Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Henri's Amazing Roast Chicken Pie Recipe

This isn't meant to be a food or cooking blog, but various people have asked me for the recipe for this so here it is:

1. Have yourself a delicious roast chicken. Oh, how tasty it is. But wait! What's that? There's some left you say?
2. Take all the chicken off the bone. Reserve any leftover gravy. THERE! The first two tasks are done. You may as well go away and do something else now. The pie is for another day.
3. Right, it's now the next day. You are thinking of how to make your pie. Mmm, you think, chicken pie. Firstly, you need to chop some BACON into lardons and fry them up. Also chop a few cloves of GARLIC but hold off on adding them yet, you mad keen chef, you!
4. When your bacon is looking done then add the chicken which - remember? - you took off the bone yesterday, and hopefully shredded or at least sort of did that rough chopping thing to. Fry all this up together. Did I need to tell you to put some oil in the pan first? Hopefully not. If that isn't automatic then you may well struggle with the rest of this recipe involving, as it does, techniques that require you to have cooked at least one thing before in your entire life. What I'm saying is there's a certain degree of skill assumed here on your part. Don't let me down, now.
5. Anyway, now is a good time to add your garlic and some sliced PORTABELLO MUSHROOMS. You may well have sliced them the same time you sliced the garlic. If not, I don't care. I'm not a chef. Do it your own way. Fry all this up with a little salt and pepper.
6. It's now time to add all the ingredients that make this pie so popular with both friends and family. In no particular order, add CAPERS, THE JUICE OF ONE LEMON, A CHICKEN STOCKPOT THINGY, THE LEFTOVER GRAVY, DOUBLE CREAM, HALF A BOTTLE OF WHITE WINE (or a half bottle, like I said, I'm not bothered, it's your dinner), and SOME DRIED THYME OR FRESH THYME IF YOU HAVE IT THOUGH NO-ONE EVER DOES.
7. Simmer and stir, simmer and stir. It should be pretty thick but if not then reduce it or add a bit of arrow root.
8. Put your delicious mixture in an oven-friendly dish. Top with a sheet of JUS ROLL PUFF PASTRY, glaze it with whatever you use to glaze things in your house, and pop in the oven for an amount of time at a temperature.
9. Serve and enjoy! (Note I haven't said to remove from the oven before serving. This is because, as I said, I'm assuming that you have a basic knowledge of what a kitchen does, and that you're not a moron. If you are, then you're going to spend quite a long time in front of your oven, your confused gaze shifting from the recipe to the burny-foody-hot-box and back again before abandoning the entire enterprise and slinking sadly off the fridge to see if you have any cheese, which you will gnaw directly off the block like the mouse you barely outclass. But I'm sure YOU will be fine. Enjoy your pie! (Or your cheese, you numbnut).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, 16 January 2011

In Defence of Censorship

I never thought I'd say this, being the artsy-fartsy, liberal-(with a small l)-minded person that I am, but thank goodness for censorship.  Thanks goodness there are groups of people in the world who gather with the specific intention, and requisite authority, to decide that there are certain things that the public should not have general access to.  There, I said it.  It felt wrong, but I know it's right.

It's easy to mock the censors.  "OMG!" we cry, derisively.  "They cut bits out of 'From Here To Eternity' because she had too many shirt buttons undone!  How prudish!  How backward!  And how dare they decide what we can and can't see!"

The fight against censorship has been led over the years by artists, writers and filmmakers, who find the idea of a board of anonymous, grey-suited guardians judging what is morally appropriate anathema to their creative expression.  They argue strongly that art must carry us forwards, that we move forwards anyway, and art must reflect this.  James Jones, who wrote the novel on which 'From Here to Eternity' is based wrote, in defense of the use of expletives and gay sex scenes in his original manuscript which his publishers were insisting he remove, that "the things we change in this book for propriety's sake will in five years, or 10 years, come in someone else's book anyway…and we will wonder why we thought we couldn't do it. Writing has to keep evolving into deeper honesty, like everything else, and you cannot stand on past precedent or theory, and still evolve…"  Over and above this is the philosophical point that we are capable, as complex and high-functioning life forms, of viewing and taking in art, films, books, without becoming morally corrupted by the content, and that any attempt to decide what society is and isn't capable of absorbing safely without losing all sense of our own civilised humanity is not just laughable but also a little fascist, a little scary. 

But then you have 'A Serbian Film'.  A horror film released last year, it's now notorious for having the longest cuts ever made by a censor - four minutes (which, given the content of some of the films out there, seems remarkably short to be the longest ever).  And I'm glad they cut it.  I'm glad there's a board of anonymous, grey-suited guardians out there willing not only to watch all the crap, all the grim, dark misery and violence on my behalf, but also willing to stand up, in the face of all of anger they'll receive from filmmakers at the time, and all the derision they'll get from smart-arse social commentators in the future, and say "Enough.  This is not acceptable." 

Because it isn't.  I've thought a lot about whether to include here, for those who might not know, the content of the cut four minutes.  It weakens my arguments not to be able to shock you with it, but at the same time, I have no real wish to disseminate it.  I came across it by accident in an article in a Sunday paper recently, and I wish I hadn't.  So, if you want to know, google it, if not, then take my word for it, it's nasty.  And until I read how nasty it was I had the same reaction to the four cut minutes that I generally have to all reports of censorship.  "Tsk!" I thought, "Who do these people think they are?  I'll decide what is and isn't suitable for my consumption, thank you very much."  But then I read what was cut out and it made me stop and think.  And, having thought, I will join the censors and stand up publicly and say this: "Not everything is art, just because you call it art.  Not everything can be art, just because it can be imagined.  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

It's a position that got the comedian Mark Watson into trouble recently with fellow comedian Frankie Boyle.  At some point last year Watson wrote a blog post (we're all at it) about the incident in which Boyle upset the parents of a Down's Syndrome child with some, oh, shall we call them tasteless jokes at one of his live shows.  Watson considered carefully the various defences comedians have in this situation, but concluded "... they don't entirely address the issue of whether, in the 21st century, a rich, successful and physically healthy man should be able to make tons of money by taking the piss out of Down's Syndrome, and pass it off as entertainment. Even though I'm part of a comedy industry which will argue, till it's blue in the face, that you can say whatever you like, I'm not convinced that it represents progress if we're allowed to say things like that."  Boyle reacted angrily and it all kicked off on twitter.  Until recently, I'd actually have sided with Boyle.  I still think the parents in question were hideously unfair to him (they were huge Frankie fans, relishing all of his other, oh, shall we call them off-colour jokes until they were suddenly in the firing line themselves) but my emotional response to what was cut out of 'A Serbian Film' has caused me to reassess.  Maybe Watson has a point.  Maybe it's not enough to just shrug and say "if you don't like it you don't have to watch it". 

And it would appear that people have been taking this to heart recently.  The recent EastEnders Christmas storyline about dead-baby-live-baby-swapping has attracted around 8000 complaints.  Many centre around the sensationalist way a serious topic such as cot death has been handled, but I suspect people are also just fed up with all the relentless, pointless darkness passed off as entertainment.  The EastEnders Christmas storylines included, as well as the death of a newborn baby, someone trying to kill themselves and someone trying to murder their husband. The complaints have caused the 'Enders producers to bring the babyswap story to a premature end, wrapping it up at Easter instead of dragging it out for a whole year as originally planned. 

Maybe this is the start of a new trend.  Maybe people are starting to reject the worst excesses of sensationalism disguised as artistic expression. But even if they do, we still need those anonymous grey-suits.  We can't expect film-makers to self-censor.  It doesn't work if creativity is stifled by the artists having to say "Should we go there?  Are people ready for that?"  We need those who create to continue to push the boundaries, and we need censors to protect us, not from Deborah Kerr's reckless shirt buttons, but from the worst excesses of the human imagination. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Not that I'm competitive, but...

Milly is the youngest baby in her Post-Natal Group, and whenever we're together I'm always conscious of how she trails behind the rest developmentally. She, for example, is only just starting weaning, while others in the group have been chomping down jam jars full of broccoli ice cubes for weeks now. "Look!" the other Mummies cry proudly, "look at how my baby sits up on his own!". Or worse, they affect nonchalance: "Oh, yeah, he's been doing that for a while now." Milly, meanwhile, spits out everything I give her and then slides cheerfully sideways. She's still more interested in her feet than anything else. The others babies are all so over their feet; 2011 is all about rolling, apparently, but no, Milly sits there, displaying an admirable resistance to peer pressure, and gazes in rapt fondness at her toes, squeaking at them happily for much, if I admit it, of the day.

I remember when I was so excited that she'd found her feet. She's the youngest of her Post-Natal friends, but the oldest in her NCT class. "Look!" I cried proudly, "look how she grabs her toes!" "Ohhhh" the others breathed, "our babies don't know about toes yet." Milly reigned supreme and I decided that everything was relative.

But, after Christmas, Simon and I answered a distress call from one of the other NCT Mums, stuck at home on her own with a distinctly bad-tempered little boy. We met at the new fancy tea place in Stratford and she asked about our Christmas. "I can't believe Milly's on solids already!" she said. I smiled proudly over my fancy tea. "I know. I mean, she's only tiny, so she barely eats anything, and most of it goes down her front, but, hey, its a start." "That's so amazing! What are you giving her?" she said. "Pear and apple and cinammon, " I reported, "and sweet potato and broccoli." "Oh, that's wonderful." she said. "I gave Thomas some mashed up banana this morning."

What? Thomas is one of the youngest babies! And bananas are, like, practically finger food! Where did this come from? I had but one hope. "Did he eat it?" I ventured. "Oh yeah! He wolfed it all down. Didn't you, hungry boy?" I smiled, my heart dashing against the rocks of bitter disappointment, and sent Simon to get me a second muffin.

Because that's it now. The other babies may be younger than Milly but they're also all bigger (she's a wee, small thing). We've passed the early developmental stages where it's all fairly well set out on a timetable for you, and we're into the uncharted worlds where all the professionals will tell you is that "every baby's different". And, let me tell you, size matters. Bigger babies are hungrier babies, and, for some reason, sittier-up babies.

So whether we're at a Post-Natal or an NCT gathering the story will now be the same. Other mothers will coo over how much their baby has come on while Milly and I will trail at the back, gazing at our toes and spitting out all our broccoli puree. Other babies will smugly nibble on breadsticks and bits of apple while Milly will continue obstinately to try fit both my nipple and her thumb into her mouth at the same time...

...Wait a minute...

...Oh My God! Look everyone! Look! My baby's multi-tasking!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

What You Don't Know Can't Hurt You

A quick check reveals that I've posted 33 pictures of Milly to Facebook since November. I know I started doing it in November because that's when it's my birthday. I got an iPhone 4 for my last birthday and my life is now 7 times better and 55% shinier. The iPhone makes it easy to upload pictures and so now I do. My friend Cathy commended me a few weeks after Milly was born for not saturating her Facebook feed with pictures of the mini-me. Her pal, she said, has posted a whopping 1271 photos of her child in the first year and a half of its life. "Oh," I said smugly "I'm not that kind of person. I wouldn't want to BORE people." Then I got the iPhone. Sorry Cathy.

To be fair, 33 is a great deal fewer than 1271, but of course that doesn't include the ones my husband posts on his page, the ones her granddad takes with his giant block of a camera and uploads, old-school-style, with a cable (a cable!), or the ones my Mum posts on her page, having recently discovered what the "Share this to my profile" button does. Milly is, by my reckoning, about as throroughly pictorially represented on Facebook as the Adored Centre Of Her Proud Parents' Universe can be.

What you won't see, though, are pictures of her with her friend Bea. Annikki is strict on this, and I respect it. She's a teacher by trade, and not long before her maternity leave they had a talk at her school about the dangers of the internet, particularly of posting pictures of children on Facebook and the like. Paedophiles, in between creating their own child porn, apparently surf their way round the internet looking for innocent photos of children to do in the meantime. It's a dreadful thought...but not one that's stopped me putting up my pictures of my daughter.

I understand why Annikki takes the line she does, and I respect her for it, but I can't follow. I was in Stratford with Milly not so very many weeks after she was born. Stratford being the tourist Mecca that it is, one minute I was pushing Milly along in her pram, the next we were surrounded by a sea of middle-aged Americans, swirling round us happily as their coaches spat them out onto the pavement. Being American, they'd come a long way to be there, and were practically jigging with excitement. In the middle of all the Yanktastic chaos a couple of ladies spotted Milly and me. "Ohhhh, what a lovely baby! She's so beautiful!" they cooed. (She is, it's true. I'm seriously thinking about putting her up for adverts. She's the best baby I've ever seen, even counting for a mother's bias.) We had a brief chat about Milly's name, age birth weight, all the things strangers always ask, and then one lady pulled out her camera. "She's so cute! May I take a picture?"

Now, I could have said no. And in doing so I could have made her feel awkward, and introduced a slightly unpleasant note to the exchange, and she could have then put her camera away and apologised for bothering us and spent the rest of the day feeling like she'd done something inappropriate. Or I could say yes, and spend the rest of my life knowing there's a picture of Milly out there somewhere over which I have absolutely no control, not knowing who could be looking at it, or what they might be thinking when they do. I said yes. It was a split second decision, but not one that I regret. She took the picture, they both cooed a little more, and then pottered off to enjoy their Shakesperience with the rest of their happy band. I don't know if she was a good person or an evil one. But, since I have no way of ever knowing, I have to decide: what kind of world do I want to be living in? The one where the slightly dotty American tourist takes a picture of my baby because she thinks she's beautiful and tells the folks back home that she met this adorable little baby in Stratford, here's the picture, isn't she just the cutest thing? Or the one where the lady working for a paedophile ring spots me and Milly and does her "dotty tourist" act to fool me into letting her get a snap of my baby's screwed up face poking out of a blanket so someone can think vile and unspeakable thoughts while looking at it?

Since I have no way of knowing, and since the fate of the picture will never affect either Milly or myself, I choose to believe in the more pleasant (and infinitely more probable) world. It's dark and scary enough out there without worrying about the monsters I'll never meet. And the same goes for Facebook. Are people hacking into it and scouring it for photos from which to take their twisted pleasure? I'll never know, so I choose not to worry about it. This is one case where what I don't know really can't hurt me. So Cathy is going to have to put up with a few thousand more pictures of my daughter over the coming months (she's been delightfully stoic about it so far) as the iPhone 4 has made it possible for me to shout my pride and joy at having such a wonderful, amazing baby to the world at the touch of a button. And that, my friends, is a world I'm glad to live in.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Why I Don't Want Any Friends

Sex and the City 2 is coming soon to a Sky Box Office near you, which has made me ponder, Carrie-style, (that is, used a casual stimulus as a jumping-off point for a bout of theorising on a wider, yet connected, theme, whilst sitting on the bed in my pants and vest gazing at a laptop) on the nature of friendship.

I try not to have friends. That is, I have friends, real, proper ones who came to my wedding and whom I meet for coffee sometimes and take great pleasure in catching up with. What I try not to have are Friends. The Sex and the City ones. The ones you share everything with. The ones who know you better than you know yourself and who will always be there for you and who are more important than any man...you know the ones.

It's the fault, really, of SATC, for establishing, over the past ten years, a Tyranny of Friendship. Nowadays no girl would dare call herself a woman unless she has at least two incredibly close pals she can share everything with, who know her better than she knows herself etc etc. Everyone must have slightly differing, while instantly definable, characteristics, and nothing, no hell, no high water, and certainly no man must ever come between these you're-like-my-sisters. Not to have a guaranteed spot on the Girls' Night Out is to be the Bridget Jones of the new millennium. Forget finding the perfect boyfriend - do you have the perfect Friends?

And yet...really? Really?

For a start, no friend is more important than a man. A man, unless you're taking the One Night Only Train, is your future, your wedding, your kids, your grandkids, the hand resting on yours fifty years from now. Any man, right from day one, has the potential to be the most important relationship in your life. Now, I'm not saying you should break prior commitments with friends just to see your boyfriend. That's a rude thing to do to anyone. But any friend who thinks you should side with them over your bloke just because they're your Friend, and, you know, friendship is, like, what really matters, or who accuses you of 'ditching' them to spend time with your man is a Friend, but, actually, no friend. A Friend expects utter loyalty, but a friend knows you have priorities that, ultimately, won't involve them.

Also, I don't want someone to know me better than I know myself. There's very little point in Me if someone else knows me better than I do. It reduces me to the level of a character in their lives. If the whirling, constantly evolving and complex marvel that is Me can fit in my entirety inside some else's head then I'm a great deal smaller and less interesting than I think I am. And I'm not. So there.

Nor do I want to share everything. I don't even share everything with my husband. He has an annoying habit of always surprising me in a moment of quiet with a sudden rabbit-burst of "what are you thinking?". He does it because his head falls empty without constant stimuli and he covets my inner world. On principle, I refuse to answer, on the grounds that one day I may be thinking of something private and if I set the precedent of answering truthfully every time then I'd get in a pickle and try to lie badly and then he'd know and be hurt. And if I don't tell HIM everything, you can bet your bottom dollar I won't be spilling it all to YOU, my Friend.

And it's not just groups of Friends. The individual, the Best Friend, is all of the above intensified to the power of a thousand. The Best Friend has no-one in their lives who is more important than You. That was hard for me even before I had a baby.

So I try to steer clear, because these things only make you happy on TV, and the reality is a twisty mess of group dynamics and worrying about who's offended whom this week. Instead I restrict my relationships to actual friends. People I'm not overly important to but can still spend enjoyable time with. I keep it casual. My husband is the only person I need that close.

BUT. See, Annikki's coming round tomorrow with her baby to play with me and Milly. I spent this afternoon making soup, hoping that it would be a soup she would like. We talk, not just about our lives but about ideas. Tomorrow we're going to compare Upstairs Downstairs to Downton Abbey. Last night we were inventing our own acronyms and texting them to each other. I keep feeling the urge to tell her things. You know, things from Inside My Head. And when she reads this she won't get upset or offended or worry that I don't really like her, she'll just laugh. More than that, she'll UNDERSTAND...

...like she knows me...better than I know myself...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Why I Don't Want Any Friends

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Coffee Cake

I've just been to the regular gathering of my post-natal group. It's the first time I've been, having been randomly busy every other time. I was nervous, but figured if I didn't go this time they might stop inviting me, so off I went, accompanied by my nice friend Annikki, who's the kind of person who'll offer to come by your house on their way and walk you somewhere you haven't been before, and isn't averse to being The One Who Rings The Doorbell.

We both took salad, it being the New Year. I also took a coffee cake. I've recently learned to love coffee cake, having spent years wrinkling my nose up at it in disgust. I'm not a coffee fan, which makes me sad, since coffee is like wine and cheese - if you like it, there's a whole world of it out there to love. I did try, a few years ago, drinking spectacularly milky lattes, just to join the party, and for a while I felt wonderfully grown-up in the way that only coffee can make you feel. I gave up in the end, though, weary of the bitterness in my mouth and my envy of those who'd ordered tea instead. I reasoned onwards that one who spurns coffee must surely spurn coffee flavoured things, or where's the consistency? So I've always ignored coffee cake in favour of chocolate fudge, or lemon drizzle, and become anxious when offered 'coffeecake'. Some people use 'coffeecake' for cake-you-have-with-your-coffee, which is not necessarily, but which still could be, coffee flavoured, and then you have to say, is it actually coffee flavoured cake or just cake to have with coffee, and they ask why, and you have to explain you don't like coffee flavoured cake and people invariably say "Really? I love it" as though that'll lsomehow make a difference to whether or not you to put it in your mouth.

ANYWAY, I rejected all coffee cake until a recent NCT afternoon at my house. Awfully, I'd contrived to not have any supplies of cake at all in the house when people arrived, and had to mumble something apologetic and rely on the cake brought by other people, which was Millionaire's Shortbread bites (delicious - I invoked the Rule Of Hosting and ended up having five) and a large coffee cake. There was nothing I could do but have some, since I couldn't sit there with nothing on my plate except for one tiny shortbread bite (the Rule Of Hosting, obviously, has no sway during the actual party itself) because I would a) be hungry, and b) have to explain that I didn't like coffee flavoured cake which would cause the lady who brought the cake to apologise unnecessarily and then I would have to say "no, no, it's me" and we would both feel that the other was secretly judging us on our taste in cake, and it seemed easier just to eat the damn thing. And it was DELICIOUS. (Coffee flavoured chocolates, though: still nasty. So what's that all about?)

The upshot is that now I love coffee flavoured cake and have it often, so I bought one to take to the post-natal group gathering and, because of the Rule Of Hosting, I had to leave it behind because we hadn't got to it before I left. (The Rule Of Hosting: the hostess gets to keep everything brought but not consumed. I am up on shortbread bites, down on coffee cake.) I'd left the remains of my salad, but taken my bowl. "What about your coffee cake?" our hostess asked, as we said our goodbyes. What about it? I could hardly say, "Yes, could I have that back, please?" especially after watching her decant my salad into another bowl. "Keep the salad, it's just onion and beans. The cake, however, is from the Co-Op and claims to be Truly Irresistable!" No, I shrugged airily and said "Don't worry about it!" I said it with an exclamation mark for emphasis.

And that's fine, because soon it'll be my turn to host the gathering and you can bet I'll be invoking the Rule Of Hosting. And if someone brings something nice and that nice thing happens not to get eaten, and I get to eat it instead later, by myself...well, that's just the way the coffee cake crumbles.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New Year, New Resolutions

Quickly, while Baby Milly is playing studiously with the label on one of her new Christmas toys:

First up: New Year's Resolutions.  Number one is to lose half a stone over the course of the year.  This, the first and most important, is a Wife's resolution.  That is, I've made it on behalf of my husband as well as myself.  Simon stood sadly in front of the mirror this morning, readying himself for his first day back to work, having abandoned last year's cheap suit because it wouldn't do up.  "It fit last May" he said, mournfully.  This year's cheap suit is a size up and is apparently "a little too big around the middle".  A wife should believe the things her husband says and not publicly confound them, so I shall say nothing and leave you to make what you will of my use of the word 'apparently'. 

So we've weighed ourselves with my brand new Christmas digital scales and I've made a note in the back of Milly's feeding book and next week we shall Compare and Contrast.  Theoretically, he ought to have an easier time of it.  He just goes to the office in Stratford (On-Avon, not Olympic) and to London, whereas I spend my week carting Milly to the houses of all my NCT friends and it would be rude to turn up without cake. 

Number two: finish the novel.  When, I can't tell you.  Babies and novels are not great bedfellows, but I should be able to manage it within a year, surely.  SURELY.

Number three: I did have a third one.  What was it?  Oh yes, buy a house.  Simon and I are habitual renters but now Milly's here it's time to leap as high as we possibly can to try and grab the bottom rung of that property ladder, whence we can dangle triumphantly and sneer at other non-home-owners. 

My big idea for Resolutions this year is to set goals that can be achieved by a number of means.  I imagine (not having ever kept a Resolution, so I can't speak with authority) that it is much easier to achieve a target, one way or another, than it is to maintain a higher and better standard of behaviour, (which I KNOW can't be done).  So I may lose my half stone by diet, or possibly by exercise, or a combination of the two, and I may write a few words every day, or have a big writing blowout every few weeks.  We shall have to wait and see.  Having said that, there's really only one way to buy a house. 

There are other things I plan to do as well, which aren't Resolutions as such, but more General Ideas for Improvement.  They lack the officiality of a Resolution, that signed-in-my-own-blood-at-midnight-under-a-blasted-oak-and-witnessed-by-owls fervour that the birth of a new year magically imparts to any changes you decide to make on or around Jan 1st, but they have, in their own way, a quiet determination.  "We're not Resolutions" they whisper.  "Everyone knows you don't keep Resolutions.  You just make them so you'll feel Important and Changeworthy, and because everyone else does.  We are the real changes, the ones you don't dare give the name 'Resolution' to in case you jinx us."  So, don't tell anyone, but I may well hoover more often, and possibly keep up this blog, and perhaps eat less cake, and finally decide, one way or another, if I'm Team Jacob or Team Edward.  (Team Jacob, I think.  Simon is a hairy, hairy man, so to choose the Pale, Thin Thing over the Werewolf would be extremely disloyal of this Henwife.  Also, werewolves age naturally, and you can bleed near them, and they don't have to answer to David Frost.  Just saying.) 

But now I shall go.  Milly has has grown bored and is beginning to burble grumpily, and we must away into Shipston to get kidney beans and garlic and cider vinegar...