There’s no such thing as a quiet day

Today started off with a clean diary and no meetings. I thought I’d get my teeth into some of the big jobs that have been hanging around my desk for a while.

Nope! Suddenly remembered that our new Head of Comms is coming in for a visit and my desk looked like a bombsite. I spent most of the morning cleaning that up. There was some recycling, some shredding and some binning and now I have a ‘to do’ pile and a ‘to read’ pile. I’ll have to do the same with my virtual desktop next and maybe my laptop won’t grind to a halt at 10.30 every morning.

The afternoon had a quick flurry of activity with two meetings thrown in at the last-minute then it was straight off to MiniHim’s school for the first parent council meeting of the year. These meetings are great. We have a really good team and a fabulous head teacher. Before Christmas I did a Prezi about making our kids safe online which went down really well and now we’re planning a ‘Bring your tech to school’ day. We’ll have a range of gaming devices, tablets, phones and various websites set up, such as Facebook and Muzy and go through the various security settings to give parents an idea of what they should be looking out for. We’re encouraging big brothers and sisters along too as they’ll probably have more knowledge than us oldies. As an aside at this part of the meeting the heedie revealed that they’ve just bought 16 iPads and are planning on another 16 so they have a enough for a full class to use at a time. They’ll be hooked up to an MacBook where all the apps will be loaded. They intend integrating them into all lessons instead of having a separate IT suite where the kids have to decamp to if they want to use any tech for research. This was music to my ears and the more integration into regular classes the better. We have to get our kids interested, not just in what the apps can do, but how they’re built and the fact that all kinds of creatives are needed, not just coders and developers.

Also on the agenda was the new school build which will be starting on 2014 as part of our schools modernisation programme. There’s already been a wish list submitted and most things on it have been agreed before the plans have even been drawn up. Tonight we were talking community gardens, outside classrooms, covered areas so the kids can still go out to play in the rain and of course, every school’s nightmare, the car park.

I’m just home and have had no dinner so it’s toast for me tonight. Luckily I have an extra recipe tucked up my sleeve.

Today I have learned:

  • there will never be enough parking space at schools
  • you can’t beat tea and toast when the rain’s battering down outside

Today’s recipe

Moules Marinieres

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Serves 4

25g butter

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

150mls white wine

150mls veg stock

2kg live mussels

3 tbsps double cream

2 tbsps parsley, chopped

seasoning

Method: First clean the mussels. To remove the beards simply yank them along the direction of the shell opening. If the mussel doesn’t close up, discard it as it’s off. Also discard any with broken shells. Run them under a cold tap in a colander.

Melt the butter in a huge pan and cook the onion and garlic till soft. Pour in the wine, bring to the boil and add the mussels.

Cover and cook over a high heat for 4-5 minutes until the shells have opened.

Transfer the mussels to a serving dish discarding any that are still closed.

Add the stock to the juices, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and add the cream, parsley and seasoning. Pour over the mussels and serve with crusty bread.

Why I love my job

I absolutely love my job. I love the variety. I love meeting a diverse bunch of fabulous people. I love being inspired by people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I love the chance to try new things. Today I got all of them in one morning.

I spent this morning tweeting live from the See Beyond: blood borne virus conference we were hosting for the Terence Higgins Trust. I won’t go into details about the conference because you can see  #seebeyond. The main message seemed to be that it’s time for another campaign. The tomb stone campaign back in ’80s did more long-term damage than good. The public today still thinks that it’s a gay disease and that it’s a death sentence. Both these things lead to stigma and a reluctance to get tested. Both of these are wrong. HIV can affect any of us but if diagnosed early people go on to lead long and fulfilled lives.

The speakers were top-notch and we were in the safe hands of Lesley Riddoch who chaired the event. Two HIV+ guys, one also with HepC took part in a panel discussion. One is gay and contracted it through sexual contact, the other contracted them by sharing contaminated needles. He was a homeless drug addict at the point of his diagnosis but has turned his life around and is off the drugs and settled into family life. His main priority is staying well so he can look after his son. Both have suffered abuse because of their illness. They were an inspiration and put it very succinctly. HIV is not a disease, it’s a long-term illness like diabetes which, if not managed well can kill but otherwise is just something to live with.

It’s definitely time for a new campaign, alongside education, new legislation and humanising sufferers, rather than demonising them.

While I was hanging about during one of the sessions I spotted a lady at the back who I thought was just furiously writing notes but on closer inspection she was creating a piece of intricate art. Albi Taylor is a graphic facilitator and she was there, with a massive roll of paper, to document the whole conference in cartoon. The results were a bit like a static Prezi.

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It was fascinating to watch but as she worked I realised she was doing the same as me – looking for sound bites to capture the essence of the conference. I could actually map my tweets to her drawings. We’re holding a poverty conference soon so I’m looking into the possibility of working together with her at that. Watch this space . . .

In other news, MiniMe has a class election tomorrow so I’ve borrowed a proper ballot box for her to take in. I’ll be showing her the fine art of cable tying later but in the meantime MiniHim has found a new toy.

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Today I have learned:

  • conferences can be fun
  • HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence
  • stigma is from the Greek and was used to describe the tattoos or burns that were given to criminals so they would be easily recognised

Today’s recipe:

Perfect-every-time Yorkshire Puds

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Ingredients

vegetable or sunflower oil

125 g plain flour

2 eggs

200mls milk

a sprinkling of whatever herbs you have in the fridge, chopped

Method – Heat the oven as high as it will go. Pour enough oil to cover the bottom of each dimple in a 12-hole muffin tin. Put the tin into the hot oven for 5 minutes.

In a wide measuring jug put the flour and the herbs. Crack the eggs into the jug you measured the milk in and mix together. Beat the milk into the flour a little at a time.

Remove the tin carefully and divide the batter between the 12 dimples. Put in the oven for 20 minutes.

These freeze well but generally they’re so good there will be none left.

Marla’s winning off track

Tonight was the judging of the Lesmahagow Photographic Society’s monochrome competition and the very first one I’ve submitted anything to.

We submitted four photos each about three weeks ago and the judge came along tonight to tell us what he thought of them. For the beginners class – mine – he explained the changes he’d make and had actually done them in Photoshop to show us the difference. The shots were projected on the wall and looked massive, compared to how we usually see them on a computer screen.

My heart was in my mouth when we started and I have to say it was worse than reading a piece of personal fiction out loud to a group of strangers.

We were all given a sheet with the entries with spaces to add in the marks out of 20 and if he missed any from the list it meant they were in the top three and he was saving them for last.

The first three of mine got 13, 14 and 16 out of 20 respectively and I agreed with all the changes he’d made. I’ll be trying to make them myself when I have a spare couple of hours.

He missed out the last one and I genuinely thought he’d made a mistake till we got to the end and I realised there were only three left. I wasn’t third and I wasn’t second. Before he put the photo up he said that the winner was something completely different and fresh – he’s obviously never been near Facebook in the hours after a bout!

My photo of Marla Mayhem flashed up on the screen. He said that, although there’s a lot of pattern going on what with the tights and the lines, it captures the speed and the atmosphere of the moment. He said he wouldn’t change a thing about it and that the advanced group had better watch out if this was the standard coming from a beginner!

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I didn’t have the heart to say that the original is a bit out of focus around the wheels and I was kicking myself for missing her left heel but hey ho! Apparently heavily doctored photos are the in thing in competitions these days and they’re looking for a piece of art rather than a technically brilliant photo. Well guys, I have hundreds of pics where that came from and I intend to put in a slightly out-of-focus, posterised derby pic in every category, even natural history!

Today I have learned:

  • I can take a good photograph
  • to me a photograph is only worth something if I’d give it wall space

Today’s recipe

Minestrone soup

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Serves loads of people

Ingredients

oil for frying

1 onion, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 potato, peeled and diced

1 courgette, diced

1 pack of green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 litres veg stock

400g tin of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

75g short cut macaroni or any small pasta

Parmesan to serve

Method: Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook till soft then add the potato, courgette and green beans and cook for another few minutes. Season.

Add the stock, beans and tomatoes and bring to the boil. Simmer partially covered for 30 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for about 8 minutes until al dente. Add more stock if the soup is too thick and warm through.

Serve with crusty bread and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

The web’s got talent

Hopefully this post will be short and sweet.

Last thing this afternoon HimIndoors and I had a work conversation (not quite an argument but I did get a bit animated) about web content publishing, editing and all things webby that a council does.

I said this “The days of a content publisher just throwing a word document and a pdf onto the site are long gone.” We continued talking but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Now, I don’t think it matters where the responsibility for the web sits in a council and that’s a whole other post anyway but here are just a few skills I think a council web person needs (it won’t be exhaustive but it’ll be a starter for 10 to get the debate going):

  • killer writing skills (for the web, not for reports, magazines, council newspapers or anything else)
  • an eye for good design (not expert knowledge of InDesign cos that’s a designer’s job)
  • a passing knowledge of how coding works (I reckon it’s smoke and mirrors but it helps if you understand where a developer is coming from)
  • a good knowledge of accessibility standards
  • a good knowledge of usability and how to test it with real people
  • a deep understanding of audiences and what they want
  • a good grasp of social media, both how the public use it and how services could use it
  • an interest in technology, not in a deeply geeky way but enough to see how it could be used
  • a fab overview of how the skills of a developer, a designer, a film maker can come together with their own to create some synergy
  • a knowledge of transactions and how to convert a page view into a transaction
  • how to plot customer journeys
  • how to analyse web stats
  • how to analyse demographics
  • how to get a campaign online, make it change behaviour and track its success
  • a willingness to get involved knee-deep in channel shift
  • more than a passing interest in digital inclusion
  • the ability to see into the future and work out where the web and online strategies should be going

That’s a lot to ask of anyone but it’s how important I think our role should be. Now this post isn’t so short but I’d love to hear of any other skills you think we should add to the job description, other than maybe how to fly or owning an invisibility cloak 😉

On other news, MiniMe can now play the intro to Blitzkrieg Bop and she’s only had two lessons. Move over KT Tunstall, MiniMe’s on her way!

Today I have learned:

  • there is no end to the talents of a council web publisher!

Today’s recipe

Slightly Spicy Stroganoff

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Ingredients:

oil for frying

500g rump steak, cubed

1 onion sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

1 tbsp garam masala

500mls beef stock

1 tbsp full grain mustard

a good couple of dollops of creme fraiche or a good glug or two of double cream

coriander leaves, chopped to serve

Method: Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the meat in batches and remove. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and fry till soft.

Add the spices and a little of the stock if it starts to stick to the pan. Fry for a few minutes then return the meat to the pan.

Pour in the stock and simmer till the liquid is reduced by half. Add the mustard and the cream and heat through.

Sprinkle with coriander leaves before serving.

Serve with Perfect Every Time Rice – this time I used half a cinnamon stick and four bruised cardamom pods. I would have served naan bread but didn’t have any so I buttered half of two tortilla wraps, added some finely chopped garlic and fresh coriander to the butter, folded the wraps over then folded them in half again, stacked them on top of each other, wrapped them in tin foil and popped them in a medium oven for 10 minutes.

Nom 🙂

Even cupcakes grow up

Last night I made lemon vodka cupcakes so today’s first job, after breakfast, was to ice them.

There’s something very naughty about putting alcohol in icing. I mean, icing is so embedded in childhood memories what with home made birthday cakes, helping my gran make fairy cakes and getting to lick the spoon and the bowl. This icing had a large dash of neat vodka though so the only person licking today’s spoon and bowl was me – nom!

After the cakes we headed out en famille to check out a Marshall practice amp I spotted on Gumtree. Unfortunately when we parked up I realised I’d forgotten to go to the cashline so there was a five-mile detour for cash. When we got to see the amp it wasn’t working but the seller reckoned it was the lead and let us take that away to check it out.

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Luckily my friend May lives up the street and her son plays the bass so we took it and tried it in his amp. It’s definitely the lead so we’ll have to buy a new one and go back for the amp.

We took along a box of cupcakes for May and the family but when she opened the box she was just about knocked out by the vodka so she reckons they’ll only be for her and hubby – sorry kids 😦

Today I have learned:

  • even cupcakes grow up

Today’s recipe

Lemon vodka cupcakes

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Makes 30

Ingredients

For the cake:

300g soft unsalted butter

300g caster sugar

4 large eggs, beaten

300g ground almonds

150f plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

zest of 2 lemons

For the syrup:

150g caster sugar

juice of 3 lemons

2 tbsp vodka

For the frosting:

400g icing sugar

120g soft unsalted butter

3 tbsp vodka

Method: Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and prepare a cupcake tray(s) with paper cases.

Cream the butter and sugar then gently beat in the eggs. Fold in the almonds, flour, baking powder and zest. Divide amongst the cases.  Bake for 20-30 minutes.

To make the syrup gently heat the sugar in 75 mls water till dissolved. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the juice and vodka.

Prick the tops of the cakes with a skewer and spoon over half the syrup. Leave for an hour then repeat.

To make the icing place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix using a hand mixer or food processor. Pipe onto the cakes.

Never mind the horse burgers, try the seafood

Nothing much happened today except food shopping and MiniHim’s swimming lesson. However I realised that yesterday’s comment about having a reading room and a library sounded more than a little pompous, so let me explain.

A couple of years ago we built and extension to give us two new bedrooms, one for MiniHim and a new one for us. HimIndoors did the plans and it left a small space on the way to the stairs up to our new room. The builder started calling it a family room and insisted on putting in an aerial socket, much to my dismay. I, on the other hand had different plans. The living room already did what it said on the tin and is where we watch TV and play on the XBox. What was missing was somewhere quiet to go and read a book away from all the hustle and bustle of two children and their friends. So that’s what we got – a reading room and the rule is that to sit in it you must have a book in your hand.

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The library consists of a fixed shelf and two sets on castors that fit under the stairs. When my books were all in boxes in my parents’ loft I thought I had loads but I haven’t filled the shelves yet.

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So there you have it – my pompous reading room and library!

My menu for the rest of the week consists of Moules Marinieres, spicy beef, chicken satay, minestrone soup, chorizo pan fry, cottage pie and lemon vodka cupcakes, just in case you want to keep an eye out for the recipes.

Today I have learned:

  • Tesco may have taken a slating for their horse burgers but they’re still the best supermarket for marked down fish and seafood

Today’s recipe

Scallop and chorizo spaghetti

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Serves 2

Ingredients

olive oil for frying

half a chorizo ring, slices into bite-sized pieces

8 scallops

half a tsp of Lazy Red Chillies

a small onion, sliced,

half a sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

4 spring onions, sliced

a dash of white wine

the juice of 1.5 limes

1.5 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped

spaghetti, cooked as per instructions on the packet

half a lime and a sprinkling of lime to serve

Method: Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry off the chorizo and transfer onto some kitchen towel. Sear the scallops quickly in the oil which now has the paprika oil from the chorizo in it (you’ll see the scallops turn red at the edges). Transfer them onto the paper with the chorizo.

Fry off the onions in the same oil, then add the peppers and spring onion. Add the white wine, lime juice and parsley then add the chorizo and scallops back into the pan. Heat through and serve on a bed of spaghetti with the extra lime juice squeezed over the top with a sprinkling of parsley.

Biro is the new reminder app

Spent most of today on two jobs: finishing off the instructions for getting the most out of the Meteo weather forecast that many Scottish councils use; and transferring over to the new upgraded version of MediaFunnel, our social media monitoring and publishing tool. I have to say it looks fab although I haven’t had much time to play with the new features. My main challenge at the moment is that it doesn’t seem to work in IE8 but it does work in Firefox which means that everyone using it will have to contravene our IT laws and have a non-Microsoft and unsupported application downloaded onto their PCs. Sound familiar to anyone else?

In other news I was asked if I could lend someone in the office a copy of Fodor’s Around Paris with Kids.

Did I write it in my new Filofax? No.

Did I set myself an alarm on my phone? No.

Did I put a reminder in the calendar in my phone? No.

Did I tweet myself? No.

I resorted to the age-old method of writing it on the back of my hand with a biro. Did it work? Yes. Can I find the book anywhere? No 😦

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Today I have learned:

  • Lo-fi is sometimes best
  • I may have an actual reading room with a library but I still lose books

Today’s recipe:

Garlic chilli chicken

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Serves 2 adults and 2 kids

Ingredients

Ground nut oil for frying

2 chicken breasts, diced

cornflour and seasoning to coat the chicken

1 onion sliced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

a handful of mushrooms sliced

2 spring onions, sliced

1 sweet red pepper, sliced

Chinese cooking wine

soy sauce

sweet chilli sauce

noodles to serve

Method: Put the cornflour, seasoning and chicken in a freezer bag and shake to coat.

Heat the a tbsp of oil in a wok and fry off the chicken, shaking off the excess cornflour before you put it in. You may have to do this in batches – if you do clean out the wok between each batch or the cornflour will burn. Put the chicken on kitchen towel to remove any excess oil.

Heat some more oil and tip in all the veg and stir fry. Add a good glug each of the wine, soy sauce and chilli sauce. Add the chicken, heat through and serve on a bed of noodles.