Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pride comes before a fall. I shouldn't have been quite so chippy about tag clouds and html linking the other day, as I have just wasted aeons of time trying - and completely failing- to get any of the links I wanted onto the blog. It is a mystery to me. What am I doing wrong? A prissy, schoolmarmy sign keeps popping up saying "your html code is wrong, there is no closing code to match your opening code" - is she speaking ancient Aramaic? I have a horrible memory of the feeling I used to get at school a zillion years ago when I couldn't figure out what was going on in calculus and all explanations sounded like double dutch. However with age has come bloody mindedness, so I am determined that I will not be beaten.

READING: At the moment I seem to spend much of my time reading brochures for swanky shower units, sophisticated wash-hand basins, high-tech bathroom flooring and ceramic tiles. You guessed it, we are re-vamping our bathroom. Long overdue. So its lusting over bathroom porn for me right now. I must admit, I have been taken aback by some of the amazing systems that are available. Shower units which contain seating, massage bars, sound systems, flashy lighting, and even telephone connections (who would I ring when I was in the shower anyway?). Its another world.

The heat goes on, dear reader, and despite the weathermen continually predicting massive thunderstorms, localised flooding, hail stones like pigeons eggs and so forth, not a drop of rain has come our way - and we have this bloody hosepipe ban.

You can:
Wash your car at a car wash
Fill a swimming pool, hot tub or pond
Hose down the cat or dog
Water a vegetable allotment with a hose
Hose down a caravan, trailer, motorcycle*
Clean the patio with a pressure washer or hose
Re-use wash water, ie from bath or washing machine
Fill all the watering cans you ever want to irrigate your lawn
Spray water into a concrete mixer

You can't:
Water private gardens with a sprinkler or hose
Wash a private car with a hosepipe at home
Leave a porous hose running under your hedge
Connect up drippers to water your patio plants
Water the vegetables in a household garden
Use a hose to water planted containers anywhere in the garden
Spray water into a planting hole with a hose

I am among the millions who are really p**sed off with Thames Water, huge profits, high charges, leaks everywhere and my garden is suffering.
There has been a leak in a street near ours for ten days or more, zillions of litres of water are trickling away, and has anyone come to fix it -despite me and umpteen other people having reported it - no they have not. Its NOT fair.

RECIPE: Another good recipe for when it's too hot to go near a stove, and you want a starter you can prep in advance. Everybody seems to love this and I have given the recipe to so many of my kid's friends - I think young people like it because it is "snacking" food which you can eat when sitting around doing nothing with a beer in one hand!


Serves 6

4 smoked mackerel fillets
225g (8oz) cream cheese (eg Philadelphia)
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
Black pepper – freshly ground (don't add this if you have bought peppered mackerel fillets)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic, skinned and finely chopped
1 Tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Remove the skin from the mackerel fillets, and any bones you can find, put into a food processor or blender, together with the cream cheese, lemon juice, plenty of black pepper, the Worcestershire Sauce, garlic and parsley (the parsley needs to be chopped first, otherwise it tends to remain in little clusters rather than get broken down finely).
If you don’t have a food processor or blender use a pestle and mortar.
Whiz or pound until you have a smooth mixture, then scoop the pâté into a serving dish and keep, covered in the fridge until required.
Serve with warm brown toast.
Freezes well.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Yeeee hah! I've actually discovered how to create a tag cloud and insert it into my blog. This relatively simple action has taken me 2½ hours to do, I am learning, but slowly.

READING: I've always enjoyed reading crime fiction, and so I picked up a copy of Val McDermid's 'The Grave Tattoo' from the library as she is one of my favourite crime writers What amazingly complex plotting this book has. McDermid manages to link a modern murder set on a London housing estate to William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his famous poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Fletcher Christian and the Mutiny on the Bounty. The connections between them seemed very plausible, and I was absolutely hooked. I had thought I was going to be reading a "normal" whodunnit, but this was extraordinary. At the back of the book there is a bibliography - another first for a crime novel as far as I am concerned. McDermid's style of writing make all her books very easy reading, but they are certainly not simplistic.


Can anyone explain what Mini-Roundabouts are for ? I mean, what is the point? In quiet times they are not necessary, and in peak times the traffic on the main thoroughfare ignores them completely and you sit for hours trying to get into the system. They seem totally and absolutely useless...lorries drive right over them as if they can't see them- which they probably can't. Today I got carved up on a mini-roundabout by some boy racer with fluff for brains who fancied himself as Michael Schumacher. His in-car sound system belching out about 200 decibels of testosterone so that anyone within three blocks of him was forced to listen to what he considers as music. I was going to remonstrate with him that I was already ON the mini-roundabout and he couldn't just charge through, but figured that all I'd get for my pains would be the I decided to bring my road rage here and let you all have the benefit of it.

RECIPE: It is still horribly warm and humid and I can't bear the thought of hot food. This is an easy recipe, most of it can be prepared in advance. The quantities in the recipe make enough for 8 to 10 people if served as part of a buffet, but I also halve the quantities and make it for just four of us as a main dish.


2 Tablespns soy sauce
6 Tablespns brown sugar
6 Tablespns Balsamic vinegar
1 Lime, zest and juice
2 teaspns coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 Kg Salmon fillet
4 small shallots, finely sliced
400g fine green beans, trimmed.
2 teaspns toasted sesame seeds

Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, lime zest and juice, and coriander seeds in a bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves.
Put the fish in a shallow container, pour ½ the marinade over it and chill for at least
30 minutes.
Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for one minute, drain and refresh.
Dry the beans on kitchen paper towel and arrange on a serving plate.
Grill the salmon for 6-7 minutes until just cooked through, and then cool.
Break up the fish into large chunks, put on top of the beans, and sprinkle with the finely sliced shallots.
Pour the remaining soy marinade over the fish and beans, garnish with sesame seeds and wedges of lime.

If you wish this to be a more substantial dish, cook some chinese egg noodles in the usual way, toss them with a little sesame oil and put them on the serving dish before you put the beans and salmon on top.

Friday, July 21, 2006

I think I'm beginning to get the hang of blogging. There has been so much to learn and still so much I don't know. So far this week I have learnt how to put a picture into my blog, and how to insert a hyper link (click on 'Lime trees' in my rant to see what that means). I still don't know how to insert a list of links to blogs I like, how to get a 'hit' button - or any other kind of button for that matter, but hells bells, Rome wasn't built in a day! I'll get there in the end.

I've just finished reading "Home Ground" a novel by Lynn Freed. this was given to me by a cousin from Australia, who, like myself is an ex-South African. I try to read everything I can find which has been written by South African novelists post WW2. How Lynn Freed escaped my radar I don't know, but I am so grateful to Marion for giving me this book. It was chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of it's notable books of the year for 1986.
It is a novel of family life in Durban during the 1950s-60s as seen through the eyes of the youngest of three daughters of a bohemian Jewish family. The story takes the reader through ten years in the life of the family, with all the attendant tensions and anxieties of adolescence. The greater dramas of the political situation in South Africa at that time - Sharpville, the POQO threat etc - are reduced to mere background murmurs. I suspect that it is a very autobiographical novel. I enjoyed it as a novel of adolescence, but never related to it as I did to Barbara Trapido's wonderful book "Frankie & Stankie" which is set in the same place at the same time. None-the-less it is a great addition to my collection .


Every summer I get really fed up with the aphids. Of course I'd rather not have them on my garden plants, but it is the ones on the Lime trees which line our street that really get me wound up. The aphids produce vast quantities of a sugary liquid waste called Honeydew which drops onto everything beneath the trees including all the cars . Dust then sticks to this and the cars become filthy, it is impossible to see clearly through the windscreen but using the normal windscreen wash and wipers won't remove it. If that were not bad enough, this sticky waste attracts ants which feed off it, and also a fungus called Sooty Mould. I have been told that when the long-term parking lot at Gatwick Airport was being planned and built, some bright spark thought that planting trees would provide shade and make the place look better - so they planted Lime Trees, dozens of them. So now people jet off on two weeks summer hols and come back to find their cars a dusty sticky mess of Honeydew. Duh!

Unfortunately there are too many Lime trees in our street, and they are too big for me to do anything about this whole messy, sticky irritating situation - otherwise I would be running a massive KILL THE APHIDS campaign. God I hate the pesky critters - Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

Last night I had dinner at a local restaurant with a dear friend from Capetown and her daughter plus a motley crew of other young South Africans. We had such a good time, sitting out on a terrace by the street, drinking cold Pinot Grigio, eating Tapas, and talking nineteen to the dozen. I thought I should post one of my favourite Tapas recipes, one that is easy to make at home and is simply delish.


450g good Chorizo, sliced into 1cm thick slices
60 ml red wine2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs - parsley, thyme, oregano

Pre-heat the oven to 180°-200°C
Put the chorizo slices in a small, shallow, oven-proof dish (you probably know the little round brown earthenware dishes the Spanish use - choose something similar as this is an oven to table situation) . Pour the wine, garlic and herbs over the slices and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve with chunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices. Great as an appetizer with drinks or as part of a group of Tapas-type dishes as a meal.

By the way, it is still hot as hell. I think my brain may be melting so you must excuse all typos, spelling errors, grammatical absurdities and bad language. Toodle pip!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The heatwave continues, London is sweltering. In fact I don't remember it being as hot as this since 1976, the first summer I was married - and I'm talking about the weather not our sex-life!
I wonder whether the summers in the 1840s were this hot, when James Pimm who owned an oyster bar in London invented his famous drink. Apparently he considered it some kind of digestive tonic for his customers. With a canny bunch of investors behind him he produced a range of what he called "bittered slings". They were all numbered, No.1 is gin based; No.2 is whisky ; No.3 is brandy; No.4 is rum; No.5 is rye; No.6 is vodka. Pimms No1 cup is the most commonly sold and widely known. Last year 40,000pints of Pimms were served at Wimbledon!

I stopped buying the commercially produced Pimms some years ago. I was really cheesed off because the company reduced the ABV from 40% to 25% but kept the price the same - what a swick! (Actually Gordon's and several other gin companies did the same dilution trick too) But my luck was in, I came across the recipe for "Cheats Pimms" in the Financial Times - tried it out and have never looked back.

Right now I don't think I could read a book set in a desert, it would make me feel hotter than I already am. However I am not sure I could empathise with a book about a cold place right now - it would be too difficult to imagine the feeling of being cold. I just have to stick to reading something which doesn't mention weather/temperature or anything of that sort.
"The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton" by Kathryn Hughes seems to fit the bill.
Mrs Beeton is still a household name more than 150 years after her death - at a mere 26 years old - and this is the latest and most complete biography written about her. Her book on Household Management is much more than just a recipe book, but that is all many people think of when they think of her. The illustrations in her original book are wonderful - how differently we eat today.


What goes on in the mind of George Bush? how can he justify his deep concern for discarded frozen embryos, calling their use in stem cell research "murder", whilst condoning the killing by bombing of civilians in Iraq during the Gulf War, and the citizens of Lebanon right now? The people killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Israel are real, living human beings. A frozen ball of cells is just that, a frozen ball of cells. Sure the cells may have the potential to become humans (if circumstances are right) but they are not yet human beings.

Bringing God into scientific research is never helpful as far as I can see, and yet GWB depends on religious beliefs to explain why he has used his veto - the one and only time he has used the Presidential veto - to stop public funding of stem cell research in the USA. Weird, twisted logic. If I were an American citizen who had Parkinsons disease I would be depressed and angry.



1 measure of gin
1 measure of red vermouth
1 measure of orange curaçao
A good dash of Angostura Bitters

Mix all together - et voila!

Then dilute 1 part Cheats Pimms to 3 parts lemonade/ginger ale/tonic as you prefer.
Garnish with mint, slivers of apple, slices of cucumber plus
if you have any. I know some people also like to put slices of orange, strawberries etc but I keep it simple, its a DRINK, not a bloody fruit salad.

The measure you use just depends on how many people are going to be drinking it - I reckon that 35cl of each ingredient will keep 6-8 people happy through a summer picnic.
Oh yes, the other thing, don't buy expensive gin, vermouth etc - get supermarket own brand, it tastes the same but costs less.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Wow its been hot in London these past few days, as a result I have been waking up early in the morning when it is cool and reading for an hour before tackling chores. Thanks to my early rising I seem to be ploughing through books, mind you none of them have been what you might call heavy literature.
Its too hot to rant today

READING: I've finished "She May Not Leave" by Fay Weldon, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Very much in FW's usual style with intertwining themes of women, marriage and motherhood, and the perfidy and gullibility of men. As ever, she writes in simple elegant prose which is in contrast to the deadly shafts of character assassination. I know some people dismiss FW as a "woman's writer", but although her themes are similar to some of those in chick-lit she is head and shoulders above that genre.
I have also finished "What The Chinese Don't Eat " by Xin Ran. This book is a collection of the weekly articles she wrote about China and the Chinese for The Guardian newspaper between 2003 - 2005. She covers a vast range of topics from food to sex education. I think reading this book and her earlier one "The Good Women of China" is one of the best ways of understanding how Chinese women feel about life, the world, and their own society. She has also started up a charity, The Mothers Bridge of Love to help western families who have adopted Chinese children and the children themselves understand more about their cultural roots.

RECIPE: My dear friend Sarah who lives in Jo'burg sent me Lynn Bedford Hall's book "Return to Corriebush" as a birthday present. It is a sequel to her earlier book "Fig Jam & Foxtrot", both books are tales of life, love and food in the Karoo
Both books are lavishly illustrated by Tony Grogan.

Amongst the many recipes in "Return to Corriebush" is one which I think is ideal for this hot summer weather, and I am going to make it for Friday evening.


Half a ripe watermelon
250mls (1cup) water
30ml (2 Tablespoons) sugar
Approx 15 new fresh mint leaves (don't use big old ones)
Extra fresh mint to garnish

This will make 4 large or 6 small servings
Use a melon baller to scoop the watermelon flesh into little globes, discarding the pips.
Divide the melon balls between glass dessert bowls or wide goblets, allowing about 1 cup of melon per serving.
Bring the water and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, stirring at first to dissolve the sugar. Boil rapidly for 4-5 minutes. The mixture will be very bubbly but only slightly reduced as it is a really light syrup - watermelons are so sweet that a heavy syrup would be quite wrong. Cool the syrup and then add the mint leaves, use an electric hand blender to mix all together, but don't blend too well, you want to see the flecks of mint.
Spoon 2 teaspoons of gin over each serving, then spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the mint syrup over each. Finally snip extra mint over each serving. Cover with clingfilm and refridgerate for for about 24 hours.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Are you sitting comfortably ? ...then I'll begin.

Today is my 56th birthday and I have decided to celebrate by starting a blog.
Like thousands - millions ? - of other first time bloggers I am not really sure what I am getting into, but have decided to give it a go for at least one year, posting at least 3 times per week.
That will give any spectral readers I may acquire one post on Reading ( books, magazines, newspapers etc), one Rant, and one Recipe.

How hard can that be? I rant every day, I cook every day, I read's going to be a doddle. Here goes.

READING: I've just finished "Getting Mother's Body" by Suzan-Lori Parks, a book I'd never heard of before this week.This was one of the three paperbacks I got at my bookclub's Summer Swap Supper last Tuesday. I didn't intend to read it straight away as I have a To Be Read pile higher than Everest, but I had a quick peek at the first page or two, and then before I knew it I'd read the whole damn thing.
It is a first novel (or as the Americans would say a 'debut novel') and is set in Texas in the 1960s. The story is of a girl called Billy Beede who is pregnant and unmarried. Her wild-living mother has been dead for six years and there has always been a family rumour that Willa Mae had a valuable pearl necklace and a diamond ring buried with her. Billy and various members of the extended family, plus hangers-on including an ex-preacher and his one-legged wife, a lesbian transvestite pig breeder and a college student, embark on a race to reach the grave, dig up the coffin and get the treasure. Each character takes turns to narrate a chapter so there are multiple points of view which makes the story very lively and at times hilarious. Some of the quotes on the back cover compare the style and setting of the book to writing by the great American writer William Faulkner. This makes me realise how many writers I still havn't tackled, Faulkner being one of them - sigh.

My next read is to be "She May Not Leave" by Fay Weldon. I always enjoy FW's writing and this new book - published in 2005 - looks like a light frothy number which is just what I am in the mood for. I've borrowed it from the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution library, a wonderful source of reading material. HLSI is a members only organisation, and has a terrific programme of classes, workshops, guest speakers etc, but for me the big attraction is the library. It also has a comfy reading room with all the latest newspapers, journals, glossy magazines etc. There is a coffee machine, but the coffee is foul, and in winter there is a roaring fire. With a take-away latte from Cafe Nero, it is a great place to while away half an hour on a rainy day.

RANT: Why is this still able to happen in Britain ? - an intelligent, educated, 25 year old young woman Samaira Nazir is brutally stabbed to death in her home by male members of her family, in full view of, and with the compliance of her mother because she has refused to marry any of the men they want her to marry. And the family refuse to accept the young man she has chosen herself. In her community this is called an 'honour' killing - DIS-honour is nearer the mark. Why, in our school system, when kids have to do PSHE aren't they taught - particularly in areas with a high immigrant population - that in the UK you can marry whoever you choose, forced marriages are illegal, and 'honour' killings are murder pure and simple. Samaira was not living in some isolated village in a remote part of the muslim world where mediaeval codes of behaviour still prevail, she was here, in Britain, she should have been safe from such barbaric attitudes. But she was not safe, and she was not safe because we have been less than forthright with immigrants about the norms of British life and insisting they adhere to them if they live here. Is it because we are too nervous about being called racist or Islamist? We all pride ourselves on the tolerance of our society, but there are limits to tolerance, and we have to make that clear.

RECIPE: What is going on in Lebanon at the moment is absolutely ghastly. My heart goes out to those poor people caught up in this tit-for-tat war of attrition, missiles raining down on them. I could rant about that too but won't, as wiser folk than I have tried and failed to figure out the complexities of the situation in the Middle East. I have never been to Lebanon, but there is a Lebanese salad we all love and eat vast quantities of in summer, so I thought that this should be the first recipe I post.

125g burgul (bulgar/cracked wheat)
2 bunches spring onions, washed and chopped
250g tomatoes, skinned, chopped and drained
4 heaped Tablespoons chopped parsley
4 heaped Tablespoons chopped mint
4 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt + Freshly ground black pepper

Put the burgul into a bowl and pour in enough fresh cold water to cover. Leave for ½ hour to soak. Drain, then squeeze dry between your hands.
Put the prepared burgul into a bowl, and add the finely chopped spring onions, mint, tomatoes and parsley. Stir well to mix then stir in the oil, lemon juice and season to taste.
Leave for an hour before serving.
Keeps well in fridge for 2-3 days. Rich in vitamin C.

Once you start making this salad you will be hooked and find yourself making it every week. It is great in pitta pockets with left over ham or chicken, brilliant salad for a braai, or even as part of a mezze-style starter together with tzatziki and baba ganoush.

So thats it - I'm off to enjoy a glass or two of Cava and open pressies and cards. Toodle Pip!

Whoops! already made a ballsup, this post is dated 14th July, as I started drafting it then, but I posted it today 16th July and I didn't know how to change the date - so many details to learn.