Monday 29 February 2016

Creature comforts

It was a weekend for hunkering down and seeking comfort.  A weekend of sneezing, and tissues and keeping warm.  But what's that I hear you say?  It's Memorandum Monday, I need to have tried something new.   Don't take my word for it, ask Sian.   Who can you turn to when you need to find something new to cook in the knowledge that it will work out well? Something that will make you feel warm and well while not needing too much attention.  Who can you rely on? My favourite super-hero of the kitchen - Mary Berry - of course ...
A new recipe for a new comfort food, right there in her book.  It ticked all the boxes, tasty, easy to make and even easier to eat.  Imagine a slightly less tomatoey sauce than a ragu, topped with a cream cheese layer with chives mixed in, topped with a layer of courgettes, topped with some chargrilled red peppers, topped with filo pastry.  Don't take my word for it, try it!
The grass is always greener ...
Another thing I did for the first time over the weekend, was mow my lawn in February.  Yes, really!  Yes I know I've already said we were both under the weather but one of us was developing 'Man flu' and the other was working on the theory that a bit of fresh air is good for you, whilst keeping you away from any other germs that the Man Fluer may be passing around.
In trouble at school ...
Since typing up this post, I inadvertently did something else I've not done before.  You see, I work in a school and last year the Headteacher introduced a more formal dress code for staff.  We have to wear a jacket.  I am not a natural jacket wearer and have moaned about this to anyone who cares to listen; all us ladies in the main office always wear smart clothes to work and you don't need to wear a jacket to look smart.  So anyway, as I was leaving for work this morning, Mr Man Flu distracted me with questions about cold relief tablets and tissues and I left for work with my coat on but without my jacket! The first time I've forgotten it since it was introduced.  If the students break the dress code more than four times (those knee length skirts look a lot cooler rolled up to mid thigh, and who on earth would be seen with their blouse tucked in?) it's an after school detention.  I wonder what the punishment is for staff ...  I'll let you know.

Monday 22 February 2016

Saturday Night (Morning) Fever

Dance as if no one is watching

That's what they say isn't it?  I spent my teenage years growing up in the 70s.  The era of the best disco music ever.  My husband is the same age and yet somehow his awful music tastes took him away from all the disco classics and into the Led Zepplin, Yes, Pink Floyd side.  What can I say, he was young, he didn't know any better ;-)
I love to dance, and what I lack in style, I make up for in enthusiasm.  But with my days of going clubbing well and truly behind me, I have to wait for weddings and Christmas parties to get my dancing feet on nowadays.  I used to go to an exercise class that was called Fitsteps, according to their website it was devised by people from Strictly Come Dancing who -

 'decided to mix the graceful steps of Ballroom and the up tempo steps of the Latin dances together to create a really fun, energetic and effective way to stay fit and keep trim that would appeal to everyone, even if they couldn’t dance.' 

Well that sounded right up my street. But the lady who took it was also a zumba teacher and she gradually introduced more of that into the routines and I stopped loving it.  I then found that there was another Fitsteps class in town, 8pm on a Thursday.  Perfect.  Run by a more traditional dance school.  Perfect, no zumba!   I've been going for about a month and loving it.  Well this Thursday I couldn't go but I remembered someone saying that it also ran on a Saturday morning, so I looked up the time and decided to go.  Where does this story fit in with Sian's idea of sharing something new we have learnt?  Bear with me ... this weekend I learnt ...
... that although the Fitsteps class is taught by the same person, in the same venue on Thursdays and Saturdays, on Thursday it is held in a small room at the back of the community centre hidden away from prying eyes, but on Saturdays it is held in the larger front hall which has a window facing onto the thoroughfare leading to the local branch of Tesco and therefore everyone walking to the supermarket from the back car park walks past and can watch the class!  Well at least it made my try to keep up with the routines harder, because you can bet that more than a few people that I know would have been going to do their weekly shop on a Saturday morning.
Misheard lyrics/instructions
I also learnt that the dance step I thought he called 'cyclone' (arms swinging around in a circle at head height) is actually 'side close' referring to the fact that whilst circling your arms you are also stepping to move your feet from apart to meet in the middle.  Ooops.

Monday 15 February 2016

Dr Google

How did we manage in the days before Google?  Seriously - how did we cope?  All the answers to all the questions just a mouse click away.  I have had to remind my daughter this week that you can't necessary believe all that you read on there, and you never know how qualified an apparent expert is so should take some of it with a pinch of salt, but on the whole, it's a great place to browse.
So when I discovered that I had two insect bites on the inside of my wrist (how on earth did that happen?) and woke myself at 6am on Friday because I had scratched them to pieces in my sleep, I found myself googling home remedies.  I knew I had seen something, somewhere about an insect bite and a hair dryer and sure enough, a whole page of suggested sites came up.
You know that absolutely glorious feeling of scratching something that is itching you to distraction?  That feeling of exquisite bliss as you really get going, but the minute you stop ... the itch comes back with a vengeance and far worse than it was pre-scratch.  Well when you start holding the hair dryer close to the itch (switched onto it's highest setting) you get that feeling, hold it a little longer and you will notice that the itching isn't quite so bad.  Then suddenly you realise it isn't itching any more but you need to turn the dryer off because your skin has gone quite pink. 
I don't know the science behind it, my only medical qualification is an O level in Human Biology taken back in the 70s,  all I can say is that it works.  Or should I say, it really worked for me!  Speaking as someone who only has to sit down in an open air restaurant on holiday for the local mosquito population to swarm in and feast on any bare skin this could be a brilliant handy hint to have learnt. 
So in the spirit of passing on a little knowledge that we have learnt, courtesy of Sian, I'm sharing my little bit of Dr Google knowledge.  

Monday 8 February 2016

Licensed to grill

We had friends over for dinner on Saturday.  We hadn't seen them for years; our sons were friends at primary school and we saw them often in those days.  There had been many chance encounters in shops in recent years which always ended 'we must get together again sometime' but you know what they say about good intentions.  So when we bumped into each other before Christmas I actually took the initiative and picked a random date in the near-ish future and we both put it in our diaries.  That date was Saturday.
As we obviously had much news to catch up on I decided to cook a tried and tested first course that I could do in advance and relax knowing all was under control while we opened the prosecco and started hearing what we had all been up to since our last get together.  For dessert, I decided to do a recipe for Cappuccino Crème Brulee from my new cookery book.  I'd done it a couple of times before with mixed results.  The creamy part of the recipe was perfection in a ramekin.  Mary Berry, I knew I could rely on you.  But the brulee sugar topping that was supposed to melt and then caramelise and set to a golden, crisp layer - not so reliable. 
I had my flame thrower kitchen blow torch which has hardly been used, and Mary's instructions were super simple as she confidently gave instructions for a perfect top.  Huh!  The first practice ones I did a few weeks ago were a disaster.  Not so much brulee as burnt.  The second ones went well - 'we've cracked the caramel' I thought.  So, knowing where I had gone wrong previously, all would be well for my dinner with friends wouldn't it?  Well, sadly no.  I don't know what went wrong but there was melting sugar, there was burnt sugar, there were even flames coming off the top of the dessert at one point (I gave that one to my husband - he'd had a beer and two glasses of wine by then and didn't notice)  I managed to salvage two of the four for our guests but I definitely need to master this process. 
So the thing that I learned this weekend?  Some kitchen equipment needs more respect than others.  Oh, and quite possibly I shouldn't be allowed to get my hands on the blow torch without assistance from a responsible adult.
On the subject of desserts, here's a nugget of new knowledge I learnt this weekend.  You know the expression 'he got his just desserts'?  Well not only should it be spelt 'desert', it has nothing to do with puddings or places that are made of a lot of hot sand.  Deserts used to be a noun form of the word deserve.  So that is why it means that someone has got what they deserve. 
English lesson over.  Let's give a big wave (not whilst still brandishing that blow torch) to Sian and pop over to her blog and see what things she has learnt for this Memorandum Monday.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

My January in numbers

Good intentions?  New Year resolutions? Or just plain inspired by Julie's own My Month in Numbers?  Who knows - but here I am sharing the numbers that made up my January.  Ably assisted by the Collect App which prompts you for a photo taken each day.
I always think that I don't go out for meals very often until I look at this app where I can see that I have eaten out three times this month.  Which is probably why I was sent to the equivalent of the Slimming World naughty step last week.  2lbs over my target.  After having been at target for over a year.   Oh the shame.  However did that happen? Could it have been the Christmas chocolates?  Wine? I'm in denial but you can see from the picture in the 2nd Thursday down, I was back on SW recipes (salmon with pasta, roasted tomatoes and courgettes in a lemon herb sauce) in an effort to get off those scales with my halo intact this week.
Looks like I grew a moustache on the first Tuesday.  Funny, I don't remember that at all.
The Nike wristband was in use on three trips to Fitsteps classes.  You'd think all that extra exercise would have compensated for the extra food that was being eaten wouldn't you?  Apparently not, in fact maybe the exercise made me hungry?  
Now in the interests of keeping things neat, I need to find a third three to share - how lucky that my friend Dani had her third book published last week.  As you can see, she found it on sale in Tesco and then I found it in my local supermarket!
I found twenty four sample quilt squares which I made into a quilt.  Now, Coco assumes that the only reason I did this was to make her a new quilt to lie on in the evening.  She's becoming a right princess over this and now stands by my chair in the evening with a pleading look on her face because she wants to sit on my lap. But she won't get up there until I've laid the new quilt across my legs.  Who says we spoil that dog?
See that picture on the fourth Sunday?  That's a screen shot of a Skype conversation I had with my penfriend in Florida.  We've been penfriends for forty seven years!  We were paired up as penfriends when we both joined The Monkees fan club.  (Don't judge us on our musical tastes - we were still at primary school!)
If you pop over to Julie's blog you'll see that she hit a milestone birthday this month; we were celebrating a birthday too - but too many candles to fit on a cake, my mother in law was 89
I signed up for the Liberate Your Art project and had ten postcards printed off to send overseas to be shared around.  I sent them off to Kat before I could change my mind but as I've been seeing the postcards other people are sending out I'm beginning to feel a bit nervous that my 'art' is not of the same standard. Oh well, it's too late now!  Are you taking part too?
And finally - for someone who dislikes going to the dentists twice in the course of a year - I ended up going twice within two weeks.  Not because it was so much fun the first time that I asked to go back, more a case of 'make another appointment on your way out, we need to replace that bit of filling that broke off.'  I was hoping he wouldn't find out about that.
So farewell to January - you flew by in the blink of an eye.  You've eased us gently into 2016 and February holds promises of half term holidays and pancakes.  Slimming World recipe of course ;-)

Monday 1 February 2016

Worth waiting for

New Year, new style

Anyone looking in my wardrobe would easily be able to see that I am a big fan of 'White Stuff' clothes.  Especially those that are in their sales.  I'm not sure I've ever paid full price for something in there but send me a '30% off sale' link and I'm a happy little internet shopper.  They opened a store in town a few years ago and it's in a far too convenient position to just 'pop in for a browse round the sale racks' because we all know that a quick browse leads to a quick try on and a quick purchase.  The thing I particularly like about their tunic styles is that for those of us who are vertically challenged - just an inch over 5 foot -(every inch counts for us shorties) you can get away with wearing them as a dress with a pair of opaque tights.
I recently found myself almost buying a tunic/dress but then thought 'I'm sure I've already got something very similar to this' and sure enough, I had, just in a different pattern.  So I decided it was time to get myself out of the normal zone and into something new. 
I bought myself some patterned trousers in Phase Eight (January sale, I'm a canny shopper!)which I had ummed and ahhed about for a while.  Got them home.  Fitted beautifully, so comfortable.  I loved them.  But being patterned, they needed a plain top and looking in my wardrobe, everything was patterned or striped.  So I bought a plain emerald green silky shell top.  When I went out in the new outfit, it brought lots of complements and I realised that it was time I stepped out of my normal safe style.  It was nice to go out and feel like I was wearing something different for a change.

Turns out that every other 'going out' outfit that I put together is patterned; it's rare for me to buy something plain.  Cue more internet shopping.  Let's pop over to the Monsoon website to see what they have on offer.  I fell in love with a dress in a beautiful burgundy colour with black lace finishing off the armholes and shoulders.  £89 though.  Do I love it that much?  Would I get my money's worth out of it?  Probably not.  Mid January comes and brings with it a 'get it while you can 50% off sale'.  Oh - is the dress still there?  Yes.  In my size? Yes. £45.  I clicked 'add to basket' then thought better of it.  Today in my inbox is a 'final chance to buy' email.  OK if the dress is still there and it's still available in my size then the universe is clearly telling me to buy it.  £26.70!  Now, I don't think the dress was ever worth nearly £90 but £26.70?  How could I resist? 
So the thing I learnt this weekend was that sometimes it is worth waiting for the universe to send you a sign that you need to get out of a fashion rut and try something new! 
Sending out a wave to Sian and the Memorandum Mondayers and see what everyone else has been finding out this week.