Thursday, May 14, 2009

Randomiser at Ketchup

Last night we went to Ketchup, a gourmet burger place on Ashton lane with Cat and Squizz. A feature of their menu I particularly like is the 'Randomiser' where your waitress chooses for you, or as the menu says:

Put your future in the hands of our helpful and friendly staff. Choose the randomiser and receive the burger your server thinks would suit you best.

We were a bit scared of this option but Squizz decided to test our waitress to see if she would choose something he would like. She obviously knew her stuff because, after looking him up and down, she chose a burger with chicken and haggis, to which he immediately agreed. Nick looked envious for a second and then announced he wanted that too. Apparently it was delicious.

At this juncture, if I were Christian I would write this:

I had the ostrich burger (extra rare) and Nick had the scallop burger with caviar salad and the bill came to £637 including wine* which we all agreed was very reasonable and we would definitely frequent this restaurant in future.

*None of this is true. Actually I don't know how much the bill was because Squizz put it on his expense account. He's not an MP though, and he's the boss of his own company, so it's ok.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

kitten improvement?

I thought the kittens had grown out of pooing behind the sofas. Clearly not.

I decided to do a bit of quilting the other day and went into the front room to get my roll of wadding which I keep, yup, behind the sofa. I hasten to point out that the cats are not usually allowed in the 'good' room. The sofa they used to frequent was in the TV room, and the front room has generally remained a poo free zone.

Unfortunately when I grabbed the wadding I realised that it had been unrolled and scrumpled up. Inside the wadding was a nice poo, smeared over most of the wadding rendering it unusable.

I don't know how long it had been there. I feel violated. And annoyed - that was about £15 quids worth of fabric. I shall be taking it out of their pocket money.

Monday, May 11, 2009

hard day at the office

Nick is 'working from home' today and has discovered what happens in our house when we are at work.

Not alot by the looks of things.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Boiling an Egg and making lemon curd

Chris posed a question in his comment on the last post. To save you going to find it, here it is:

Out of interest, how do you boil your eggs? For some reason this is seen as the most basic thing you can do in the kitchen, but I have to say producing a perfect boiled egg every time is a tricky affair* and there's many different opinions on the subject. You shouldn't boil them, I know that much. My current method is to put them in a pan of cold water, heat it until the water reaches 85 degrees Celsius and then maintain it at that temperature for 6-7 minutes depending on the size of the egg. Getting the exact formula right is a tricky bugger, as is keeping the water at exactly 85 degrees. I'm going to try a formula whereby you heat the water to 90 and then completely take it off the heat, as I think that will be more reliable.

*By perfect I mean a firm, but not rubbery white, and a runny yolk.

Now, you should know that Chris is a bit of a foodie and knows his stuff when it comes to fannying around creating works of art in the kitchen. (check out his blog for some of his bizarre recipes.) However I'm surprised at the lengths that even Chris will go to to get the perfect boiled egg. Maintaining the water at exactly 85 degrees? surely that's just one step too far in the search for perfection.

I have to admit that my method is this: Boil water, lower egg in on spoon, time using egg timer, remove from water. My eggs are usually really delicious.

I'm wondering if the rubberiness could be something to do with the quality or the age of the raw egg? Not having purchased any eggs for over 3 years it would be interesting to compare our eggs with shop bought ones in a scientific taste test. The eggs I eat are never usually more than a week old, and if I was going to boil one then I'd use one laid that day. I use the older ones for cooking with. However eggs do keep really well, up to 4 weeks I'm told, and supermarket eggs can sometimes be knocking on a bit in age. We have developed a rotational system at home so we always know which order to eat the eggs in.

Having said all this I would doubt that Chris's problem is down to quality as he always buys the best he can.

If I am being honest I would always prefer a poached egg over a boiled egg anyway. And, like Chris, I am constantly searching for the perfect way to poach an egg. We have bought a number of 'poaching' devices, none of which seem to do the job any better than:

swirling the boiling water round in a vortex,
chucking in the egg,
putting on the toast,
taking the egg off the heat
leaving in the water until the toast is done (which is my preferred method of timing the whole process.)

With this method the eggs are not always perfect in appearance, even though they taste divine. The various poaching devices ensure an aesthetically pleasing egg, but increase the chance of rubberiness.

For my current favourite egg-busting recipe look no further than my delicious lemon curd. It is truly fabulous, and a lovely thing to make on a rainy weekend when you can stand and stir and stir and listen to a radio play.

put in a heavy based saucepan:

8 eggs
700gms sugar
200gms butter
juice and zest of 8 lemons

heat very gently stirring all the time for about half an hour, or until it has thickened into curd consistency. Do this very carefully and slowly. If you have the heat too high you will end up with sweet lemon scrambled eggs which might not be that tasty. Pour the finished lemon curd through a sieve and into jars which you have washed and have dried in a very hot oven to kill all beasties. I sterilise the lids by pouring boiling water on them. I don't know if this is the right way to do it but it seems to work for me and my curds and chutneys don't seem to go mouldy.

This recipe will make about 4 or 5 jars, and is amazing on toast, particularly toast made from tesco's walnut bread. Mmmmmmm.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

written off

Well, unfortunately my car has been deemed a total loss by the insurance company.

I expect the next step is for them to value it and tell me it was only worth £4.32 before I crashed it and quite frankly I should be grateful they are giving me any money at all.

The other irritating thing that I have learned (and let this be a warning to you) is that I would only be given a courtesy car if they were going to fix my car - not if it's written off. Apparently, their courtesy does not extend to people who have really buggered up, only to people who have mildly buggered up. If you want to ensure you have transport during the 3 or 4 weeks it takes for your money to come through you have to get an extra policy.

Luckily enough my boss has a spare car he is lending me in the interim. I know - who has a spare car lying about? Still, I am very grateful. I suspect he offered in a rash moment, then regretted it when remembering the reason I needed it in the first place, but by then I had accepted his offer!

Animal News

On the chicken front things are going very well. I had not collected the eggs for the past few days and when I went out this morning there were 19 eggs in the nest. So many in fact I had to fetch a bucket to put them all in.

Last weekend we were also having a bit of an egg glut. I managed to make inroads into our egg mountain by making a quiche, 2 pints of ice cream and 2 batches of lemon curd, but now I'm back to square one with more eggs than I know what to do with.

I'm not quite sure whats going on, especially with Omelet, our oldest hen, who is coming up to 4 years old this summer. She still lays about 5 eggs a week, which is very unusual. Custard, who is 3 this year also lays 4 or 5 a week. I can only attribute this continuing productivity to the happy life they have rootling around in the shrubs at the bottom of the garden.

Lucy, our escapee hen, is now confined back to the run after we clipped her wings last week. She had been going for a daily wander for the past month, taking a visit to our next door neighbour and the occasional sojourn onto the pristine bowling green. Since the start of the bowling season we thought it might we wise to stop these little trips of hers for the sake of neighbourly harmony.

The kittens (Macy and Morag) are now all grown up and thankfully have stopped pooing behind the sofa and weeing on the hall carpet. Instead they have taken to digging up worms and bringing them into the house to play with until the worms dry up and go all crispy. On the plus side they are a bit less terrified of us, and occasionally they let us stroke them. It's a long process but we will tame them in the end.

That's all for now folks x

Friday, May 01, 2009

Car Crash Miracle

I'm very happy to be writing this. I have escaped death and walked away from rolling my car without a scratch on me. My car is totalled, but it saved my life and I'm very grateful to Renault. here's what happened:

I was driving along a bendy country road.

I lost it on the corner, and over steered, hitting the bank.

The car started spinning round and flipped over onto it's side. I remember the windows smashing and seeing the grassy bank flashing right by my head.

Next thing I remember is ending up back on my wheels in the middle of the road, in shock, with the man in the blue car phoning the ambulance and the police.

I'm very lucky and can't believe that I walked away from this with only a bruise on my neck and shoulder from where the seatbelt held me in my seat when I was upside down. It's very odd that I can't remember most of what happened, but I do have a very clear vision of the cubes of glass flying in front of me and the blurry grass bank whizzing past less than a foot away from my head, and thinking to myself: This is it. I wasn't scared at the thought of being dead, but it was enough to make be blank whatever happened next.

In some respects this is very comforting. I am not a religious person at all, and this experience has affirmed my belief that when you die, you just stop being, and there is nothing to be scared of. I am comforted that, with the very real prospect of being squashed to death, I didn't feel terrified, or regretful, or anything bad at all. I just thought 'this is it' and then my mind went blank.

Oh, and I will be buying another Modus, with it's 5 start Ncap safety rating, that's for sure.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Note to self

Note to self:

Remember not to wear balconette bra and low cut top if planning on dancing exuberantly to 'The Only Way Is Up' at a disco, unless intentionally trying to display my assets to all on the dance floor.

Oh well, at least they'll remember me at that party.

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's like being at playschool

Maybe I've had too much sun, or perhaps I'm still delirious at the prospect of being back at work, but we've decided that the design for our current Art Gallery project should be based on a tornado.

It was one of those off the cuff suggestions made in jest during a brainstorm that grew arms and legs. This morning I have spent 2 hours farting around with florists wire to create my marvellous swirling vortex. This afternoon I will photograph it in the garden then glue bits of corrugated cardboard, balsa wood and photos of smiling people from magazines onto the image.

I get paid for this too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's the Egyptian system

I loved being in Egypt but I could never live there. The more time you spend there the more idiotically frustrating things happen to make you wish you were at home in Blightly where at least they don't spray human sewage on the lawns every morning.

Take this classic example of the 'Egyptian Factor' which occured on our last day.

Nick went to get ice creams. He was gone for over 10 mins. First he went to the ice cream display counter. There weren't any labels on the ice creams, and all the tubs had the lids on, so he had to call the barman over from the other side of the hotel lobby to tell him what flavours they had.

After Nick selected a chocolate cone for me and a strawberry cone for himself the barman had to walk back over to the bar to fetch the cones, which for some reason where not kept by the ice cream but by the cocktail-making equipment. Then he walked back to the ice cream counter to remove the tubs. Tubs in one hand and cones in the other he disappeared off into the kitchens in search of a scoop.

Time passed slowly, presumably as the kitchen staff searched for a suitable implement to dispense the ice cream. The bar man returned with the ice cream cones, and the tubs under one arm.

Nick gave the man a 50LE note for the 20LE cones. The barman didn't have any change. In fact he didn't actually seem to have a till. Nick refused to put the ice creams on the hotel bill, and so the barman had to hunt through his own pockets to find some change. When he didn't find enough he nipped along to the reception desk to ask the man there.

Nick by this point was feeling like he'd stepped into a sitcom and asked the barman why shop-keepers in Egypt never had any change, or even tills? Surely a till was a crucial piece of kit for an establishment that owed it's survival to the exchange of money in return for goods.

'I don't know,' shrugged the barman. 'It's the Egyptian System.'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm back, and I'm a Divemaster!

I'm too pooped to tell you everything that's been going on, so here are some snaps to keep you entertained while I unpack and do 5 weeks worth of laundry:

Thistlegorm, 16th April 2009

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

puking but brown

I brought a little bacterial visitor back from Cairo, in my guts, clamouring to get out. I didn't resist and settled into my hotel bathroom to get intimately aquainted with the toilet bowl.

2 days later I'm back and diving again. We have been with our first ever, real live students today, doing a 'discover scuba diving' course. This is a sort of try-dive thing where you spend an hour or two learning the basics and then we take you in the sea for a swim around to see if you like diving.

Luckily the guy I had to look after was not too bad. He shot to the surface a couple of times but generally got the hang of it pretty quickly. After a while he got a bit tetchy when I kept grabbing him to pull him down, but I'd rather that than see my first ever ward get the bends or ruptured lungs. That wouldn't bode well for my future in diving!

Maybe he was tetchy because, while helping him assemble his scuba kit, I said: 'Here - let me turn you on. no, actually it's better if you turn yourself on. erm...well, you know what I mean. Either way you've got to be able to breathe.'

Tan update. On the plus side I am now officially browner than I've ever been. On the minus side I have an unfortunate wet-suit tan line that makes it appear that I've spent a week lying on my front wearing cycling shorts and ankle socks like a german tourist. In reality I've spent a week wearing neoprene cyling shorts and ankle boots and swimming on my front, so maybe I deserve it.

Oh, the wisdom of the young

Teenage girl: (looking out of the window of our minibus) Oh my god, look at that woman carrying a box on her head. She must think she is in africa or something.
Me: We are in africa.
Teenage Girl: Are we?

later that day...

Teenage girl: (in a sulk) I don't want to go to the mummy museum. I only came to Cairo to see the triangles.

Giza's famous triangles

Sunday, March 29, 2009

2nd week in Egypt...

The start of this week saw Nick and I hauling ourselves up and down the swimming pool at the Dive School, attempting to pass the divemaster timed swim tests. As it happens we did quite well, and our score was higher than we'd hoped. I suspect that John our instructor was surprised at my times. Lets just say I don't look like a finely honed althete at the best of times. This is the pool at the dive school:

We also had another exam this week on Supervising Student Divers. We both got 100% again. Either we are geniuses or the exams are a bit easy!

Along side all the training drills and dive theory lectures we had to deal with hotel problems, which has resulted in us moving to a different place. A bad combination of an internet hotel seller selling rooms they didn't have, coupled with a hotel that was overbooked anyway means we are now in a nicer hotel at a not such nice price.

On thursday we took a holiday from our holiday and went to Luxor, then Cairo, then Alexandria. Now I am totally exhausted but Wow, what an amzing 3 days. We did a whistlestop tour of the Valley of the kings, Karnak Temple (utterly staggering and my favourite place of the trip) Queen Hatshautsut's temple, The Pyramids and Sphinx, The Cairo museum (lots of Mummies and everything from Tutenkhamun's tomb)The Alexandria library and roman catacombs.

I could write for hours about what we saw but I'm in an internet cafe so time is limited. Here are a few snaps:

Valley of the kings. (no cameras allowed insdie the tombs)

Karnak temple (a tiny bit of it - it is MASSIVE, and 4000 years old.)

Nick at Karnak

The sphinx. After dark we went to the Pyramid Sound and Light show. James Bonds fans will know it from The spy who loved me. It was hilariously tacky but still cool.

Thats all for now folks. We have got 2 days of diving for fun coming up, and then we start back on the course on wednesday.

Note for Ed and Jon:

In the name of research for our new library in Edinburgh, I visited the amazing library in Alexandria for some ideas. What do you think? Should we include palm trees? It's on a slightly different scale admittedly. The ancient library was nearly totally destroyed, only 7 million scrolls and books remain from antiquity. This was just 10% of what was there originally!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photos from our technical diving course

Nick with his twin-set and wing on the dive boat.

This is Nick and John Kean, our instructor. John is a brilliant diver, an absolute perfectionist and is not giving us an easy ride. He has a slate which he writes on during dives if we cock up. We call it the slate of Dooooom. It's a bit like being on a permanent driving test and seeing the examiner draw a big cross on your sheet.

Here I am ready to jump in. When tec diving you have to have 2 of everything in case of an emergency. So I've got 3 regulators connected to 3 seperate air sources, 2 computers, 2 masks, etc. I wish I has 2 brains to remember where everything is!

First update from my Scubatical

5 days in Sharm and the days are already flying. We have been so busy! We are here for 5 weeks to do our Divemsater course, which is the first step to becoming a professional diver.

We kicked off on the first morning with some technical diving tuition. We have learnt some pretty advanced dive theory which scrambled our brains and got us doing maths the likes of which I haven't done since I was 18. Then it was into the Red Sea with twin-set tanks and another tank slung at the side. This is not your normal recreational diving! The kit I'm wearing weighs over 50kg and I struggle to stand up.

Because we are on a course we had to carry out some pretty tough skills to test our reactions to kit failure and stress. The most difficult skills were the ones without wearing a mask. Your visibility is vitually nil and taking off all this equipment and putting it back, underwater, hovering at a constant depth and blind is no easy task. We both managed though, and it was a good confidence boost. Our instructor said to me afterwards: 'you have very good problem solving skills. Unfortunately you also have good problem creation skills'. I don't know what he could mean!

Tomorrow is the last day of our decommpression diving course and we will be going down to 45m for 22mins - the deepest dive we have ever done. The penalty for going so deep for so long is that we have to decompress for an hour afterwards, breathing 60% oxygen. (yum, I could get addicted!)

Just to dispell the myth that we are here on a jolly holiday I would like to confirm that we have been meeting John (our instructor) at 7.45 every morning and finishing up with theory sessions after 7.00pm. By then we are so knackered it's straight off for food and then sleep. I've been here for 5 days and not drunk a single G&T, so there's no way this is classed as a holiday!

Sharm is it's usual self, full of horn-tooting mad taxi drivers, persistant shop keepers and mosquitos. You should see the state of my legs after a night without repellant spray. Thankfully egyptian pharmacuticals seem much stronger than British equivalents (600mg ibruprofen!?!) and the antihistamines are sorting out the infernal itching.

Our hotel is great for a place that only costs £110 a week. This is lucky because the exchange rate is terrible for us brits at the moment. Last year Egypt was a cheap place to visit with 10LE to £1. Now it is just 7LE to £1 so our budget is much tighter than we hoped. Still, if things get tight our back up plan is to covertly make cheese sarnies at breakfast and smuggle them out to eat for tea. Pikey? most certainly.

Monday we start the divemaster properly with some skill circuits in the pool, and the dreaded swim tests. I'll let you know how we get on.

bye for now x

PS photos to come - just need to sort out my memory stick issues

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bad Taste Day

I've been ill. Oh have I been ill. Properly shivering, aching, shitting, moaning and groaning ill.

Luckily I recovered enough just in time for Bad Taste day at work, in aid of Comic Relief. Due to my midweek bedridden status I didn't have much time to prepare. Instead I threw myself at the mercy of the ladies in the Cancer Research charity shop, telling them to find me the most horric outfit they could. Here are the snaps:

Ian, looking fabulous in shell suit bottoms, a ladies blouse and tanks top, disney tie and leopard skin hat. He's been wolf whistled on the street today. 3 times.

Martin, in full 80's ski gear. He is currently sitting at his computer, working in sallopettes and goggles. He's taken off the skis though because they were getting tangled in the cables.

Ed as 1970's cop. Can't really tell but that tie is a shocker. The main problem with Ed's outfit is that there are quite a few people who still dress like this. Not Ed though, no. Snappy dresser is Ed. Normally.

Fiona in bad jewellry and gas polo top. Her excuse for not wearing anything worse was that she has to go to the bank this afternoon for business purposes. Hmm. what a cop-out!

Jon is available for childrens parties on most Saturdays. He's not that good at balloon animals though, and tends to make small children cry.

Martin heading for the pistes of Linlithgow

Tracey, demure as ever and hoping for a big break in catalogue modelling if architecture deosn't work out.

we raised exactly £99 for Comic relief.
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