Friday, 30 November 2012

Foodie Pen Pals November - a real Turkish Delight!

Well hello! This month's FPP  parcel came from Vildan Karahan, all the way over there in Turkey. Vildan writes Drwilldone - it's in Turkish, but Google's quite handy for that sort of thing, so don't be put off if you want to check it out.

Very sensibly, Vildan sent a selection of packet treats - no question of anything going off in transit - none of which I've ever tried before, so I'm looking forward to checking them out. Some of them, like this tomato and red pepper soup, were pretty easy to work out. Others I have no idea about but again, I'm sure Google will be of help on that one!

The second packet is an almond-flavoured custard mix, which I suspect will go beautifully with home-made apple crumble - something of a speciality of mine, as various well-fed friends will testify. 

And now, the two 'mystery' items: the first I think is a yoghurt dip, perfect for the girly gatherings I regularly enjoy with my lovely mates, so that'll be something we can all enjoy. And the second I'm fairly sure is some kind of soup, but again, I'll need to get meself on Google to be sure!

And finally - there's no way a parcel could come from Turkey without this one. As I've said before, I'm not the world's biggest fan of Turkish Delight, but both FPPs that have sent it to me have got it bang on. The first one contained whole hazelnuts and was coated in coconut; and it was truly amazing. Vildan's version contains pistachios - my favourite nuts - and the covering is absolutely delicious, a perfect balance between nutty and sweet without the sometimes over-perfumed taste TD can have. Fabulous, am doing my best to resist the temptation to eat the whole box in one go, but it isn't easy. Oh no. Just look at it.Imagine it sitting in front of you. Can you hear it? I can. It's going 'Joaaaaaaann... Jooooaaaaaannnn... dive iiiiiiinnnnn...' I mean, it would almost be rude not to!

In summary, thanks Vildan, this was a great box - I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the whole thing was a total delight!

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Choc chips to the rescue! An October FPP update

COMPLETELY forgot to mention that Helen's lovely parcel also included a pack of chocolate chips, which came admirably to the rescue of my baking efforts for that day. Was making coconut and almond macaroons for Girls' Night. (Have I mentioned Girls' Night before? It is, as it sounds, a gathering of friends for the purposes of chat, wine, cheese, wine, generalised munchies, wine, home baking, wine, therapy and wine.) Anyway, I'd made the macaroons especially for those ladies who can't eat wheat or dairy, and intended to top each one with a professional-looking drizzle of chocolate.

Now. It so happens that I had a particularly busy day that day, and by the time I got home from running all my errands I'd completely forgotten to buy the chocolate. Quel dommage! Macaroons without the chocolate drizzling?? Perish the thought! What I HAD remembered, though, was to pick up my FPP parcel. 'Sod it,' I thought. 'I'm opening this before I do anything else today.' And to my joy, therein was a little packet of chocolate chips, ideal for melting down and drizzling delicately over the lovely plump, juicy, nutty macaroons.

It's a shame, really, that I goofed the melting process and ended up with chocolate drizzling that looked more like slugs crawling over the surface of the cakes, but still. The principle is sound.

Ooh, also, Indrė, who was my pen pal for this month, has posted all about her parcel on her blog. Now, the blog is written in Indrė's native Lithuanian, however there is a Google translate button for those of you not fluent in the language. She says nice things about me, it's ever so lovely! See it at

That is all!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

FPP October!

Hello again! It's time to report on Foodie Pen Pals for October, and as ever it's been a great month. My generous sender this time was Helen Walsh, who writes NomzNHolz, a blog about food, travel and, as she puts it, general ramblings about London and other climes. 

In answer to Helen's questions about the kinds of foods I like, I told her that I was trying to get back on the healthy eating wagon, and she very kindly responded with some lovely, thoughtful little items in my parcel. Here's the whole lot - well, what was left of it after a fit of the muchies pre-photo session:
Ooh, what a lovely haul it is. At the top there is a wee box of gluten-free pecan crusted coffee cakes - oddly named, as they don't contain any coffee! Moist, chewy but not too heavy; deliciously nutty and oh, so satisfying. The recipe for them includes quinoa, dates, cinnamon, coconut oil, almonds and agave nectar, and you can see the whole thing here. I'll definitely be trying them for myself. 

Here's a closer picture, although it certainly does not do them the  justice they deserve: 

In the middle of the first pic we have a sweet little portion of what I think is pomegranate jelly / jam but it's all written in foreign, so if anyone knows for sure what 'geleia de goiaba' is, feel free to let me know! There are also a couple of sachets of de-toxifying nettle tea, a little sachet of (40 calorie) Options Belgian Chocolate hot chocolate; a pack of olives (yum) and a teeny weeny bar of salted dark chocolate. Well, if I'm honest, that's actually only the wrapper, cause I scoffed the chocolate some time ago, and can positively verify that it was 136 calories of extreme yumminess. Also in there is the wrapper for a delicious pomegranate, blueberry and oat bar, which really was lovely and represents one of that famous five a day, so also healthy-eating friendly! And last, but not least...

... a teeny weeny pumpkin! Would you LOOK at how adorable this wee thing is? It's about the size of a large clementine, just the cutest thing I ever saw. It made me smile so much, it's so perfect, and especially for a Hallowe'en reveal!! As it happens, there's a recipe for pumpkin muffins I want to try, so this might be the very fella I've been looking for. Or I might just try to carve it into a teeny weeny jack-o-lantern, because that would be so much fun! It's just another example of how thoughtful Helen's parcel was. She offered to supply festive goodies, however since I tend not to begin celebrations for the 'C-word' until after my brother's birthday on 14 December, she very cleverly went for October festive instead. 

The last thing in the photo is a fab-looking recipe for Miso Dengaku, a Japanese aubergine dish I'm very much looking forward to trying.

My wonderful parcel also contained a big bag of giant corn nuts, which were demolished almost before I'd got the rest of the wrapping off the box, and a shot-glass-sized measuring cup which will most definitely come in handy, especially since my scales are broken at the moment!

So to sum up, thank you Helen for a really fantastic parcel, it was just full of lovely things and I'm still working my way through them. The fact that you took the time to consider healthier options or calorie contents and still managed to come up with such delicious things made it very special and I can honestly say that every single thing in the box made me smile from ear to ear!

I shall leave you with another picture of my teeny pumpkin. Awwww. 

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved! 

Friday, 12 October 2012

Dear Tesco...

Today I thought I would have a treat for lunch, in the shape of your 'New York Deli Pastrami on rye bread' sandwich, which I will henceforth refer to as the NYDPR. “Ooh, look,” I thought. “It’s been ‘developed by dedicated sandwich chefs with peppery pastrami, fresh crunchy creamy slaw, hot mustard and gherkin mayo and thick slices of light rye bread’. How delicious, I love all those things, even if I question the place of slaw on a NYDPR. But let us overlook that, perhaps it is the ‘modern twist’ to which you refer. I shall sample this sandwich, it may well be the very treat I am after.”

Sadly, one bite was enough to put paid to such ideas. Let us first examine the bread. ‘Light rye’ you say. Is it possible you meant ‘extra thick white bread with the merest possible hint of rye, just enough to make it unpleasantly dry in texture?’ Because that would have prepared me better. Just so you know.

Now, as previously mentioned, I had some doubts about the presence of coleslaw. A NYDPR should contain, in my opinion and no particular order: gherkins, mustard, mayo, swiss cheese and pastrami. Coleslaw is outwith the realms of my experience but hey, I was prepared to go with it. Give it a whirl. Try something new.

Grated carrot is not coleslaw, Tesco. No matter how much bland mayonnaise you stir through it, it remains grated carrot. There is nothing wrong with grated carrot, per se. Many a dish may be enlivened by its presence. But it is not coleslaw. Even in countries where cabbages do not grow, people know that grated carrot is not coleslaw. At this point, I suggest, you should be looking at your ‘dedicated sandwich chef’ with some concern, and perhaps rifling through the personnel files to double-check that CV.

While you’re about it, perhaps you could question said chef on his or her understanding of the word ‘hot’. As in ‘hot mustard’. Anyone who has ever eaten the fabulously fiery French’s mustard from the interestingly yellow pointy bottles will tell you, hot means ‘with a kick’. As in ‘spicy’. ‘Nippy’, as we say North of the Border. There should be, at the very least, a tingling sensation on the palate. What there should not be, Tesco, is no trace of mustard whatsoever. I suspect the carrot juice and the bland mayonnaise entirely overwhelmed it and sent it back to New York to consider its behaviour and not come back until it has learned how to behave. I miss it. Pastrami and mustard is an excellent combination. Pastrami and grated carrot is failing to ring my chimes.

A touch of gherkin might have made a difference. Had there been one. Again, any gherkin actually present had been frightened into abject submission by the overly-aggressive carrot mayonnaise. Now, perhaps – just perhaps – you could get away with a NYDPR with added coleslaw. It is within the realms of possibility that you could even reduce the mustard to the faintest of flavours. But you cannot, I repeat cannot, have a NYDPR without gherkins. That, Tesco, is just a cured beef sandwich. With grated carrot. It’s really not the same, no matter what kind of bread you put it on.

I won’t even talk about the lack of cheese. Given the foregoing, a slice of cheese, even of the best Swiss cheese there has ever been, would have made very little difference.

To your credit, however, the pastrami certainly was peppery. Oh yes. Very much so. Almost to the complete exclusion of anything else, in fact. It was nearly enough to disguise the fact the distressingly corned-beef texture of the meat itself. I can’t fault you on that, however. Peppery pastrami you promised, peppery pastrami you most certainly delivered. Sadly, a profusion of pepper is not a replacement for cabbage, or mustard, or gherkins, or cheese. Extra pepper is not enough to convince me that your sandwich chef is as dedicated as you seem to think.

You know, what made the whole thing even more disappointing was the foregoing anticipation, which was heightened in no small measure by the ten-minute struggle I had to get the sandwich out of the packet. Sweetly designed, no doubt, in that rather cute ‘brown paper bag’ style, but when one attempts to open the top of the bag one finds it attached, extremely firmly, to the other side. Even when the two sides of the ‘bag’ separate, the layer of plastic that makes up the ‘window’ clings obstinately to the opposite side in a manner that suggests the glue may be made of boiled limpets. I was unable to break this seal. Instead I created a hole right across the top, through which my sandwich could be broken free.

Alas, to no avail. I managed to reach into the top of the now-ruined bag and grasp the little plastic tray within. I pulled gently. To my alarm, the tray gave a mighty wobble in the middle, threatening to collapse and precipitate my long-awaited lunchtime treat either right into my lap or even deeper into the bag, from where I was fairly certain it would never be retrieved. I shall not continue with a full account of my struggles. Let me just say encapsulating a rectangular-shaped sandwich inside a little plastic tray hinged lengthwise into two little triangles does not make for easy extraction of said sandwich from its outer covering.

My lunchtime treat, Tesco, turned into a lunchtime trauma. Perhaps it was karma’s way of telling me to stick with my diet; perhaps I was simply unfortunate enough to select the only sandwich in the shop created in such a manner. Whatever the case may be, Tesco, I leave you with a recommendation: do not continue with this range of sandwiches. Sainsbury’s does it better.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Foodie Pen Pals No. 3!

Hello! It's been a while since I've been on, largely due to a certain amount of what you might call positive turmoil - finishing an old job, starting a new one; it all takes a bit of getting used to and doesn't leave a lot of mental energy for blogging. However, here I am and what better way to return than by revealing the contents of September's Foodie Pen Pal parcel?

This month's little box of treasures came from Emma, who lives very near me on the South Side of Glasgow. That being the case, you might imagine a lot of the things in the box would be from familiar sources, but no! Emma asked me (among other things) what kinds of flavours I liked, and what one foodstuff could I not live without? The former was relatively simple, because it's all about listing all the things I like, and I highlighted ginger as a particular favourite. The latter, on the other hand, caused some consternation, because there are a lot of foodstuffs I would find it very difficult to live without. I finally narrowed it down to either cheese or chocolate, and while it was a close-run thing, chocolate just edged into the top spot with little to spare. So in the end we had ginger and chocolate, and oh my goodness did Emma take me at my word. Check this out:

That is some chocolatey, gingery goodness right there. L - R at the front: dark chocolate covered ginger, crystallised ginger, fiery ginger sweeties; and at the back there, for a wee change, a box of hazelnut and coconut turkish delight and a beautiful tin of white drinking chocolate from kshocolat. Posh!

Let's have a closer look:

I haven't tried this chocolate-covered ginger before, and it is quite the taste sensation: fiery, sweet and bitter all at once. Maybe not something I could eat a lot of on its own, but I have some plans to incorporate it into some baking recipes, where I think it will really stand out. It'll make an outstanding addition to my chocolate brownies, for example, and I've been trying out a new ginger biscuit recipe that I'm pretty sure would benefit from chunks of this stuff added in. 

In fact, I've already used some of the crystallised ginger in the cookies and I can tell you, it was absolutely delicious. Exactly what was missing from the original recipe; soft, sticky, sweet and spicy little chunks of this made them a whole different biscuit experience and one I will be repeating at an early opportunity.
I haven't tried the ginger sweeties yet, but Emma tells me they're great for fighting off colds so as winter gets set in, I'm sure they'll be coming in handy. Again, I have some vague ideas about crushing some and maybe using them as a topping for the biscuits, we shall see how that goes  - I'll keep you posted.

Since I seem to be somewhat obsessed with the ginger biscuit recipe, it's just as well I also have the lovely hot chocolate, I can't think of anything nicer to dunk them in. A cold night, a good book, a stash of choccy ginger biscuits and a lovely hot mug of rich, sweet, creamy and comforting white chocolate goodness - what could be better?

So finally, Turkish Delight. This is a sweet I can be fussy about. I cannot bear, for example, the stuff  you get in chocolates. It's weird, people. Squishy and overly rose-flavoured, it's like chocolate-covered perfume jelly and that is just Wrong. Bad And Wrong. Proper Turkish Delight, on the other hand, I enjoy in small doses. I prefer the lemon to the rosewater, but I can happily munch it whatever the flavour. The stuff Emma sent, however, is a whole other ball game. Coconut coated with a big fat hazelnut in the middle - it is nothing short of an absolute joy. I'd have taken a pic of the inside of the box, but since I've already made a considerable dent in the contents, I decided you'd just have to make do with the picture on the cover:

I made it really big though. Just for fun. 

So, to sum up: thank you, Emma, for a fabulous FPP parcel. I have already enjoyed a lot of it and, as you can see, I have Plans to enjoy a lot more. I really hope you liked your parcel as much as I liked mine. 

One last word: thank you to Rock Salt for the time and trouble you take to run this scheme. It's an absolute pleasure to be part of it and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who isn't already on board. People send you lovely food. Why wouldn't you be part of it?

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved! 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Foodie Pen Pals the Second!

I love Foodie Pen Pals. You send people nice things, and other people send you nice things in return. It's always fantastic to get a parcel in the post, and with FPP the parcel is full of good things to eat - what could be better? 

So this month's package came from Nick in London, who writes 'The Baking Process' - very prolifically, I might add. If that's a word. You can find her blog here, and let me tell you it contains some serious deliciousness.
I asked Nick to send me any local specialities or favourites she thought I'd like to try, however for someone living in London, that doesn't exactly narrow it down. She rose to the occasion admirably, however, basing her parcel on her experience as an Olympic volunteer, which is pretty much a blog post in its own right. 

First up - my very own Olympic mug! Now, I must say that I am not normally a great watcher of sports. But this year I found myself, like many others, getting seriously into the whole Olympic thing, especially the swimming. Oh yes. So a genuine London Olympics souvenir was not to be sneezed at. Here it is:

I can't say I'm a huge fan of this logo but this is nonetheless a very nice mug and I'm sure I shall enjoy many delicious beverages therefrom. Who knows, perhaps I shall even imbibe some of the Olympic spirit and in four years' time you'll see me haring down the 100m track leaving even The Mighty Usain in my wake. 

<Pause for hysterical laughter>

<Alright, that's enough!>

Moving on...

Along with the mug came a Nature Valley snack bar, which was one of the snacks provided to Olympic volunteers. It so happens I've tried these before and really like them, they're a lovely, crunchy, satisfying blend of sweetness and oaty, nutty goodness and mine, you'll note, had an OFFICIAL OLYMPIC STICKER on it! Oh, I am awash with reflected glory.

Next to it in my photo is a tub of aniseed balls, which are a real taste of childhood. I remember seeing them in big jars in various local shops where you could buy a 'quarter' of whatever took your fancy with your pocket money. If this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, it's because I am from The Past and they sold sweeties differently then. 

Continuing the Olympic theme, albeit unintentionally, Nick had made me some soft pretzels. Now, what with Nick living in London, I assumed she would be English but no, in fact she is American and these are one of her very own childhood favourites. Look what happened when I took the photo!

Bready Olympic rings! Well, sort of. I didn't intend for them to be. But Nick's parcel was clearly having a subliminal effect. You'll note, if you look at the photo closely, that I couldn't in fact wait to try them until after I'd taken it. Greedy Joan!

These were my first ever soft pretzels, and I can now say with some authority that they are soft and chewy at the same time, like home-made bagels. (I know this because I have in fact made bagels, and I don't mean just by popping them in the toaster. Smug? Me?) 

The flavour was like a mild sourdough, and let me tell you, when I toasted these bad boys up and dunked them in my bacon, lentil and spinach soup they were really delicious. I also think they'd be fabulous dipped in really good olive oil and salt, vinegar or dukka. As I have eaten them all, I'll have to test that theory by trying the recipe for myself. I'm happy to say I have been provided with a copy, but it's also on Nick's blog, right here.

Now, part of the joy of FPP is learning new things. And one of the things this parcel taught me is that meringues are very, very hard to send by post. Sadly, Nick's pretty blue and green meringues were mostly reduced to pretty blue and green crumbs.A couple of them almost made it, so I took their picture to share with you:

Sadly the picture doesn't capture their lovely pastel colours, or the amazing vibrancy of those colours inside the meringues. But then again, neither does it capture the beautifully soft and sweet taste; the crispness of the shell, and the slightly chewy but not sticky inside, all of which were there all the same. In my experience, it's fairly difficult to make really good meringues and these were, most definitely, really good. 

(They were, incidentally, inspired by The Bourne Legacy, the latest in the action flick series previously starring that guy, you know the one I mean), although you'll have to read Nick's blog to find out exactly how. And no, they weren't used as weapons.

The last two items in Nick's awesome parcel were a jar of rosemary and the sweetest little shamrock-shaped cookie cutter. The rosemary because, she says, she finds it really difficult to get hold of so she thought I might have the same problem, and the cookie cutter just because it's so cute!

I think that's downright thoughtful, and that's one of the other things I love about FPP - it puts you in touch with really nice people, and that's the only thing better than a lovely big parcel of good things to eat.

Thank you, Nick, for a lovely, thoughtful and entertaining parcel. I hope you got as much enjoyment from the one you received as I did from the one you sent!

Callie, who received a parcel from me, will be writing a guest post about it. Watch this space!

Foodie Pen Pals is operated in Europe by Rock Salt. It's based on an idea from The Lean Green Bean, which set up the scheme for the US and Canada. There are around 1600 participants all over the world. Get involved! 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Jings! A new job!

Well. Those of you who know me will be aware that for some time now, I've been unhappy at my work.

That is by way of being a massive understatement. For some time now, every weekday has dawned with an ever-increasing feeling of dread, which increased exponentially the closer I got to my place of work. Days have become an ongoing effort not to grab various individuals by the neck and shake them til their teeth rattle.

In fact, it's been quite worrying, particularly in the last few months, when I have been aware of some very definitely alarming tendencies towards not only colleagues but fellow travellers on the daily commute. I've found myself struggling not to hurl foul and vitriolic abuse at the human tidal wave of bad manners, self-interest and determined ignorance surging towards me on the stairs to the low-level platforms as I struggle through their solid mass to catch my train.  

Worst of all is the meaningless animosity that builds up against people you've been sharing a journey with for seven years. For no good reason I want to attack Bonnie Tyler Woman with a pair of hairdressing scissors and a makeup bag containing products created after 1985. I want to shove Smoking Guy's fags right up his nose to remind him that when he lights up three seconds after getting off the train and smokes going up the street, there's a whole line of people right behind him who are getting his smoke right in their faces.

Most of all, I really, really want to tell Ball-Head Girl (this isn't as rude as it sounds) that her hair looks like a big ball perched on top of her head (see?). It really does. She pulls it up in a big pony tail right on the top of her head, then backcombs and shapes it into a ball. Her head looks like an eight with the top part coloured in. I do not know why this sets my teeth on edge, I'm sure she's a perfectly lovely person and I would like her very much if I knew her, but her hair, for no good reason, fills me with blackly violent tendencies that really have me starting to worry about myself.

It's 'familiarity breeds contempt' run wild, I suppose. Except now we've gone right through contempt and out the other side into full-blown psychosis. So basically I'm really glad to announce that I have a new job. OK, I'll still be doing a commute, and I'll still see a lot of the same people every day. But when the journey only lasts 15 minutes, it doesn't seem quite so dreadful. The other bonus is that I can, if I feel like it, get the bus once in a while. Mix it up a bit. Change it around. Up the tempo. It's teeny little alterations like that to a daily routine that stop it becoming a daily torment and, ultimately, a daily desire to do harm to one's fellow humans. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

I'm also hoping that my new team a) will not contain people who cannot seem to eat without sharing the contents of their mouths with everyone else around them; b) will all know what they're doing; c) will not have mobile devices that PING constantly to tell them they have email when they're sitting at their desk LOOKING AT THEIR EMAIL and d) will not wander off into lengthy digressions about the outrageously expensive home improvements/holidays/weddings/cars/watches/54-inch television screens they're buying.

On the other hand, I'm also hoping my new set of colleagues will contain as many wonderful people as my current set does. Without the good guys, I'd never have made it through the morass of ineptitude and fuckwittery that has surrounded me on a daily basis for the past several years, so my thanks to them. They know who they are. Them I will miss. Others? I shall merely aim badly.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

First Foodie Pen Pal Package!

My sister, who is a far more experienced and professional blogger than I, runs the UK's Foodie Pen Pals scheme (FPP for short), which she found via The Lean Green Bean, a fabulous foodie blog from Across The Pond. The basic idea is this: everyone involved gets a different penpal each month. Penpals don't send to each other, so the person you're sending to is not the person sending to you. With me so far? You send your penpal a 'thoughtful, food-related parcel' containing any mix of foodie delights you like, eg home baking, local or unusual sweeties, mad crisp flavours, alternative foods and so on. You also send something hand written, like a note explaining the contents, a recipe card, whatever. There's more to it, but you just need to click on the link above or on the right to find out more.

Anyway, I joined the scheme at the beginning of July, and I received my first box last Monday. Which, incidentally, as I gave out my work address, made going back after a week off a little more bearable. It came from Dannii, who writes Hungry Healthy Happy, and it contained a plethora of interestingly healthy alternatives to my usual sweets and snacks. Dannii's a total inspiration - her blog shares the recipes, diet tips and exercise routines that helped her lose 98lbs and keep it off. (98lbs, to those of you now reaching for your calculators, is seven stone. Seven. Count them. Wow.)

Now, I will admit that I'm a sceptic when it comes to health foods. I love, love, LOVE my sweets and treats and I have the true glutton's deeply-rooted suspicion of anything not bursting with sugars, calories and atery-clogging saturates. Sweets and treats, after all, aren't meant to be good for you, right? Enough of the hippy dippy nonsense, bring on the fat grams! However, FPP is designed to introduce you to different ways of thinking about food, different types of food, different ways of meeting it, treating it, and most of all eating it.

So here is my parcel as it looked when I first opened it.

Full of potential, full of interesting shapes, colours and smells. And it's living up to that potential. Dannii's letter explained that she had chosen some unusual goodies from her favourite health food shop - Unicorn in Manchester - for me to try. But she had also included a little treat of her own making: raw brownies. Not raw brownies as you or I would make them; that would have been horrendously messy apart from anything else, but brownies made from raw foods like almonds, dates, cocoa all ground up and smooshed up together to make little sticky, sweet, intensely-chocolatey-flavoured blocks of yum.

Here they are:

The taste is a little surprising to those of us more used to the traditional variety, being extremely cocoa-ey, but it is really, really delicious once your head stops sending 'traditional brownie' messages to your taste buds, and it's incredibly more-ish, particularly if you're a fan of dark chocolate. I happen to love dark chocolate, so these little bites suit me right down to the ground. And the great thing is they're so intense that one teeny one keeps you going for aaaaaaages. Aaaaaaaaaages. 

Next up, Unicorn's own range of goodies. 

We've got cocoa nibs, garlic sticks and sumac, which is a spice I've never used before. It's lightly lemony, so I tried some on grilled salmon. The taste is less intense than I expected - from the colour you expect something with the strength of chilli or paprika, but it's very, very subtle. It went well with the fish, though. I'll definitely use it again, and next time I won't be so tentative with it.  

Cocoa nibs, Dannii tells me, are great for baking because while you can munch on chocolate chips as much as you like, you can't do that with cocoa nibs, you have to cook them first. Excellent idea for preventing that desperate late-night 'I....must...have..chocolate...' snack attack that can strike even the most iron-willed healthy eater from time to time. You know the one, when you will, cheerfully and without shame, rummage through the rubbish bin for a chocolate wrapper you're sure there's still some chocolate on... No? Just me then. Hmm. Anyway, I'm looking forward to trying them and will let you know how it goes in future updates.

I was a little apprehensive about the garlic sticks, fearing they might be a bit overwhelming. But no. They were absolutely delicious. Crunchy and satisfying, with just the right amount of garlic seasoning. They are long gone. Looooooong gone. 

Finally, there were some cherry raisins; a mint raw brownie bar; a jar of apple purée; a dinky wee carton of almond milk; a pot of apple and blueberry purée and a raspberry brownie bar. This woman, by her own admission, loves brownies. 

Being similarly inclined, I naturally consumed the raspberry brownie almost immediately. It was good, but not as good as Dannii's home made variety - the texture was much drier - but the flavour was very nice. I've had cherry raisins before, and I had a sneaky feeling they might go rather nicely with Dannii's brownies. And they do. Oh, they do. I'll be using them again, either in my own version of brownies, or in some kind of mash-up of Dannii's recipe, which you can find here. I'm also looking forward to finding out more about baking with the apple purée, which Dannii says can be used in place of butter or oil. Hmm. Should be interesting. 

So, have I changed my mind? Will I be converting from Star Bars and Walker's crisps to health food options? Well, no. Like I said, I love my treats. But, perhaps, I will experiment with some of the ideas Dannii has given me, and make the occasional substitution. Every little helps, right?

To close, my thanks to Dannii for a lovely, thoughtful and interesting parcel, and a warning to all of you fans of my own internationally-famous chocolate brownies: next time they might be raw... 

Want to know what I sent? Check out 2 Weddings, 1 Bride - the link is on the right.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Amphibian antics

I went to Mum and Dad's this weekend, as much to see the frogs (see 'Frog frenzy') as for any other reason. However, in the true spirit of all wildlife when one is intent of observing it, the little buggers were nowhere to be seen. I am forced, therefore, to submit some of my favourite frog pictures by way of a salve to my disappointed heart.

Damn frogs.

Awwwwww... look at him! He's definitely smiling. Definitely.

Heheheh... peekaboo!

My pal Jacqui took this one. You can't help feeling he struck that pose deliberately.


A closer view of the hypnofrog. DON'T LOOK DIRECTLY AT IT!!

Remember having pen and pencil toppers when you were at school? I can has this one pls? 

Aaaaaaand finally... Combine two things I love. Three, if you count Harry Potter. Ta-dah!!!

Aaah, that's better. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

It's not seedy, it's sustainable

There's a new badge on my blog. It says I'm a Seedy Pen Pal. That's a tad harsh, to be honest. I may, on occasion, border on risque, but seedy? Nah.

Naturally that's not what it means. It's part of a new scheme based on Foodie Pen Pals set up in the UK by my clever sister Rock Salt - more of that in a later post. Seedy Pen Pals is designed to bring together gardeners of all abilities who want to swap, well, seeds.

In a (rather truncated) nutshell, it works like this: you get paired up with a fellow gardening enthusiast. Fellow enthusiast gets paired up with another, and so on. So it's not a swap, the people you're sending to will be sending to someone else. Do you see? You then send a parcel of seeds off to your penpal, along with any tips / instructions / educated guesses about how to sow and grow, and you get a parcel from someone else in return! You can find out more by clicking on the badge over there --->.

This has all come about as a result of a decision on my part to take over the care of the communal garden I share with my tenement neighbours. It was kept tidy by our factor, but nothing more. And by 'kept tidy' I mean 'attacked with a strimmer once or twice a year'. So I've been getting in there with spade, fork, hoe, shears, loppers, secateurs and saw, and attempting to create something with a little more wow.

It's very early days, but you can see my efforts so far (if you want to) here. There are some nice flowers and I've had a go at some veg - peas, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes are going well; cucumbers, gherkins and radishes are coming along nicely; beetroot I'm not sure about and I'm afraid the turnips just didn't work at all. So I thought joining something like Seedy Pen Pals might provide some helpful tips on growing veg in a garden where there isn't a lot of sun. Not because of the crappy summer we're having, just because the building gets in the way.

First match up will be on August 5th; I shall let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Frog frenzy

There has been much excitement in the Grady family in the last couple of weeks, as we welcomed no less than FOUR new arrivals to the clan. Yes, four little bundles of loveliness hopped their way into our lives and, in the process, into my dad's garden pond.

I'm talking about frogs, people. FROGS. 

This is by way of being a momentous event. The pond was created some years ago, and has been the scene of many a small drama: the disappearing fish which, it transpired, were being eaten by a heron; the sudden and unexpected appearance of fish fry, six of which are growing into a new population to replace the heron victims; the fox barking an alarm when the lining sprang a leak; the Dread Winter of 2010 which was miraculously survived by quite a lot of the inhabitants... But to date, no frogs. Not one. And suddenly there they are, four of them! Maybe it's some kind of froggy bus service thing? They appear to be common frogs but to be fair I'm not that up on my herpetology so they could be any kind, really.

The first new inhabitant appeared just over a week ago. Dad saw the neighbourhood cat chasing something across the green, and assumed it was a mouse. Then there was a splash as the 'mouse' took a desperate dive for safety and landed among the fishes. Naturally Dad was perturbed. A scuba diving mouse? Surely not. So he crept forward for a look and there, hiding among the weeds, was this fella:

A brammer, is he not? Now, as I said in my first post, I love frogs. LOVE them. I don't know why, they're not cuddly, you can't really pet them and they're a bugger to fit for a leash, but still. They're so cute. Those inscrutable little faces, the beady little eyes, the crazy legs and feet - what's not to love? Look at this wee guy, actually sitting on an actual lily pad, eyeing up the pondskater next door in a hungry fashion. How could you not just think 'squeeeeee!!!'? (If there are any lovers of French food reading this, thinking 'yum!' - get out. Get out now. There will be no breading or seasoning or deep-frying of this little fella. Not on my watch.) 

So. Some days later, Mum decided to have a wee peek at Mr Frog, to see how he was getting on with his fishy neighbours. A leap, a splash, a flurry of comedy legs, and a second frog hopped into view. Quite what the two of them were up to before Mum appeared I don't care to speculate, but oh, the excitement. It was like something from a David Attenborough programme. Except not in glorious HD slow motion. Somebody call the BBC!

Here is the second visitor, captured on camera just before a dive into the pond. A chubby little chappie (or possibly chappess) and clearly a bold adventurer, as he was out and about, checking out the neighbourhood, in general defiance of any cats, herons, seagulls or lawnmowers that happened to be lurking in wait. By this stage I was, needless to say, beside myself. I could barely wait to get up there and see the little critters. 

I'd hardly caught my breath from the last piece of news when more came in: another two frogs in the pond! One of them, according to Dad, was 'zebra striped'. He sent this picture to illustrate:

'Wow', I thought. 'He's the best yet.' Delightedly, I sent the photos to Froglife, hoping they would be able to identify the type. Imagine my total over-reaction when they responded, saying: 'We don't think that's a UK frog...' Oh. My. God. It's a new species, previously unknown to science and discovered, albeit accidentally, by My Dad. It shall be named after him, Froggius Daddus, and stand as an eternal monument to the excellence of his pond. Or not. Further internet searching suggested this was in fact a Striped Marsh Frog, native to Australia. What the...?? How in the wide, wide world did it get here? 

Alert the media! Scramble the Frog Squad! Send in the boffins! And, once again, call the BBC! And then came the phone call. Mum was ringing to inform me that this, in fact,  is neither a species new to science nor Frog No. 4. It is, sadly, a photo Dad found on the web. He thought it looked like the little fella from his pond and in sharing it with his family almost sparked an International Incident among the world's herpetologists. Thankfully we discovered the error in time and were able to head off the Scientific Discovery Teams ready to congregate on Glasgow's South Side at that very moment. Phew.

Today's news on the frog front is that Dad, for some reason best known only to himself, decided to spray the surface of the pond with the hose. This, apparently, seriously disgruntled the newly-settled froggy population, all of whom seem now to have disappeared. Silly Dad. I am hoping they are merely hopping mad (ahahahaha) and will return in due course. Please hope with me, because a world where no frogs live in my Dad's pond is, suddenly, a smaller and sadder place to be. 

***UPDATE*** There has been a sighting of the alleged 'zebra' frog! 

Ahahahaha. No, this is him really. Quite what natural history programmes Dad has been watching I don't know... But still! The frog has returned!!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Monday musings

So I read a thing in the paper today about how consumer use of plastic bags is on the rise. This was written in such a way as to suggest it was A Bad Thing. It so happens I agree with this view - plastic bags are Not Good. Clearly, they have their uses. They can, for example, be left on trains, filled with the remnants of somebody's kerry-oot. Or they can be used as impromptu headgear during sudden showers of rain. They can be artfully draped from the tree branches along the sides of country roads - a phenomenon some friends of mine call, rather delightfully, 'witches' knickers'. This latter application has the added bonus of staying around for a good long time, gradually seeding the surrounding branches until a large part of the tree is covered in tattered, greying shreds waving gently in the breeze. (Incidentally, does anyone else remember when this particular ecological niche seemed to be largely taken up by the innards of cassette tapes? Time was you could hardly walk the length of yourself without seeing a tangled brown mass glinting among the branches of the nearest horse chestnut. But I digress.)

Sad pic of sad turtle eating bag
Despite the many and varied uses to which a plastic bag can be put, including of course that for which it is most renowned - cutting off the circulation to a large part of your hand with handles apparently made from razor blades - they are an Ecological Menace. Some recent random browsing on my part turned up a collection of mournful pictures showing various creatures wrapped in their non-biodegradable embrace. Whales, turtles and seabirds, apparently, eat them, mistaking them for jellyfish or other edible morsels. I'm quite sure the advance of the plastic bag affects other wildlife too - what one might do to the average animal digestive tract doesn't really bear thinking about.


It is unfair to place the burden of all this on the shoulders of the average consumer. Like many others, I attempt to be a Responsible Shopper, and have a collection of Bags For Life that would impress even the most ardent eco-warrior. But also like many others, I have a tendency to forget the damn things and end up buying yet another out of pure guilt at the supermarket checkout (which, by the way, I'm sure is a devious plan by BFL makers. Make 'em impossible to carry around in the average handbag by using that stiff and scratchy stuff that simply refuses to fold into a manageable shape.) Last time I cleaned out my hall cupboard, I found a bag of bags, holding nothing but dust bunnies the size of your Auntie and the remnants of one very dead spider. Ridiculous.

So. I have a very simple solution. The people who make plastic bags need to start using biodegradable materials. It's entirely do-able. We now have cornstarch bags for home composting use. Why aren't all plastic bags made of the same stuff? OK, it's probably more expensive. So what? Shops are charging us for them anyway, it's surely just a matter of passing the cost along. They might not be that strong, but again so what? How many times has a regular bag given way at the seams just as you were lifting it into the car / getting onto the bus / walking home, leaving a trail of consumer goods in your wake as you stagger along under the weight of your weekly shop, wondering vaguely if this is the time your hands will actually fall off? And how strong does a bag have to be to live forever in the cupboard under the sink once you've emptied it of what remains of your shopping? The only sensible solution to the pestilence of plastic is to stop making the stuff. It shouldn't be up to us to sort this out - well, not entirely, anyway. We can continue amassing vast collections of jute and hessian carriers and forgetting to take them with us every time we go shopping, but it's up to the people who feed this consumer addiction to start stepping up to the plate. Nuff said.

(Although I feel special mention should be given to the unique smell of those weird blue bags you get in most corner shops. What's up with that?)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Post the first - what am I doing here?

Ohai! Well, in answer to the above, I should say that I haven't quite decided yet. It just seemed like everyone else had a blog, so I wanted one too. There's no theme here, though. No subject of particular interest. It's just a look inside my head. It seems only fair, after all, to give the rest of the world the chance to marvel at the crystalline caverns of my astonishing mind. Some days it might be venting spleen like Mount Vesuvius with a staggering case of heartburn; others it might be gently wafting zephyrs of cogitation across the pretty flowers and burgeoning crops of my little garden. Basically I'll be sharing whatever goes through my head. This is unlikely to be of interest to the Powers That Be; or to change the world in any way; but you never know and so I shall begin...

My name is Joan. I live in Glasgow, which is in many respects a wonderful town. Not THE Wonderful Town, obviously, but Glasgow has a character and personality all its own. It's like a big, good-natured, straight-talking, hard-living bon vivant with a heart of gold, a wealth of slightly blue jokes and an endless supply of fabulous stories. The kind of guy you sometimes bump into on family occasions- he's usually someone's uncle or something - who you end up having a brilliant night with despite initially thinking 'Oh God please don't let him come over and talk to me'. It's not a beautiful town, although there are some incredibly beautiful bits; and it's not without its problems - but hey, where isn't? So if you look past the neds* and the jakies** and ignore the wee hairies*** pushing prams around the town centre, Glasgow's a great place to live.

What else do you need to know about me? I'm lucky enough to have a great family life and a respectable number of incredible friends. I work in media and communications and largely hate it. I have a rich and varied range of likes and dislikes, but I won't say more here or there will only be one post on this blog and it will be eight million words long. I have all my own hair and what teeth are left are also mine. No pets, not even a goldfish because I get terribly upset when they inevitably leave me, especially when they pretend to be dead all day then suddenly spring back into life just as I hit the flush. I'm horribly afraid of spiders but am working on it and I don't like okrah.

Oh, and I like frogs. I don't know why. It's just something about their slightly serene, slightly thoughtful expressions. Seriously. Look at this picture of a frog and tell me I'm wrong.

He's planning something, isn't he?

OK, that'll do for post #1. If you've enjoyed it, come back for post #2. If not - well, just don't come back. Some life decisions  are very simple.

*non-Glaswegians: think reincarnated seagulls wearing shellsuit trousers and skip caps so far back on their heads they look like they're stapled on. Usually found swigging 'Buckie' and swaggering down the centre of any particularly busy road, especially if there are buses thundering along it at 50mph. Also noted for an inability to pronounce consonants.

**this time think reincarnated pigeons. Especially the ones with the stumpy feet. That's it.  

***Female chavs