Saturday, 1 April 2017

In Which I Attempt To Become A Domestic Goddess And Fail Miserably a desperate attempt to become a domestic goddess I decided to make scones for the first time in my life. 

I found a BBC recipe that looked really easy. Not wanting to take my laptop to the kitchen, I scribbled out the recipe on a piece of paper. In retrospect, I should have used my best Chawleigh Primary School handwriting rather than writing it so fast that it looked like it had been done by a four-year-old wearing boxing gloves. 

All went swimmingly and half way through cooking they looked lovely. They had started to rise and were turning a lovely golden brown. Then it dawned on me - I had forgotten to put any sugar in them. There followed a desperate scramble to get them out of the oven and try to press some sugar in them with a fork. I sprinkled some sugar over the top and put them back in the oven.

They are now looking like a train wreck on my kitchen counter.

I refuse to waste them. I shall sandwich them with butter and jam and put them in The Man's lunchbox. If he complains about them, I shall blame Tesco. 

You don't get older without getting wiser.

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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Rules For Online Dating

I HAVE never joined an online dating site but but if the dearly beloved ever sells me for three camels and box of couscous, I might consider it.

I would be wary, though, not wanting to end up with a man whose idea of fun is watching back-to-back episodes of How It's Made (oh no, that IS the dearly beloved).

I have friends (male and female) who have negotiated the hazards of online dating so I have used their experience to draw up a few rules for you to avoid the escaped convicts, the sexual deviants and the terminally dull.

Beware of  how they describe themselves:
  • Attractive – frightens the horses.
  • Cuddly – fat.
  • Bubbly – fat and annoying.
  • Searching for a soulmate – stalker.
  • Open-minded – kinky.
  • Animal lover – house smells of dog wee.
  • Good sense of humour – enjoys endless reruns of Only Fools and Horses.
  • Vivacious – you’ll be sorry if you upset her.
  • Fiesty – upset her and she’ll come at you with a meat cleaver.
Then there’s that photograph. If it’s black and white, it was probably taken when men were making fire by rubbing two sticks together. These days he or she spends their time sipping weak camomile tea and watching Bargain Hunt on TV.

Generally speaking, try to imagine someone about 10 years older, a stone heavier and three degrees uglier than the picture provided – because they will have sent in an old, flattering photograph.
If the photograph is of a man wearing a hat, he’s bald. If he’s standing beside his motorbike, he’s having a mid-life crisis.

If it’s a woman cuddling a cat (this would be me!) then she’s borderline sociopathic.

Beware, too, of phrases like “I’m a man’s man”. This means that once he’s got you hooked he’ll expect his dinner on the table every night on the dot of 7pm and you’ll spend your nights alone while he’s in the pub with his mates burping the national anthem.

Just as bad is the woman who says she’s “a girly girl”. This is shorthand for as shallow as a saucer of milk. She judges everyone on how they look and knows every beauty-enhancing procedure down to the last staple...but has no idea who Theresa May or Donald Trump are.

Finally, if they ever use the word “discretion”, they’re married.

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Friday, 30 December 2016

Public Displays of Affection

 Here's a column I wrote for Devon Life back in July 2015. It still holds true for me!

LOOK, I am a Devon maid through and through, from the top of my wellies to the bottom of my scrumpy bottle. As such there as certain things that make me cringe and endeavour to crawl into a very small hole and hide away even though small holes and I are not exactly compatible.
We've reached July and there have been periods when the sun has actually shone. This has been wonderful for the locals and those tourists who are clever enough to see that Devon is God's own county.
But…but... the trouble is when you get lots of people out on the street you see the worst of one of  my bĂȘtes noire - PDAs, or Public Displays of Affection.
I don't mind people holding hands. In fact, the better half and I have been known to hold hands in public. Admittedly, only when we go on the Tube in London and I hang on to  him for dear life because I'm afraid of getting lost. And I think we held hands in the street once in 1980 - the year we met and new love had addled our brains.
On the whole though, we keep a respectable distance between us, although, no matter how much he’d like it, he doesn’t require me to walk ten paces behind him.
I don't even mind a quick kiss - at airports, railway stations and between grans and their grandchildren. It's the wholescale, full-on, should be in their own room type of PDAs I object to. 
I was in Exeter the other day - a beautiful city with fine cathedral and historic buildings. But the spirituality of the Cathedral green was rather marred for me by a young couple whose PDA was even worrying the pigeons; hands everywhere and lips locked.  I averted my eyes, as I noticed most other people were doing.
Eating lunch, a couple were anchored at the lips - and if it wasn't for the expression on their faces I would have thought he was trying to resuscitate her with mouth-to-mouth because a section of her Four Cheese Pizza had gone the wrong way. I don’t know when they found the time to eat.
Then in the car park was another couple - old enough to know better - who were clinging to each other for dear life and kissing more passionately than Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio as Jack and Rose in Titanic. At least Jack and Rose had the excuse that the darn ship was sinking and death was a distinct possibility. As for car park couple, obviously not married, I thought…at least, not to each other.
Am I alone in thinking like this? Is it because I was brought up in a family that although extremely close was not particularly physically demonstrative? We kissed our parents goodnight and we might submit to a peck on the cheek if we hadn’t seen each other for months. Apart from that it was a very manly handshake or brief hug.
Give me a ring in the middle of the night and tell me your car's broken down in Birmingham and I'll be there. Approach me with arms open wide and lips puckered when I only saw you last week and I go stiffer than a reinforced poker.
Not every country is as laid back about PDAs as Britain. We've read stories about the Middle East where tourists have been sent to jail for hugging or kissing in public. In China, bizarrely, only members of the same sex are allowed to hold hands or dance together in public. At one time it was the law that couples had to walk three feet apart while out in public. Good idea.
In Japan, families bow to each other when saying hello or goodbye. Respect and formality; now that's just the type custom I would like to see here!

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Monday, 28 November 2016

My Life With Kale

 Here's something I wrote that was published in Devon Life in July:

 My Life With Kale

HE doesn't say them often, but I love it when the better half utters those three little words guaranteed to warm a woman's heart: "Let's eat out."

I put on my best frock and off we go to one of Devon's wonderful pubs or restaurants. Invariably these days, there it is on the menu. Kale. It's everywhere you look, on every cookery programme, in all the top chefs' recipe books and practically every Sunday supplement extols its virtues . 

Not that I have anything against kale. I like kale. I was brought up on kale. It grew like a weed and was one of the things that we fed to the cows on our farm in the winter. Then my mother boiled it to death and fed it to us. If there was any left over, it went into bubble and squeak.

But now it's not so much a food as a fashion accessory. Kale is cool.

In restaurants it is tarted up and served with a flourish. No waiter has ever said to me: "Eat it up, it'll give you curly hair," like my mother used to say. Come to think of it, there was a variety of food she claimed would give you curly hair, from crusts on your bread to liver. I swallowed the line along with the kale, crusts and liver and have to report that left to its own devices my hair is straight as a pound of candles.

On one menu I spotted kale served as a salad with pancetta, parmesan and lemon juice. I gave that a miss. Raw kale, I thought, was a step too far until I was further into the whole gussied up kale experience. But then I really enjoyed a dish that included braised kale with bacon and cider so I thought I would look on the internet for kale inspiration. What an eye-opener that was.

There was potato, kale and fennel hash, sauted kale with broccoli and feta (kale AND broccoli? I feel healthier just reading that) and curried kale with coconut. Even as a reborn kale gourmet I thought currying it sounded a bit too far out - but I might give it a go one day. 

I wish my mother had known that boiling wasn’t the only option. You can steam it, cream it, butter it and braise it.

 I even came across a video: How to Make Wilted Kale with Bacon and Vinegar and watched a woman doing exactly what it said, wilting kale and adding bacon and vinegar. I learnt nothing and that was one minute and thirty-seven seconds of my life I am never going to get back. 

By now I was really into the whole kale experience. In fact, this column should be entitled How I Fell In Love With Kale All Over Again. I read all about its history and the different varieties, from curly kale to cavolo nero and Russian Red.  I learned that until the end of the Middle Ages kale was one of the most common green vegetables in Europe. During the Second World War, we Brits were urged to grow more kale by the Dig For Victory campaign.

I found out that is incredibly nutritious. It contains beta-carotene and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin—which are associated with eye health—as well as potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. There are two grams of protein and 15 per cent of the minimum daily recommended amount of fibre in every average serving – although, in an oversight I cannot explain, no website mentioned it being conducive to curly hair.

Not everyone has bought into the kale experience. A lot of people I have talked to about kale (yes, my conversation is that exciting) have shuddered, recalling childhoods when they were forced to eat it because it was so good for them. They turned up their noses, saying the taste was too strong and the texture sometimes too woody. I, as a kale convert, tried to explain it was all in the cooking and they should be more adventurous.  I could tell not all of them were convinced.

A couple of comments on the internet alluded to the fact that the vegetable is now achingly trendy. As one person said, tongue in cheek: "Eighty per cent of the people who buy kale throw it in the bin as soon as they've taken a photo" and another "This kale and beetroot juice tastes like I'm going to alert everyone to the fact I'm drinking it." But I think they've missed the point.

Every Sunday I cook a family roast dinner. There's usually about half a dozen of us but occasionally a random nephew or niece will phone and ask it it's OK to come to dinner and bring along boyfriend, girlfriend, someone they met in a  pub… My table only seats six but with the addition of garden chairs we can squeeze in quite a few more.  

It has to be roast. The better half has a roast on Sunday every week of the year. And I mean every week. We can be in the middle of a heatwave and I am still in the kitchen, roasting while roasting. I'm pretty good at them, if I do say so myself, but I rarely deviate from the norm - a joint, roast potatoes and lots of vegetables. But this Sunday I'm going to try braised kale with bacon and cider in an effort to up my game. They'd better be impressed. If not, I'll tell them they must eat it up or they’ll never have curly hair.

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Monday, 3 October 2016

Grocery Guilt

Today I'm talking supermarkets. I hate supermarkets.  I hate the way they have made me feel guilty  because I fell for their Buy One Get One Free blandishments and neglected my village shop, which is now closed. Now it's too late, I realise I have bought into consumerism and sacrificed the local economy to big business led by people with small brains and big off-shore bank accounts.

But no matter how much I wish supermarkets would BOGOF, I love them too. I love the convenience of them, the way you can park outside and wheel your trolley straight to the car.  I'm amused by the way I can pop in for frozen peas and come out with a bumper pack of pens, a couple of pencil sharpeners and half a dozen notebooks   - and forget the peas. I like their wide choice from their own supermarket brands to "designer" brands.

Even so, I feel guilty. When I first moved into my village 30 years ago it had a post office, village stores, a butcher's shop and a hairdresser’s. Now it has a Spar shop attached to the filling station. If you want to post a letter there is a gigantic red eyesore of a postbox on the edge of the pavement next to a busy road - or  you can visit the "outreach" post office, open for just a few hours a week. On the plus side, there is now another hairdresser's. 

So, much as I hate them I'm still shopping in supermarkets, still falling for their marketing tricks and consequently buying more than I need. But if there's a meltdown in society in the near future, I'm prepared,  with a larder full of tins of BOGOF baked beans, half price spaghetti and few dozen ballpoint pens.

I tend to swap between Sainsbury's and Tesco. As I read on the internet this week: "Sainsbury's is for people now aspiring beyond Tesco but not yet quite ready for Waitrose." So I'm hovering between common and lower middle class - but I'm eyeing up the upper classes. I've pulled myself up by my bootstraps to kale standard but I'm not quite ready  for heirloom potatoes. One day….

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