Monday, 17 January 2011

Experimental cooking

I have mixed feelings when it comes to cooking. At times I approach it with a Disneyesque joy (although for environmental health reasons I keep the animals involvement to a minimum) Occasionally its with a degree of apprehension. Most often than not it's with a sense of apathy.

I'm not the most co-ordinated of people, which is probably why as a child my presence in the kitchen was not necessarily viewed with a great deal of enthusiasm. My duties were limited to setting the table and drying the dishes (As anyone with siblings knows there is a hierarchy to doing dishes, the elder washes, the younger dries. Being the youngest of 4 girls it was inevitable I would always be stuck with the drying!)

So before going off to college I had to a acquire a certain degree of culinary know how. A 'crash' course, and yes I do mean that literally, at my mothers side armed me with recipes designed to make the smallest amount of food stretch the furthest. Not so much recipes, more vague instructions as to what to use and in which quantity to use them. Nothing was ever written down. My diet during those four years was 'interesting' shall we say. However since most students aren't too choosy when it comes to a free meal it also saw my introduction to the pleasures of entertaining round the dinner table. 

All of this was to change when I got married and had my boys, and I'll be honest, I did panic a bit. I had managed to survive on my meagre offerings but I didn't think my family could. Fortunately a very good friend's mother was my salvation. As an engagement present she gave me my first, and best, recipe book.  

The second lifesaver came when my health visitor recommended this book to me. She must have sensed my unease at the prospect of weaning twins. When I say unease I mean terror, the  'rabbit in the headlights' kind.

So I discovered the joys of planned cooking, of following a recipe in the knowledge that if it was a dish that met with approval I would be able to reproduce it at a later date. Dinner parties became less tentative even as the attendees became a bit more discerning. The bookshelf became fuller, the dishes more adventurous and I more confident in the kitchen.

It was all going well .... until drudgery set in.

Cooking something new every day, being limited by the family's likes and dislikes, planning the weekly shop to give me as many options as possible..... boring. Add to the mixture the fact that every now and again I have a Captain Kitchen moment when, like any super hero worth their salt, my super powers come in to play. As Captain Kitchen I have the ability to burn water, turn pasta or rice into a pot shaped building brick and supply the school hockey team with indestructible muffin shaped pucks.

In an attempt to alleviate the tedium I have gone back to my early days. Every now and again I try some experimental cookery. This is usually preceded by the discovery that I am missing some vital ingredient for the planned meal. Tonight's offering was a sort of Mediterranean chicken. Some chicken, onions, red peppers, skinned beef tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine vinegar, herbs de provence, muscovado sugar, baby plum tomatoes and chicken stock. Yes, 'some' is as technical as the measurements get. It went down rather well.

Give me a special occasion, a party, a bit of a do. The preparation and planning before hand, poring through recipe books to come up with a suitable menu, writing up lists of ingredients (or possible alternatives should they be unobtainable), trying out new dishes. That's the kind of cooking I get a kick out of. The day to day stuff? Well it has to be done, that's all. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

My love affair with fleece and flannel

I hate being cold. 

No, I mean I REALLY hate being cold. You wouldn't like me when I'm cold, I get all surly, grumpy and irritable. Not so much the Incredible Hulk more the Incorrigible Sulk. Perhaps even the Increasing Bulk, due of course to the sheer weight of wool I wear to keep warm and not the amount of toasted crumpets I turn to for solace ( think Michelin man, but without the winning smile and cheerful demeanour)

We live in a relatively modern house but when it was built the plot could only be supplied with electricity. This means our heating is dependant on storage heaters. Yes, I know, the only heating system that relies on you being able to predict the weather/temperature 24 hours in advance. What genius thought that was going to work in Scotland?

This short-sightedness has been mitigated somewhat by us installing a rather large stove, fondly referred to as Bubbs the Fire God, in our main living area. This winter that's been just fine as long as I stay in those 3 rooms. It's when I have to venture into the office or the bedroom that my problems begin. Forget eyes turning green and the shredding of clothes, my fingers and lips turn blue and I look for more layers.

Fortunately for me there is no need to search aimlessly, year upon year ( cue music ), for some elusive serum to cure my affliction. Behold ...... Fleece and Flannel on Folksy

These wonderful fleece gauntlets are by Rowan Tree Designs Just the thing to keep wrists roasty toasty whilst blogging.

And you wouldn't believe the difference having something snugly around your neck can make, like this reversible little number by Cheekydiki ( you can even pull it up over your nose... bonus! )

If you want something a little bit more elegant have a look at these beautiful scarves by Special by SimJaTa A selection of glorious prints on one side and anti-pill fleece on the other. Cosiness with class.

For feet, in my opinion the most important appendage when fighting the 'cold' war, these truly fabulous fleecy lounge socks by Pricked Finger. Who could resist them?

So I've survived the office. Now it's bedtime and the layers have to come off (oh the horror!) My preparations for sleep have been likened to a Russian doll, as each layer comes off I get smaller and smaller, until with all the speed of a bed ninja I disappear under the covers. 
But don't think for one moment I have spurned my new found loves. Oh no, for what winter bed could call itself a refuge from the frigid night air without a touch of 100% brushed cotton flannel. Flannel sheets, flannel duvet cover and flannel PJ's. Bring it on!( just don't forget about the adhesive properties of flannel as you turn over or you may be labelled a cover nicker)

These pyjama pants are available from Nutmeg in various colours. No night time should be without them.  

Of course I have taken steps of my own to ensure the Incorrigible Sulk stays at bay. I made some wheat bags, a safer alternative to the good old hot water bottle (although I am reliably informed by a friend who also happens to be one of our part time fire fighters that a number of these have led to microwave fires as people often forget to re-hydrate them after a few uses) 
I made 2 sizes, one for draping over shoulders or around ankles and one for tucking in pockets, down boots or holding in hands. (note to self, remove lip salve before tucking in pocket! )

Then I made some covers for them so that they wouldn't get grubby. Recycled flannel sheeting and pyjamas should do the trick. 

Or a little bit of funky fleece for when I'm exercising the mouse at the computer.

Yes, I will control this demon inside me, no longer will my family live in fear should the mercury drop below 0˚C. Flannel, soft, supple flannel will warm me and static electricity, as I peel off layers of fleece, will light my way.

David (Bruce) Banner, Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Eric Banna, Edward Norton, we applaud your search, but you should've looked on Folksy!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Resolution ( I'll have the verb rather than the noun )

Well a Happy New Year to you.

The tree is down, the festive food is finally finished, the presents have all been stowed away and the kids are back at school. Life can now begin to return to normal. 
Of course when I say normal I don't mean how it was before Christmas. Oh no, for some reason I now feel the need to set myself completely unrealistic daily targets just because the date has changed. This will of course lead to feelings of failure as I miss each of these targets (even though I am the only one that was responsible for setting them! )

While I fully accept that if one of my old school teachers had been asked to comment on my efforts last year it no doubt would have earned me a 'could do better', I've never understood why the middle of winter is the best time to begin turning your life around. The days are too short and the light is poor so getting more work done isn't really an option. It's too cold to be going out jogging, but the perfect temperature to be eating comfort food, not the best combination if exercising and losing weight is the intention. (It is however the perfect time of year if sitting in front of a roaring fire with a good book is on your list)

Doesn't it make more sense to wait until spring, when everything else around you is starting afresh?  That way at least you can feel the momentum and go with it, spring in to action with a spring in your step ( do you get my drift?)

So this year I have no New Year's Resolutions, I'm saving them up and going for New Season's Aims. 
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