Travelling with children is pretty stressful. Need I even mention the spud gun incident to back up my claim?
Gatwick Airport has recently commissioned a survey about family travel, finding that ‘54% of parents are made to feel bad about disturbing other people when children misbehave on holiday’ and that ‘30% find disturbing other holidaymakers one of the most stressful aspects of a trip abroad’. No surprises there, then. Nothing like a child with a big fake metal gun in their hand luggage to make a nice big queue form in security.
But things are changing, at Gatwick certainly, with more family friendly facilities being added all the time. For instance, they’ve launched new security assistance lanes for parents with children so that they can go through security at their own pace (and get a little extra help from staff – especially useful if your children are the type that pack small arms). There are free ‘kids zones’ in both the North and South terminals so that tiddlers can bounce around a bit and work off some of their pre-holiday excitement before the flight. Add to this a porter service to assist with baggage and the trial of a new scheme in the busy South Terminal where parents are given pushchairs as they step off the plane, and it all makes the airport experience much less stressful. They are also working in partnership with Thomas Cook this summer to prioritise the offloading of prams from the planes so that they are the first to arrive on the baggage reclaim belts too.
Moving on, then, the lovely people at Gatwick asked if I’d provide some top tips to make travelling with children a little less stressful. Of course I obliged, making ‘do check what your children have put in their hand luggage’ quite high on the list.
Then, though, came the media requests.
‘Media requests’, thought I? Oh they’d be, like, email questions and stuff wouldn’t they? ‘Oh yes’, said the lovely PR,’ and radio and TV interviews..’
Now you know me, I can ‘talk the hind leg off a donkey’ as my Mum puts it, but I’ve never spoken on the radio. Given that my husband often refers to me as ‘jabberjabberjabber’, this was a bit of a worry. I turned to Twitter, as one does, for tips on performing well during a radio interview:
‘Remember not to belch. Sigh. Or fart. Everything is magnified.’, said Andy, designer of this very blog, so presumably he knows a bit about media stuff…
Lovely PR @SineadRyan said: Note the things you really want to say in bullet points on a single piece of paper. Leave it flat, don’t rustle it!
Right, so that’s no burping, sighing, farting or rustling. And bullet points.
@pinkladyapril: try not to say things like “err” & “umm” don’t nod or move your hands too much & try to speak a little slower than usual!
@Cutsie_Cutsie: don’t swear!! X
@petitmew: try not to ‘er’ and ‘erm’ too often. I always do it but on radio I seem fine. Guess I just think of it as a normal conversation!
Okay, no burping, sighing, farting, rustling, swearing, erring or umming. Or nodding. Or moving. And speak slow. And don’t rustle.
@BaronMischief: Don’t listen to yourself afterwards. When I was on Steve Wright in the Afternoon it sounded weird
@Omega3Audrey: pause……..breath…….talk, I think I spoke too quickly when I had to do a piece on the radio. Good luck with it!
@PeruseFairtrade: Slow down & breathe, @EnglishMum. You’ll sound higher & faster than you usually do, especially if you’re nervous. And don’t sigh / fart either!
I know about the farting!
@exmoorjane: @EnglishMum Stand up. Speak more slowly than usual. Pretend you’re having a chat. Grin to loosen mouth before you start.
Grin. Got it.
@liveotherwise: collect thoughts before beginning to speak – brief pause better than drying up mid sentence.
@maydossu: back from microphone when saying any word which stresses the letter S
@BumbleBecki: try to avoid ‘erm’ and the like. If poss jot notes to refer to. Better to pause then speak than to ramble and struggle x
@DomesticJules: If you feel nervous before interview write down some notes and key words so you don’t forget stuff on air.
@frannybowen: don’t listen to the people that say ‘be yourself’, that’s a pile of rubbish!
@JAD73: Decide your main points before you go – get them in quick as interview always shorter than you think.
@mummytips: don’t plan what you are going to say – just have the conversation like you’re with a pal – but don’t swear:)
@LizJarvisUK: try not to say ‘um’ and don’t gabble
Right, so no burping, farting, sighing rustling, erring, umming, nodding, rustling, fidgeting, swearing, or stressing the letter S. Make notes, get my main points in, pause, take a breath, don’t be myself (well not too much), don’t ramble, think before I speak, speak slower than normal, don’t gabble and….
@icklebabe_com: no tips, but good luck lovely! break a leg! or is that only in theater? either way, you’ll be grand, they’ll love you 😀 x
@GraciesBakes: oh yeah – AND ENJOY IT!!!
@BumbleBecki: good luck! X x
Brace yourself, BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey… here I come (click on the link – fast forward to 1hr 26):
I’ve always wanted an ice cream maker. It’s one of those things that’s been on my wanted list for absolutely ages. So when Cuisinart contacted me and said I could have anything from their range – ANYTHING?! – of course I chose this little beauty (although I must admit to being temporarily distracted by the Professional Waffle Iron and the Overstuffed Sandwich Maker first…):
As with all these gadgets, it’s big and yes, it takes up a lot of kitchen space, but our biggest problem was yet to come: the bowl. You see, it turns out you have to fit the entire mixing bowl into the freezer to freeze overnight, or at least 12 hours. But ours didn’t fit. I was seriously considering approaching the man at the corner shop and asking him to pop it in with the Cornettos for an evening, but my Mum (at whose house we’re still squatting) eventually saved the day by removing a whole freezer drawer and squeezing that sucker in:
We looked up loads of recipes, but some had 8 egg yolks, and others had pints of cream, so we kind of bodged our own one together and it came out really well. I honestly think you could get away with full-fat milk rather than the half and half cream/milk combo… I’ll give it a go and report back.
It’s basically just a custard recipe, so if you really wanted to, you could just buy a tub of ready made custard and churn that with some fresh berries or even a squeeze of chocolate sauce – easy peasy.
Here’s what we used:
10 large mint leaves (ours was spearmint)
300ml double cream
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
100g chopped chocolate (which was too much – 50g is plenty)
And for the method:
Whizz the mint leaves in the blender with the milk until they’ve all but disappeared. You could also just steep the mint in the milk – you’d miss out on the lovely eau de nil colour of the finished product, admittedly.
Whisk the sugar and egg yolks together whilst gently heating the milk and cream in a saucepan.
When the milk/cream is just bubbling around the edges of the pan but not boiling, tip a little of it carefully into the yolk/sugar mixture, whisking all the time. When you’ve poured about a third in, you can tip the yolky mixture back into the saucepan.
Now, it’s just a case of stirring your lovely minty green mixture gently until it thickens. As with all egg custards, it won’t get really thick, but you’re looking for the thickness of double cream…
Then all you have to do is leave your mixture to cool until it’s room temperature, stirring it occasionally so no skin forms, and pop it into the ice cream machine where it churns happily for 20 minutes into lusciously creamy ice cream (you add the chocolate 5 minutes before the end).
If you don’t have this wondrous gadget, you can pop the mixture into the freezer, then just whip it out every hour and give it a whisk. You should only have to do that twice, then you can cover and allow to freeze solid.
The verdict? 9/10, and it only dropped a point for the hassle of having to find freezer space to freeze the enormous bowl. There was only a small paddle thing and the bowl to wash up, so no mess either.
The Cuisinart Ice Cream Deluxe (RRP £75) is available at good cook shops and also John Lewis, House of Fraser and Habitat to name but a few.
My Disreputable Dad is back from his holidays. Bronzed and beautiful.
Two weeks in the south of France. They ate in the same restaurant every night.
‘Every night?’, I ask, incredulous.
‘Well yes’, he says, ‘except one. Their steak frites was incredible. We tried another restaurant for one night, but it wasn’t as good, so we went back to the original one’.
He’s a creature of habit, my father.
On my visit, we walked around his beautiful garden. The plum trees are groaning with hard, green fruit. A bumper crop.
And the apples got so heavy that they actually broke the bough of the tree.
I left with treasure of the appley variety.
Perfect for rustling up a simple apple crumble:
500g apple (weigh after peeling and coring)
Sugar for sweetening the fruit
175g plain flour
110g cold butter, cubed
110g golden caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5. Then just tumble the apples into a baking dish and sprinkle on a little sugar (these apples weren’t too sour, but taste one to judge how much sugar you’ll need to add). If your apples are a bit ‘floury’ (like Bramleys can be sometimes), you might need to add a splash of water or fruit juice.
In a bowl, rub the butter into the flour gently with the ends of your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Don’t make it too uniform – the odd lump of butter is nice.
Stir in the sugar. If you like here you can add a handful of porridge oats, some nuts, orange zest, cinnamon… whatever you fancy.
Sprinkle over the fruit and bake for about 30 minutes until the fruit is tender and the top golden.
So thanks Dad. I’ll be back when the plums ripen too.
I love Watford. Well, I love the mahoosive shopping centre, the Harlequin, in Watford. Apart from that, and considering it’s only 20 minutes from where I live, it’s not anywhere I would consider going in the evening.
Still, when the chaps at Ember Pub & Dining contacted me and asked if we’d like to visit their newly refurbished Essex Arms, just around the corner from The Grove, I could hardly say no. Especially when they’d invited us ‘en famille’.
First impressions were favourable – it was a lovely evening and there were loads of people milling around outside having a drink (and yes, that is the Death Wish Dude mucking about with English Grandma):
And this is the inside. The decor is lovely – a bit quirky and fun, and the tables aren’t set too close to each other, so you’re not constantly earwigging someone else’s conversations ( loved the goat). It was kind of like being in someone’s funky dining room:
A quick shufty showed a nice, creative menu, with care taken with regard to suppliers and ingredients. We nibbled on some fiery wasabi peas while we made our choices. The wine list was varied (and really reasonable – loads of choices under a tenner). We ended up plumping for our favourite Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
Starters arrived quickly and were utterly fabulous. The Prof’s crispy beer battered mushrooms were gorgeously crunchy on the outside with a very tasty smoky tomato sauce, and English Dad’s Severn and Wye Valley smoked salmon was delicious. Huge portions again. Grandma English and I shared a plate of antipasti, with the same salmon, Prosciutto, Somerset Brie (an enormous wodge of it), olives, bread and beetroot relish. Delicious.
For mains, Grandma English and I both plumped for specials: lemon sole with king prawns for Grandma (‘yummy!’):
and confit duck for me. Excuse the appalling photography, but my confit duck was amazing – tender and delicious with none of the greasiness sometimes associated with confit – served with a beautiful piquant red cabbage and creamy dauphinoise potatoes (could have done with a bit more of them, to be honest – lush)
The Death Wish Dude went for nice traditional gammon with fried eggs and the Prof plumped for a steak, which was perfectly cooked and really tender. English Dad’s fish pie was to die for, with large chunks of delicate fish in a really creamy sauce.
The dessert menu is incredible, and the portions are huge. Sadly, we were too full to really do our desserts justice, but seek out the treacle tart (amazing pastry – I wonder if Chef Tom would teach me?):
and the beautiful chocolate brownie. I was tempted by the banoffee pie, but my black forest gateau was moist, dense and gorgeous too.
After espressos we were, frankly, groaning, but we all gave it a whopping 9/10. Very rare to please everyone when you’re catering for a family from 13 to erm… retired. Our gripes were tiny – better veg, or maybe a salad, with the fish pie… but honestly, just niggles. We really couldn’t fault it.
You can find the Essex Arms website here. No need to book. Talking to some locals, I hear the Sunday lunch is fabulous too so we’ll definitely be back. Such good value so near to London is to be very much admired. I can see myself and English Grandma popping in for their enormous plate of scampi (under £7.00 – and I love scampi) and a glass of wine on the way home from the shops.
They also have a fixed price menu with a good choice of 4 or 5 each of starters, mains and desserts for just £11.50. Massive thanks to the lovely manager Kelly, who is rightly proud of her team, and who, apparently owes her Chef a drink. I’d buy him two.
So yesterday, Mr English and I embarked on a little trip. I made the fatal mistake of putting on my new Monsoon shoes (generally, I’m a bit of a slob, but y’know, thought I should dress up for Seb Coe…), which were, in fact, already causing blisters of epic proportions by the time we got to Euston.
The walk from Euston to St Pancras International was enough to completely remove all the skin from my heels, but I soldiered on, especially when we discovered that Eurostar had laid on a lovely welcome with bacon sandwiches and – gasp – pastries!
Hubby and I were there as hangers on (oopsy, of course I mean special guests) to attend a little ceremony and then a lunch to celebrate the ‘year to go’ landmark and welcome competition winners from across Europe who’d won the opportunity to come and hear all about the preparations for the Olympics.
We were rather taken by Freddie the Police Dog (who in turn was rather taken with the bacon sandwiches) and his lovely handler and actually missed Seb Coe talk, but I hear he was very good.
With all the competition winners amassed (I think it was red t-shirts for English winners, blue t-shirts for French winners, yellow for Belgian and orange for…erm… others) and photos organised (we loitered at the back)…
…we were piled onto coaches for a trip across London to the Olympic site (the new rail link, though, will take visitors to the Olympic site in Stratford in just 7 minutes).
Our destination was Forman’s Restaurant – a stone’s throw from the Olympic park (sadly, we didn’t get to see the actual stadium) where we sipped delicious English white wine (Three Choirs Vineyards Coleridge Hill 2009 – seek it out!) and milled about on their gorgeous terrace overlooking the site and ate gorgeous canapés of tempura prawns, sticky sausages and sushi. I might have overindulged a bit but don’t tell.
(What? It was windy.)
The blue lighting in Forman’s was not conducive to food photography, so I’ll spare you my rather sickly-looking picture of the rather delicious Salmon a la Francaise with lovely fresh peas and broad beans and instead share with you our dessert which was a trio of little lovelies including a salted chocolate mousse (with a little caramel surprise at the bottom), a spiced apple compote with a creamy topping, and a tiny little Eton mess. Delicious. Our dinner companions: a fabulous fellow blogger, two competition winners and their partners (hello Richard!) and a Eurostar employee were really lovely company too.
Our speakers were inspiring – first up was the fabulous Olympic silver medal winning Colin Jackson, who was inspiring and funny and gave a great insight into what it’s like to be a competitor at one of these awe-inspiring events. And then came one of the architects of the site, Philip Johnson, who also gave us a really interesting look at his role and the complexities of the project. Here’s a few fab facts for you:
What an amazing trip. Worth the blisters and the fact that I’ll have to wear flipflops for a week. Mahoosive thanks to Eurostar and the lovely Tom. Oh, and the gorgeous Colin Jackson. What a top bloke.
So we’ve trifled with titles: roast lemon chicken, poulet au citron… whatever. In our house it always comes back to ‘roast chicken with a lemon up its bum’. Anatomically correct? Probably not, but it’s kind of stuck.
Roast chicken is the easiest of meals. A quick fiddle, bung it in the oven and your work is done. First things first, though, you must choose your chicken wisely. ‘Oh bloody hell’, I hear you cry, ‘here she goes with that free range guff again’, but I won’t be budged: anything other than free range chicken is not an option in my book. I’d rather have chicken less often and have a clear conscience than buy into the terrible cruelty that is intensive farming. There, I’ve said it. This free-range whopper (2.2kg) set me back £10.00 in Tesco. I don’t think that’s bad at all as it’ll probably feed the four of us for two, maybe even three meals. It’s all about using it wisely. In our house a roast chicken will go on to be stock and then soup, and maybe risotto or pilaff too. There are plenty of farmers markets, farm shops and other places doing really great chickens. Shop around and vote with your money and your feet. Right, moving on, then…
Firstly, as with your Christmas turkey, don’t be tempted to rinse it under the tap. The oven temperatures will kill any nasties and you’ll just splash a load of germs around your sink.
The easiest way then is to do nothing. Shove a good quality chicken in the oven on a baking tray with absolutely no adornment and it will still taste delicious. However, anoint it a bit and twiddle with some flavours and it will taste spectacular. As you know, I favour the ‘lemon up the bum’ technique: slice a lemon in half and pop it inside the cavity. The scent of lemon will infuse into the meat beautifully as it steams inside the bird. Dribble a little rapeseed oil on top (or rub with butter) and sprinkle with salt and pepper and you will moisten the breast and flavour the skin too.
If you want to, though, go wild. Be inventive. Cover your chicken with maple syrup… sprinkle with chilli flakes, or rub it with tandoori paste. Stuff it with handfuls of herbs and a couple of onions… the possibilities are endless.
Ah the interwebz – a delectable tangle of information. Generally, too much information. If you search ‘how to roast a chicken’ you’ll get a thousand people (a thousand and one, now) telling you a thousand different ways: 45 minutes per kg and then 30 minutes, or maybe 20 minutes for 500g and then 20 minutes… Gas mark 4… gas mark 5… You get the picture.
I’m not one for faffing, so I keep it simple: I set the oven at 190/gas 5 and then if it’s a 1kg chicken, I cook it for an hour. If it’s 1.5kg I cook it for and 15 or so, 2kg about an hour and a half.. and so on. If you check it ten minutes before and it’s done, then just whip it out. Not quite there? Leave it another ten.
The easiest way is to undo a leg (if it’s tied to the other one) and give it a wobble. If it’s very easy to move, then it’s done. You can also stab it in the thickest part of the thigh, catch the juices in a spoon, and make sure they’re clear. If there’s any blood, pop it back in for a while.
If you carve a bird straight out of the oven, the flesh just ‘fluffs’ up and you can’t get a decent slice. Cover your bird with foil and a teatowel and leave it to ‘chillada’ for ten or fifteen minutes and everything will have calmed down a bit. Now you can carve it easily.
Again, the world’s your oyster. Serve the chicken traditional-style with gravy, roast potatoes and vegetables, or in summer try some lovely roasted veg and some minted new potatoes. It’s lovely with couscous and wonderful just picked at with a massive salad and loads of fresh crusty bread.
In Dubai, they served roasted meat with a glorious spicy mixture of cabbage cooked in cream with sultanas. It tasted divine.
Yes, picking over a roast chicken is a pain, but stuff it in the fridge overnight and the next day it will be much easier to pick. Don’t forget to turn it over and get all those lovely bits from underneath – perfect for sandwiches, salads, risotto and curry. Finally, use the carcass to make stock and you’ve really done it justice.
… it’s over to the gorgeous Helen – a fabulous bundle of loveliness, a dear friend and… coincidentally, a wine expert (check out how fantastic wine blog, Knackered Mothers’ Wine Club):
”So, for roast chicken, a fuller-bodied Chardonnay often does the trick. However, EM has cleverly added lemon, garlic and rosemary flavours to the mix so this dish needs something with a bit more weight and flavour to it. If you want to stick with white, go for a rich style of Chardonnay with a bit of oak but – honestly – red will work better. Chianti is the answer: great flavours to match the garlic and rosemary but not too overpowering to cover the flavour of the chicken.”
Off you go, then. And if anyone can think of a better title for the ‘lemon up the bum’ bit – feel free to let me know.
I know, I know… I hate those ‘my children are fabulous’ articles too. Let me rush to reassure you that my children aren’t fabulous. Well, I mean obviously, I think they’re fabulous because I’m their Mum and I kind of have to, but they argue and fart and shout and call each other a ‘douche’ and throw hangers at each other when trying on clothes in changing rooms and come in late and answer back and call me a ‘bellend’ and all sorts of general teenage pain-in-the-arseness, so it’s not going to one of those. Honest.
Since being back in England, it’s been brilliant. They’ve been out with their Grandad for fabulous meals… out with their mates… down the gym… down the cricket club… it’s been never ending. And with that, of course, has been the flow of money. Which has also been never ending.
Lift to the big skatepark in the next town? Can’t you get the bus? Yes, but it’s £2.65 have you got any cash? I’m off to the gym, it’s cheaper if you get membership… Can we get a McDonald’s…?
And so it goes on. The Prof, then, decided it was time he was self-sufficient and decided to get a job for the summer. We toiled over a CV. Any idea how hard it is to pad out the CV of a 16 year old so it covers a whole page? Not bloody easy. We put down his predicted GCSE grades, and the subjects he’s chosen for A level, but then…
Luckily he had a really nice reference from the aviation company where he did his work experience last year. I stuck it on the bottom of the page.
Me: ‘and you need to put down some of your hobbies.. something that’s going to make it look like you don’t spend all day in your bedroom…’
Him: ‘Ooh, I’m wicked at Xbox…’
Me: ‘Oh god’.
Anyway, CV typed, he popped up to the ever-useful Disreputable Grandad to get some photocopies done, and then he was gone.
Eventually, he trudged up the path.
Turns out, he’d been along the high street and gone in EVERY shop and business and asked if they were hiring.
I was bloody impressed. Seriously. Even English Dad was in awe: ‘would you have walked the high street with a CV at 16? Nope, me neither’.
And he got an interview (at a well known high street coffee establishment, no less). As I watched him slope up the path, shaggy hair, jeans hanging round his arse, I had my doubts, but he’s obviously inherited the family ‘talking his way into anything’ gene, and was soon back with news of a start date.
As usual, he was unimpressed with our excitement… he’s already got it worked out. ‘This time next year I’ll have enough for a car’.
Well done, Sam. I’m bloody proud of you. A+ for effort xx
So we haven’t done much sharing recently, have we? The last ‘the best…’ we did was toast toppings, so today I thought we’d push the boat out a bit.
Sunday lunch. I do love a pie. And I don’t care whether it’s the middle of summer or not…
Another favourite with us is our patented ‘roast chicken with a lemon up its bum’ (still working on a new name for that one). In summer, we pair it with minted new potatoes and lovely summer veg, and then Monday is risotto day.
How about you, then… what’s the best Sunday lunch in your house?
A long time ago, back in 2007 in fact, an Irish model – Katie French – died of a drug overdose. I found some of the comments made at the time pretty abhorrent and remember writing a blog post about it.
Yesterday, over 90 people, many of them teenagers, were murdered by a madman in Norway.
This afternoon I watched Twitter in horror as first people near her home tweeted about seeing ambulances and police cars, and then the confirmation came: Amy Winehouse had died. Instantly, people crowed: ‘it’s her own fault’… ‘who gives a damn?’ and much, much worse.
Seriously? Yes, Amy Winehouse obviously had terrible addictions to goodness knows what… she was troubled and – let’s face it – ill. Does that make her death less serious than those killed in Norway? She’s still somebody’s daughter. Somebody’s heart is breaking tonight knowing that she’s gone. Do the circumstances of her death make her parents less worthy of our compassion and our sympathy?
I say no.
This weekend, I’m keeping a whole lot of people in my heart. People whose lives will never be the same again. And holding my children very, very close.
And the last word must go to Katie French’s family, who said at the time: ‘we would earnestly ask all those — both young and old — who may be tempted to dabble in potentially lethal substances to simply say ‘no’. No amount of so-called fun is worth the loss of life that so often befalls young people in Ireland today.’
Over the years, a number of people in show business have faced drug issues. Some have checked into treatment centres for celebrities, while others simply did not seek any kind of help, often with tragic results.
So after promising my lovely cousin, Moon and his wife Miska that I’d make cupcake towers for Mattie’s Christening, I’ve been having Laura-like cupcake anxiety dreams for the last week – nightmares about everything from collapsing towers to rock-hard icing have plagued my sleep. I was almost glad when Saturday arrived and I could stop worrying and get on with it. Brace yourself, then, a few gazillion photos to follow…
When I’d asked Moon and Miska what they wanted, they said ‘really bright colours’, so I chose base buttercream colours in violet, tangerine, lime and ice blue, topped with flavoured fondant in chocolate, sherbert lemon, fizzy orange and strawberry (not too much pink, obviously). I spent a nice relaxing couple of days cutting out loads of stars and circles and also made some stars on ‘springs’ made of florist’s wire to dangle over the edge of the towers.
I was a bit disappointed as the fondant dried considerably lighter in colour, but hey, I decorated some of the stars with very dodgy ‘M’s and pearlised white writing icing and sprinkles and was quite pleased with the end result:
I then spent a very sweaty couple of hours in the kitchen baking the vanilla cupcakes, then mixing up the buttercream in batches and blending it with the colouring paste.
After the buttercream icings were completely chilled, I whipped them up again and piped them directly onto the cooled cakes. I did some with traditional swirls, some with little star clusters and a few ‘turds’, as my lovely son nicknamed them. It started to go slightly wrong at this stage because the kitchen was so hot that the buttercream was starting to melt, so after a quick panic call to my Dad, he arranged for me to get into the venue and we transported all the cakes into their fridge – just in the nick of time.
The next morning I went and decorated all the cakes in situ and I have to say I left for the church feeling really proud of myself. The buttercream stayed really vibrant, and it didn’t seem to matter than the fondant was slightly lighter in colour:
The actual Christening was wonderful. Little Matty behaved so well and the Vicar was really lovely:
Everyone was so nice about the cupcakes and I absolutely adored watching this little girl concentrating so hard on choosing which one she’d have:
Matty was an absolute trooper, giving constant smiles and cuddles to everyone…
He showed off his walking:
and even gave his Dad a quick round of applause after his speech:
The hubster popped in to say hi on his way back to work:
And I was so proud of my fellas and my beautiful niece Lu, who were a great laugh and absolutely lovely company:
A special thank you to Helen at Aardvark Cakes for emergency Twitter panic support and her invaluable help and advice.
Also big thank you to Renshaw for the lovely flavoured fondant (my favourite was the lemon sherbet!). Check out their amazing website: http://www.mybakes.co.uk/
The cupcakes were just basic vanilla sponges made in batches of 6 eggs (weighed in their shells), then equal weights of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs a little at a time. Add 2tsp vanilla extract and then stir in the self-raising flour. Spoon into 24 muffin cases (1tbsp mixture into each) then bake at 180/gas 4 for about 20 mins. NB: if you add a tray of water into the bottom of the oven, the cupcakes stay nice and flat on top.
The buttercream was 500g butter and 1kg icing sugar (per 24). Cream the butter then gently add in the icing sugar and a splosh of milk and beat until soft and fluffy. Add in about 1/2 tsp of colouring paste (use less for pastel colours), beat again, then refrigerate. Before piping, whip until soft.
So the Death Wish Dude was very keen on trying out the fish pedicure spa in the shopping centre near us. Skaters suffer terribly with their feet apparently (and their hips, and their knees, but I don’t think there’s a fish for that yet). Anyhoo, yesterday, with his fellow skater dudes all still at school and the skate park quiet and empty, we decided to head over and have a go.
It all started quite well. We had our feet checked and then signed a medical form promising that we didn’t have all sorts of random viruses, warts, and pugnatious putrefractions (okay I made that last one up), and settled down with our feet in a nice warm cleansing bath.
We were then invited to pop our feet into the little fishy bath where the little nibblers (Turkish Garra Rufa fish – apparently they just love dead skin) started working away at our tootsies:
It was about then that all hell broke loose. An entire family of travellers entered the fish spa along with several hundred children and various sisters, mums and aunties. The young lady that was having the fish pedi sat next to me and proceeded to:
a: Scream. Long and loud. Oh, and shout ‘FECKING HELL I’M GUNNA BE SICK MAM!’ in my ear
b: Forget that she was about to be sick and conduct long and complicated conversations at great volume across me about a wedding with the various friends and relatives (who were a good ten feet away). I’m presuming that she was the bride. She was very chatty but we didn’t get in much of a conversation because she kept interrupting herself by yelling things like ‘ARGH THEY’RE CRAWLIN UP ME LEG MAM!’ I was worried because, sod the feet, she really needed to get her roots done if she was getting married on Saturday.
c: invite various smaller children to come and look. Two of them (young twin girls – bridesmaids, apparently) were both eating enormous hot dogs, and as they chewed, talked incredibly fast and looked at the fish, several bits of chewed hot dog escaped and fell into the fishy water. I’m presuming that since Garra Rufa fish eat foot skin, they’re not too fussy about the odd bit of hot dog, but I still thought this was a bit off.
d: shout at her relatives that she too wanted a hot dog, that her money was in her purse and could they put mustard on it. Sure enough, ten minutes later she was also chomping on a massive hot dog, dropping bits into the fish.
Anyway, the Dude and I settled into companionable silence (well, what else could we do in the circumstances) and tried to enjoy our fish Pedicure while the bride discussed the finer points of Chelsey’s underskirts and shouted at her family about Shane not having the right shoes.
It wasn’t exactly relaxing, but then I can’t entirely blame the fish for that. Our feet were quite soft afterwards, though…
My buddy Taralara runs an online gallery with a different theme every week. Not being much of a photographer, I tend to dip in and out a bit, but this week, the theme is ‘travel’ – how could I not join in!
This picture is the ceiling of the Dubai Mall, which took me by surprise when I looked up to see it filled with thousands of delicate paper butterflies. It took my breath away.
For more entries to this week’s gallery, just click here.
One thing about being back in the same country together after our long period of job-enforced separation is that we can now go shopping together.
I’d kind of forgotten about this. I’d happily tootled around shops in Ireland (just happy to be there, frankly, after the epic journeys that necessitated getting to any decent shops), picking out just what I wanted and never thinking twice about it. Now there are several things about co-shopping that drive me insane:
Before we’ve even got into the shop, we’ve started. I like a big trolley and I like to push it. I also like to bring my own bags (they’re bigger and stronger and yes, more environmentally friendly). He favours trying to cram everything into one of those small granny trolleys and has no truck with bags hanging on the front (‘they give you bags at the checkout, FFS’), so I have to hold them. And apparently (bag-free) trolley pushing is the man’s job. Sexism: alive and well and living in Hertfordshire.
I know what I like. And I know what I don’t like. I don’t like shopping a deux and wish to be finished as soon as possible. Therefore I don’t want to stand around and look at all the cheeses in the deli (we always buy Cheddar – what’s the point?). Neither do I want to discuss the merits of wild vs farmed salmon at the fish counter (he doesn’t like salmon so it’s kind of pointless). The only time I like to dither is when I’m shopping alone in Waitrose – then I could spend hours. Fickle? Moi? I also like to tut loudly at those silly arses that stand in the middle of the aisle and chat, whilst blocking everything up with their trolleys. Want to chat? Sod off outside. Shops are for shopping. I’m thinking of writing to the supermarket bosses and suggesting a special ‘dithering/gossiping’ aisle, so the rest of us can bloody get on with it.
I will only buy free-range chicken. As the awesome Jimmy Doherty says in his book, A Taste of the Country, ‘if the chicken you buy in your supermarket is not labelled free-range, I’m afraid you are responsible for terrible cruelty’. I can’t have this on my conscience. The husband, however, cannot see the point in picking up a pack of two chicken breasts for £5, when there is a pack of four just below them for same price.
The chicken, being relatively near the front of the shop, causes us to bicker all the way round the store. We’ve kept chickens, I argue, and you know what intelligent and freedom-loving little chaps they are. He knows, he says, but somehow his wallet rules his brain…
Hence, every time he picks up biscuits (we don’t need them – I can make my own), chooses Perroni over Budweiser, or adds ridiculous items such as Rice Krispie bars to the trolley, he is reminded that he’ll spend money on that, but not on the welfare of a poor little innocent chook. It’s all wrong. In return, of course, I get told off for buying fresh herbs ‘in bags! Pointless‘ and arborio rice.
We’re just speaking by the time we get to the dairy aisle, then it all goes pear shaped again. It has to be Yeo Valley. I’m sorry, but I can’t be doing with that watery shite and I’ve a special affinity with the Valley of Yeo, seeing as I’ve visited a couple of times. The husband picks up Mullers. I put them back. Then we spot the big pots of Yeo Valley lemon curd and grab several. Marital bliss is resumed.
After relenting to his requests for the small trolley AND his insistence on being the one to push it, he then proceeds to do the worst stacking job in history… milk is rested on top of eggs and salad is squashed with beer. I tut and move things. He tuts about pickiness. There’s a lot of tutting.
So by the time we’ve bickered all the way round, him dithering to look at things, me charging ahead tutting at the gossipers, got to the checkout where he’s flirted outrageously with the woman behind the till (he’s never that nice to me), and we’ve huffed out to the car with my ‘ridiculous’ bags… we end up driving home in silence.
So I’m afraid I’ve asked for a trial separation. Oh not permanently, just every time we need some shopping.
I just need to be on my own… to find out who I really am.
I hope you understand, Hubby, it’s not you, it’s me. I hope we can still be friends…
Fellow guest at Jimmy’s Farm, the lovely Marie from food blog The English Kitchen, suggested over dinner that I try pork with apricots. It sounded such a lovely combo that I thought I’d give it a try with the large loin of beautiful free range rare breed pork I was given at the farm:
4 pork loin steaks
4 or 5 sage leaves
1 glass cider or apple juice
Heat up a heavy based saucepan and drop in a lump of butter and a drizzle of oil. When it’s hot, fry the pork on both sides until it’s taken on a bit of golden colour.
Remove from the heat and arrange in an ovenproof dish along with the halved apricots and sprinkle over the chopped sage:
Deglaze the pan with a glass of cider or apple juice, and pour all the juices over the meat. Pop into the oven (gas 5/190 degrees) for about 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness of your pork steaks.
Remove the steaks and set aside to rest, along with the apricots, covered in foil. Bubble the remaining liquid down until it’s reduced by half, then splosh in a big glug of double cream and season to taste.
Serve the steaks with the apricots and drizzle with some of the gorgeous sauce.
And yes, my photos are pants. But in my defence I was a bit hungry.
I’m going to try not to gush here.
Ah sod it, I’m gushing: I had the most fabulous day at Jimmy’s Farm EVER. Look, here’s me and Jimmy. Squeeeee!
(Seriously, could I not have toned it down a bit? Grinning like a loon is so not cool).
Jimmy Doherty is just a thoroughly nice, down to earth, genuine chap, who gave up his day to nanny a group of food bloggers around his farm and talk to them about pork. Probably not his favourite way to spend a day, but was he grumpy? Nooooo. He was charming and informative, clever and engaging. I might have a little crush. When I told him, for example, that my friend Disney Dave would love to come to the farm, he filmed an amazing video for me to give to Dave, telling him to come and visit soon. What a gentleman. Dave was delighted.
The farm is gorgeous too – we pottered around chatting in the sunshine, looking at his fabulous rare breed Essex, Saddleback and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs:
…baking in the butterfly house:
and stuffing our faces in the restaurant.
We also had a really interesting demonstration with Joe Collier from famous Berkhamsted butchers, Eastwoods. Joe butchered half a pig while Jimmy took us through some of the cuts.
Fascinating stuff. Did you know, for example, that meat from rare breed free range pigs like Jimmy’s is much deeper in colour than intensively reared pork? Look at it there on the table… it’s more like beef. That’s because it’s lived longer and has actually exercised. It’s also more flavoursome. We also learned that pork bones make great stock, and that cheaper cuts like the chump end (ask for it in the butcher’s, people) make great slow-roasting joints.
The most popular cut, the pork loin found in most supermarkets, is fine (see my recipe very soon), but it can be dry as it’s very lean, and the pig has so many amazing cuts that we’re just not using…
Take the belly, for instance: gorgeous roasted, with tons of lovely crackling. Or if you take the skin off (you can cook this as crackling separately), you can rub it with all sorts of delicious things (Joe used a garlicky, herby salt) then roll up and roast. It’s delicious sliced into strips for the barby too. The ribs can be marinated in honey, brown sugar, soy and garlic overnight and then roasted long and slow until they’re sticky and meltingly tender.
It’s not all about slow cooking though – Joe made me some lovely kebabs from chump end meat and after a quick browning in the frying pan we were amazed at how delicious, and tender, the meat was. Perfect quick bbq food.
Look out for blade bone (a really good slow roast) – it’s not that popular but it’s much cheaper than other cuts and there’s loads of meat on it. Ditto with the spare ribs (much sweeter than loin when cut into chops) and the delightful topside, cut into steaks and marinated or cooked with a flavoured butter).
Now I appreciate that not everyone’s going to dive in and start cooking trotters and snouts (least of all me), but we really should be celebrating our magnificent British piggy. And who better than the lovely Jimmy to spearhead the campaign – the real reason for all this hobnobbing with the stars – the very worthy Put Pork on Your Fork campaign, encouraging us to buy fabulous British pork and support farmers like Jimmy. All this is leading up to the One Pig Weekend, 30th and 31st July, where there are special events at places like Jimmy’s Farm and everyone’s being encouraged to throw their own bash, with British pork on the menu.
And while I’m lucky enough to live within shopping distance of the lovely Joe at Eastwood’s, I know a lot of you aren’t so lucky. So take Jimmy’s advice: hassle your supermarket manager. Tell him that you’d like to see more great cuts of British pork on the shelves, and hopefully British pig farmers everywhere will benefit.
You can find the Put Pork on your Fork facebook page here.
Oh, talking of Facebook, did I tell you I’m friends with Jimmy?
Okay I’ll shut up now.