Friday, 3 January 2020

Fashion on the Ration vs Yarn Addiction

I mentioned in my last post that I’m doing Fashion On The Ration again this year.  My big weakness isn’t clothes, it’s yarn.  I have a stash of humongous proportions, so I don’t need any more yarn, but I still managed to blow 40+ coupons on it last year.  Seriously, I bought so much yarn that I lost count!  Some of it was one-off-specials, the sort of thing you find at shows but don’t see every day:  Tweed Valley Clotted Cream 4-ply; some Poledale sock yarn.  I bought a jumper’s worth of each.  There’s no excuse for the rest:  12 x 100g balls of Regia sock yarn, in three different shades of grey (it was a really good price, though); plus several assorted skeins of sock wool, which has now been turned into socks. 

My plan for this year is to knit up at least 20 balls of yarn from stash AND NOT BUY ANY.  Right now, I’m knitting another Blanche Too, from Susan Crawford Vintage.  The first one was out of Debbie Bliss’ Wool of the Andes; this one is out of Debbie Bliss Pure Silk DK, which I’ve had in the stash since I worked in the centre of Reading in 2006 (I bought it in the sale at John Lewis).  I’m almost up to the armpits and started the year on skein 3.  Now on skein 4; it should take another 4 skeins, so that’ll be 6 off the target by the time I’ve finished.

I’ll update the sidebars in a moment.

- Pam

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Goals for 2020

A very clever person on MSE has devised a “20 in 2020 Challenge.  I’m joining in and have set the following goals for 2020:-
  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth)
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards)
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks
  4. Read 20 books
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes
  6. 20 gardening sessions
  7. Explore 20 new places
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings)
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone)
  11. Lose 20lbs
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems)
  13. Declutter 20 items
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400)
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund)
  17. Write 20 blog posts (in 2019, I haven't managed one yet)
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds)
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018
And a special goal, number 21:  Post on TMF 20 times in 2020.  I owe that website a hell of a lot and I’d like to keep it alive.

Care to join me?

- Pam

Monday, 3 December 2018

Have an Adventure - part 1, Visiting Hobbits

Last week, before we came to New Zealand, we went to see Simon Reeve, talking about his life, his adventures and his latest book   Simon is lovely bloke, very friendly and kind, exactly the guy you see in his BBC documentaries.  The big takeaway I have from Simon’s talk is set out to have adventures.  Don’t just drift through life, letting it pass you by.  Go to the unusual places; take the risk that you might be uncomfortable; see things that your friends haven’t. 

In some respects, that’s how I’m trying to live this holiday, having adventures.  Sunday, we braved the heights and went up the Skytower in the centre of Auckland.  The view is amazing.

As are the windows in the floor of the viewing tower and in the floor of the lifts.  Although the glass is very strong and thick, you can’t help but try to not walk on it.

Monday, we went a beachside cafe at Takapuna, to have lunch with our friends.   We weren’t the only ones enjoying the food.

Everywhere we go, the sparrows are fearless.  They even entered the cottage in Rotorua.

Tuesday, we went on a winery tour on Waiheke Island, taking the ferry across Auckland Harbour from the iconic Ferry Building.  The nicest of the wines were at Casito Miro, where the photo below was taken.  We bought a bottle of their fortified “Madame Rouge”.   (Alas, the bottle is now empty...)

Wednesday, we drove to Rotorua via Matamata and a place straight out of fantasy.

Yes.  We visited Hobbiton.  First constructed for Lord of the Rings, the 12 acre site sits in the middle of a working sheep and cattle farm.  The original film set was temporary and the farmer was surprised when people started knocking on his door asking to visit the Hobbit holes, soon after the film’s release.   At that point, they only had 4 Hobbit holes remaining out of 30+.  When Peter Jackson went back to film The Hobbit, this time they made the holes permanent.

Hobbiton is well worth the cost of the tour.  We spent hours there, had lunch, did the tour, had a drink in the Green Dragon Inn and took a gazillion photos.  It is a fairytale oasis and it is virtually impossible to chose one photo to sum it all up.

- Pam. (Rotorua will have to wait for another post.)

Sunday, 25 November 2018

On my travels

Greetings from Auckland, New Zealand.  We arrived on Thursday, to attend a friend’s wedding.   

The wedding was lovely.  The bride is very charming and they look very happy together.  I hope to get to know her a little before we leave NZ.  The venue was right beside Auckland’s Harbour Bridge.  

Somewhere today, I saw a quote “Auckland: Sydney for Beginners”.  That’s a put-down and it’s just not true.  Auckland is city, proud to stand on her own two feet and not live in anyone-else’s shadow.  The harbour is spectacular and dominated by a small volcanic island in the middle.  It’s called Rangitoto Island and known as “the big baby”.

This is the worst trip so far that I’ve had for jet lag.  We flew London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney, then Sydney to Auckland.  I was fine in Sydney, but we were delayed for 3 hours  and that meant not arriving in Auckland until nearly 4pm, which seems to have thrown me entirely off kilter.  I’m still waking up in the mornings feeling like a zombie.  Today is the first day that I’ve felt hungry for breakfast, but now I could nap again.  (It’s 9.30am, for goodness sake!)

We’re off shortly to meet up with the bride and groom in an hour.  Tomorrow, we’re doing a winery tour and Wednesday, we’ll be off to Hobbiton, Rotorua and further adventures.

- Pam

Friday, 28 September 2018

Starting over

Hello.  Yes, it’s been a long time.  I’ve had very little internet time since I started that job in March.  They didn’t allow access to personal emails - not even at lunchtime - so I used my “internet time” at home for any email that needed a response.  I could go online and shop until I was broke but I couldn’t access my emails..  Not any more.  I finished there on Friday.   I’d completed the role I’d been taken on to do and was beginning to have to ask around for work (which, as you know, I hate).  I resigned on my terms, not theirs.  I’m going back to the Swedes, to rejoin the project that I left in March.

What happened?  Mid-August, we had a fridge disaster - it died -  so I had to work from home while waiting for the replacement to be delivered.  Part way through the day,  I got a text message from my old project manager:  would you consider coming back?  His timing was perfect.  I was sitting there thinking “I’ve got nothing to do when I finish this....”.  My response was “Possibly” and it snowballed from there.  There were a couple of contributing factors - I watched one of my colleagues cringe in fear when dealing with one of the bosses and I do not want to work in a place where that happens - and, at several points due to the lack of work, I half expected to be told that I didn’t have a job after my current holiday (Normandy this week) or the one we’ve got booked in November (New Zealand for a wedding).   This has nothing to do with my immediate line manager.  Resigning to him felt like kicking a puppy.  He’s a nice guy and I like him a lot.

The final straw, however, was SAP.  Frankly, I don’t like it.  As finance systems go, it’s probably cheaper to implement than Oracle, but it’s far less flexible and far less user friendly.  It might be ok for factories producing widgets, but it’s quite clumsy for companies selling their labour in time based projects and using percentage complete as their basis for recognising revenue.  It’s also bloody annoying.  There are multiple system standard “reports” (layouts really) that are common to all SAP users everywhere, but not one that lists the vendors names and numbers beside their purchase invoices.  Believe me, I tried everything.  The best I could do was obtain the vendor number in SAP, download to Excel and do a v-lookup to a list of vendors.  This is basic information and you can’t extract it from the system in an easy to analyse format.  

I start back at the Swedes on Monday.  I will be a contractor again, but that’s OK.  I can deal with the administrivia now.   I’m rejoining The Project and will be spending at least half my week sitting in a portacabin in a highways depot.  My plan for Monday is to arrive laden with chocolate chip cookies, knock on the portacabin door and go “Hi Dad.  I’m home!”.  :o)

- Pam

Thursday, 28 June 2018

On the Road Again

Another evening; another hotel.  

I’m sure I’ve started a blog post with that line before.  I’m travelling for work, visiting the SAP project team in their home office and staying in a nearby hotel.  It’s cut-over weekend and I’m down here until all the data is loaded.

Tonight’s hotel is yet another example of why I prefer either owner-run hotels with lots of character or the big, commercial chains like Premier Inn, where at least you always know what you’re going to get.  You may remember a weird hotel I stayed at in Manchester in March 2016:  so modern and trendy that there was no wall between the bathroom and the bedroom.  

Ring any bells?  To be honest, I can’t remember if I posted my grumble about that hotel here or on Facebook.  At least it had space, even if you could watch the tv from the shower. 

This hotel is worse.  When I stay in a hotel, I usually play a game with myself:  how would I furnish/decorate my room if it was converted into a studio flat.  The modular chain hotels are usually best for that game since their rooms are usually quite well thought out. If you ever want to convert a Holiday Inn into studio flats, I’m you’re woman.  I’d keep the bathroom where it is, put wardrobes along the wall by the door and, on the wall that backs onto the bathroom/faces the main roo. I’d build a small U-shaped kitchen less than 2 metres deep.  Throw in a sofa that converts to a bed, a small table with chairs  and plenty of shelves and, bingo, you have a space you can live in.

Not in tonight’s hotel.  It is another over-decorated, modern room, small and rather oppressive.  They have squeezed as much into it as possible,  There is nowhere to put my open suitcase if I don’t want to use the bed.  In the worst possible sense,  someone let an interior decorator loose.

At least, this time, there’s a divider between the bedroom and the bathroom, even if it does dominate the room.

I’ve just had  room service*, which I ordered over an hour ago.  It took 5 minutes to figure out how to place my order on the smart-phone-gadget the room has instead of a phone.  Call room service?  Only if you know which symbol to hit.  Naturally, the tray did not fit onto the one-and-only table top.

This was the best I could do.  That white thing at the back is a Dyson fan.  Why do you need a fan in an air conditioned room???  (The other side is a Tassimo coffee machine.)

Please God, I don’t get nightmares from the stripes!

- Pam

* Yes, I ordered room service.  England were playing** in the World Cup and, of course, I wanted to watch.  Also, the bar/restaurant downstairs were heaving.  Was it worth it?  No.  I’d have had a better meal in the Subway down the street.  Only the G&T was worth the wait.

** They lost to Belgium.  

Monday, 7 May 2018


To bring you up-to-date with my life would be nigh-on impossible.  However, there are a few things I can share, so here goes.

I started a new job in March.  I’d been with the last company for 18 months and there was no hope of a permanent role emerging.  To be honest, much as I like certain people - and most people are lovely - I long ago reached the conclusion that I did not want to work there. For most of the last 18 months, I didn’t have a role - I never knew what I’d be working on from one day to the next.   I joined a project but kept getting hauled back into the forecast process.  Last summer, I started job hunting.  I had a few interviews, but nothing came of them.   It was only in the autumn that I was allowed to settle into the project and, in November, I decided that I’d stick things out until the project was finished. I stopped job hunting.  Naturally, that’s when things started happening.  My new employer found me via LinkedIn - they approached me.  It’s a 12 month, fixed term contract and I’m staff for the duration, not a contractor.

(I promise to write chapter and verse on what I’ve learned as a contractor over the last 18 months, but not tonight.  I started writing this post 2 months ago, so time to get it published.)

The new job is helping a business unit with their SAP implementation.  I’m not part of “the project”; I belong to the business’ finance team.  I’ve done the odd bit of “Finance” - balance sheet recs and the like - but my main focus has been on collating data for the Full Dress Rehearsal and Go-Live.  On Wednesday, I’m off for two days of UAT training, followed by another two next week.  It’s not end-user training, just enough familiarisation with the system to get through the User Acceptance Testing scripts but, as far as I’m concerned it’s wonderful.  I’m getting trained!  And I will be participating in UAT testing, which will help me familiarise myself with the system further.   

The Project team are aware of my precarious position as not-quite-staff and have promised me that I’ll do the full suite of end-user training.   That’s very kind of them.  While I was a JD Edwards One World trainer for 4 years and an Oracle end user for 10 years,  I’ve never touched SAP.  The chance to get another string to my bow, cannot be sneezed at.

- Pam

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Starting again

Hello.  Is there anyone out there?  I haven’t blogged in ages, so I can’t blame you if you were wondering whether I’d fallen off the face of the earth.  It’s not that I don’t want to blog - I do!  I still write posts in my head - they just don’t make it to the screen.  There’s being a contractor to moan about.  There’s the saga of job hunting to tell you about. Plus the MSc, I want to pursue.  Also, there are new recipes to share.  I have some yarn-related items to show off AND I have a couple of adventures to share...  

I don’t even read blogs very often anymore.   Last week was the first time I read the Yarn Harlot in years.  (Did you know Stephanie’s a grandmother?!!!). 

I got out of the habit.  I lost my voice.  I used to write blogs on Friday afternoons, in my old job when we finished work at Friday lunchtime.  Or I’d write them in my lunch break - but I’ve never had the privacy to do that in my current place of employment.   Anyway, no more excuses.  I’m going to try to get back into the habit.  I need a sounding board and you’re it.  Thank you for being there for me.

- Pip. (How are you?  What has been happening in your life?)

Saturday, 4 November 2017

My Turn

Lucky here.  I have an announcement to make.  Look:

Wait for it.

Don’t believe it?

Yes!  I’m over 100,000 miles old!

This happened last month but, as you’re aware, Pam and I weren’t getting along very well, so I couldn’t ask her for access to the Blog.  I’m sorry I was grumpy.  The deer hurt my nose - my Skoda badge is depressed by at least 5 degrees.  

As for the tyre.....  At least we found a new garage to look after me, as the result of that incident.  Since Pam changed jobs, I can no longer get to MOT City to be serviced and the replacements weren’t that good.  (MOT City looked after me, Frank and the Toy.  They are award winning for good reason: excellent service and good value for money.  Pam used to walk to work from there.).   These new people were recommended by the RAC man who came to change my wheel.  He said that they service his wife’s car.  They’re about 2 miles away from home.  So far, they’ve replace the locking-wheel-nut on all my wheels (it was missing, which is why we phoned the RAC), done my big service and glued down Frank’s loose trim.  I will see them again.

- Lucky

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Slow Cooker Cuban Black Beans

We were introduced to Cuban-style black beans by The Lost American.  It's classic peasant food:  slow cooking cheap meat (smoked ham hock) with dried beans, to feed as many as possible.  Ham hock is hard to find here, so generally speaking I use bacon off-cuts aka "cooking bacon" which I can buy for 60p for 500g.  Once or twice, I've used lumps of ham.  When I have found ham hock, it was sold from the hot-meat counter at the supermarket for several Pounds each.

This is one of those meals which you suddenly find yourself craving.  I think that's down to its smokey flavour.  The only downside to cooking it in a slow cooker/crockpot is that everything comes out a dark brown  colour.  Please read the notes section before you proceed. 

The cost is between £2 and £3 depending on how much bacon you use and assuming 10p for the cheapest herbs and spices.  This makes at least 5 portions of soupy stew, more if you serve it over rice.


500g black turtle beans, soaked overnight and drained (£1.10)
1 onion chopped (12p)
6 cloves garlic, crushed (10p)
2 green peppers, roughly cubed (40p)
150g-500g  cooking bacon, roughly chopped (or use leftover ham, see notes below) (18p-60p)
2 chilies, chopped (or 1 heaped teaspoon ground chilli)
1 smoked dried pepper (if you are lucky enough to find them) (say 50p)
1 bay leaf 
1 tablespoon oregano 
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspooon liquid smoke (2p)
Boiling water to cover


  1. Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Ensure that there is at least a 2.5cm (1 inch) covering of boiling water, more if your slow cooker lid doesn’t seal well.
  2. Put the lid on, set the cooker to high and cook for a minimum of 8 hours.  
  3. If it gets a bit dry, add more boiling water (cold water will cause the pot to crack).
  4. If it turns out soupy, serve with lots of fresh bread.  Otherwise, serve over rice.

See what I mean by brown?


  • Slow cookers/crockpots are meant to have well-fitting lids that seal so you need less liquid.  I’m on my third and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a bit of a myth.  The original crockpot has a rubber gasket around the lid and that does seal.  For all the others, you’re dependent upon how well the lid fits the rim.  My current one has certainly boiled dry.  
  • You need to cook this on high for the beans to go soft.  (It should be possible to mush them with a spoon.)  The first time I cooked this, I used  “automatic”, which starts off as high and then swaps to low after 2 hours.  We got home 12 hours after it started cooking and the beans were still hard.
  • I can only find black beans, aka black turtle beans, in Waitrose.
  • Where do you get the Liquid Smoke?  Ocado sell a 148ml bottle of Stubbs Liquid Smoke for £1.89, so I based the cost on that.  My bottle is years old.

- Pam

Saturday, 2 September 2017

In which Lucky exacts his revenge

(This is a true conversation that happened yesterday afternoon.)


How did that happen?  We've only gone 6 miles from the golf club and I'd swear there was 65 miles range when we started up!  I haven't a clue where we are - this is a new route home to me, but Madam Google said it was the quickest.   Google Maps, where is the nearest petrol station, please?  3/4 of a mile?  

<Start praying.>

Get to petrol station.  All the pumps are busy or out of diesel.  Hurry up, people!  Don't you know we're running on fumes here?

< grrrr >

Finally someone moves.

<. Fills up with diesel >

37.42 litres!  You lying, cheating b*st*rd, Lucky!  You have a 44 litre tank and you swore you were empty!  At your normal MPG, that's at least another 60 mile range so why were you lying?  

Why???  Are you getting revenge on me?  

Is this about the deer two weeks ago?  The deer was NOT my fault!  The damn thing leapt out of the hedge on the far side of the country lane we were driving down and ran in front of you.  I slammed on your brakes as fast as my reflexes would work.  I didn't want to hit the deer.  I didn't want to hurt it or you!  Anyway, it ran off so we can't have done it much damage.  It bounced.  You were left with a slightly buckled, black plastic grill-thingy, but that got snapped back into position by your new mechanic.  Seriously, I was left as shaken as you were.  We've done that drive to the Winchester office a couple of times since then and I'm constantly looking out for deer.

Or is it about the tyre last Friday?  Yes, that was my fault.  It's a drive we do every day on the way to work so I should have known better.  OK, I'm guilty of hurting you.  My brain misjudged the turn onto Dunham Roundabout from the A40 and hit a curb.  I'll give you that, but at least I've worked out why - someone took out the bollard on the central reservation and it looked like a flat, sandy pot-hole from the A40 slip road, not like the raised divider it really is.  So I gave you a flat tyre.  So what?  I'm sorry.  But at least there are two silver linings from that incident:  we discovered that your locking wheel-nut thingy was missing AND you've now got a nice, friendly, local garage to do your services instead of that badly organised, money-grubbing dealership we'd been forced to take you to after I stopped working in Reading.  A garage as good as MOT City.  A garage that replaced all your locking wheel-nuts,  gave you a service on Wednesday and a valet and  didn't cost the earth.  And they replaced your broken left wing mirror, which I'd accidentally caught on the electricity pole the morning before we hit the deer.

I'm sorry.  OK?

Please, can we kiss and make up now??

- Pam

Friday, 11 August 2017


Is anyone looking?  Sssshhhh...... Don't say anything!  This is Lucky, Pam's car.  Pam left her iPad in my glove box while she went to a job interview, so I'm borrowing it to share a story about my friend, Frank.  This is Frank:

As you can see, he's a Skoda Fabia, like me.  He's the Boy's car.  He's been around a while - he knew the Toy.  They were friends.  (I never met Toy, but when I arrived, Frank made me feel welcome so I know he doesn't blame me for Toy's demise.)

Frank can be quite grumpy in the evenings.  I think it's to do with all the motorway driving he does.  When I do motorway driving, Pam and I just potter along, enjoying the speed, the wind in my vents and our latest podcast or the cricket or the football. (I love sport!).  I'm not one of those cars who get competitive.  You've seen them!  The must-drive-faster-to-the-next-junction-than-anyone-else brigade, weaving in and out of innocent vehicles just to get 2 metres further ahead.  (If it gets a bit snarly, I just think of it as an excuse that gives me time to listen to more cricket.)

I don't think Frank is massively competitive either, but he does get really grumpy about those cars.  He rants about them to me when he gets home.  This is his really grumpy face:

(To be fair, he'd had a shunt.  He was furious about it for a week.) 

Two weeks ago, Frank sent me this photo.  He was so proud of himself and wanted to show off to the world!  Look in the bottom left corner:

Yes, I'm 3 years older, but Frank has beaten me to 100,000 miles!  Happy "birthday" Frank!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Not quite Mr Julian's Dhal

There are a thousand recipes for dhal.  I like dhal.  For me, it's an ideal comfort food: tasty, filling, healthy/nutritious, cheap and kind to my irritable-bowel-syndrome-gallbladder-free-long-suffering gut.  

To me, the smell of yellow dhal cooking is the smell of the Middle East.   In 2012, when we were visiting Oman, we dropped in on my brother-in-law for lunch and "Mr Julian", the chef in the officers' mess fed us yellow dhal and roti for lunch.  It's what BIL and his colleagues ate every day.  I begged "Mr Julian" for his recipe, which he kindly and bemusedly wrote down for me.    He seemed quite taken aback that I would want something that simple but we explained that it was something most Brits didn't know how to cook.  (Incidentally, I am using parentheses because I'm fairly certain that "Mr Julian" isn't his real name, but instead is an anglicanisation.  I think he was Bangladeshi.)

When I got back to the UK, I attempted to make Mr Julian's Dhal.  The first stumbling block was that he'd written "curry powder" on the spice list, which left me mystified until BIL explained it was Garam Marsala.  (I don't use commercial curry powder and didn't have a clue what blends are available in Oman.) Once that mystery was solved, I made a couple of batches then added the recipe to that precious pile of paper and plastic where all loose recipes ended up, on the corner of the bookcase in the old, pre-renovated kitchen. 

 A few months ago, I thought I'd have another go.  I really fancied eating dhal for lunch.  Sadly, I hunted high and low and couldn't find the precious slip of paper with the recipe.  I went through the cookbooks; it wasn't tucked inside.  I tried a couple of recipes from the Curry Club cookbooks but they weren't the same (one required so many whole peppercorns that even my spice tolerant stomach complained).  In the end, I resorted to the recipe that was on the back of the Natco Chana Dal packet, adding garam marsala and veg at salient points and hoping for an approximation of Mr Julian's Dhal.  I remember his boiled the dhal with turmeric and a tablespoon of garam marsala, but I can't remember what other spices he used, if any.  This, though, was nearly as good and I made a pot of it for my lunches for work this week:-

(Almost) Mr Julian's Dhal

Makes 7 portions.  Total cost £1.97, assuming 5p for the cost of the bulk-bought spices



300g yellow split peas/Chana dhal. (67.5p)

1tsp turmeric

1tblsp garam marsala

1/2 tsp salt

Boiling water


The Tarka

1 tbsp. oil (3p)

1 onion sliced (12p)

100-150g mushrooms, sliced (25p)

1 large clove garlic, crushed (5p)

1 tsp ground chilli 

2 cups frozen mixed veg (30p)

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes (25p)

Optional:  A handful of fresh spinach leaves or leftover rocket from a bag of salad leaves. (25p)

Optional:  a tblsp or so of fresh coriander leaves, chopped 


The Rice

1.5 cups basmati rice (12p)

3 cups boiling water




1.       Pour the dhal into a sieve and rinse well in fresh water.  It doesn't need soaking..

2.       Boil the kettle.  Meanwhile, measure the dhal in a jug, make a note of the volume measurement and pour into a saucepan.  Add twice as much boiling water.  (The packet said to use 1 litre of water for 300g of dhal but that took considerable simmering to be absorbed..)

3.       Stir in the turmeric, salt and the garam marsala, bring back to the boil and simmer until the dhal is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Stir regularly.   The dhal will be cooked after 20-25 minutes but it takes a while until the liquid is almost gone.  (Note:  when it reaches the point where it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, that’s when it’s ready.)

4.       Meanwhile, make your Tarka:

a.       Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until soft. 

b.      Add the mushrooms and continue frying until most of the water they make has evaporated.  Then stir in the crushed garlic.

c.       Have your frozen mixed veg ready on the side.    Sprinkle the chilli over the contents of your frying pan and stir fry until the aroma rises.  Stir in the frozen veg and fry until all their water has evaporated.

d.      Add the tomatoes and fry until most of their liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the spinach and coriander if using and cook until wilted.  Switch off until the dhal is ready.

5.       To make the rice using the absorption method:-

a.       Boil the kettle again.

b.      Measure out your rice and put in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

c.       Cover with twice as much boiling water.

d.      Bring back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes.  (Use a timer.)

e.      Switch off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with its lid and leave to sit for at least 12 minutes.

f.        It is now ready to serve.

6.       When your dhal is ready, stir in the tarka.  Taste and season as necessary.  Serve over rice.



  • As you can see from the photo, this is great for lunch boxes for work.  It freezes well.  Defrost and then zap for 2 minutes in the microwave or until piping hot.
  • Instead of using frozen mixed veg, you can use any leftover cooked vegetables you have to hand.  This works well with grilled peppers or roasted mix veg (e.g. Sliced onions, mushrooms, peppers, courgettes tossed in oil and herbs and roasted for half an hour or so in a hot oven).

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Middle-Eastern Chicken Livers

This past weekend, was one of those which you look forward to for weeks, involving lots of planning when you think everything is coming together really well and then it all falls apart spectacularly.  Saturday was the FA Cup Final, Chelsea vs Arsenal. Being season ticket holders at Chelsea, DH and I managed to secure tickets so went to Wembley.  We lost.  The final score of 2:1 to Arsenal does not do justice to how terrible Chelsea played.  Without some miracle defending in the first half, the score would have been 5:1.

Sunday, the RPG I play in nearly got derailed by a certain participant's sense of humour.  One of our party is schizophrenic.  This person thought it would be funny to wind him up.  It isn't.  It is nasty.  And the GM let him know in no uncertain terms that such behaviour was not tolerable.  But it led us down a rabbit hole, we'd rather have avoided.

Yesterday, was a quiet, pottering around sort of day.  Monday was a bank holiday in the UK, so we slept in and watched far too much pre-recorded TV.   Any hope of attacking the lawn - in desperate need of a mow - or planting out the courgettes was derailed by rain.   Then along came dinner.  Recipe below.  I'd reached the final stage, where you stir in the yoghurt, when I opened the tub that had been lurking in the fridge for a few weeks and realised it was furry.  Definitely growing some sort of white fungi or bacteria.   Help!

DH came to the rescue, popping to the shops at the end of the street, while I switched everything off and stirred like mad to prevent the chicken livers over-cooking while we waited.  

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about chicken livers and I was quite surprised to discover that I hadn't included this recipe in it.  This is the first, non-pate chicken liver dish that I learned to cook.  It originally came from one of those week-by-week compendiums, collect all the parts and build yourself an amazing recipe collection, etc...  (You know the type.).  This is my version:

Middle-Eastern Chicken Livers

Serves 4


2 tablespoons oil/schmaltz 
350g-500g Chicken Livers
1 large onion chopped
150g mushrooms, sliced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 peppers/capsicum sliced (green or red are best for colour contrast)
2 carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
400ml plain yoghurt
A tablespoon of chopped coriander 

1 teaspoon curry powder (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon flour (plain, self-raising or cornflour will do)

1.5 cups Basmati rice
3 cups boiling water

  1. Put the kettle on to boil for your rice.  Meanwhile, prep all your veg.  When the kettle has boiled, measure your rice into a saucepan with a tight fitting lid, add twice as much volume of boiling water, cover and boil for 2 minutes.  Switch off and leave undisturbed for 15 minutes.
  2. Combine the spices in a small ramekin dish.  Stir in a tablespoon or two of water to form a thick paste.
  3. Heat the cooking fat in a deep frying pan.  Fry the onion until it is soft and clear.
  4. Add the mushrooms.   Fry, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom water is almost evaporated then add the garlic and the peppers, stirring occasionally until the peppers have softened.
  5. Decant the veggies into a bowl.  Return the frying pan to the heat, add a little more oil if necessary.  Turn the heat down.  Spread the chicken livers over the hot surface.  Fry until browned on all sides and the livers are firm.  (Be gentle with the heat or they will toughen.)
  6. Return the veggies to the pan.  Add your spices and fry until the aroma rises.  Stir in the yoghurt, Worcestershire sauce and the carrots.  Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  7. Scatter over the coriander and serve.  Enjoy


  • If you keep kosher, this works with soy-based non-dairy "yoghurt".
  • If you keep kosher and kosher your livers with flame before cooking with them, skip step 5.  Add your spices to the frying vegetables, then stir in the livers and proceed as per step 6 above.
  • I use home made curry powder, aka "Curry Powder Number 1".  In a small spice jar mix:  1 teaspoon of ground chilli, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric and the seeds from 6 green cardamom pods.  Put the lid on tight and shake vigorously to blend.  This is Curry Powder Number 1.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Pilchard Madras

In case you've never come across the term before, "pilchard" is the Cornish name for a large sardine.  In Britain, while fresh sardines are sold as "sardines", "pilchards" are sold canned, usually in a tomato sauce but sometimes in brine.  Like regular cans of sardines - the small flat tins you can buy the world over -  the taste and smell is quite strongly fishy.  Despite this, they're a useful storecupboard item.  They're sold in 14oz/400g tins, currently for £1.09 each.   One can should feed four.

I like to cook them in a Madras curry, which mitigates the fishy flavour.  The original was made in a moment of pure inspiration, several years ago, and now I make it once in the blue moon, when I haven't preplanned dinner and fancy a curry.  That was the case a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Like all my curries, it's a one pot meal, padded with veggies (in this case, the last of the carrots which were half dead in the fridge).  Just add rice (which I have done, below).  For instructions on cooking a "regular" meat Madras, see the notes below the recipe.

Pilchard Madras

Makes 4 generous portions.  Total cost, including rice, £2.41.

1 large onion, chopped (12p)
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed (5p)
100g-200g  mushrooms, sliced. (35p)
(Or, instead of the above, use a portion of base)
1x400g tin Pilchards in tomato sauce. (£1.09) 
1x400g tin chopped tomatoes (25p)
Additional veg:  e.g. 2-3 large carrots sliced or 1-2 peppers/capsicum, cubed, or a cup of frozen mixed veg (whatever is available) (15p)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use rapeseed). (3p)
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (from a bottle). (5p)

Spices 1 (20p)
1 teaspoon ground chilli (more if you like heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 whole green cardamom

Spices 2  
1 desertspoon garam marsala
1 desertspoon chopped fenugreek leaves (optional)

1.5 cups basmati rice or white, long grain rice (12p)
3 cups Boiling water

  1. Combine spices 1 in a small ramekin dish.  Add a tablespoon or two of water to form a thick paste and set aside.  (This will help stop the spices burning.)
  2. Heat your oil in a deep saucepan or large, deep frying pan.  Fry the onion until soft and glassy, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms and, when they have made water and most of their water has evaporated, add the crushed garlic.  Continue frying for 1-2 more minutes.
  3. Make sure you have your tins of tomatoes and pilchards open.  Stir Spice 1 into the onion mix and fry until the aroma rises. 
  4. Quickly add your tins of tomatoes and pilchards, breaking up the pilchards with your wooden spoon/spatula as they land in the pan.  Stir in well.
  5. Add your optional veggies.  Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then turn down to a simmer.  Stir occasionally.
  6. At this point, put the kettle on to boil for the rice.  When the kettle has boiled, measure out your rice and pour it into a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.  Cover the rice with twice the volume of boiling water.  Bring the saucepan back to the boil, cover with the lid and boil for 2 minutes.  Switch off the power and leave it to situndisturbed for 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.
  7. Immediately after you have switched off the rice, stir Spices 2 into your curry.  Simmer until the rice is done, stir in the lemon or lime juice and  serve.

  • To cook a regular meat Madras, add a step between step 1 and step 1 above. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil/cooking fat and brown 1lb/500g of cubed beef/lamb/chicken/pork.  Remove the browned meat to a plate, then proceed with steps 2, 3 and 4, returning the meat to the pan at step 4.  In step 5, simmer the meat mixture for an hour or until it is cooked and can be cut with a fork, stirring occasionally and adding extra water if it gets too dry.  Once the meat is tender, proceed with the remainder of the recipe  
  • I buy my spices in 500g bags from the Asian section of the supermarket or from Asian shops like Wing Yip and store them in old Douwe Egberts coffee jars. This is the cheapest way to buy them. Given how long they last, etc, I reckon 20p is a fair assessment of the cost of all the spices listed.
  • When you are feeling flush, buy big bunches of fresh fenugreek and coriander.  Wash them, chop them and freeze them loosely packed into the largest ziplock bags you can find. (You want to be able to break up the herbs when frozen.).  When you need fresh herbs to finish off a curry, add a spoonful/lump or two straight from the freezer. 
  • All the prices above are based on the cheapest option from Tesco.  Yes, you can get tins of chopped tomatoes for 25p, but only when they're on a 4 for £1 offer, when I usually stock up.