Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Gulp, sniff, sob... five songs that make me cry.

I knew I shouldn't have done that last meme as this time I've been tagged, by Garry from Blog Up North to carry on a meme called "Five songs that make you cry". I have to admit, my heart sank when I saw it as I thought I would struggle to put it together. That makes me sound like a heartless cow but I'm not, I was just devoid of inspiration but when I've actually thought about it, the inspiration has flowed. The trouble I was initially having was that although songs often remind me of a particular time and place, but often they are quite trivial occasions that have stuck in my mind. And all of them were fairly happy times of my life too, so no inspiration there. Not only that, I sometimes have to actually HEAR the song before I'm reminded of the time and the place.

So, here are my five in no particular order.

1. Dido - Here With Me

The reason this song makes me cry is because of Love Actually. In the film, Keira Knightley plays a bride at her wedding where Andrew Lincoln plays the best man and friend of her now husband. He's very cold towards her and she thinks he doesn't like him. When she finds out her wedding video is no good, she turns up at his place hoping to see his unofficial wedding video. As she watches it, she realises that virtually the whole thing is close ups for her and realises that the coldness towards her is that he has feelings for her. He walks out and they play this song as he walks around London. The lyrics are so perfect for the storyline  "And I won't go/I won't sleep/I can't breathe/Until you're resting here with me". It is one of many, many times in that film that there are tears in my eyes. Even playing it again on Youtube tonight started me off.

2. Gladys Knight and the Pips - You're The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

There is a very very good reason for this one. My mum had it played at my Dad's funeral as the music at the end. My Dad died just before Christmas in 2000 and the funeral was a on sunny but cold day between Christmas and New Year. In fact, it was snowing and it was icy. I actually watched the hearse skid slightly to the left as we neared the crematorium, I remember, but we made it there in one piece. I didn't know my Mum had chosen this for Dad but it made me cry.

A few months later, I got High Fidelity out on video and was watching it alone, because I am a huge fan of John Cusack. In the film, his character owns a record shop and is forever compiling top fives for every occasion. His ex-girlfriend's father dies and during the funeral scene, he talks to camera about what songs he'd like played at his funeral and he mentions that he hopes a beautiful,  tearful woman chooses exactly this song. That was it - the tears flowed, I was in bits. I couldn't believe the coincidence. Now I can't listen to it without thinking of my Dad, who I miss hugely, and that scene in the film. I try not to listen to it, in fact - when I found it on Youtube, I had to turn the sound right down so I could barely hear it.

3. Black - Sweetest Smile

No particular reason that is personal to me for this one. It's just the story behind it that is so so sad. I really loved the album that this came from. It was written by Colin Vearncombe (Black) around the time of a painful relationship break up. You get the idea that he might not have seen it coming but others probably did. "I think my heart must be made of clay/Cos everybody said it would be broken someday/And now I've come to that fateful day/I sit on the floor with my head in my hands." Gets me every time.

4. Tasmin Archer - In Your Care

This one makes me cry because of the subject matter. I love Tasmin Archer and Sleeping Satellite was a lovely happy tune. This song was the follow up single to that and couldn't be quite opposite. It seems very poignant but when you listen to the words, or read the lyrics, you realise that it's about child abuse. In fact, profits were donated to Child Line at the time, I believe. It utterly captures the fear and desperation of a child abused by a family members and it's heart-rending.

5. Dean Friedman - Lydia

My older sister and I were both big fans of Dean Friedman in the 70s and 80s (and don't tell anyone, we even went to see him in the 90s too.... ). The music and words are sad but whilst it tells a story as so many of his songs, there is a lot left unsaid. It's partly some form of unrequited or forbidden love and if I listen to this when I'm feeling blue, you can guarantee the tears will flow and but it will also make me well up when I'm feeling happy.

So that's my five songs. Bit of an eclectic mix, that. Music from four decades, I make that. There could've been others actually in the end.

And now, it falls to me to tag some more people to carry on this meme, so I will tag:

Joanna at At Home With Mrs M
Jay at journey of the mocha bean(s) and mummy
Very Bored in Catalunya
and Heather from Notes from Lapland

And I'm off for a lie down to get over the emotion of doing all that.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

A chilli that will change your life!

No, honestly. Stick with it. Trust me....

I discovered this recipe courtesy of Penny, a lovely lady who writes Penelope's Pantry. It's actually from the Waitrose site. I first made it around Christmas, when it was of course freezing. It sounds an odd combination but my husband is enamoured with the chorizo sausage so I thought it was worth a try. I wasn't prepared for how lovely it turned out. It's just a bit of chopping and plonking everything in a pan, then leaving to cook. That means that even me, one of the messiest cooks going, can get cleaned up before it's ready and there's only one pot dirtied at the end of it. Other reasons I love it include:

  1. It goes with a wide range of accompaniments - bread, baked potatoes, rice, tortilla chips - so it is good for using up what's left in the house. That's what I've done today - I made a last minute decision to make it. You can grate cheese over the top, or add a dollop of soured cream, or even natural yogurt if you want to reduce the fat content.
  2. It is perfect comfort food. Today, I needed cheering up so making it and eating it has certainly lifted my spirits. 
  3. It freezes and reheats well. I often make enough for 4 adults and there's tons left over. Even tonight, when I've effectively made half, there's still some left over but I am fairly sure I won't get to see the leftovers. 
  4. It is also forgiving of slight changes, more of which later. 
If you are dubious about making a "chilli" that doesn't include mince or at least some form of beef, don't be. It's less effort and is done in an hour or so. Waitrose say 1hr15 to 1h30 but I normally have it done in just over the hour. This recipe in your repertoire will also make your life easier because even half a butternut squash will keep in the fridge for several weeks and so does chorizo. So, it's great as a standby to whack on and leave to cook if you want to cook but don't want to be standing there for ages.

If you've never used butternut squash before, take three tips from me for preparing it:

  1. Don't bother peeling it if you are roasting it. 
  2. Peel using a y-shaped peeler along the length of the squash
  3. Slice the squash in half just where it bulges (sorry!) and scoop the seeds out with a spoon before chopping up, much easier. 
Here's the original recipe, courtesy of Waitrose

Chorizo, Bean, Pepper and Butternut Squash Chilli

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
225g Spanish chorizo (from the deli counter), peeled and diced
1 large red chilli, chopped
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp dark brown muscovado sugar
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 butternut squash or pumpkin, about 500g peeled weight, deseeded and cut into 3-4cm diced
410g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
20g pack fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion and garlic for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the chorizo and red chilli, and cook for a further minute until the chorizo releases its red juices.
  2. Add the tomatoes, sugar, pepper and 150ml cold water. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in the squash, cover and simmer for a further 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender. Finally, add the cannellini beans, simmer for 5 minutes and stir in the parsley. Serve immediately.

Now, today, as it was a last minute decision to make this and it's Sunday, so there is not a lot in the house. I made a lot of changes.

Firstly, I had NO onions at all. Shock, horror. We survived, that's all I'll say. I also had very little garlic in. The lack of neither ruined the final flavour of the dish.

Next, I rarely bother peeling chorizo as it's such a faff. Never had any complaints so far. They wouldn't dare.

I don't use red chilli. I get complaints if it is too hot. Instead, I use Spanish pimenton pepper which I've got in one of those little square tins. Mine is picante so I have to temper how much I use if I don't want complaints. But it adds to the smoky flavour that the chorizo gives the dish.

I use whatever sugar I have in. As my baking sometimes seems to dictate about 45 different varieties of sugar, it's what is in my cupboard or nowt else. Today, I used soft light brown sugar.

I had no red pepper, nor any flat leaf parsley. I don't like packs of herbs unless I can't avoid them for a start. A touch of parsley at the end does add some freshness to it but you won't really miss it if you don't have it.

Finally, and this is something I have learned through making this a few times, I add the beans much earlier than 5 minutes before the end. I feel the beans need more time to soak up the juices and flavours such as the pimenton. When I have added only 5 minutes before the end, I've felt the beans have felt kinda raw and jarring against everything else that has nicely cooked together. It works for me, that's all I'll say.

The flavour is quite smoky, offset by the sweetness of the butternut squash. I would never use pumpkin for this dish as I feel it's too watery. You don't even need to buy good quality chopped tomatoes for this so a budget brand will do if you're watching the pennies. It's probably worth buying a good chorizo but then, I am a food snob that way - it doesn't have to be a really expensive one, just decent quality so that it doesn't render lots of fat with a nice flavour to impart to the rest of the dish.

Go on, try this. It really will change your life. It won't make you thin, rich or help you fulfill all your ambitions, you'll just be glad you discovered it, and you'll cook it regularly, so much so that I bet chorizo and butternut squashes become a feature of your fridge.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A photo meme

I've not been tagged but Garry from Blog Up North  posted about a photo meme but was struggling to tag enough people so opened it out to other bloggers to join and post contributions if they want to carry on the meme. As I've never done one before, and also Garry's blog was what got me blogging as I've done a couple of guest posts for him, I thought I would help out and do mine. 

The rules are as follows:

1. Open your first (oldest) photo folder in your computer library
2. Scroll to the 10th photo
3. Post the photo and the story behind it
4. Tag 5 or more people to continue the thread

This is my photo:

This is Missy Woo, aged just an hour old. Labour was fairly uncomplicated with her and progressed at a reasonable pace unlike her brother, but let's not go there. The only hitches to that point were that I was not allowed to deliver in water because of her brother's delivery classed as borderline postpartum haemorrhage although I was allowed in the birthing pool up to a point, and the midwife recommended I get on my back to deliver because of a bump on my cervix. This did solve the problem but was not how I wanted to give birth.

The fetching pink floral pattern is from a hospital gown that I put on so I'm kind of in the picture too. What it doesn't show is the chaos that ensued after delivery. There were 2 midwives present as she was born and as she was handed to me, things seemed to progress normally. All of a sudden, there were about 6 people in the room - I was being hooked up to drips, although I had already had a cannula put in my hand because of my history, they were helping the placenta to deliver, all sorts was going on. 

What had basically happened was a postpartum haemorrhage, only worse this time. I lay there quite calmly and I remember them wrapping up Missy Woo and putting her in the cot by my side because it was hard to hold her. I found out later why - she was 9lbs 3oz, so with the cannula, a combination of tiredness through labouring overnight and no sleep, and her weight, my arm was shaking. Poor little thing was quite out of it and didn't really want to feed so she lay down as all this madness carried on around her, quiet as a mouse. 

After a while, they got the registrar in to do his, erm, stuff and check me out. I remember having a cuff on my arm put so they could check my blood pressure automatically on a regular basis. After a while, the delivering midwife said "you do realise you've lost 4 pints of blood, don't you? We need to check you are OK before we take you down to the ward." Um, no, I didn't but it did explain why everything went so mad. My husband disappeared outside for a long time to call grandparents and the like so for a while, I was left alone looking at my daughter in a hospital cot. 

Eventually, I asked for Missy Woo to be given back to me, and my husband took this shot. As you can see, she was born with really long slender fingers which everyone used to comment on when she was a baby. I was still hooked up to the drip at this point and remained this way for a long time. I was actually transferred down to the ward at lunchtime- she was born at 4.52 am - but in a bed as I was not allowed to stand up. It was not until 7pm (by which time I'd been on my back for 15 hours) that the staff on the postnatal ward allowed me to stand up and go to have a shower. As it was in the really hot summer of 2006, this was not pleasant. The ward was sweltering, although the delivery suite was air-conditioned. 

In hindsight, I was very lucky. I was in the right place for it to happen and it was dealt with quickly. They had 4 units of blood ready from the blood bank to give me a transfusion but miracles of miracles, my iron levels stayed high and I didn't need it. The nursing staff were pretty amazed by this and I was subjected to a number of blood tests in the following days "just to check" but all came back normal which isn't bad when you've lost half the blood in your body. I'd had low iron earlier on in my pregnancy so I'd been religiously taking iron tablets and Floradix which turned out to be worth every penny. Still, I felt like a pincushion and you should have seen the bruise I got in the crook of my arm from all the needles they kept poking in my veins. 

So, that's the story of this pic, of Missy Woo's dramatic entrance into the world on 5th July 2006. She's still causing me trouble now. ;) Actually, she's funny, independent and scarily sharp-minded. Hmm, remind you of anyone?! Yes, that's right, her aunt.

PS I don't know anyone who hasn't been tagged already but feel free to carry on the meme if you have a blog and have missed this one. Add a comment to this post and link back to your blog, and hopefully it can carry on a bit longer. 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Sausages in Onion Gravy - a slow cooker treat!

I never had a slow cooker until last Autumn when I was trying to trim some pennies from the family budget and wanted to have a way to make nice food that didn't involve me doing lots of work or jars of sauce. I never use them, for the record. I am the woman that makes makes nearly everything from scratch without jars, packet mixes or the like. I make an exception for pesto though I do make that occasionally too.

In my local Asda, I found a bargain. A full size slow cooker for £7. I snapped it up. Since then, I've been experimenting with it and have had some hits and misses. One thing is for sure, I still need to get the liquid side of things right. I have ended up adding what feels like half a packet of cornflour just to thicken recipes to an acceptable levels as I hate really thin sauces. It's not helped that the one thing the slow cooker didn't come with is a recipe book so largely, I am feeling my way. The internet has been a great source but I do like my recipe books.

For Easter, I got a slow cooker recipe book. Yes I know, but I don't really do chocolate, me and anyway, I'm trying to be good. It's called "200 slow cooker recipes" by Hamlyn. Now, I dont think my quest for the perfect slow cooker book is out there but it does contain some nice things. I've already made Baked Ham in Cola from the book which was a big success, but another that caught my eye was Sausages in Onion Gravy. Now, I'm normally a grill them or casserole them kinda girl so I thought this would be nice as a change, particularly as I don't really do gravy well; at least, I don't think so.

The thing I have definitely learned from this book is that if you add liquid to a recipe, it must be hot. Now I know why many's a time I've had to turn it up to High at lunchtime to ensure it cooks properly in time for our evening meal. But no recipe I'd seen until now actually mentioned it so perhaps it fell into the category of "Unwritten Rules Of Slow Cookers That Nobody Talks About Because Everyone Knows Them. " Or not, or perhaps just me. Still, it's made a difference. I do have to remember that I'm cooking in the morning but the feeling that it's all under control and sorted when you get to the end of the day, particularly if the children are being, erm, challenging.

Here is the recipe. It suggests "gourmet" flavoured sausages but I just used a pack of decent quality sausages that were in my freezer. By decent quality, I mean ones that didn't shrink down to half the size and fill the pan with grease when I browned them. In fact, the ones I've used barely rendered any fat at all so you do need to add the oil to get some colour on the sausages.

Sausages in Onion Gravy

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower oil
8 sausages such as Toulouse or Sicilian
2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tsp light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp plain flour
450 ml / 3/4 pint beef stock
1 tbsp tomato puree - plain or sundried if you're fancy
1 bay leaf

Preheat the slow cooker if the instructions tell you to. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the sausages, and fry over a high heat for 5 minutes, turning until browned but not cooked. Transfer the sausages to the cooking pot.

Add the onions to the frying pan and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the sugar and fry, stirring, for 5 more minutes until the onion slices are caramelised around the edges. Stir in the flour, then gradually add the stock. Add the tomato puree, bay leaf and some seasoning and bring to the boil, still stirring. Pour over the sausages, cover and cook for 6 to 8 hours or until the sausages are tender.

The recipe says serve with sausages spooned into large Yorkshire puddings with steamed carrots and broccoli or mash. We had the mash option as the Yorkshires weren't an option for us due to husband's wheat avoidance. So mash it is. It's actually skinny mash so the potatoes still have skins on them, which of course is better for everyone - nothing to do with me being to lazy to peel the spuds, oh no. ;-)

This was delicious. I had a quick taste as the gravy went into the pot, and thought it might turn out too sweet. Over the cooking time, however, the juices from the sausages ran out into the gravy and added enough savoury flavouring to soften the sweetness. The sausages were really tender - easy enough for a 3 year old to cut easily with a plastic spoon - and nicely flavoured by the onion gravy. They looked like the gravy had seeped into the sausages if that makes sense.

My only criticism was there wasn't enough gravy but that's probably because I made it with 12 sausages, not 8. The gravy was just right in terms of thickness, a nice coating consistency but not so thick that it came out of the pot in dollops.

Given how little effort this was, I will definitely make it again. Sausages being a kids' favourite, I expected it would get a good response. They didn't let me down. Monkey and Missy Woo ate it all without question or complaint, always a bonus.

I think we can consider it a hit. Simple food, made simply, tasting really good. What else do you need?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A serious post - friends, bereavement and Facebook.

And probably off-piste slightly although the people I'm about to write about were part of my life for a while and so, to me, they are family.

In the late nineties when I was in my early 30s, I worked for a company that was a UK owned with a US office in Atlanta. I was their customer services manager and their IT manager. (I know, I wish I got double salary... ;-) ). As we had a US office, I didn't have much to do with support to US customers but I did have dealings with the support team there sharing information and tips, us helping them to chase fixes that were in development, and so on. In the course of my work, I came into contact with a lady called Ellen. Now, Ellen was the first person I ever met who used the phrase "y'all" without the slightest hint of irony. She was a Southern belle about 10 years older than me. Born in Savannah, she now lived in Atlanta and had worked for the company for years. We reached the stage where we were in touch daily, via the internal phone network about work problems, but we got on so well, our conversations inevitably spilled over into work gossip and talking about other stuff.

That "other stuff" was quite a lot actually - we were both in our personal lives going through a lot of difficulties and coming to the point of making some very tough decisions about our respective lives. Ellen helped me through and I helped Ellen. We laughed and we cried - often in the same phone call -  and oh God, were we on the phone to each other a lot, timezones permitting. All I can say is it is a damned good job that the phone calls were going along a dedicated line and weren't charged by the minute because I suspect we would have both been in big trouble, though I hasten to add, we never let work go totally by the wayside. She had a brilliant sense of humour and was full of stories, about work colleagues, our boss (we could've written a book), her life, anything really. She was warm and caring, and you couldn't fail to like her. Unless you got on the wrong side of her and then you knew about it. Thankfully, I never did.

Ellen loved Europe, largely because, at the time, attitudes to smoking were a lot more relaxed than in the US. She visited a few times for work, so we did at least meet for real then and she came to a sales event that the company held in Dublin and we must have spent four days catching up in person.

I probably would have worked at the company a lot longer had I not decided to make the move to Lancashire, because that was the major change to my life I decided to make for various reasons that don't concern this blog. But leave I did, and some time after, Ellen moved to the UK to take part of my job. We kept in touch reasonably well. I remember calling her after midnight at the Millennium - and she asked me if any planes had fallen out of the sky or the lights had gone off (we worked in IT and neither of us ever believed that would happen).

As she moved to the UK, she got involved with one of the other staff at the UK office. Jim was someone I had previously worked with and a true gentleman. Older than Ellen, he clearly adored her. Eventually, they married. Ellen loved the UK and happily lived with him in London. She really was living her dream, after a difficult time in previous relationships.

Although we kept in touch, the contact inevitably waned a little as life got in the way. Chiefly, for me, that was having children. However, not long after I had my second child, she got made redundant and they decided to move back to the US. She was from a Irish Catholic background and ultimately, she missed her mom and her huge extended family. They moved back to Savannah, where she was born, and was close to her mom again.

During the late noughties, I started to get in touch again with lots of former colleagues from this company, first through Linked In and then via Facebook. Inevitably, someone set up a group for former employees on Facebook. I remember thinking "I wonder if Ellen is on here" but never quite got round to searching for her, despite finding others through chance or design. I nearly searched for her one day but something distracted me and I never did.

And then, a month or so ago, I logged onto Facebook and for some reason, visited the group. On the wall was a post that day from another former colleague who'd worked with her in Atlanta for many years announcing that she had died suddenly at the weekend. I went numb; I was in total and utter shock. How could this woman, who was so totally full of life with a huge love of life, now be dead? She was only 55. What made it worse for me was the fact that I couldn't attend her funeral mass and also that the funeral fell on Monkey's birthday.

I heard about the funeral second-hand from those still living out there who went to say goodbye to Ellen. They passed on a message from Jim, obviously also our former work colleague, saying that he planned to return to the UK after he'd sold their place in Savannah. I heard that he'd been ill too but was bearing up. I couldn't imagine how he must have been feeling.

Then, about a week ago, Jim's name popped up on Facebook as a friend suggestion so I added him, thinking it would be nice to get in touch and send my sympathies about Ellen to him directly. I was not prepared for what happened next.

On Monday night, I was online and busy so not really checking my emails as they were coming in. Close to midnight, I looked down the list of emails to see that I had a message from him on Facebook. Unfortunately, it was not from him at all. It was from his daughter, informing me that he'd died too. I've since found out that he spent Easter Sunday with Ellen's family, having dinner with them all. On Monday, he couldn't be reached so they went to his place, whereupon Ellen's mum found him and in the words of my former work colleague who relayed the news to us, "he died of an apparent heart attack - or most likely a broken heart". For the second time in a month, I was bereaved courtesy of Facebook. Jim died almost a month to the day after Ellen.

To be honest, I am still in shock. It is all so terrible that I can't quite get my head round it at the moment. It is so desperately sad. The only comfort for all of us left behind that they are probably reunited now wherever their souls are now. Knowing Ellen, they'll be having a blast. They'll both be happy. At least I hope they are.

For me, this has been an odd time. I've heard of the deaths of people I've known online before now and yes, it has been shocking. But these people were very real to me and a big part of my life - and I found out about their deaths via my computer. I even had to compose a sympathy email to Jim's daughter who'd sent me the Facebook message as she gave me her email address. I couldn't not email her but at first I struggled what to say but eventually words flowed and I shared my memories of her dad as a work colleague.

These people were part of my life once, even if it was some time ago and we worked together for less than two years. It was an important time. I made some big decisions around then, largely with Ellen's help. They turned out to be the right ones, because more than ten years later, I am living in the same place in the same house. The thing I am finding hardest is the way we didn't make contact again before she died - and the same goes for Jim. It is too late to regret not finding them, but I am upset I didn't make more of an effort. I'd rather not have found out via Facebook with all the social networking that goes on there, but really, it was the only way I would've found out.

Next time I am thinking of someone and wondering what ever happened to them, I will go search for them straight away - even if I can't find them, I will at least feel I've tried. Life is full of missed opportunities sometimes. These feel like two of the biggest that have happened in mine.

RIP Ellen and Jim. May you be reunited in love forever.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

One of my favourite recipes - Salmon with Butterbean Mash

This was the grown up's tea in our house this evening. I first found this recipe in Gary Rhodes' Great Fast Food when I was off sick but bored enough to have a pile of books from the library. I now make this recipe from memory, so don't really need the book but I think I should get it again as it was full of lovely recipes you can make from scratch in an instant, which is so unlike later books from Mr Rhodes. I have one of his books that is lovely but I *know* I will never ever cook from because not only are the ingredients lists endless, the instructions frequently span more than one large page in fairly small type. Not for me, I'm afraid.

Anyway, I like cooking from scratch but I save this for times when I don't want to spend yonks cooking. I keep salmon fillets in the freezer and have a microwave fish cooker so often they get cooked in there, and sometimes from frozen. Done this way, I can get it made and on the plate in just over 10 minutes. If you wanted to be fancy schmancy, you could pan fry or grill the salmon which might take a little longer. You could glaze it, with orange/honey/mustard but you really don't need to. If you want to get another veg in to the recipe, you could add some wilted spinach but that would use another pan. Another of my favourite things is one-pot cooking but this most definitely ain't. In my house, the rule is "I cook, you clear up" so I don't really care! For best results, you need a food processor or hand blender but I guess you could mash with a masher or spoon although that would be a lot more effort!

Sorry for imprecise measurements - I don't have the exact recipe and cook it by instinct now. I know from experience this is bloody annoying when a recipe is not very clear but I'll do my best.

Salmon with Butter Bean Mash
Serves 2

2 salmon fillets
1 x 410g tin butter beans, drained
1 fat clove of garlic (or 2 smaller ones, or a squeeze of garlic puree, or some lazy garlic)
2 tbsp mayonnaise (can be reduced fat if you are watching the calories)
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped or torn - a recent variation I've discovered is to use dill instead if you like it, it works just as well.

Place all the ingredients except the salmon into a food processor (or bowl if you're using a hand blender or masher). Pulse the mixture until it reaches chunky mash like consistency - this is fairly broad church so feel free to leave it as chunky or make it as smooth as you like. Season to taste.

Pour the mixture into a small pan and place on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook the salmon fillets in whichever way you fancy whilst the butterbean mixture warms. You're really only heating this through, there is no need to cook it for any length of time.

When the salmon is cooked, divide the butterbean mash between two plates and place the salmon on top (if you're feeling arty, mine normally gets plonked on the side if I'm in a real hurry!). Enjoy!

If you're feeling ravenous, double the amount of mash by using an extra tin of beans and doubling the other ingredients for the mash. It will be seriously filling so be warned.

No pics yet because my food is not known for being picture perfect. Trust me when I say it was as good as ever.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

My day in reality

It mostly worked. :)

I wake up feeling fairly odd for reasons that don't concern this blog. I hear Monkey moving around about 6.30 going to the toilet but he doesn't come in until nearly 8, which was good. I stay in bed for a while whilst the men of the house went downstairs but eventually drag myself out and into gym gear.

The plan was leisurely breakfast, workout, shower. As it turns out, I eat my breakfast and before I know it, Monkey's turning on the Wii and handing me the stuff I need to do my EASA workout, about 10 minutes after my breakfast hit my stomach (Slave driver, much?!). Probably not the best idea, but actually, the porridge lump in my stomach distracts me from the pain of doing the exercises. Urgh. But I survive and complete another 30 day challenge, my second and this one on the hard setting.

So, onto the football. Monkey is beside himself, and puts on his Barca top specially for the occasion. (A PNE top for him might be a step too far for some in the family). He puts one of my caps on and despite being only 5, finds it fit with only a minor adjustment. He has a big head. I know, the trouble he caused me a birth is another story for another day.

After packing his fave snack (cheese and raisins) and some juice in an unfortunately orange bottle, we set off. Now, the rear seatbelt on my car is not working so I have a child car seat on the passenger seat so Monkey sits in the front. I never realised that he's such a blimmin' backseat driver. He tells me to get in the right lane so we could leave the M6, albeit a junction earlier than I normally do and when we approach the next junction, he's there waving his arms across to direct me left.

After a quick trip to the pub for sparkling water, (me) fruit shoot, (him) and sausage and chips (shared) we set off for the ground. It's a lovely day and I feel overdressed just wearing a top and a light coat. We walk up to the Splash statue. where I take a photo of Monkey beside and tweet it. There are more people hanging around here and there's more of an atmosphere. We wander around to our turnstile and I stop to get a cup of tea to take on (the tea in the ground is foul) whereupon I bump into some people I haven't seen in years. Monkey just wants to go in. He takes his own ticket and wanders up to the turnstile himself bold as brass.

Having found our seats, we settle in with Monkey's eyes now as wide as saucers. In front of us is the archetypal bloke you find at footie matches - large build, large voice, likely to block your view and pollute your ears. But this is the family stand so let's hope he keeps it clean.

The players come out and everyone claps. Monkey keeps looking around but seems to take everything in and  learns quite quickly. He sits crosslegged on the seat as the game begins, listening to the football coverage on my DAB radio with random comments like "Mummy! Hull have got 1-0.... " . He asks random questions, like whose keeper is that, who are the white team playing for (err.........),  and why is the ref's shirt so bright. The game settles into a pattern I don't like - we're doing all the defending, Scunny have all the chances. I'm just about to tweet something along those lines and we nearly score! The ground is quiet, too quiet, unless there is some action. The attendance is poor.

Finally, coming up to the half hour, we score after a poor clearance falls kindly. I'd had my tweet planned on this one "Beeeeeast! 1-0" for it is Jon Parkin who gets his name on the scoresheet and he's known as "the Beast". We jump up and cheer, along with everyone else. Monkey is being unusually well behaved. Let's hope it lasts, I think.

Half time 1-0. I get distracted by my phone at half time but we eventually take a trip to the toilets, whereupon Monkey leaves my DAB in a cubicle. Mind you, we've left it so late, the toilets are empty and it gets retrieved. There's not even a queue for pies but Monkey has changed his mind yet again and doesn't want one so I don't bother. The food part of this post is fast heading west.

We settle down for the second half and I decide to nab the DAB - see what I did there? - to listen to the Grand National. This becomes a Very Bad Idea as I'm half distracted by the race and all of a sudden, we're 1-1 after a shoddy backpass. Still, it would seem bad form not to tweet again so send my missive then hand the radio back to Monkey. He's getting more into now, egged on by the "Come On Preston" shouts from the woman behind me and aforementioned loud big man. Thankfully, his worst expletive is "sodding" and the only reaction his shouting gets from Monkey is hysterical giggles which makes everyone look round. A year ago, he'd have been pleading with me to leave because of the noise. He seems to clap in all the right places and kind of joins in with the singing.

A few minutes later, and the day takes a turn for the worse. Another apparent screw up and we're 2-1 down. Sit and think "this is it, we're getting relegated finally" and start to forget I'm with a 5yo boy so start to shout like the rest of the frustrated crowd. Monkey starts to shout randomly too.

The clock ticks down. 5 minutes to go. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a goal to us - the ball ends up in the box, and on the second attempt, we score with a header. 86 mins. 4 to go plus time added on. Shall I get him out whilst I can? Relief. Surely a point will help our quest to stay up? Can we get the extra two points?

They announce the time added on and the crowd roars the team on again. I ask Monkey if he wants to go now. He says "no, I want to stay to see if they win" so I give in as the crowd is not huge. The ball moves forward at the feet of the recently announced man of the match. Out of nowhere, he curls a shot - straight into the top left hand corner. We jump up, we shout - no, we scream! - we cheer, we clap. Just a few more seconds to hang on (when you're a footy fan, you soon learn to become a pessimist about your team's ability to hold a lead).

A few seconds later and it's all over. I worried about getting him out in the crush but needn't have - it's not too bad and he happily gets himself out without getting tipped over or booted. He wants to ring his granddad straight away but as he is a Blackpool fan, I decide it might be more diplomatic to wait a bit.

As we walk back to the car, Monkey decides he wants "tea" and so I buy a jumbo hot dog for him. He proceeds to devour this before we reach the car a few minutes walk away. As we set off home in the car, he says "It wasn't a good day for Scunthorpe, was it?". I laugh. We go home. He's been a little star today, my Monkey, and he's had a ball. As soon as we get home, Missy Woo rings to say hello - tho manages not to talk to me - and Monkey spends 5 minutes telling Granddad all about it, his first football match. He wants to go again but I don't think Granddad will take him to the last match of the season.

So, no pie. That's the food part of the blog stuffed for today. Or is it? I head out to Asda for supplies after getting back and make the world's quickest chilli which I stuff on top of tortillas, grate cheese over and grill to make nachos. I put avocado on top of mine to make it vaguely healthy as my veg content has been sorely lacking today. And to make matters worse, I pour myself a glass of wine. Healthy eating, it is not.

9pm comes around and it's THE game of the day. I write this post and watch El Clasico at the same time. Half an hour in and Messi takes a pass on his chest, gets the ball under the defender and past Casillas for the first goal. Madrid have some good chances but don't look like scoring so the first half ends 1-0 to Barca. Ten minutes into the second half, Xavi passes the ball forward to Pedro who coolly slots home. 2-0. Game over really. Madrid get the ball in the net but it gets disallowed. Not their day. They never look totally like scoring. The game ends and Barca go top of La Liga once more.

That was my day. A lot closer to the original plan than I thought possible. Not every day goes this well in the kateab household, believe me. We're all happy. 3 important points for each of my favourite teams. And I may yet make a PNE fan out of my son.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Tomorrow's plan - all five Fs in one day!

It's not often I get to combine all five of my favourite things in one day but the plan is for tomorrow to be one of them.

This is how it's likely to happen.

Family - spending some quality time with Monkey, the 5yo boy in my life. His 3yo sister, known as Missy Woo, is staying at grandparents whilst her room is re-decorated. This means I have to keep Monkey away from creating havoc in her room.

Fitness - the plan is tomorrow morning, I will do the last workout in the 30 day challenge I've been doing on EA Sports Active. It's the second one I've finished and I have done it on the hard setting so I'm very proud of what I have achieved so far, but there is still a long way to go and I'll start a new one on Monday.

Football - Monkey is currently obsessed with football. It's hardly surprising in this house as we all love it, but really, he takes it to the limit. He watches Sky Sports News endlessly, he asks if there is football every night, every morning, every afternoon. He's started collecting those Match Attax card as well. Anyhow, last weekend, he asked to go to a "proper" football match and I decided it was a perfect time to take him to one as I think he's more able to cope with the noise and the people now. I looked around and only two matches appear to be on in the North West of any note. Blackburn Rovers  v Man United on Sunday (fat chance of tickets) or Preston North End v Scunthorpe. Now, PNE is my team and I used to have a season ticket, right up until Monkey was born. However, his Daddy isn't - in fact, it couldn't be worse as he's from Blackpool, and supports the Seasiders who are Preston's deadly rivals. We have always got round this by saying that Monkey will support Barcelona - which he does - but as he's not coming with us to the Nou Camp when we visit in a couple of weeks, Preston will have to be his first experience of "live" league football. It's helped by the fact that PNE run a scheme called Mini Whites whereby registered under 8s can get FREE tickets. Off I trotted to Deepdale on Tuesday and one free ticket later, my little boy's first match ticket is mine for free, tho mine cost £22. We're going for the full matchday experience and no doubt, I will take him early so we can go visit the National Football Museum for one last time before it closes and moves to Manchester. Bastards.

Food - Monkey has already told me he wants to have a pie so a pie it will have to be. I've just found out they don't do butter pies at Deepdale anymore. Gutted. You may find me trawling the streets of Preston tomorrow lunchtime in my quest for one with a 5 yo hanging off my arm with a mad unsated look in my eye.

Fun - well, it will be if Preston win! We desperately need the 3 points so here's hoping. I am suspecting that I am going to be fielding constant questions and talking from Monkey. He's inquisitive (tho not quite as much as his sister) and talkative (ditto). His insights are hilarious sometimes so I'm planning on making his first match experience memorable. For both of us.

And when that is all over....... there is a bonus F.

Football (part 2) - tomorrow night is one of the events of the season in our household. It's Real Madrid - Barcelona also known as El Clasico or El Derbi (great anglicisation there). In the second half of the season, it's always more important and as we are united by our support for Barcelona and our hatred for Real Madrid., the need to win is even great. Barca have got to win as it will give them the upper hand in La Liga where the two teams are level on points. It's also an opportunity to watch Lionel Messi again. He's so on fire at the moment, he's scored almost a goal a game this season but has scored about half of those in the last couple of weeks, including the 4 against Arsenal on Tuesday. Great to watch, particularly when you're supporting the team he plays for. A great match is anticipated by all even tho there is unlikely to be a pig's head thrown on the pitch this time.

We normally combine this occasion with lots of tapas (more food) but mr k so far has been reticent on whether he actually wants to have some so I'll be flying by the seat of my pants. Monkey will want to stay up but as the game doesn't kick off until 9pm UK time, the only way he'll be seeing it is thanks to Sky+ on Sunday morning.

So that's the plan for tomorrow. Five Fs, one day. Will I manage it? Come back soon and find out.

So, this is me.

Welcome to my blog. I guess I'd better say hello. You are about to immerse yourself in the wonder that is my new blog. I've called it the Five Fs because they are the main focus of my life. My family is growing up fast (they are currently 5 and 3), I love all things food related and for a girl, I'm a big footy fan. The biggest drive in my life at present is getting fit and regaining that pre-children figure I once had. More of that in later posts.

I also like to have fun. I'm not very serious a good chunk of the time and always try to look at the silly side of life. It helps the day to pass to have a laugh, right?

So, that's it. Um. Hello. Welcome. More posts when I can be bothered.
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