Sunday, 14 May 2017

Accentuate the positive

In July last year I started a list of happy and interesting things I'd like to do before January 1st 2020 - i.e. before the end of the year that Mark and I turn 50.  I have been thinking about other things I want to add to my list. This is about inspiring me, making me happy, stuff.  I'm not after a scary challenge but a "gosh I'm glad I did that!"  

Like the worst of list cheats I'm adding two things I've already done and can tick off instantly.  That isn't as audacious as it sounds - I mentioned it in the first draft of the list as something unattainable. Thanks to my amazing parents, it became attainable; they gave me a weekend in Tromso, Norway and I could fulfil a lifelong dream to see the aurora, and do whale-watching too. I'm astonishingly lucky.

Here's how my list of things to do stands so far:
  1. Go fishing  - Woo hoo! Did this at the end of last summer 
  2. See the Giant's Causeway I'm making plans, hope to do it either July or the Autumn.
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes -  Still not tried them. They are in season in winter, so that's one for later.
  4. Go rock pooling Definitely a summer activity
  5. Sing in a choir - I admit, I bottled it. Was absolutely going to do it and panicked. I'm a wuss.
  6. Grow cut flowers Some setbacks here - slugs had my seedlings and Mark accidentally dumped a mound of compost on my freesia bulbs, but I have a few other irons in the fire.
  7. See live music  I did this! With mates and neighbours, we went to the OnRoundhay festival as a family and saw James. They were fantastic. Of course they were. 
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall - Done!
  9. Spend all day at the movies - Not done this yet.
  10. Learn to apply make up properly Thanks to my fantastic mate Heather-in-London, I've got a makeup look that works for me. She gave me links to tutorials and product recommendations, and was so amazing and supportive. Heather is a beauty product guru, as well as one of the best parents and most thoughtful people I know. She's as generous with her knowledge as she is with her time (Apparently, I have sexy hooded eyes, like Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardiner. Go me!)
  11. See the Northern Lights - TICK! Best thing imaginable.
  12. Go whale-watching - Also TICK! A morning watching a pod of orca hunt for herring before a night chasing Aurora Borealis. What a day.
  13. Learn a new range of cooking - North African, Middle Eastern, Indian or Thai would be my thoughts but I'm flexible. I've learnt to make ramen recently and I want to expand to incorporate other dishes. NOT European food, though, because I understand the flavours of that already. Learning from Sabrina to make a curry was one of my favourite days, and it's time I tried to level up my culinary skills.
  14. Sew something I can wear - This is all about fear and ineptitude. One day I'll manage it. I'm such a wuss. I can't even cut into nice fabric. I have an almost-finished dress I was working on when I lost my job and I just couldn't face doing it again.
  15. See a new ballet company - I see New Adventures and Northern Ballet regularly, and English Ballet occasionally but Id like to experience another dance company. I may seek advice on that.
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument - Even if it's Happy Birthday on the recorder, I want to play an actual song on something again. I have re-strung Mark's ukulele to make it left-handed and am thus far rubbish. I can only improve.
  17. Go Birdwatching on the Farne Islands - This is Springwatch's fault. I'd love to see in person the remarkable sea bird colonies they've shown me on the telly.
  18. Return to Paris - After the holiday from hell 9 years ago when Zach and Bonnie had a stomach bug and I was washing bedding and clothes every single day of the trip, I can't think of Paris without a shudder. Mark, who was NOT the one dealing with an exploding toddler morning and night, has incredibly fond memories of the holiday. I need to nice experience to banish the vile one.
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner - OK, this one is scary, because I don't cook or eat big slabs of meat and I think a roast dinner is all about the roast itself. However, I feel there is a veggie alternative out there I could work with, and surely it's not The Law that the vegetables are boring. It seems a skill all competent cooks here should have and I'd like to nail this one at some point.
  20. Build sandcastles - because it's fun yet I never do it anymore.
Here are a few photographs from the marvellous weekend in Tromso. I had no idea I could love a place plunging in darkness quite this much - I adored it from the moment we arrived. And two days before the solstice is a very dark time of year in the Arctic! The water, trees and mountains thrilled me to my core and I could have stayed forever. Except for the cost, obviously.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Eating Ramen here in my Pyjamas

Given how often we sang The Virtual Life here last year, you'd think I'd have made ramen before now. I mean, I LOVE ramen. Zach loves ramen. Mark would probably love it and even Miss B will noodles in soy sauce and miso. The Big Lad is never going to like them but if I can get 4 out of 5 of us eating something that's a gold medal in this house.

The online recipes I found initially had me retreating in fear. So many ingredients! So many I'd never heard of! And most crucially, instructions to make a stock over a day or two.
2 days making pork belly stock?
Not going to happen.
I don't even eat pork.
I asked my top mates Suzanne and Hannah for recipes and advice.  They are ramen-scoffing fiends, if anyone would have an easy recipe, they would.
As always, they came up trumps and my first attempt was pretty darned tasty. I picked bits and pieces from all their suggestions and made something I thought worked well.

I'm sure it won't pass as remotely authentic, but as a a family dinner it was delicious. Before I totally forget how I did it, I thought I'd write it up in case anyone else fancied a go (if there is anyone left who doesn't make them already - tell me I'm not the only noodle noob out there!)

The main components of the dish are the broth, the protein, the noodles and the toppings. Lots of recipes use chicken or pork belly in meaty stocks; I'm using salmon and a vegetable stock. A hint on the BBC website suggested using the stalks of the coriander along with a while fresh chilli pepper to infuse instant stock with more flavour and I think it was pretty successful. When I get a chance to pop into town I'll visit the Asian supermarket for some dash or kimchi to spice things up a bit, too.

Beginner's Ramen

1litre veg stock
bunch of fresh coriander
1-2 fresh chillies
1-5tbs soy sauce
1 tbs mirin
1 tbs fish sauce
1 bunch spring onions
4 cloves garlic finely grated or crushed
fresh ginger about half the size of your thumb, peeled and finely grated
large handful of mushrooms
2 salmon fillets
handful of frozen prawns (optional)
2 pak choy
chinese noodles
1/2 tsp bicarb

Bring the stock to the boil; add the stalks of the coriander and half to a whole chilli. Turn off heat, leave to infuse while you chop the other ingredients.

Finely chop the spring onions right up to the green parts. Put the green aside in a bowl. Chop the remaining fresh chilli and the coriander leaves, add to the bowl of toppings.
Toppings ready
Slice the mushrooms and fry on a medium heat with the white parts of the spring onion and the grated garlic and ginger.

Remove the coriander stalks and chilli from the stock. Stir in the mushroom mixture, soy sauce (depending how salty you like things), fish sauce, mirin and a cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes and taste - add chillies, sugar or soy sauce to taste. Keep it on a low heat ready to use.

I think the mushrooms added depth to the broth
Season the salmon and cook it skin side down for several minutes before turning it over to complete the last bit of cooking.

Cut the pak choy in quarters lengthwise. Put it and the noodles (usually 1 nest per person) in a pan of boiling water with the bicarb. Cook according to the packet instructions (usually 3 minutes). Drain.

Assemble the bowls with noodles first, the pak choy and salmon pieces divided equally, broth and finish with a scattering of the coriander, spring onion tips and fresh chilli to taste.  I decided at the last minute to add some cooked prawns I had in the freezer that just needed warming through in a mug of boiling water, so I added them at the same time as the salmon.  Not sure they were entirely necessary.

If you feel like going all out, add a halved ramen egg to each bowl.  These are soft boiled eggs marinated overnight in soy sauce, garlic and other nice things.  On Hannah's recommendation I used this recipe . I even had a go with some quail eggs; they were delicious but not soft boiled because they are so darned small it's hard to judge the timings.

Fool that I am, I was so flustered bringing everything together that I totally forgot the eggs I'd done the day before so we had them after like a snack. Really lovely!