Saturday, 10 November 2012

A Cruise Holiday. The Good and the Bad.

The frost has blackened my chrysanths in the garden and there's a distinct chill in the air. Winter's on the way! To cheer myself up on this murky Saturday I decided to upload the photos from our cruise in the summer. We were talking about it the other day and decided although we had a grand time we probably won't want to do another. So what was good about it? Well a great stateroom with a balcony from where we could view a different port each morning. Fantastic food and a restaurant where we were made to feel like royalty by the staff. Had a dining table right by the window and saw dolphins swimming alongside the ship as we ate. Magical! I am still trying to work out how to make the triangular shaped tomato bread bites that they made and served with dinner on the ship. Great flavour. If anybody has any tips for tomato bread - I would be grateful to have them! And I enjoyed my $10 flutter in the Casino which lasted all of 30 seconds I obviously don't have the skill to become a great gambler. And what was bad about it? Getting booked in and getting on the ship was more stressful and more chaotic than Heathrow Airport in a crisis!! The folks occupying the neighboring balcony to ours - chainsmoked & seemed to live on their balcony . As non-smokers we found that really off putting and had to keep our door shut much of the time. The Bay of Biscay may not have been very rough and YoungNells and hubby never noticed it but it made me queasy. And I was really struck by how much water there is out there in the oceans!! Wine was horrendously expensive. $30 a bottle for wine we'd pay less than £6 bottle for in UK. Dressing up at night for dinner was fun but being a bit of a sloth it was nice to come home, hang up the posh dresses and take out the comfy clothes and slippers again! All in all a lovely experience but think we'll holiday in England next year. That way at least we'll be able to afford the wine!!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

In Search of That Perfect Curry

This is my latest curry which we sampled tonight. Really pleased with it but still only give it 6/10. If anyone can see ways I could improve it I'd welcome your comments. Ingredients 500g meat – diced. I large Onion chopped. 2/3 teaspoons of crushed garlic. I teaspoon of ginger (from jar). Tablesp or 2 of Ghee or Oil. 1 teaspoon each of mango powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, ground black pepper, chilli powder, sea salt 1 Tablespoon Garam Masala. 2 bay leaves, cinnamon stick, 4/5 cardomom pods, Tin Tomatoes, 100 ml yoghurt, 1 Tablespoon tomato paste Fry Onion, Garlic and Ginger in ghee until translucent. Add spices and cook quite hard for 5 mins. Add tomatoes, tomato paste , yoghurt and 2 ladels of chicken stock (or water) Add meat and veg and simmer for 40 mins. 5 mins before serving stir in 1 teaspoon of garam masala , bring to boil , sprinkle chopped coriander over top and serve.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Of Kings and things

I've been following the search for Richard III's body in Leicester avidly. On and off over 30 years and when I've had the time I've been a member of the Ricardians. I've always felt Richard was much maligned by Henry Beaufort who deposed and killed him at Bosworth and then became Henry VII, the first Tudor King, despite not having a smidgen of claim to the throne other than having a pushy mother who was known around the English Court and to visiting foreign dignitaries as a 'lady of contriving bosom'. Then along comes Shakespeare in the time of Elizabeth I , old miserly Henry's grand-daughter and seeking to curry favour with the crown and no doubt make a bob or two, writes that scurrilous parcel of lies about the last Plantaganet, Richard III. No details about how he'd ruled fairly, been the first King to introduce bail into law and been a brave and honorable warrior on the battlefield since he was 15. Nope Shakespeare, a smear and spin merchant that would have been envied by politicians' bagmen today set out to destroy Richard's reputation by any lie and unfounded rumour he could lay his hands on. The gorier the better. Well now they think they've found Richard's body, there's a chance to revisit the Henry and Richard squabble that ended in an arrow in Richard's back and then a blow to the back of the head that finished him off. And look again at how truth can be distorted by the written word. And given the papers released on Hillsborough yesterday that's clearly as true today as it was then. Henry, of course, was too scared to enter into battle, Richard was, after all, famous and feared for his skills on the battlefield. Henry prudently watched from the sidelines and the chances are that the cowardly blows that finished Richard from behind his back came from traitorous cheshiremen led by the Stanley brothers who were supposed to have fought for Richard but shiftily changed sides during the battle. They did it of course for money and the hope of greater power and influence. And they achieved that in the short term although William Stanley was eventually put to death by his ungrateful King Henry for treason or some such thing. Seems like poetic justice. David Cameron could probably learn lessons from this salutary tale because it seems to me some of his lot are also thinking about jumping ship and throwing their lot in with a new potential leader who can increase their access to power and influence for longer. We might be 500 years further on but not much has changed about human nature and what drives it. Anyway, if it does turn out that they have found King Richard III's body under that Leicester car park I hope he will be given a suitably grand re-interment in a grave next to Henry VII draped with the White Rose of York & Richard's White Boar standards that Henry worked so hard during his lifetime to discredit. It is said that Henry VII set aside an adequate sum of money for Richard's funeral but then squirrelled it away and never spent it. It was a sop to his conscience. It must still be about somewhere, probably locked away in Treasury books. Should be worth a bit by now so maybe that could be used to cover costs.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Spice of Life

Yes I know LCF I agreed this post was going to be titled Dry Rubs but actually I have to pay tribute to my Momma who passed away in August at the age of 97 & I thought she'd be wanting to smack me aside the head with her wet dishcloth if I did that, so I'll use that title another day , when she's settled and busy later reorganising the chairs in heaven for God if that's OK! Thing is my Mum was a great family cook, English style, and her Mum before her who cooked for a living. Nobody could do rabbit stew, dumplings, yorkshire puds or sirloin of beef better than my Mum and hers. Not to mention spotty dick , treacle tart or cherry cake. And then there was the homemade jams! In fact I'm hopeless at yorkshire puddings - sometimes they'll rise to the heavens and other times they resemble lumps of playdough! So in celebration of the family genes that say I must be a food lover and cook I'm exploring new pastures. I'm looking for the perfect masala to make a great curry and I'm looking to make my own chappatis to go with it. I've been experimenting a while and the following is where I've got to: For the chappatis : Chaka Atta (whole wheat) flour (Tescos) Plain yoghurt ( preferably with probiotics but that's my choice) Mix flour and yoghurt to a dough consistency , I start with a cup and half of flour and then keep mixing in small portions of yoghurt until I get a decent bread like dough. (You can add in any herbs of your choice, salt, pepper, chilli powder, steamed vegetables like chopped spinach, cauli, runner beans in fine strips, finely chopped fried onions. Options endless. Roll into, not necessarily perfect, circles and then cook on hot lightly oiled (I prefer buttered) griddle (frying pan will do the job too) You can freeze these down and then take out as needed. Butter them on one side fold them over and put them in oven (I use a shallow terracotta dish with lid) for 15/30 mins. For that perfect masala & curry Step 1 - dry fry the following dry ingredients for 3/4 mins 1 generous teaspoon coriander seeds 1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds 1 teaspoon black peppercorns 1 generous teaspoon mango powder 1 generous teaspoon turmeric 3 cloves 1 cinnamon stick 3 cardomom pods 3 bay leaves handful of mint leaves Cool and grind either in electric grinder or by hand. Then put back in frying pan with butter (or ghee if you can get it) and add the moist ingredients: 1 generous teaspoon ginger paste 1 generous Desert Spoon garlic paste 1/2 teaspoon tamarind paste juice 1/2 lemon plus (Very Important) the grated rind!! Simmer for 5 mins Open Kitchen door or window to let in air and let out the gorgeous smell so that your neighbours will next time ask to be let in to try what you'r cooking! You now have the base of a good curry and need to make a gravy from it. I do it from red wine and boiling water but others will say that is sacrilege! When that is simmering nicely add your protein in cubes it can be fish, chicken,lamb, pork or beef. My favourite is pork because it absorbs the spices really well. Fish and chicken come a close second. You can either marinate your protein of choice in the cooled mixture overnight and then cook it next day or just put it in and cook it until tender. You can also add any vegetables that you fancy although I find cauliflower is particularly good at absorbing flavours in a curry. I still think I can improve on this - one can never achieve perfection - but the pursuit of it is very enjoyable! My Mum taught me that! Next thing is to find a good wine to go with it - I'm looking for that now. Cheers Mum! Love you!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Jubilee Toast to Her Maj.

We're having a street party Monday . Bunting and flags and all that. 12 households and YoungNells and some of the other kids playing God Save the Queen after a toast of whatever.

Have just been told I've been designated to provide a sweet. Some have been asked for salads , others for BBQ stuff. OMG what to cook!  This is the issue.

First thoughts are for a summer flan . A flan bake case made with traditional victoria sponge mix and then lightly soaked with rum, sugar and lemon juice. Fresh fruits of strawberries, blueberries, grapes and cubed fresh pineapple covered in a jelly made from a mix of pomegranate and orange juice. Guess I better also provide a pint of pouring cream!

The other choice is to make cornflake Krackolates in little cake cases . Cornflakes stirred into melted dark chocolate with a dollop of treacle or honey and then spooned into cake cases and allowed to cool and set. Haven't made them since I was a kid!

We have a republican living nearby who is regarding us all with a jaudiced eye. We should, he says, be looking to elect our Head of State.  We all thought about it around here and asked him who he would suggest for election, tony blair, prescott, gordon brown perhaps cameron.

Trouble is none of them look good when set beside a diminutive lady who has pledged her whole life to public service.

She looks even better when you compare her service to that of people like mugabe or gaddafi or assad .

Long may she Reign!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

When God Is Ready.

Nobody wants to talk about death and yet , like sex, it is an integral part of our lives, that all of us will experience.

The last couple of weeks have been rather hard . Mum is 97 and slipping away from us slowly. One day at a time. We are working with her carers in the home for it to be as natural, pain and stress free as possible. And actually the fact that we can do that for her is rather comforting.

She knows, sometimes, that it's happening and it hasn't been all doom and gloom. Today she got impatient just for one brief, lucid moment and demanded to know why she was waiting. When we gently rubbed her arm and told her to rest she told us we needed to go out and find her a train!

The organs are shutting down and the brain is losing oxygen.  Nobody discusses it, but it is happening and it may take days or weeks.  Lack of oxygen to the brain is helping her regress to childhood and she is enjoying easterly winds driving windmill sails in the fens , tractors ploughing gentle hillsides and telling us about how they're digging for wells.

I don't want to upset anyone so if you find this blogpost upsetting , please don't read.

I want what I write to be comforting . My strongest belief is that we should all live each day to it's max. God will say when it's time to go over to the other side.

I'm planning to amend and add to this particular blogpost over the coming days/weeks.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

A Salutary Lesson about Goods & Chattells; Will Writers v Solicitors.

YoungNells is growing up.  She'll be 14 next time around and we started worrying about what would happen to her if we pegged out early, well earlier than we hope, as there was no provision for her in our last will which was made long before she was born.

It started us on a discussion about legal costs with others who had used solicitors for various reasons, mostly divorces, in recent times. "It will cost you a fortune to make a new will" we were solemnly told. "£300 per hour and then some. And that's just for a consultation!" another helpful friend gleefully chipped in over my lovingly cooked sirloin of beef.

And then along comes my elderly Uncle visiting for a cup of tea one morning. He waved an undunked biscuit in the air as he enthusiastically sang the praises of Will Writers. He'd found one he said who worked for a very reasonable sum and did a very thorough job. "They even come to your own home. No need to visit some office, mix with townies and pay parking fees!" Was his parting shot.

Ah! we thought. We've cracked it! We can afford to make another will without taking out another mortgage to pay the solicitor's bill.   So we duly contacted Uncle's friendly Will Writer who bustled out to our house to give us a free consultation on what we wanted to do with our goods and chattels.

She got stuck right in - it would cost us £300 to make two back to back wills. She was very keen to point out that she wasn't VAT registered so we would also make a saving there. We couldn't believe our luck!

She asked to see our last wills and spent a few minutes reading them as her expression became ever more worried. She set them aside, took a drink of her coffee and then looked us straight in the eye. It was evident that bad news was on the way.

We needed to create a Discretionary Trust, she said, and unfortunately that would cost another £200. Then she asked about the ownership of our house. When we told her it was jointly owned, she clicked her teeth in disapproval a bit like my Mother, now 97, does with her false one's. It sent warning shivers down my spine.   We would, she advised, need to change the Joint Ownership to Tenants in Common. She wasn't sure how much that would cost; she was going to have to go away and check.

She asked some uncomfortable questions like 'Do you want to be buried or cremated?' and " What do you want doing with your remains?" And then insisted that she would need a detailed List of Wishes on what to do with things like my plastic jewellery, BeeGees & Monkees records and hubbies collection of silver plated youthful cricketing cups and Bridge Club mementoes. Funeral Instructions and Letters of Wishes of course were charged as extras.

When she waltzed out of the door we knew we were looking at a bill of at least £600. But the killer crunch came when she telephoned two days later to say that the cost of changing the ownership of the house to Tenants in Common would take the bill to £650. Then she said, just when we thought we had absorbed all the shocks that were to come, that we also needed to have urgent discussions with her about what would happen on the death of the first of us as this would leave the surviving partner with a tax bill of £75k unless we took further steps to protect ourselves. It meant of course, we supposed, more paperwork and more money for her.

It was our wake up call. So far we'd paid no money over on this free consultation and thought it time to start talking to the solicitors we had used all those years ago to make the first will, before we decided how best to proceed.

The solicitors we contacted also offered us a free consultation. Yes we had to take the car , find somewhere to park and browse shops on the way. Fun for me , misery for hubby, but that's life!  The consultation lasted less than an hour and we found out to our disgust that Discretionary Trusts & owning the house as Tenants in Common had been made unnecessary by changes to the law a few years ago. We also discovered that, as the law currently stands, there would be no taxes to pay on our pitiful estate until both of us had passed over to the other side and probably not even then and that Letters of Wishes and Funeral arrangements could be incorporated into the wills or not as we preferred,without extra cost.

Total solicitors cost £230 plus VAT.

Lesson learned!

Oh and one last thought for those thinking of using a Will Writing service instead of a Solicitor. Will Writers are currently unregulated whereas the written Terms & Conditions our Solicitor provided to us states that he is currently insured for £10million against any claim our beneficiaries might have against him, for bad advice given to us. When the time comes that is!!