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Showing posts from 2013

All this newness: happy 2014

My great-nephew Harri celebrated his first Christmas this year. He's five months of concentrated cuteness now and I'm sure he enjoyed the glitter and rustle, the cwtches and kisses. But he won't remember the event.
I've always imagined that it would be neural overload for babies and toddlers to remember all, or even some, of their new experiences, their first times. How could we possibly process so much novelty at such a rapid pace: the sounds and sights, the sensory explosions of tastes and textures that build to create a world we begin to catalogue and recognise? But I've recently discovered that we do retain all those individual fragments of information: it's just that our brains don't develop the ability to bundle all those fragments together and create memories before the age of between two and four.
Harri still has a lot of 'first times' to come and even though he won't remember them his parents will, their hearts beating out such joy and de…

'I just wanted to be sure of you.' And happy holidays.

We need that, don't we? Feeling sure of someone? A surety that allows us to trust them, feel safe. Or just feeling sure that even breached by many years the next time you meet your conversation will be a continuation: renewed, an easiness settling around you.
I have friends like that. Ones I might go months without seeing. Others who live in different countries that I might not see for years and years. You probably do too.
Hungry Writing Prompt Write about someone you are sure of.
These little almond and chocolate beauties arrived in the post today from our friends in St Pere de Riudebitlles, a village north west of Barcelona.
We haven't seen Engracia and Enric, and their sons Darwin and Gerard, for over 12 years. But between 1994 and 1995, when we were living in Barcelona, we spent most of our days with them. Tony made huge sheets of paper on the terrace of their house, as part of his Masters in European Fine Art, using paper pulp from the factory they ran and still run today. 
Enr…

Famous Names: the trickle and dribble of memory

Remember these? Christmas chocolates for grown-ups. At least they only ever made an appearance in our house at the end of the year and they belonged strictly in adult territory. Only the Harvey's Bristol Cream one blurred the boundary line. Perhaps because, at the end of the 1960s, I was allowed half a glass of sherry at Christmas then that little barrel of chocolate filled with the sweet, dark syrup was also viewed as an acceptable trespass. 
I do not know, yet, whether there is a little barrel of chocolate inside this box a friend gave me a couple of days ago. I am reluctant to open it and discover plain and uninspiring chocolate blocks, design beaten into submission by the passing years. I am also keeping possible disappointment at arm's length because the memory is a sweet one too: biting off the top, drinking the contents then allowing the remainder of the sherry infused barrel to melt on my tongue. There was risk involved in that approach though: a less than clean bite re…

The Vegetable of Doom

Mine was 'the frozen pea'. I could stare at them, corralled on one side of my dinner plate, for an hour without eating a single one. I didn't like their colour or their texture. And they had a strange smell: like green rainwater in an old garden bucket. Fifty years later I can deal with them. But let's be honest, they're a little too independent. There can't be a person alive who hasn't shot an 'escape-pea' off the side of their plate. 

I imagine a lot of us have seen our 'vegetables of doom' metamorphose into our friends. Unless you're a hardened enemy of the Brussel sprout that is.


But more on the maligned sprout later.
My brother-in-law's sworn enemy was the parsnip. He swears his mother disguised them amongst his roast potatoes, where they lurked, cloaked in gravy and deception.
You can't really get a more common and garden variety vegetable than the parsnip. At least not here in the UK, and possibly in the US. But when I was liv…

Welcome to The Hotel Decrepitude

You know those ads with 50-somethings bouncing around tennis courts with perfectly groomed hair and suntans that advertise, 'Fifty is the new Thirty'? Well, not around here it ain't. 
I don't want to be 30. I'd settle for, 'Fifty-five is the same-old Fifty-five' but my list of growing complaints is trying to convince me otherwise. I won't bore you here with the accumulation of details because I am trying to avoid membership of the 'Tasmalou Club' as the French call it.
T'as (tu as) mal ou? Or, Where does it hurt? A phrase I learned from Mme Riff, our beautiful and elegant French landlady in Juan les Pins as her husband launched into a description of his bad ankle.  Frozen joints, random lumps, the failing eyesight of a mole I can deal with. But telling me I can't eat butter? Or saucisson sec? Or my pungent and creamy French cheeses? Yes, it's the dreaded unreasonably high cholesterol reading. Which is either punishment for extended hedo…

Having a laugh. And lunch.

He gave me the post code, saw me putting it into the sat nav, so the third time he asks, Are you sure this is the right way?, I feel like poking him. Instead I say, firmly, You do it then! To be fair to him, the posh woman in the machine does seem to be sending us the very long way round. But at least it's a scenic route: the back lanes of mid Kent on an autumn day bright with blue skies are worth any detour. And as we appear to be heading more or less in the right direction I'm happy to take things slowly. But as we follow instructions to turn left into yet another narrow high-hedged lane Tony's resolve crumbles and he decides to ask for directions. 
There are rules governing the asking of directions. Don't do it in city centres after 7pm: you'll inevitably get the drunk. Don't ask people at bus-stops: they're there because they don't know the way to anywhere independently. If you ask someone and they say, Pardon?, just drive off: they're playing fo…

The reality of disappointment

Three disappointing food things:
cold chipsdiscovering your husband has eaten the custard tart you'd been saving for a snack during Masterchefdragon fruit1. is redeemable: a few minutes in a hot oven. 2. could provoke an argument if you didn't find the bar of chilli flavoured chocolate in the kitchen cupboard while muttering to yourself about 'greedy gits'. But there's nothing you can do about 3. 
Dragon fruit disappoint more deeply because of their vibrant exterior. Then when you slice one open the black seed-speckled bright pinky purple flesh almost makes you gasp. It's like nothing you've ever experienced in your life. 
Google searches throw up descriptions of its wonderful flavour: like a cross between kiwi and pear.But that wasn't my experience in the kitchen this morning: solid pink water is the most complimentary I can be.
The BBC food site offers a reason: Pitaya is widely grown in the tropics and, when eaten near to where it is harvested, is incred…

Forgiveness soup

I'm not going to divulge why I need to make this soup. In fact I tend to be suspicious of other people's confessions, the motives behind them, so I also suspect the motive for my own. 
Even confessions that make it to the printed page sometimes wobble along a a narrow line between confession and exhibitionism. Confessions don't always make for reparation. Sometimes they're just attention seekers. Sometimes they just make the confessor feel better. 
There's a strong argument, on a lot of occasions, for staying quiet, zipping it, putting a lid on it, keeping it to ourselves. This is one of them.
Why does this make a good forgiveness soup? Both as an offering and a receiving? Because it's simple. It's straightforward. It's warming. It has a texture that comforts you whatever side of the forgiveness model you happen to be sitting on. Or waving from, if the event was truly divisive.
You'll feel better after a bowl of this though.

3 leeks, sliced, and 3 carrot…

The evolution of the fish finger sandwich

Regular readers will remember this post where I upgraded the fish finger sandwich with hand-sliced black olive bread. Well, it has evolved further. Out of necessity. 

I wouldn't go as far as to cite the 'necessity is the mother of invention' proverb. And I think I can be pretty sure that Plato did not have fish fingers on his mind, or his plate, when he, allegedly, used those words. 'Necessity is the impulse to scour the cupboards' would be more accurate.
But talking about 'invention', who invented the fish finger? And yes, it was Captain Birdseye! Well, almost. It was a Mr Scott, of Birds Eye, who developed the fish finger at their factory in Great Yarmouth. It was gifted to the world in 1955 at a Brighton sales conference.
The Americans, as is often the case, apparently beat us to it with their 'fish stick' in the 1920s. Fish stick? Not very inventive at all. 
I found these and other insightful details about the FF in a 2010 article in The Telegraph. …

Flat and flatter: cars and ducks

(Please don't worry - there's no direct relationship between the car and the duck!)
There's a flatness to grey, wet weather, don't you think? Everything might be exactly how it was yesterday, every building, every tree, even the colour of the grass, but when I look out of the window it feels pressed upon, weighted down. It's like the sound an old bruise might make. The smell of a damp towel.
And just when you think things can't get any flatter:



But I called a very nice man. A very, very nice man. In fact, in the handful of times I've had to use a breakdown service I've never met an un-nice man. It's not just that they solved the problems: changed a tyre, refilled an empty fuel tank, or took me home. It's the manner in which they handled all that. They're like magicians: they make anxiety disappear. But that is coming from a woman who generally doesn't look under the bonnet of her car; a woman who has been meaning to get out the owner's …

Dancing with the pig

A pig that lives in a vault. A pig that keeps eclectic company. A salty, savoury, gently pulled pig. A pig from Cardiff. A Potted Pig. And dance I did: metaphorically and literally.
An old school friend had recommended this Cardiff eatery although Google shows that it ranks pretty highly for a lot of people, including Jay Rayner, food critic at The Guardian, who chewed and drooled throughout his review after it opened in 2011.

I booked a table on-line and chose the offered option for the set two course lunch at three o'clock. Nice to have a late lunch: the R&R after a necessary shopping spree in the city with my sister. But the restaurant called the day before to say that their on-line booking system was playing up. They only served until two so could we come then instead? And I'm pleased I did. 

If you're a fan of cockles, you're going to love the next photo. If you're not... you really need to rethink your eating habits. I know that they're not the most phot…

Oh. Venice.

In Venice there's a People Mover, a half mile long funicular-type overhead railway, that connects the cruise terminal to Piazzale Roma, at the western edge of the intricate web of islands, canals and bridges that make up the city of our imaginations. 
My flights of fancy about Venice were first fuelled, in the early 80s, by Pizza Express's Pizza Veneziana (a snippet of the cost of each pizza was given to the Venice in Peril fund) and, in the early 90s, by reading Thomas Mann's Death in Venice as part of my Diploma in Comparative Literature, a novella which is a fetid hothouse of decay and destructive eroticism. Hey, what's not to like?

But Venice has the reputation of being the most romantic city on earth and my first reaction, after stepping off the People Mover and wandering along the minor canals, is satisfyingly predictable. Every bend, every building, every wooden boat dock elicits a sigh. I don't even mind paying 12 Euros for a bottle of coke and an orange juic…

Livorno, ti amo

Livorno, I love you. I love your piazzas and statues, your brickwork and pavements, your streets and canals. I love the sound of water lapping against old stone and the musical rise and fall of your language. I love your one legged pigeons. I love your graffiti and your church’s trompe l’oeil murals that convince me I could walk through paint and plaster into light and shadow. And I love your mercato centrale, your fishmongers and butchers, stalls that sell candies and knitting wool, herbed mozzarella and ripe black figs. Livorno, I love your ordinariness, your honesty. The faces of your people. Your grazies and your pregos. And Livorno, perhaps you love me too.
And here are the rest of my Livorno photos, the city that captured my heart.






Hungry Writing Prompt Write, and keep writing, about what and who you love. 

Excess

I’ve worked out that there are only 30 minutes of each day when I cannot be sitting at a table and chowing down. That’s between 11am when the Waves Grill closes after breakfast and 11.30am when it re-opens for lunch.  And I wouldn’t have to restrict myself to breakfast in Waves; there’s also the Grand Dining Room, until 9.30am, or the Terrace CafĂ©, until 10am.  And I’ve just realised that if I’m really and truly, dangerously even, in need of sustenance during those barren 30 minutes I could always take a trip up to the 12th deck and snack on the miniature rolls and cakes tucked away, with fresh fruit juice, in the corner of Barista’s coffee bar.
Yep I’m cruising. I embarked as a passenger in Venice on 7th September and I’m likely to leave as cargo in Lisbon on 29th.
I’m wondering if people on an Oceania cruise reach an immunity level to the availability, quantity and astonishing choice of high quality, freshly prepared food. A little like  people who start work in chocolate factories an…

Like hunger

How to describe this feeling, this physical sensation, that has settled below my solar plexus. It is like hunger in its hollowness, in my desire to feed it. Because what has been feeding me for the last five days has left, travelling away from me, going west along the motorway, crossing the bridge over the River Severn from England into Wales, past the old port cities along the coast towards the smoky clatter of plant and towers of the steelworks that announces Port Talbot, then turning south towards the sea. They're home. And what remains of them here are bright memories, like illuminated shadows stretching across the grass.

My mam and dad, my niece, her husband and their two little kids have been staying with me. There has been pancake flipping, barbecuing and roasting, baking, jam making and wine pouring. There have been darts and frisbees, footballs and bingo games. There have been walks and runs and falling over. Rabbits and deer. Sunrises and sunsets. There has been laughter.…