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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Temper tantrums in the supermarket

Temper tantrums in the supermarket.

That's the children (and sometimes adults),  not me. Working in a supermarket, myself and my colleagues, often witness some ugly sights and sounds typical I guess of any supermarket, shopping centre, mall, kindergarten or war zone around the world. Sometimes it is funny to observe from a distance and you feel sorry for the parents, other times you just wish that a trapdoor would open up on aisle twenty-one and the little monsters would disappear leaving only the sound of their terrible tantrums getting fainter and fainter as they plummet ever downwards to the centre of the Earth. I've never worked on the checkouts but it must be worse down there with big queues and the child getting totally worked up because they can't have a Snickers bar this time. "Why not????? Why can't I????? Why??????!"

"Why not ????!"
 Not all kids, teens or adults are like this of course but the worst day for these outbursts seems to be on a Sunday.  I've even seen the parents (usually the dad) noisily joining in and using the long isles as a place to race up and down with the kid in the trolley hanging on for dear life. This is usually accompanied with Dad making tyre squealing noises like on a racetrack with total dis-regard for any other shoppers. The tot then encourages the Adult being Child behaviour by screaming "Again Daddy! Again!". And guess what happens? Yep, Le Mans kiddy style races with endless replays. It'll all end in tears I tell you now.

getting her diapers in a twist
Then there is the hissy fit child who attacks the food display, kicks violently at the innocent stack of baked beans and launches several packs of pasta into the air as a 'not very grown up' way of demonstrating how they feel or they spin round on the floor like a  bellowing dying fly with big 'out of control' vocal chords. Don't they know how totally stupid they look having their epic meltdowns? And I wonder where they get it all from? Answers on a blogpost please...

Just the other day my ears were criminally assailed by two small children squealing with joy in a way that was so high pitched that hundreds of dogs for miles around the supermarket put their paws over their ears and winced with pain. They were in the store for at least half an hour squeaking and squealing and egging each other on in their atrocious noise. The adults with them did nothing to shut them up. Grrr!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Dates? I've had a few, too few to mention

Dates are the fruits of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which is believed to have its origin in northern Africa and western Asia and now are widely cultivated in many regions of the world. The history of date cultivation can be traced back to the period of ancient Egyptians who used to prepare wine from date fruits, which were also consumed in the fresh form. Even the Arabs started cultivating date palm from 6000 BC and they introduced this fruit to most of the other regions across the globe.

Nowadays, dates are one of the widely used fruits across the world. They can be eaten fresh or they can be pitted and filled. Yes really. Filled dates! The commonly used fillings are walnuts, cashews, almonds, candied orange, marzipan, cream cheese, tahini, etc. Dates are among the most indispensable ingredients in both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. They’re also processed into various products, such as, date syrup, date spread, date cubes, etc. But WAIT! WAIT!! This is not what I wanted to write about!

I meant dates as in a pleasant evening out with someone you might fancy. Let me tell you about a few of my most memorable dates. You need to know that I generally prefer female company more than that of males and though, so far these days, I’m not that fussed about finding a woman to share romantic times with, I do appreciate the company of my closest female friends. There’s me best mate Janette and my lovely neighbour Jo and really good friends Dawn and Natalia all of whom I would happily spend time with and then there’s the ones who escaped – the actual dates to which I refer below.

Since I split with my ex in 2002 I’ve ‘enjoyed’ a few dates along the way and all of them have been fun in a ‘looking back several years after the event’ sort of way.

Firstly there was the gorgeous work mate Michelle F of whom friends assured me that despite her being young enough to be my daughter, was, hot to trot for older men and fancied me rotten. It was clear as day, apparently. OK, we got on well and enjoyed each other’s company for a few dates but the day that it was allegedly clear as, got foggy pretty soon - to the point where she couldn’t see me anymore.

Pas de probleme, next came Sylvie D, the French internet friend. Sylvie D kindly invited me to Paris one chilly December and route marched me from the Eiffel Tower to the Moulin Rouge, via every Parisian quarter and stupendously lengthy boulevard in-between. She did all this aided by her stocky pit pony legs, mountain goat sandals, a particularly grubby purple raincoat; dried egg on her stubbly chin and a desire to display her manic depression symptoms to me, all in one single day. During our first (and only) evening meal we shared, she demonstrated how she could easily drink a bottle of red wine in one mighty gulp and burp like an uncouth sailor on speed. Ooh la la! The next day I hid among the towering grey-green graves and  dark leafy whirlpools of the Cimetière du Père Lachaise to escape her company. Aaah ze romance of Paris. One thing for certain she couldn't run as fast as the Metro trains I escaped on!!

Sometime later in my life there was another young woman co-worker, in her late twenties, at an office I used to work for in a big financial company. Heléne S was stunningly cute and petite and French and her every movement and speech pattern used to drive me into a frenzy of Franco-lust. Yes of course she was just twenty-something and had a bottom that should be deemed a national treasure and a full mouth you just ached to kiss over and over but one day, quite out of ze bleu, she just upped sticks and went nord to Glasgow wizout a backward glance. Oh Heléne!     En realité, she probably thought I was some old perve and old enough to be her grand-père. It was just unrequited lust from afar. Sob. Sob.

To top these escapades I then somehow found another internet friend in England, who lived in the fine city of Leicester. This was a forty- year old nurse who worked with old people in a ward that dealt with the more severely mentally challenged of the aged population. Violet the nurse was always extremely stressed and hated, with a vengeance, the ultra demanding relatives who came to visit at the hospital where she worked.  Violent Violet, as she became known to me,  could be very witty in her emails to me but the constant mention of knives hidden about her person did worry me a little. However, one can so easily mis-judge a person and I agreed to meet this lady for a curry one balmy summer’s evening in the Leicester city centre.

It was our first date and she was pretty pissed as we said our first shy ‘hellos’. She admitted that she had been drinking for Dutch courage. I think the courageous drinks were more 100% proof Hibernian whisky than a delicate sip of mild Dutch advocat. As she lit her first cigarette of the evening I ducked for cover lest I be consumed in alcoholic flames. Thirty three more opportunities to duck offered themselves throughout the evening.

The actual  meal at the Taj Mahal turned out to be quite pleasant until I realised that I had been conversing with someone sound asleep for the last half hour. I thought she was just being a bit quiet and subtly contemplating the delicate nuances of her Saag Aloo and exotic rice. I suppose a wet fringe dotted with pilau rice should have alerted me to her docile state. She recovered marginally after the waiter slapped her round the face with a perfumed hot flannel.

We walked hand in hand back to the station. After the walk we kissed a fond goodnight under the flickering sickly yellow light of Leicester’s litter strewn railway station concourse. How to describe the joy of that first kiss? It was like kissing a pound of liver through an environmentally friendly plastic bag whilst experiencing a distinct littery gust around the ankles. As our hands reluctantly parted company at the station barrier she threatened to head-butt a particularly insistent homeless person and, love struck, I took the last train home back to Nottingham. I hardly slept that night and fitfully dreamt, Macbeth like: of daggers before me. The following day I lost all internet facilities - for a month. Darn, and that was my one way of contacting her! My loss I suppose.

Lastly, I met sixty year old Sonia, the older sister of a friend at the office where I worked in 2005, because the office friend insisted, day after endless day, on how well me and her sis would get on if we met. I finally gave in to her pressuring and arranged to meet up with said sis Sonia in a quiet pub in the centre of Nottingham. Outside it was starting to rain soft summery raindrops. A fine drizzle you might call it.

Sonia was an animal lover and proceeded to inform me, over her large glass of untouched white wine, that she had never found a man that could quite compare with her pussy. I bit my lip to the point of rupture. Welcome to Nottingham Mrs Slocom. The large glass of wine lasted her the full four hours of our date and, during  the re-fermentation process,  I  learnt how interesting a growing collection of Royal Crown Derby china paperweights could be in one’s life if you really embraced the passion of collecting such ephemera. My turn to nod off methinks.  To stay awake I had three pints of best beer. At the point of leaving the pub and heading home on our separate ways the previously light showering of rain had turned into a torrential downpour. I made my drenched excuses, gave her a polite peck on her wet cheek then me and my soaked espadrilles scuttled and slithered gracelessly off into the night and to the safety of my bus home.

I have had a few other dates that went slightly better  than those above and I love my easy friendships with my neighbour Jo and best mate Janette and Dawn & Natalia, and  you know what, that will do me fine ta. Anyone fancy a date? I have a spare box right by me. They’re a bit sticky though. Now, did I tell you about my collection of rare sea shells? This pinky green one comes from Skegness and this one…. Are you still awake? Hello?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A little bit of French and some French food

I’ve enjoyed the last few days off work and made some French food for myself as well as cleaning, cooking, reading and enjoying a few beers in the sunshine. At last the Spring has arrived and the daffodils look great in my neighbour’s garden. Yesterday I made a creamy Gratin Dauphinois with spicy sausage and today I made one of my favourites, a courgette tien. Both recipes came from Anne Willan’s Look and Cook, French Country Cooking. Today, I am full of optimism and am thinking about improving my French language. I have recorded some simple text in French and would like to hear from those that live in France, be they French or English, if my accent is good or not. I still have lots to learn and struggle with expressions that reflect the past. In truth I don’t take time to practice enough. I hope that I didn’t sound too much like the lovely American lady at the end of the film 'I Love Paris'.

Gratin Dauphinois with spicy sausage

courgette tien with ham, tomatoes and gherkins

'Hello, my name is Philip and I enjoy cooking , especially my versions of French food. I also enjoy life here in England but often consider what a life in France would be like, especially if I spoke French fluently. Perhaps one day my dream will come true if I work hard at improving my French.'

Translation:( Babelfish)

Bonjour, je m’appelle Philip et j'ai plaisir à faire cuire particulièrement mes versions de nourriture française. J'apprécie également la vie ici en Angleterre mais considère souvent comme ce que serait une vie en France, en particulièr si je parlais français couramment. Peut-être pendant un jour mon rêve viendra vrai si je travaille dur à améliorer mon français. Au Revoir.

cliquez ici

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Ras el hanout and a Moroccan Lamb stew.

Ras el hanout = a spice blend of coriander, black pepper, ginger, paprika, allspice, cardamon, mace, nutmeg, turmeric, cayenne, cloves and rose petals.

After a grand tour around Nottingham I finally found the elusive 'ras el hanout' Moroccan style spice mix with rose petals at Waitrose. I knew that a version was available at Tescos but felt dis-inclined to go to my work place on a holiday day off.

I have been hankering after making this unctuous Moroccan lamb dish with sweet and new potatoes, shallots, apricots, chunky carrots and coriander for a while and, during a brief holiday from work I thought 'now' is the chance to try making it for the first time. I got the recipe from Rick Stein's book French Odyssey. It's also available  on the internet but with larger amounts than I did for myself.

The French Odyssey DVD is a classic that I watched over and over again. I love it!

If I had any advice to offer it would be to prepare everything in advance. Each step follows the other rapidly so no time for casual messing about preparing the veg or any other item along the way. A nice bottle of Shiraz helps the cooking too. To drink not as an ingredient. :0)

paste ingredients
First of all I made a spicy paste from a finely chopped red pepper, four garlic cloves, coriander stalks, and a chopped shallot. Then I peeled and chopped the carrots, sweet potato, new potatoes and another shallot and put them to one side in cold water.

I'd already stripped the leg of lamb of excess fat and after taking out the bones had cut the meat into big chunks. As it was a whole leg of lamb I put a proportion of it in the freezer as lamb steaks. The traditional recipe seems to call for  a big bunch of expensive lamb shanks and as I got the leg of lamb cheap from my local CO-OP store I felt happy to cheat with the meat. A whole leg of NZ lamb cost me just £9 on a special offer

stirring the paste and ras el hanout  in the olive oil

resting lamb
Firstly, I heated a small amount of olive oil in my stock pot and popped the lamb pieces in to brown. As they hit the hot oil they made a satisfying sizzling sound. Once they had gone a nice brown colour I took them out and warmed through the paste for a few minutes (5  mins max) adding two teaspoons of ras el hanout and then tumbled in the veg, vine tomatoes, apricots and bay leaves. I gave the ingredients a thorough stir, and  re-introduced the part cooked lamb pieces into the stew coating the whole lot thoroughly with the spicy paste. On top of this I immersed the veg and meat mixture with 3/4 of a pint of steamy chicken stock and a small handful of fresh coriander leaves. The chicken stock almost covered the stew and I left the Moroccan style lamb stew to bubble lightly away for an hour and a half. In the last five minutes I added some more fresh coriander leaves for extra herbal pungency.

At the last minute I prepared some couscous from a packet and my dinner was ready. The warm kitchen smelt fantastic from all the spicy aromatics. Yum yum.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A new toy but no pancakes

I splashed out on a new toy yesterday. For a while I’ve been wanting a device to voice record for a few reasons, firstly to help me with my writing; secondly to help me learn French and German better and thirdly to create a record (on CD) of some of my theatre speeches for my own nostalgic pleasure.

Press what?
I’m a bit rubbish at understanding the operational booklets that come with the equipment. What does ‘Instrukcja szybkiego uruchamiania’ mean exactly and will it help me build an Ikea wardrobe from scratch? Being a bit impatient, it takes me a while to use the equipment properly however I did manage to put the batteries in the recorder the right way round and I can record my voice now. Why I suddenly sound like Kermit on acid is rather a worry though. Perhaps I’m playing it at the wrong speed. Transferring the data to CD took a bit more effort and a lot of patience and the method I use is still a bit hit and miss. I think all this impatience comes from my childhood. I remember that I was the only child in my Junior school to be totally confused by the purpose of Lego. But WHERE does the red brick go???!!! Where are the instructions?

This morning I enthusiastically recorded 13 short theatre speeches. This took hours as I am a bit of a perfectionist and I also went to the city library to pick up some scripts that I no longer have. It was all fun however and finally at 3.33pm I managed to transfer the data to a CD. When I played it back it was ok if you like the sound of lots of breathiness and very close up acting. Perhaps I under-estimated the power of the Sony recorder and should re-do the recordings at arms’ length. The best place for the sound seemed to be in my bathroom but not whilst in or running a bubble bath.

The machine was unanimously praised on Amazon so I shall persevere. Sadly I have been so busy doing all this that I forgot it was Shrove Tuesday. So no pancakes pour moi this year.

PS: 17th March note. I am finding this a really useful tool.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

a fool for moules

It was a only a few years ago, in a street cafe in Lille, that I first tried mussels or moules. I loved them instantly and wondered why I had waited so long before trying them. While I've been off on my holidays at home I been cooking more than usual and tried, for the first time, to cook some at home.

The Internet was a good source of 'how to cook' advice as well as a couple of books borrowed from my neighbour namely; The River Cottage Fish book and Fish by Sophie Grigson and William Black. I went for the simplest approach although I was tempted by a very peppery Italian cooking method.

Firstly I washed my bag of rope grown moules and discarded any broken or open shells. I gave each mussel a good clean and pulled off the beards. I gave 'em another wash and put them aside. Next I peeled four whole cloves of garlic and chopped up a small bunch of fresh flat leaved parsley.

In a deep pan I popped in a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and once hot added four cloves of garlic and a finely chopped leek. These browned very quickly. I was a bit nervous about adding half a bottle of white wine to hot oil ( I could see a flash fire happening) so I emptied most of the hot oil away being careful not to lose any of the leek and garlic. I don't know if I did right but it seemed sensible.

Now the exciting part! In went the white wine, a whole half bottle, and then the mussels clattered into the pan. I tossed in the chopped parsley and gave it all a big stir before popping on the lid for ten minutes.While the moules steamed away I sliced up half of a baguette and poured myself a glass of white wine.

After the steaming I opened the lid and the sight and aroma was fab! I tipped the shells and their golden little chewy gems into a deep dish, reduced the liquor, and bathed the still steaming mussels in the delicious soup of garlic, leek, white wine and parsley.They were lovely and I particularly enjoyed mopping up the juices with the chunks of bread.

all finished