Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sport Relief 2010


Not content with moving houses and mountains, OH and A are running their Sport Relief mile this Sunday at 11AM.

As one of the UK's biggest fundraising events, Sport Relief brings the entire nation together to get active, raise cash and change lives.


The Sport Relief Weekend is taking place from Friday 19th March to Sunday 21st March 2010 and it'll be three whole days of energy, entertainment and events for everyone to enjoy. And, the best bit is, all the cash raised helps people living incredibly tough lives both at home in the UK and across the world’s poorest countries.


The money that we raise will help people leading incredibly difficult lives, including children like 8 year old Sapna who lives in Delhi, India. Sapna has to work because her mum is ill and her dad died when she was younger. She sells vegetables in a local market but sometimes she used to lose her money as she had nowhere safe to keep it. Life has been made easier for Sapna by a project called ‘Butterflies’. With Sport Relief funding they run a bank so that children like Sapna can keep their money safe. This security means that Sapna can help her family and save for a much brighter future.


If you would like to view a video explaining why Sport Relief is important go here and to see how your money works go here.

So far they have raised a staggering £265!!!!!!! Well done OH and A and of course, a massive THANK YOU is due to all who sponsored them. There is still time to sponsor them so go to www.mysportrelief.com/darrenandalfie to donate.

Update...

Hello All,
I have now taken to blogging rather than responding to texts, emails, phone messages as this can be done in one go whilst feeding B. I *promise* that when things go back to normal I will be a better friend and actually make human contact with you all.

Right so, what has happened? We got the keys for the new flat on Friday and remained suitably composed throughout the mountains of paperwork we then had to complete. Once out of the office, we did the happy dance and then we rushed to the car to make sure we didn't get a ticket whilst carrying B in her now very heavy car seat. Now we could be excited about the flat and what the future holds.

We arrived at the flat and promptly set to work. I had a certificate in my hand that stated that the flat had been cleaned 'deeply' and once I caught sight of the place was convinced that 'deeply' must be a euphemism as the cleaners clearly wouldn't know what a deep clean was if it hit them in the face with a bleach soaked J-cloth. OH sighs...I put on my rubber gloves. I would like to point out at this point that I do not have OCD (Well, I do but it's a copy of the latest Oxford Classical Dictonary), I'm just very particular about things (Yeah, Fran that would go down well at a support meeting...) and can spot a dusty skirting board from fifty paces. I then spend the entire day scrubbing the place with the silence being occasionally punctuated with cries of "would you look at that!" and "I thought this place was supposed to be cleeeeeaaaaannnn!". We have beautiful curtains to go up but I change my mind when I take the old pair down to discover some lovely panelling behind them. This promptly causes the dilemma of curtains or blinds and when I ask the OH his opinion, he just rolls his eyes and mutters something about it beginning all over again...whatever could he mean?


On the Saturday, we had our first visitors H and J who loved the place and are about to embark on their own moving drama in a matter of weeks. B is fascinated by H's hair (some people have long hair but H just seems to have masses of it and deserves her own category) and spends the afternoon trying to figure out ways of getting it into her mouth. I also take the opportunity to ask H the burning question of "curtains or blinds" which has now includes "what colour?" and judging from the laughter coming from the other room, the OH has overheard us.

Sunday and Monday were spent moving more stuff in with the car and breaking shelves...

Friday, 12 March 2010

B's Belly Laughs

 OH's brainwashing efforts...

It's f-f-f-f-f-friday! We're off to pick up the keys for the new place. B had her first really big belly laugh last night.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

I love it when a plan comes together...

The man from Sainsbury's has been, huzzah!

Right, so we got the flat obviously (if you've been reading the other posts) and all we had to do was to get the schools coordinated and then move. The letting agents gave us four weeks to get things in order and it seemed like loads of time. Well, that was six weeks ago and we're just about there. This tale could go on for ever so suffice to say that once we had to deal with bureaucracy it all went South. It took me weeks to sort this out and I spent every day for three weeks making phone calls, attending meetings, viewing schools and I'm exhausted. What should have been a fairly straightforward process was mucked up by pen pushers and educational psychologists who struggle to string a sentence together let alone post paperwork correctly.

At the heart of our problem was the fact that most kids with ASD take such a long time to make any real progress when they have been placed within special provision and this wouldn't normally be achieved within the time scale of primary school education and so transitions to other schools only happen at P1 and at S1. At these times the pen pushers can take their time and use 4, 5, 6 months to shunt paperwork back and forward. So throughout the entire process I was berated for not giving the local authorities this time scale when in actual fact when I got a hold of the relevant paperwork, tracked down the appropriate people, had a look around  different schools, told them about A's needs and asked if they would take A, all in all it took three days. The city's people were fantastic and sympathised with our plight at getting things done. I'm attending A's annual progress meeting tomorrow so I'll have a few words to say then.

So that is it. A will now be attending a fantastic school in the city and starts on the 22nd of this month. He is very excited, has his new uniform, has met his new classmates and has had a tour of the school. We get the keys for the new flat on Friday and I'm already shattered.

Is the grass really greener on the other side? Part deux


Where was I? Oh right...A = big, house = small, children x 2, education now with options, future = uncertain.
So it turns out that we now have options for educating A so what do we do? We have some time to plan for this as he had only started primary six. Meanwhile, I increase in size continually until B is born in the November. Recovering from the aftermath of this event, in the house, I become all too aware of how claustrophobic the place is. We then decided that our next move should be to Edinburgh as it really doesn't make sense for us to live out here any longer. While it would be a big change for A, if we moved during the summer he would have one year of primary left to develop new friendships that he could carry over into high school. So that was that, our plan for the future, to be executed in the future...

So I start looking at the state of the rental market in the city and have a nose at one or two flats in the areas that we had picked out for schools. Unbeknown to me, OH is at work doing the same and when I discover this fact, we then start emailing each other our finds and talking very late at night whilst feeding B about the logistics. We decide to look for a two bedroom flat as we already have this and the bedrooms are not the problem. All the ones we looked at were expensive and we beginning to realise that our expectations are a bit unrealistic. Or are they? I stumble upon a flat and immediately email OH, it seems perfect so there must be a catch. Over the next week we talk and talk and talk some more about how we could do this and decide to view the flat as surely there is no harm in doing that. to put the flat in context we arrange another four viewings in similar flats in the same area. They were all a bit rubbish so by the time we came to view this flat we weren't very hopeful at all. Looking at the website I fell in love with the place. It was near an area for fantastic schools and was (surprisingly/worryingly) in our price range and had a quirky kind of charm about the place. After a few years of living in a relatively modern built boxy house, getting back to the city and it's architecture seemed exciting. The place was amazing. A few niggles but nothing major and niggles that apparently only bother me and not the rest of the world (I can spot dust on a skirting board from sixty paces). So that was that, we had found the flat that we wanted and had 10 and a half hours (until the letting agents opened) to decide if we were going to go for it.

We were at the door of the letting agents five minutes before it opened and someone was already there! Oh no! While both parties filled out the relevant application forms (and I stared at the other applicants with the same intensity displayed by the baddies in the film Scanners) we were informed that it would take a week to get an answer as to who will get the flat. We went home and waited...

Nom...nom...nom.




 I have food on the brain. I was writing another blog post on our move but while waiting for the lovely man from Sainsbury's to deliver my noms, I thought I'd submit this instead.Lovely, because he laughs at my muscles or lack thereof when I lift in the shopping myself despite him offering to help. I love this schizophrenic season for food. On one hand, there are the more delicate brassicas like purple sprouting broccoli and kale on offer, parsnips, apples and pears are all in season and on hand to remind you of warming winter eats. On the other, though are radishes, rhubarb, aromatic herbs, spinach all the things that signal the beginning of spring and lighter dishes. So this weeks recipes reflect this madness. The first is Ouillade, a French bacon, cabbage and bean soup. It's less of a soup, really - more an entire meal in a bowl. There are as many versions of ouillade around as there are excuses for coming home late. All I'll say is that in the past I have used carrots and potato in with my soffrito of shallots, carrots and celery, puy lentils instead of beans, and bacon instead of ham hock. The cabbage is the traditional savoy cabbage or take advantage of kale this month. Other than that, my top tip is to use the best stock you can make or buy - it needs to have a good, deep, rich flavour. A thin stock won't give the oomph the ouillade really needs. It's got to be gutsy - warming, tasty, and full of flavour. So that the carnivores don't complain.
 
 Here's a basic recipe, play with this as you wish.

Ingredients

  1. 250g dried haricot beans
  2. 1 fore hock unsmoked bacon, weighing about 1kg
  3. 2 tbsp olive oil
  4. 1 large onion, chopped
  5. 1 large carrot, chopped
  6. 150g turnip or swede, peeled, quartered and chopped
  7. 350g potatoes, peeled, halved and chopped
  8. 1/2 savoy cabbage or 250g curly kale
  9. 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  10. 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Method

  1. Soak the haricot beans in cold water overnight (or buy them in a tin so no overnight faffing needed).
  2. The next day, put the bacon hock into a deep pan with 2 litres of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then cover and leave to simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning it over now and then as the liquid starts to reduce, until the meat is tender and falling away from the bone. Leave the hock in the cooking liquor until cool enough to handle.
  3. Meanwhile, drain the beans and put into a second pan with 1 litre of cold water. Bring to the boil, skimming off any scum as it rises to the surface, then lower the heat, cover and leave to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender. Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 10 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for 5 minutes until it’s soft. Strain 1.75 litres of the bacon’s cooking liquor into the pan, add the turnip or swede and potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, discard the skin from the hock and tear the meat into small, bite-sized pieces.
  6. Quarter the cabbage, remove the core and thinly slice (or slice the curly kale). Add the bacon pieces, cabbage and beans to the soup and simmer for 5-7 minutes until tender.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the garlic, parsley and plenty of black pepper. Ladle into large warmed soup plates and serve with lots of fresh crusty bread.

Because this week will be a bit hectic with organising the last of the things for the move and getting the keys to the new place on Friday I'm taking advantage of buying these ingredients and making another similar recipe that can be left to cook for a while: ham hock, split pea and mint stew. The addition of mint freshens up the dish and prepares the palate for spring time fun.

Ingredients

  1. 600g ham hock
  2. 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  3. 1 large onion, quartered
  4. 6 black peppercorns
  5. 150g dried yellow split peas
  6. 450g white potatoes, cut into cubes
  7. 150g frozen peas
  8. Small handful chopped fresh mint

Method

  1. Put the ham hock, carrots, onion and peppercorns in a large pan. Add 1.7 litres water, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 1 hour. Skim off any scum.
  2. Strain the cooking liquid through a colander into another large pan. Set the hock aside to cool slightly, pull off the meat and shred. Cover and set aside. Discard the bone and the contents of the colander.
  3. Bring the liquid to a simmer. Add the split peas and cook for 35 minutes, skimming off any scum. Add the potatoes and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the potatoes and split peas are tender. Stir in the frozen peas and cook for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Take off the heat and stir in most of the mint. Blend half until smooth, mix with the remainder and season.
  4. Divide the stew between warmed bowls. Top with the shredded ham and reserved mint to serve.
Enjoy. P.S The now not so lovely man from Sainsbury's is late and I've had to eat the emergency Kit-Kat chunky that I was hiding in my handbag. Shhhh...

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The light at the end of the tunnel is a train.

 
 Finally, we have secured a school for A, made sure that the appropriate support is in place and we move on Friday. Now to pack up all our worldly possessions, chuck out half of them and move to Dùn Èideann. Easy?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Argh...

 
*Disclaimer: the above picture is a dramatisation and bears no resemblance to our actual house. Could you imagine that? I would die!


'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

I have the cold, B has the cold and is teething, we are surrounded by boxes and I cant hoover as I cant see the carpet. Harumph.

Food this week has been of the comforting kind. We are still battling away to get A's school sorted out before we move and I threw a wobbly and declared the whole thing off at one point. Full of the cold and with stiffer resolve, my diary for the foreseeable is chockers.

Tonight, I'm making my Mac n' Chee (OH favourite) which is a secret recipe, I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you. So here's one I made earlier (in the week).

Vegetable Subzi Biryani

  • 400g basmati rice
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 4 large onions, sliced
  • small knob of fresh root ginger , finely grated to make 1 tsp
  • 1 garlic clove , crushed
  • 225g tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 250g Greek yoghurt
  • 250g potatoes , diced
  • 140g carrots , diced
  • 140g frozen peas
  • small bunch coriander , finely chopped
  1. Wash the rice thoroughly in cold, running water, then leave to soak in a bowlful of water for 1 hr. Once soaked, drain, then cook in plenty of boiling salted water for about 8 mins until 90 per cent cooked. Drain again and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions and fry until golden brown. Lift out half the onions with a slotted spoon and set aside. Continue frying the rest of the onions at a high heat until really crisp, then lift these out with a slotted spoon. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt and set aside until ready to serve.
  3. Return the first reserved batch of onions to the pan. Fry with the ginger and garlic for 1 min, then stir in the tomatoes, all the spices, the bay, yogurt and some salt. Cook for a few mins until the oil separates out, then add the potatoes and carrots with 400ml water. Gently cook for 20-30 mins or until the veg are almost cooked and saucy (splash in more water if the sauce gets too thick). Turn off the heat and stir in the peas.
  4. Spread half the cooked rice over the bottom of a large casserole dish. Spread the saucy vegetables on top, sprinkle with the chopped coriander, then evenly cover with the remaining rice. Dampen a clean, thick tea towel, lay it over the casserole and put on the lid. Set it over a very low heat and cook for about 30 mins. Spoon into a large shallow dish to serve, gently mixing the vegetables and rice as you go, then scatter over the crispy onions.I usually serve with a salad of red onion and plum tomatoes chopped with cumin seeds and a lime juice and oil dressing. Any left over yoghurt can be combined with cucumber, lemon, cumin and mint to make raita. 

World Book Day 2010


Hoorah, it's here again. WBD 2010. Although, A's school has been very quiet about it this year and it very nearly escaped my notice altogether. This brought on a five minute pondering about books, so I thought I'd share.

I love books. I really do. I'm a woman who loves to shop, to buy shiny things, kitchen items, baby/boys clothes, bags and shows etc etc. However, nothing is as exciting as a new book. Whether this is a recipe book, something on some facet of the Ancient World, fiction, something for the kids or whatever. I'm a bit of a neat freak and so there is a place for everything in a cupboard somewhere in our house and perhaps the only thing I have on permanent display is books  which means that when I'm not reading them, I'm looking at them. I love it when they're shiny and new and also when they're a bit dog eared, proof of the journey taken and ultimately, finished.

Either I am a complete sad case/weirdo but I was the same, if not more passionate about books and it strikes me that this is something that most kids nowadays (yes, I am officially old enough to use that phrase) don't seem appreciate. Reading becomes fashionable in a transient way only when Warner Bros or whatever big cheese has discovered the next Harry Potter (TM) want to turn a book into a film and then through merchandising turn the film in a book, an activity book, comic or some other film related tie-in. They read whatever is in fashion and then that peters out when the next new craze pops up. I very much doubt that the majority of children when faced with shelf upon shelf on books would reach out, grab one and devour it spontaneously without their mate suggesting one or parental pressure. A has always been surrounded by books and has a vast library himself. But in this day and age when everything is interactive and automated I am reluctant to admit that although he loves stories he would prefer to have them read to him or animated than to read by himself. The more it appears that education board tries to jazz up the act of reading a book by themselves the more it takes away from the pleasure of reading.

World Book day should be about grabbing a book and discovering a new make believe world, a solitary activity that helps a child grow but instead we have videos of books being read to children without books by the people who write the books. A good site, admittedly, if you can't get your child to read a book but one that also fosters laziness in parents. The death knell of the good book also rings for the state of adult literacy when the top ten bestsellers consist of 'biographies' of Jordan and Alan Carr. Shite like that shouldn't be allowed to be published. What's next? Heat Magazine, the annual? Pah!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Hmmmm....

Have decided to leave off the saga until tomorrow. I've got a meeting with a 'person in the know' so will remain confused until then. I have also sustained a serious and disabling injury tonight. After dinner, I decided to make a pudding containing ice cream and when I had finished dishing out the creamy goodness I thought it would be a great idea to lick the scoop whilst no one was looking...

 
I am missing the skin from inside my lips! On the up side they now look suitably bee stung and even Ms. Jolie would be jealous...

Progress??

 
THE PUNISHMENT OF SISYPHOS
Museum Collection: Antikensammlungen,
Munich, Germany
Catalogue Number: Munich 3297
Beazley Archive Number: N/A
Ware: Apulian Red Figure
Shape: Volute krater
Painter: Name vase Underworld Painter
Date: ca 330 - 310 BC
Period: Late Classical / Early Hellenistic
SUMMARY
Detail of Sisyphos from a depiction of Orpheus' journey to the Underworld. The criminal Sisyphos pushes a rock up a hill, whilst an Erinys beats him with a whip. The Erinys is dressed as a huntress, and her hair swarms with snakes.

I realise that I havent blogged an update of our 'drama' for nearly a week now. I will have this done by tonight probably. I'd much rather sit here eat Hula Hoops, watch TBBT and recover from yet another meeting with yet another school in yet another district, with yet another Headteacher and still minus the appropriate paperwork. I wish I had some elevator musak playing in my brain right now... I envy Homer Simpson.


Monday, 1 March 2010

A weekend been and gone...

 
This weekend was spent packing, gathering boxes, eating Aero bubbles and watching movies. I managed to escape for a breather with the Ladies for Sunday brunch and then cake from the Falko bakery. Things are still up in the air and we may have to unpack again and stay put after all of this but we're taking it in our stride as the saga continues. Have some Falko rye bread left so off to indulge in bruschetta and banana splits... The word ‘bruschetta’ comes from the Italian word ‘bruscare’, which basically means to char. As long as you’ve got some raw garlic to rub on the ’pane bruscato’ (toasted bread) and some good olive oil you can make bruschetta. Top with whatever you like (feta, pea and mint, tomato, smoked garlic and basil). As for the splits, sprinkle a halved banana with demerara sugar and grill until caramelised, top with remnants of whatever ice cream you have, any variation of unsalted nuts and chocolate sauce (mix a bar melted chocolate with either 50g of butter or 2 Tbsp of runny honey).