The Incompetent Chef & the Legendary Hippo Cake

Last night, I cooked meat and I didn’t kill anyone.

The truth is that every time I cook with meat of any kind, I’m convinced that I am endangering someone’s life. When it comes to cooking, I am insecure, unconfident and a generally a klutz. It’s as if my hands turn into giant lumps, unable to coordinate, cut or stir with precision. Timing several items to be ready simultaneously causes me to break out in hives.

The fact that I am married to a professionally trained chef just makes matters worse. “Just make a roux,” he’ll suggest. Like I know how to make a roux and what you do with one? “That’s the wrong knife!” is a common complaint. Scuse me, it’s metal, it’s sharp, it cuts – so what is wrong with that? Also, I need to improve my stirring technique, apparently.

Unlike my husband who is very patient with me and who can whip up a gourmet meal in a jiffy without breaking a sweat, I need the following conditions in place to even attempt cuisine success:

  • A recipe to follow, preferably with 4 or less ingredients and steps
  • A timer – and plenty of time for mistakes and do-overs
  • No husband within 10 metres
  • Plenty of space for things to spill, get dropped, messed up
  • No children within 5 metres
  • Alcohol
  • Clorox wipes

Many of my cooking miss-haps are now the stuff of legends among family and friends. This one, for example, has become fondly known as the Hippo cake. (It was supposed to be a honey cake.)

The Hippo Cake

I guess only practice can make perfect, right? As long as I don’t kill anyone in the process.

For the Love of …. Dish Towels

Husbands and wives argue over many things: money, schedules, kids, cleaning up, folding laundry the right way, loading the dishwasher, other women, other men, clothes, music, TV, sports and so on. If you’re married, you know how it goes.

Fortunately, me and my hubby, we really don’t argue. Sure we nit-pick from time to time: it’s healthy. We are also incredibly silly, which is even healthier. But one of my pet peeves that really gets me going in the spousal bickering department is our opposing views on  … dish towels.

Me: Dish towels — or tea towels, as we call them in England — are intended, as their American name suggests, for drying dishes. Drying dishes that have been cleaned. Therefore, said dish towel should also be clean prior to their drying function or else the dishes would become dirty again. Ammiright or ammiright?

As a secondary function, dish towels can be used to dry one’s hands, after one has washed said dishes. Again, this calls for use of a clean dish towel, or else said hands will be rendered unclean once again and the whole thing is “moo” (to quote Joey.)

Him: Dish towels are rags with wide-ranging functions from wiping down messy counters, to cleaning the inside door of the wood-burning stove, to handling sticky, hot pots and pans.

We’ve had several run-ins on this delicate topic. We’ve called each other names. We’ve thrown our hands up in the air. We’ve laughed and snickered at each other’s weaknesses on the topic. We’re both right and we’re both wrong. It’s a hoot.

The good news is we found a solution. We’ve established hooks by the sink, designated for the clean dish towels to be used only for drying dishes. And another spot where we hang a towel, designated only for the drying of clean hands. This makes me happy. All other dish towels, tea towels, rags or whatever you wish to call them are his to use however he sees fit, as long as they eventually find their way into the washing machine and never, never, put on the hooks with the clean towels.

Yes, I am a control freak and he is a professionally-trained chef. It’s a beautiful thing.

The other funny footnote to add to this seemingly pointless post is that, when towels are not hung back up or put in the washer, but are left in random places within the dog’s reach …. well then, off they disappear to be buried outside in the mud somewhere, as our dog likes to do. Often.

So there you have it. Happy weekend, folks!

My Avocado Dilemma

I woke up super early this morning. Actually I was awakened by my five-year who was evidently dreaming about something that didn’t work out for her and was crying out “I want it my way,” in her sleep. Well, don’t we all, sweetheart? After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind racing through the never-ending to-do list. So up I got and went downstairs.

As my coffee was brewing, my eye was drawn to an avocado sitting alone on the windowsill, where we had placed it about five days earlier to catch the sun and ripen. I gave it a squeeze.

Tell me, what is better than a perfectly ripe avocado?

But then dilemma set in. What to do with this solo avocado in the next 24 hours before its splendid green turns to mushy brown?

I figure I have two options – one involving my stomach and one involving my face.

First, the face. Winter is a bitch to my pathetic British skin. Put simply, my face is falling off, no matter how much water I drink, moisturizer I slather or how long the humidifier runs. I’m thinking this avocado could easily be mixed with some honey, oatmeal or yogurt to make an unctuous face mask that might salvage my skin. After all, it’s Friday and I’m working from home so there’s no-one to notice how strange I might look, sitting at my desk resembling a green monster. Fortunately, no Skype meetings today and hopefully no-one will FaceTime me!

But then again, there’s my tummy. All the different, glorious ways I could eat this delightful avocado! Maybe I could just slice it in half and drizzle it with the heavenly dark chocolate balsamic vinegar I recently bought? Or maybe I could squirt some lime on it and  grill it, loaded with cheese (recipe here.) Or, or …

Choices, choices.

Happy Friday folks, hope there’s a perfectly ripe avocado in your future.

Four Time-Savers for the Busy Mom

I am a Mom. I am a working Mom. And I’m exhausted. There is never enough time to do the things I’d really love to do. Like, you know, nap, exercise, do nothing, laze on the couch watching re-runs of Friends. Being a parent means existing in a permanent state of fast-forward in which every scene is a perpetual blur of chores, to-do lists, to and froms, shopping, errands, laundry, cleaning, organizing and so on. In fact, while I’m writing this, there’s a pile of clean clothes screaming to be folded. Can’t you hear them?

So it’s entirely natural to fall madly in love with whatever products or services save me some precious time and simplify my life. Four of these delightful things have become regular fixtures in my life and hallelujah—not that this means I’m now swanning around at the spa and meeting girlfriends for frappuccinos every day or taking pottery lessons. But they have taken the edge off the nuttiness of it all, especially since I returned to work full-time:

  • Dream Dinners: Every month I head on over to my local Dream Dinners and assemble a month’s worth of meals for my family. Knowing my freezer is stocked with a variety of interesting meals means I don’t have to fret about meal planning or recipes and ingredients. In fact, since I started with Dream Dinners over a year ago, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are a thing of the past. I am exposing my kids to a variety of new foods and tastes. Some have been winners, some have bombed. But I’m happy they are trying new dishes, new flavors and textures along the way. Plus, thanks to Dream Dinners, we are eating together as a family most nights whereas, before, there’d be one meal for the kids and my husband and I would eat later after they were in bed. So I’m grateful for less heartburn from eating late, less stress figuring out what’s for dinner every night, and more quality time together spent around the dinner table. And leftovers for lunch.
  • iRobot Roomba: Pure genius! This clever device waltzes around the rooms, sucking up dust and crumbs and legos and pet fur and then takes itself back to its dock when it’s done! Bye bye to sweeping and vacuuming (not that I really did that much of it before!) The Roomba seems to enjoy itself most under the couch, for some strange reason ….. And while I can’t say that my dog loves this bizarre creature whizzing around, she is now accustomed to it and no longer barks or tries to round it up like a sheepdog. (The cat just keeps her distance.) Given that the Roomba is so small and sleek, it does need emptying quite often but I’ll forgive it that. Now, if I could only teach it to bring me coffee in bed …..
  • TalkTo: In full transparency, TalkTo is a client of mine. But I would not write about it here, if I didn’t really find value in it. And I do, I do! This nifty, free app lets you send a text message to any business in the USA from your computer or your phone—and get a text message back. Meaning you don’t need to find a phone number and make a call, get stuck on hold, or speaking to someone snotty or who doesn’t understand my British accent. For me, it helps most when I remember that I need to get something done and if I wait, I know it’ll disappear from my brain in a nanosecond. I’ve used the app in recent weeks to make (and then change the time of) a hair appointment, book my kids into an activity, find out what time AAA is open to, book a table for lunch, ask several stores if they had Ben & Jerry’s pumpkin cheesecake ice cream in-stock, find out what’s on sale and so much more. Give it a go.
  • Peapod: Now that I’m working full-time, weekends are precious and I do not want to waste time at the grocery store, especially if I have the kids in tow. Yes, they claim to want to be helpful, to want to push the cart (trolley) and all that, but after a while they are running down old women and secretly stashing chocolate. So thank heavens for Peapod, Stop & Shop’s online grocery ordering and delivery service. I was skeptical at first but it’s working out great as long as I manage to get my order in before 3pm on a Friday to ensure Saturday delivery. If I don’t, then we are inevitably down to the last drop of milk, fighting over the last egg and rationing Cheerios. I call it “just in time” grocery shopping! The cool benefit, other than, you know, having someone else do my shopping for me and delivering it to my front door, is that I’m actually spending less money on groceries as I’m not tempted to throw the extra this or that in. Plus I reclaim an extra 90 mins for the laundry, which I love. No really, I do.

What time-savers do you rely on to save time, effort, your marbles? Please share.

P.S. Fellow PR and marketing people please note: the fact that I have “reviewed” some products does not mean I am now open to be pitched. I wrote these voluntarily and genuinely.

There are Two Kinds of People …

Those that like anchovies and those that don’t. Which are you?

And while we are talking anchovies, I have to tell you that they are on my top ten of foods I love. What are the other nine, I hear you clamor? Well OK then, I’ll tell you.

  1. Anchovies
  2. Bacon
  3. Cheese (any cheese, I mean it…. well, actually maybe not smoked cheeses.)
  4. Avocado
  5. Olives
  6. Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut
  7. Pumpkin anything
  8. Cheesecake
  9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  10. My Mum’s trifle

Truth is, though, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I love to eat. I cannot understand those people who don’t enjoy their food, who think of eating as a necessary duty. In fact, there are only 5 foods I won’t eat. What are they, you ask? A rather strange and eclectic list that includes:

  1. Licorice
  2. Watermelon
  3. Borscht
  4. Aubergine (that’s eggplant for you American folks)
  5. Goulash

Bon appetit!

A Love Letter to My Mother

Today, March 18th is Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s always struck me as weird that Mother’s Day is on a different date in the UK from the US – and it’s taken me by surprise often, finding me scrambling to get a card or flowers to my Mum in time. This year, I’m ahead of the game. Thanks to the wonders of the web, her flower were delivered in time.

Bouquets aside, I felt a blog post in honour of my Mother was well overdue. If you have the good fortune to know her, you’ll agree she is one-of-a-kind. If you haven’t, then this post describes why I think there’s no-one quite as wonderful as my Mum.

  • Family and friends are everything: Despite the miles between her and her offspring and grandchildren, the ties between us are deep and fierce. And her own siblings and their children are equally important. I know few families where the connections between close and extended family matter so much. What’s more, my Mother’s friends have been in her life for decades and decades and decades – in fact, since me and my brother and sister were kids. She’s the best friend you could have. She sticks with you through thick and thin.
  • No-one tells a joke like my Mum: With a sparkle in her eye, she spins a tale and you just know that the punchline is going to be a humdinger. Her jokes are not quick one-liners, they draw you in, take you on a journey, and then cause a mighty belly laugh.
  • She has style: Unlike me, my Mum is always presentable, always coordinated, always beautiful. Whether going to Marks & Spencers, to a friend’s house for a game of bridge, on the tennis court, at a fine restaurant, or simply sipping a cuppa at home, my Mum exudes style. It’s always classy, always true to herself, never over the top.
  • She stands by her man: This year, Mum and Dad will celebrate 48 years of marriage. As a kid, I always viewed them as a team. I loved how they laughed together. I rarely witnessed any discord. They truly enjoy being a couple, they take the time to be together, to travel together. They’ve been an inspiration to me.
  • Quiet ambition: My Mother has a law degree. She was a magistrate in the UK courts for a long time. She participated in community programs. She gives back. She always continually educates herself: computer classes, after Dad surprised her with a laptop; most recently, creative writing classes.
  • She is wicked good at table tennis: if you play her, you’ll see a different side to her – fiercely competitive complete with colourful language!
  • Her cooking is legendary: chicken soup, apricot chicken, yellow mush, chopped & fried, bakewell tart, cheesecake. And don’t forget the trifle.

So Mum, here’s to you. From me. Via my blog.

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