Watching Masterchef


Proof that I can at least cook a good roast dinner - 
a certificate made for me by my niece!


It's ironic that someone like me whose culinary skills begin and end with a traditional roast dinner on a Sunday is addicted to cookery programmes on TV. Masterchef in all its incarnations is my favourite.

Masterchef: The Professionals is always mind-blowing - what those chefs can do with a dollop of a pickled turnip, a smear of passionfruit jus and a splash of shaving foam (my mistake, "citrus foam")  is nobody's business. 

Masterchef for the hoi polloi is slightly different because those contestants are trying so hard to impress. Often too hard. You are briefly cheered when one of them says they are making fish and chips. Then your heart sinks when you realise the fish is flash-seared red-lipped batfish in tempura and there are three (THREE! Not enough to keep a flea alive) chips of sweet potato flavoured with umibudo seaweed and a sprinkling of guava dust.  There's not a mushy pea in sight, but colour is provided by pearls of pureed yam.

There's the ubiquitous carpaccio of thin slices of raw meat or fish. RAW. Do they not worry about worms? Here's your carpaccio of llama liver doing the breaststroke in a coulis of ugli fruit.

Desserts come deconstructed, the ruination of an apple pie, with triangles of wafer thin pastry propped up over a strangled melange of Granny Smiths cooked in a perfumed bath, sprinkled with edible micro flowers and looking like a dystopian version of The Shard, the whole lot swimming in a sea of vanilla custard - or crème anglaise as we must now call it. Hey, don't drag we poor English people into your culinary madness.


A deconstructed apple pie...


Even so, good or bad, I'm always amazed at the level of expertise and imagination exhibited by these amateur chefs. I'm off now to watch last night's programme on catch-up, a dinner of cottage pie and carrots on my lap.

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Squirrel Armageddon




I love animals, of course. Who, apart from the odd psychopath, doesn't? 

I love my cat Toffee (who, incidentally, has written a book), I let dogs sniff my hand and then pet them  - if they don't look as if they're about to bite it off. I share Facebook videos of hippopotami and humpback whales doing what hippopotami and humpback whales do in the wild. My heart swells when a hedgehog deigns to cross my garden.

See? I love animals.

However... one word. Squirrels.

Yes, they're floofy and furry with big fluffy tails.  But...

Don't let the little bastards sucker you in. They swoop, like ninjas in the night, and nibble on things they have no business nibbling on. Like electric cables, causing a power cut so you can't shower in the morning or make the cup of coffee that's the only thing standing between you and temporary narcolepsy.

I have a theory that squirrels are really the spawn of the devil. My proof? THEY DIDN'T GET ELECTROCUTED. They sat in the trees with a squirrelly glint in their eyes, mocking my bleary-eyed attempts to rouse a man with a van from the electricity company, only getting off their fluffy butts to pinch bird seed from the bird table - yes, taking food from the mouths of God's innocent little creatures.

What's next? Armageddon? I pray they never join forces with those other spawns of the devil, the seagulls who pinch your chips while you're sitting on the seafront at Torquay. If they do, the end of the world is nigh.


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Losing Weight...Or Not





 
I've been trying to lose weight and have turned to the internet for help. The main suggestion seems to be 'shut your huge gob and get up off your fat ass'. I paraphrase.

Several people, though, said that writing down everything you eat helps you understand your eating habits and patterns.  Okey doke. Sounds logical. So I've made a start:

7am I fill the old man's lunchbox and eat  several chunks of ham while making his ham and tomato sandwiches. Cut him a slice of cake…and cut myself a small sliver to make sure it's not gone stale. It hasn't. Put in a packet of potato chips which reminds me there is half a packet of Cheesy Wotsits in the cupboard. Check they haven't gone stale too. They haven't. 

Breakfast: I skip breakfast as I'm not hungry. Decide stomach must be shrinking. 

11am I'm STARVING. Can't decide whether to have a very late breakfast or a very early lunch. Decide to call it brunch and eat two slices of buttered toast and peanut butter. While getting the bread out of the cupboard I spot half a packet of biscuits. They can count as "pudding". Do people have pudding at breakfast? They do now.

11.45am While working at my desk I spot half a packet of peanuts on my desk and decide I need the protein as "brain food". 

Lunch I'm not hungry. Stomach must be REALLY  shrinking, although sadly not noticeably so.

2pm I'm STARVING. Raid the fridge and find the rest of the ham, a hard boiled egg, more salad and some dried up cheese. Microwave a jacket potato. It's all a bit dry so I  put  butter on the potato and melt the cheese to go on top.

Dinner Chops, gravy, vegetables and mashed potato for the man. I have one small chop trimmed of all fat, vegetables and SALAD. Impress myself with my willpower.

9pm I'm STARVING. Eat a packet of cheese and onion chips and half a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits.

Next morning: Step on scales, haven't lost an ounce. Give up writing everything down.



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The Ballad of Barry and Freda





Victoria Wood



I have been reading a biography of Victoria Wood who died much too early at the age of 62 in 2016. I'm not sure if she was at all well known outside of Britain but here she was a national treasure. 

For those of you unfamiliar with her, she was a comedian - but so much more than that. She was a brilliant comic writer, a composer, pianist and author. Just to give you a flavour of her genius, here's one of her songs, The Ballad of Barry and Freda. I include the lyrics below, just in case you want to sing along!


 

The Ballad of Barry and Freda (Let's Do It)

Freda and Barry sat one night
The sky was clear. The stars were bright
The wind was soft. The moon was up
Freda drained her cocoa cup

She licked her lips. She felt sublime
She switched off Gardeners' Question Time
Barry cringed in fear and dread
As Freda grabbed his tie, and said:

Let's do it!
Let's do it
Do it while the mood is right!
I'm feeling
Appealing
I've really got an appetite

I'm on fire
With desire
I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

But he said:

I can't do it
I can't do it
I don't believe in too much sex
This fashion
For passion
Turns us into nervous wrecks

No derision!
My decision
I'd rather watch The Spinners on the television
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight

So she said:

Let's do it!
Let's do it
Do it till our hearts go boom!
Go native
Creative
Living in the living room

This folly
Is jolly
Bend me over backwards on me Hostess trolley
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

But he said:

I can't do it
I can't do it
Me 'eavy breathing days have gone
I'm older
Feel colder
It's other things that turn me on


I'm imploring:
I'm boring
Let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight

So she said:

Let's do it!
Let's do it
Have a crazy night of love!
I'll strip bare
I'll just wear
Stilettos and an oven glove

Don't starve a
Girl of a palaver
Dangle from the wardrobe in your Balaclava
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

I can't do it
I can't do it
I know I'd only get it wrong


Don't angle
For me to dangle
Me arms 'ave never been that strong

Stop pouting
Stop shouting
You know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight

Let's do it!
Let's do it
Share a night of wild romance
Frenetic
Poetic!
This could be your last big chance

To quote Milton
To eat Stilton
To roll in gay abandon on the tufted Wilton
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

I can't do it
I can't do it
I've got other little jobs on hand
Don't grouse
Around the house
I've got a busy evening planned

Stop nagging
I'm flagging
You know as well as I do that the pipes need lagging
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight

Let's do it!
Let's do it
While I'm really in the mood!
Three cheers!
It's years
Since I caught you even semi-nude

Get drastic
Gymnastic
Wear your baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

I can't do it
I can't do it
I must refuse to get undressed
I feel silly
It's too chilly
To go without me thermal vest

Don't choose me
Don't use me
Me mother sent a note to say you must excuse me
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight

Let's do it!
Let's do it!
I feel I absolutely must
I won't exempt you
Want to tempt you
Want to drive you mad with lust

No cautions
Just contortions!
Smear an avocado on me lower portions
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

I can't do it
I can't do it
It's really not my cup of tea
I'm harassed
Embarrassed
I wish you hadn't picked on me

No barter
Non starter
Feel about as sensuous
As Jimmy Carter
I can't do it
I can't do it tonight!

Let's do it!
Let's do it!
I really want to run amok
Let's wiggle
Let's jiggle
Let's really make the rafters rock

Be mighty
Be flighty
Come and melt the buttons on me flameproof nightie
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!

Let's do it!
Let's do it!
I really want to rant and rave
Let's go
Cause I know
Just how I want you to behave:

Not bleakly
Not meekly
Beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly
Let's do it!
Let's do it tonight!



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Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head



Cafe Culture

Things are slowly getting back to normal here in England. People can at last visit relatives, drink in a pub and go back to work. But there's one thing I will not do - unless forced to by misguided friends, and that's sit outside a cafe to drink my tea and nibble my scone (* cream first, jam second. Jam, I should tell my friends across the pond is what you call jelly). 

I live in England, a very green and pleasant land. And why is it green and pleasant? Because it rains. A lot. In England it is raining, about to rain or threatening to rain. I live in the county of Devon, which without a hint of irony, the tourist board dubs  "Sunny Devon". To be fair, it's not the rainiest part of England and it is one of the warmest. In fact, there's nowhere else I'd rather live.

From my house you can see Dartmoor in the distance. There is a local joke. If you can see Dartmoor clearly, it will soon rain. If you can't see Dartmoor clearly it IS raining! Dartmoor is a vast moorland with wild ponies, craggy landscape, tors, Neolithic tombs, Bronze Age stone circles and abandoned medieval farmhouses. Quite beautiful. 


Rain clouds gather on Dartmoor


But enough about Dartmoor, here follows my experience of outside dining. You plonk yourself down on a damp plastic chair. The wind gets up as it's about to rain. Consequently, polystyrene containers blow about your feet and dust clings to the jam. Your dining companion, putting a brave face on it, says something like: "This reminds me of our holiday on the Costa del Sol." I grimace.

Then the inevitable happens, Raindrops start to fall. We  scramble to gather up all our possessions - bags, tea, scones (cream first) and make a mad dash for inside the cafe. Everyone else outside has exactly the same idea. Elbows are employed to get a seat. We very, very slowly sip our tea and nibble our scones (cream first), eking out every mouthful as we wait for a break in the clouds. 

Eventually the rain eases and we peel our damp bottoms from our chairs and RUN (well, it's more of a fast waddle in my case) back to the car.

Friend says, "That was lovely, wasn't it? We must do this again." I grimace.

* Back to that cream and jam thing. There is some friendly rivalry between Devon and our neighbouring county of Cornwall about which goes first on a scone, jam or cream. If you want to know more, read this Cream Teas: Cream or Jam First?





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Oh Happy Hydrangea!



My lovely neighbour, who is a brilliant gardener, has created a beautiful English country garden out of nothing. There is colour all year round, a fishpond and a vegetable plot. 

There are arches with plants crawling around them and little paths leading to yet more horticultural delights. It has everything I aspire to have. I look across to her garden with envy. 

She must look across at mine and wonder if a localised hurricane returns every evening. She's too kind to mention it and instead leaves runner beans and courgettes on my doorstep. 

So I was quite pathetically delighted when today she told me she envied my hydrangea. Let me repeat that:  SHE ENVIED MY HYDRANGEA! 

I've been walking around on cloud nine all day!




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Just A Princess With Simple Tastes



Princess Margaret in Mauritius 1956


I am a simple English maid from a humble background so I had a little chuckle at how far removed my life has been from the higher echelons of society when I happened upon a recent article by a royal correspondent in a national newspaper

He was writing about Princess Margaret (for my friends from abroad who might not know, Princess Margaret, who died in 2002, was the Queen's sister). This royal correspondent told me the princess had “unexpectedly modest tastes”.

He backed up this assertion by quoting a recently-released document about the princess’s royal tour of Mauritius back in 1956.

The island’s governor was informed that Princess Margaret preferred “simple” meals, was not fond of either caviar or oysters and would rather drink wine than champagne.

I’m not sure how many British people were drinking wine with their meals in 1956, but not many, I’d wager.

Then, without a hint of irony, we are told: “Three or four courses (including cheese or fruit) for lunch, and five for dinner are quite sufficient.”

Quite sufficient? I should think so. Back in dear old Britain food rationing (because of the war) had ended only a couple of years before. By the time Princess Margaret was in Mauritius I expect lots of families were subsisting on meals like tripe and onions with bread and pork fat for a treat. And who among you, know what “sop” is? It was my father’s breakfast staple until he became “posh” and took to eating bread and jam!

For those who don’t know, sop was sugary tea poured over bread in a bowl and eaten with a spoon. It was quite a common dish in rural Devon, the internet tells me.

And, if you’re interested in words, sop, soup and supper all derive from the Latin suppa, “bread soaked in broth”. [Latin lesson over the day!]

I’ll bet a round of soggy bread that not a drop of sop ever passed Princess Margaret’s lips. I lived on a farm so I can’t pretend we ever went hungry. In fact, quite the opposite. 

We may not have wine or five-course meals but in our own way we dined as well as any princess.

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Artistic Licence



 
George Braques



I thought I'd share this little anecdote for no other reason than it brought a smile to my face!

As young men the artists Georges Braque and Andre Derain shared a rather long studio and each operated at one end of the room. 

They developed the habit of throwing things to each other and once they’d reached Olympic standard at hurling and catching any article regardless of shape, they worked out to throw a carafe full of water underarm the length of the room, spinning it backwards so that the water stayed in it. 

At the other end of the room the recipient would judge the rotation exactly and would catch the carafe by the neck as it arrived. 


Andre Derain



At the time it was common to be offered all sorts of wine in a restaurant, but it was difficult to get the waiter to bring water. One evening Derain dressed for dinner and entered the Cafe de Paris at the fashionable hour and ordered a meal and a carafe of water. 

A few minutes later, after Derain’s water had arrived, Braque entered and sat at a table about the distance from Derain’s as existed between their easels in the studio. Braque ordered his meal and then stood up and said ‘This is monstrous. I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes and I’ve asked for a glass of water and what do I get? Nothing!’

Those assembled were further astonished when Derain stood up and said ‘You want a carafe of water sir? Voila’ and he spun the full carafe over the heads of diners to Braque, who caught it perfectly, slowly poured himself a glass of water and flung the carafe back over the heads to Derain. 

‘Thank you. sir,’ he said, and both painters sat down as if nothing had happened.


Before you leave:

You can follow me on: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. As you can see, I have far too much to say for myse
lf.