Monday, 31 December 2012

Resolutions Schmesolutions :o)

Purple fireworks display
If you'd told me at the start of this year that at the end of it I'd have a weekly radio show of my own I'd have looked at you sideways and smiled kindly. I'd also have been amazed if you'd told me that the most toxic female journalist of modern times would refer to this blog in a column following the fab Mumsnet blogfest event.

So it's with this in mind that I am starting 2013 in a novel way. I won't be detoxing or giving up anything on Jan 1st. Not because I have a perfect life or I am as good as I think I can be, but because I'm coming at this resolutions thing from a different perspective for a change. Instead of stopping doing something I'm going to concentrate on doing more of things I want to do better. By doing that I hope that I will spend less energy and time on the things that I don't need or want.

So, in no particular order:

I am going to make time to read. I was given so many great books for Christmas and I still haven't read the ones I got last year. I'm sure it's possible for me to make time in my day to read a little bit - although this might mean watching less Hawaii 5-0.

I'll be trying new sporting activities that I haven't done before. I've been doing the same exercise classes for almost 4 years now and while they are fun it's a routine for me and I attend because I feel guilty if I don't. That's not a good reason. I used to play softball and scuba dive and ski -  what happened to that action chick ? Oh yes I am a middle-aged Mum now, but that's no excuse is it ?

At least once a month I will go to the cinema and watch a movie - this may entail finding a movie buddie or I could go along on an afternoon when my boy is at nursery. This is all thanks to Hubbie being super generous and getting Sky movies so I can see films at home, but let's be honest sitting in a dark room at home isn't the same if you haven't overpaid for the popcorn.

I'm going to cook at least one recipe from each cookbook I own - and no, not just the baking ones !! Kind people have given me some great books full of recipes which I look at and go "ooh aah," but I haven't actually followed any of them yet.  My aim is to make a seasonal Slater stew, some gorgeous Gok gyoza and anything from the achingly beautiful Lilli Vanilli baking book I won from a fellow blogger. I hope to find some interesting new meals and to use ingredients I haven't tried to cook with before. I will, of course, share how this goes with you for good or ill (preferably not getting ill !)

I'm sure I'll think of other things as time goes on, but these are a pretty manageable start I think. They are already better than my original list which was:

To be able to afford to use Aveda shampoo and conditioner
To have someone to do my hair for me at home
Have a personal trainer to get my backside to exercise when I want to sit on the sofa watching Hawaii 5-0
The beloved Kitchenaid mixer which I really want to own, but I can't justify the cost of 
To be able to travel first class - anywhere

I realised that all of these were materialistic and made me sound like I want to be Madonna - which I used to when she was all cool and wore rubber bangles and lace in her hair, but not so much now.

Thanks for reading my blog and for listening to my show. If you haven't yet tune in at 1pm today or you can podcast it later.

Hope 2012 was good to you and here's to not turning into Madonna in 2013 :o)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Just the socks to rearrange then I can start on the spare room...

It's that bit between Christmas and New Year when I have set myself impossible goals to achieve while Hubbie is at home. Instead of actually sorting out the paperwork in the spare room I'm procrastinating like a professional by rearranging my wardrobes and sorting my son's clothing drawers. Next I'll be baking banana cake and fudge just for the sake of using up the butter !! Actually I did look up a recipe this evening to use up some ingredients I have knowing full well what I intend to do with them, but it kept me busy for over an hour.

my white cat sitting on a beige soft cushion
I always overestimate how much I can do with Hubbie at home. I'm actually far more productive when he's at work and the boy is at nursery as they aren't distracting me with their arguing, mucking around and general 'boy noises.' It's great hearing my son giggling away and the cat usually keeps me company and plonks himself on his beanbag or the nearest soft surface. I know we should probably be doing holiday stuff like trawling the sales for things we didn't want at full price, but I have a garage full of 'bargains' that I have to get rid of so I'm loathe to get any more of them.

Yesterday evening we went for a drive to see the Christmas lights in a street that was featured in the paper for having impressive decorations. When I was a child it was a family tradition that my parents drove us into London to see all the Christmas lights and my Dad would stop the car so we could all get out and look at the windows of Selfridges, Hamleys, Dickens & Jones and Harrods. It was a great night out and we really enjoyed it so I wanted to give my son a taste of what that was like for me growing up.

As we pick Hubbie up from work most evenings me and the Boy look for festive lights on houses and he now yells "Christmas liiiights !!!" as soon as he spots them. I like that he gets excited about the small things in life. Just as it has become a regular thing that we listen to the Big Ben 'bongs' at 6 o'clock in the evening and we both go very quiet just before the chimes then we take it in turns to do the best impersonation of Big Ben that we can. He usually wins by dint of sheer enthusiasm. Daddy is joining in while he's at home and he has a style all his own too.

So, I'll do the spare room tomorrow - either that or I'll rearrange the downstairs furniture again.

If you follow me on twitter or facebook you'll know how successful I've been :o)

Monday, 24 December 2012

It's Chriiiiiiistmaaaaaaas !!!

white cat and Christmas lights in the window with sunshine Well it has been in our house for a while now. This year I put the tree up - with unprecedented speed - on the first weekend in December. If you've been following my foodie posts you'll know I've been baking festive food for weeks now. The presents were all bought and wrapped in plenty of time and we didn't overcater on the food either. We made a decision about where to spend Christmas in plenty of time and now the boy has been deposited with my parents where he will wake up to a stack of presents and some very over-excited grown ups. It's been so long since they've had a little child at home for Christmas that I think he'll be a bit overwhelmed by it all, but he'll have fun. We'll pick him up in the morning and then deliver him to Hubbie's parents for lunch and yet more presents. It's a lot of travelling, but he gets to see all his grandparents on Christmas Day so no one feels left out and we don't get accused of favouritism. We have planned and organised (well I have), so why doesn't it feel at all like Christmas even though it's only a few hours away now ?

I have a few theories:

- Maybe it's the lack of lunacy in the shops this year. I managed to get all my purchases with hardly any queues and didn't feel enraged by crowds at all. That might be a sign that no one has any money, or it might be that we're waiting for the sales (which were actually in November).

snow covered garden - It could be the fact that I'm not at work this year so I haven't been to any Christmas parties or lunches at all. Last year I went to one which was terrible and I wish I hadn't gone, but at least there was one grown up party. Without paper hats and inappropriate speeches it just doesn't feel like there is an end of year occasion coming up.

- What about the strange weather ? It sort of snowed about a fortnight ago and since then it's just been cold and sunny and today it's been raining and windy. That's just not Christmas weather is it ?

Of course it doesn't help that we haven't been to see Father Christmas this year. My son was supposed to meet him at his nursery, but on the day of the Christmas Party there was a power cut and they had to cancel. How prosaic a reason for not seeing Santa is that ? He took his gift gladly enough, but the magic is somewhat broken by not having the man in a red suit there in person isn't it ?

I'm sure there are plenty of people who are excited about Christmas - my son is one of them. Isn't Christmas supposed to be for children anyway ? When we go to pick up Hubbie in the evenings we pass a lot of homes with garish lights outside and I always point them out to my boy so now he gets all excited and shouts "Christmas lights !!" I'm not sure that I've imparted a lot of the tradition of Christmas to my son. My only excuse is that neither my family nor Hubbie's are Christians so essentially it's all about the food and the presents for us. I will admit that is not in the true spirit of things, but it is not uncommon either.

I'm always fascinated by the idea that this is the only time of year when some families eat together and that's why they argue so much. It's also supposed to be the time when warring couples call a truce 'for the children' only to separate in the New Year as though that is somehow better. Enforced jollity is pretty grim at any time of year and when we're all supposed to be eating rich food and watching the same programmes on TV it can be a bit trying.

That's not to say that I won't overeat or whoop with delight when I open my gifts or grit my teeth when my boy opens a noisy toy that he's been given by a well meaning family member (with the batteries already in - thanks a lot !).

And don't even get me started on New Year !

Merry Christmas :o)

Friday, 21 December 2012

Foodie Friday: fudge & fancy gingerbread

Last night I shared my bed with two chaps and there wasn't a lot of sleeping involved.  Before you jump to 'three in the bed romp' conclusions it was my snoring Hubbie and my poorly son - who it turns out has tonsillitis - who kept me from a graceful slumber. What it does mean is that today I'm fairly good for nothing other than mooching around the house mainlining cups of tea to keep me awake and being grateful that I don't have to go to work.

homemade peanut butter fudge
I am so pleased I had the foresight to do my baking earlier this week. If I'd left it until today I'd be in a lot of trouble. Instead I have managed to bake and box up the second batch of peanut butter fudge which is nothing like the first. I have concluded that I didn't boil the mixture for long enough or at a high enough heat the first time so it was gritty and a bit too soft, but it stands alone as a great sweet fix if not an accomplished fudge. This batch is darker, more solid and has the texture of indian mithai with the buttery taste and mouth feel that appeals so much. I also managed to score some fabulous kilner jars to put the fudge into (which I'm tempted to keep for myself actually) so that I don't have to resort to using those take away plastic boxes that always smell vaguely of chinese or indian food even after many washes.

gingerbread tree decorations - not seventies glam shades iced gingerbread star biscuitsThe other less successful bit of baking I did was the long awaited gingerbread kit from Waitrose. The mix was pre-made which required kneading to make it soft enough to roll out, but it was still too dry and kept breaking up. We did manage to get enough stars out of the mixture for my son's nursery party and some to decorate the tree with so it was sort of worth the effort. Once baked though the icing part was the next trial. There were two pre-filled icing bags and a small bag of 'edible glitter,' but the icing was too thick to pipe and did not 'smooth over the top' as the pack claimed. I'm particularly disappointed as this was a pricey £3.30 (and that was on special offer) and rather than being a fun activity to do with my boy it was just a bit too fussy so I won't be getting it again.

mincemeat palmiers alternative to mince pies The surprise of the week was how well the festive palmiers turned out that I had sort of come up with as a way to use up the remainder of mincemeat and some puff pastry I'd bought to experiment with. I popped some in a jar to give as a gift and I think they make a suitably light alternative to traditional mince pies. They're light and just the right size to have with a cup of tea - which for me is the sign of a good snack.

fudge and christmas biscuits in glass jarsSo that's almost all of my Christmas baking done. Once it's over I'm going to feel bereft so I was delighted to receive a call telling me that the boy and I have a place on the 'Baking Bears' course at our local children's centre. It's a course of classes teaching children some basic cooking skills and is always over-subscribed so it's taken us a while to get a place. As we're starting in January it gives us something fun and foodie to look forward to.

That and the boot camp I've signed up to do in January to counteract all the overindulgence !!

Monday, 17 December 2012

The migratory pattern of the tea drinking blogger

My show today was about international migrants' day which is tomorrow. It made me think about the reasons that people choose to leave their home country and live somewhere else. For my parents it was aspirational (well for my Mother it was to join her husband who had already settled over here). For others it is to escape a regime that they don't support or cannot live with for their own safety.

A childhood friend of mine moved to Australia last year after planning the move for around 5 years. I admire the bravery it takes to move your family and start a new life in a different country. I love the idea of living somewhere else, but the move from West London to South London was so traumatic for me at first that I think I'm a long way off from realistically emigrating anywhere. I love some countries that I've visited, but there are drawbacks to living there. Nothing as important as not being able to get Marmite (which you can in most places now) but the trivial things that I've learned are important to me :

cream tea with jam and clotted cream You cannot get salad cream in Romania - on a visit to a colleague she asked for some and was presented with 8 bottles (one from each guest) which kept her going until she came home again.

Tea is awful in America - in fact Liptons is only sold outside the UK and it's not good. They do a nice line in hippie teas, but not a good old fashioned proper cuppa.

It's pretty much impossible to buy tampons in India. I have tried over the years and can only surmise that it's a morality issue and the final frontier for sanitary product manufacturers.

greece - zakynthos Plumbing in Greece can't take toilet tissue (seriously after all these years still ?) I just can't imagine living somewhere where you keep used tissues in the bin next to the loo. Eugh !!

The cuisine in Cuba is inedible. Yes they have universal healthcare and education for all, but no food of note (the alcohol is good though). How did Hemingway cope ?

I'd love to live in Vancouver. It's been rated as one of the best places in the world to live and has clean air, a thriving Sikh community and fabulous skiing an hour away. The honest truth is if I don't see my family for a few weeks I miss them terribly. They drive me crazy after a few minutes of seeing them, but if I couldn't just make the decision to visit, if it took a flight and weeks of planning to see them I'd struggle.

So for now I won't worry about uprooting and moving away.

Oh and I'll call my mother.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Foodie Friday: Festive Fare

This year I've been a bit more prepared than I usually am and have been ahead of the curve on the baking front with Christmas food. Of course it helps that I'm at home and therefore able to prepare food while my son is either at nursery or sleeping, rather than after a day at work and a horrid commute. On cold days like these I prefer to be in the kitchen weighing out sugar and rifling through the cupboard for a suitable baking tin to line for delicious fudge.

Which brings me neatly to the first recipe with I found courtesy of a lovely friend who directed me to the BBC food website where I found Sophie Dahl's recipe for Peanut Butter fudge which is really simple and requires very few ingredients, but enough sugar to make you diabetic with one bite !

The only difficulty was in finding a suitable jar to put it in for gifts, but once I'd located these it was all good. Oh, that was until I discovered that one of my intended recipients has a nut allergy so I've had to rethink that - I mean how selfish is that ?

Homemade sweets are a great luxury item and presented in a lovely glass  jar makes them even more of a treat so I'm dead chuffed that I haven't scoffed the lot as the recipe make a lot of fudge - even for someone as greedy as me !

I had a bit more of a trial with the Christmas cake. I mentioned in a previous foodie post that I bought a mix from Waitrose that I've used twice before - it's been a bit hit and miss for me in the past as it's taken so long, but this time the box said it would take 2-3 hours so I had high hopes - even with an unpredictable oven that I've blamed in the past.

We had a rare night out planned and my sister was coming to babysit so I popped the cake mix into the oven around 2pm thinking it would be done in plenty of time. When it was still soggy 4 hours later I was becoming more than a little concerned that we would have to miss the Idiot Bastard Band to stay in and watch my cake not cooking ! Instead I left the oven on low and gave instructions to switch it off whatever happened after 5 hours had passed.

It did look ok eventually (if a little damp on the bottom, but less said about that the better) so I turned it out onto a board and covered it in marzipan and icing and my traditional snowmen decorations and festive ribbon. All I can do now is hope that when we finally cut into it the middle isn't gruesome !

Then this week I finally got round to making some mince pies and used up the marzipan that was left from the cake as mini stars for the topping of the puff pastry fancies. They're ok, but not quite as neat as I'd hoped they'd look. They taste fine, but I did already buy some fancy ones just in case my homemade ones weren't quite up to scratch. I have a bit of mincemeat left in the jar so I might do some festive palmiers based on the recipe I saw that uses marmalade and brown sugar - I'll let you know how they turn out when I finally get round to them.

So these are the advance guard of the food prep. In a week I'll be making the stuff that won't keep so well. Sausage rolls (meat and veggie) the aforementioned palmiers and the gingerbread stars that I hope my son will help decorate. His budding culinary skills were at the fore today as he created the taste sensation of chow mein with onion bagel (surprisingly good) and then stabbed the leftover bagel half and announced it was a 'helicopter' (propeller).

I may just let him plan our Christmas meal. My lad is a gastro-genius !

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

What was I doing at 12.12 on 12.12.12. you ask...

beautiful orchid on the bathroom windowsill The date today was significant to many different people. From the worrying doom-mongers to the spiritual and fluffy the main concern was that this date will not happen again for a hundred years or something. Well that also applies to yesterday and the day before as well as tomorrow and the day after that so why today has more voodoo attached to it is beyond my meagre knowledge of utter nonsense.

Now I subscribe to plenty of daft ideas (astrology, reincarnation, etc.) and I refer you to my last blog post for some of the inherited craziness that I still indulge in. However, even I struggle with some of the thinking that pervades days like today. So the numbers seem meaningful and hence we're supposed to do something special are we ? Well what's wrong with doing something good, kind, or life changing on any day. How about stopping at some point on a random Tuesday to smell the air or smile at strangers (be careful with that one - it can create confusion and worry) rather than waiting until it is special - numerologically speaking.

It reminds me of the tradition we have of the news story that runs in January on the 'most depressing day of the year.' Apparently it's the day:

-  we give up our new year's resolutions

- the cold, hard reality of winter sets in and Christmas and New Year are a mere memory

-  gyms see a drop off in new members turning up who have paid up front for a whole year (and therefore subsidise people like me who take up free trial days all the time)

- we realise that getting paid early on Dec seemed a good idea at the time, but actually February is still a long way off now that Christmas is over

- we look longingly at holidays to cheer ourselves up

yoga shala in Kerala sunrise And here is the crux of the matter. The most depressing day of the year story was originally run by a holiday firm looking to promote early booking for Summer holidays. It ran as 'news' and took on a life of its own so it's now an annual fixture despite it's dubious origins.

This makes me wonder who is making anything out of the whole 12th of December 2012 story. Is it even a money spinner for anyone or just a convenient run up to Christmas chance to get us all depressed in advance ? I've noticed that shops aren't nearly as busy as I expected at the moment. Is that because we're all skint or because we've not noticed that it's less than two weeks to Christmas ?

I've been baking and making for family and friends - when you're not employed it's difficult to justify spending on gifts - so I've been pretty busy. Hence, the realisation that I hadn't set aside a special moment to do something breathtaking at 12.12 today.

In case you really are interested I was tidying in the kitchen and preparing some soup for lunch which my son took one sip of and pushed away.

Totally worth it :o)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

There is superstition

white cat drinking from blue hippo paddling pool / sandpitOf course the big story this week was the news of a royal pregnancy announced before the traditional 'safe window' of 12 weeks. It became public because the family knew that there would be speculation about Katherine being admitted to hospital. This made me think about the superstition of waiting for the end of the first trimester before telling people. There are exceptions to this rule (family, nosy people, the ones who have to know) and some famous folks can't stop themselves telling everyone early on, but most people I know wait. This idea of 'not jinxing it' doesn't stop things happening, but it is the idea that once you've passed this 'safe' date things are less likely to go wrong and if they do it's more 'real.'

Other baby related superstitions I found out when I was pregnant with my son included the one that says you can't have a pram in the house before the baby is born. In my family this extends to anything for the baby which makes planning and shopping in advance really difficult. We got special dispensation from my Mum to have some baby things otherwise our son would have spent his first 24 hours naked and with no means to travel home.

My family have some odd superstitions that I can't explain with any certainty - all I can admit is that I continue to follow them even though no one is checking.

Washing (clothes and hair) cannot be done on a Thursday. I used to avoid Tuesday as well and some Indian families include Saturdays in the ruling, but I have no idea why. I mostly observe the rule for Thursday, except when my son has vomited all over his sheets and clothes on a Wednesday night and I'm afraid needs must.

Another household chores related ruling is the no hoovering after dark. This may be a common sense reason like you can't see the dirt so well, but I suspect it's far more voodoo than that.

One my Naniji told me that is pretty specialist is you can't store a handbrush handle side down against a wall. the long sweeping brushes they use to clean houses in India don't stand that well so it may be a common sense one again or it might be something to do with dirty side facing down.

My Dad is adamant about this one - if you sneeze as someone is leaving the house they have to come back home and wait a few minutes before they can leave. He is also deadly serious about not calling someone by name as they are leaving and properly loses his temper if you do this to him.

bunny rabbit and dalmation dog kissing under mistletoe Most people know the superstition about magpies and living as I do on a road with so many trees we see magpies pretty much every day. I still don't know if you can add up the ones you see consecutively or if you have to start counting again each time you see them. If it's the latter my day can go something like: Joy - sorrow - letter - joy - girl - sorrow - kiss - boy - joy.

I once bumped into a lad from school holding his collar and he told me he'd just seen a hearse and he had to hold his collar until he saw a cat or something. I don't do this one, but I still remember it.

My point is don't tell me a superstition - I have enough of them to worry about already and frankly they take up far too much room in my brain.

Thank you :o)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

World Aids Day

terrence higgins trust world aids day red ribbon logo Dec 1
In the early nineties I was a volunteer with the Terrence Higgins Trust. I didn't know a great deal about HIV or AIDS and the first weekend I attended to find out more about volunteering I almost turned back at Warwick Avenue station to go home. I was so nervous about being all wrong for it as I wasn't sure if you had to be a man, gay or have a positive diagnosis in order to be a suitable volunteer. Thankfully I met some lovely, friendly staff and volunteers who reassured me that it was more important to be able to commit the time and to be interested in people. I met the most diverse group of people I'd ever met in the subsequent training sessions and in the years that followed I discovered the range of life experiences and challenges that others face.

I was a helpline volunteer and this involved taking calls on all sorts of issues, not giving actual advice, but listening. I spoke to men who had a positive diagnosis, those who had a partner living with HIV and men who had unprotected sex while abroad and who were worried they had risked themselves and their partner / wife. I don't recall women calling that often, if at all. 

Often a person called during the 'waiting period' between a test and a result (which used to be a few weeks) as it was so agonising leading to many calls seeking reassurance and support. If a caller was HIV positive they might call to find out more about networks of support in their area as London was so patchy in the provision of care for HIV and AIDS - what we now call the 'postcode lottery.'

During the nineties it was still considered a death sentence to have a positive diagnosis and as I learned more about the virus - well as much as it was possible to learn - it seemed impossible that one day people would live with effective drug treatment. My mentor was an HIV positive man whose drug regime was so complicated it baffled me. Then there were drug trials and reactions and contraindications some of which meant being excluded from future new drug developments. 

The picture now is very different. The profile of people living with HIV and AIDS in this country is not just gay men. To be honest it never was, but at one time they were the largest single group talking about it and dealing with it. The population of some African nations have been decimated by AIDS leaving orphans to care for their siblings and for a while the phrase 'you look fat' was a compliment as it meant you were not dying. I sometimes wonder if I were still a volunteer whether I would be taking calls from women, or children or young people. 

When I was at school we were told that AIDS would be a massive killer and we had to be aware of our sexual behaviour and the consequences of unprotected sex. This message was terrifying as it was in conjunction with the apocalyptic 'don't die of ignorance' TV advertising campaign including an ad with a Frankie Goes to Hollywood soundtrack (ironically now being used in a John Lewis commercial). This fear of a deadly disease seems to have dissipated over the decades and we now have an upsurge in STIs in young people presumably as using condoms is just 'so old fashioned.'

I've seen a great deal of change over the last twenty years including the merger of many smaller HIV/AIDS charities and improved drug treatment that means people can now live for 20-30 years and have a quality of life that is nothing like the depiction of Tom Hanks' character in Philadelphia which was the closest most people had come to HIV when the movie came out. 

None of this means that the fight for a cure or for better education is over. What it does mean is that World AIDS day can be a celebration of life as well as a memorial for those who have passed. 

If you want to get involved or find out more take a look at - it's not just one day.