Keeping Up Appearances

 

I read somewhere that if a friend came over and needed to borrow a pair of knickers (because this happens ALOT), you’d have the confidence to allow them to go and grab a pair for themselves. There would be no greying, sagging, holey failures in the drawer. All would be acceptable offerings. (See below pics for reference.)

Aside from the fact that no friend has ever made such a request, I am ready for it should it ever come. No shame in that department, but I admit I can be slovenly. I have my years-old cosy pyjamas that I would be ashamed to open the front door in. I have a favourite gym bra that used to say ‘Panache‘ on the front of it, but now it just says ‘Pan’. And some of my baking trays seriously need replacing.

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But every now and then, you want to put your best foot forward (btw, check your sock drawer too). There is the need to ‘up your game’ for the crowd.

I was at a friends the other night for dinner. So close are we, that I think nothing of the bottle of Highland Spring being present at the table in all its plastic glory. Should I be offended that I’m not considered impress-worthy enough to decant into a fancy LSA jug? Nope. We’re like family.

But if I’m really entertaining, ie. wearing proper shoes instead of my Ugg slippers, then these things are essential:

Fresh towel in downstairs toilet (and a hotel fold of the toilet paper if I’ve got time.)

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Not my loo

Scented candles lit for an hour beforehand. Many consider them a waste of money, but some of my favourites aren’t even the expensive ones. You enjoy drinking your £40 bottle of wine – I’ll enjoy burning my £40 candle. Each to their own I say.

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What else, what else?… Oh yes.

Stainless steel kitchen sink is e-cloth‘d within an inch of it’s life.

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Not my actual sink but I like the symmetry…

Proper salt and pepper grinders come out instead of these…

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Basic. But acceptable on a daily basis

Pickles and olives get decanted from their jars into pretty glass bowls. Might even get the fancy appetiser picks out.

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Posh picks

Crackers get displayed in a rustic bread basket – trust me, it’s necessary:

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I live with people that do this to packaging

And no offence to my plastic water-bottled friend, but for some guests I’m setting the entire wedding list service, double-set cutlery, placemats, napkin holders and all.

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You just count the tines

As my wedding anniversary fast approaches, how I would love to go back in time and do it all again. No, no. I’d keep him (he’s non-refundable) – but I’d do the gift list very differently.

I’d put it down as one of the most enjoyable shopping experiences I’ve ever had. Husband is the other end of the spectrum and has mentally blocked all memory of it, likening it to the day Spurs played Everton in the FA Cup in ’95 and lost 4-1. (Apparently it was a neutral ground fact-fans.)

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It still hurts him

Off we went, hand in hand (ie. me dragging him like a toddler) to John Lewis Oxford Street for store opening, armed with advice from friends who had ‘been there, done that’…

“Just zap everything!”

“Start at the top and work your way down to electricals!”

“Don’t forget luggage!”

The only thing getting husband through the experience was the food tasting appointment at our wedding venue that I’d booked in for later that day.

By the time we had made it to the basement for crockery, he was sulking like a child and had probably run the battery down on his Nokia from playing ‘Snake’.

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Simpler times…

“Do you like the plain white or the one with the gold edging?”

“I don’t care, doll. That set …”(pointing) “...just get that one.”

“That’s a picnic set.” (If ‘FML‘ existed back then I would have said FML.)

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Perfect. For a picnic…

I think I made about four or five return (solo) visits to amend the list – removed the rice cooker, added back the rice cooker, zapped a couple of wine decanters, a Magimix, then swapped it for a Kenwood, ordered the full Le Creuset pan set but friend said it’s ridiculously heavy to cook with daily, removed Le Creuset pan set. I was panless and in a bit of a mess.

We got there in the end and it was fun logging in to see the gift tally in the run up to the wedding. The most memorable gift was from our friends who bought us our pillows…plus one dessert spoon. Fun friends we have.

Most of the list is still going strong and I get real pleasure from using it, especially the good stuff. I have one friend who only recently unwrapped her wedding crockery … over ten years later!!! Madness. Lunacy. Life’s too short. Use it I say.

If people are coming over, sometimes they warrant a change of washing-up brush pads. I don’t think husband can differentiate between the heavy duty and the non-scratch ones. I expect he hears a caveman voice in his head: “one white, one green, both good”.

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Sometimes we have to keep up appearances…

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Not my husband. Or me

…But for the record, I’ve never used the wine decanters and I wish I’d kept the rice cooker.

Food for Thought

Food glorious food, I truly eat to live and still have my very first cookbook.

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I made these as a kid

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed by food (*thinks of sister-in-law’s spag bol and salivates*), but I do kind of, sort of, plan my day around what I’m eating. Husband is no different and will often walk in from work and lovingly greet the fridge as if it were another child.

I also have a fair few like-minded friends. There’s the one that compiles an ‘eatinerary’ for trips abroad, plotting what restaurants they will visit and the friend who has a dedicated meal-planning notebook. To be fair, notebook friend has to contend with a nut allergy, a milk allergy and a fuss-pot toddler. (Did I mention that she was a vegetarian?) Busy life, big family, after-school activities – you can see the sense in planning. As Benjamin Franklin says:

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Whilst husband calls me stubborn, I say ‘tenacious’. I hate to fail and firmly believe in the mantra:

‘If at first you don’t succeed, call it ‘Version 1.0′ and try again.’

For example…

Folding a fitted sheet correctly. Whilst my kids watch You Tube videos of FULLY GROWN ADULTS (ffs) opening ‘Shopkins’ packets, this is my ‘thing’.

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#Shopkins, shopkins! Once ya shop, ya can’t stop!#

Opening a jar of pickled cucumbers. Unless Ryan Gosling lives opposite me and I can feign weakness, me and the Jarkey can handle it.

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You really think I perfected my cheesecake the first time I made it? No chance. There were many versions and much critiquing. In my house we call it ‘TBF’. ‘Tried but failed’. TBF often gets used with dinners, clothing, the England squad. It’s so versatile.

Monday’s meal is always sacrosanct. The busiest day for after school activities, dinner needs to be a crowd-pleaser. Eldest calls it ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice’. (She’s very visual). Recipe at end of blog, but here’s a taster:

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Just look how the light catches her breasts…

Whilst I’m all for a cook-fest, I love eating at friends, going to farmers markets and trying new restaurants. I once read that you should always order out the dish you can’t/rarely make yourself. So if it’s Greek, I will almost always order chops. It’s not that I can’t cook them, but more that I can’t bear the lingering smell in my kitchen.

Posh or pokey, there has to be something that sticks in my memory and makes me want to return somewhere. I have a friend who by her own admission isn’t massively into cooking, but she once made a pasta bake and much like the blobs of oozing mozzarella she generously baked inside it, it sticks in my memory. As does her signature Banoffee Pie. I think she must add something magical to it, because I don’t even really like bananas.

Whether a place has got 3 Michelin stars or a drive-through, as long as its tasty, I’ll eat it. An unassuming pub near me does the most delicious burger and chips. Maybe it’s the dinky little condiment pots they bring to your table? The quaint wooden spoon with your order number on it? Or the cosy fireplace in winter? For me, I will go back every time for that dish. Only negative is that you pay at the bar upon ordering and I miss doing the ‘sign your palm’ thing we all do when we ask for the bill. (I also miss the ‘zip-zap’ noise from the old credit card machines.)

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Olden times

Whilst I enjoy reading social media threads about Penis Beakers or discussions about the best eye cream, I’m most happy when the focus is on food. My photo library is mainly foodie pics or screen grabs of recipes.

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Watermelon, Feta & Kiwi Cube. I will never, ever make this

As promised, ‘Up the Bum Chicken and Crispy Rice

Wash the chicken, don’t wash the chicken. Much like Brexit, it’s your choice and you will have your reasons.

Place chicken in an ovenproof dish. I use a Le Creuset dish. All about ease. One dish. Oven-to-table.

Pat chicken dry with paper towel. Salt and pepper all over. Cover with cling film and leave in fridge all day.

Rinse basmati rice until water runs clear and leave soaking in fresh water all day.

Remove chicken from fridge about half hour before cooking – I always cook from room temperature. Pat it dry again – helps crisp the skin.

Preheat oven to 200˚C.

Shove a whole onion and some garlic cloves, both unpeeled, up the chickens bum. I sometimes do a Jamie Oliver variation of this with a whole boiled lemon, garlic and thyme. I talked a friend through this  recipe, thinking nothing could go wrong. Foolish me. (She has since perfected it and now regularly makes it.)

Either way, it’s all up the bum stuff.  (Don’t worry – link is nothing sinister, just a clip from one of my favourite films ‘Wish You Were Here’, with Emily Lloyd. She was due to play Julia Roberts’ role in Pretty Woman. Fact.)

Spray chicken with some extra virgin olive oil and pour about half a cup of water around it. I mix in some chicken stock too. Shove in oven.

After an hour, pour drained rice around chicken.

General rule: 1 cup of rice, 2 cups water. 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, etc. Add some chicken stock to the water, pour onto rice and stir in s&p and a drizzle of oil. If you have time/inclination, fry over some diced onions and add to the rice, but I often just add dried crispy onions. Sometimes egg noodles too. Stir.

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Lazy option

Back in the oven for another half hour. Chicken cooks for 1.5 hours total.

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Rice angels. Never a grain of rice left

Some friends have argued this seemingly short cooking time with me, but I’m yet to kill anyone so I must be doing something right.

If all else fails, at least I can fold a fitted sheet properly…