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.