Thursday, 31 January 2008

Get your lips around that

I've been strangely drawn to the latest series of Masterchef which is currently on most week nights on BBC2. When Loyd Grossman presented it in the 80s? 90s? 00s? I never bothered with it - after all this was the era of Jamie, Nigel and Hugh when cooking shows became exciting, and I had finally got my own little kitchen to experiment in.

Now, Jamie et al are ubiquitous on our screens - Jamie at Home is on as I type - and they have become the mainstream. I make no apology for being shamelessly middle class eco-hippy, organic veg box every week, only organic free range chicken on the menu, Ecover washing up liquid by the sink, jute bags for the shopping and compost bin in the garden. I know that we're lucky to be able to afford to salve our consciences this way and blithely ignore the European trips on budget airlines and other convenient modern day gadgets that make our lives easy. We're not going to stop trying to do our bit for the environment, but I think I have eco-fatigue when it comes to the ever-present Channel 4 JamiechickenGordonorganicgrowyourownHughrecycle shows. I know what stuff to get in the supermarket, I know not to buy battery farmed chicken (although I do now know that buying British veal is actually a good thing, due to the 'Kill It Cook It Eat It' programme on last night). I'm fed up with having it all shoved down my throat every week.

Which is partly why I'm enjoying Masterchef. It's not preachy, but instead is just about a load of amateurs who desperately want to cook, being judged by 2 blokes who I've never heard of. One of them looks like Dr. Fox, but apparently both are food critics, own restaurants, blah. There's a round in the quarter finals each week where the contestants have to identify different food items which is fascinating. Who doesn't know what couscous looks like? And who can possibly confuse Worcester Sauce with balsamic vinegar? The only round which seems faintly pointless is where 3 would-be chefs go to a random brasserie in London and help with the lunch service to see if they can cope under pressure - as this rarely seems to have any bearing on what the judges decide at the end of the day. The arrogant judges are engaging, in their way, and none of the contestants have become too obnoxious through overexposure on the screen yet. At the moment we're at quarter final stage so I assume the semi finals are next week. I haven't yet been inspired to cook any of the recipes that have been shown off, but overall it's been an entertaining piece of television. Either that or there's bugger all else on at 8pm from Monday to Thursday at the moment, which shows a certain savviness from the schedulers...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Getting On With Things

It’s amazing how perky you feel once you’re better after a poorly spell. I’m still coughing (mostly when having conversations with people, which makes me sound a lot worse than I actually am) and my sinuses are into overdrive a bit, but I feel about 3000% better than I did this time last week. It feels like it’s my first proper week back in the office since Christmas so I should be taking advantage of the renewed vigour for work, rather than blogging, but hey…

Had quite a quiet weekend, being as I was still in recovery mode; although I was pleased to make a start on a few jobs that had been bugging me. We got stuck into the piles of clutter in the top room, many of which had been sitting in dusty boxes since before we did the extension – that’s OVER 2 YEARS! – and most of which ended up in black bin bags for recycling or dumping. The room looks a lot clearer now and we even started to have a discussion on what we’ll end up doing with it – en-suite, bespoke shelving for an office, the possibilities are there but all expensive. We’re both agreed that the hideous lemon yellow artex that’s on every ceiling surface and the eaves will have to come off though. We got a guy in to give us a quote for re-fencing one side of our garden before the dilapidated boards that are there now collapse entirely. And we went to the pictures to see The Golden Compass, which was enjoyable enough but couldn’t match the fantastic quality of the book, and seemed to end very abruptly too.

What I didn’t do, mainly because I was paranoid about getting my carving knife cut infected (it’s getting better and I don’t have to wear rubber gloves in the shower any more which can only be a good thing) was re-pot some house plants that are in dire need of it. The peachy coloured anthurium in the bathroom hasn’t stopped flowering for about a year now and needs room to spread out a bit; and about 3 or 4 weeks ago one of the cacti on the kitchen windowsill put on an amazing growth spurt and started flowering! The flowers didn’t last long and are looking a bit wizened now but Ali managed to capture them when they were in their glory. So that’s my job for next Sunday.

I also just ordered the cutest looking knitting kit for a new born baby cape, which I’m going to aim to have completed before Stuart and Alison’s baby is due at the end of March. It doesn’t look too hard and Alison’s a big cape fan so hopefully it’ll go down well. So my good intentions are back firing on all cylinders now I’m better again – it’s Body Balance tomorrow too!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Poorly sick

Feeling very sorry for myself at the moment. I've always been quite proud of the fact that my immune system seems to fight off colds and flu, or even if I succumb, it's just a week or so of runny nose and a bit of a head cold. The last few days have put paid to that notion, with a hacking cough leading to chest pains and permanent headache, a head cold which has bunged me up good and proper, and until today I've been alternating between sweating like a pig and shivery cold. Fortunately that unpleasant aspect seems to have gone away but the coughing and blocked up nose remain. We were up in Scotland at the weekend, and Ali's 7yr old nephew Liam had a cough and a temperature on Sunday when we left - the kisses and hugs goodbye may in retrospect not have been such a good idea. Ali seems to have escaped any germs though.

[those of a squeamish disposition may wish to skip the next paragraph]

To add to my misery, last Wednesday night, before we were travelling up to Hawick the next day, I was preparing a squash curry before going out to my Wednesday night bookgroup. Take one huge Japanese Global carving knife, a squash fresh out of the fridge and thus covered in slippery condensation, and you have a recipe for disaster. The knife slipped, and sliced most of the soft tissue from the end of my left hand ring finger. Ali wasn't back from work at the time, so I had to try and staunch the massive bleeding as best I could before going out. I didn't think to save the bit of flesh (I threw it straight in the bin with a shudder), which with hindsight may have been a good idea, as then the finger may have been able to bond together and heal a bit quicker. Instead I have a very open wound, which seems to be at least drying out, but will probably look appalling when I can finally expose it to the air. So as I can't put any pressure on that hand at all, I haven't been able to go to Body Balance this week, an activity which I was really getting back into this year. The new routine has us doing the splits - fancy. Of course I am nowhere near the ground, but I was getting millimetres lower each time I did it - let's just hope the finger heals enough over the next week or two for me to go back.

All in all it's a very woebegone Kathryn at the moment. Of course the two days I've been off work sick have coincided with all manner of things kicking off that need sorting out too - but it's hard to summon up much enthusiasm for it when you're on your smartphone on the sofa, covered in a blanket and feeling like death. Next time, dear reader, a more upbeat post. Promise.

Monday, 7 January 2008

All over for another year, then

Well, the Christmas tree has come down and been chopped up ready for going on the fire. All the decorations are packed away, cards taken down from all the bookshelves, floors swept and mopped and the kitchen looks very empty and white. Good job we ordered a reclaimed pine dresser on Saturday from the lovely Foxwood to fill some space, and more importantly hold the increasing amounts of glassware we seem to be acquiring recently.

I’ve been planning a post for the last week or so – but somehow things have got in the way, such as Christmas, planning and hosting a New Year’s Eve party, clearing up after the same, and going back to work. Having read what seems like squillions of newspaper articles and blog posts all about people’s New Year’s resolutions, lists of the year for 2007, and festive goings on, and given the title of my blog, you’d think I would be more up to speed with my own. Good intentions for 2008 will probably come in a later post when I’ve thought of some (they won’t be much different from the intentions that I posted during 2007); so for now I’ll just round up the end of the year.

Ali and I had a really lovely quiet Christmas at home by ourselves, the obligatory roast beef for dinner and rather too much of different sorts of wine. It was really good just to have a whole day with nothing to do but open presents, cook the meal, eat it and watch TV (though Christmas telly was particularly crap this year. Even the festive edition of SCD was a bit of a let down – clearly none of the celebrities and their partners could give a toss about the result, given that it was only the studio audience voting, and Darren Gough was a shoe-in to win as he’s on the SCD tour so they had to keep him sweet and remind the public to go and book their tickets). Boxing Day we travelled to Hitchin to visit our friends Cameron and Elaine, taking the remnants of the chocolate pie I’d made for Christmas – and believe me there was more than 80% of it left. In Jamie’s recipe it looked lovely and light and fluffy – but with an ingredients list of chocolate, sugar, butter, crème fraiche, more butter, cocoa, more chocolate and butter pastry, it was never going to be the healthy option. Cameron and Elaine nobly said they’d keep the remains and finish them off but I’m willing to bet a lot ended up in the bin…

A few pub jaunts later and we were in the throes of planning for NYE. By 31st we’d got 3 polypins of real ale from 2 different local breweries (Butt’s and West Berkshire); dozens of bottles of wine and mixers galore; I’d made our biggest stock pot full of beef stew plus 2 smaller pots of veggie chilli, 24 fairy cakes (sprinkling the hundreds and thousands on the chocolate icing was so satisfying!) and a pear and almond tart, we’d cleared Waitrose of all the dips and chips you could think of, and we were ready to go. So ready, in fact (I’d done a lot of the cooking on Sunday) that I’d cleared up, showered, and dressed up by 2pm and felt a bit at a loose end – after all it would have been suicidal to start drinking then...

It was the first time we’d mixed up 2 different groups of friends – the Oxford crowd who I’ve known most of since 1992; and our ‘local’ friends who we mostly know from where Ali previously worked. Add in one 4 month old baby (Freddie); one toddler (Evie) and 3 kids between 6 and 10 (Bailey, Courtney and Bethany) and there was a fantastic mix of people in the house. With around 30 people our ground floor was full to bursting and I don’t think we could really host anything bigger, unless it’s summer and people could go outside, but it’s good to know our limits! With a 4am finish and the kids up at 7.30 (Evie liked the sound her feet made running up and down on the wooden floors of the bedroom above ours) it meant a very sluggish start to the new year but with some strong coffee inside us and a bacon sarnie we were ready to go to Robin and Anne’s for a New Year’s Day dinner. Being presented with a glass of bubbly at 2pm after 3 hours sleep was just the tonic (!) and while we were seriously flagging by 7.30pm it was a great start to the new year. Back to work on Wednesday. Hmph.

Some 2008 good intentions to follow, hopefully before the end of January. Nerys and I were at Body Balance on Sunday though so despite not having a booze-free day since some time in mid-December, I think I’m on the right lines.

[From top to bottom - fairy cakes and a clear-ish work surface before the party; Dr Brown's real ale bar; Andy at 11.10pm (before too much fizz was consumed); Ali & a stubborn cork]