Monday, April 30, 2012

Fresh and Wild and Utterly Freeee..

Fresh wild garlic - it just grows like crazy absolutely everywhere on the hill.
Pick it - stuff it in your pocket, under the pushchair, in your bag, rolled up in your jumper - take it home - wash it...

This amazing free delicacy is fabulous simply tossed in a salad with a handful of other delectable leaves - suitably dressed, of course. Or sauteed with onion as the basis of a soup or stock, or simply wilted and salted and served like spinach with caramelised garlic and butter as a vegetable dish or amongst a stir-fry. I mean - you name it, you can pretty much do it with this baby...delect-table 


Letter to a 16 year old

Dear You,

A few words in your shell-like: I realise that your comprehension of this may be at best, vague, at worst – confused. But one must endeavour to teach you a couple of things that the old folks rather forgot to mention, highlight, underscore or possibly, just SHOUT LOUDER at you.

Number One: Take Responsibility for Yourself and
Number Two: Boys: they may look exciting, but are, in fact, Superbly Dangerous.

Taking these two points into consideration you may use them to your advantage to avoid:
A)  Deep, shameful embarrassment
B)  Wretchedness, sorrow and pain
C)   A constant feeling of guilt.

Saying this, guilt does figure rather largely in your future – so it would pay to stop worrying about the choices you make now, and in the days and years to come.

Try and let these things go, water under your bridge so to speak.

All of these choices, mistakes and, yes, possibly successes will be the making of YOU, the shaping of YOU the very OU of YOU.

So, in conclusion, I advise you, Han, to accept yourself in your entirety – yes your white, soft, wobbly stomach included.

Learn to like yourself, and your mistakes, and your choices, because, you know what? 

It turns out your not that bad after all…

Sincerely Yours

Secretary to Your Life

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Parenting - the 1970's way...

Last week the Sunday Times Style mag informed parents, in a feature, that current 'cool' parenting involved letting up on the health & safety obsession and behaving more like 1970's parenting bohemia. Does this mean people actually listen to this diatribe and then model their lives around it?

It's like fashion isn't it: "this season lace and leather are IN" and so everyone, who needs to be force-fed, rush out and buy said leather and lace. I know this is all obvious and people buy into this shit and why not? But, by jiminny, it's enough to drive you crazy with frustration. "Ooohhh" harps on Vogue - knitting is IN - well - it never went bloody OUT, folks all over the world continue to knit, sew, create without having to be told whether it is fashionable dahhhhling or ney.

So, back to the 1970's - my dad used to wear his shirts unbuttoned almost to his navel, his sideys were super-long and fat and hairy and my mum, who was doing a silver-smithing course at the time, made him an enormous silver N medallion (N for Nigel), which nestled joyously amongst his dark forest of manly, (so I thought then and still do - despite the fact it's now silver) chest hair.

Hair has become a pre-occupation for the 21st century hasn't it? Single girlfriends inform me that, both males, and females on the dating scene are expected to be hair-less. I cannot believe it, what is more sexier and natural than a hairy man? A hairy woman - no-less. But shit - it's extreme - I worry for my children's hair's future - shouldn't they realise it's congenital and entirely NORMAL to have barnet all about?

But, ahem, back to the point...why do we always need to be told what to do. We as a 'civilised nation' have definitely lost our way haven't we? Have we lost the sense of listening to our inner voice, our instinctual understanding of right and wrong?

For me parenting definitely follows a kind of 70's crazy-paving path, presumably because I grew up in that great, hairy era and my experience was, generally, positive - give or take a couple of brown viscous hand-me down dungarees - and I aim to re-create that innocence and simplicity for my own children.

However, it ain't easy in the 21st century, lets be honest, holding onto innocence and 70's values - is, quite possibly laughable, but also bloody hard-work.

In my youth: ITV was EVIL and BBC was GOOD - it was that simple. Today, however the sheer amount of children-centred media is astounding - it is a saturated market. My mum didn't have to continuously screech 'NOOOOOoooooo' every-time we walked into a shop, due to the endless rows and rows and rows of children's magazines all suffused with cheap, plastic tat on the front and placed entirely at children's nose height. It has a name in the advertising industry: Pester Power. The toys, clothes the sheer adultisation of childhood today is horribly unhealthy - yet everybody who is, vaguely, intelligent knows that, yet no-one, none of us, does anything about it.

Few insist on a diet made-up purely of the BBC, brown dungarees, porridge and a general reigning in of all things considered unnesessary: the internet, wii's, consoles, mobiles ...but - the pressure is enormous and continues to grow as children grow older and outside influences get stronger.

Although I may be wrong in these decisions, I will continue to fight the onset of too much modernisation and adultisation for as long as I can, in a bid to fend for that brief pop at childhood innocence...we all once briefly tasted.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

5 Ways to host a half-decent Dinner Party

Hindsight is a beautiful thing and, over the years, I've learnt that when you invite friends for supper they generally like to eat something before, say, 10 0'clock. Thing is, with your buddies around you and the vin flowing - who wants to actually cook?

If, like me, you have a habit of getting over-excited during a dinner party and loose sight of your goal: feeding people - by downing an extra glass of bubbly or smoking a bifta; then suddenly find yourself at 9 0'clock standing in the kitchen, trying to focus on the back of a packet of rice... something must surely change; particularly if you want to invite these people again. The only bonus to this method of entertaining is that by the time you actually feed your guests, they are so plastered, and so ravenous, they will stuff anything in, with no thought to its taste or texture - just grateful to be consuming something, solid - finally.

Entering my mid-thirties has, appeared to, mature me somewhat and experience has left me wiser to feeding troops - thus I impart my, expert entertaining, knowledge henceforth:

1) Spoil your guests - by giving them a 5* experience. Offer them a cocktail on arrival or a glass of something ice-cold and bubblie. A Rhubarb Bellini is the height of English cocktail sophistication: Cook some fresh English rhubarb with a smattering of sugar and a little water - when cooled, whizz it up. Put your bubbles in the freezer an hour before folks arrive, to ensure complete coldness. On arrival, carefully pour a little of this stunning pink rhubarb compote into each glass - top with bubbles - stir - and enjoy this delicate and beautiful, quintessentially English, cocktail.

2) Choose just one course to stun and delight your people. Then you can focus your time on that while the other two courses, having been made in advance, are taken care of. I like to fiddle with a starter, knowing my mains are chootling away with no help needed, perhaps pan-fried scallops or Thai fish-cakes whilst a tangine or a Thai or Indian curry is slowly simmering in the background. Or perhaps an easy salad with greenleaves and some delectable cheese while you focus on a last-minute arrangement of sauted salmon or caramelised chicken as a main-course.

3) Everyone loves a pud and soo many can be simply thrown together. Never underestimate the power of pudding as the ultimate crowd-pleaser, whatever may have gone wrong before - if your pudding has enough chocolate or cream in it - you will leave your guests thoroughly grateful. Make it in advance and wow them with a chocolate or lemon or apple or nut or, anything really, tart - made with home-made pastry and served with thick cream - you cannot fail to score. Strawberry fool, lemon posset, home-made coffee ice-cream, apple granita with home-made shortbread...the list is endless and will always win you points.
4) Your biggest advantage to a fabulous dinner party is, of course, time. Having the time to prepare your dishes in advance means on the evening you can concentrate on that fiddly number and getting everything else ready. Plan and shop at least two days beforehand. So you have two full days for cooking ahead of you. Prep all your extras so they are ready to go, leaving you little chance of forgetting that finishing touch.

5) Those little extras mean a lot and give your evening a luxurious edge. Light plenty of candles inside and out, make sure, if it is slightly cool, a fire is blazing, with plenty of logs nearby to keep it stoked. Choose some cool new tunes to play, flowers freshly picked; a bunch of rosemary or some blossoms make for a feminine touch. A table cloth always adds an elegant nod to proceedings and along with napkins and candles gives your space an atmospheric depth. Fresh mint leaves for mint-tea, post-feast and fresh coffee and some little chocolates make for a full and sumptious evening.

Above all enjoy all of this yourself, the planning, the preparation; the success!! Bask in the compliments, relish the sounds of laughter, the tinkling of glasses and the sounds of your food being enjoyed and devoured around your table.