Wednesday, 22 April 2015

avocado and smoked salmon on toast

I want to create a series of recipes entitled "Diet Food That Doesn't Suck" but really, this is just food that happens to be pretty good for you. I'm terrible at dieting because I love to eat. A lot. The food I eat isn't bad for me; I just eat far too much of it. Add that to the fact that I hate exercise and you've got a happy but rotund Canadian on your hands.

I had my first personal training session on Monday and I still can't walk. "You'll get addicted to it!", friends say. To what, being in agony? You're all masochists, clearly. I hate gyms. I hate exercising in front of other people (which is why I took up jogging and I actually grew to love it even though I'm still really bad at it.) Why the hell am I not only going to a gym but exercising while being scrutinised by a much younger and incredibly buff guy? Because it's the only way I'll be motivated to actually get off my ass. I hate letting people down so I won't want to skip training sessions or go off track. That's the theory, anyway.

I'm attempting to eat normal, human-sized portions and keeping track of what I consume so I can get healthier. If I make something that I think is tasty and remember to take a photo of it, I'll post the recipe. This morning, I made a breakfast based on something a friend of mine had for brunch recently. It was lacking capers and possibly dill or some other green leafy thing, but it was fine. I used BFree bread because wheat and I don't get along all that well. Look, I've had food intolerances long before they became trendy so don't give me any lip. I was subjected to carob in the late 70s, I'll have you know.

Anyway, here's the recipe. It was filling and it didn't suck.



Avocado and Smoked Salmon on Toast
(Serves 1)

Per serving: 364 calories, 18g carbs, 19g fat, 27g protein.

1/2 avocado, sliced
100g smoked salmon
2 slices of whatever bread takes your fancy (a darker bread works well with this, like rye)
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
8 thin slices of cucumber
About 1/4 cup or 50ml white wine vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
Pepper
2 tsp capers
Dill or whatever leafy green herby thing that goes with salmon that you have

Put the onions and cucumbers in a small dish and cover with the vinegar and salt. Set aside for about 10 minutes but you can do this the night before as well. Drain.

Toast the bread then top with the salmon, avocado, onions, cucumber, capers, herbs, and a good grind of pepper. I also love smoked paprika on avocado and toast, so give that a go as well. If you have any onion leftover, keep it in the fridge covered a little bit of vinegar.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

bagels for non-bread makers

After spending 11 years in Montreal, all other bagels are just not the same to me anymore. Maybe it's the wood ovens or genetics or Montreal tap water. I'm not sure what kind of voodoo Montreal bakers do to make their bagels taste like they do, but I haven't found another variety that I like as much and I can't replicate them at home.

The closest I've come is this recipe from Serious Eats: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/03/how-to-make-homemade-bagels-a-la-jo-goldenberg-recipe.html It's a great one for those of us who should never be allowed to make bread because Bad Things happen. The kids love helping me make these, especially rolling them out.

Don't be put off by all the steps and the weird ass instruction to boil your bagels. They're not having a laugh, it really is the secret to making a great bagel. The only change I make to this recipe is the addition of 1tsp of baking soda to the boiling water. I have no idea what it does but I heard somewhere that this is what makes Montreal bagels so distinct; I throw it in there for good luck. Oh and I don't bother flipping them when baking and I bake for 20 minutes in total.



It does look labour intensive when you read through the recipe, but it really isn't. The process takes time because you have to let the dough rise, but the actual hands-on work is brief.

Here, let me break it down to help illustrate this:
-Chuck everything in a food processor. Blitz for about 1-2 minutes.
-Chuck dough in an oiled bowl with cling film on top. Stick it in the airing cupboard. Faff about on the Internet for an hour. 
-Divide dough into 10 pieces, make wriggly worms, drape around your hand and roll the ends on a counter so they seal. Go faff about on the Internet again for about 10 minutes.
-Boil the water/sugar/baking soda in a large pan, simmer bagels in batches for 1 minute (I usually do this in three batches, so it takes maybe 5 minutes.) The girls do the timing because small children get really excited about crap like that.
-Use child labour to brush the bagels with egg wash and to sprinkle seeds on top. Internet faffing optional at this stage.
-Bake for 20 minutes and play a few rounds of Candy Crush. Leave to cool. 

Slice and freeze if you've got some self control and won't devour all 10 bagels in the same day.

Friday, 20 March 2015

ain't nobody got time for that: weekday recipe roundup

I'm boring myself with my own cooking. I'm limited in what I can make during the week because I'm either in the office or we do All The Things after school on my non-office days. Add this to the fact that two of my kids are relatively picky eaters (thank you Jack for being a human Hoover) and I am NEVER going to cook separate meals for everyone so don't even suggest it, okay?

So this means having to do the rather soul-destroying task of weekly meal planning. I can't just bung things together when I get home, or at least I can't make a regular habit of it. Weekends and Mondays are good because I have more time to cook. The rest of the week is like a food-based game show in which the prize is children that aren't screaming and hungry.

Here is a list of some recipes I've tried out lately that were not only incredibly delicious and fit into my schedule, but the kids actually loved them. Well, except the pasta one because Mia doesn't do pasta. What kid doesn't like pasta? Honestly.

  • Buttermilk roast chicken from the fabulous Smitten Kitchen: based on a Nigella recipe, this does something magical that makes it taste a million times better than plain roasted chicken pieces. You can marinate it up to two days and just whack it in the oven after work for about 35-40 minutes. I serve this with a ready made mash from Tesco that doesn't have any crap in it and just requires a quick trip in the microwave. 
  • Quinoa with things on top (here's a link for some great tips on cooking quinoa): okay look, don't get all arsey with me because I'm mentioning a super trendy food. This quinoa is good stuff if you cook it properly and it holds up very well for a day or two afterwards, unlike its clumpy wannabe twin couscous. Bring to the boil in stock, simmer 15 minutes, drain, put a lid on it and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Job's done. You can get grilled peppers and things you can stick on top with chicken or whatever else you've got. I toss in a little olive oil, lemon juice, and sometimes feta.
  • Slow cooker meatballs: looks labour intensive but isn't, and you can prepare the meatballs the day before. An incredibly rich sauce with flavourful meatballs that made enough to feed four of us (Mia wouldn't entertain the idea) with plenty of leftovers. So, so good.
  • Slow cooker chicken tortilla soup: don't be put off by all the strange and wonderful peppers needed for this soup. I get mine online from http://www.capsicana.co.uk/ or a Mexican online grocer - stock up and keep a bunch in the cupboard. Even Tesco is now stocking dried chipotles and poblanos these days. The most work needed for this one was the toppings because I lovingly organised them all into a lazy susan. The kids LOVED this soup. I'm tempted to add beans to it next time to bulk it out a bit. The soup was delicious and a great remedy to a weekend of overindulgence, but probably not filling enough for a normal meal (for adults) on its own. 
Just don't tell anyone that this week two of my kids had frozen chicken nuggets because I couldn't be bothered to figure out one meal that would make everyone happy. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

to my double digit boy

DSC_0067

Ten! TEN! It's sped by but it also feels like it's been a million years since you arrived. Sometimes I think that you're so grown up and I forget that you're still a kid; you give me big hugs (several times a day) and need someone to come and tuck you into bed. You're not afraid to hold my hand as we walk to and from school together. Maybe you'll always need a hug from me but just in case, I'm cherishing every moment right now.

I love how you speak, like a young philosopher, and sometimes you say the most random and hilarious things. Your writing has come such a long way, to the point that your imagination and creativity are brightly shining through.

Despite trying to be the boss of your sisters (who are having none of it), you are gentle, kind, and caring towards them. I love that when we go on holiday, you and Mia usually share a room whether you need to or not. (Sorry Isla, I know you hate "sleeping by my own.")

You're argumentative, stubborn, and I'm sorry to say that you have entered the pre-teen eye rolling/deep sighing/stomping up to your room phase. But I can't blame you for any of that because I know where it comes from. I'm grateful that these moments are short lived, and out of the three of you, I'm the least worried about you. Please don't prove me wrong.

I read an article recently that said boys who are shown affection by their mothers are less likely to develop dementia when they're older. You can thank me for that later.

Jack, you are amazing and I still can't believe that you are partially my doing. I just couldn't love you more.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

it had to be done: 50 Shades of Grey

Many years ago, I worked at a large bookstore in downtown Montreal. American Psycho came out and the world was outraged and so was I, despite never having read the book. I'd heard it was filled with gratuitous violence and horrific scenarios, and that was enough for me to trash talk it along with everyone else. I realised that I couldn't continue to bash a book I'd never read, so I bought a copy. It was indeed incredibly violent and disturbing but also a clever satire of the 1980s yuppie era. The opening sushi scene was brilliant.

Decades later, I once again found myself making fun of a book I hadn't read: the ubiquitous 50 Shades of Grey. To make a long story short, most of what you've heard is true. It's a really, really, really, really badly written book. It wasn't originally self-published as legend has it (see http://www.eljamesauthor.com/faq/), but it's unclear whether or not it ever crossed the desk of an editor. It's in desperate need of someone's red marking pen, and I don't think even the most die hard fans would argue that point.

I went to see the film with a friend, mostly for lols. "It had to be done," she said to me as we left the cinema. "50 Shades of Shite," I replied. Poor Jamie Dornan; I suspect he never knew what he was signing up for when he agreed to be in this film. I absolutely loved him in the BBC series "The Fall", where he did brooding, smouldering, psycho very well. In 50 Shades, he and Dakota Johnson have as much chemistry as me and a flu jab. He's there to do a job and then get the hell out again, and you might feel a bit drowsy afterwards.

...here to deliver my lines.
I was bored. The sex was boring, the dialogue was boring, and good lord Danny Elfman what's happened to you? Even the soundtrack was boring. The continuity errors (Ana's non-iPhone makes iPhone sounds when she receives messages and her MacBook suddenly turns into a Windows laptop in one scene) and the completely random Rita Ora cameo are so distracting that I could never get lost in the fantasy world this book is supposed to create.

I am not going to go on for paragraphs about what a terrible film this is because it's not, by far, the worst thing I've seen. Johnson is well cast, managing to be attractive, awkward, clever, and mousey at the same time, which is exactly how I imagined her from the book. Film Ana is savvier than book Ana (film Ana knows how to use a computer, for example), and she has some genuinely funny lines. There is one very clever scene that takes place in Christian's meeting room that clearly puts Ana in control and is remarkably well written. It is the sexiest scene in the film, despite no nookie taking place and the enormous glass table that separates them throughout the scene.

It's like a soap opera; fans of this franchise just go with it and ignore the fact that it's badly written and the acting is cheesy. What it's not (at least in the first book/film) is a promotion of domestic abuse or the degradation of women. Ana sets the boundaries and is explicitly told that she can back out at any time. This is punctuated by a firm "NO!" in the final scene, which could only be made clearer if she said, "I am telling you no, which means I am not giving my consent to any of your shenanigans, and well done you for accepting this with no argument and off I go down the lift now, byeeeeee."

If you want to be outraged, be angry that such a badly written book is making millions of dollars and EL James has the studio by its bollocks so they have no leeway with her dire dialogue. Part of me wants to say good on you to James for making a mint out of a few Internet posts. Hey look, anyone can become a writer! Part of me weeps that something so terribly written is a bestseller, especially knowing that there are some brilliant authors out there who still need to have day jobs.

The worst part is, I've got that goddamn Ellie Goulding song stuck in my head now.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

new year, new post

Hey, hi. How have you been? Me, I've had a horrible virus since day two of my Christmas holiday. It started with a flu and is carrying on like a clingy friend who won't leave your house after a party and is just making everything really awkward. I now have bronchitis but thankfully it seems to be improving a bit. But generally, it's been pretty shit.

This virus has meant no indulgence this holiday season. None. Not even a drop of anything on New Year's Eve. I still have a huge bowl of Quality Street in the kitchen. I have a fridge full of prosecco. I had to throw away the rest of the chocolate trifle. Sad times all round. On the plus side, I'm down 6lbs and haven't had a problem getting back on the good eating wagon this year. Yay?

I am, in all seriousness, heartbroken. Christmas is my favourite time of year and I feel like I've completely missed it. This bug has completely kicked my ass; I think this is the worst I've felt in a very, very long time. Not much I can do about it now, though. Think I need to plan something special to look forward to in the coming months.

Anyway, it's that time of year again - not resolutions because no one does that anymore, but my annual List of Stuff. Last year's list was:
  • Learn when to say no (and yes.) I'm terrible at delegating; my first instinct is to say yes to everything. On the other hand, I'm not always good at accepting social invitations and sometimes my instinct is to find an excuse not to go - then I do end up going and having a brilliant time. I suppose I just need to think a little more before giving anyone an answer. 
I think I'm a bit better at this now, but I know I found myself saying "Why the HELL did I say I'd do this?!" more than once last year.
Now the silly thing is, I probably do take a photo a day. I just didn't keep up the Flickr album but probably could complete if it I could be arsed. Which I'm not. Still need to learn how to use my camera properly.
  • Okay seriously now, get that weight off. This is getting silly.
Vintage and curves are really trendy right now, so I'll just keep on being trendy.
  • Figure out what to do for our 10th wedding anniversary.
We had a brilliant but incredibly busy holiday in California and renewed our vows on a beach in La Jolla. It was really wonderful, personal, and fun.
  • Continue with the organising and purging, starting with the mahoosive pile of paperwork that's been shoved in drawers in the spare room.
Oh yeah. I forgot about that pile.
  • Get back into knitting. Because I'm wild like that.
I did and then I stopped again, but I will get back to it.
  • Get my veggie plot going again.
Sort of did this, but realised that it's almost impossible to have a decent veg plot with a puppy who a) eats everything that isn't nailed down and b) digs like his life depends on it. Did manage to grow a couple of impressive courgette plants and spaghetti squash, though. 

Rightyo, now on to the List of Things for 2015:
  • Getting stuck in a bit of a rut again and I'm starting to get bored. I need to find something new to do - take a course, go somewhere new, find a new hobby, take on a bit of extra work, etc.
  • Totally and completely stop worrying about people who are not worth the energy, and focus a lot more on those who are. No matter how unjust, hurtful, or ridiculous some opinions are of me, they simply shouldn't matter. This is the only kind of detox that actually has any sort of purpose. 
  • See more dance/theatre. I've been gradually doing this more over the years and I absolutely love it. There is nothing like seeing a live performance. I was spoiled for choice back in Montreal and it's a bit more of a trek to see shows now, but it's only a short trip to London from here.
  • Get back into running. Weirdly, I enjoyed running - it was good to get outdoors, just me and my brain. There is a 24 hour running marathon happening here in the summer (each person does a 4 mile circuit, I think) and I'd like to take part. 
Happy new year! 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kate Bush: Before the Dawn, Eventim Apollo (review)

28/08: Following on from people who are getting silly money for this, I've put four pieces of confetti from the Kate Bush concert on eBay - all proceeds will go to charity (TBD - am thinking along the lines of Amnesty Int'l, Oxfam, or British Red Cross.) Auctions end this evening at 8:30ish UK time.

29/08: The auction has ended and £50 is now in the hands of Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders! I'm floored that people will pay £10-15 for one piece of confetti, but really pleased I was able to raise this much for charity. Bless you, you crazed Kate fans!



In case it's not obvious, this post will contain spoilers and information that people who don't know/care about Kate Bush may find utterly pointless. I won't list all the tracks, although if you're curious, here is the setlist: http://www.wonderingsound.com/news/kate-bush-setlist-2014/  Also, this isn't really a proper review; it's a collection of ramblings from a middle-aged Kate fan who has a terrible short term memory and needs to write this stuff down before she forgets.

Right, let's carry on.

We had tickets in row E, and I was absolutely astounded to learn that this was the front row. They had removed rows A-D to accommodate the deeper stage; I had expected to be peering between the heads of the four rows ahead of me (as often happens when you're only 5'4".) We followed the letters along and when they stopped at E, I had Paul check the tickets to make sure I wasn't misreading something. A woman a couple of rows back called over, "Congratulations - you're in the front row!" as other people around her smiled at my shocked face. Hands shaking, I took a few photos of the stage. You cannot take a panoramic shot with your iPhone when you have the shakes, just FYI. We tucked our phones away knowing that we'd been asked not to view the show through a lens, and remarkably, everyone else did the same. Not one glowing screen appeared (that I could see), just like in the olden days when I used to go to concerts as a teen and all we had were chalkboards and quills.

The show started promptly at 7:45 with a barefooted Kate leading her background singers out on the stage. No opening act, no messing about, here's bloody well Kate fucking Bush. We erupted into applause, roaring at the sight of this woman we've waited so very long to see. "Where have you been?" she joked with us. She seemed a bit tentative, which may be just my interpretation based on what we know about her reluctance to perform live, and the audience seemed to cheer her on in encouragement. It was like 8,000 people were saying "It's alright, Kate - come on out now."

Once I got over the fact that I was looking at actual real life Kate Bush (about four songs in), I worried a bit. Although she could have come out and burped the phone book and I would have been elated, the fact that the show started out so...normally was troubling. She stood, she sang, she twirled around a bit. She thanked the lighting director (which seemed a somewhat awkward thing to do after only the second song) and then thanked her son Bertie for encouraging her to do this tour, who stood in front of us with the other backing vocalists. She talked a bit between songs, punctuated by enthusiastic applause throughout. She launched into "Running Up That Hill" and the place imploded. It was amazing and exciting, but where were the theatrics?

The lights suddenly dimmed and French percussionist Mino Cinelu stepped forward, whirling an object around his head that made an ethereal humming sound. Cannons shot yellow slips of tissue paper with words from Tennyson on them at us. A screen dropped down to show a short film about an astronomer reporting a ship in distress. Well okay then, this was the show I was looking for.

"The Ninth Wave" was performed in its entirety, combining film, dialogue, and dance. Huge billowing sheets were swept across the stage by performers draped in alien-like fish skeletons (stay with me, here), falling over the front of the stage like a waterfall. Frantic rescuers chopped at the ice with axes, finally making an opening with a chainsaw, as Kate momentarily bobbed up to the surface from underneath the stage. A film of Kate projected on a screen at the back of the stage was her "reality"; a woman in a lifejacket struggling to stay afloat in icy water. On stage was the "dream". A fairly rudimentary (i.e. it was controlled by a couple of blokes pulling on ropes) but incredibly effective helicopter sort of contraption moved across the audience, puffing out fog and panning its search light over us. Paddy Bush's tinny voice reported the loss of one female overboard to the rescue team back at the base. The following songs told the rest of the story from drowning to rebirth, ending with the lights brightening in sunrise and an utterly joyful, soul-lifting rendition of "The Morning Fog."

After a 20 minute intermission, during which we all blinked in a daze trying to register what we've just seen, the second half led us through "A(n Endless) Sky of Honey." A wooden puppet that looked like an artist's model, a child, wandered around the set observing everything and everyone in wonder. I felt less connected (what a pretentious word) to this half simply because "Hounds of Love" was such a big part of my teenage life and the later albums happened a little more quietly in the background of my adult life. I got a similar sense from the audience around me; there was less head-bobbing, chair dancing, and singing along. I feel like this section created a different atmosphere, similar to watching a West End show in which you aren't overly familiar with the songs. This is not a bad thing, by any means. I just had to switch gears and take it in differently.

Kate's son Bertie was central to this half, although he was very much present throughout. It's obvious that he was the main motivation and inspiration to do this tour (is it a tour when it's only at one venue? I dunno.) I often caught him casting a close eye over his mother during the performance, non-verbally reassuring her. Bertie fit into the show perfectly, and performed a solo with a new song called "Tawny Moon."

In between the polished, powerful two main performances she was just Kate - for example she remarked "Oh, there's a tree!" when a piece of the set was still lodged in her piano from an earlier scene and "It wasn't even for real!" with a large smile when we all cheered her return to life before "Morning Fog." She thanked us for receiving her so positively and seemed to visibly relax by the end of the show, which went out with a bang with "Cloudbusting." Being able to stand a few feet from one of my idols while singing at the top of my lungs "Yay-e-yay-e-yay-e ohhhh!" along with her will be a moment I will cherish for a very long time. We whooped and we waited, but that really was the end of the show. That lasted for three hours.

I don't want to call this a "comeback tour" because her last album "50 Words for Snow" is a relatively new release. The fact that she hasn't been on stage for so many years doesn't negate what she's been doing in the studio. She's not being hauled out at Newmarket Races to sing the three hits she had in the 80s with five other ageing, balding bands from the same era. I don't really feel like she's been absent, this is simply a new tour. A very long overdue tour, but a just a tour nonetheless. I think this is reflected in the songs she chose to perform. This isn't a "Kate's Greatest Hits" show, it's an intricate piece of theatre.

I'm glad that there were no special guests (despite rumours of Peter Gabriel hopping up on stage to sing "Don't Give Up" with her), a huge chorus of professional dancers, or a rendition of "Wuthering Heights". After I saw the show, I knew that would have been out of place. It was an elaborate production however it was simple in that the stage only ever contained the musicians, Kate, her vocalists, and a very small number of performers to help with some elements such as the fabric sea and the wooden puppet.

It was mostly what I expected but still surprising and amazing. The hamsters that run my brain are still making the wheels whizz round in my head as I try to take it all in. And the Internet is undoubtedly billowing smoke as we all post our thoughts about the show over the past twelve hours.

"Does that mean you liked it?", she asked at the end. Yes, very much so, Kate. Please come back and do it again sometime.