Thursday 25 November 2010

Thanksgiving: A beginner's guide for Brits

When we used to live in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving. We had no idea what we were supposed to do other than eat a lot. We also didn't have any suitable items to eat a roast dinner off of, so we spent a small fortune at William Sonoma, not realising that Crate & Barrel would have saved us quite a bit of dosh. Got to love being new in a country.

Anyway, the first Thanksgiving we had, we invited an American work colleague to join us. She was in her early 20s and didn't have anyone to spend it with. She advised us on what to do. For example, she explained that the way you make pumpkin pie is you buy a ready-made pie crust, open a tin of ready made pumpkin puree, put the puree in the crust and possibly scatter it with marshmallows (it was vile). She also told us that after eating, you just watch telly and eat giant packets of crisps.

I don't think she was the best person to introduce us to Thanksgiving. Maybe that is genuinely the way most Americans spend Thanksgiving, but given the number of Bon Appetit magazines I've read and Martha Stewart shows I've watched, I know that there are people who don't do this. And I think I prefer my version.

So for those of you Brits who might want to hold a Thanksgiving meal but aren't sure what to serve, here's a beginners guide (P.S. as we're not actually American, we don't have Thanksgiving on the correct day. Rather the Saturday closest to it - so that we're not managing a hangover at work):

1. Starters
Despite having a main course that would easily be more food than any one person needs in a year, there is still the need for a starter. This is usually something light (thank god) but like all Thanksgiving dishes, reflect the season. Salad leaves with figs wrapped in bacon. Pumpkin soup. Cream cheese roulade with autumnal chutney. You get the idea. My advice: either skip this or keep it VERY light.

2. Main event
Front and centre should be a turkey. One that is so big it's unlikely to fit in your oven. However, at a push, you can have a whole baked ham. Or you could have both. I mean, why the hell not right? The ham should always be glazed in something sweet (honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, brandy etc) and usually involves cloves unless you're married to my husband in which case you don't put a clove anywhere near a perfectly good dead pig.

The turkey won't be ala Delia wrapped in bacon. No sirree. You might want to try a shitake mushroom rub, a citrus-glaze with chipolte or perhaps maple and dijon. The flavour you choose for your turkey will dictate the flavours for the rest of your meal. It's tricky. Trust me. It is basically the theme for your meal. Are you going Tex-Mex? Deep South? Classic? Citrus?

Your turkey flavour will dictate your gravy flavour. So a thyme-roasted turkey might go well with a ginger snap gravy while and orange-and-mustard basted turkey would pair well with apple cider-mustard gravy. See? Tricky.

Right, now you have to get all the other bits to match the piece de resistance.

Dressing or stuffing: this is seldom found stuffed in a turkey. This is a dish in itself usually involving bread. For example: chestnut, bacon and corn bread stuffing or artichoke, sausage and parmesan stuffing with sourdough. This should complement your turkey's flavour. No clashing please.

Potatoes: Unlike a traditional British Christmas dinner, roast potatoes are probably not that likely to feature. Or they may feature, but alongside mashed potato, twice baked potatoes, new potato salad with bacon, sweet potato (topped with marshmallow - gag) or all of the above. On Thanksgiving Day, Americans become Irish in their love of the spud.

Vegetables: Roasted root veg feature strongly, but so do green beans, sweet potato puree, butternut squash or even southwest corn, chili and cumin saute, depending on your flavour theme. The thing is, there will be a lot of them and they all require more work than just peeling a few carrots and microwaving them till they're soft. Trust me.

Cranberry sauce: I love cranberry sauce. I love making it because it is dead easy and looks like you're really clever. And it's a great way to add additional alcohol to meal. My personal favourite is cranberries with port and dried figs.

Bread: Because obviously everyone will have a little spare room after eating all of the rest of it, there is a need for a bread basket. The bread should be made by you. It could be corn bread, sweet potato rolls or rosemary twists - basically it is another labour intensive thing for you to do and which is really just plain unnecessary waistline-wise.

3. Dessert
Having eaten so much that you can barely move, it's time to tuck into some pud. Pies are the order of the day really. Ideally pumpkin pie, but due to the incident mentioned above, I just can't get excited by the stuff. But you could try apple pie or pecan pie too. Alternatively, cranberries are big at this time of year, so anything cranberry related is a winner.

Some people do suggest a cheese board for afters. I seldom make it that far. Depends on your gluttony level really.

So that's the food covered. And that's all I know. Because I've never quite got to the bottom of what you're actually supposed to do on Thanksgiving other than eat and eat and eat. Maybe it's because I'm not American, but we find it woefully embarrassing to sit around a table with friends saying what we're thankful for, when all anyone is really thankful for is that they don't have to do the washing up and that there are still five more bottles of wine. I just don't see Brits sitting around holding hands while they give thanks for things. We're more likely to stop queuing or reading red top newspapers first.

In our house, we simply have friends over to eat, drink and be merry - sort of a Christmas for friends, rather than family. And that I have friends and family and food - that is what I am thankful for.  Here's our Thanksgiving menu for this year:

Waldorf salad with cranberries and walnuts in radicchio cups

Honey and cider glazed ham
Wholegrain mustard mash
Maple glazed roast butternut and carrot chunks
Green beans with pecans
Creamed savoy cabbage
Apple cider mustard gravy (strictly speaking you shouldn't have gravy with ham but the mash needs it - going off -piste here!)

Cranberry cheesecake

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Introducing the Bleat: where twitter and blogs collide

I have come up with a new invention. It's called a Bleat. It's a random thought you have (which you'd like to share) and is too long for a tweet and not quite long enough for a blog post in its own right. I was going to call it a Bleet, but according to the UrbanDictionary, a Bleet is: 'When A male rubs his penis on the outside of a womans vagina. no insertion only rubbing inbetween the vaginal lips of the woman. the step befor sex.' There is so much I don't know. Sigh.

Anyway, Bleat is better as people can then say: "What are you bleating on about?" See? Perfect. So please feel free to create your own bleats and set the trend in motion. I wonder if I can copyright it...

Here are my bleats for today:

I've come to a rather late yet startling realisation: it is impossible to parent calmly and have PMT at the same time. I've tried for six (almost seven) years and it just isn't doable. This is particularly true during the getting-ready-for-school-morning-madness in which I have to ask my children to put their socks and jumpers on at least 20 times, while they instead throw the aforementioned items at each other, taking out eyes and anything else that happens to be in the way. On a normal day, this is taxing. On a PMT day, it causes blind fury resulting in me yelling in a way that will have the neighbours calling social security and my son yelling back: 'I HATE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!!'  I must start taking evening primrose oil.

I've noticed something about Sex And The City - the four lead characters eat almost constantly and pack away more calorific cocktails than even I do, yet barely ever exercise and remain stick thin. Sure Charlotte has the odd run in Central Park and we all know how Samantha gets her daily exercise quota, but the only time you see Carrie doing anything energetic is running after a pair of shoes. Surely this is grossly misleading representation and all four of them should be shot or at least drip fed Big Macs?

Following on from my previous blog post about irritating things, I'd like to have a word with people who make packaging. Particularly the people who put the plastic covers on DVDs which are impossible to remove; the people who put a toy/toothbrush/razor into a pack encased in thick plastic that is impossible to get into unless you have garden shears and even then you are likely to either have your eye out or get a vicious plastic cup (like a paper cut, only worse); the people who put food like slices of ham into plastic packs with an 'easy-lift' corner which is never easy and invariably doesn't lift so that you have to resort to using a knife to get into it; the people who decide that children's toys all need to have 17 billion tiny pieces of wire to hold them in place so that on Christmas morning you have a child who is only topped in the frustration stakes by you as you try to untwizzle them.

It is becoming apparent that unless you live on wheatgrass and lentils and want to end up looking like Gillian McKeith (shudder), there will come a time when regardless of how much you exercise or how good you try to be dietwise, your mid-section will insist on making itself known, particularly in knitted dresses.

That's it for today. I shall be bleating again in the future I'm sure. Please feel free to bleat at will.


Sorry - I have another bleat to add which simply can't wait:
 #royalwedding #journorequests
So Will and Kate are getting married on 29 April. Cue every newspaper and magazine in the UK to issue an immediate request for people getting married on 29 April. Has no-one got an original idea? Seriously. How many features are we going to have to read about this? Personally I think Will and Kate are being very generous getting married on a Friday, giving us an extended weekend and as most people marry on a Saturday, not a Friday, it means there'll be fewer brides weeping into their cream cakes about why everyone is watching the telly on their big day.

Thursday 18 November 2010

What the *beep* is going on?

There is a book I read on the loo, you know, one of those toilet humour books that are the trappings of all middle-class homes. This particular one is called: 'Is it just me or is everything shit?' by Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur. They have created an A-Z list of things that irritate them. It has me laughing out loud regularly, so much so that my children seem to think that mummy on the loo is a rather jolly past time and they should join me so as not to miss out on the frivolity.

But I've noticed that under the letter B, they have a serious ommission. Beeping. Or rather, things that Beep at me.

Let me list the things that beep at me and which are quite possibly going to result in me taking a sledge hammer to them:

1. The Washing Machine
This wins the Oscar award for annoying beeps. It beeps when it has finished its cycle, stridently telling the household (and indeed the neighbours given its volume) that it's time for me to drop whatever I'm doing and hang up the wet clothes because there is obviously nothing more important to do. It will beep loudly 4 or 5 times. Then stop. You forget that the washing needs taking out. Until 30 seconds later, it beeps again. And will keep on doing so until you cannot bear the torture and yank the door of the machine open, yelling at it as you fling wet clothes into a washing basket, where they stay for the rest of the day (because the basket - thank God - can't beep).

2. The Dishwasher
Far, far less offensive than the washing machine, it emits a low level, discreet beep letting you know that it's done. Where the washing machine is your bling appliance, the dishwasher is far more elegant and understated. But it's like an old dear that beeps at you half-heartedly, gives up and then decides several hours later (usually the middle of the night, just loud enough to wake you) that it's time to be reminded that it still needs emptying. Here's a tip dishwasher: I shall empty you, when I run out of clean cups. Until then, shut up.

3. The Microwave
This is loud and obnoxious but can be useful. Sometimes. However, it has a whole repetoire of beeps for any given situation. Should you say put something into the microwave, set the timer and don't turn it on, it will give you a few minutes, and will then beep at you, as though saying: 'Oi, fuckwit, you forgot to turn me on'. But actually maybe I didn't. Maybe I just wanted to be ready to hit the start button a critical juncture. But no, you know best don't you, you holier-than-thou appliance. And let's not forget about your beeping once something is actually cooked. God forbid we don't open your door exactly when it's done. Wait more than 30 seconds and you incur 'Micro-wrath', which could be made into a children's Saturday morning cartoon.

4. The Fridge
The fridge beeps when the door is left open for too long. Fair enough. Useful to know, particularly when you have small boys who plunder the fridge snack drawer, and then in their excitement to rip their cheese strings into thousands of tiny strips, they leave the door open. The beep kindly informs me that it might need closing. But when I'm trying to unpack groceries and the children are grabbing things and dropping bottles of wine on the floor and I'm trying to squash a head of broccoli into the overfull veg drawer, I do not need you telling me to shut the door. I get it. Ok.

5. The Cooker
Now this is one beeper I couldn't live without. You see, I pop food in the oven, go upstairs to 'work' i.e. twitter/facebook/blog and lose track of time. All of our food would be cremated if it weren't for the cooker beeper. But it is particularly strident and when you're say, cooking a roast lunch, and you're trying to get the lumps out of the gravy, and carve the chicken, and not overcook the veg and the beeper goes off telling you that the roasties are done, but frankly you don't have a spare hand, it just adds to the stress levels. I invariably end up whacking it just to get it to shut up, only to forget that I turned it off and we end up having burnt roast potatoes.

6. The Car
The car, particularly my husband's fancy car, has beeps for everything. What do you mean you haven't put your seat belt on and you've turned the key in the ignition? Foolish women. Stop at once. Beep, beep, BEEP! It even beeps at me if I put a heavy bag onto the passenger seat because it has sensed that someone is sitting there and therefore must be strapped in. I have in the past actually strapped my bag into its seat, just to make the car shut up. Then there is the beep saying that you've opened the car door while the engine is running, because God forbid you might want to run out and get something or pop a letter in a postbox. There's the beep letting you know that you've left the lights on (fair enough but do you have to be so obnoxious in your alarm?). And there's the beep that says one of the doors isn't quite closed properly, which tends to be the car hooter sounding, so a particularly vengeful noise and scares the bejesus out of me. Don't even get me started on the satnav telling me to turn around at the next available moment....

Bank machines, trucks reversing, supermarket checkout scanners, mobile phone text messages, mobile phone missed call messages, new tweets, new emails - beeps are everywhere and they're all sooooo demanding! Needy, needy, needy!

Ironically, all of these beeps have been designed to help us. Alert us. Keep us safe. Keep us informed. It's the nanny state gone mad.

So my message to you manufacturers: I don't need my white goods to talk to me. I just want them to do their jobs and I'll see to them when it suits me. Until then, Shut the *beep* up.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Anyone seen my mojo?

Not sure if it's the weather, the imposing spectre of the long winter ahead or just the fact that it's the second last month of the year, but I feel decidedly pphht. Sort of like the noise a balloon makes when the air is let out of it, only with less flying around the room.

It might be because for the first time in, gosh, 5 years I actually have more time than work to do. Well, I always have work to do, but not the pressing deadline driven stuff that I normally have. Which obviously means I do nothing. When I have an absolutely chockful day, I somehow always manage to do all my work, plus the laundry, bake cakes, blog etc etc etc. But now that I'm not so busy, I seem incapable of doing anything.

The kids are watching more TV than ever due to my eroding parenting standards. The house is littered with clothes that need picking up. The kitchen has received a cursory wipe down only - and most surfaces are thoroughly clatty. My blog has been left unattended (my business blog too). My office is a paper mountain. It all needs sorting out. But - I. Just. Can't. Be. Arsed.

It's terrible. What makes it even worse is that I'm not revelling in my doing nothing. I'm fretting about it. I'm sitting at the pc, doing nothing except worrying about doing nothing. Not even online shopping or reading of news. Just mooching. Everything I attempt, I give up after a half-hearted effort so that I have several openened but nowhere near completed things on my screen. And it's this feeling of lack of achieving anything that is driving me insane.

I would prefer to say to myself: Today I shall achieve nothing and just sign myself off for the day. Lie in bed and read a book. Take a walk. Watch crap on tv. But I don't. I say: today I shall achieve something. Anything really. And then don't.

Urgh. Someone kick me up the backside.

And while I'm having a moan and a whinge, where the hell did 2010 go? How is it November already and we have Christmas marching towards us at an alarming pace? In fact maybe that's the crux of it. Last year was so crazy that this year I purposefully decided to put the brakes on and do less. But now that I look back on it, I'm feeling as though I've actually achieved nothing much at all. Why do we have this perpetual need to achieve things? Why is sitting on your bum doing nothing not enough? Or perhaps it's just me.

So in the random way that this post is going (much like my past week), I shall attempt to think of the things that have defined 2010:
1 snowy trip to Scotland
1 long haul trip to New Zealand
1 very hot sailing holiday in Greece
1 big client launch with possibly the best coverage I've ever gotten for a client ever
1 big name client win
biggest turnover of my business life to date
putting house on the market
researching the possibility of moving to the USA
youngest son starting big school
actually having a real network of local friends for the first time
purchase of first ever cat suit and fierce high heeled shoes (these last items happened very recently in a bid to stop being quite so mumsy and I feel are worthy of  a mention)

Not quite the same as sailing across an ocean the year before but not a shabby list now that I write it out. So why the blah? Probably because I know that there are things not listed on here that I should have done but haven't.

Inspire me someone. If only I'd mistakenly sat down on a firework on Bonfire Night. I need a bit of a rocket up my arse.

Friday 5 November 2010

Putting the magic back into Christmas

Yesterday afternoon my children decided to write their Christmas gift lists. I encouraged them in this past time, mainly because the 5 year old seriously needs to practice his hand writing. The results were as follows:

Son 2 (5 year old) - utterly illegible scrawl which even Santa, with his magic powers, would have a hard time deciphering. I got him to translate it for me. It included a DSi, a light sabre, top trumps and gogos. Fair enough although I'm still not convinced that I'll be getting him a DS. I know, I know, I know - everyone has them and it is small and would fit easily into luggage as we're spending Christmas abroad and would keep him occupied on the plane on the way home. But I think it will become a battle ground where he wants to be on it and I want him off it and much gnashing of teeth will ensue.

Son 1 (6 year old) - a very, very, very long list of things including a DS, a camera and a phone! A phone!!! Who the hell is he going to call? When did children become grown ups? What happened to the magic of Christmas?

And then I got a call from a company asking me if I could help them promote a service of theirs and given my frustration with cynical children, I said yes. So this is a sponsored post, but happily, fits into my life very well.

The company lets you create a personalised letter to your child from Santa. MagicalSanta offers four distinct letters, which can be tailored to each child. Each letter has been written by a published children’s author, and each is written for a specific age group and gender.

By adding the child’s name, gender, friend’s name, what they’ve done to qualify them for the ‘Nice List’ and what present they want the letter becomes all about them.

(Sadly, it doesn't have a bit about not back chatting your mother, not cleaning your teeth and not eating your vegetables - I believe there might be a market for letters from Santa that threaten children that presents won't be forthcoming unless these things are done!)

Each letter costs £2.99 and includes free delivery within the UK, when ordered directly from the website. By clicking on, the rate is further discounted price to only £2.79.

Letters will be sent by Royal Mail in the first few days of December for all orders received before this date. For orders received on or after 1st December all letters will be posted out within 2-3 working days on receipt of the order, up to the Royal Mail's last posting dates.

These dates are:

UK 18th December
Europe 13th December
Other Countries 10th December

Payment can be made online by credit or debit card, and a full refund within 30 days is offered if the purchaser isn't completely satisfied.

So go on, send your child a personal letter from Santa and help get the magic back. You know it won't be long before they're saying: 'Christmas is like so lame', so milk the magic while you can!