Never mind cocktail hour, how about cocktail afternoon?

Today I caught up with two friends I haven’t seen in ages and our meeting really made me realise how much I find out about people via social media.
Lolly and I met when we joined Glasgow Roller Derby as newbies and graduated into rookies at the same time. Then I stopped going because I was studying and she stopped because she broke her ankle. Even though we haven’t spoken to each other in ages I knew she’d bought a wee house in the outskirts of Glasgow, that she has a mild addiction to Black Milk leggings and that she had a clear-out of her extensive wardrobe to help finance the fitting out of her new house.

My other friend Simone started Glasgow Roller Derby as a newbie when I was a rookie and I used to help out at their Sunday morning sessions. Again, I hadn’t seen her in over a year but I knew she was nearing the end of a photography course, I had watched her two little girls grow up through the portraits she takes and that she visited her mum in Australia after Christmas.

One of the reasons we were meeting was to exchange goods – I was buying some clothes from Lolly and Simone’s kids were getting some of MiniHim’s cast-off Toy Story toys. All of this, including the buying, selling and recycling was done on Facebook.

Anyway we met up in Cup and it started out innocent enough with some sumptuous cupcakes and Belgian hot chocolate.

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But what’s a girl supposed to do when she’s sitting on a bar stool at the bar and there are Bellinis being made in front of her?

So it was cocktails all round – a Bellini for me, a strawberry shortcake for Lolly, a Nojito (non-alcoholic) for Simone because she was driving and non-alcoholic Strawberry Crushes for the kids.

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We had a great time and the Cup Tea Lounge is a wonderful place with lovely details – as you can see I was sitting directly below a fabulous chandelier. I think I shall spend more Sunday afternoons eating cupcakes and drinking cocktails.

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After a bit of shopping MiniMe headed for the train but stopped off in the American Candy Store for some very expensive goodies. Nom!

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MiniHim was disappointed though as he gave me strict instructions not to come back without a catapult. Gone are the days of making one with a tree branch and elastic – he wanted his ready made. Hamleys didn’t have any and with the lack of toy shops these days I came back empty-handed. A quick Google search however, shows that had I tried a fishing shop I’d have got one no bother. Mind you, at £3.79 including p&p it’s probably cheaper than anything I could have bought in Hamleys.

Today I have learned:

  • you can’t beat drinking a cocktail in daylight
  • Fishermen are a better source of catapults than Dennis the Menace

Today’s recipe

Char-sui style pork

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Pork fillet is the only meat I will buy in the supermarket, now that I’ve found the best butcher in Lanarkshire. Apparently this cut produces a lot of waste so he doesn’t do it but sometimes there’s no other cut will do for a recipe. This is one of them.

Ingredients

3 tbsp squeezy honey

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

a grinding of black pepper

1 large pork fillet

Method: Mix the honey, hoisin, sesame oil, soy sauce, five-spice, garlic and pepper together in a bowl.

Rub two thirds of the sauce over the pork fillet, cover with cling film and marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Take the meat out the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Roast the pork for 35-40 minutes, basting it in its juices and the leftover sauce every now and again. Remove from the oven and leave to rest wrapped loosely in tinfoil.

Slice thinly and serve with the juices, Perfect Every Time Rice (boil it with 4-6 star anise) and mushrooms in oyster sauce.

The customer is king

I’m a huge fan of Gerry McGovern. I’ve heard him speak, I’ve done some of his webinars and I’ve read his books. The customer, not content is king. Shame Travelodge haven’t come across him.

Last night I tried to book two rooms online for the start of our holiday in March. The first couple of attempts on the PC failed at a blank, hanging page. I tried on the netbook on a different browser thinking that was the problem – got to a different blank hanging page. I tried on my phone. This was almost a success – I got as far as paying with PayPal but the final screen threw a ‘This page is not supported at the moment’ message. Whatever that means.

I checked my email accounts but there was no receipt from PayPal and no booking confirmation from Travelodge. I gave up for the night.

This morning, after searching with a magnifying glass I finally found a phone number for the hotel to check if they had a reservation. Before anyone answered there was a recorded message telling me that the hotel couldn’t take phone bookings and that there were deals to be had on their simple-to-use website. I got to speak to a lovely human who checked the system and no, they had no booking.

On a break I tried my PC at work on Firefox and IE – neither worked. I looked in the Contacting us section for an email address and found an online chat facility. Before that would launch there were two very vague questions  to answer with very specific answers in a drop down menu, none of which fitted my query. I tired to answer as best I could but the algorithms decided that the online chat wasn’t suitable for my enquiry. I gave up.

At lunch time I went to a different office to try Safari on a Mac. I still got a blank hanging page. I went straight to the online chat facility and lied just so I could chat online. I was put in a queue but with no indication where I was in it. After five minutes it booted me out and told me they had no operators available.

Then I found the FAQs and there was one specifically for ‘Why am I unable to complete my booking?’ Here’s their answer:

We would suggest that you do not keep trying to make a reservation if your booking fails at the payment stage as this could lead to monies being ring fenced from your account.

We are aware that, during busy times on our website (i.e. during a sale), we can experience higher volume of visitors.  This can have an impact on the speed of the booking process and sometimes, particularly during the confirmation or payment process, causing the page to timeout or go blank.  Before pressing back on your browser and trying again, it’s important to check that your booking wasn’t processed successfully by checking the ‘view/modify my booking’ link using your booking criteria, or by checking the email address you used at the time of booking to see whether you have received a confirmation email.

We are also aware that payment for reservations can fail if special characters such as (commas, apostrophes, underscores and accents) appear in the booking information within the name and address fields and also if the telephone number is missing as this field is mandatory.

So basically their shoddy customer journey may have resulted in loads of money being set aside from my account (if that’s what ring fenced means). Oh, and their site can’t cope with a high volume of traffic. Oh, and it’s up to me to check if the booking was processed or not, even although their site makes it look as though it hasn’t. And by the way, my dodgy typing may be to blame and I’ve to guess that my telephone number is mandatory, even although there’s nothing on the form to tell me it is. Plain English doesn’t even get a look in.

On further digging I found the ‘How can I telephone Travelodge’ and found this nugget:

To provide a service that allows us to fully investigate your query, and to continue to keep our rates low, we ask our customers to use our contact us section on our website or via letter.

Aaargh!

I’d just also like to share some of their page stats with you.

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Do these not tell them that there’s something far wrong with their online booking system and website in general? If they don’t want to hire Gerry I’d be more than willing to point out where they’re going wrong – I’d even do some customer journey mapping with them if they don’t believe me.

Oh, and I’ve booked us into the Holiday Inn up the road. Managed it first time and it was £14 cheaper!

On other news, I was asked to do some taste testing tonight for Airlie Fairley cakes. Neither May nor her hubby are huge fans of coffee so it was down to me to road test her new coffee cupcakes. It was spot-on and not only that she brought a lemon one and two After Eight cupcakes too. Bang goes the diet!

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Today I have learned:

  • the customer is king (I’ve known this for a while but it’s worth remembering)
  • it’s easy to take your custom elsewhere in the private sector
  • in the public sector it’s even more important to make the customer king because if they can’t go anywhere else they might not bother at all

Today’s recipe

Simple lamb dhansak

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Serves4

Ingredients

sunflower oil for frying

2 tbsp garam masala

500g gigot, cubed

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

the top half of a butternut squash, peeled and cubed

100g red lentils

500mls veg stock

1 tbsp tikka paste

2 tsp tamarind paste

2 tsp sugar

2 tbsp coriander, chopped

juice of a lemon

Method: Put the garam masala and the lamb in a large freezer bag and shake till the lamb’s covered. Heat the oil in a large pan, brown the lamb in batches and set aside on a plate.

Cook the onions, garlic and squash till golden then add the lentils, stock, tikka and tamarind pastes, sugar and lamb to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer covered for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Check the seasoning then add the coriander and lemon juice.

Serve with the Perfect Every Time Rice and naan.

Warning: This post isn’t for the feint-hearted

Yesterday I missed a blog because I wasn’t well. This happens every now and again. I get a dodgy tummy, I feel nauseous and so tired I could drop. One night during the week I was in bed for 9.30 and last night I went to be when I got home.

It would appear that I’m following in my mum’s biological footsteps and her father’s before her. Our digestive tracks are not working properly.

I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome when I was 16, put down to the stress of my O Grades. Aside from the stomach cramps and crazy swings from constipation to diarrhoea, my tummy rumblings were uber-embarrassing and were mistaken more than once for a plane overhead.

As I time went on I learned what aggravated it – extra fibre made it worse, spicy things cramped me up for days and after a few bad mistakes I realised that the Canadian Club I drank wasn’t causing raging hangovers, it was the rye in it that was causing my stomach to complain in all sorts of ways.

Then I had children. Nothing could prepare me for the pain of the heartburn during each pregnancy. I used to slug Gaviscon straight from the biggest bottle the chemist could give me. The midwives told me it would disappear the minute the baby was born and it did – the first time.

The second time it didn’t. MiniHim had been a big baby at 8lbs 13 and a half. It was the extra pressure that killed the bit between my stomach and oesophagus and now I’m on tablets for the rest of my days to stop the reflux.

Now is the bit where you may want to stop reading but I’ll continue writing so that fellow sufferers in silence may find the courage to go to the doctor.

I’ve had two endoscopes in the past four years, just to check that I have nothing more sinister than piles. I don’t, but a scope is not a nice procedure to go through. The twice I’ve been they’ve recommended eating more fibre, which as you know I can’t. The last time the consultant even said that eating my 5-a-day wouldn’t help, what I need is bran flakes and brown rice and pasta. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I spent years eating all that and drinking 2 litres of water a day and, not only did it aggravate my IBS, it didn’t help with anything else.

So I’ve just been putting up with the discomfort, except now I can add fissures to the mix. All I can describe it as is like passing broken glass, sitting on sandpaper and they wake me up in the middle of the night screaming at me.

On talking to my mum I’ve discovered that she’s on medication to stimulate part of her gut because it’s working slower than the rest and now it’s all fitting into place. So anyway, long story slightly shorter, yesterday the doc gave me a prescription for lactulose which should make everything easier to pass and an analgesic (no pun intended) which will help with the pain, although the instruction leaflet and side effects list were so long it rolled out the box like an ancient Greek scroll.

All I’m saying is don’t suffer in silence. Yes, it’s embarrassing and yes, I did go very red talking to my doctor but she’s seen a lot worse and judging by her reaction she could even be a fellow sufferer. The relief has been almost instant, although now I have bursts of a raging headache and mad dizzy thanks to the medication but at least I can sit without fidgeting and will have an unbroken sleep tonight.

On a lighter note when I went to pick up the prescription I noticed a sign on the wall saying that ‘The responsible pharmacist today is Michael Chung’. I wonder who the irresponsible one was and what medication they were dishing out.

As an aside this photo is just for my friend and colleague Lindy who didn’t believe me the other day when I posted that I’d tidied my desk. I have to admit that by 5pm on Friday it was covered in papers again but they are stacked in neat(ish) piles.

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Today I have learned:

  • going to the doctor can be embarrassing
  • sometimes the side-effects of some medicines are worth putting up with
  • in some professions you get a framed certificate for being responsible

Today’s recipe (if you can stomach it after that post!)

Rainbow cupcakes

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Pictures of rainbow cupcakes appear on Facebook every now and again so today MiniMe asked if we could have a go at making them. She made the cakes, unsupervised (very proud!) and I attempted the frosting. my piping isn’t very good but I think you’ll agree these little crackers would cheer up the grouchiest of grinches 🙂

Ingredients

For the cakes

100g softened butter

100g caster sugar

100g self-raising flour

half a tsp baking powder

2 eggs

For the topping

300g icing sugar

80g softened butter

25mls whole milk

a dash of vanilla essence

blue food colouring

rainbow jelly ribbons

Method: Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 5.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat the eggs in a cup then add it and the butter to the flour. Mix with an electric hand mixer till soft and fluffy. Divide between 12 paper cases in a baking tin.

Bake for 10-15 minutes till a skewer comes out clean then remove cakes and cool on a cooling tray.

For the frosting put all the ingredient in a deep bowl and mix with an electric hand mixer. Remove about a third to a separate bowl. Add blue food colouring to the big bowl until it is the right shade and using a teaspoon top the cakes with the sky.

Using a piping bag, with a small nozzle attached pipe the clouds either side of each cake. Trim the jelly ribbons to size and anchor to the cakes in the clouds. If you make the rainbows too long they’ll sag in the middle and we can’t be having saggy rainbows 😉

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.

Forget rocket science – it’s not parenting

I’ll admit I’m a fan of Seth Godin. I’ve read a few of his books and I signed up for his blog years ago. I love his thoughts on education and the fact that although we no longer have a healthy manufacturing industry, our schools are still set up to produce factory drones. One of his blog posts recommended a book by a fellow education reform researcher Alfie Kohn except this one was about parenting. While I think we’re doing an OK job with a pair of pretty fantastic children I thought I’d give ‘Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason‘ a try to see what we could be doing better.

I hadn’t been prepared for the fact that it would change my outlook as quickly as page 2:

what many people in our society seem to want most from children is not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well-behaved. A ‘good’ child is one who isn’t too much trouble to us grown-ups.

As I worked my way through the book I recognised things that I do and different things that HimIndoors does that are just downright wrong, things that may work in the short-term but that could cause problems later on. I could recognise behaviours in other adults which are probably a result of the way their parents dealt with them. I could even recognise workplace management styles which probably have their foundations in childhood.

On page three the fundamental question Alfie asks is what are your long-term objectives for your child – how would you like them to turn out, what do you want them to be like. The usual answers are happy, balanced, independent, responsible, kind, thoughtful, loving,inquisitive and confident.

Compare that with the way we deal with our children every day – time-outs, groundings, if you don’t tidy your room you’re not going out, if you don’t stop yelling I’ll walk away and leave you there. They may work in the short-term from our perspective but what about from the child’s perspective and what happened to those long-term objectives.

Then there are all the bribes and positive reinforcement. If you behave well you’ll get a star. No stars, no TV but if you get enough stars by the end of the week you can choose a toy. Tactics like these internalise the problem. What starts as a little bit of non-conforming behaviour in the child becomes ‘if I don’t do that any more I get a reward and a nice reaction from my teacher and my parents.’ The good behaviour is because they want the star or the reaction from the adult rather than thinking about how their behaviour is affecting others.

What’s worrying is that MiniHim is on a star chart at school for his ‘silly behaviour’ of making noises when he’s working and speaking out when he shouldn’t. There are other non-specific things and I think they can be traced back to when he first started school and the fact that they were doing things he’d already done in nursery.

Anyway, HimIndoors is now reading Unconditional Parenting and in the meantime time-outs are banned and till he catches up. I’m thinking about why I want to tell them off – is it because I worry about what other people will think, am I expecting perfect behaviour, what does it look like from their side and would I speak to an adult like that.

It’s going to be difficult unlearning what I’ve been doing for the last 12 years but everything I’ve read makes sense and even just reminding MiniHim to think about how he behaves affects the other children in the class seems to be having a positive effect.

I’d recommend the book for anyone with children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and even staff to manage.

Today I have learned:

  • how to pipe icing (just need to make the chocolate stuff look less like dog poo!)
  • what head lice look like (yes, really)

Today’s recipe

Banana cupcakes

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This is a very versatile recipe. I’ll give you the basic version but I added chopped glace cherries and chocolate chips. In the past I’ve added a variety of nuts and mini marshmallows. You can make a cake a loaf or in this case cupcakes. you can ice it, frost it or leave it plain.

Ingredients:

250g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g caster sugar

75g melted butter

2 eggs, beated

2 large ripe bananas, mashed

2-3 tbsp milk

Frosting

150g softened butter or margerine

210g icing sugar

60g cocoa powder

1.5 tbsp milk

dash of vanilla essence

Method: Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5. Grease a line your tin if you’re making a cake or loaf. If making cupcakes prepare the cases in the tin.

Put the flour, bicarb and sugar in a bowl and stir together. Add the butter, eggs, bananas and milk and beat until smooth. Add whatever extras you’re using then put the mixture into the tin or cases. If you’re doing cupcakes you’ll need two tins or do batches. Bake for 50 mins if doing a loaf or a cake and 20 minutes if cupcakes. Test with a skewer which should come out clean.

Leave to cool a bit then turn out onto a cooling rack

Frosting: Put all the ingredients in a bowl and which with a hand-held electric whisk until beginning to peak. Add to the cakes. Eat!

Life is definitely too short

I knew today was going to go at break-neck speed before I went to bed last night.

I was up early (for a Saturday) to go to the local grain store for cat food, then the chemist to pick up a prescription, then the Pet Crematorium to pick up Coco’s ashes. It was heartbreaking seeing the tiny little box but again the staff were lovely and when I left I phoned the vet to compliment Paul who looked after us so well last Tuesday. Apparently he’s a locum and the practice have realised how good he is and are desperate to keep hold of him, but it looks like he may be going soon 😦 Now I have to think of somewhere to scatter Sugar and Coco together. Ideally I’d love to dig them into the carrot patch but I don’t know what effect that would have on the carrots. Let me know if you have any ideas.

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After that it was a mad dash to get MiniMe to her next birthday party. They were off paintballing and I’m wondering how she got on. There haven’t been any phone calls from the hospital so I’m guessing she’s OK.

From there it was off to MiniHim’s swimming lesson. He was moving up a group today and slightly further away from the shallow end. We had tears in the back of the car and it turns out he was terrified of not being able to touch the bottom. I suggested that we get him changed and have a word with his new teacher before he got in the pool. When we were waiting poolside he spotted his new teacher heading a football about eight times before it fell in the water. This impressed him so much that he headed for the pool and didn’t look back. He flourished in this new lesson, doing breadths of back stroke, front crawl and breast stroke. I think he may be a better swimmer than me now!

After that it was lunch at HimIndoor’s mum’s then off to a softplay centre to meet up with MiniHim’s best friend from nursery. Just as the two hours were up I got a Facebook reminder on my phone to say that I was supposed to be at a focus group for Airley Fairley Cakes in an hour. This is my friend’s cake business, the friend who is also a Partylite rep. She wanted to ply us with drink, show us some candles and road test some new cake flavours for her.

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Who could refuse that? Certainly not me but that meant no time for dinner so we had to make do with a trip to McDonald’s, much to MiniHim’s delight.

So then I headed for the cake testing, bottle of wine in hand. I tried coffee cake, banana cupcakes with maple frosting and mint and chocolate cupcakes.

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The coffee cake was lovely but I suggested an espresso version for caffeine addicts like me. I liked the banana cake and the maple frosting but not necessarily together – I think the banana cake needs a plain frosting and the maple frosting needs a plain cake. The mint and chocolate was just perfect though and I think I’ll back placing an order for my mum’s birthday cake soon so I’m open to suggestions Mrs Airley Fairley.

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Three glasses of wine later I reckoned it was time to get home if I was going to write this post.

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Unfortunately the lack of time for dinner means that I have no recipe but I’m going to make what I had planned for tomorrow’s lunch so I’ll stick in the heading and come back to it once I have a photo.

I’ve done my shop at the butchers and the supermarket and here’s what I have planned for the week – gingerbread, sausages on a bed of tomatoey lentils, meatball bake, butternut squash soup, chicken pie and chilli quesadillas.

Today I have learned:

  • doing fun things with children makes the day go faster but that’s worth much more than a clean bathroom
  • it doesn’t matter what job you do at a council the minute people know where you work, they have a grouch

Today’s recipe

Posh bubble and squeak

20130113_144834_LLSThis is a great way of using up boiled, fried or roast potatoes and cooked ham but this time around I started the potatoes from scratch. All the quantities are approximate so feel free to use more or less depending on what you like. There is nothing quite like the smell of frying onions, even more so if they smell like fairground onions but you know that what you’re about to eat will taste infinitely better than a fairground burger!

Ingredients:

baby potatoes, quartered

2 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp paprika

1 onion peeled, halved lengthways and sliced

a handful of mushrooms sliced,

a small savoy cabbage, stalks removed and shredded

dash of rice vinegar

dash of Chinese cooking wine

1 tsp sugar

leftover cooked ham cubed

couple of sprigs of thyme leaves

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method: Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes then drain well. Heat the oil in a frying pan which has a lid – you’ll use the lid later on but an up-turned dinner plate will work too. Add the potatoes and move around in the oil. Add the coriander and paprika and mix up the pan. Leave to brown for a few minutes then add the onion and mushrooms. When the mushrooms are starting to give back their moisture back to the pan add the cabbage, vinegar, wine and sugar then cover and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the remaining ingredients and heat through.

Sugar and spice

I’ve never been a fan of mulled wine, thanks to a couple of really nasty glasses years ago, both free at different visits to see Santa. I’ve avoided it ever since, until this Christmas when my friend May offered a glass at her house. I had two that night and I think I’m now a fan. My besty Jill had a party recently and she served hers up in old china cups – a cunning plan because you lose track really quickly how much you’ve had.

Today I had a Partylite candle show as a final fling before I go back to work tomorrow. I decided serve mulled wine but to make mine from scratch to see if it’s any better than the bottles of pre-prepared stuff you can buy in the supermarket. May was my litmus paper as she’s a mulled wine connoisseur and  it passed muster, got the thumbs up and, served in the china cups from the #epicdinnerparty I lost track of how much I’d had and felt all the glowier for it.

It’s definitely worth the effort making it from scratch and today’s recipe is shamelessly stolen from Jamie Oliver, although you’re getting my version as I didn’t have all the ingredients.

As the for the candle party, I had a lot of call-offs thanks to the flu, Norovirus and conjunctivitis but although we were a select bunch we had a great time and May is a fabulous Partylite rep. If you’ve never used a Partylite candle you don’t know what you’re missing. They’re much better quality than the cheap candles you can buy in the supermarket and they burn for much longer. I picked up a cheap Asda tealight by the wick the other day and the whole thing lifted out of its aluminium holder. It was then that I discovered that the colour and the scent are only on the top half, the bottom half is white and unscented. I pulled out a Sainsbury’s one too and it was exactly the same. Partylite tealights are coloured and scented all the way through and come in recyclable plastic holders which don’t get so hot which means they can be used in glass candle holders. You run the risk of the glass shattering if you use the aluminium ones and two of the people at the party had that happen to them recently, one at the Christmas dinner table.

May is also a baker so when she does a party she brings along a box of cupcakes which are always yummy and they didn’t last long in this house. You can check out Airley Fairley Cakes on Facebook and I’d thoroughly recommend ordering something if you have a celebration coming up.

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Today I learned:

  • you only get what you pay for
  • making from scratch is worth it most of the time (except steak pies!)

Today’s recipe

Mulled wine

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Ingredients:

1 orange

1 lemon

200g caster sugar

6 cloves

1.5 cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

large pinch of ground nutmeg

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 star anise

2 bottles full bodied red wine (whatever’s on special offer)

Method: Peel large strips off the orange and lemon into a large pan. Add the sugar and squeeze in the juice of the orange. Add the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, nutmeg and vanilla. Add enough wine to cover the sugar and heat over a medium heat until it boils. Keep it on a rolling boil for 5 minutes so you get a syrup. Turn the heat down low, add the star anise and the rest of the wine and heat gently for about 5 minutes until it’s warm. I ladled it into china cups through a tea strainer to keep the bits back.

The reason you make a syrup first is that it needs to be hot for the spices to infuse properly but the alcohol boils off. If you were to add all the wine at this point you’d be left with non-alcoholic mulled wine and we can’t have that, can we?