Monthly Archives: September 2013
Hope you’re all well. Just to let you know that this will be my last post on this blog as Mrs. D has moved out and now has a new blog address. And of course you’re all very welcome to pop around whenever you like – everything is still the same and as much fun as ever. So for those of you who would still like to hang out at my place you can find me at:
Hope to see you soon!
Mrs. D is pleased to announce that the Better Living blog series will b starting soon so if any of you have an interest in healthy eating, physical exercise, meditation, skin care, personal development and just general well-being, than this is a series you won’t want to miss!
It’s been my intention for quite some time to take much better care of myself: boost energy levels; exercise more; worry less; cut down on caffeine; ditch the junk food; not sleep with my make up on – in fact get more sleep full stop! The list of things I need to do goes on. For someone who used to work in management at a branch of a leading chain of health food stores in the UK, I’m really not practicing what I used to preach.
During this series, I will be giving up – or at least cutting down on the bad stuff and looking for suitable alternatives where possible, while trying to incorporate more of the good stuff into my day-to-day life. I will also be looking at ways to save time, eliminate stress and try to find various methods, remedies and solutions to problems as well as getting advice from those in the know… and so much more. I can’t wait!
Of course, I’m never going to be a candidate for good, clean, healthy living sainthood and you can bet your life I’ll still indulge in the odd take away; a good few glasses of the strong stuff and a few very- late- very- good nights out. Should I stress about that? No. Part of healthy living is not to deprive yourself and get overly obsessed about things. Everything in moderation and you can’t go wrong. In my book at least!
And as I’m sharing this journey of the mind, body and spirit with all of you, I’ve got no choice but to try harder. Healthy mind, healthy body starts here!
Mr. D and I are so disappointed now that our favourite culinary competition -Masterchef USA – is over but what a fantastic finale it was. We knew it was going to be close as the two culinary hopefuls Luca Manfe and Natasha Crnjac battled it out for the top prize.
But we are thrilled, thrilled, THRILLED that Luca has been crowned Masterchef 2013. Out of all the contestants he was the one who had come the furthest. He’d really struggled in the beginning and we weren’t expecting him to go further than a few episodes. But he improved beyond belief and despite his on-going success he never once came across as big-headed, arrogant or cocky – unlike some of his fellow competitors. And who could forget the infamous ‘butter incident’ where Luca very magnanimously gave Jessie a stick of butter. He may not have been taken seriously initially but he did seem like a genuinely nice guy who was passionate about food; keeping his Italian heritage alive through his cooking, and his dream to start up his own restaurant. This was Luca’s second attempt at trying to compete in Masterchef and as the weeks went by and he started to progress at an astounding speed and level, it was quite clear that this guy didn’t just have passion – he had culinary talent too. We hoped Luca would win, but with so many big, forceful characters who were equally skilled and fighting to be noticed, we weren’t sure if the mild-mannered New York-based Italian stood a chance.
The finale kicked off with an emotional start as the two contestants were reunited with their family and friends, including Luca’s sister and father who flew in from Italy – and yes, I did get a little weepy! But then sentimentality was put aside as Natasha and Luca had to prepare a three course meal for the Masterchef judges, Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliott and Joe Bastianich. This is where the excitement began and there were more twists and turns than at a breakdancing competition: The judges loved Natasha’s food… no the judges loved Luca’s food… Luca has a near melt-down as he realises he has forgotten to strain the panna cotta… Natasha ditches half of her dessert when she sees it hasn’t set right… Krissy and Natasha have a last war of words… the judges very nearly declare a draw – it was all happening!
It was clear pretty much from the start of the show that Natasha was the favourite to win and it did look as though she had it in the bag. Each of Natasha’s courses were exactly the kind of thing I’d choose for myself if I were dining out and her presentation was faultless. Also no one could doubt her passion, commitment and talent throughout this season where she hardly ever put a foot wrong. She was a well-rounded home cook who could cook almost anything. She had an incredible knowledge of food and a high level of technical ability. Her flavour combinations always hit the spot according to the judges and even when the other contestants made the mistake of underestimating her, she always rose to the challenge and won. Due to her competence and skill, she hardly ever had to face the dreaded pressure test. All this plus her winning menu seemed to indicate that Natasha would be walking out of the Thunderdome kitchen with the Masterchef title. Luca’s menu was as adventurous as Natasha’s was safe and I wondered if it was perhaps a little too much for the judges who expressed concern over Luca’s choices.
Awful as this may sound, we really hoped that Natasha wouldn’t walk away with the grand prize. Why? Because despite all her culinary genius, Natasha came across as the most unlikeable know-it-all with an extremely bad attitude. She hardly ever had a genuine smile on her face and just sulked and pouted when she didn’t get her own way – and she positively hated it when her fellow contestants did better than her. The first time the viewers saw her, she talked about how her cooking ability was always underestimated because she was so pretty. Boastful? Natasha? Never! And she definitely didn’t score any brownie points by reducing contestant Beth Kirby to tears.
Thankfully Luca’s gamble paid off and as doubtful as the judges were initially, they LOVED his dishes including the ambitious basil panna cotta with tomato jam. Not something I would have chosen for dessert but according to the judges, it worked spectacularly. A lot of Luca-haters have stated that Natasha was robbed of the title as she was the far superior and consistent cook and that Luca only won because he was a man, and for the first time in the show’s history it was important for a male contestant to win the title. Even when Natasha’s unpopularity was pointed out, her supporters have stated that this is a cooking competition and not a contest based on personality. This is fair enough but it’s important to remember that the winner will go on to great success including their own cookbook and potentially starting up their own restaurant. Would I want to eat at the restaurant of or buy a cookbook from some who does not come across well as a likeable person? No, I wouldn’t – and I don’t think many others would either.
So Mastechef is over for another season and we’ll have to wait another year to see more culinary magic. Congrats to Luca. A very worthy winner who I hope goes on to great things. Proof that sometimes the nice guy does indeed win.
Roll on 2014. We can’t wait for season 5!
I’ve fallen madly in love… with a dress.
I came across this vision of loveliness which is part of Marks and Spencer’s new range for autumn 2013. I love everything about this dress from the deep shade of claret to the exquisite design of the lace and the gorgeous scallop-edging. It has a very flattering v-shaped neckline and is slightly off the shoulder. The overall look is classy and elegant and I would love to have this as part of my ever-increasing-to-the-point-where-it’s annoying Mr. D wardrobe.
There are some things about people I swear I will never understand…
I think by now it’s crystal clear that one of my pet peeves is people who have no sense of spatial awareness. I have absolutely zero time for people who inconvenience others and show no consideration for them by hogging room; invading their space and blocking access to entrances and exits thus wasting everyone’s time. It’s something so basic that it annoys the hell out of me when I see it because it indicates a sense of entitlement and arrogance.
I absolutely love my job as an English teacher and consider myself very fortunate to get up every morning to go to a job I enjoy; I get to work alongside great colleagues and meet some fabulous people from all over the world. But one thing that really p***es me off is when groups of students congregate in some of the most inappropriate places making it difficult for the rest of us to get by. I mean did they really think they had the whole school to themselves?
Take yesterday for example. I had just finished one class and was on my way back to the staff room when I realised that I was caught up in very slow moving traffic on the stairs. That’s nothing unusual during the summer months when we have a massive influx of students and you will not be going anywhere in a hurry. However, we were not exactly heaving with students so I left my place in the orderly single file that people had formed to go down the stairs to see what was causing the hold-up.
Would you believe it? Some wally had decided to stop right there on the staircase… to read and reply to a text! Well that’s all right then. Never mind all the students who have to make it on time to their next class. Or the teachers who only have ten minutes to sort out paperwork; re-check schedules; handover files to colleagues; have a smoke; grab a coffee or use the bathroom and make it to class on time with no excuses. But I can see how checking your messages is an emergency that warrants causing movement on the stairs to come to a standstill though I’m willing to bet that even President Obama responds to messages concerning global catastrophe with less urgency.
And talking of using the bathroom, you wouldn’t believe how many students don’t see anything wrong with standing right behind the closed door of the ladies toilets. It’s so stupid not to mention dangerous as they risk being walloped in the head – which is exactly what I have done a few times before apologizing profusely (once I’ve gotten over the shock of almost taking someone’s head off) while thinking, “just how dumb are you?” I understand that the queue for the ladies is sometimes so long that it goes halfway down the hallway but the smart thing to do would be to pull the door open and stand in front of it, enabling users to have a clear view of where everyone is and eliminating the risk of accidents.
A colleague even told me about a student he saw getting hit by a door as she stood right behind it. Instead of moving, she remained there – and got hit again!
“Honestly,” he exclaimed, “I couldn’t believe her stupidity. And why do students feel the need to congregate in doorways when there are so many other places where they stand and chat?”
Why indeed. but it seems that staircases, narrow hallways, doorways, in fact any where that can create an obstruction for people who need to pass seem to be favourite places for students to hang out and gossip. I have no idea why this seems to be a prime location for them – it just is.
There have even been complaints from the general public about students who crowd the main entrance of the school and spill out onto the streets making it difficult for people to get through. In fact there were so many complaints that the school had to put up a sign asking students not to gather in front of the school en masse. Surely that’s just common sense? But sadly as most people know, common sense is steadily in decline.
So next time Teacher hits you on the head when she opens the door, remember it was your own stupid fault!
I was moaning to a friend about the state of my hair when she suggested I give my hair an olive oil deep conditioning treatment. “Don’t you ever do that?” she asked, ” Add some olive oil to your hair and wrap a towel around it?”
I used to. A long time ago. In fact I was fanatical about massaging warm olive oil into my hair before wrapping my hair first, in cling film and then a towel. I did this every time I was about to wash my hair. There was no treatment like it and it left my hair soft, easy to manage and very, very glossy. I loved it!
Unfortunately however, you can have too much of a good thing and after two years of deep conditioning my hair, it actually left my hair very dry and straw-like. I couldn’t understand why. It was a beautician friend of mine who explained it.
“It’s good that you deep condition your hair but you’re not supposed to do it every time you wash your hair,” she said. “you’re actually forcing your hair to work harder and that’s why it’s become so dry.”
So I stopped conditioning my hair with warm olive oil. I was disappointed as I loved my pre-bath ritual and enjoyed in a little self-pampering. However, over the years constant blow drying and straightening have once again left my hair in a sorry state. Although I always use a heat protection spray on my hair before using heated appliances and have recently had my hair cut short… it’s still not in great condition. So this weekend, following my conversation with my friend, I decided to go back to my (hair) roots and see if deep conditioning it would make any difference.
This time, I did things a little differently. I actually added an egg to the oil before massaging it into my hair. I remember hearing that eggs work as an excellent shampoo or conditioner as it clings to any dirt or impurities in your hair and also helps to strengthen it.
I left the mixture on my hair for a couple of hours, wrapped neatly in cling film and a towel (much to the amusement of Mr. D!) and waited for the conditioner to work it’s magic!
And work its magic it did! My hair was super soft and shiny. I couldn’t stop running my hands through my hair. It’s been a long time since my hair felt this good. I know it’ll take a few more treatments before my hair is in tip-top condition but I also know not to overdo it again and will be spacing out treatments accordingly. Straw-like hair is so not a good look!
Here’s my method for the olive oil and egg deep conditioning natural hair treatment. I only used one dessert spoon of oil because my hair is quite short but the amount of oil you use depends on the length and thickness of your hair.
- Put a dessert spoon of olive oil into a small bowl.
- Place the glass in a pan of just boiled water so that it will warm through. Ensure that the oil does not get too hot.
- Break an egg into the oil and whisk thoroughly (the oil should not be overly warm or the egg will scramble slightly.)
- Evenly apply the mixture to dry hair.
- Wrap head in cling film so that all you hair is covered.
- Then wrap head in towel.
- Leave for a minimum of twenty minutes.
- Wash your hair thoroughly with your favourite shampoo. Make sure you wash your hair in lukewarm water – scrambled egg is very hard to wash out of your hair!
- I finished with my favourite conditioner but this step is optional.
- Dry as you normally would.
Voila! Great looking hair. And for those of you who may suffer from an itchy scalp, I’ve been told that mashed banana is an excellent remedy.
- Olive Oil | The Ancient Beauty Trick (sparkleandwine.com)
- Psoriasis? Why not bung some olive oil and cling film on there?! G’warn, I dare ya! (ebenezermagazine.wordpress.com)
I have just tried redcurrants for the very first time. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration as I’m sure I’ve had a tart, cake or some other dessert topped with a couple of redcurrants but this is the first time, I’ve properly tried them. I’ve wanted to try them ever since I was five years old and I saw them in my mum’s The Cookery Year cook book, as they looked delicious and ever since then I’d wondered what they taste like.
Well, now I know. Redcurrants are surprisingly tart but still quite yummy and I managed to demolish the whole punnet in one sitting. Mr. D tried some too as he’d never eaten them before. Did he like them? Well, it’s quite hard to tell with him but he did say that he found the redcurrants to be quite sharp and didn’t scoff them the same way I did, so maybe it wasn’t such a big hit with him. Oh, well – all the more for me!
Redcurrants are related to the gooseberry – which might explain the tartness – and are native to western Europe, although there are similar species in Asia and North America. They’re available from July until September which means that I’ve only just managed to try them while they’re still in season. Despite their sharp taste, redcurrants are still slightly sweet enough to be eaten raw, although you’d obvious have to sprinkle them with sugar if you’d prefer them to be sweeter. They are quite rich in vitamin C and go well with other fruits and berries.
They are a surprisingly versatile fruit and can be served in a multitude of ways. They can be sprinkled with sugar and served with cream or frosted to decorate desserts and puddings. Redcurrants are also usually used as part of the mixed berries that go into making a delicious Summer Pudding. Because of their high levels of pectin, they make great jams and jellies that taste great with toast or accompanying lamb or game. That’s right – they go quite well with savoury dishes too!
So here are two quick and easy recipes using delicious redcurrants. Make these lovely delicacies before redcurrants disappear for another year!
SPICY RED ONION AND REDCURRANT RELISH
- 4 medium red onions
- 2 small red peppers,
- 1 bsp olive oil
- 2 red chilli,
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2″ piece fresh ginger, chopped
- 300ml red wine vinegar
- 200g light muscovado sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp five spice powder
- 300g redcurrants, stripped from stalks
- Peel onions and cut into thin slices.
- Cut red pepper into chunks then mix with the red onion and oil.
- Fry for 5-10 mins over a high heat until lightly charred and softened.
- Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Deseed chillis and chop.
- Grate ginger and crush garlic before mixing with the chilli.
- Lightly fry chilli mixture before adding half the vinegar.
- Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 mins.
- Add the onion mixture plus the remaining vinegar, all the sugar, spice and 1 tsp salt.
- Bring to the boil then bubble away for about 5 mins until thickened.
- Add redcurrants and simmer for about 5 mins more, or until they have burst, but still have some shape and the liquid is syrupy.
- Remove and pour into a large heatproof jar. Cover and seal while hot. Keeps in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
Taste great with sausages, cold meats and goat’s cheese.
ZESTY BERRY COMPOTE
100ml berry juice- any kind
2 tblspn. Crème de cassis
Zest of 1 lemon
1kg fresh/ frozen summer fruits (blackberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants)
10 stems fresh redcurrants
1. Empty the jars of conserve into a large pan. Add the cassis and 200ml water. Heat until warm, then add the frozen fruits and heat for a few minutes until the berries are no longer frozen. Cool and chill.
2. Serve in glasses decorated with fresh redcurrants.
3. Also delicious served with cream, ice-cream or custard.
Today, while on a fairly packed bus to get to a busy town centre in order to go to an equally busy supermarket, I was amazed at the number of inconsiderate people who thought they were the only people out on the street – causing me to get more than a little irritated. Crowding doorways; blocking aisles with pushchairs; dawdling too long by the veggies when I’m trying to reach for a packet of baby spinach; trollies heading straight for me and missing me by millimetres without so much as an apology or an ‘excuse me’ from the wreckless trolley-pusher… it seems that people have absolutely no awareness of other people around them. They think nothing of invading your space or getting in your way, causing you to waste time and lose patience. I also almost had an irate man crash into me while I was carrying several bags of groceries because he was too busy arguing with his wife and walking backwards (don’t ask!) without bothering to check if there was anyone else behind him on the very narrow pavement. This kind of behaviour isn’t just inconsiderate, I also find it to be quite arrogant. It’s almost as if other people and their space aren’t important.
I work in Central London and often walk to the station after work with a friend from work. It’s only a five minute walk to the station but on the way there, I’ve often lost count of the number of people who have bumped into us; hit us with their over-sized bags; rammed their buggies, strollers and trollies or just stopped abruptly right in front of us while they answer their phone or rifle through said bag. Now, I know that all of this is just part and parcel of city life, especially when the city is one of the world’s most overpopulated. However, an apology in a situation like this would be much appreciated. My colleague is not a Londoner, but hailing from a major American city, she does understand that this is what London life entails. However unlike me, she is not prepared to allow someone to get in her way and say nothing about it. She’s got something to say all right!
It seems like a sign of the times where it’s almost acceptable to be rude and not say sorry. And of course, no one wants to tackle anyone about their behaviour. It’s different for my American friend – after all who wants to take on an angry American? – but most of us know that complaining can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth so we just keep quiet and accept that it’s just the way people are these days even though we are inwardly seething.
On a trip to Brighton earlier this year, a friend of mine later told me how surprised she was when as we were wheeling our stowaway cases along the streets of the seaside town, she noticed that I kept stopping to let people by and was aware of anyone who might be around me. well, of course I was. and it’s what any considerate person would do.
Sadly there don’t seem to be many considerate people around.
Another one of our guilty viewing pleasures is The Great British Baking Off – I suppose you could say that Mr. D and I are huge fans of any kind of culinary competition. During the first episode which focused on scrummy cakes, I was particularly fascinated by the grapefruit cake whipped up by contestant, Beca. I’m a huge fan of cakes made using lemon, orange, or lime but it never occurred to me that I could use grapefruit – which just happens to be one of my favourite citrus fruits. So here’s Beca’s recipe for her grapefruit cake. I love mascarpone and any kind of fruit curd so I’m going to have a go at making it myself but somehow I doubt it’ll be as great as Beca’s!
- For the grapefruit curd
- For the candied grapefruit peel
- For the cake
- For the grapefruit sugar syrup
- For the mascarpone cream
- For the grapefruit curd, place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the butter in the bowl before adding all the other ingredients and whisk with an electric hand-held mixer until thickened. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge to set further. (You will make more grapefruit curd than you need for the cake. Refrigerate the rest and eat within a week.)
- For the candied grapefruit peel, peel the grapefruit and cut the peel to the desired length and width. Place in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Boil for 10-15 seconds and then drain the peel. Return the peel to the same saucepan and add the sugar with 75ml/2½fl oz of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy. Drain the peel and coat in more caster sugar before leaving to cool and dry on a wire rack.
- Preheat the oven to 180C/160C(fan)/Gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm/8in sandwich tins.
- For the cake, mix all the ingredients together in an electric mixer. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the tins for five minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
- Meanwhile, for the grapefruit sugar syrup, place the grapefruit juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for around five minutes, or until the syrup begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
- While the cakes are still warm, pierce the surface with a cocktail stick all over. Drizzle the syrup evenly over both cakes. Allow to cool completely.
- For the mascarpone cream, whisk the ingredients together until thick and airy, but not too stiff.
- To decorate the cake, place the bottom layer of the cake onto a serving plate.
- Transfer a quarter of the mascarpone cream into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm/½in plain nozzle, and set aside. Then spread on half of the remaining mascarpone cream onto the cake. Spoon over a generous amount of the grapefruit curd – some curd may spill over the edges but don’t worry about this.
- Place the other cake on top and spread the remaining cream on top of the cake, smoothing it all over so that it is evenly distributed.
- Using the piping bag, pipe balls of icing around the edges and centre of the cake. Place a few strips of the candied peel on each ball of icing. Serve straight away, or refrigerate until ready to be devoured.