Archive for April, 2009

Should fish of the day contain sausage?

April 28, 2009

I’ve just come back from a Saturday night away with my school friends, Superwomen each and every one, whom I have now known for more than 30 years, ever since we met as Supergirls during the terrifying, stomach swirling excitement of  our first few weeks at big school.  Organising time together is a bit like panning for gold.   Not very easy.  We are all of us busy with careers and children and relationships.  But once or twice a year we manage to hack out the golden nugget of 24 hours away together.

It may not come as a suprise that during these 24 hours we talk rather a lot.   We cover big topics, like the depression of a family member which is leading to over use of alcohol and the ex-husband who is starting another family with his new, younger partner and the impact this is having on our children, soon to sit GCSE’s and stroppy already.  We take it in turns to counsel and be counselled,  knowing (without knowing how we know) when it is our turn to  lead and our turn to be led, in much the same way we know how to do Dawnsio Gwerin.   In between the big stuff we talk about the small stuff – waxing v shaving, Grey’s Anatomy v ER, thongs v big comfy pants.  We laugh a lot.  We drink, more than our daily allowance of units but less than our weekly allowance in one go.  Just less anyway.   The one day we spend together is like seven days at a spa from which I emerge feeling calm and soothed, clearer about things in my own mind.   Altogether lighter.

We went out to eat in the evening at the Newbridge Inn, Tredunnock, not far from Caerleon www.thenewbridge.co.uk  This gastro pub with rooms has been on my list of recommended places to go for a number of years.  It is where my husband and I went for a night away a few weeks before our wedding for some calm before the storm; it is where we have celebrated a number of big family events and it is where on my recommendation two of my work colleagues were married (not to each other; there were two weddings).     The pub is right on the river Tredunnock next to the bridge and you can sit outside, held safe in the cwtch of the green hills around, and watch the water flow past and feel all calm and serene.  The pub is light and bright and has lovely log fires and the food is good.   BUT, watch out now, there’s a but coming….

Two of my friends don’t eat meat.  They ordered fish of the day which they were told was sea bass.  It was lovely they said, until they took a bite of what they thought was tomato which turned out to be chorizo sausage.  No mention of sausage had been made when they asked what the fish of the day was.   As they haven’t eaten meat for decades, this was an unpleasant, distressing experience but not wishing to spoil anyone’s evening by complaining they picked the chorizo out with the precision and delicacy of surgeons and ate the rest of their fish of the day.  As a lawyer, complaining on behalf of other people is something I do for a living.  I called over the front of house guy and explained the situation.  He was French I think.  He did a Gallic shrug anyway and said he would mention it to the chef.  Ten minutes later when it appeared he had perhaps not mentioned it to the chef, I explained the situation again to the waitress, who looked horrifed and rushed off to the kitchen to tell the chef.  Never to be seen again.  We paid our bill (in full and yes we tipped, it was the front of house guy who hadn’t mentioned the chorizo and we’d had some very good service from our waitress and another waiter and didn’t want them out of pocket) and we went back to our hotel.  We weren’t expecting drinks on the house or anything but we were expecting some sort of apology, an acknowledgement even.  Because in my view fish of the day should not contain sausage.  Or if it does there should be a warning to that effect.             

And so, as my Gran might say, the Newbridge Inn is off my good books.  And since no one at the Newbridge bothered to talk to us, I’m now talking to Superwoman.  All 1100 of you.

Superwoman by E J Catering – Wedding Season

April 23, 2009

The wedding season has begun!  I book myself monthly massages till the end of September as the hours I will crank up on my feet between now and then will be huge. 

 

Front of house the day flows with champagne, flowers, kisses, table favours, great food, smiling faces with a few happy tears, many hugs, too much drink and a bloody good holiday for the one lucky couple.  In contrast behind the scenes is such a mass of organisation it would make for a really good documentary. 

 

Every wedding is different. Each couple is bursting with their own ideas, tastes and styles and it all starts about a year in advance. But suddenly there’s a week to go and we really kick into action. Dinner rolls get made in their hundreds and the kitchen smells of fresh bread for 6 months. Huge quantities of meat, fresh vegetables, fillets of fish and bunches of glorious herbs arrive each morning. Trays of eggs get broken, separated, whisked and baked. Kilos of chocolate are melted and folded into litres of whipped vanilla cream.  Each and every item gets painstakingly prepared, cling filmed, labled and refrigerated.  Flower cups, filo baskets, crostini and truffles are made in their thousands. Hire lists of glasses, linen, crockery, cutlery, ovens, hot cupboards and tea urns begin to grow.  Counting and multiplying becomes second nature and before we know it the night before has arrived, which means double check lists, iron aprons and fill the crates.  I always have nerves now but would worry if I didn’t as I need the adrenalin to get me through.  Early to bed!

 

Packing the van is like moving house. Everything comes: pots, pans, ice, tea towels, chopping boards, washing up liquid, baking trays, oven gloves and boxes and boxes of beautiful food all ready for the oven or to go straight to the plate.  On arrival we assemble our kitchen for the day, the waitresses start the huge job of laying tables with precision and the room takes shape. The guests arrive, everyone is relaxed, the vows have been said but what is she wearing?  The kitchen heats up, building canapé platters, chopping garnishes, huge pots of reducing jus and artfully assembling the starter plates.    Sending out the main course I always feel like an air traffic controller, directing plates to tables like planes to runways, keeping things moving, keeping things flowing, and keeping one step ahead of the game.  Just as the hire equipment came out of boxes it must now go back in; just as the van was packed and unpacked it must now be re packed and once we get back to our kitchen it will be unpacked again!

 

Lemon Tart

1 Sweet pastry tart case

5 Lemons, zested and squeezed

400 Sugar

9 Eggs

350gr Cream

Bake blind and glaze the pastry cases, Zest and squeeze all the lemons. Bring the cream, sugar and lemons to the boil, pour through a sieve to remove the zest onto the eggs, beat and pour into the glazed pastry cases and bake.  120oc for 30 mins.

 

Bring on that massage!

Britain’s got something to talk about

April 21, 2009

I love Britain’s got talent.  It makes me laugh, it makes me cry.  Let’s face it there is nothing more entertaining than watching people with talent perform and nothing more funny than watching people without talent trying their best.  This is a programme that I can sit down to watch with my husband, ten year old son and four year old daughter which does not result in a plaintive request from one of us to “please can we watch my telly now” because BGT is telly for the whole family.    I love the fact that Susan Boyle and her “ordinary looks” have sparked such a heated debate about how women are judged on their appearance because the low level discrimination that women suffer on this basis throughout their lives is something that should be exposed.   A debate that Simon Cowell has fuelled again this week with his frankly rather creepy comment to a 21 year old dancer young enough to be his grand daughter that she was one of the prettiest girls he’d ever seen.   

The other thing about BGT is that most of us are watching it AT THE SAME TIME.  Yes, yes, I know all about the millions of You Tube hits but 11.8 million people watched the opening show of BGT.     This of course is how telly used to be when I was at school – there were just four channels to choose from and on Thursday night every single one of us would be watching Top of the Pops and on Friday morning every single one of us would talk about Top of the Pops.    Half the time nowadays you can’t even discuss telly because someone will stick their fingers in their ears, saying “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me, I’ve Sky plussed it but haven’t watched it yet”. 

It seems to me that in these times of financial adversity we are all of us, whether we know it or not, trying to recapture an older way of life.  Sales of comfort food like custard, rice pudding and chocolate pudding have gone through the roof,  people are once again holidaying at the UK seaside or at Butlin’s,  brands like OXO and Persil are re-using their old adverts and everyone is loving Ashes to Ashes.  This in essence is the secret of BGT’s current success.   It is telly that can become part of a family ritual of sitting down on a Saturday night and watching something all together after tea.    It is comfort telly.

Celtic Manor on the cheap

April 16, 2009

Here’s me been banging on about my new frugal outlook on life and then over Easter I cracked like the sugar coating on a Cadbury’s mini Egg.   I booked one night at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.   The few times I’ve been to the Celtic Manor I’ve always found it a slightly surreal experience – the hotel is so big and bling and North American and the golf course is so green and serene, it’s like turning off the M4 and finding yourself suddenly in the middle of High School Musical 2- but it had availability and a swimming pool and  a family room for four, two double beds, breakfast included for £122.   And boy, did we get our money’s worth for that £122.  

Our room was not going to be available till 4pm but we checked in plenty of time before then to have a swim.  Touch too much chlorine in the pool but nice fluffy towel each.  By 4.45pm we were ready to check in but our room was not ready so Mr S did his super moody face and we were offered soft drinks while we waited and a bottle of wine in our room.  Result!  One drink each in the bar to listen to the pianist and then off upstairs to our room to drink that bottle of wine and eat the picnic we’d brought with us in our M & S cool bag – parma ham, salami, salads, pate and french bread.  We watched Britain’s got Talent as we ate which was brilliant telly and that woman who looked like someone’s spinster Aunt and then sang like an angel will get to the final I reckon.  There is something bonding about all sleeping together in the same room every once and a while, like posh caravanning, and best of all we had a little balcony so could open the window and let in some air rather than endure air conditioning. 

In the morning we ate  enormous quantities of  breakfast – eggs and bacon, cereal, yoghourt and fruit, pancakes and smoked salmon for my four year old (Yummy, she said, I love fish.  Eat lots, I said,  you won’t be getting any lunch today)  and then we went swimming again.  Another nice fluffy towel each.  What with free parking thrown in we got great value for money for our £122 and most importantly we all felt like we’d had a proper break, just half an hour’s drive away from home. 

Before leaving we checked out the new Twenty Ten golf course that is being built for the Ryder Cup next year.  It looks amazing already and will look even better once it’s finished.    The Celtic Manor will certainly be a treat for all those who come for the Ryder Cup in 2010 and I’d just like to say a big thank you to Sir Terry Matthews, a Welshman who went off to Canada to make his money but who didn’t forget where he came from and has invested in the country of his birth.    I bet the Holiday Inn opposite the Celtic Manor is grateful to him too.    We should all be.  This is what was reported in Wales Business Insider’s email bulletin today:

Golf in Wales outplays UK

The prospect of next year’s Ryder Cup boosted revenues from golfing visitors to Wales by 13 per cent last year, according to Visit Wales’ latest Golf Tourism Monitor. It indicated that the number of golf visitors to Wales rose 1 per cent in 2008, bucking a 2 per cent decline across the UK as a whole. For the first time the number of day visitors has outweighed the number of overnight visitors. Spending per visitor rose 11 per cent to £177. Heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones said: “The marketing to raise Wales’ profile as a visitor destination will continue over the next year to demonstrate the quality of golf in Wales. It is already evident that hosting the Ryder Cup is having an impact on golf tourism throughout Wales.”

Superwoman by E J Catering

April 9, 2009

A few weeks ago it was my company’s 10th birthday.  It was a very proud moment for me as 10 years ago with no business plan or knowledge off I pottered to a kitchen at the back of my father’s house and started cooking.  I wrote creative menus and would then lie awake at night wondering how on earth I would execute them.  Having made the commitment I quickly realised how much I could learn from really challenging myself.

 

I felt a real challenge on my hands with this party to produce the best event seeing as it is what we do!!  It would be a show case to all our suppliers, friends, family, corporate and private clients as well as past and present brides.  We had simple but swishy invites printed, wrote a new, modern, creative canapé menu which I had printed onto a 8 foot banner, Ice to Art gave me a ice sculpture with my name carved into it and I served a good champagne.  With nerves in my tummy I put on a little black dress, guests started to arrive and soon the fruit of our labour, the kitchen’s commitment and hard work were paying off.

 

Here are a few of our simple canapés from the early days.

 

Smoked salmon with lemon, caper and black pepper butter.

Soften a pack of butter and add the zest and juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of chopped capers and a good grind of pepper.  Butter the bread with this butter and lay the smoked salmon neatly over the top, cut off the crusts and the canapé into 6. Neatly plate slightly over lapping.  They look best on a square or rectangle dish.   The flavoured butter gives this simple and well used canapé a lovely twist that you don’t get till your actually eating it.

 

Bloody Mary cherry tomatoes

Lightly roast your required amount of cherry tomatoes till the skins just split but the tomato holds it shape.  170oc for about 8 minutes.  Allow them to cool and with a small knife peel away the skins.  It is a bit fiddely but put on the radio. Make up a strong glass of Bloody Mary.  4oz vodka, 4oz tomato juice, a squeeze of lemon juice, a grind of black pepper, a dash of Tabasco and a pinch of celery salt.Marinade the cherry tomatoes over night.  Serve on a tea spoon and just pop into your mouth.

 

Crostini. A truly versatile canapé base and a good staple for any party

Thinly slice an uncooked par baked baguette and brush with butter, bake in the oven 170oc for about 5 minutes or till crisp and golden brown. 

 

Here are a few topping ideas. 

 

Mozzarella and roasted sweet peppers

Chicken liver pate and fresh grape

Welsh beef and horseradish cream

Caramelised onion hummus and a sliver of celery

Prawns in lemon and chive mayonnaise

 

At the end of the evening as well as at the end of 10 years I reckon challenge yourself, it’s worth it!

Life Flows

April 8, 2009

Recently, I was watching television and was mesmerised by one particular advert. This showed a man on crutches skimming through a townscape. It was utterly compelling television. I was captivated as I watched him negotiating crowds, queues and narrow streets with balletic aplomb. It was only when his spinning and twirling finished that I questioned what I had seen.

I agonised –

·        Had I been watching a skilful able-bodied actor making capital out of the predicament of disabled people?

·        Shouldn’t I feel that his dance had been politically incorrect?

·        Had I been complicit in deriding the experience of those with mobility problems?

 With such nagging thoughts tormenting me I looked up the advert on Google. There, among questions like ‘what is the music on that advert’ and ‘where can I get crutches like that’, I discovered that the actor is Bill Shannon, an American artist who lives in Brooklyn. He chooses to express himself, so Wikipedia says, through dance and skateboarding on crutches. However, he has a degenerative hip condition called avascular necrosis which means that the hip bone is deprived of blood supply and so bone tissue dies. I read this with a sense of overwhelming relief. So, now, I was allowed to enjoy watching the advert!  Although one of my ‘things’ is that I try never to be self conscious, self pitying, or self justificatory, I must admit that the knowledge that the man using crutches was disabled was a relief.      If the actor had been able bodied, I would have only been able to admire the advert covertly and would have thought that Visa had performed a cheap trick.  As it is, I love the fact that this advert, whose strap line, shown briefly at the end, is “life flows better with Visa”, shows a disabled man who is not being handicapped by his impairment.

 This did make me think though about what handicaps us all. Is it our sense of being self conscious or having self pity or feeling self justification rather than any impairment we might have? Maybe, we would be better off doing as Bill Shannon does and letting life flow.

 

Credit crunch cut backs

April 7, 2009

My husband resigned from his job with immediate effect a few months ago.   I won’t bore you with the background but overnight our income plummeted.    Drastic cost cutting was required, even with the cuts in interest rate.   What we found when we reviewed what we spent (for the first time in many years) was that we routinely wasted money and overspent on things we could really do without.   We also had a lot more debt than we’d realised.  Bank accounts that regularly went into overdraft and a few credit cards each were fine so long as we had two incomes coming in but came as a big shock when we went down to one and had to look at our debts overall, a bit like getting on the scales after Christmas.  It can’t be as much as that, surely?  

What follows are some of the changes we have made to save money:

  • I cancelled my gym membership.  I never went anyway.  Before I was fat and felt guilty about not going.  Now I am just fat.
  • We shop for food more carefully.  We have become people that prowl in the reduced items aisle and buy five loaves of reduced bread for 10 p each that we then freeze, we buy fruit that is in season and therefore cheaper as opposed to grapes (our kids loved them but they were horribly expensive) and have discovered the kids actually like tinned peaches.   We no longer buy ready meals and have become big fans of own brands which, with the possible exception of Heinz baked beans. are as good as the branded stuff. 
  • We take packed lunches to work and picnics when we go out for the day with the kids.     My husband was very proud that in his first week without work he ate lunch for an entire week for £1.10 – one of those reduced loaves and a pack of pate – which was about a third of what he used to spend on lunch for a single day. 
  • We make soup.  Soup is cheap and low calorie.   You can use up all the sprouting carrots and wilting cabbage that you have in your fridge in soup.  
  • I bought a twin pack of night cream and day cream in Tesco for £3.  Yes £3.  I could easily have spent £60 on two jars of face cream before.  Anyway antipeptides have been proven not to work now.  And I haven’t got appreciably more wrinkly since using the cheap stuff.
  • I’ve discovered that I don’t actually need new clothes.  I had a pile of quite good stuff languishing in the bottom of the wardrobe that just needed a bit of hemming or a button sewn back on.  And forget dry cleaning.  If it hasn’t got wool in it, bung it in the machine.  And if it has, sponge off any marks, hang it in a steamy bathroom and off you go. 
  • We buy cheaper wine.  Obviously I am not going to suggest you stop buying wine.  Perish the thought.  But trade down a bit.  You can still buy wine for £4 a bottle. 
  • We asked for a rebate on our direct debits for gas and electricity where we had overpaid substantially.  Amazingly we were owed £637. 
  • Motherhood what a sisterhood! – if your children need clothes or other kit, there’s a good chance you have a friend or relative or colleague at work whose kid has just grown out of whatever it is you need and will be glad to give it to you.  So ask. One of my friends just delivered two huge bin bags of clothes for my daughter who is absolutely delighted with them and so far is averaging six changes of clothing a day as she tries everything on.
  • This one is less innovative but more obvious – we aren’t going away on holiday or for weekends away or meals out – that’s how we racked up those credit card bills in the first place.  Our kids haven’t even noticed.

Now here’s the thing.  My husband got another job within six weeks.   We’re back to two incomes.  But we are keeping going with our more frugal spending habits because now we know exactly how much we wasted and how much we owe and we want to clear it all.   And actually I prefer the more prudent us.  We don’t waste food anymore and that makes us greener.  We value the stuff we have more and we’re not buying more stuff and that makes us more anti-consumerist.  Our concerted campaign to pay off our credit cards gives me a feeling of satisfaction, in a war effort battening down the hatches kind of way.  My husband says it’s a step too far to cut toothpaste tubes in half to get to the toothpaste right in the bottom but hey – I’m in the swing of it now.      

   

Tesco for Schools and Clubs – philanthropic or just marketing?

April 3, 2009

This is the time of year when, if you shop at Tesco, you get asked if you are collecting the school vouchers.  If you say no you don’t get any.  If you say yes you get some blue vouchers (1 for every £10 spent) which you can hand into your child’s school which they can then convert into computers and other equipment for the school.  This may seem very philanthropic  but my question is – why bother with the blue vouchers at all?  

Last year my son’s school collected the vouchers and the effort involved in collecting and collating them was immense.  Kids spent days counting the vouchers and bundling them together into the necessary units.  Mounds of blue paper were collected and sent off to Tesco.  Presmuably an army of people employed by or on behalf of Tesco then spent a lot of time administering the blue mounds before hopefully sending the whole lot to be recycled but who knows, maybe they end up in landfill.   I have been told that some schools do not take part in the process  because they simply do not have the resource available to do all that counting and probably think they should be using the time to teach children. 

At the end of all this your child’s school gets some equipment.   But not that much.   A basic computer requires 25760 vouchers, a spend of £257,600 at Tesco.  The poorer your area is and the less you spend on food, the less vouchers you get.    If Tesco really are that philanthropic  why not skip all this middle process and just stump up for some equipment for every school in every area based on their profits during a particular period?  That would be the really philanthropic, green thing to do.  Think of all the paper saved, all the additional profits to be taken into account from sales to childless people who aren’t collecting the schools vouchers and say no when asked if they are collecting.  The woman in front of me in the queue the other day asked that her vouchers be given instead to me, the next in line and with kids in tow, and was told by the cashier that wasn’t possible.   

Thing is Tesco, every little really does help.  And if you really do want to help just give our schools the stuff without all this jumping through hoops and wasting paper.  In Canada, Tim Horton’s the coffee shop chain have an annual Camp Day when money from all coffee sales (that’s sales not profits) is donated and used to send children to camp.  Last year they raised Can $8.8 million.  But if Tesco were to do that , there would not be millions of scraps of paper in circulation, all bearing the name Tesco would there?

Superwoman by E J Catering

April 2, 2009

My phone beeped. It was the text I had been waiting for! He had posted the keys through my letter box.    

I had a beautiful candelabra, crisp white linen, a filled iced bucket, a dozen plump red roses and a fabulous vegetarian dinner for two all in the back of my car. 

I had chosen to accept my mission, which was to let myself into the house, lay the table, plate the starter, put the main course, thoughtfully prepared for bullet proof assembly in the oven, light the candles, decorate the dessert and leave the champagne on ice.

An hour later they would return home and he would propose. 

In my excitement of creating this magical moment in a house I had never been to before for a women I had never met, I read the house number incorrectly on my text!   As i struggled with the wrong key in the wrong door, neither of which I owned and felt very aware of this fact a light come on in the corridor.  “Avon lady” was about my only thought.  An elderly gentleman opened the door, put me right and I pottered 10 doors up.

Some years back I went to an amazing vegetarian restaurant in Brighton called Terre a Terre.  The menu is exciting and smart to read, the presentation is exquisite and the flavour and fresh ingredients are creatively put together.  My starter below was very influenced from my memory of my meal there

 

The menu

A filo mille feuille of roasted cherry tomato, courgette and Jerusalem artichoke with a home made pesto dressing

Wild mushroom, puy lentil and tofu fricassee served with a tian of sweet potato and spinach

Dark chocolate cheese cake with a fresh orange and toasted almond salad

Coffee and petit four

 

The starter – serves 2

Melt 2 oz of butter and brush a sheet of filo pastry, cut into eight squares, sprinkle with sesame and sunflower seeds and cook for 4 minutes in the oven or until golden brown ( oven @ 170oc)

Roast 10 cherry tomatoes, 1 sliced courgette and 2 peeled chunky diced Jerusalem artichokes in olive oil, crushed garlic, fresh thyme, rock salt and black pepper.  Roast at 190oc for about 20 minutes

Pesto – in a small blender place 4oz of parmesan, 3 cloves of garlic, 6 oz of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Whiz till smooth.  Add 8oz of fresh chopped basil.  It’s a brilliant alive green colour with a rich smell that stimulates the mind.

To assemble /build– Put a small tea spoon of pesto on the plate and stick a sheet of cooked filo on top, gently place a spoon of the roasted vegetable and a tea spoon of pesto, another layer of filo, another gentle spoon of vegetables, more pesto and top with the best sheet of filo

Decorate the plate by spooning pesto around then cover the top of a bottle of quality vintage balsamic vinegar with your thumb and circle the plate.  Very chef-y

 

She said YES x