Monday 31 December 2007

And finally

Happy New Year everyone!

May 2008 fullfil all your wishes and dreams. And bring you happiness and prosperity.

- Pam

Patriots 16 and 0

DH is a very happy chappy. Need I say more?

- Pam (go Pats)

Smaltz and other stories

Where on earth has the week gone? I meant to write on Thursday, then when that wasn't possible, on Friday. Now it's Monday and I'm back at work in two days (yuck!). Don't have much time today, so this may be a bit truncated.

I finally started the "Turkey Production Line" on Friday. After multiple meals, our turkey yielded 3.5lb of meat for future dinners (now in the freezer). The stockpot of turkey stock is currently in the fridge, having simmered most of Friday night. We're away for New Year's, so I'll have to finish it off tomorrow when I get home.

Anyway, while I was pulling apart the turkey, it occurred to me that I never feel closer to my paternal, shtetl-living great-great-grand-mother than when I'm covered in bits of poultry, filling the stock pot with bones on one side and a bowl with meat on the other. Today's post is dedicated to her.

Smaltz/schmaltz/however-you-want-to-spell it

Smaltz is the Jewish answer to lard; rendered chicken/duck/goose fat. In the shtetl, goose was the all-important bird - like the cottager's pigs, they were fed any leftovers going. The goose provided meat, fat, crackling ("gribbene"), quills for writing, down and feathers for warm bedding or clothing.

Like all fat, you shouldn't eat too much smaltz. However, it adds a wonderful depth and chicken-aroma to chicken dishes.

There are two basic methods of rending poultry fat to make smaltz: the top of stove method and the oven method. For both, you need to collect a large amount of chicken skin, globs of fat removed from poultry before cooking, scrapings from the top of your chicken/turkey stock and the fat you drained out of the roasting pan on Christmas Day. (I usually skin my own chicken fillets and dump those skins into a bag in the freezer to await the day I make smaltz.)


Top of Stove. Empty the fat into a deep saucepan, add a cup of water, cover and cook on a medium heat until the fat is melted and the chicken skins are crisp. Approximately 40 minutes.

Oven. Alternatively, if you are using your oven, dump the assorted skin and fat into a roasting dish and place it in the bottom of the oven. Roast for at least an hour or until the fat is melted and the chicken skin is crisp.

Both methods. Line a colander with kitchen paper or muslin/cheesecloth. Place the colander over a deep bowl. Carefully pour the rendered fat, etc, into the colander. It will slowly drain through. When the fat has drained out of the colander, set the bowl aside to cool and then refridgerate it until solid.

The stuff in the colander is gribbene (crackling). Dust with salt and pepper and feed to the hungry hoards.

Okay, back to the fat in the fridge. You are almost done. To ensure longevity, it needs to be "washed". Take the bowl out of the fridge. Turn the fat out onto a board and scrape the bottom of it to remove any sediment. Place it into your largest, heatproof container. (I like deep but narrow for this.) Pour over a kettle full of boiling water and allow to cool. Chill until set.

Lift off the lid of fat from the water and scrape off the remaining sediment. Dump the fat into a saucepan and melt it.** Pour into tuperware container(s) and refridgerate until you need to cook with it (or shove it back in the freezer). It lasts indefinitely.

Uses: frying; any recipe that starts with "fry onion"; roasting vegetables; pastry (it makes a great flaky pastry); roasts; etc.

Next time you see a chef on TV talking about roasting potatoes in goose fat, smile smuggly - you've got your home-made fat ready and waiting. And it didn't cost you a penny.

- Pam

**After I wrote this, I came across a facsimile of a Ministry of Food leaflet from World War 2, "How To Fry". It explains that when you reheat the fat for the last time before storing it, you should simmer it until it stops bubbling (to ensure the fat has lost any residual water content). That will ensure its longevity.

If you are interested in WW2 food, check out Eating for Victory by Jill Norman.

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Christmas Turkey - Part 2: The Remains

It's Boxing Day, the 26th of December. By midnight tonight, everyone will be sick of the sight (and taste) of turkey. The most fed up will dump the remainders in the bin. The more frugal will resort to the dreaded "Turkey Curry", a phrase that always conjours up visions of the Alconbury's "Turkey Curry Party" from Bridget Jones' Diary. No thank you.

Here's what I do: I start a turkey products factory.

First, get the equipment. Large stock pot. Check. Measuring scales. Check. Supply of freezer bags, pouched open. Check. Bowl for any leftover chestnut stuffing. Check. Dish full of scrapings/bones/garlic paper from plates over Christmas. Check. Freezer bag full of chicken bones from previous meals. Check. Freezer bag with chicken skin and fat from previous meals. Check. Container of fat and juices from turkey roasting dish. Check. Giblets, neck bone, etc, from the turkey. Check.

Now, attack the turkey. I cut off all the remaining meat, in chunks, and divide it into either half pound (250g) or 1lb (500g) freezer bags. Once sealed, I label them with a description, the date and weight of the bag. When all the bags are full, I shove them in the freezer and forget about them for a few weeks until we can face having a turkey-based meal. (See tomorrow's instalment for meal ideas.)

If there are any fatty deposits left on the turkey, I cut them off and put them in the freezer bag full of chicken skin, etc. Scrape off the fat from the congealed roasting dish juices and add this fat to the bag. In due course, this will get made into Smaltz, but not today.

Scoup out all the remaining Chestnut Stuffing and deposit in a bowl. Fight DH to stop him taking the bowl and eating the contents then and there. Save for breakfast and spread on toast. It makes great sandwiches/toast toppings.

Now, make your turkey stock. Dump the turkey bones into your stockpot, together with the plate scrapings, the giblets/neck and the freezer bag full of chicken bones. (Don't worry about any chestnut stuffing residue, it'll just make your stock a little dark.) Pour in the congealed roasting pan juices. Add a small onion, a carrot or two, a couple of cloves of garlic and 3 peppercorns. If you have any, add some tarragon: either a heaped teaspoon of dried or a tablespoon of freshly chopped leaves. Cover with water, bring to the boil. Skim when it reaches boiling point. Simmer for three to four hours (you can start this one night and finish it the next). Allow to cool a little before straining the stock into a deep bowl (I put the bowl into the sink, put a colander into the bowl and then pour in the stock). Save the colander full of bones.

NOTE. If you need to add extra water to your stock pot, DO NOT ADD COLD WATER - it will make the fat disperse throughout the stock giving it a bitter taste and weird texture. Add boiling water instead.

Return the strained stock to your pot and boil down to one-third. Allow to cool and then chill in the fridge. Scrape off the fat that congeals on top and add to your freezer bag of fat. Then re-heat the jellied stock until it becomes liquid again, pour into containers, label and freeze. I re-use plastic soup containers for this, since they fit inside my freezer door shelves. I also make some "stock cubes", pouring a bit of the stock into an ice-cube tray.

This makes a strongly flavoured stock. When a recipe calls for stock, I'll use half frozen stock and half water.

Finally, pick over the bones from the stock and remove any remaining meat. Go carefully, because the bones will have softened considerably and it's easy to get small ones in with your meat. Bag up, label as "stock meat" and freeze. Use in strongly flavoured dishes where you don't really taste the chicken/turkey, e.g. "chicken" vindaloo. Add a chicken stock cube to the dish to enhance the flavour. DO NOT serve to small children or animals because of the potential for small bones to remain in the meat.

Now relax. You've processed your turkey and can forget about doing anything with it for a while.

- Pam (tomorrow: smaltz and recipe ideas)

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Chrismas Turkey - part one

We do two Christmas dinners each year: Polish Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then a late lunch on Christmas Day. Usually, that means I'm the cook. On Christmas Eve, I do the full round of food: starter, roast turkey dinner and Christmas Pudding. On Christmas Day, it's leftovers: cold turkey, cold chestnut stuffing; a fresh round of roast potatoes/onion/garlic and I'll do a nut-roast.

It's Christmas morning here, so I'm half way through. There are big advantages to doing your main Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve: I don't have to worry about getting up at the crack of dawn to get the turkey ready and I have most of Christmas Eve to do the cooking. Normally, I stuff the bird on the 23rd, take it out of the fridge at 12 o'clock on the 24th to bring it up to room temperature and shove it in the oven around 2.30pm. Then I prep the veggies and start cooking those at about 6pm. I often do a veggie soup for a starter - it was my way of sneaking some vitamins into my FIL - this year was pumpkin and saffron soup.

This year, I still don't have a working full-sized oven (it's only my fifth Christmas without my stove wired in. Next year, I tell myself, I will have the kitchen sorted. Oh, yes, I will!). So I stuffed the monster turkey (7.8kg/16lb) and lugged it around to my MIL's to roast. There are three of us celebrating Christmas here this year, so maybe I should explain my turkey philosophy. In a nutshell: regardless of how many people are coming to dinner, always buy the biggest bird that'll fit in your oven and/or freezer. (I have been known to do length and side elevation measurements to ensure my turkey will fit. That always entertains the butcher.)

Here's why:
  • small turkeys are largely bone so the ratio of meat to bone is lower on a small bird than on a large one; getting a large one ensures you're buying mostly meat
  • it takes as much time to prep a small turkey as it does a larger one
  • once the bird is in the oven, the cooking labour involved is minimal
  • leftovers
Actually, I reckon the last point sums it all up. Leftovers. Savour the word. Mmmm... leftovers. Come on, say it with me: L-E-F-T-O-V-E-R-S.

What? The thought of turkey leftovers doesn't make your mouth water? You've had so much dry, stringy turkey that on Boxing Day you want to throw the whole thing in the bin? More about the leftovers later....

First, roast your turkey

If you can't afford a premium, organic/free range bird that's grown slowly and knew how to gobble, per Jamie Oliver the secret is to shove butter or fat up under the skin over the breast meat, which will slowly baste the bird from within. At the neck end of the bird, shove your finger up under the skin towards the breast bone and gradually make a pocket. Then insert your butter and work it along under the skin until the upper breast area is covered.

Me? Well, we put money aside all year in the Christmas Fund to pay for our turkey, tree and all the trimmings. This year's bird cost £66; last year's was £70. The year before's was £38 but that was before bird flu put up the price of poultry. What we get for our money is a turkey with ample amounts of fat on it, so I've never worried about it drying out. Note: I have cooked supermarket turkeys in the past. Paying all that extra at a butcher shop really does make a difference.

What I do to cook the turkey is stuff the turkey with my Chestnut Stuffing, put it breast down into the roasting pan, baste it with a mixture of white wine and olive oil, seal it into the roasting pan with foil and roast it for 30 minutes per kilo/15 minutes per lb at 180C /gas mark 6/360F. In a gas oven, I'd rotate the baking dish every half an hour so that it cooks evenly. At half time, I'd turn the bird over to breast side up and pour over some more of the white wine/olive oil mixture.

Keep the turkey in it's foil tent throughout the cooking time. It'll still get nice and brown.

Plan your meal so that the turkey finishes cooking half an hour before you want to serve it. Remove it from the oven and either leave it in the roasting pan or put it on a warm platter. (NB: If you want to make home-made gravy, drain off the juices at this point and shove the container into the freezer.) Cover it with a good layer of foil to keep it warm.

Carve your bird and put the slices of meat onto a warmed serving dish, with the stuffing in the middle.

The Baste

Mine is a half and half mixture of white wine and extra virgin olive oil, say 200 ml of each, put into a sealable container. Grind over some pepper, say, 20 grinds worth and stir in some taragon (1 teaspoon dried). You may also want to add some salt, but I don't usually bother. Shake well and pour half the mixture over the bird before you start roasting. When you turn the bird over, pour over the other half. Each time: grind over salt and pepper and whatever herbs/spices you want after you've annointed the bird.

The Stuffing

This is my chestnut stuffing:

In a food processor, combine:-
  • 4 slices of bread (I like using a grainery bread for this for the texture)
  • a small onion, peeled and halved or quartered
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 4-6 peppercorns
Process until the bread has crumbed and the onion and garlic are chopped fine. The peppercorns will make a bit of a racket, but will infuse the mixture with pepper. Then add:-
  • 1 egg
  • the grated rind of two oranges
  • 1 can of unsweetened chestnut puree (approximately 400g/14 oz). If you can't get this use 12 oz of peeled, cooked chestnuts and add extra orange juice
  • 100ml/4 fl oz approximately of orange juice (or enough to make a smooth paste)
Process until it forms a smooth paste. Loosely stuff into the cavity of the turkey, adding an extra half an hour of roasting time.

The Veggies

I always do roast potatoes, roast onions and baked garlic. Sometimes I'll roast pumpkin and parsnips, too.

Since British ovens are small, I do my veggies in a separate baking tray. Prep them all first: peel the potatoes and par-boil them for 15 minutes (see below). Top and tail the onions and peel them. For the garlic, take a bulb per person and remove as much of the external paper-like covering as possible, exposing the cloves in their wrappers. Wrap each bulb separately in foil (shiny side in) pouring over a teaspoon of olive oil (or dotting it with a teaspoon of smaltz) before you seal it in.

About an hour before you are due to take out the turkey, grease your baking tray, add the onions (turning in the oil) and garlic and put into a hot oven to heat the fat. Add the potatoes when they are ready.

The potatoes are par-boiled for 15 minutes, drained, sprinkled over with some fine-ground mazoh meal, tossed then turned into hot fat and roasted for 50-60 minutes at 180C/360F. You can par-boil them in advance, drain them and toss with the mazoh meal and stop at this point until you're ready to cook them. They will take a bit longer to roast, maybe an extra 10 minutes since they're cold.

After about half an hour in the oven, turn the potatoes and onion to expose a different side to the cooking and baste if possible with hot fat.

Put your veggies into a warmed serving dish and serve.


I use drain off the liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan and use that to form the basis of my gravy. I'll freeze it for half an hour or so, to facilitate separating the fat from the gravy, and then pour off the fat into a separate container to save for making smaltz.

About five minutes before serving dinner, bring the juices to the boil in a small saucepan. Taste: if it needs salt or pepper add it now; if it isn't very tasty, add a chicken stock cube now.
Meanwhile, combine 50ml of white wine with 1 tablespoon of cornflour in a small dish. Add to the saucepan and, stirring all the time, bring back to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour into your gravy boat and dinner is ready.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Pam (tomorrow, I'll talk about leftovers)

Friday 21 December 2007

Tuesday, we went go-karting

I don't write often about work because I think it's safer and wiser not to share those thoughts with the world. Indiscretions on the internet can get people fired. Suffice to say that things have improved dramatically in the last month, primarily I think because they moved all of finance in to the same space two weeks ago and I'm now sitting with Project Accounting. Turns out that the majority of people aren't bitches.

On Tuesday, we had a P.A. training day and finished it off with an evening of Go-Karting. Here I am (second from right) with some nice colleagues.

This is almost all the female contingent who attended (one girl took the photo). It was freezing. Note the coat. They had to talk me into taking it off. Also note the stylish overalls, supplied by the Centre. They were colour coded by size.

There were 19 of us competing (we had the track to ourselves for the evening). Each of us drove in 6 heats of 5 laps. If you qualified for the final, you got to drive another 20 laps.

The guys were really competitive. Last time I went Karting, (in 2000), it was with Head Office Finance at my old company for our "year end" celebrations (err, celebrating publishing the statutory accounts and surviving the audit). That was a much more gentle affair - the men in the department were outnumbered - and the women competed for last place.

Don't let the smile fool you - this time, I was scared. I didn't have a good practice (the yellow helmet was too large) and it was extremely easy to spin on the track. I was frightened I'd drive into a wall because either I was going too fast or my reactions were too slow.

Eventually, I replaced the yellow helmet with a better fitting one. It took me three of my heats to relax.
Eventually, the killer instinct kicked in. I wasn't going to let anyone beat me. I was determined not to be last! Foot flat to the floor, I refused to give way and let people pass me. I had the Karts in front of me in my sights. "Look out world! Here I come!" Faster and faster I drove.

Then I spun out.

Three times.

But, in each of those races, I wasn't last! There was always someone behind me at the end. And boy was I pleased!

- Pam (came 19th overall)

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Life on the Far Side

(a.k.a. The Netherlands)

On the A4 motorway outside Schiphol Airport is a sign which proudly proclaims “London 525..[km]..”. I’m in the Netherlands for a meeting in the morning, and I’m reminded once again how this is a nation of contrasts. On the one hand, my hotel’s TV has programs in four languages and I don’t know a Dutchman who doesn’t speak at least two. (I’ve just seen the L’Oreal Expert for Men advert staring that guy from Lost – he’s speaking English; the voice-over is Dutch, and nobody bats an eyelid.)

On the other hand, many of the modern buildings have moat-like ponds on their street side so that, as one of my colleagues explained, invading tank drivers would have a problem driving into them to take them out. I can understand the logic, even though it doesn’t explain what happens if the tank commander decides to shell them instead.

Tonight at the airport, I saw a group of illegal immigrants being led away by the police. I was waiting at Immigration, wondering why there was a group of young-ish men milling around by the counter into the office area – only when they were marshalled out did I realise they were handcuffed. The group looked South East Asian, possibly Filipino. How they were picked up, I don’t know – I didn’t witness what gave them away.

- Pam

Sunday 9 December 2007

Tuna Sorrento

Sometimes I think that someone reading this blog would think that I'm obsessed by food and yarn. The answer is yes, and no. Yes, I'm a foodie and Knitter, but no - I do spend my days thinking about other things and working on other projects.

Having said that, I'm proud of my ability to turn a couple of dull, boring ingredients into a really good meal. Take last Sunday night, when I turned some wizened, forgotten-in-the-bottom-of-the-veggie-drawer parsnips into Parsnip & Lemon Soup. (Having just re-read that post, I realise that I seem to be making a habit of this.) Sunday is the day we usually play role-playing-games at the club DH runs, so food on Sunday night is always rushed and relatively uninspired. Tonight, I made Tuna Sorrento and baked potatoes.

Tuna Sorrento is my take on a sandwich filling from The Sandwich Box, in Warren Street, W1, near where I worked for five years in the mid-1990's. In those days, The Sandwich Box was owned and run by an Anglo-Italian guy, Frank, and his family (his wife, his mother, his uncle). Every year, they'd close for a few weeks over the summer and go home to Italy.

We used to call The Sandwich Box "Frank's". In the days prior to Starbucks, Frank's was one of the few places you could buy a decent takeaway cappuccino in London and for the not-so-exorbitant price of 60p. After a night of little sleep, when I felt almost hungover, I'd pop into Frank's and buy a second breakfast, my "Jewish Girl's Special"; a bagel filled with egg-and-bacon-mayonnaise, topped with extra bacon and sometimes a slice of cheddar as well. (What can I say? I coined the name in a fit of self-mockery.)

My favourite lunch from Frank's was a sunflower seed bap filled with Tuna Sorrento. (A bap is a large bread bun at least 5 inches in diameter and 1.5-2 inches deep.) I'd probably buy it at least once or twice a week before I left Warren Street in 1997.

Frank sold up in the summer of 1999. He'd been mugged a couple of years earlier, fetching cash from the bank, and then the shop was robbed. He told the regulars that his heart had gone out of the business. He'd been there for 15 years. I missed his last day by a couple of weeks; popping in to my old office to meet some friends I saw the "under new management sign". I don't know if the new management ever made Tuna Sorrento nor if they're still there 10 years later.

Tuna Sorrento


2 x 180g/6oz cans tuna in brine, drained
1 x 400g/14oz can cooked kidney beans, drained
2-3 spring onions, chopped
1/4 - 1/3 cup mayonnaise


Combine all the ingredients, beating in the mayonnaise until the tuna forms a smooth paste-like consistency and the beans are a bit mushed up. Grind over some black pepper and use as a sandwich filling, or on baked potatoes, or even stir through some pasta.

- Pam (Frank, where-ever you are, this one is for you)

Friday 7 December 2007

Photos of Canada Trip

Montreal - where do I start? It was chilly, there wasn't any snow, the drivers are manic and we were spoilt wrotten by DH's aunt. I guess the best thing to do is upload a load of photos, put in some captions and then see what happens.

We flew in on Friday 9th November and were met at the airport by DH's aunt. Aunty lives in West Island, not far from Pierre Trudeau Airport.

First step was to collect our hire car, a Toyota Yaris. Only thing is - it wasn't a Yaris as we know them. (Saw a few of those wearing an "Echo" badge.)

Nope, even in daylight, it still wasn't a Yaris. It was the size of a Corolla. And when did they start making Yaris sedans?

We alternated driving days, but I claimed the first drive. It's a really nice car. Big boot/trunk, reasonable legroom inside and lots and lots of well thought out storage spaces. The centrally positioned displays put DH off a bit (he prefers the speedo directly in front of him), but I got used to it quite fast and it wouldn't put me off buying one of these cars.

On the Saturday, we followed Goodstuff3's advice and went to Parc de Mont Royal with DH's Aunt. This is me and Aunty.

We parked up and walked up to the Chalet. Here is a view of modern Montreal from the Chalet steps.

Looks like most modern cities in North America, Australia, South Africa or New Zealand. A bit different to European cities where people still live in the centre and the central business district isn't deserted at night. I felt quite at home.

Here is a shot of the Chalet which was built to entertain the Queen on her first visit to Canada.

The rafters of the Chalet are decorated by squirrels.

Afterwards, we drove into Montreal and visited the Basilica de Notre Dame.

Although none of us are Catholic (I'm not even Christian), we attended evening mass. They have a choir mistress/Cantor with the most beautiful light soprano voice. She is easily in her 40's but sounds like a teenager. The church is beautifully decorated inside, with very elaborate paintwork. Sadly, you aren't allowed to photograph it, but you can see more here. (Although the site doesn't seem to be working right now.)

Sunday was spent watching NFL on the TV, knitting and chatting to Aunty. We had planned to go out, but the chance to watch a match or two was too tempting. So we didn't visit Old Montreal until Monday.

Headed off on our own on Monday and promptly got lost. I missed the correct exit in the tunnels that run under the city and we came out on the far side. Drove around in circles for a while DH tried to work out the map. Eventually, I did the "I'll take the next right and pull over" thing. It's just as well I did park up - I rapidly realised that I'd turned the wrong way down a one-way street!!!

After an "Oh shit" u-turn, I found a nice girl to ask for directions. And we were on our way. Five or six kilometers out of town on the opposite side to where we were staying. We parked up at the car park beside the Town Hall. Not bad value to this British resident at $16 a day. I have no idea if that is expensive to Canadians. (Parking in an equivalent spot in London would be £40+.)

To me, the Town Hall looks vaguely French, sort of colonial-Victorian with French touches. It is impressive inside - got a grand entrance hallway - but we missed the tour. It does, however, have really nice toilets that are open for the public to use.

I was really taken by the Egyptian style lamps that grace one of the court buildings nearby. Doesn't it look like papyrus?

And the aluminium dome of the Bonsecours Market.

We wandered around the shops in there and I purchased a really lovely black knitted cardigan with a shawl neck. I had been so wound up by work that I hadn't really put much thought into packing - it showed when I realised I'd only packed two sweaters. (I'll post photos of the sweater later.)

In the meantime, here is DH outside the Town Hall.

On the Tuesday, DH drove the 3.5 hours to Quebec City. We parked near the Station and Town Hall. Here is a shot of the Town Hall.

And the station. One day, I would like to take the train along the full route of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was one of my Dad's day-dreams, which I've shared.

Quebec City is the most European of all the cities I've visited in North America. Very French. It reminded me of Montmatre in Paris and parts of Geneva.

This is Montmorency Park, the site of Canada's first parliament building. When the building burnt down, the Canadians stopped alternating their parliament between Toronto and Quebec City and moved it to Ottawa. We speculated that these guns had once been trained on the English.

And this is the view over the ramparts.

Next to the park is a really posh hotel. They're doing some rebuilding work, I think on the roof. Take note of the crane in the foreground.

This is bottom of the crane. Take a good look at the wheels under the cab. Note how they AREN'T touching the ground. Glad I'm not staying in that hotel.

Whilst we were wandering around Quebec City, we stumbled over a sport shop displaying a Patriot's sweatshirt. It was the only one they had and it was the wrong size for DH. Before the shop assistant double checked the stock room, he had DH try on a Bengals sweatshirt for size. Here you are public (Amy, close your eyes!), for one picture only, DH in a Bengals top!

He'll hate me for that!

Quebec city has lots of sculpture in it's public spaces. I was especially taken by this one.

The building below has an aluminium roof. I think it's the local office of Alcan (their's is the plaque on the left of the door).

Quebec City is a walled, gated city. This is one of the gates.

And here I am admiring the view from the walls nearby.

Just for Kim (and any other Arsenal supporters out there), here is street sign for Rue de l'Arsenal.

Originally, I was meant to share the drive back from Quebec City, but I got cramp. We stopped to swap drivers, I got out of the car and the muscles in my right thigh and groin siezed up. Agony.

So, instead, I did the drive to and from Ottawa City on the Thursday; a drive of about two hours. DH's Aunt came with us. Here they are outside Parliament House.

This is a full shot of Parliament House. The Peace Tower is a memorial to Canada's war dead, built after the First World War.

We did the free tour and I can thoroughly recommend it. The library is amazing (sadly, no photography allowed). The tour ends at the foot of the Peace Tower, so we took the lift to the viewing deck and were greeted by an amazing view. Here is the roof of the dome of the Library, with Hull in the background.

The Parliament building is decorated by several gargoyles. The gargoyles are so popular, they sell replicas in the shop. I purchased the first one for DH.

Aren't they cute?

Later, we spotted the lions guarding the post office entrance.

I think this one should be labeled: "Just Call me Leo". Isn't he dignified?

Further down the same street, we spotted these two characters guarding the entrance to a bank:

We spent the Friday helping Aunty to rake up the leaves in the front and back gardens. She'd arranged for a handyman to do it, but he stood her up. (We'd volunteered several times over our week there - the last time, she gave in.) As you can see, we filled six or seven huge bags with leaves.

Had loads of fun squashing the leaves down, although DH managed to burst a bag when he leapt on top of it and the air couldn't vent. The above shot was taken in the afternoon before we left.

- Pam

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Rumours of my death have been greatly exagerated

I've just been too tired and busy to post. Last night, I feel asleep on the couch at about 9.15pm, having got home after 7.30pm and then cooked dinner.

Per DH, we took 377 photos in Canada. I'll do a sift tonight, I hope, and put up the best 10.

- Pam

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Banana Bran Bread

It's a while since I honoured "Recipe Tuesday", so I thought I'd get back into the habit. :o)

When DH and I go grocery shopping, one of our regular purchases is a hand of bananas. We both take a banana to work each day, so most of the time they get eaten before they go too black and soft. The ones that don't end up in one or other version of banana bread. Surplus bananas end up in the freezer until I'm in the mood to use them.

This is my favourite banana bread. My dad used to call it "Walnut Loaf", because the cooked brown rice takes on a nutty, chewy texture. It
must be brown rice; the recipe doesn't work very well with white. Sometimes the rice can get quite hard - I bit into a piece on Sunday and chipped an already dodgy tooth.

It's a good recipe to double, if you've got the oven space.

For Weight Watchers, follow the recipe using skimmed milk, oil, soy flour and the half sugar/half Splenda options. The recipe makes 12 muffins (at 3 WW points each) or 1 large loaf giving 20 half-slices at 2 WW points each.

Banana Bran Bread


2 soft bananas
70ml oil (or 100g butter)
100g soft dark muscovardo sugar/molasses sugar/raw sugar (or use 50g sugar & 1/2 cup of Splenda)
2 eggs (or 2 tablespoons soy flour and 3 tablespoons of water)
1/4 cup of milk (60 ml)
150g wholemeal self raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 cup cooked brown rice

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C.
  2. Cream together the banana, oil/butter and sugar +/- Splenda.
  3. Blend in the eggs (or soy flour and water if using), then the milk.
  4. Sift over the dry ingredients blending as you go (that's the flour, cinnamon and bicarb).
  5. Finally, stir in the rice. (If you are doing this in a food processor, just give it a quick burst to blend.)
  6. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Alternatively, pour into 12 muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes. It's done when a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a cake cooler.
- Pam

Monday 26 November 2007

One of the great mysteries - Alcohol and the British

I have never understood the British attitude to alcoholic drinks. I've been thinking about it more and more, partially because LBC this morning was reporting a 12% increase in two years in ambulance call-outs in London related to alcohol consumption.

Two years ago, the Government liberalised licensing laws, enabling pubs and bars to stay open to whatever hour they have nominated on their licence application - so called "24 hour drinking". It's easy to blame the change in licensing laws, but I don't think that is the real problem. I think it's the "getting drunk for the sake of getting drunk" culture that exists in this country. In many circles, saying "I was so drunk on Saturday...." and then elaborating on some act of stupidity is a socially acceptable boast.

I've been pondering this for a long time and I don't think I have a solution or an explanation for the drinking culture in this country. Changing the licensing laws back to something more restrictive will just drive drinkers to downing more pints of beer in less time and then going outside to throw it all up. Or the pubs will return to the culture of illicit lock-ins.

I don't think it's a new problem, either. 17 years ago, I worked in the Accident & Emergency Department of a major suburban London hospital; 18 months earlier, I completed my second stint in the Casualty Department at a major, inner-city, Australian hospital. In the UK, we would receive our daily delivery of "PFO's" or "pissed, fell over"; two or three would delivered by ambulance during each day shift, more at night.

You didn't get that in Oz. We would get the odd drunk admitted on a Friday or Saturday night, usually with major injuries, and the occasional hard drinker, often derelicts from local shelters who were regulars known to staff.

I think one big difference in Australia is that people expected to drive to/from their social events - usually there is no alternative. Maybe it's the stringent drink-drive laws, or the daily publication of alcohol related road deaths. Also, the Mediterranean culture of eat-whilst-you-drink has taken hold - most pubs serve food as a matter of course and have facilities for children. Drinking at home is at least as common as it is here, if not more-so since it's the one place you can drink without having to drive afterwards. But people don't seem to get as drunk and I'm not sure why.

Don't get me wrong; I like a glass of wine or a shot of whisky. At last count, we had over 20 bottles of different whiskys in this house, 60 odd bottles of wine and 10 or so different vodkas, as well as numerous other bottles of individual spirits not already listed. However, I drink but I don't like getting drunk. I do not understand it's attraction, nor do I think it is a desirable outcome for an evening out. It seems I'm in the minority.

Can anyone enlighten me?

- Pam

Saturday 24 November 2007

Wash your hands

I'd like to apologise now - I haven't been inspired to write much this week. I guess I've been too tired. I haven't even gone through the photos from the trip to select a few to show off. I've even been to lethargic to cook! (I have to say that having some tubs of base and a few containers of chilli and stew in the freezer have been a godsend.)

So I thought I'd share one piece of useful trivia that I picked up from the Canadian news channel: apparently if you wash your hands at least 5 times a day (presumably in addition to toilet stops), you halve your chances of picking up the common cold. The Canadians are worried about an epidemic of a non-typical strain of the common cold, which the news channel dubbed "the uncommon cold". Unfortunately, I never did learn what the symptoms were; I'd obviously walked in at the wrong end of the news item and missed it being repeated.

As an ex-nurse, I thought I'd pass on the correct way to wash your hands. If you've ever wondered, here is a good "how to". The only things I'd add are:-
  • Start at your finger-tips and work your way down your hands and onto your wrists/forearms.
  • In most respects, it is the friction that kills the bugs (unless you're using a disinfectant soap such as Betadine). It isn't necessary to use a disinfectant soap in normal life, just make sure that you spend enough time washing your hands to do the job. In fact, it is possible to get surgically clean hands after 5 minutes of correct washing, using a basic soap and running water.
  • If you use a cake of soap, ensure it is dry. The BBC did a documentary a few years ago, The Secret Life of the Family, where they demonstrated that your hands would have more bugs on them after washing with soft, damp soap, than before doing so! Apparently, soft, damp, mushy soap is a perfect growth medium.
  • Scrub your nails if you get the chance with a clean, dry nail brush, then wash each finger, move rings up and down to clean beneath them. Move onto the palms, rubbing your knuckles into your palms, followed by the back of your hand.
- Pam

Tuesday 20 November 2007

back home

We flew back from Canada on Saturday night. I got very little sleep on the plane (had a migraine), but the jet-lag didn't really kick in until today (possibly because I was up past midnight re-writing my CV - more on that later).

I'll post some photos, etc, later, but here are some random thoughts about our trip to entertain you:-
  • I didn't knit on the way out. The Air Canada check-in staff advised me to pack my needles into my suitcase.
  • I did knit on the way home. The check-in staff sent DH off to speak to security to ensure they hadn't changed the rules since the last knitter checked in. Security's response was revealing - they couldn't quite comprehend why he was asking the question about such a normal activity. Nobody said anything to me when I went through security nor were there any comments on the plane.
  • Quebec drivers are worse than the British. DH's cousin says they're worse than driving in France.
  • Of the towns we visited, Quebec City was the most tourist friendly, followed by Ottawa.
  • I didn't find any yarn shops, but I didn't get the chance to do much looking. I did, however, manage to pick up two very nice knitted cardigans for reasonable prices.
  • I didn't drive on the wrong side of the road, but I did manage to turn the wrong way down a one-way street.
  • The deep water in a typical North American toilet-bowl still freaks me out. Why, in two countries obsessed by hygiene, do you run the risk of "splash back" every time you go to the toilet??? Drop the water-level guys!
  • I'd forgotten how big trucks could get. Saw my first proper road-train outside Australia.
OK, I'm tired. That's enough for now.

- Pam

PS: On the job front, I had a call yesterday from the recruiter who placed me in my current role. Seems he's set up on his own with some colleagues. Perfect timing. I wandered into the kitchen at work, talked to him for at least 10 minutes and officially started my job search.

Monday 5 November 2007

Waiting for the music to stop

I'm sitting watching yet another program about the current British property boom. The theme is simple - property is being priced out of reach of first time buyers. It's a horror story I've been watching for a while, coupled with the rise in personal debt. According to a statistic I heard tonight, the British have the highest per capita personal debt, including mortgage debt, in the world.

In most respects, I'm really glad DH and I are already on the property ladder. Our house needs work, but it is a solid 1930's semi in an outer London suburb. It isn't our ideal suburb; we procrastinated about house hunting in 2002 and watched houses in our favourite area go up by £100,000. They had been in the £150,000 region; when we started house hunting in January 2003, the cheapest in that neighbourhood was £240,000. That was more than four times our joint salaries. So we started circling outwards until found a house we could afford 7 miles from our original target. If we tried to buy it today, it would be out of our price range.

The property market here is has reached scary levels. I don't understand how "normal" people can now get on the ladder; mortgage companies have been advertising multiples of 5 or 6 times salary but even at those levels most people can't afford a small flat, let alone a family home. The average salary here is approximately £27,000; at five times salary, Joe Average could borrow £135,000. I did a quick search on he would be lucky to purchase a small studio flat anywhere in London. I counted 5, including one in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (another 20 miles out of Central London from here).

The real question is what will happen now credit is drying up? Wages are rising at 3% per year, whilst house prices are rising at closer to 15%. Employment and salary figures are skewed by the recent influx of Eastern Europeans, who happily take lower wages than existing residents because they don't realise how high cost of living is and/or only plan on working here for a relatively short time until they have improved their English or reach a saving goal. This can't carry on.

Academically, I know how this game will play out. People will borrow money on larger and larger salary multiples until either property prices rise completely out of reach or the banks stop offering them. Those that have borrowed crazy money will find their mortgage payments eating up large proportions of their salaries and disrupting how they'd like to live their lives. Then a crisis will hit, probably in the form of higher interest rates, particularly as long fixed rate mortgages are almost unknown here - most people are on variable rate. The overstretched will survive for a while using their credit cards to supplement their income. And then their personal house of cards will start to topple. And their neighbours. And their friends. Personal tragedies hidden in an avalanche of bankruptcies and repossessions.

It's like an elaborate game of musical chairs, but with consequences. How many people will be damaged, how many homes will be lost, and how many banks fold as a result of debts gone bad, before the music stops?

- Pam

Friday 2 November 2007

What to take with me?

We're off to Montreal in a week, to visit family. If I'm lucky, that'll mean 18 hours of knitting time on various planes plus whatever knitting time I can squeeze in whilst we're there. (It isn't guaranteed that I'll be able to take my needles onto the plane - I'll ask at check-in.)

I'm currently knitting the Soft Sweater With A Patterned Yoke that I wrote about way back in April. It's fairly mindless knitting (my favourite kind - you just motor along) and the Rowan Tapestry yarn flows through my fingers. The yarn is a single ply, soft with a slight halo and a tendency to untwist as it gets wrapped around my right needle.

The colourway is "Lead Mine", multiple shades of grey from pale to almost black. Unfortunately, the camera has given it a faint purple hue in this photo. It's got much more of a stripe than I really wanted (I was hoping for a more graduated flow of colours with bigger blocks of shading), but the finished sweater should look nice.

Anyway, my question is: what knitting do I take with me? I have several pairs of socks promised for Christmas; since I think they're more likely to allow bamboo dpns on a plane than metal/resin ended circulars (garrote anyone?), I was planning on sock knitting on the flight. Should I just focus on socks or should I take this sweater along too, to knit in the evenings at DH's aunt's?

- Pam

PS: Why do I knit socks with bamboo dpns? Aside from the minimal noise issue (no clack-clack), it's because they bend under pressure and look like they'd snap. Much less threatening to airport security. Of course, only an idiot would snap a bamboo dpn - they're far more valuable whole.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Knitting to show off

Here is the gaggle of socks I've knitted since our first Proms concert in mid-July. I've made completed 4 pairs now, all knitted on buses, the London Underground, train journeys and at concerts.

They're all made using leftovers from 100g balls of Opal self-patterning sock yarn, mixed with suitable contrasts. Do you recognise the ones on the right? They were the ones for which I couldn't find a suitable contrast yarn (from this post). Lisa Souza came to my rescue (thanks for the referral, Tama).

Yes, the second blue sock is missing - this was taken before the NFL match.

I've also completed the snowflake sweater. No, I can't model it. It's too small! Even though I based it on the largest size given in a 1942 Vogue pattern and double checked my gauge, it is tiny. The original had typical war-time styling (narrow sleeves, fitted waist), but had been revised for a 1980s publication "Knitting in Vogue", edited by Christina Probert. There was no mention of the massive amount of NEGATIVE ease I've encountered. I knitted the largest size (36 inches) based on bust measurement. Just as well I've lost 18.5 lb so far on Weight Watchers - I think I'll need to lose another 12 before this fits nicely and I doubt it'll ever do up properly over my bust.

I followed the Vogue pattern for the shaping. My modifications were the v-neckline, changing the bands, the snowflakes and the Swedish Stars on the shoulders. The whole design was inspired by the grey and white bands on this sock.

- Pam

Wednesday 31 October 2007

A Football Match Was Attended

... And it was NFL! Yes, we went to the historic first regular season match outside America at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. It was a "home" match for the Miami Dolphins against the New York Giants.

We supported the Dolphins, on the basis that they were the underdogs (and we've driven past their stadium in Miami).As you can see from this shot of the cheerleaders, we were up in the top tier. It didn't matter - the view was good.

Here's DH (at the front) and friends, all wearing their team shirts and jackets. They're serious fans. DH and his best friend used to play in the local amateur league, and they've all played play-by-mail fantasy NFL games.

Do you like DH's New England Patriots jacket? Pretty blue, isn't it? He's had it since he was 21. I was disappointed to discover it still fit him (I was hoping to "borrow" it for the match).

Here's me and my knitting. Unsure of whether there would be a problem with knitting needles, I almost smuggled the sock in. The security guards saw my make-up-bag-knitting-case and didn't check inside. Once inside, the Safety Stewards didn't care.

You can't really see from the picture, but I'd just picked up the gusset stitches and knitted 3 rows before we got to Wembley. I knitted throughout the match.

Can't say it was a particularly good football match (if you hear that from me, who's only seen a couple of live NFL-Europe games and a few televised matches, it really was bad!). But the pre-match and half time shows were good and it was just really great to be there.

The middle two quarters were dire. The Dolphin's were their own worst enemies - they clocked up a string of penalty plays in the second quarter (six, I think), including a 1st and 25. Much to the surprise of my friends (who'd thought that was the worst play they'd ever seen), the Giants topped it with a 2nd and 37!

Just when you thought the Dolphins had a chance in the final quarter, they inexplicably blew through their 3 time-outs before the two minute warning. This meant that although the did manage to score a touchdown (finally!), they couldn't call a time out to organise a field goal. Even I know that was stupid. What did their coaches think they were doing? Throwing the match?

This is how far I managed to get with the sock, approximately 60 rows knitted at the match including the gusset. The blue part is leftover Opal self-striping yarn, while the white is all Lisa Souza's Sock! in ecru ordered directly from her (remember the problem I had obtaining white yarn? Lisa solved it for me. More pictures later). No, I didn't borrow DH's jacket - he held the sock for me.

Here's another photo of the sock. Taken in the last two minutes of the match.

On the whole, a great evening out. Next time, though, please can we see the Pats?

- Pam (when the play got really bad, I was chanting "we want Pats")