Will i be watching? yep. i will. Its the first inauguration i’ve ever watched. Before now, I’ve felt that although the election of the president of the USA has an indirect impact on me, as it does on the rest of the world, the rest of the world (or me, for that matter) has no say in the choice other than begging the american people to choose wisely.  For this reason i might’ve caught the important bit on the news, but never the rest. This time around though, i’ve been following the US election closely – first of all hoping that Hillary would be nominated, then hoping that Obama would, and being very very happy when it was clear that he was indeed voted president. And today is the end of it all … and the beginning of another chapter.

Before i go on to regale you all with the tale of the boiler…. nice stuff first :) Time for some well overdue Jess-love!

arggh no.. sunlight!! MOMMMM.. i donthaftagetupyet!!!

"arggh no.. sunlight!! MOMMMM.. i don'thaftagetupyet!!!"

This photograph of Jess was taken this morning. Michiel hadn’t quite pulled the curtains all the way across the living room windows and i came in to find jess asleep on the sofa. As the sun had crept across the sky, moving up Jess’s body, it eventually hit her eyes and she naturally did what everyone does.. put a paw over her eyes to shield her eyes, which only tightened around her nose once i opened the curtains. But it was such a delightful pose i couldn’t resist snapping a photo…

now the boiler: We waited all day monday for the plumber to come back and fit the part. By 5.30pm monday evening we got fed up, and worried, Michiel called the emergency housing number. They didn’t know anything about a repair, about the guy coming back, and although they tried to get in touch with an engineer to come out to us, nothing doing. We would have to wait till Tuesday. We grumbled, but accepted it. We were told to call Tuesday morning for an update.

Tuesday morning Michiel called again. No problem, they said. The engineer will definitely be with you between 2 and 4pm. So I waited. and waited. The engineer finally called around 3.30pm. He got to work – i went to Lidl to pick up a few things, and had a text message around 4ish from Michiel to say that we had heating. WOOT!

Wednesday, i do more shopping. Feeling tired and weary, i treat myself to some nice smelly bubble bath to have a nice long soak. I cook dinner, in the process, using some hot water to clean a couple of things. While doing this, there’s another bang from the boiler. Ru-Rohhhhh, we think. There’s also a fresh sootmark on the wall. We resolve to call the housing in the morning. And then we find out the boiler isn’t working again. So Michiel calls the emergency number. “sorry, there’s nothing we can do at this time of night. Call in the morning.” I fire a couple of emails complaining about this to the housing. We drag our little oil radiator out again. No bath for me.

Thursday morning, Michiel calls again. They apologise, profusely. Another Engineer is sent out – this time, he gets here around 11.30. He pulls the spark plug out; a piece is bent in it (well, it LOOKS like a sparkplug). He rebends it, sorts a couple other things out. We have heat again. Michiel shows him out. I run a bath…. before the heat goes again. I at least got my bath this time!

So far the boiler seems to have been working, although its almost working too well. Overheating the flat, rather than not working at all – there’s a possibility the thermosat is on the blink now. We’re keeping an eye on it.

In the meantime however, we have been having some gorgeous food, still. Photos behind the cut. Also behind the cut are a couple of new notelet designs i’ve come up with, using a stencil that sez gave me for xmas. I like. I really.. really like. It has the potential for further development too… :)

Before i go behind the cut though: Sez has proposed a photo-a-day challenge, to get her using her camera more, for the month of february. I’ll be joining her, so look out for more posts then! If anyone else wants to join in, feel free – just go here to tell her about it!

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more photos of gorgeous tasting (and gorgeous looking, even though i do say so myself)… more, behind the cut, along with the tale of the boiler…

Fritatta, served with broccoli and pickled gherkins

Thursday night's dinner: Fritatta, served with broccoli and pickled gherkins

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It snowed very early this morning, again. I was up fairly early, unable to sleep, as my back was starting to hurt (always a good sign i need to get up and move around, get the muscles moving) so after a good breakfast, I decided to take Jess (and the camera, naturellement) out and walk up to the Ashton-Under-Lyne canal that runs between Manchester and – yup, you guessed it, Ashton Under Lyne.

I’ve a number of photos to share from this batch – 32 to be exact – but i’m not going to post them all here, just a few…. behind the cut, as usual (the rest can be found here). But i’m going to start with a shot from the other night, when it was snowing lightly, and i took a black and white photograph in the garden. I didn’t expect it to come out as well as it did, since this was taken without a flash, but its a beauty. Did I say I LURVE my new camera?

Taken around 9pm, it was snowing, lightly, and i didnt dare use the flash. Its a lovely photograph, Im well pleased with it.

Taken around 9pm, it was snowing, lightly, and i didn't dare use the flash. Its a lovely photograph, I'm well pleased with it.

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I know i promised not another post about masterchef this week… but but… its not about the TV programme this time!!

stuffed mushrooms.. nomnomnom

stuffed mushrooms.. nomnomnom

Actually.. its about my cooking (although i still don’t think i’m a masterchef). I did mushrooms stuffed with ham and stilton and a parsley sauce tonight. Recipe to be found here, I just added a little bit of stilton and garlic. It was very very nice and Michiel wants me to make it again, which i will. But i think serving it with rice, on reflection, was a mistake. oh well. you live and learn!

Walked Jess up to the canal this morning, and took loads of photos – look forward to a photo heavy post later tonight when I’ve processed the photos…

[I'm sorry. I know i'm going on about it. I love this show though. I'll try not to rant about it tomorrow. I really will. and Thursday. Shall i limit myself to one post a week on the subject?]

Tonight’s show, after the initial cookoff, when 6 are whittled down to 3, left the judges with a choice of a youngish welsh lady who rears her own pigs and grows her own food (you go, girl!), a social worker, Dennice, who is also a mom of 4 and in her 30s, I think? and a 22 year old, Ben (I think that was his name anyway).

Ben, from what he said, wanted to be a chef. He adores food. He wants this like no one else in the competition (they all do. Just once, i’d like to see someone say, “nah, just fancied a day out”). And while Dennice said much the same thing, I don’t know. I believe her more than I believe Ben – simply because of opportunity. I freely admit i don’t know anything about Ben and Dennice’s lives, and i could well be wrong in what i’m about to say, but Ben gives the impression of being either a student or someone who’s just finished at university. Even if he hasn’t, even if he left school at 16 and has worked ever since, at 22, he’s still young enough to apply for a student grant and go to college for a year to learn to be a chef the traditional route. If he’s just finished Uni, its even easier. Either way, at his age of life, its relatively easy for him (and others at that point) to make a life change, if thats what they really, truly want.

For Dennice, it’s that much harder. Yes, student loans/grants/whatchmacallits are available to the over 25s, but they don’t cover mortgages, child care, feeding your children and all the other kinds of sacrifices you’d have to make if she went back to college. For her, to make this kind of life change, Masterchef is probably about the only way that she *can* do it at this stage of her life without being a terribly selfish mother.

I have to question why someone like Ben is even on Masterchef, apart from the obvious aspect of competitiveness. but even then, if he’s really competitive in that sense.. he’d go to college, and then compete in the chef competitions that are out there. His story just doesn’t stack up.

It doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things: in the end up, Dennice won, and i think the right person did win tonight. But looking at previous series, where John and Greg put someone very young (I think she was 18) through purely based on potential (and my unsettlement about Ben, i also felt about her: at 18, she’s definetly young enough to go to college to learn the traditional route), i worry that the same thing is going to happen again later in the series. I really hope it doesn’t. And i do think a higher age cutoff should be introduced.

I also think another competition should be introduced; for those, like the old Masterchef, who just want to cook great food. Who don’t necessarily want to work in a restaurant, who don’t want to cook huge amounts of food, who just want to take ONE plate of food, and make it the best plate they possibly can. Who don’t have to have the potential to be great chefs.. just great cooks. Hell, call it MasterCook, if you like. If they did that.. I’d apply….

masterchef (used to be “Masterchef goes large”) has started its 2009 series on the BBC, running, as per usual, at 8.30pm on Mon-Wed, 8.00pm on Thursday. There are certain things to giggle about with this series, that are repeated every year. Greg, shouting “we’re looking for EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD FOOD!” or rather, “ex-cepshon-ally Ghuuuuuuuuuud fuuuddddddddd!”, the other guy shovelling food into his mouth, and the totally inconsistent attitude they have – one week they want someone who shows potential, the other they want someone who’s going to cook well, the other they want someone who knows a lot… this programme frequently has me swearing at the TV, but i have to be honest: I don’t think i could do it myself. Not because i can’t cook (I think most regular readers know i can) but because i’d struggle with the time limits. It really is pot luck about getting through the heats, and as for working in a commercial kitchen, with my hearing loss? forget it. I can see it now. “one lamb special”.. “yes chef!” “one lasagne” .. “yes chef”… “one fish special!”… resounding silence… nope.. not for me… Fun to watch though!

I thought I’d share the photographs of my cooking efforts today (okay okay, its an excuse to break out the camera again… but, you know, you don’t HAVE to read this blog if you don’t want to see gorgeous food pics !!!)

half the asparagus quiche i made - this, cut in half, serves two (with lots of mash and peas).

half the asparagus quiche i made - this, cut in half, serves two (with lots of mash and peas).

I know its not quite spring yet, but saw these jars of green asparagus spears in salt water in Lidl for £1.39 a jar, and thought they would make a lovely quiche, using some ready to roll puff pastry i had bought and stuffed in the freezer for xmas. And it did – with a little bit of ham (although it could’ve used more), leftover from the big ham i did at xmas, some grated cheddar, spring onions, eggs and cream, topped with a little parmesan.. sinful but OMG-good.. served with cheesy mustardy mashed potato (Michiel’s creation, he’s so much better at mash than I am – at least, that’s what I tell him to get out of making mash… LOL) and peas.. definetly a lovely sunday evening dinner.

ravioli cheese puffs

ravioli cheese puffs

And the leftover puff pastry? I cut some cubes of cheese, topped them with a spring onion, dotted them around half of the rolled out puff pastry, painted around them with egg, then covered with the other half, pressed the edges down, stabbed a steam hole then cut out the “ravioli” with a crinkly cutter, painted with more egg then baked. They’ve come out nicely, although i have no idea yet how they taste – I’m still too stuffed from dinner to try them! I’m sure they’re gorgeous though. I used some leftover cheese i’d bought at the European Market in Manchester before christmas – some green pesto cheese, and some chilli cheese. Nom. very very Nom. Just don’t ask for a recipe, cos its a little bit of this and a little bit of that and i couldn’t tell you what went in it in the end…

Its cold again today. Not as cold as it has been – the thermometer in the garden by the back door was reading 3*C when i got back, and that gets some heat from proximity to the house, so true figure is around 1-2*C – and the frost/snow has mostly melted. The ground is still solid though, and there are little pockets where the sun hasn’t reached, little indentations in the ground where the frost remains. Jess runs around, sniffing, putting her nose into absolutely everything, stopping every so often to pee. She never does pee all at once, she dribbles it out, marking her route. I walk her on a leash, one of those extendible ones on a spring. she’s fond of wrapping my ankles up in it – I’ve learned to be aware of where she is in relation to me, so i can quickly unwrap myself. She’s quite naughty in that. She loves to pull on the leash too, whatever it is she’s smelling, she wants a LOT, and she has quite some heft. Its a sunny day, too, although the sun is low on the horizon.

My nose turns pink, starts to stream in the cold, my cheeks flush too, breath steaming. I’m well wrapped up – trackie bottoms, a vest, a jumper, a scarf wrapped around my neck, then a thickly padded coat with a hood, if i need it, but i don’t, not today. Leather gloves protect my hands, my camera in an inside pocket, my phone, keys, and roll of doggie poop bags in outside pockets. My ears are always the first to feel the cold. They stick out on the side of my head, because of my hearing aids, so are very exposed to the wind, and while its not windy, there’s enough of a breeze, and wind chill, that they start to tingle. In colder weather, when i’m out for longer, i have to consider wrapping my ears up – but if i do that, i have to turn my hearing aids off, and that’s a security risk, so i don’t do that very often – and on that path, not at all. There’ve been rapes on that path before now, although the perpetrator of those was caught a couple of years ago, its still a crime magnet for those up to no good.

But for all that, its a lovely walk. Gives something of the feel of the country, in the city. Its actually an old canal, filled in, so its wide and overgrown. Lushly overgrown, in summer. In winter, the skeletal branches reach out for you, like creatures from nightmares – in frost, they’re beautifully lacy, without frost, they’re brown, grey, dead. the grass is green, but not much else – the land sleeps. Even the grass is not maintained, wild grass, growing in tufts, tall in summer, up beyond my knees, in winter dying back to form a carpet of matted, dead grass. The exception is a foot or two either side of the path, which is trimmed twice a year by the council to prevent the path from being overgrown. The trees are tall, majestic – silver birch, horse chestnut, plane trees. there are smaller shrubs – holly, i’ve already photographed – but others too. Bluebells in spring, and daffodils, but for now, most of the land is dormant, asleep. Not dead, just .. quiet.

I end our walk. returning through the little park, then the streets back to our home, which is warm and welcoming. I open the door, shoo jess onto the towel. Heat hits me in the face, making me gasp. i close the door, my glasses steaming up. My coat comes off, then i bend to dry jess’s paws. Coffee and breakfast follow quickly: ready brek, to warm me through and sustain me. But for afternoon walks, on the days that are – like today – cold and clear, a brisk walk, returning to a warm home, with steaming mugs of heinz tomato soup and crunchy french bread is close to nirvana. In these days of central heating, warm cars, homes, shops – where winter consists of scurrying from heated home to heated car – getting out, walking, in dry cold air, the kind that makes you go “ahhh!” when you open the door – is a return to olden times, when mankind faced these temperatures routinely, and returned – with luck – to a roaring fire in a kitchen, and a hot meal on the table.

I love my walks with Jess in the morning. no matter the weather, even if its absolutely throwing down, windy, cold, with stinging needles of cold rain (which is about the worst weather for me), i still count my blessings once i’m home in the warm again. I breathe deeply of the outside air, clearing away cobwebs, waking up, and getting me ready to start my day.

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