Monday, March 28, 2011

Wild and Blue and Yonder

Tuesday I'm off to Connecticut for at least 3 weeks (and two days). According to plan I'll get back here Good Friday morning. My mother has been transferred to the nursing home and it's not been easy for her. Lots of pain and 'the tablettes' give her decided moments of 'loopiness' and  confusion.

There are four of us siblings -- I have two sisters and a brother. We are extremely close and loving towards each other and very supportive. My brother lives the closest, but has been on a business trip and my youngest sister next lives in Vermont. So for the past week they have been 'there' for our Mom. But as little sister also has a job she needs to get back to it. However, Mom is very confused and sometimes doesn't know where she is and as a result is fighting some mental as well as physical battles. When she is at her most confused she thinks we are there.

I am the eldest and my other sister is fourteen months younger than I -- one war baby and one baby boomer! She just returned from a weeks holiday on Saturday and is flying 'out East' from Minnesota today and will pick me up from the airport tomorrow. She will be there with me until Saturday. And by then my brother will have returned from his trip so there will still be two of us to share the support.

In the meantime, I am in a 'fluff'! Usually I know several months or at least weeks in advance that I am  travelling. My normal modus operandi is to take a week to pack! Two days altogether! The weather is unpredictable -- by the time I come back it could be balmy and springlike or there could be a blizzard! I will have to leave for the airport at 6.00 a.m. and there is nothing my husband detests more than early early mornings -- I have to put two 'earlies' because 8.00 a.m. is early to him!  And I hate transatlantic travel -- not being able to afford the more luxurious 'business' and 'first' class I am relegated to cramped-leg, but-at-least-I-have-an-aisle-seat class ... And another thing, while I think of it -- I really really really hate it when these guys -- and mostly it is guys, recline their seats back as far as them will go for the duration of the flight -- how can people be so thoughtless?

I know all the security is necessary, but necessary or not it is not much fun. Kind of like the dentist -- grateful you can afford it, but why does it have to be such a pain. But at least I remember to wear shoes that come off and go on in a flash. And I know what make-up and creams and how much I can put in my carryon. And don't forget the quart/litre-size bag for the appropriately sized cosmetics. And only miniscule tubes of toothpaste. No, no, no you may not have your 30 mls in a jar that is bigger ... And in Europe -- when I leave from a European airport I am only allowed one piece of carryon luggage, including handbag or laptop. But, but, but ... when I come from America I am allowed two -- one of which the size of a small handbag or laptop. Well I've got that sussed too. A roll on computer bag you can fit stuff and a handbag!

You know what, though? Big improvement on the days when my ancestors made there long and arduous journey to the New World -- days when they knew they'd never again see their homeland. So what am I complaining about. My Mom is sick and needs me and I can be there for her -- the good Lord willin' and the crick don't rise'! I can even take my laptop with me and feel right at home on blogger all the time I'm gone..

Friday, March 25, 2011

Whatever the Difference, It's Still the Same

Tuesday was Budget Day in the U.K. You can not imagine what a shock it was the first time I watched one of these on T.V. No American can imagine it. To watch the delivery of a budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to get a abject lesson in the why's and wherefore's of American history in one easy lesson -- well maybe not so easy.

Now the Prime Minister is the number one guy and he is the one who chooses his cabinet -- and his choice does not have to be confirmed by Parliament -- But since he is selected by his fellow party members to be the Leader he does have to keep them happy enough to keep his position. However, to me a powerful Chancellor can be even more powerful and can really thwart a Prime Minister. According to some sources when Gordon Brown was Chancellor in the Blair government he barely consulted with anybody, including the Prime Minister as to what was in the budget!!

The most startling thing to me as a new arrival in Britain 30 years ago was that the Chancellor can decide to raise taxes on anything he chooses effective whenever he chooses. So he will say, for example, that 'as of 6 p.m. tonight duty on cigarettes will increase by 5 pence a packet -- or maybe it will be 10 pence. Or the duty on petrol will increase by a price of 3 pence a litre as of April 1st -- or, maybe -- Midnight tonight! Yesterday though, he gave everyone a break and reduced petrol duty by 1 pence a litre. As the price of petrol (gasoline) is over $2.00/litre ($8.00/gallon) people are not thrilled.

What got me swearing loudly at the television  was Chancellor George Osbourne yesterday morning.  You see, the previous government had planned to implement a 5 pence per litre hike in petrol as of April and this newly elected bunch decided very last minute not to implement that tax hike. So they are now claiming to have decreased the cost of petrol by -- you guessed it -- 6 pence a litre. In addition, the wary and suspicious public noticed that the day prior to the budget many companies increased the price by 1 pence, so that the decrease would simply nullify their costs. It is also true that there is no legal impediment to prices going up -- so that any tax decrease could result in oil companies making money instead of the Exchequer. To be fair to them (why does that sound like an oxymoron?) they have said they will not do this unless the price goes up on the world market.

So to get back to the purpose of this post, which was to show that watching this exercise in British democracy is a history lesson for students of American politics. Remember the battle cry of the American Revolution: No taxation without representation! Remember the long drawn out debates of the Continental Congress and the complicated process of passing Federal legislation: a system of Checks and Balances. It is inconceivable to an American to imagine tax of any kind being implemented in a few hours! In the U.K. the budget must indeed by passed by Parliament, but I have only known of one occasion since I've been here when a tax has been rolled back -- and then it was after several months and the tax already paid was not redeemable.

After 30 years of observation I cannot say if one way is better than the other. It seems to me that in trying to prevent government from having an excess of power the people in the US are protected, but the weakness is that instead of having a government of the majority it is a government more often than not impeded by the minority, There are advantages and disadvantages. On the other hand, it is much more straightforward for a newly elected majority here to make popular changes. I've found that there is still the same back room wheeling and dealing. There is all the same political maneuvering and posturing. The founding fathers solved one set of problems that led to others. One thing I like very much in Britain is the necessity of the Prime Minister to answer questions every week at Prime Minister's Question Time. I find that the intimacy of this, the rowdiness, and unflinching courtesy at the same time is very appealing. Two politicians on opposite sides of the political spectrum get the chance to challenge each other in public every week. That is definitely pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Tides of March

Last month I posted this about Southport's no sea seaside. But yesterday the sea came all the way in and so here it is:

I hope you can appreciate what a rare event it is for the tide to be this high -- makes Southport people all giddy if they catch it. Considering that cloud cover made it impossible to see the glorious moon the whole Internet has been waxing lyrical about, at least we have some evidence of the result of its being so close to the earth! I know it can't compare to the majesty and splendour of the American West Coast -- but that is an everyday occurance. I mean you just have to turn up -- and there it is!

What it's usually like at Southport Beach. Dry enough in summer for hundreds of cars to park!

Twitchers! Listen carefully and you'll find out what's out there flying around!
Further down the Coastal Road heading towards Blackpool, are marshy grasslands which over the years we have lived here have become a large bird sanctuary which attracts multitudes of 'twitchers'. They were out in force yesterday.

Hundreds of very noisy blackhooded gulls swarming in for a meal

Spring is finally in the air! The cherry tree outside my study window is budding and it's time for planting  the primroses waiting in our outer porchway. And all the young men and women are walking around bare arms and T-shirts -- a phenomonen that amazes me -- it doesn't seem to have anything to do with temperature and everything to do with sunshine! Today it's only 52F (11C) -- too cool for me to be sleeveless! When I go for my walk later I'll probably see sandals -- or at the very least flip-flops. Me sounding like an old fogey? You betcha!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Far Away and Near and Close

I'm thinking especially about my Mom today. She is almost 92 and on Saturday had a fall in her apartment and broke her hip. In a few hours she will go 'under the knife' and we are all praying that she will have a successful operation and a good recovery.

Fortunately, for our family my brother-in-law is an orthopedic surgeon and whenever there is something we need to know he helps us to understand the procedures and what is the likely prognosis. He is always wonderful and the family love him to bits. I talked to my Mom last night and she sounded a bit 'high' and very drowsy, but still in very good, if confused, spirits. I am finding it quite upsetting personally this time. She has had other illnesses, but for some reason this one has unnerved me more than usual. This if when it is hard to be in another country across the wide sea. But there are so many things to be thankful for ...

Before my father died my parents made the difficult decision to move from the home that they love to a retirement community in Northwestern Connecticut. And a beautiful place it is -- more like a luxury hotel in many ways. The staff is wonderful and the living facilities are lovely. The thing is that for some people the adjustment is impossible to make happily. But this is not the case for my Mom. She loves living there. She doesn't miss cooking or meal planning or worrying about what the weather might do to the plumbing. My two sisters visit her several times and year -- they live in different parts of the country -- and my brother sees her every week. Last year I was able to visit twice for a couple of weeks each visit. As is typical of her she never wants the staff to contact us if she is ill -- we might worry! Well, tough, Mom! Our family is all over the world and the country. She has heard from everybody and all she asks is that we pray for her -- which of course we all are.

I have been thinking about how different the world is now -- how much smaller. But how much easier it is to be in touch with those people who are important to us. As it happens my sister and dear brother-in-law are on holiday in the caribbean -- but thanks to their i-phones I was able to contact her via FaceBook and her husband was able to let us all know what the problem was likely to be. Within a very short time the whole family knew -- I couldn't get through to her hospital phone for hours she had so many calls! One of the most touching of all FaceBook messages was from a Japanese friend of my sister who is going through all the trauma of that country who sent a message that my mother was in her prayers. Brought tears to my eyes that did ...

The Man asked me if I wanted to go home, but I'm waiting to see what happens. It is possible that she will need to be in a facility for intensive physical therapy and I don't know if my being there would be worthwhile until later on. I didn't think I would be able to get over there this year, but now I think I probably will. I hope that physical therapy will be an option, that she won't be wheel chair bound and have to live in a nursing home, instead of the independent living accommodation she now has. Too much to figure out while an operation is in progress.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shopping Gracefully thump

Yesterday was another great day going into town -- all of three blocks from home -- and meeting my girlfriend, W for a gossip and coffee. I left in time to be able to do a bit of meandering among the shops -- Boots for makeup, Clarks for shoes and Marks and Spencer for everything else. I didn't need anything, just having a look 'round for what's what and how much the future is gonna cost me.

March is always the time of year when I really begin to yearn for summer and light cottons and linens and sandals. I am passionate about sandals. Now that I'm rather more of an old coot than not it is more and more difficult to find my favorite footware appropriate to my aged state. That being no heels higher than an inch and a half (slightly less than 4 cms) and I'd only wear those going out anyway. Now for the past few years I've not been enamoured of wedgies, but this year some of them really appeal to me. And even though I don't have anything in the colour, this season's shade of raspberry makes me drool ... So I could have easily bought 4 pairs of shoes at £50 each ($75) and two handbags one at £80 ($120) and the other £35 ($50) -- so getting on for £400 or $600 and not had anything in particular to wear with said purchases -- but I just looked and drooled my way back to the Southport pedestrian way ... Of course as every woman knows once seen and drooled over, never forgotten -- the memory can last for at least the whole season.

So on to Marks and Spencer. I don't know what English women would do without Marks. Where else can you find clothes, accessories, lingery and affordable (more or less) yummy food, sometimes of almost gourmet quality all under one roof. And they even have quite reasonable ads on TV as well -- The Man doesn't  even hit the mute button!! So for the second time this week I walked in and they were having a sale in the center aisle -- a couple of racks with women pouring over them -- I have to say that is when I hate going in because we are not at exactly our most dignified -- just getting close enough to the rack is an ordeal. But I managed it without too much fuss and I found a bargain in my size! And it's Per Una!!! The best label -- yay me! And I kept to my rule of only being tempted by things I've seen in the past and thought 'yes, that is me', 'I like that'. So there it was a summery light cotton black skirt with pretty colored embroidered thingies, a perfect length and ideal cut for me. Reduced from £39.50 to £9.00!!!! The skirt bought and paid for, it was time to meet W and have a coffee.

So we met chatted, I enjoyed my mocha latte, W admired my bargain purchase and time flew by as it always does when you meet a good friend for a coffee and a 'natter' (as British women say). Time up we rose to leave, said 'cheerio' to this one and that. The place we chose is in a shopping arcade and outside the door are tables and chairs to sit outside the cafe if you wish. As we were wending our way past the tables and chairs suddenly my foot began to slide in front of me and whoosh the other foot stayed where it was and down I went into a s-p-l-i-t!!! I kind of slapped my left hand against the floor and more or less slammed my rear end down as well. Boom was me!

Well, at least I wasn't just a klutz -- the heel of my shoe had strayed upon a well-dressed small piece of somebody's salad and had slid out from under me. It had happened so quickly that I'd even managed to maintain a state of 'grace', which is probably an appropriate way to put it considering I could have really done my self an injury, but didn't ... An elderly couple were right by us when it happened and helped me to get up. I think W was in greater shock than I -- just got a text from her checking up on me. I have to say though that the back of my thighs are a bit sore -- but not so that I can't walk -- just enough for the ibuprofen to be useful -- and my ribcage feels a little delicate, but not enough to keep me from standing through the ironing.

And it has not put me off considering which pair of shoes might be just the thing for that new skirt I found at such a bargain price ... Should it be the raspberry pair with the peep toe and wedge or should it be the strappy black wedge? On the other hand gold goes with everything ... Oh and I spied with my little eye a black bathing suit with a gorgeous raspberry  rushed bodice that would be just the thing this year ....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Featurning Books I Love: The Last Master

I would like to begin with Beethoven's own words, written in 1822 as they appear in the frontispiece of John Suchet fascinating fictional biography of The Last Master

You will ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with certainty; they come unsummoned, directly, indirectly -- I would seize them with my hands -- out in the open air; in the woods; while walking ; in the silence of the nights; early in the morning; incited by moods, which are translated by the poet into words, by me into tones that sound and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.
The Last Master is a trilogy about the life of Beethoven. John Suchet is a well-known British television newscaster and now radio presenter for Classic FM. In 1996 he published the first volume of his novels: Passion and Anger. This was followed by Passion and Pain and finally Passion and Glory.

I am crazy about Beethoven's music, and am fierce in my appreciation of its depth and beauty, but pretty ignorant as far as understanding how the magic works. In my imagination I saw him to be a  romantic, dark and brooding figure whose life was touched by much tragedy. I could hardly wait for each edition to become available. Although a fictional, Suchet set himself a rule in the negative that, "nothing in this book could not have happened". He also maintains that on those occasions when his research showed his rule had been broken, he went back and sometimes had to rewrite whole passages.

Passion and Anger tells the story of Beethoven's early life -- beginning in Germany with a difficult childhood but showing musical ability when he was very young we follow the young man's story as he finds his way to Mozart and Vienna., to become the man who many believe was the greatest composer of all. The book ends with his acknowledgement that his loss of hearing is irreversible, that he will be deaf.

Passion and Pain tells of a composer beset by deafness, yet at the height of his powers. He writes Symphony number three, the 'Eroica', the 'Emperor' Concerto, the Fifth and the 'Appassionata' Sonata and he is deaf.  Who was his 'Eternally Beloved', what happened when Vienna was invaded by Napoleon's army? He was difficult, angry and often cruel and unkind. He was immensely famous and spoiled by his admirers and royal patrons.

Passion and Glory concludes the fictional account of Beethoven's life with the era of the 7th Symphony and the glorious "Ode to Joy" written by a man increasingly ravaged by disease and in constant pain. Often cruel and manipulative towards his family and everybody who cared about him, he suffered great personal disappointments oftened deserved. He was always larger than life; music was always his salvation.

Suchet writes at the end of his Preface:
My own feelings towards Beethoven metamorphosed over a decade or so of researching and writing. Early drafts of the novel were written from the perspetive of a bystander. Not surprisingly -- and to my disappointment -- I found that I did not like him as much as I expected. I was not as tolerant of his moods and his unpredictability as some others around him.
Slowly, though, I came to understand him better. And as I came to understand him I grew fond of him. I began to experience his emotions; I knew how he would react to given situations because I was thinking like him. I was now writing his story through his eyes.
It is easy to admire Beethoven; less easy, I discovered, to like him. I have come to know him intimately, and in so doing  to like him. I hope the reader will come to like him too.
It is still possible to obtain copies through and Please note that I do not benefit financially in any way from this post.
  • Suchet, John; 1996; The Last Master, Passion and Anger; London: Little, Brown and Company (UK)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Over 60s 'shouldn’t walk and talk while crossing the road’

As if ...

Be sure to read the comments ... the first one is my favourite/favorite. At 65 I'm over-the-hill, outside the box and can't walk and talk at the same time -- good thing I don't chew gum ...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mushed Up Congealed Mess, Seriously

I've been having a lot of serious thoughts lately. Most of it has been curdling around in my mind for quite a long time -- all mushed up and kind of a congealed mess. It's difficult to make sense of things when feelings are laced with anger. How to get beyond the fact that our economic dire straights are caused by powers beyond our control and seemingly beyond the control of governments? How do we make sense of lies and subterfuges when they are so carefully blended with misconceptions and half-truths? How can we stop looking for only the truth we want to hear?

It makes me very cranky, if not down right ornery when I hear government officials say 'we don't have the money', or 'we can't afford it' when so often it suits political dogma and not political reality. What I see as the political decisions of our time and place are enabling the rich to increase their wealth to the detriment of the rest. When it's the  fat cats who are telling me I have to tighten my belt buckle it raises my hackles because I know they've just acquired bigger belts. How can it be possible that more and more men and women cannot find work, and yet the big companies are making more and more money and that money is not finding its way back -- either in taxes or 'trickle down' economics or jobs?

Some say that the government is too big. But if we believe in government of, by and for the people then how can it be small? It starts with family and expands to community and on and on ... The more people are involved the more people begin to understand each other and the complexities of our societies and that nothing is black and white. I have very strong political beliefs that are left of centre -- but I also believe that it is very important to have what the British so wisely refer to as the 'honorable opposition'. Because we are living in a parliamentary democracy or a democratic republic, we are ultimately responsible for what we get.

My ancestry is full of politicians -- from Connecticut and Alabama -- so I suspect my love of the cut and thrust of politics is genetic. Hell, my great-great grandfather was a cigar manufacturer, scent of the back room! A lot of people say they hate 'politics' and politicians. But I say that politics is the grease that makes it all work. And to take the grease metaphor a bit further, it's important to have good people involved to keep the 'impurities' at bay. At the very least vote -- if you can't bring yourself to vote for any of the candidates write in your own name -- and if you won't vote -- aw go on do it anyway ...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Agony or Ecstacy We Are In It for Each Other

World events are shaping my thinking this weekend. Yesterday and today events in Japan have focused clearly and sharply on what could rightly be called 'the sum of all fears', a biblical catastrophe of proportions we are witness to in our living rooms.Wrenching scenes of destruction with world-wide implications, which today were added to by what may be an epic explosion in a nuclear facility. Earthquake, tsunami, nuclear disaster -- God and man wrecking havoc and the earth groans.

This morning while watching events around the  nuclear reactor, it struck me how calm and restful the sea behind looked! And with water belieing the truth, here before us a disaster waiting to happen because there was no water to cool the rods: an irony of agony and an agony of irony.

My town, Southport lives on the Irish Sea. Not that far to the north is the nuclear waste treatment facility of Sellafield. Rumours abound about the dangers to the people living downwind of that place and there have been many articles printed about an alarming increase in the numbers of leukemia victims. And recently this warning. Jobs and money. To me, an avoidable risk. I am not keen on 'nuclear' because I believe that while these places can be made 'safe as houses' that in the long term human beings are more than likely going to take them for granted, not want to spend the money for upkeep, etc. We can not be trusted -- I believe...

I would hazard a guess that we are not likely to get a tsunami here, thanks to Ireland, but nothing is for certain and sometime in the early 1980's and in February 2008 there was an earthquake off the coast of Southport in the middle of the Irish Sea -- a miniscule 3.something or another on the scale! Still it shook some china in some cupboards and caused some cracks in ceilings and some of the Victorian houses suffered  subsidence. I digress.

What we witnessed yesterday we witnessed as humanity. None of it was anybody's fault. We were in the way of the natural order of 'thing's. This was awesome and we are small. But where we are awesome is when we pick up the pieces, when we forget about everything but each other and our need to try to bind the wounds, to comfort and to rebuild lives. But damn, I wish that reactor wasn't there ... God bless everybody.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Whistle Down the Void

Remember 'whistling' anybody? I was never very good at it -- my dad was and my siblings were all better than I. Today on BBC Breakfast they had a piece about it. Several men and women of mixed ages were asked if they could whistle a certain happy tune -- and try as they might whatever it was they attempted was unrecognizable. And the majority of them were scathing about whistling as well. One claimed he/she did not whistle because he/she didn't need to because of the earphones in his/her ears! Anyway, just to test out that my ability was at least respectible enough to be recognized I whistled it for The Man and he knew my miserable attempt was ideed, The Colonel Bogie March famous from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwaii.

So, soon there will be no more whistling while we work, no more the whistle of the urban wolf at the passing pulchritude. Pity that ... And I wouldn't be surprised if there were no more father's giving lessons to rapt children on the hows and where-fors of getting a whistle out of a blade of grass either. The title, Whistle Down the Wind, will be meaningless to future generations, who will not have a clue how to pucker up and do any thing other than b-l-o-w w-i-n-d!  Future film buffs will never be able to appreciate the incredible sexuality of Lauren Bacall's steamy invitation to Humphrey Bogart, "If you want anything, just ..." But now whistling is passee ... dead ... a forgotten pasttime ...

Our cultural heritage is being lost... Here we go: Remember this from the Olden Days?

Of course there is also the memory of the many times we were told to stop STOP that infernal whistling -- we were trying so hard to improve our techniques -- to no avail for me. Several years later, I followed this up by telling my boys  to please stop STOP, etc. etc. (Though that was never as bad, nor as amusing momentarily as hearing my youngest boys singing along to the music while wearing their earphones so that all we could hear was the caterwailing. Trouble was they were in the back of the car and the sound was pungent!!)

Just remember, If ever you feel afraid ... all you need to do is ...... remember?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Featurning Books I Love: Pass the Polenta

I haven't made a definite decision about this yet, but The Plan is that once a week I will write about a book that I love so much it has become special to me. I am a voracious reader and have been as long as I could hold a book in my own hands and read words. My bookshelves are creaking because for the most part I can't bear to part with them once read. I can look over the spines of the books and have fine reminisces about my reading them. Some I read more than once, others I can barely remember and some just stay with me and become part of my being. The first book I'm going to write about just makes me smile thinking about it. If you love food, love talking about it, love thinking about how it has become part of your life you will love Pass the Polenta by Teresa Lust. The Introduction begins
You need eat only an occasional good meal, or spend a very long stint eating nothing but bad meals, to develop an appreciation for food. Appreciate enough food, and sooner or later you will find yourself up to your elbows in its preparation. From there it is just a short step to realizing food is not merely about calories and minimum daily requirements and metabolic pathways. At its very heart, food is about people. It is an integral part of our social history that has affected our lives since long before Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of lentils...
And the Introduction ends
My mentors are ordinary folk, all of them, going about their daily business of baking bread and pouring hearty wine. The ingredients they  use are not exotic, their techniques are not complex. Yet as they stand over the stove, they manage to do so very much more than just prepare a meal. They taught me that cooking is an expression of art and of love, of family and self, of soil and the seasons. I lift my glass to them all.
And so begins a wonderful story full of humor of the author's history with food, with people, friends and family. Her stories take you on a journey to foreign countries and across the United States. I love the chapter about pie dough and how she introduces it to French pastry chefs who timidly ask if she would show them how she made her wonderful pate brisee . She had in fact telephoned her grandmother in Yakima, Washington for instructions on how she made her pie crust! "No Ordinary Soup" mirrored my own history with what is Leek and Potato soup.

Several years ago in I had a conversation with a Frenchman about what our families would be eating on Christmas Day. I explained to him that I would be making a leek and potato soup for the first course -- because it was a family favorite. He smiled, slightly embarrassed and explained that in France that would be considered perhaps not exotic enough for Christmas. I have since discovered that one of the very traditional soups to be served in France on Christmas is Parmentier Soupe -- which is in fact leek and potato soup and cold leek and potato soup is vichyssoise, which is also hoity-toity!

If you are interested, here are some links: or I am not benefitting in any way from writing about this book.
  • Lust, Teresa; 1998; Pass the Polenta; South Royalton, Vermont: Steerforth Press L.C.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Beautiful People

Everything went beautifully with dinner last evening. The food was well-received, although personally the chili I  made had lost some of the heat I would have preferred it to have had. But people had seconds and I didn't forget anything in the oven -- as I do more than I'd like to admit.

Soya milk is very tricky to cook with, in my opinion. In future I would use half what is called for in dairy milk and I think ideally, instead of boiling I would add it and leave infusion time -- 24 hours, if possible and then heat it through to boiling point.

But, of course, the best part of the evening was the conversation. The two male guests, who had never met before, were born two days apart, and I had always been struck by how similar their tastes were in music, film and demeanor -- both are very soft-spoken, one is a university professor and the other a man of religion and both are very highly regarded in their professions. I had always wanted to have them meet each other and was not disappointed.

What was very entertaining was hearing about the travelling adventures of Mike and Sue and their two small children in the far reaches of the Brazilian jungle -- fighting off alligators while standing on a bridge of two planks over a raging river while directing Sue in the VW Beetle. But there was more to it than that. In order to get onto the bridge of two planks Sue had to negotiate the gap between the bank and the bridge itself. This entailed her backing up and making a 'Dukes of Hazard' leap over the torrent!! There followed more amazing stories of their travelling adventures whice left me quite stunned -- this mild-mannered husband and wife were real-life adventurers of a high order!

But the nicest part was one of the lovliest most touching compliments I've ever received. Mike was talking about his most memorable and pleasurable memories and one of those was the millennium celebration, which we shared with them and two other couples. The evening started with drinks and hors d'oeuvres at their house and then we all went next door for the rest of the festivities -- simple plans, but a very very happy occasion. And Mike said that that evening he was with the friends that were the most important to him and it was one of his top ten great memories. Now, how nice is that?

We used lots and lots of dishes and glasses. Things began with a bottle of pink champagne, then drinks, wine, water -- lots glasses, soup bowls and plates, bread plates, dinner plates, dessert fruit dishes and plates and appropriate silverware and serving dishes. The Man has to wash. I hope he wishes we had a dishwasher. It would have saved him a lot of trouble. Silly Man. Next time maybe I'll be able to find more dishes to use. Maybe a fish course -- and we have fish forks and knives -- I'll use those, too ... Silly Old Man ...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Food for Thought

Cooking Away

This week is all about dinner tomorrow night. The Man and I enjoy having friends for dinner even if I always manage to get all if a fluff about it. It's often quite easy to plan -- some kind of first course like avocado and shrimp/prawn coctail or in the summer melon and proscuitto or in this case soup. In winter and generally in England the second course is usually a roast or perhaps salmon en croute or even coq au vin. In summer it's nearly always a barbecue and that is almost always chicken. If it's chicken The Man likes to do it and he is now after several years very good at it, too. And next there is dessert -- usually I make it myself, but when in France I often buy delectable pastries in the local bakery. And then, in the English way, we have cheese and biscuits/crackers and fruit followed by coffee and mints.

Tomorrow, however, is not usual and somewhat challenging for me. Two of my guests are vegetarian and two of my guests are dairy intolerant! Until a few days ago I thought one of those was also unable to eat wheat or wheat products. What relief to discover that she had outgrown that problem. Rice was o.k. and we could have bread!

The menu I decided on is fresh leek soup; homemade chili con carne with rice and sweet corn; raspberries and blueberries soaked in raspberry liqueur.

No matter how I try to plan and shop I always forget something or want something I thought I didn't want. Today it was a green or red pepper. And because I don't usually make chili from scratch -- I'm ashamed to admit I rather like Uncle Ben's chili sauce in a jar and nothing could be simpler than browning the meat and plopping in the sauce -- I've been spending time researching which recipe I want to use. My vegetarian guest has graciously donated some vegetarian chili she had made, and although I could have opted for vegetarian chili all around, The Man would not have been happy not having meat and since he was already not thrilled with having chili anyway ...

So I looked at recipe after recipe and took a bit of this one and a bit of that -- and the finished product sits now atop my hop infusing all the flavours and it won't be too spicy but have should have enough tang for me! Yes, the chili came together without too much fuss. It was the soup that has been the most challenging.

The recipe I have for fresh leek soups calls for 10 ounces of milk and this with the other ingredients is simmered for 40 minutes. So I was a bit worried about the soya milk alternative I was going to try. Especially after going to the Alpo website to find out about cooking with the stuff. Apparently you can cook with it, but it added that when adding tea or coffee it could curdle, so I was worried. But it worked out ok. Although it did curdle initially, by the time the 40 minutes were up it had been well absorbed by the liquid and it didn't separate upon cooling. However, I wasn't happy with the taste because the delicate flavour of the leeks was over-powered by the soya milk. It didn't taste horrible, it just didn't taste right. I thought that by a bit of adjustment I might be able to fix it and I think I have. I still had two leeks remaining so I prepared them and added the required stock and cooked that up for forty minutes in order to lessen the percentage of soya milk. I've now added the two mixtures together and am quite satisfied that the first course will be a success. A lot of trouble, but the guests are worth it -- I think!!