Thursday, 13 November 2014

Robot invasion

Back in April I blogged about the wonderful March of the Robots events the kids and I had such fun attending.  This half term saw the climax of the year's festivities with a massive party, and we were first in the queue for tickets.

First of all we went to the chocolate robot workshop in the city centre.  We got a set of sweets each, a pot of melted chocolate to use as glue, a stir stick to apply it and a sheet of greaseproof paper on which to assemble our masterpieces.

There was an example on the table to follow, which looked pretty cute.  Never managing to resist the urge to jazz food up a bit, I gave it a face and sprayed it with the edible silver spray.

Now, we're not the sort of family to follow instructions if there's a chance to go our own way.  The facilitators were split - one kept telling us we were doing it wrong while the other was delighted that we threw ourselves into the activity with originality and enthusiasm. The kids filtered out the "umm, that's not how you do it," and preened at the praise.
Miss B made her Robo-Minnie-Mouse while Z went for something more like a cute version of the Bad Robot logo :

Luke and I both decided to make robots that could stand up. This involved a bit more frustration than initially hoped, and a lot of snapped mint Matchsticks.

Obviously the kids ate theirs the second they finished then divvied up mine between them.  I did snag a few cheeky mini Reeses peanut butter cups from the keen facilitator for myself though! 

Next we had a quick look for the little Cubebots hidden across the city centre.  I love these little fellows - they have a cute 50s vibe and I love the little LEDs inside that make them glow. Whenever we found a large Cubebot in a shop window we could go inside and claim a little Cubebot kit for myself. 

I'm a huge fan of Playful Leeds. I love the spirit of adventure and the willingness to gamble on an idea that motivates Emma and her team.  What kind of nutter decides to fill Leeds with 10,000 robots made by people of all ages and backgrounds? And then talks that idea up into funding and then reality?  My kind of nutter, that's who. And I want everyone else to throw himself into it too.

So, on our way through town I accosted anyone with a kid to say "Did you know you can make chocolate robots at a free activity for half term just over there? Your little 'un look just the right age to enjoy some building with chocolate." I tweeted about where we spotted the Cubebots and gave hints to anyone we saw clutching a Cubebot map. 

By the way,  one of the things I LOVE about my kids is that they're fine about having their mother do this stuff.  They are resigned that the downside of having a mum who finds out about all the cool stuff to do, is being there while that mum tells total strangers about it.  And buys the helpers coffees to say thanks.

After the Cubebot hunting we headed to the main event - the Minecraft party at the Leeds City Museum.  

What a party! It was a strange combination of very loud and rather quiet; excited movement and stillness (except for mouse clicks). A hall full of kids, tech and old school craft supplies all for one purpose - having fun. It was brilliant. 

In the centre of the room were tables full of kids playing Minecraft. Not a word from any of them - they were focussed on the  screen ahead.  

Around the perimeter were the activity stations - making Minecraft objects from Hama beads, cutting out and assembling Minecraft paper models, making masks, creating Doodlebots (if you hadn't done so in the Spring) or sewing with conductive thread to make quilt squares with LED lights.  This created the noise - kids chatting, laughing, shouting, showing off and asking questions. The combined impression was one of happy chaos.

The quilting woman, Hayley, very kindly let me have a go while the 3 kids were busy Minecrafting. It was remarkable stuff - as soft as flexible as normal thread. I'd love the chance to play with it again. However with my Works In Progress pile being as massive as it is, I daren't buy more supplies so I have managed not to click Buy It Now when I looked i up online.  It is Very Cool Indeed, though.

Thanks again, Leeds. You did your children proud

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Spice of life

I'm a lucky woman.  I live in a city I love and I know truly wonderful people. They are interesting and fun, they have a mass of knowledge I lack and - HURRAY - they are generous with it all.  Most importantly they respond positively to the question "Can you show me how?"

My lovely friend Sabrina (mother of Miss B's also very lovely friend A) seemingly thinks nothing of knocking up meals for 18 people arriving in 3 separate sittings as her extended family call in over the weekends. She told me she and her sister-in-law used to churn out 80 chapatis twice a day when she lived in her in-laws' house. I was agog.

I've never really got to grips with Indian food. If we eat it, it comes from a jar, an insta-dinner or a takeaway. I'm more Italianate than sub-continental.  Sabrina generously agreed to teach me one afternoon.

I'll say now - she spoilt me rotten.  I'd had an accident with the bread knife the week before and had only just removed my bandage. Sabrina was concerned it might be uncomfortable for me so she'd acted as commis chef and done all the preparation.  Everything was sliced, peeled, chopped or otherwise ready to go.  It was brilliant.

Here's what I learnt:

It all starts with garlic and ginger. A full bulb of garlic, peeled, and a lump of fresh ginger half the size of my palm blitzed together into a lumpy paste -
This lives in a sealed jar in the fridge to be used as needed.

To get the curry underway, we fry chopped onions in vegetable oil.  Where I'd have gone slow and used olive oil for most meals I eat, Sabrina had the temperature much higher and cooked them until they were starting to caramelise.  

Once the onions have a fair bit of colour, a heaped tablespoon/serving spoon of the garlic and ginger paste goes in.  Cook that for a good 2 or 3 minutes.  Then the pretty bit -
Doesn't that look gorgeous?

So, a good teaspoon of turmeric (the central one) and 1 to 4 teaspoons of the chilli powder (at 12 o'clock) depending on taste. We love a bit of heat, so went for 3 teaspoons. A generous teaspoon of Basaar mix (at 3 o'clock) and a spoon or two of the seed mix, panch puran (at about half five)

Basaar spice mix is a Kashmiri spice blend.  Panch puran is an Indian - or Bengali - 5 seed mix.  There are mustard, fennel, onion (or possibly nigella?), cumin and we *think* fenugreek. Sabrina regards it as essential.  She also says she gives the kids the little black seeds - the ones we couldn't decide on as nigella or onion seeds - on a cold day to warm them from inside.

As soon as they hit the pan they the smell was AMAZING.

Sabrina says it is very important to cook the spices before adding the tomatoes. We stirred things around for a minute or two, then in went masses of chopped fresh tomatoes.
 The mix cooked at a high temperature for a good long while with the lid off, to get rid of excess water.
Isn't that starting to look good?  For the vegetable curry, that's all the cooking the sauce needs. If we were adding meat we'd have cooked it still further. For fish, we'd have cooked it down to a much thicker sauce and pureed it smooth before coating the fish in it and cooking slowly with yogurt.

However, with vegetables a bit of texture from the tomatoes is fine.

We tipped in a mass of fresh chopped carrots, courgettes, cauliflower and some frozen peas.  We could have gone for just cauli and potato to make aloo gobi, but we had for a broad mix.   We stirred thoroughly and covered the pan while the veg cooked through.

To serve, we made chapatis.  Sabrina kept an almost straight face as she watched me attempt to make these quick flatbreads.  First, she suggested I roll each lump of dough into a ball inside the flour drum, to keep from getting too sticky.  Then roll it out thin or slap it from hand to hand until it is a very thin round (ish) shape.  Slap it on a VERY hot dry pan, flip it over to cook the other side, and put on one side while you do the next one.  She can do two at once.  I could barely manage one at a time, but I had a great laugh trying.

 Not exactly a great looking chapati, is it!

I made 6 in all. I was very proud.

We topped the curry with chopped fresh mint and coriander. It was a delicious lunch - veg curry, chapatis and fresh thick yogurt to subdue the heat. I've never cooked a curry half as good.

I did take a picture of Sabrina while she was cooking, but her scarf had slipped back so that would be impolite.  If you picture a pair of women standing at the hob, one rather quiet, gorgeous and wearing a beautiful headscarf and dress and yet not splashing any food on them,  the other one much more expansive and wearing an apron with damp handprints and plenty of spice stains on, and both are talking and laughing, you've pretty much got us.  
It was a fantastic afternoon.  I'm so looking forward to making more of Sabrina's curries for the family. Saturday night 'round at mine, everyone?