Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Six things I learned over the festive period

Well that's Christmas over and done with - hoorah! I had a very lovely time with my family and I learned a few things along the way, which (in the spirit of festive giving) I'm going to share with you all.

1. Do not get involved in playing games. Your brother in law might tell you that the Post-it note game * only takes 15 minutes.  This is an outright lie.  It takes at least an hour, by which point you will silently hate everyone in the room, including yourself.

2. Despite the fact that your mother spent many hours pushing you out of her vagina and even more hours wiping your bottom, she will not hesitate to fuck you up by writing the name "Big Ears" on a Post-it note and sticking it to your forehead, thereby dooming you to an hour of evermore hopeless questions and guesses, at the end of which, your sister will essentially be forced to just tell you that you're Big Ears.

I hate you, Big Ears

3.  If you ask the question "Am I a humanoid?", you will mean "Am I human-shaped?".  However your sister will think you mean "Am I a robot?", she will answer no, and you will NEVER EVER guess that you are Big Ears, who is pretty much human shaped, when compared to, say, a car or maybe a tree.

4.  You will get to the end of the game and discover that your parents have no idea who the people stuck to their foreheads are, despite the fact that you may have been discussing them just prior to commencing the game (Aled Jones - Dad). Alternatively, they may have entirely forgotten what this person was famous for, rendering half the questions and answers completely useless ("Rusty Lee did cooking? I only remember her laugh!" - Mum)

* if you don't know what the Post-it note game is, you can find more information here

5. If you buy your family a cuddly reindeer that sings "We wish you a Merry Christmas" through the medium of fart noises, prepare to hear it A LOT throughout the festive period, especially if your four year old niece finds it hilarious. I can only imagine that by now it must have "run out of batteries" possibly forever.

6.  Other things small children find hilarious (apparently), include being hit repeatedly in the head by a dog's tail.  As a result we kept finding my two year old nephew bent over with his head by Murdoch's bum (a dangerous game in anyone's reckoning) getting whacked in the head by Murdoch's wagging tail and giggling.

As you can imagine, after all of the mayhem, it was really nice to get home and sit silently stroking Murdoch's ears for a bit, while staring blankly into space and wondering whether you will ever be capable of living with another human being ever again.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Fridge Soup

Sometimes life doesn't entirely go to plan. Take this weekend, for instance. I should've been in Nice running a marathon. I'm currently at home in a onesie making soup. So you see my point?  I'd like to get upset about this and throw some outrage at the situation. But I'm a firm believer in owning up when you've managed a situation poorly.  

I currently have an injured leg.  My knee is painful, which has been caused by my IT band tightening, which was caused by physio intended to fix my overloaded hamstrings.  My hamstrings are overloaded because my glutes are horrendously lazy and do not fire at all.  They just don't activate.  So here's my confession.  I found out about the issues with my glutes over a year ago when I had a biomechanical assessment as part of my membership induction at Charlotte Ord Academy. And I have done nothing about it.  So I can't get angry about not being able to run this marathon.  I'd love to be able to pass the blame for my poor performance onto someone, something else. But I can't.  It's all my own doing.  I have got better at doing my rehab exercises over these past few weeks, but it was far too late to be any help.

I had secretly held out some hope that I'd get to Nice and feel just fine on the day and glide along 42km of the Riviera coastline like some kind of bad ass, but walking around a golf course for nearly six hours in the pissing rain on Friday put paid to any of those notions.  My legs were fine at the start of the day, but as time went on and I creaked around 18 holes as an auctioned caddy for my friend's memorial golf day, it became clear that my legs would not be up to the task of a marathon.  I headed home afterwards to pack my bags and get an early night before my 06:25 flight to Nice.  

It was as I dithered around the flat in a desultory fashion that I realised that I didn't want to go.  I had been determined to go to Nice anyway, as my flights and hotel were non refundable.  And it's a nice place, Nice. But I didn't want to go there. On my own. In November. To not run a marathon.  So I decided to stay home for the weekend. And immediately felt less anxious.  I felt even more cheerful as I headed to Guildford to collect Murdoch from the Dog House and started to look forward to a weekend spent snuggling with the mutt. Perfection.

Which brings me to this week's exciting batch cook up

Fridge Soup

This is a simple recipe, with no need for a sous chef, which is handy, as mine is nowhere to be seen.

Where's Murdoch?
This soup is basically another really simple way of using up whatever veg you might have lurking in the fridge.  I had plenty, as I have started getting veg boxes from Abel & Cole again.  I am a big fan of the veg box, especially as Abel & Cole have changed things up to give you more control over what you get in each box.  However, with that said, there are times when the amount of veg in the fridge reaches panic levels.  Especially when you've spent all week shoving the veg aside to get to the pizza and eat that instead.  Come on, we've all been there.  

Firstly, I chopped up a couple of leeks, a couple of onions and some garlic.
Vampires can't get within 200 yards of me right now.
Then I warmed up some butter in my most enormous saucepan and chucked them in on a low heat to gently soften.
I've sprung a leek!
While that was going on, I chopped up some more veg: parnsips, carrots (including some lovely purple carrots, so nice to get the different kinds to mix it up a bit) and threw that in the saucepan.
A lovely, colourful mixture of root veg
 I chopped up some cabbage and threw that in too.
Then I threw some potatoes in, what's the point of soup without potatoes? Hell, what's the point if life without potatoes?
If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would probably be the humble potato.
I grabbed a couple of handfuls of lentils to add some bulk, rinsed them thoroughly and put them in the saucepan too.  
Adding a bit of bulk
I seasoned with plenty of sea salt and black pepper, chucked in a couple of vegetable stock cubes and lots of boiling water and left it all to bubble away on a low - medium heat for an hour or so.

Bubbling soup
Because I hate having chunks in my food, I got my hand blender out and blended the soup until smooth.
Smooooooooooooth soup
As I was feeling decadent, I served with a swirl of single cream and a buttered slice of granary bread. 
As I write this, the soup is still hotter than the surface of the sun. So I haven't put it into portion containers yet. But I think it'll be around 6 - 8 portions, which will see me through most of the week.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hearty Mince

I'm not a chef. I'm not even much of a foodie. I could quite happily eat the same five meals between now and when I die and not really feel too worried about the situation. Which means that cooking gigantic vats of food to eat across the week really suits my temperament, as well as my schedule.

And there's something about this time of year, just after the clocks go back, that makes me feel all autumnal and jolly and quite in the mood to batch cook the crap out of something. So tonight I cooked..... well I'm never entirely sure what to call it. Is it a bolognese if you're not serving it on pasta? Is it a chilli if it has no kidney beans? I have no idea. So instead, I'm going to call it 

Hearty Mince

The first thing to note about making hearty mince is the invaluable nature of the sous chef. Mine is quite keen on veg preparation, but soon loses interest thereafter.

Murdoch loves raw carrot
There is no set recipe for this meal, not really. I look at what veg I've got in the fridge, pop to the supermarket to add what else I fancy and chop it up quite finely, as I don't like having big chunks of stuff in my food. This time round I had onion, garlic, leeks, chillis (with seeds left in for a bit of ooomph), carrot, courgette (not chopped in this picture as I ran out of room on the chopping board), fresh peas and edamame.

Chop veg finely. Or don't. It's your dinner, have it how you like.
Once you've got your veg ready to go, heat up a bit of butter (or olive oil) and chuck the veg in a big pan to soften on a low heat. I left the peas and edamame out at this stage, to be added later.

Probably at least fifteen of your "five a day"
Next, turn up the heat a bit and add some mince. I bought two large (750g) packets of extra low fat beef mince from Tesco and forgot to take a picture of it cooking, mostly because my pan isn't really big enough to accommodate that much meat, so there was quite a bit of unseemly swearing at this stage. Please imagine a picture of a metric fucktonne of beef mince browning off with the veg. Thanks. After it was all browned off, I drained it a bit, as there was quite a bit of liquid at this stage.

Starting to look quite tasty
Add some herbs, stock cube, salt and pepper (and if you fancy it, a spoonful of Marmite. But not coffee, as Sainsbury's seem to be suggesting. WTF Sainsbury's?! Give it a rest), some tomato purée and a couple of cartons of chopped tomatoes. Lower the heat again and let it bubble away for a bit.
Add the peas and edamame
Near the end of the cooking, I added the peas and the edamame. They only need a light steam, so best add them towards the end, otherwise you risk ending up with green mush.  I popped the lid on so that all of the steam stayed in and left it alone for about 10 minutes.

Everything tastes better with cheese on it. FACT.

This made eight nice sized dinners, which you could serve with pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, veg or even eat just by itself. As you can see, I've popped some grated cheese on top to serve.

My final top tip is to decant into individual dinner sized containers, especially if you're a greedy bugger like me.  Then you have ready to go portions, rather than spooning gigantic helpings out of one big tub and wondering why it only lasted a day (come on, we've all been there).

Sunday, 4 January 2015

The Importance of friendship

When I was in my early twenties, as well as working during the day in an office, I also worked as a barmaid in a pub. I needed to do it to make ends meet, but it was also great fun and formed the greater part of my social life at the time.  One particular friend that I made was L, we immediately hit it off and our friendship grew as time went on, until she was my best friend and general accomplice.

Then one day a new guy started working behind the bar.  J was a few years younger than us.  I liked J from the start.  He had recently broken up with a long term girlfriend and held the general opinion that all women were dreadful, making him enormous fun to tease, which he took in remarkably good humour.

But L saw more and as their relationship progressed, she proved him wrong time and again, until he had no choice but to realise that some women weren't bad at all, that she in particular was great and that maybe he should keep hold of her.  Which was a very wise choice indeed, as it turned out and they got married.  I was so proud to be L's bridesmaid and to be a part of their big day, it was such a very happy time.

Life moves on, as it is wont to do, and over the following years, L and I grew apart.  She was married and having babies, and I (quite rightly) was not a part of that.  I was getting on with my own life.  But I never worried about her. Because she had J to look after her.  I knew that although life would have its ups and downs, she had everything that she wanted with J.

But I was wrong.  You should never stop worrying about your friends.  You should never let time go by without checking in.  Because before you know it a month has gone past. And then another one. And then before you know it, it's a year, then another one.  How does that happen?  Where does the time go?

If anyone reading this has fallen out of contact with people that they care about, then I urge you to get in contact with them. Right now. Pick up the phone, send them a Facebook message, however you do it, just do it.  If you know good people, then let them know that you care. Don't leave it until it's too late.

J died in a road accident on New Year's Day. He leaves behind him a loving wife, two daughters and a huge number of people who will miss him enormously. I hope he knows that I am one of them.  The world is a sadder place without him in it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Welcome to 2015

This year I feel like I need to shake things up a bit. I've been living very deeply in my comfort zone and while that's not necessarily a bad thing (it's so warm and cosy in here!) it's time to find out what else is going on out there.

So to get the year started off on the right foot, I'm doing another Whole30 and I'm also taking part in Janathon again this year.

I've also set myself a couple of goals:

1. To spend the first half of the year focusing on more high intensity exercise, rather than endurance stuff.  I'm going to try and get quicker over shorter distances, so no marathons for me until at least the second half of the year, possibly not until 2016.
2. To try at least one new thing a month every month this year and to blog about it.

So on the Janathon front, I decided that a good way to see in the new year would be to get up and get running in time to see the sunrise. I was able to pressgang a couple of my lovely running friends into coming with me (even though they'd only got to bed an hour earlier thanks to some enthusiastic *ahem* carb loading the night before) and off we trotted, through the woods to the top of Hydon's Ball, where we indulged in a spot of trig point planking. We were soon joined by some of our walking friends just in time to see.... nothing. Worst sunrise ever, very grey heavy clouds. There's probably a life lesson in there somewhere.  But we had a lovely time and all agreed that despite the lack of sleep and probably still high levels of drunkenness from some members of the party that it had been quite a good idea after all.
My lovely running friends. Except the monkey, I don't know that guy