Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Project Spectrum - August

I didn't seem to get myself together for the August Project Spectrum.  The colours were  pink and purple and I started off alright.  I announced it to MG via the usual card

We then had a day out with her Mum, AJ, and DS, an overseas visitor, during which I asked MG if she would be doing anything for the August project spectrum to which she replied 'No because I don't like pink'.  She made this announcement wearing the pink dress and pink hairband she had dressed herself in that very morning and whilst she was drinking from this pink bottle

Oh to be eight again.

After that all I have to show are a few  flowers I took photos of as I was passing them and none of which made it to the Project Spectrum website.

 Oh and a pink teepee from The Secret Garden - don't see many of these about do you

And that is it.  All of which is a bit strange as I am surrounded by pink.  Pink is the colour of healing and I  seem to have collected a lot of pink items over the last few years. Just recently though I  seem to be leaning towards yellow.  Yellow is the colour of hope.  And as luck would have it - September is yellow.  It is also MG's favourite colour so perhaps she may feel inclined to participate this time.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Distant Hours

Mrs Pao and I were chatting on the way home from the Oyster Festival about a book we had both read when she turned to Pao and said 'you can tell we were literature students can't you' (for that is indeed where Mrs Pao and I  met, at uni, 1995/6, in a lecture theatre - can't remember the name of the book we were studying though - there were sooo many - and she wasn't Mrs Pao then either) and I realised how much I missed talking about books.  Especially now I have the opportunity to read more often at the moment.

I did start a reading group 10 months ago which is something I had wanted to do for absolutely ages.  I didn't, at the time, have the confidence to do it on my own so CCV came in on it with me and we launched it one evening with a rather nice meal that took us all day to prepare, but which was worth it.  There are eight of us, meeting every six weeks and taking it in turns to host the evening where much eating, drinking, chatting and merriment takes place.  As  a social group it works well, we are all different and all bring something of our own to the mix but a book group it isn't. 

Once we watched a DVD but forgot to discuss it at the next meeting.  Another time we played a book game which was interesting, fun and got our creative juices going except we kept forgetting what it was we were supposed to be doing, which might have been something to do with the wine.  And, we have plans to go to an exhibition over the summer.  On the occasions we do read a book we manage to discuss it for, oooh, all of ten minutes.  So, I think I need to go and join a proper book group, one that doesn't clash with the one I'm already in obviously.

In the meantime I might write about a book or two  I've read here to get it out of my system.  Lucky you! Mrs Pao does it on her blog and I have noticed quite a few of the blogs I subscribe to also write book recommendations as well as all the foodie and photography stuff.  I have started a list of books I would like to read just from reading about them on other blogs. 

Not that I would go so far as to recommend a book because what I will see in a book may well be different to what someone else will see in the very same book, which is, of course,  actually  part of the joy of talking about a book.  But if I let you know about books I've read whether I've liked them or not, and I have read some baaad books,  then the choice is yours as to if you read them or not.  But if you do you could always let me know what you thought about them. If you wanted to.  It would be a sort of virtual book club conversation - sort of.  Up to you.

So, I  will start with the last book I read which was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.  I'd had this book for quite a while before reading it because I felt I had been coerced into buying it by an over enthusiastic, pushy sales assistant in Maidstone Waterstones.  I was annoyed with myself for allowing that to happen so I punished the book by refusing to read it.  However, I had to relent when I realised I only had three books left in my 'to read' pile and as I wanted an easy read this looked like it would have to be it.

Kate Morton said, in the back (p672) , that  her 'favourite thing to hear from readers is 'I couldn't put it down but I didn't want it to end''.  This was exactly how I felt about this book.  I started by devouring it but as I got near the end and the realisation hit that my journey through the pages with the friends I had just met and cared for would soon be over I started to read very slowly in order to prolong the inevitable.

The story of the Sisters Blythe from their childhood at the beginning of the twentieth century to 1992, the year they meet Edie Birchill, is told both through the eyes of Edie and the third person narrative which fills in the gaps Edie isn't party to. Edie gets lost in Kent on her way back to London and by accident finds herself at Milderhurst Castle where her mother was evacuated during the war.  Edie hadn't known about her mother's evacuation until a few days before when a previously lost fifty year old letter was delivered to her mother.  Edie's mother, a distant woman, refuses to discuss her emotional response to the letter or any other details of her evacuation to Milderhurst.  So, when Edie, fetches up outside the very place, she sets about unravelling what she sees as a mystery concerning her mothers past.  And so the story of the three sisters and Edie's mother begins.  It is a story that sheds a light on a very different way of life, in a different age with different expectations. It follows  the impact of events that occurred fifty years ago but which still reverberate in the present day for people who were unaware of their happening.

To say it was an easy read was not a criticism.  Perhaps I should say it was an effortless read.  The chapters leap between 1992 and the war years and give the perspectives of several different characters which is not an easy thing to do.  Kate Morton ranks alongside Margaret Attwood in her ability to do this without causing the reader the unnecessary rifling backwards and forwards through pages to see who is the narrator and what era they are in.  I thought it was good story, well told.  I found the plot intriguing and felt involved with the characters.  I think I will definitely read another Kate Morton book in the hope it is as good as this one.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Gurkha Experience

It was my birthday in June and over the past couple of months I have been very, very lucky.  My kind friends have taken me out for birthday treats.  Instead of having my treats all centred around my actual birthday they have taken place over a couple of months so I have had a somewhat prolonged birthday which has been a rather excellent experience. 

Most of my treats have been - funnily enough - food related.  I do like to dine out.  It is one of my most favourite things.  And I love to find new and interesting places to eat.  Well, PR and I found one such place in Maidstone. Maidstone is a barracks town with a strong Gurkha presence and some enterprising ex-gurkha's have opened the Gurkha Restaurant at 112 Week Street which is where we went to eat one Wednesday lunchtime a few weeks ago.  Their charming website is

Previously a sort of greasy spoon type cafe it is quite small, holding possibly ten tables?  I didn't actually count them.  And the decor is completely white which makes it look a little clinical and boring but this could be an attempt to make it seem larger.  Ambience matters to me so I am very glad that I didn't let the whiteness put me off because the food was amazing.

PR and I shared a starter of Channa Chat which was a dish of  chickpeas cooked with chat masala in a cucumber and lemon sauce.  It was a slightly lip tingly spiced dish with a clear sauce.  There was no cucumber to be seen so I'm not sure how they made the sauce but it tasted quite pleasant.  The portion was quite large so I'm glad we shared it.

For the main course we shared Hariyali Chicken, Chilli Masala King Prawns, Egg Fried Rice and Ghulio Roti with mango juice to drink.  Hariyali Chicken was billed as being a 'Gurkha Speciality' and was so delicious (I am going to be using that word a lot).  Breast of chicken cooked with mint, coriander and green sauce but it wasn't  green or overly minty.  All the flavours blended to make a smooth, tasty, warm (as in comforting warm)  sauce poured over tender pieces of chicken.   The Chilli Masala King Prawns packed a spicier punch but was far from overwhelming.   The prawns were cooked with green chilli, pepper, onion and tomatoes with a garlic sauce. I like my spices a lot hotter than PR but we both found this to be to our liking.  We had originally chosen the pilau rice to accompany it but the waiter offered us 'a good egg fried rice' which actually wasn't on the menu so we went for that and it was good.  Sometimes egg fried rice can be a bit greasy but this wasn't.  The Ghulio Roti was a pershwari naan stuffed with dry nuts and was so delicious.  We perused the limited dessert menu and were on the point of deciding no when the waiter recommended the honeycomb ice-cream so we thought 'why not - there is always room for pudding' and so we did and are we glad we did.  It was yummy. Creamy with a crispy caramel stirred through it.  Having chosen Mango juice to drink I was concerned it would be either watery or cloyingly sweet and was relieved to find it was neither.  It was pleasantly chilled with a fresh taste.

We very much liked the portion sizes.  Apart from the starter, each dish was not an overwhelming amount.  PR and I have eaten our way round quite a few places in Maidstone over the past few years - not that there are all that many restaurants there really - and one thing we struggle with is the portion size being  way too big and these were just right.  The starter aside, which we didn't finish partly because we didn't know what to expect next, we ate everything except one piece of naan.  I did ask for the recipes but I wasn't given them which made me a bit sad so now I have to go and find a Nepalese cookbook because I want to be able to make food like that.

Each course was nicely presented on white triangular china, the cutlery and glasses were sparkling as was the table linen.  And the staff couldn't have been more friendly or pleasant to us.   It was fairly busy when we arrived but they still made time for us, didn't rush us and when we were the last to leave spent time chatting to us.  My recipe request was denied in such gentlemanly way I felt I had been charmed.

I can't mention the price because it was a treat and I wasn't allowed to know but I don't think PR considered it to be  expensive for what it was which was a very pleasant, pleasing and very, very delicious experience.  One of the best meals I've had in a long time. And we both decided we will be going back there at Christmas so I do hope they have enough customers to keep them going until then.  Oh yes and the loos were clean which is always always a good thing.  I don't go back if the facilities are lacking and I would have hated it if I wasn't able to go back there.

My new career!!!!   I think I would like a job as a restaurant reviewer please.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Right sided people, stalls and corsets

This was supposed to be a musing about time.  I have been musing about time for a while now.  Mainly my time, what I do with it and other people's perceptions of my time - because my time and what I do with it seems to be of concern to a few people.  But. It's a big thing.  Time.  And I got myself so involvled in an inner philosophical debate as to the meaning of time for just about everyone that my poor grey cell was begging me to abandon it and move on.

So I am, for once, taking my own advice and moving on (although I haven't abandoned time entirely - I will not be beaten - my musings on time will appear here one of these days - I will suss out the time issue - and then I will write a book about it!!! Yes! future sorted!).

Anyway, in the meantime - here is what I spent some of my recent time doing...........

I enjoyed myself manning Mrs Pao's jewellery stall at Arts and Vintage fair at  the Oyster Festival a couple of weeks ago.  In fact I liked it so much that helping Mrs Pao with her stalls is my new best thing to do and I have offered my services any time she needs me.

It was a bit of a funny set up though.  Usually the fair is in the large main hall of the church but due to some sort of mix up the main hall, although empty for most of the day bar one rather loud woman who kept popping out unnecessarily to talk very loudly at us, was not available.  So a vast number of stalls were squashed into the smaller hall while others of us were in the foyer and the ante room at the end of it.  People were not happy.  There was much muttering.

The Foyer

That is me, the first stall on the left.  It was not an advantageous position.  This is the view from the double doors just inside the foyer which joined the two church halls together.  The doors led to outside the building.  These double doors were set back quite a way from the front of the two church halls.   From the outside no-one knew we were there because they couldn't see us.  The  hall where most of the stalls were had 'come in and see us' banners hanging up outside and it's own front door  through which people would go.   Mind you,  most of the stall holders in the hall didn't know we were there either until they ventured out to the loo (oh yes we were next to the loos too, nice) And this  despite notices on the hall walls saying 'more stalls this way'! So how anyone expected visitors to come through is beyond me. 

In a bid to get 'the punters' in, an enterprising man opened the doors so that at least we could be seen from outside, well a bit anyway.  Unfortunately that meant Francine, on the stall opposite me, and I had to cover ourselves with scarves and woollies or freeze.   A few folk wandered in but it wasn't until said enterprising man took a 'more stalls this way' notice and pinned it up outside the gates that we began to get more people in.  Note to organisers regarding the power of advertising, it should actually include all your fee paying clients - otherwise they may not come back!! 

Even so it cannot be said  we were busy.  Those who did venture into our realms were not spending money in any great quantity.  The stall holders in the hall apparently didn't fare any better.  'Deadly' is how one man described it and a woman just packed up early and went home; there were so few people coming through.  Of the four  stalls in the foyer I was the only not to sell anything.  I felt bad but Mrs Pao said not to worry she quite often didn't sell but picked up commissions and contacts.  I didn't get any of those either.  Mrs Pao fared a little better at the castle with a few sales but even there footfall was low and spending lower.

As I was on my own I was a little worried about  breaks for the loo, lunch and beverages - but mainly loo breaks.  Mrs Pao said she always tried to befriend another stall holder so  she had cover for that situation.  My anxiety levels started to rise at that comment because I feel  I'm not too good at the befriending bit these days.  However, my need to know I could go to the loo whenever I needed was stronger than my doubts and so I set about the business of getting to know people.  I do rather feel I 'made' the other people talk to me but at least I had the loo breaks covered.  I was also able to have a wander around the other stalls in the hall, which was how I came to know how squashed they were in there. 

And so I whiled away the hours chatting, writing (about time), reading and people watching, a past-time I'm beginning to become quite fond of.  I didn't just watch the customers, I noticed the creative folk as well.  There are some seriously clever and talented people around.  The quality of the items on show was amazing as was the artistic ability of the people who made them.

In our little corner sat Rachel ( who made dear little dresses for small girls from vintage and reclaimed material under the name of Lily Urchin.  At first I thought all the different patterned materials together in one dress was a bit too much but as the day went on they grew on me and when Rachel's little granddaughters came in dressed in the outfits I was won over.  They looked so adorable.  But what I really liked about Rachel's stall were her corsets.  She makes the most divine corsets

You can't really see them but this one had butterflies on it.  This was the one that was put in the doorway of the hall to try and entice people into the foyer

I so wish I could fit into one.  She does make them to order but I don't think I shall be going there for a while.  Rachel lives in a village near the one we used to live in before I escaped all those years ago, small world.  She is also a farmers wife and spent most of the day knitting.  Shades of Pioneer Woman I feel.

Rachel's daughter Francine francinerachel and her husband had the stall next to her and thus opposite me.  They did romance.  Ceramic hearts, metal hearts, doves, black metal rose coat hooks and other romance related items

Francine is doing a degree in American Studies as a mature student and as I did my degree as a mature student with a high percentage of American history and literature  we spent a bit of time talking about our experiences. Another small world encounter.

The other stall holder in our foyer was a woman whose name I didn't get which was a bit unfortunate as we mostly covered each others breaks.  She was selling what used to be called bric-a-brac but is now called, I believe, vintage collectables.  So I shall call her VC in lieu of her name.   She seemed quite interesting having lived in different countries.  No small world co-incidences there though.  Although it had a distinct 70's feel her stall had   items from different era's.  And it was all so colourful.  Mainly orange and yellow with some red and green, it drew you in.  It was the stall that gathered the most interest out of the four of us.

There were a few jewellery stalls there but, obvious bias aside, there was only one other that came close to Mrs Pao for quality and originality of design.   Mrs Pao knits with wire which I think rather clever and then decorates her knitting with  pearls and other stones.  She also does this design in the form of tiaras for weddings or whenever one should feel the need of a tiara, they are not the exclusive premise of a wedding after all

here are some other necklace designs for more everyday wear perhaps

and one of her bracelets

she also made some really pretty earrings.  Mrs Pao's jewellery website is called fishingforpearls.  She also demonstrates her jewellery knitting on occasions.  I am hoping to host one of her jewellery parties nearer Christmas.

As the day wore on I got the distinct impression that my stall was being ignored so I went into people watching mode to see why this might be.  In general people automatically looked to the right as they came in and so saw Francine's stall first.
Because of the shape of the room when they lifted their head as they moved forward VC's stall was directly in their eye line so they were walking past my stall without really noticing it, plus VC's stall was hugely colourful.  To move into the ante room at the end of the foyer from VC's stall they had to turn back  to the right  a little and so the colours of Rachel's dresses and corsets caught their eye.  After their perusal of her clothing they just moved ahead into the ante-room.  When they came out I think they assumed they had seen everything in the foyer because they just walked out looking straight ahead towards the doors. 

It was fascinating.  I remembered what an ex boyfriend, who was an English teacher, told me about newspapers.  He said, in general, there wasn't much in the way of important news on the left hand page  of the newspapers (if you are holding it open towards you) because people didn't look at the left side much.  They focused on the right.  So the important news went on the right with adverts tending to be on the left. Advertisers had to pay a premium to get their advert on the right hand pages.  I checked this out a bit at the time and there did seem to be a certain truth in it.   This premise would seem to be the same for stalls too.  

Of course this wasn't the case with everyone.  I did get some interest.  People mainly came to my stall first if there were people at Francine's.  Some people came straight to me.  I was tempted to ask them if they were left handed but thought better of it.  A rather strange question to ask complete strangers.  And there were people who, when they came out of the ante-room, looked around the foyer again and then noticed me.  I got to chat to  some of the people who stopped by.  I met a man who said he lived in Sri Lanka where he cut gems.  We had quite a chat about Mrs Pao's stones.  Two ladies and I had a discussion as to what constitutes an 'artisan'.  Basically it is 'a skilled worker who makes things by hand' so we debated as to whether a mechanic could be called an artisan.  No conclusion was reached.

Anyways, the day finally over, Pao came to pick me up and we went up to the castle to find Mrs Pao, pack her up and go home.    I went home with the Pao's and was allowed by their cats to cuddle them, a privilege I appreciated very much.  Pao, bless him, treated me  to a most delicious chinese meal which he had delivered as a thank you for standing in for him at such short notice when I truly didn't mind at all.     I am seriously thinking of getting him cloned.  We all had the meal by the way.   I didn't sit there and eat it on my own, that would be rude not to mention rather weird.  Sadly his illness forced Pao to retire early so Mrs Pao and I chatted for a while about cats and this and that.  Then she took me home and presented  me with  a beautiful bunch of yellow flowers from her as a thank you.  I did rather well out of this day I feel.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Domestic Goddess in training - just look what I did next........

I went to MO's for dinner a while ago and spied on her kitchen table a recipe book her eldest daughter had  brought home from uni.  I am drawn to cookery books like a moth to a flame and so opened it up for a looksee and then spent the next half hour feverishly copying out recipes.  I so often do this and I never, ever make the recipes so this time I was determined to make these and so I have.  Well, I've finally  made one. It was very, very nice and here it is

Chickpea Burgers - adapted from The Student Cookbook by Sam Stern.

It uses all the ingredients below

I like to do the  prep first so......

Blitz 75g of bread into breadcrumbs

Take one onion, peel

and finely chop (this is what I call finely)

Two fat, juicy garlic cloves

Peeled and crushed (I used a garlic crusher - Jamie's - not that I'm a name dropper - and it's not as easy as he makes it look......)

One dried chili (this depends on taste but I didn't think this was big enough, I added a pinch of crushed chillies as well)

Crush it up and finely chop half a stick of lemongrass (forgot to photograph that bit - and I was doing so well)

Juice and zest of one lime

Finely chop two tablespoons of coriander - this looks about right - generally I measure but sometimes I don't and this is one of those times

200g of chestnut mushrooms, wipe with a damp cloth

Finely chop

One 410g tin of chickpeas, drained, rinsed  and semi blitzed with stick blender or a fork -
I think this was a bit too blitzed

Prep done

3 tablespoons of olive oil into a pan and heat - I shall have to get new pans if I intend to do this again methinks

Add onions and cook gently for about 3 minutes then add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes until softened

Add chilli, ras-el-hanout, lemongrass and turmeric and cook whilst stirring for 3 minutes

Add mushrooms and lime juice and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Add to blitzed chickpeas

Add the breadcrumbs (remembering to remove the blade first of course) and a few shakes of Tabasco, the coriander, salt and pepper

Mix well

Have a taste to check seasoning

then flour  hands and a board and shape the mixture into 6 burgers and roll each one in the flour to coat

like this - these have been coated in flour - it just disappeared though.  I think the juice of one lime was a wee bit too much - depends on the size of the lime I suppose

being a spatially challenged person I made 7

pop into the fridge to chill for at least 15 minutes

After chilling put a little coarse polenta on a plate (this is far too much polenta for 2 burgers! I froze the other 5)

Coat the chickpea burgers in the polenta

 fry in a little oil for 5 minutes each side or until cooked through

and eat.  However you wish.

I put mine into a toasted ciabatta roll with sweetcorn relish, salad leaves, cucumber, spring onion, radish and beetroot.


Top tip - next time I make them, and there will be a next time, I shall chill the mixture before shaping  into burgers - this may make them a little less sticky to handle.

I really enjoyed doing this, even though it took ages and I can't believe it went alright!!  Domestic Goddessdom here I come  -  or I might go for a career in food styling - or I could have a soup and burger stall - hmmmm - the career choices are improving or at least increasing.......

Recipe adapted from  The Student Cookbook by Sam Stern which is available on Amazon

3tbs Olive Oil
110 g onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small dried chilli, crumbled
2 tsp ras-el-hanout (Moroccan spice found in most supermarkets - original recipe used
                              1 tsp ground cumin and 1tsp ground coriander)
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp lemongrass paste or 1/2 piece of fresh, finely chopped
200g chestnut mushrooms, finely chopped
Juice and zest of one lime
1 x 400g tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
75g breadcrumbs
few shakes of Tabasco
2tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
salt and pepper
white flour for coating
olive oil for frying
coarse polenta for coating

Heat olive oil in pan, cook onions very gently for 3 minutes, add garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes until softened but not coloured.
Add the chilli, ras-el-hanout, turmeric and lemongrass.  Cook and stir for 3 minutes.
Add mushrooms and lime juice and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Mixed crushed chickpeas with vegetable mixture and  breadcrumbs, Tabasco, coriander, salt and pepper.
Spread flour onto board.  Flour hands.  Shape mixture into 6 burgers, handling gently. 
Roll in flour to coat.
Chill in fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Put some coarse polenta on a plate.
Coat burgers in the polenta.
Fry in a little oil for 5 minutes each side or until cooked through.