Monday, 22 April 2013

All Hail Flora...

Enough is enough, tomorrow is essay day so this is why I am blogging on here. I'm seriously done with this essay and it is a prime example of how something truly inspiring and beautiful can become a drudge, which is rather sad. Like the time I had to write an essay on how a joke is constructed. The funniest joke suddenly became tedious essay fodder and I lost my sense of humour. As anyone would.

This weekend has been otherwise glorious; from waking up yesterday morning with a need to plunge my hands into damp compost, to creating a lovely simple lunch for a frazzled friend. Our balcony has remained spartan for a year out of sheer laziness but it was as if the spring suddenly demanded adulation from me yesterday. With no further questions, my lovely and I presented ourselves promptly at the sunny Temple of Flora and offered libations for greenery and containers.

I mean, with no planning and no idea what plants to buy, what could possibly go wrong? Surely all you need is soil, containers, tiny plants with pretty labels saying 'red' and the rest is up to nature. I have a couple of books on container gardening but they are written by experts so what would they know? Oh.

Yesterday ended with a friend's birthday party at a very nice tapas place and as usual when we arrived I was famished. And I may have over indulged in the dainties on offer. I consoled myself in the knowledge that I had at least done some outdoor non toe related exercise, as well as the exercises as recommended in my diet book. Not the diet from the diet book, but merely the exercises. Obviously. After collapsing tiredly and fatly in to bed, I was expecting to sleep til noon.

Other people had different ideas and were loudly daring to tiptoe carefully around the carpeted place at 6am. I mean it was *stomp stomp...* er, sorry, *rustle rustle rustle* and being the princess I am I woke up. After a tired grump for about 5 mins, I was drawn downstairs by the sunshine and lure of tea. And decided that a coffee by the river would be just the job. So by 8am we were standing by the glorious fresh Thames looking at the new architecture of the city, drowsily watching the river rhythms and exchanging pleasantries with the London Marathon police.

After a home cooked breakfast which turns out to be diet approved, my lovely and I went about our respective business. I had invited a friend over for lunch so hit the local shops before once again smacking the essay where it hurt. I kept interrupting this effort to run out and admire my new plants and check up on gently nurtured Basil who seriously resents being kept outside after warm ASDA nannying. He has threatened a culinary strike so we may end up making pesto this week. He has been warned. Although I took pity on him this evening and wrapped him in cling film for insulation.

My friend turned up with sparkles and I provided a healthy lunch of dips and crudites, as well as a sympathetic ear. So as day 6 on the diet, it wasn't too bad. With aesthetics in mind I had done an arrangement in red and green (peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, beans) which, if the geraniums and begonias had been out, would have matched perfectly. There was an incident with a hot buttery pitta bread but I am sure that the Spring Goddess approved afternoon nap more than ate up the calories in that.

Anyway, here's to another week, soil inspired and essay free.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Diet? What diet?

So here I am again in Contrary Towers kitchen. We'd already run round the local delicatessen like a pair of idiots alternatively laughing and moaning at the women's cycling shoes, garden hose and fishing rods and the paucity of the vegetables. You can't have it all but I did see courgettes that the ditzy one had missed previously.

An aubergine today
Anyway tonight's diet delight was a spicy melanzane alla parmigiana alla Clare. If you're interested this is what I did.

Take a nice shiny happy aubergine and whilst it's not looking, slice into rounds about a centimetre thick, brush with oil and then bake in a hot oven til tender. It will love that.

Chop the semi dessicated remains of an onion, half a dodgy looking pepper and 4 growing garlic cloves and fry in a spot of oil til soft/safe to eat. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a green oxo, pinch of sugar, pepper, oregano and simmer until it looks done. If you like, add a perky new chili to liven it up a bit. Blitz into a nice sauce.

Put a quarter of the sauce in two shallow bake dishes, add a layer of aubergine, then top with the rest of the tomato sauce. Nestle some thin slices of mozzarella within the sauce, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and breadcrumbs and bake until crisp, bubbly and crispy. Throw over some green herbs for artistic effect.

Serve up one dish between two and save the rest for lunch tomorrow.

Diet? What diet?

Addendum: for ultimate flatmate snorkage and delight, cover the spare bake tightly with clingfilm and then giggle madly as the static causes the breadcrumbs to come alive and attack the plastic. Utter madness.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Croque épicéé

So: Sunday.

I'd been invited to Essex.

But first I had an old friend visiting for a cup tea and a catch-up as she was en route to visit her Mother who lives somewhere south of the river, I won't mention that again though. Actually, I have a feeling Esher doesn't count. Anyway, lovely to have an hour catch up and finally realised exactly why she didn't want to leave the car parked on the street in this part of Tower Hamlets...

After she beat a hasty retreat I reviewed my list of what the little people on twitter had suggested I needed to gain access to Essex. It was pretty much:
  • Fake tan
  • White stilettos
  • A one piece leopard print onesie
  • Blonde wig
  • Faux white leather accessories
  • And a taser...
Oookay. This wasn't going to go well. I can at best manage mumsie. Okay, so I was going to have to wing it.  Not only was this the first time I was visiting this part of Essex, it was also my first experience of Limehouse train station. Which is not as exciting as you might thing.

Soon though I was whizzing through the east of London en route to things that lay beyond the loving embrace of the M25. As I broke in to open countryside I realised it must be further than I realised, so I began to practice my French. After all, it helps to be able to exchange a few words with the locals. For example:

Excusez-moi, où je peux acheter faux bronzage?

At one point I was astonished to see a forest of inspection platforms, goodness knows where, but the sight of them was quite amazing, I just wish I'd had the sense to take a picture! I had the same thought when we passed the most lovely little church alone in a field by the railway line, so pretty.

As, it turns out, were the sight of yachts beached as it was low tide. I was starting to like this area quite a lot.

In time I rolled in to someplace-by-sea, where I was promptly told it wasn't the sea. Pfft. I can't see that far any more, it looked like a sea to me! I did have a moments thought of going paddling, but, being now officially late I wandered off in the general direction of the postcode I'd been given. Got to love maps on phones!

Anyway, it was fabulous to catch up with my lovely friend Clarissa and generally put the world to rights over a late lunch an a glass or four of Chateau Sur la Mer. Or something.

Eventually it was time to meander back to the station. Not only did I find it, but, given that I had a ten minute wait, I resisted going to the chip shop right by the station entrance... Having slipped past the border guards again, I was definitely developing the late evening nibbles so I pondered the problem on the way home and had a fabulous thought for how to end my trip to France, I mean Essex...

Introducing the Croque épicéé...

Take some super soft home made bread. Toast one side. Add thin slices of dirty chorizo sausage from chez Lidl, followed by plenty of the strongest cheese you have to hand. I dash of worcester sauce, a spinkle of cayenne pepper and a good grind of black pepper...



It's gorgous, the depth of the chorizo pokes cheekily from beneath the safe confines of the melted cheese. Definitely one for my oh-my-god-I've-got-the-nibbles menu.

Voilá, croque épicéé

Weight what?

Just before it was scoffed
It was new Monday, the first day of Operation Healthiez. I was looking around for something to do with mushrooms and Stilton because they were in the fridge. Anyway I discovered a Weight Watchers recipe which looked nicer than the BBC food site's. Which had Stilton in it? The very definition of *sceptical face* After checking I was not on a spoof Weight Watchers site, I gave this healthy set of guidelines a pepping up and this is what I made:

Take 4 lovely large bouncing mushrooms and destalk. Peel if you like. Place on a tray and dribble a little oil on them. I think I may have used more than a teaspoon. Bake in the oven on medium hot.

Fry  - in a small amount of oil - 1/3 finely chopped onion, 3 chopped rashers of bacon your flatmate didn't eat at the weekend and 4 cloves crushed garlic. When nicely soft, add a few slices of very finely chopped red pepper for colour and sweetness. Add ground pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Meanwhile whizz up some ropey looking bread to make crumbs and if you have some, add small handful of  crushed pine nuts.

Take the pan off the heat, add crumbs and crumble up an amount of Stilton  Not to over-power, just to flavour. Mix thoroughly. Take the nicely softened mushrooms out of the oven and spoon the crumble equally between them. Sprinkle more cayenne pepper and pop back in until crispy, melty and done.

I served mine with some blanched broccoli. And we nearly didn't get a picture of it...

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Hoarse Whisperers

Visiting my good friends Gill and Dave is always a fine excuse to let your hair down and leave all London woes behind. It's not simply the excellent hospitality because anyone can provide good food and drink. It's the open, kind, warm and honest sense of welcome you get from them. Sitting in their big kitchen with a group of lovely people is one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend.

Many work colleagues, acquaintances, and people with whom you come into day to day contact are too intensely wrapped up in their own business to share concerns or engage in any depth emotionally. It's all quite superficial and self involved. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just the contrast is marked when you are taken out of this work drag and placed in a different social environment.

As in when you are taken into the heart of a group and engaged in talk. And banter and chat and deep stuff and giggly nonsense and the whole damn lot. It reminds you of the many ways that we should all be able to communicate. And sometimes we neglect our ability for rounded communication. Or in other words, getting merry with friends.

Interestingly the teens of varying haircuts were also interacting. There may have been computer games involved, however they were all in the same room and not in differing time zones. Which is significant. Incidentally they also had this sixth sense when food was about to be served, and they'd emerge, engage and then carry on with their virtual rescue mission. Assisted ably with lashings of chocolate milk and vodka.

All of this philosophy has been caused by a couple of minor dramas on the way home.

Firstly the Lord Archer Obelisk that you can see from the M40. Irresistibly drawn there, we contrarily followed our noses til we saw the little kissing gate leading on to a public footpath. We stumbled over mud to the plinth hoping to find enlightenment as to why such a gracious monument was there. But were disappointed and decided to google later.

A horsey commotion caught our attention. As someone of reasonable country sense I had checked the field for wild animals and seeing a horse calmly grazing, I'd judged it safe. Which is why we found ourselves face to snorting, angry, ready to lash out live tesco burgers. We fled. Safe in the car we collapsed hysterically.

Back on the motor way we immediately caught the stationary traffic of a very close accident. Helicopters, ambulances, highway vehicles went about their business as we waited. And realised if we hadn't gone on our excursion we may have been part of the chaos up front.

Turns out fate fancied our chances more against hooves, over a collision of high speed tin cans.

All stories to be stored up and related to real friends, over drinks and a fine spread of food. It's all about communicating the lived experience. And avoiding horses hooves, obviously.

Sarff of the river...

Picture the scene. It's 6am. It's Saturday morning. I'm home in Contrary Towers. And I can have a long luxurious lay in, salivating the prospect of an idle day filled with such delights as cleaning the oven and sorting out the den of iniquity that is our pan cupboard.

Which is why at 6:30am I was in the kitchen making dough for bread. Before retiring for an hour with tea and a ginger nut to nibble on. As you do.

Returning to knock the dough back at 7:45am I realised I still had no idea what on earth I would like to do assuming, that is, I could summon up the energy to do something alone. I'm having an issue with this at the moment, I've talked about it elsewhere. It's debilitating and worrying the hell out of me that it's having an effect on my nearest and dearest. Still, a difficult cycle to break.

After a second round of tea, ginger nuts and pondering I actually got myself looking vaguely human and challenged the weather with a sun-dress that had not seen the light of day since, well, last summer. And baked the bread.

Still no ideas. Fortunately as the bread cooled the boss got in touch to say we had a bit of an issue, which it
*actual breadface*
turned out we sort of didn't, but at least it put my ambling brain back in to gear.

So I made a bacon, egg and fried bread sarnie. The sort that appears on health warnings. Oh yes, I was challenging fate on many levels today.

As I fried and my health concious flatmate looked on in disgust, the phone rang. It was my dear friend Ray who, unexpectedly was at a loose end and heading towards Central London. After a hasty conversation I asked him to divert via Mile End and I returned to the trick task of eating said behemoth of a sandwich.

One has to have priorities.

To be fair, it wasn't just the artery clogging I was interested in, I was waiting to hear back from said boss and see whether I was needed. Talking of needed, I needed a cup of tea, which in the excitement (I need to get out more) I'd neglected to make, my flatmate's boyfriend gallantly stepped in and made sure I wouldn't do without. Phew.

Time passed and after seeing Clare and bf off for their own adventure, I went looking for Ray as he was surely nearby by now. He wasn't. I looked around the wharf, nothing. Errr. *calls* "Hello, you're conspicuous by your absence...". Since January there has been a running joke which all started when he reckoned I had my phone upside down because I reckoned the Truman Brewery was in the opposite direction to what he reckoned. And I've not let home forget it. Mostly because he still insists I'm wrong. Anyway. So I'd given clear instructions, if you catch the 323 get off at St Pauls Way School, if you get the 277, D6 or D7 get off at Pixley street. The penultimate call had been to say he was at St Pauls way so I gave final directions and waited.

Trouble is, he'd used the 323 instructions on the 277 and, as it happens, there *is*  a bus stop just before Pixley called, yep, St Pauls. I was a little confused as to why he said he'd turned left in to my road instead of right. The penny still didn't drop until he mentioned the name of the warehouse he was going past. I might have giggled.


Anyway. I downed him with a vat of tea whilst I did a couple of last work things, then off we wandered towards Mile End with a discussion of urban architecture along the way. This can be summed as I thought it looked much better around here, and he hated it. Obviously he's wrong. The cheeky chatting continued all the way to Mansion House. As we crossed the bridge though, he started to twitch. It turns out, like the dulachán he couldn't cross water, or, as it turns out, go to the sarff of the river.

He started to sweat.

Okay I said, the Tate is like a North of the River diplomatic zone, it's not southern territory. He disagreed. He does a lot of that. No, that's only Waterloo. Eh? So we looked back to the promised land of the North and I passed comment about the architecture. He didn't like the Shard, obvs. I said how nice it was to see the Walkie Talkie being glazed... He claimed that wasn't it, it was another building.

Unusually I acquiesced, well, sort of acquiesced, and we continued on to the Tate. Plotting.

After a wander around the Lichtenstein Retrospective, I dragged him up the the members room for tea and a cookie. He had been moderately good after all. Now, it turned out, not only had he not been to the Tate before (sarff of the river, obvs) but, needless to say, he'd not been to the terrace for what is one of the fabulous views of London. Something to keep a man with a camera happy.

The pigeons helped too.

Pluck Brits in their element...
That wasn't a euphemism. The rain started. Within a few minutes only us and two ladies of a certain age, who were also british, were left doing that plucky stiff upper lip thing. Clearly insane. By now the day is meandering towards dinner time so, we headed back to Contrary Towers as I promised to cook. I'm glad we'd decided to do that, by the time we got back to the north side my tights were decidedly soggy, I didn't fancy wandering any further.

A quick trip around the Tower Hamlets answer to Fortnum and Mason and it was home in time for a stiff cup of tea and a meatball bake a lá Victoria.

You'll want a recipe? Okay...

  • Olive oil
  • a pack of Lidl's finest 100% Scottish Beef meatballs
  • A yellow pepper, other colours will do, but today I fancied yellow
  • A suitable amount of garlic 
  • An onion, chopped really small
  • A dirty great squirt of tomato puree
  • Two tins of chopped tomatoes
  • half a teaspoon of rosemary, or that's what it looked like
  • A good dash of ground peppercorns
  • Roughly a quarter teas spoon of crushed chillies
  • I think about 250g of pasta, I used a mix of penne and pennoni as I had some
  • Some brown sugar to soften the taste
  • Mozzarella and a hunk of permesan to grate
  • A glug of wine
  • Another glug of wine for the chef
So I chopped the onion and pepper, through it in the pan with the garlic and olive oil and fried to soften. After a bit I threw in the meatballs with the wine then toss stirred from time to time until they were brown (lid on pan, lift and shake up and down, saves breaking the balls with a spoon), and put the pasta on to cook, next I added the tomatoe puree, tins of tomatoes and, after grinding with a mortar and pestle, the rosemary and peppercorns. I left this to simmer. When the pasta was cooked I drained and added to the main mix and left to infuse and bubble for another ten minutes. Finally I ladled everything in to two pasta dishes layered slices of mozzarella and grated parmesan over the top before popping in the oven until it was melted and bakey.

A bit like this...

The rest of the evening was your usual rumbustious affair of wine (or beer in his case), more cheeky chattering and me introducing the delights of Marina and the Diamonds. He'd never heard of them! Terrible.

And googling the Walkie Talkie.

Which he was resisting. And we know why... If you look in the dictionary for insufferably smug you might see a picture of me. Oh yes, as I was saying earlier...


When will he learn I'm always right? So it was a lovely day, a truly lovely day and it ended with a call to a taxi company to whisk him to some strange place called Essex. I've heard talk of it, but assumed it was just a myth used to scare delicate flowers such as me. The company said twenty minutes, his phone buzzed about 1 minute later! Efficient.

We stumbled outside and, sure enough a smartly suited driver had arrived in a black Mercedes, he got out as we approached to open the door. I was impressed. Truly. And with a brief hug the clock struck midnight and he whisked off before the Mercedes turned in to a 1982 Lada and the driver wore a tank top with what was hopefully a cyrry stain down the front.

So now it's Sunday. And, dear reader...

I'm going to Essex...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Of Rice and Bed

My last post was about healthy eating, recuperating and generally trying to regain some level of good health. This addendum is to gauge how well I'm doing and congratulate myself on progress.

Which is why I have just celebrated with a Greggs chicken slice and bottle of pop.


In all seriousness, there was a system shut down this week with complete bed rest and many many hours of sleep. If you're too ill to go out least you aren't tempted by cheese toasties at Ye Olde Mitre, British Museum egg sarnies or burritos the size of your arm from Leather Lane.

Breakfasts have been easy; porridge with cinnamon, dried fruit and honey. Lunches (or 'post nap snacks', as I've renamed them) have been either beany, eggy and one day a friend made my garlicky stuffed mushrooms which was pleasant. Dinners have been wholesome and I've not overdone the portions.

Apart from last night when someone mentioned the magic word 'Chinese' and I folded. Big time. Spring rolls, duck pancakes, prawns with veg, egg fried rice, I stuffed my face. I was vaguely responsible because I abstemiously avoided wine. The small amount of lager just didn't taste right so clearly I'm not that well yet.

To be honest after a week of solitary confinement it was good just to be out. Simply in my Local, giggling at the April showers, amazed at how bright it was. My so-called friends were also being rude because of my broken toe - yes I've managed to hurt it again.


Despite the monumental amounts of calcium, it turns out 2 weeks isn't long enough to mend a toe bone. The lure of wearing pretty boots was too much and I paid for it.

So the healthy eating is going well. Ably assisted by the warmer weather and hours of extra sleep. Long may this improvement continue. Let's raise a glass of fruit juice to that!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Let's start afresh

You may remember way back that V and I decided that a diet was in order and had all sorts of good intentions. It appears that we may have gone to hell, as I've been tempted off the straight and narrow in a big way. Which may have had a detrimental effect on my health.

After a bout of the worst cold I can remember in a long time, it's time for something to be done. Many years ago I did this detox diet - remember them, fashionable in the mid nineties? I remember losing a stone, gaining a certain brightness in the eye, as well as an unhealthy obsession with nuts. Oh.

This time I don't want to do anything too drastic as I'm starting from such a terrible state. And frankly the weather isn't helping. So what I'm thinking is a lunch of beans, raw veggies with fish, meat or cheese topped up in the afternoon with a handful of nuts and dried fruit. This means all the sugar, fat etc but in a healthier way.

For dinners I plan on eating much the same as now (with less cake, bread, cheese and bacon - what a combo!) but with serious portion control. The broken toe is seriously interfering with my normal mobility and therefore affecting the bum wobble factor drastically.

So this time, no scales, no pressure and when I drag myself finally from my sick bed, put on a summer frock, I'll know it's worked.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Black forest gateau banana bread

I woke up feeling wretched after a crap night where I couldn't breath. I hate colds. So I took to the kitchen this morning to make something healthy. This is what I made, with thanks to Nigella.

Whilst watching rubbish on 4OD, I boiled 100g of mixed fruit (with the peel picked out - yuck) with 75ml of cherry brandy. Then let it sit, covered, for as long as you like to make, as Nigella says, aromatically stickily swollen fruit. During the pre programme adverts, in a medium bowl mix together 160g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 25g of really dark cocoa powder. I forgot to add 1/2 teaspoon of bicarb of soda. Pfft - or rather, no pffft.

Melt 125g butter and in a large bowl, whisk it with 150g whatever sugar you have left over. Mine was half caster, half granulated. Continue whisking and add 3 horribly ripe bananas, 2 eggs and the drained alcoholic fruit. Ooops I accidentally let some of the brandy get in too. Add the chocolatey flour and whisk well.

Pour into a buttered loaf tin, dredge the top with demerera sugar, and put into the oven at 180 degrees or so until it stops wobbling. This will take well over an hour and the smell makes you really hungry! Once it's done, hack an end off and smear a bit of butter on. Eat. Make your flatmate jealous.

No, I'm not feeling better but it's taken my mind off the sniffles and hurty toe. It's got fruit in it so it must be healthy...

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Food, glorious food.

I make no bones about it. I like food. Except for cucumber, that is scientifically proven to be the work of the anti-christ. Fortunately I don't believe in such nonsense so can just about manage it on tuna sarnies.


I was working late this evening, happy in the knowledge that my lovely flatmate had said she'd come up with something foodwise as, unexpectedly, she'd be home tonight. I think she may have forgotten though as when I got in the bacon I mentioned was still languishing at the back of the fridge. And her boyfriend's hat is in the south wing. A coincidence?

A plan was needed.

The trouble with this is that we don't do plans. So as I ticked of the options I realised I had no real option other than to... Make something up. So...

  • Take one half packet of streaky bacon
  • And the last dirty sausage in the fridge (bratwurst apparently)
  • Add half an onion left from last night's stuffed mushrooms
  • And some garlic smuggled in from Norfolk by the nearly ex.
  • A few iffy mushrooms that I bought some time ago
  • 5 or six british spuds. I know this because that's what it says on the wrapper
  • A pepper, green in this case
  • Beenz
  • Lashings of cheez
  • And the bottle of wine left over from last night
  • Whatever is left on the butter dish
  • And cayenne pepper. Obvs.
Slice the spuds thinly, chuck them in a pan, add boiling water, heat for 20 minutes. You know the score. Next. Slice the onion, baconz, dirty sausage, throw the remains of the butter in a pan, melt, chuck in the onions, cackle and add the bacon. When you get bored throw in the pepper (sliced), mushroom (sliced) and cook them for a while. Add the beenz and cook slowly. Oh, missed something off the list, a beef oxo cube. Mix this with about 10cc of hot water, i.e. bugger all and add to the mix with teh beenz.

Allow time to pass. Mostly this involves drinking the wine from last night.

After 20 minutes or so drain the spuds. Ladle the goo from the beenz and dirty sausage pan in to a baking dish, feel annoyed that you still haven't bought a big one (ooh err) so you have to use two dishes. Make the layer thin. Add another layer of goo. And then a final layer of spud. Like a lasagne. Sort of. And top with grated cheese.

Obviously you shouldn't have actually prepared said cheese, and should grate directly on to the dish. Grind some pepper over the top

Next. Wait. Once you've put it all in the oven. Some time later. Maybe 15 minutes or so, switch from oven to grill to crisp the top. Take it out and... Eat.

Shortly after this you will find the urge to write a blog post. At this point your flatmate will appear claiming she has flatmate flu. This is like man flu. But oh so much more dangerous. Offer food, do not be surprised when it is taken.

Post blog.