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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

It was turning out to be very funny Monday.

It was Bank Holiday Monday yesterday in the UK and my friend and fellow blogger Janette,,and myself arranged to meet up at Wollaton Hall and park. It is a popular 500 acre park on the outskirts of Nottingham and features a beautiful Tudor mansion designed by Robert Smythson. The mansion looks out over some fantastic parkland featuring a herd of stags and deer and a man-made lake with lots of wild fowl. It’s very green and lovely to have a stroll round any time of the year. Some people like to run and jog around the parklands. Not me. Lazy? Yes and the fact that tight lyrca makes me sweat and look like a running bone thus attracting the unwanted attention of packs of dogs excited by the thrill of the chase. If you’ve ever been hunted down by a slavering Jack Russell and Great Dane combo you’ll know what I mean.

There is also a golf course and that is where the deer like to chill out and rut and they get quite cross if accidently whacked by a stray golf club. They too get excited by the thrill of the chase and the thrill of watching children step in deer poo. Oh the joys of the simple life. There are also grey squirrels that enjoy catching golf balls in mid flight and hoard them in the oak trees. Allegedly.

Anyway, Janette and I had arranged to meet as we were keen on the prospect of attending (free of charge) a Fine Food Festival and Craft Fair. It was a beautiful day and we each reached the rendez-vous by 10am. I’d already had a look round and it didn’t take me long. In fact it took me longer to sigh in disappointment than it did to go round the pitiful amount of stalls. There were about ten stalls in a outside courtyard that could have taken twice the amount of vendors. Some of the stall holders looked understandably fed up.

As we discovered, most of the stalls were of good quality items like Spanish ceramics, African artifacts and local cheeses and jerk chicken. One lady stall holder was having a fine old time politely dealing with a young girl constantly asking if the food was free. Although she was offering taster samples of her Jumping Jack chilli jam and promoted well the mango mojito dessert sauce and best quality balsamic reduction, amongst others, the fairly high prices meant that any purchases would have seriously made a reduction in one’s wallet.

We had a quick look at the cup cakes stall and promised ourselves that we would get a few of the enticing looking cakes on the way back from a walk. With that in mind we took ourselves on a circumnavigation of the lake and enjoyed the sunshine and a long chinwag about things serious and downright silly. Janette is great friend and always good fun to talk to and be with. En route we saw a fabulous view of the Tudor hall from the banks of the lake and spotted the Log Ness Monster in the waters.

Log Ness Monster

Back at the courtyard we picked up four cupcakes for a fiver and made our way to Janette’s car with the intention of driving five miles up the road to a place called The Bottle Kiln in the village of West Hallam. Janette had never been there before and I had promoted it as being a super (good quality) gift shop, gallery and café that offered some great vegetarian dishes at reasonable prices.

Off we drove with me convincing her all the way that we were going in the right direction, honest. Finally we saw the distinctive chimney of the Bottle Kiln and pulled into the empty car park. This was immediately odd as it is a popular venue. Then we saw the sign. ‘Not open Mondays.’ There were two options here, one: we could have got annoyed or two: we could have laughed it off. We took option two and laughed all the way back to the Wheelhouse Pub near Wollaton Park and had lunch.

The Bottle Kiln (not on a Monday)
The pub was offering a very good value ‘two meals for £9 deal’ on a selection of meals shown in the menu. Janette chose the Tagliatelle Carbonara and I had the British Beef and Ale pie. Both were great value and very tasty. The pub is part of the Hardy’ House chain and for good wholesome food and a great price I would recommend a visit.

Whilst waiting for our food Janette pointed out something on the menu that had us nearly falling off our chairs with the giggles. In the ‘from the grill’ section, meaning, succulent rump and sirloin steaks and just in case you need telling, that’s MEAT, one could have the option of ordering a choice of three spicy sauces or three ‘toppers’. All these extras for your steak were marked with a green V meaning that they were OK for vegetarians! It was turning out to be very funny Monday.

Thank goodness we hadn’t arrived on Monday 9th September. Why? Because they are closed for refurbishment. Just as we finished our meal the background music changed to “I don’t like Mondays” and Janette and I giggled like naughty school kids.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Hey baldy!!

I remember once when I was in my teens and was playing football with my school friend Steven in the cul-de-sac where I lived. It was about 4.30pm and in the distance I saw my Dad cycling home from his day’s hard graft at Rolls Royce. He always got off his bike at the bottom of the hill and pushed it the short journey home. My Dad was very strict and so why, on this fateful evening, I suddenly shouted out “Hey baldy!” as he came up the hill I know not. The balding ‘comb over’ haircut he sported was not to be ridiculed and I was banned from seeing my mate Steve for a week and got a smack round the ear for my incredible cheek.

Early years with blonde hair.

My hair over the years has gone the way of my Dad’s – down the plughole of life. Unlike him I’ve never been that bothered about my hair loss and the last thing I would do as an adult is attempt the combed over look. It looks so silly especially when the wind gets up and long strands wave about like seaweed in a strong tide.

Nine years old. Unkempt with blonde streak
For this blog I wanted to connect this amusing story with food and so I Googled something like ‘hair loss and food’. I found an article and was very interested in this extract below.

‘A wholesome diet, rich in silica, calcium and iron, will help reduce or prevent hair loss. Green, leafy vegetables, especially sea vegetables, are good mineral sources. Raw oats provide silica. Dried fruits and cherry juice are rich sources of iron.

For men, the balding process can be slowed down by taking a low-fat diet. Some scientists postulate that the male pattern baldness is tied to increased testosterone levels during puberty. A high-fat, meat-based diet raises testosterone levels, and that may adversely affect hair follicles. For example, in Japan, male pattern baldness was very rare prior to World War II when the diet was lean and healthy. The Japanese now consume a more fatty, Westernized diet. Baldness is now increasing substantially among Japanese men. Eating low-fat foods may not stop hair loss; but it might help slow down the hair loss.’

Leo Sayer look. 19 yrs old
I’ve also put together this little collection of pictures of me at various stages in my life to illustrate the disappearing locks.

Early twenties look complete with bum fluff moustache

When I went to University (1989-91) A lot of my hair was receeding and I even shaved my head with Bic razors at one point and started experimenting with the goatee look.

Mid thirties

Over time I have grown full beards for a 'look' and plays as well as the goatee and once was quite shocked when the hairdesser asked if I 'wanted the bulk taken from my eyebrows?'

The 'actor' look.
Nowadays I use a hairtrimmer and cut my own hair and often wonder why I can't grow a full head of hair on my head yet it quite happliy grows out of my ears?

Happy as I am today.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Opening jars that are stuck. A tip.

Aside from throwing them at the wall (which doesn't really help) I discovered that Lakeland sell funny flower shaped rubber grips and whoever invented these articles are genius. Struggle ye not. Get one of these rubbery gadgets. They are less than a fiver and your wrists, hands and temprement will bless the day you got one.

Open! Damn you!
Come ON!!!
Place thus
Embrace with hand and twist firmly


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Oh Mon Dieu! Where's the loo!?

This is a slightly re-worked version of part of a private holiday journal I wrote back in September 2008 after a fabulous ten day holiday in Bordeaux. It is important that you know that my tummy can be a bit delicate sometimes, particularly where fibre is concerned. It sometimes leads to a sudden urge to visit the loo and when you are in a strange land and not familiar with the proximity of any public loos, things can seem twice as dire. Here is such an event. Go on have a laugh.

Café Utopia is a café cum cinema in Bordeaux and one of my fave haunts. I often eat there and as this story unfolds I had already had a lunch there that same day. The story begins later that very evening – about 5pm.

Cafe Utopia
…. Returning back to my hôtel I got changed after having had a bath and checked out the brochure for films at Café Utopia. I changed into some fresh clothes, rested for a few minutes and went out to Café Utopia with the intention of eating again and watching a film called Versailles. It now started to rain a bit this evening, then, thankfully, the sun came out once more. I did some people watching and note making while I waited for my food that I had ordered, namely the Assiette de Quarter Heures. It turned out to be the same salad as lunchtime but now with white asparagus and belly pork, melted camembert and prunes from Agen. Yet more fibre and water and, in a separate basket, more rock-hard bread.

After my meal I decided to go for a walk anyway and see the film another time, perhaps. A lot of the time I was in Bordeaux I had the feeling of not wasting the chances to explore and enjoy the sunny weather and made a lot of decisions based purely on those notions.

Full of food now, I thought a nice evening stroll was in order and I made my way to where the Sunday brocantes (junk) market happens every week. This was about two tram stops away and about a fifteen minute journey on foot. I ignored my gurgling tummy and set off with my camera, map and notebook.

As the sun was going down I thought perhaps I would get some good photographic shots of old buildings in the golden light. The district where the Sunday market takes place is a bit of a rough area. On arrival there I witnessed some teenage boys playing basketball nearby and I took a photo of some old street lamps with red windows in the background and afterwards made my way on foot towards the river front. The journey to the river Garonne would be no more than ten minutes away. I ignored my gurgling tummy once more as I walked through the 18th Century backstreets and witnessed the swallows swooping overhead.

Tram interior
Suddenly I felt it best to return to the safety of my hôtel as my gurgling tummy was feeling decidedly like it might have un accident terrible. Thinking quickly, I got a tram ticket from the machine on the platform and thankfully a tram arrived sharpish. I was becoming acutely aware that the nearest stop to the hôtel was five stops away. The tram system is known there as Citram and the tracks as Le Tramway. I crossed my legs and hoped not to die – of embarrassment. So, as the full to bursting Citram wove its way quickly across town I concentrated on the reflections on the tram windows as my tummy gurgled ever more dangerously away. We arrived at the terminus and main expanse of Quinconces Square and I cautiously got off, hardly daring to put one foot in front of the other. I had no idea of where any loos might be except in my hôtel room.

bridge en route

how I must have looked
On the way across Quinconces Square I had to stop several times and tightly cross my legs and clench my buttocks. It was an awful feeling standing there sweating and frankly, in big danger of shitting oneself. As I made my stop-start journey with increased trepidation across the broad expanse of the square, a huge queue for the resident Pinder Circus suddenly surged forward. I slipped through a gap in the queue and had to stop cross-legged again every few yards with the need to go to the loo ever more urgent. I kept going hot and cold and I admit to thoughts of ‘what if?’ What if I just don’t make it and cack myself in the street!?

Drops of sweat beaded my worried brow and my temperature moved again rapidly from hot to cold and now cramp was setting into one of my legs from the tension of crossing them. I thought 'Please don't let the Pinder Circus promotional clown find me and want to chat circus animal ethics tonight.'

The way forward, through to my hôtel on Rue Notre Dame was just two more cobbled streets . Firstly I needed to go down Rue Foy; three more tight buttock stops. Nearly there keep going. Rue Notre Dame at last, more horrible warm gurgling sensations and two more cross-legged stops. Keep going, keep going! Don’t think about it. Ignore the dog barking. Mind the dog shit.  Hôtel up ahead. Mind more dog shit. Find the key.

At the hôtel door now, smile nicely at receptionist and straight upstairs and first left to the loo. Key in door, key in door! Door open! Mad dash to bathroom. Made it!

I tell you something, it was a mighty relief that I hadn’t embarrassed myself in the street or even worse in the hôtel foyer. Phew! Lesson learnt – cut down on the fibre. Two lots of prunes in one day! Raw cabbage and lots of liquid! Am I mad?

After reassuring myself that the danger was past I sat on the bed and read some info on the famous La Tupina restaurant – visited by Rick Stein - and wrote up three pages of notes. I then bathed and relaxed and I went to bed at 8.50pm. Merde! What a drama!

Note: Apart from the top picture of the lamps none of the following pictures were taken on the way back to the hotel that night. You could say that I had more pressing things on my mind.

#Bordeaux #BordeauxFrance

Monday, 23 August 2010

Making a shopping list of food on the bus by mobile phone. Bad choice!

You know how it is when you are on the bus and someone’s mobile goes off. This time the ring tone was the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark and a rather common and somewhat strident woman two seats behind me answered. Well actually she could have been sat on my lap insomuch as her voice was so (how can I say this politely) abundantly clear. As abundantly clear as a fishwife can be after smoking 40 Woodbines in an hour.

The call was all about Iceland. No the volcano hasn’t erupted again. I mean Iceland the frozen food company with its many popular stores around the UK. The bus load of people were treated to a viciously verbal conveying of this woman’s potential shopping list. I have no idea to whom she was speaking but it must have been a very bad line as she had to repeat things several times. There are times as a blogger that you just get given these ‘gifts’ and have to write them down asap. Thank goodness for my trusty notepad and discreet method of writing in public.

Hello? I'm breaking up! Hello?

The slightly one-way conversation went something like this:

Chicken? What? Can’t hear you. Chicken? Drumsticks? Chicken drumsticks? How many? Ow m-a-n-y? Ten? What? Ten? Yeah. (phlegmatic coughing fit ensues).

Beef and what? (cough) Black green? Black bean? Right. Yes I know. Ahm not stoopid. Yes gottit. Stir Fry. Owt else?

Pizza. Deep pan? Same as last time. Ok. Yes of course I remember. Go on. Hello? Hello? Hello? Trent Bridge. I’m going over Trent Bridge. Breaking up. Hurry up.

Garlic chicken or bbq chicken? Right. I’m running out of paper now, hurry up. (big heavy sigh).

I can’t….. Fish - Fish fingers. Ten or forty? Well I don’t know. Forty. I'll get forty. Was there any in the freezer? FREEZER! (voce sotto) Do I have to do everything?

Mixed veg and what? You’re breaking up. Peas or cheese? Did you say cheese or peas? CHEESE or PEAS!!!

That'll be peas then.

OK! Stop shouting! I'm on the bus. Yes, mini corn cobs and peas. Battered what? I really don’t why we didn’t do this before I came out. I really don't. Battered onion rings then. Is that it? IS THAT IT? Hello?

What about cheesy potato sticks and cheesy waffles? I'm breaking up. Hello? Hello?

Oh for f*cks sake!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Trimming my bush and other Francophile adventures.

Yesterday and today I have been trimming my bush. It was a big job and due to the regular bouts of rain we have been experiencing here in Nottingham I kept having to pop indoors and resume when it dried up enough to sit in the garden with my hardy clippers at the ready. Well to be exact I would have to say trimming my bushes but it’s good to get folk’s attention at the beginning of the blog post.

My referred to ‘bushes’ were the French lavender bushes (eight of them) that make up most of my bijou gardens either side of my house. After some careful pruning and secure trussing I have hung some of the longer stems in my kitchen window to dry. It almost looks like a French cottage. All I need now is the mistral to blast down the communal path and rattle the new gate and loosen a few tiles on the roof.

On Thursday I cooked a lovely peppery sausage stew with butter beans, tomatoes, onions, button mushrooms and fried courgettes (in olive oil) which I then decided to share with my neighbours and which we ate with some dark green Puy lentils, pain rustique and a glass or two of red wine. Yes I have lapsed Lord. Please forgive me and pour me another glass while you are at it. Merci.

Friday night, after pruning the bulk of the bushes I used some of the leftover stew and Region de la Puy en Velay Puy lentiles and had it with a very succulent pork chop. The pork chop had a beautiful coating of fat on its back which made it taste so much better than the usual dry specimens that the local Supermarché Co-operative package up for the healthy ‘We’re not really eating a pig are we?’ masses.

The finished meal.

I had spent the afternoon enjoying tinkering in my kitchen and felt I was almost in La belle France (Pays de mon coeur) as I tuned my laptop into France Bleu Charente Maritime. This time of listening there was a lot of phone in type chat and whilst my French is as fluent as a particularly bad traffic jam on the périphérique I did enjoy hearing the language and repeating some of it out loud to the amusement of next door’s cat Harris who was watching me from the open staircase. The fact that he yawned a lot I put down to general feline tiredness after a night sur les tiles. Why he was wearing a cat sized beret at a jaunty angle was another matter.

Le chat qui bâille sans beret.

Lavender in my kitchen window.

Today I ventured once more into mon petit jardin and trimmed my last bush for 2010. The smell in the house is lovely and quite soporific or as the French say; soporifique. Par exemple; Tros de vin peut avior un effet soporifique. There’s that wine again, pass my glass please.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A silly story based on tv food ads of the 1960s and '70s

"For hands that wash dishes are as soft as your face...."
Once upon an advert the Cadbury’s Milk Tray Man drank far too much Double Diamond. He had a drunkenly misguided belief that it would somehow ‘work wonders, work wonders, work wonders'. Sometimes he would drink one today’ rather a lot and started to behave like a Brooke Bond Tea monkey except he wasn’t quite as Nimble as them, or as sober. Occasionally he used to mix his Martini, Cinzano Bianco and All Spice. Never a good thing. He called it his 'Fairy Liquid' and under its intoxicating influence he was convinced that he had a mate called Hans, who washed dishes for a living, using the aforesaid Mild Green Fairy Liquid.

Perhaps he should have kept to drinking Coco-Cola and done something more beneficial for mankind like ‘teaching the world to sing’. If he had put his mind to it he could also have got a million housewives every day to pick up a proverbial tin of beans a day and enthusiastically say “Beanz Meanz Heinz”. It would have been good fun and great for the right arm muscles but add nothing to their incredibly dire spelling abilities, I guezz.

Back when he was a wee cloth capped boy and forever pushing his ton weight Hovis bike wearily up the hill, he dreamt of the blissful day when he would ‘go to work on an egg’ instead. He was a strange child and often fantasised he was someone bearded and uncommonly jolly called Captain Birdseye and that his idealised mum was an Oxo cubes gravy fanatic called Katy. In some circles mum Katy was also renowned for consistently forgetting the Fruit Gums on each shopping trip. Even though these crazy thoughts would snap, crackle and pop straight into his head at any hour he would forgive his mum any such misdemeanour. He always supportedly said, "She meanz well".

"Don't forget the fruit gums mum!"

Whiskers and Pal the family cat and dog and Tony the Tiger often caught sight of him trying to secretly communicate with imaginary yet manic Smash Martians and regularly found him in his room chanting ‘A Mars a day helps you work rest and play’.  

Cadbury’s Milk Tray Man, as a lad, always knew that, somewhere, out there, possibly in the Milky Way lived the Milky Bar Kid too. He was tough and strong and couldn’t go wrong but frankly, he was really crap at peeling potatoes with his little metal knife! "Hahahahahahaha!"

"... and they peel them with their little metal knives!!!"

After Eight, the Cadburys’ Milk Tray Man could often be seen getting into a Taxi for a Marathon journey to see an Aztec mate of his. He was called Buttons and gave them both Treets. What Cadbury’s Milk Tray Man really craved  though was 5Boys, a Tiffin and a bit of Turkish Delight but then he could be a bit of a Fruit and Nut case. I suppose it takes Allsorts.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Observer top fifty cookbooks.

Just been looking through the Observer’s Food Monthly section where they have published the top fifty best cookbooks ever. I have a couple of them and thought it would be fun to compile a wish list for myself.

My wish list favourites from the Observer Top 50 Cookery books would be:

  • The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney

  • French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David.

  • The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater.

  • English Food by Jane Grigson.

  • English Seafood Cookery by Rick Stein.

  • Catalan Cuisine by Colman Andrews.

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louise Bertholie.

  • Japanese Cooking by Shizu Tsuji.

  • Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier.

  • Mediterranean Seafood by Alan Davidson.

For good measure you could also throw in the French Classic. I know how to cook by Ginette Mathiot.

The cookbooks that currently grace my shelves are mainly Rick Stein, Nigella Lawson, The Two Hairy Bikers, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Stéphane Reynaud. There are also books on various subjects like wines and cheeses, 1001 foods you must try before you die, and two on British foods. This is not an exhaustive list as I have a dozen or more titles scattered around my house as well as a stack of my fave BBC Food and Travel magazines.

There is an online article about the choosing of the top fifty and I've created a link below.

Today is the start of my new lifestyle.

No more beers. Yep, that's what I said.

Today I have made a decision to stop drinking alcohol. Full stop. I don’t drink spirits anyway so it is the habitual beers, bottles of lager beer and occasional wine that is being put on hold for now. Nothing to do with too many blinding hangovers as I don’t drink that much to get them. It’s more to do with my health and reducing the bloated belly that I have acquired gradually over the last five or so years. That coupled with a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Who am I kidding - very sedentary lifestyle!!

So the benefits will be: more much needed money in my wallet; a healthier looking tummy; less trips to the bottle bank; a less furry tongue and constant cold and a generally better well-being.

I also intend to do more exercise like cycling and some stretching. I would say more walking but I am currently suffering from a poorly heel with plantar fasciitis and despite the tablets and heel supports it can strike at any time with its crippling dull ache.

less beer bottles in the bottle bank and more in the actual bank.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and kept intending to do something about it. Today is the day the new regime starts. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

tempted to have a kebab by this ad?

A Turkish 'kebabs specialist' in Nottingham has this tempting picture of their offerings on the restuarant window. I have seen it many times when walking up the road it is on and often thought of taking a photo of the promotional picture seen here. I have never had an actual kebab at this establishment so I can't comment on the quality but really would you be tempted by the picture below to go in and indulge?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Little wave goodbye to the microwave.

I never really used the darned microwave thing and there it sat gathering dust and taking up valuable space in the corner of the kitchen until last Sunday morning, that is. Last Sunday turned out to be ‘ruthless Sunday’. Ruthless Sunday? That’s like a normal Sunday plus me with an ungodly urge to clean everything and de-clutter the kitchen. Out damn microwave! Go forth in banishment to the filthy shed up the yard! Pictures of France stuck on my tiled wall with blu-tac! Non!! Off the walls with you! Clean spaces! I wanted clean spaces and some shelves for my herbs and spices and stack of cheap French glasses.

Kitchen prior to de-cluttering.

And so it happened thus. I humped the redundant microwave to its new home in the former coal shed. It will enjoy it in there all wrapped up in plastic sheeting next to my mountain bike that has never seen a mountain in its whole life. In fact it rarely sees daylight, but that’s another story. We needed to return to the kitchen post haste. Work to do!

The rectangle of grey dust that was revealed as the microwave went on its ‘holidays’ got sponged clean and lovingly patted dry and I then went to work ripping the French imagery from my kitchen tiles. I kept one image that I might frame, that of an old chap passing a baker's shop sans obligatory baguette. Once I had done that I picked off the bits of blu-tac and sponged the tiles to a state so sparkling I could almost gaze into them and tell my fortune.

It was all looking rather grown up and less like a Francophile mature student’s flat. Now it was time to drag the set of shelves, kicking and screaming, from the living room to the kitchen and to fill them up with les trucs française. Oh they would love this. Those poor neglected shelves had been sitting by the back door with nothing better in life to do than be sanctuary for the Yellow Pages and even yellower newspaper clippings and an empty box of matches. It was time they showed their true potential! What more could shelves ask for? Yes, a new life surrounded by foodie loveliness, constant sunshine pouring through the windows warming up all its wooden surfaces and be filled with artefacts.

Cleaner kitchen.

These artefacts included several French style glasses, a bowl I bought in Nice, one snowy February some years ago, a model bike with a pannier I purchased from a shop on the Paris metro, a Provençal style container for fresh garlic (or dead spiders) and a wooden pestle and mortar obtained cheaply in a sale at John Lewis’s because I was obsessed with purchasing one. Subsequently, said ‘pestle and mortar’ never got used for at least a month thereafter. I digress.

To celebrate the glorious transformation I made some Madeleine cakes. Two days later it is still looking good and I have a strange urge to start on the bedroom. I wonder if there’s room in the coal shed for a bed?