Saturday 28 April 2012

Rehearsal with orchestra


Tonight is the biggest concert I have participated in since I returned to singing in 2004. Tonight I'm singing with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London's Southbank Centre. Tonight, Dr Jonathan Williams is conducting Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and Poulenc's Gloria, and I'll be singing in the second row of the chorus.

Wish us luck!

Pam (both nervous and excited)

Friday 20 April 2012

Frugal Friday: Freezer Tetris

One day, in the near future, I am probably going to lose at Freezer Tetris.

You don't know about Freezer Tetris?  You remember the early computer game, Tetris, don't you?  Where you had to fit shapes into a finite space, without leaving any gaps?  Well, Freezer Tetris is a real-life version of the game, where you have to fit more and more food into a freezer that is already full.  This was my freezer two weeks ago, at the tail end of Easter:

Hard to believe that I'd taken an 18lb turkey out of it to roast for Good Friday. I took that photo after I successfully managed to shoe-horn in 6 x 600ml containers of turkey stock, as well as over 2kg of cubed leftover turkey.   In the interim week after removing and defrosting said turkey, I also added 800g home-wilted spinach and 1.5kg cooked chickpeas.  

With the exception of a couple of lunch-boxes of leftovers (and four haggis plus a whole black pudding), the contents of the freezer  remained static until I decided we needed more kidney beans, so I soaked a 1kg of dried beans overnight, bagged them, then shoved them into the freezer.  Somehow. (Freezing causes ice to form in the re-hydrated cells, which damages the cell walls and shortens cooking time.)  How I got them into the freezer, I don't know.

Last night, I couldn't resist the big bag of frozen hash-browns at Costco, so the beans came out of the freezer and I cooked them this morning.  1kg of dried beans cooked became 2.35kg.

 Half an hour ago, I stood staring at the freezer wondering how I was going to fit that lot in.  Last night's hash browns had been difficult enough.

Hmmm.... If I take these out and rearrange that......


Pam 3 :  Freezer 0

 - Pam

PS:  There is a serious point I want to make here.  One of the things that keeps our food bill low is the way we utilise the freezer.  Leftovers get frozen.  Before we went on holiday, all our remaining fresh veg was chopped up and frozen.  I batch cooked dried pulses, portion them up and freeze anything that won't be eaten that day.  At Easter, we nabbed a bargain on fresh spinach - an 800g bag marked down to 75p from £3, so I wilted it, portioned it into 4 and froze it.  We don't go supermarket shopping for dinner, we go to re-stock our stores.  When I think about cooking a meal, I start by considering what is in my fridge, my freezer and my larder.

PPS:  I heard a great quote yesterday from either episode 5 or episode 6 of A History of the World in 100 Objects:  "If the larder is full, the mind has time to focus on other things".  The presenter was explaining why art appeared after early man became farmers.  Previously, all their time was taken up with hunting and gathering food, but once they started farming, they developed surpluses of food which they could store.  Suddenly, there was time to do other things: become craftsmen, worry about gods, etc.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Dear BBC

Thank you for all those years when you broadcast the Grand National live on TV. Today was the last one and your coverage was better than ever. (I am not saying that just because I had 50p each way on the winner, either.) You will be missed.

To the Powers That Be: I, for one, would happily pay an extra £20/year on my TV Licence to enable the BBC to continue broadcasting top sporting events. Even if you increased the licence fee to £20/month to pay for more sport and drama, it would still be good value (currently £12.12/month). Personally, I think the BBC is worth every penny of £20/month. Stop trying to cripple it.

- Pam

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Bed finally

At midnight. Twenty hours up and counting. Grrr....

Did I mention I am tired and sleep deprived? Hope I didn't accidentally insult anyone at dinner in my sleep-deprived haze.


Work functions.


I am tired. Had to fly "up north" this morning to participate in the delivery of two days' training. I've been awake since before 4am and it is beginning to show. My concentration is shot (and has been for hours).

I could have sworn I had the beginning of a blog post earlier - something about sunrise over Heathrow - but it's gone. All I can tell you is that the sunrise was particularly good when viewed from Terminal 5 this morning. Very yellow/orange.

Oh and the ladies toilets reminded me of something I observed in Bahrain: even the most Arabic of women will, if given the choice, wait to use a western-style toilet rather than a squatting one. Architects take note.

- Pam

ps: The walls in this hotel are paper thin. My boss is in the next room and I can hear him on the phone. Am 99% sure the guy on the other side, who just coughed, is another colleague.

Monday 9 April 2012

Photos from Oman

Here are the long awaited photos from Oman.  We took over 600 -  I've whittled them down to  a few dozen 47 for you.  (Note:  if you click on any one of the photos, Blogger now allows you to scroll through them all like a slide show.)

We landed in Muscat on Thursday 22nd March.  On the Friday, we drove through the mountains to Nizwa,

stopping off along the way at a picturesque fort for photographs.

(You'll see a lot of that pink shirt.  I wore it as a jacket and cover-up over my t-shirt, whenever we went out.)

Nizwa is deep in the interior of the country.  It was once the capital of Oman.  Nizwa Fort was built to defend the sultanate from attack.  It is huge and impenetrable.  It was restored in the 1990's and is now a museum.  Photo of the interior courtyard:

Views from the roof of the fort:

Saturday, DH and I had a lazy day, lounging around his sister's house in Seeb.  We mainly watched - and played with - the cats.

 Here are the views from the roof:

Seeb is a fishing village on the outskirts of Muscat, with a lovely beach.


On the Sunday, we visited the Royal Opera House in Muscat before spending another lazy day, hanging around the pool at the Hyatt Hotel.



(Lots of very bright, white marble at the Opera House.)

Monday, we took a taxi to Muttrah Souk and Corniche, stopping off at the Sultan Qaboos Mosque along the way.

Naturally, I had to wrap up.

 It was worth it.  The interiors are stunning.  This is a doorway in the women's mosque:

Another beautifully carved door:

The chandeliers in the men's mosque are beautiful:

The walls are covered in beautiful mosaics:

This one is particularly beautiful.  It is a shelf holding copies of the Koran:

It is a stunning building, isn't it?  We went from them to Muttrah, where the entrance to the Souk is on the sea front at Muttrah Corniche:

In the harbour were a couple of old Omani dhow's.  I am 99% sure the warship in the background is from New Zealand.

The fort above the harbour was built by the Portuguese, I believe.

We didn't take any photos of the interior of the Souk.  It is made up of dozens of arcades, lined with shops.  In the main arcade, all the shopkeepers tried to sell me a pashmina (or two).  Mindful of my New Year's Resolution to only buy 12 items of clothing in 2012, I resisted.  Anyway, I've already got two - who needs more?  The other thing they all seemed to sell was frankincense.   However, once you got beyond the main arcade, the Souk stopped being focused on tourists and started being a market for locals.  Down one arcade, I even found shops selling knitting yarn and crochet cotton.  (Unable to identify the fibre content of the yarn, I didn't buy it.  I think it was made in Japan.)

Tuesday was another lazing-around day.  Wednesday, we went to a shopping mall (highlight: Cinnabon cinnamon rolls), and then to the fete at my SIL's school.

Our next big adventure was the Thursday, when we went out into the desert to spend the night at Al Raha Tourist Camp in the Wahabi Sands region of Oman, approximately 240km from Muscat.  The accomodation is basic but Al Raha is where the locals go, including the Omani Royal Family.

The rooms are motel style:

 This is the road to the camp.

Basically, you drive down the Ibra-Sur road, turn right at the Shell garage at Biddiyah, do another right at the end of the street, then turn left a kilometre or so after the tarmac ends, then continue on until you spot the camp.

After unpacking, we drove out into the desert to picnic and wait for the sun to set:

 We played around with the panorama setting on DH's camera.

And were entertained by a scarab beetle:

DH walked down the hill to photograph some camels.

The sunset was worth the wait.

 Back at camp that night, we were entertained by several musicians.

Friday morning, we rode camels:

And quad bikes:

Don't we look like good Aussies, wearing our Akubras?

The quad bikes were great fun.  I kept feeling like something was missing, then I realised what it was.  There should have been a dog sitting on the back of the quad bike, clinging on for dear life as we rounded up sheep or cattle.

We stopped in Baddiyah on the way back to Muscat, where we had a cup of tea.  Despite swollen fingers, I did a little bit of knitting.

In many respects, Baddiyah is your typical dusty frontier town.  It could be almost anywhere:

Sadly, my reactions weren't fast enough to get the shot of a camel being ferried out into the desert on the back of a ute/pick-up truck.

Pretty much the only down-side of the trip (apart from it not being long enough), was that - yet again - I was mosquito fodder.  Just take a look at my feet:

They look like I've got chicken pox or something similar.  I ended up with 24 bites on the left one alone. 

- Pam