Having a baby–the things they don’t tell you…

…and if they DO tell you, you won’t believe them.

Well…I went and had a kid.

Now, I don’t want to start yammering on about what labour and c-sections are like, so don’t worry…but I DID want to go through some of the things that you just don’t hear often enough, or believe even when people tell you…for starters–

1. You really DO want to yammer on about labour and c-sections…but I won’t.

2. They tell you that your life will change, irrevocably, but you don’t realise that truth until it happens to you. 
Yeah, it sounds silly, doesn’t it? Of COURSE your life will change! You know that, right? Wrong. You don’t know until it happens, and when it happens, you can’t believe it.

3. You worry about hurting the baby, especially at first.
Am I holding him right? What if I drop him? tThis disapates once you get used to handling your baby. However, then, other random scenarios will sporadically pop into your head. What if I trip coming down the stairs while holding him? What if something falls on his head while he’s playing on the floor? This will never really go away–so I’ve been told.

4. You want to/will cry when your health visitor/midwife/doctor tells you that your baby isn’t putting on enough weight.
It feels like a slap across the face with a 1-2 punch to the gut. You feel like you’re not taking care of your child. Other parents will tell you that it is not the end of the world–your kid could be a slow grower, or just small, and that it’s just a chart someome made up, for Pete’s sake! But–it still sucks when you hear it.

5. You can get lonely.
If you don’t make friends with some of the mommies in whichever classes you take your kid to, you’re going to get lonely. Basically, it is just you and the kid for most of the day–so, try and make as many play dates and get-together’s as possible. To tie into this–be aware that you will most likely SUCK at responding to emails and getting back to people. In the beginning, you might not even know what day it is. Also, some friends will be there for you no matter what, and others might leave you be. Having a kid is a life-changing thing, and some people won’t really get that. That’s just life though, I guess.

6. You won’t feel like yourself any more.
Ok, so this sorta goes with ‘things change’, but it’s way more personal. Yoor mind works differently. You notice that maybe you’re more patient, or more diligent, or that you get flustered way more than you thought–any bevy of new character traits may arise or be magnified. Also, your body has been through something totally nutso. Hormones are CRAZY and physically you’re SO run down and puffed out. You’re not used to not being pregnant, and you’re not what you were pre-pregnancy. It makes you feel like you don’t know who you are  anymore.

ADDITION: In addendum to the above, you sortof end up feeling like the queen of a whole new world–one where you’re expected to know what to do at all times, and how to do it. You’re expected to know the language, and answer all questions. But you don’t know the language, and it’s hard to learn! But you, you’re still responsible for SO much that it does completely change you. How you perceive, how you act, and how you handle situations.

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Smokey Apple Chicken Thighs

Awhile ago, a friend of mine (YoungWifey), posted a recipe for delicious apple smoked turkey tenderloin. I made it (with chicken breasts) and loved it! The other day, I had some chicken thighs defrosting, but wanted to make something simple and all in one pot/pan. I looked up recipes and decided to make up my own–whilst stealing a bit of inspiration from YoungWifey too…

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 large chicken thighs (on the bone), washed with skin on (mine still had some backbone on, which I chose to cut out, whilst leaving the rest of the bones, but do what you feel)
  • 1 medium to large apple (any variety)
  • 10-12 small or new potatoes–honestly, just put in as many as will fit across the bottom of the pan without piling on top of one another
  • 1 large onion, cut into large wedges
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large stalk of celery, cut into large chunks
  • 100 ml of white wine
  • 100 ml of apple juice (I used apple and pear)
  • 1 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp of dried mint
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil

THE PROCEDURE

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 C/180 C for fan assisted ovens.
  2. Wash your chicken thighs. Pat them dry with some kitchen towel, and then, taking a sharp knife, score the skin.
  3. Wash and thinly slice your apple. Place a few of the apple slices underneath the skin of each thigh. Any leftover apple can be added to the vegetables later.
  4. Wash your potatoes and cut them in half if they’re small, or into even smaller chunks if they’re larger. You want pieces about an inch and a half/2 inches thick. I left the skins on mine, but you can peel them if you prefer. Once these are cut, throw them into a baking/roasting pan.
  5. Cut your onion and celery and add those to the potatoes along with any leftover apple.
  6. Place your chicken thighs on top of the vegetables, skin side up.
  7. In a small bowl, or measuring cup, mix together your wine, juice, olive oil, garlic and spices. I put my garlic through a press to get the most out of it. Once mixed, pour over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle some extra seasonings (I used a spice blend) onto the chicken skin, and pour over a bit more olive oil.
  8. Place in the middle of the oven, and bake (uncovered) for about 40 minutes. After about 25 minutes, pull it out and baste the chicken with the juices. Don’t worry too much if the chicken skin gets dark–mine did, but it wasn’t burnt just caramelised a bit. If you are burning, just flip them over for a bit, being careful not to tear the skin on top. Check the chicken again after 40 minutes–if the juices run clear, then its good to go as long as the potatoes are tender too. If it’s still running pink, then pop it back in the oven and check it again every 5 minutes or so until the juices run clear.
  9. I served this simply with some peas (microwaved from the freezer), but it would work well with any green vegetables you like. The peas added to the sweetness of the apple for me, so I really liked this combination.

The only thing I should add to these instructions is to keep an eye on the liquid. I didn’t measure precisely, I must confess, but it wouldn’t be a problem, if after the 25 minute check, you removed some of the liquid. It will reduce in the oven, however. I basically had enough liquid in to cover up to a little less than half the vegetables.

Also, if you don’t like chicken on the bone, and would rather use chicken breast or deboned thighs, you might have to experiment by cooking the vegetables for 20 minutes or so without the chicken, and then adding the chicken later so it doesn’t dry out. If doing this, I would also add some chicken stock to the liquid (possibly instead of the wine) for added chicken flavour.

Ricotta Stuffed Peppers

Ricotta Stuffed Peppers

My husband and I already had lasagna this week. But you see, I had bought ingredients to make some awhile ago…and now was stuck with what to do with them. My husband doesn’t mind ricotta–by that,  I mean it’s not his favourite, but he’ll eat it. It’s not like parmesan, which he insists smells like barf. At least ricotta doesn’t have much of a smell–it’s the texture that weirds him out, I think. He won’t eat cottage cheese, either–FYI.

ANYWAY.
I started to look for some recipes featuring ricotta online, and found a really interesting one for stuffed peppers. However, it had a special risotto rice in the recipe, and a few other things that I didn’t have or, to be honest, didn’t want to use. So I kinda made it up as I went along.

RECIPE

  • 4 small-medium peppers (I used red and yellow)
  • 1 tub (or around 250g) ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, chopped or grated (use parmesan if you want. I didn’t…see above about barf)
  • 1/2 cup of chopped broccoli
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 small onion or 1/2 of a medium onion
  • 30g or so of anchovies, chopped finely (if you don’t use this, add a fair amount of something salty…like salt)
  • 1 tsp of dried basil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp olive oil, or the oil from the anchovies tin, and some extra for drizzling
  • ground black pepper

What I did with the ingredients:

  1. First, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees C (I have a fan oven, but if you don’t, bump up the temperature to 220).
  2. Lightly fry up the onion, garlic, broccoli, tomatoes, and anchovies until the onions are translucent.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together your ricotta, cheddar cheese, basil, oil, and vinegar. Add some pepper if you want. Then add the pan-fried veggies and mix thoroughly.
  4. Wash your peppers and then, off with their heads! Keep the tops, though, they make pretty hats and keep the filling in. Deseed and devein your peppers, then drizzle some olive oil over them. Pop them in a baking dish. I used a loaf pan with aluminium foil inside to hold them all up.
  5. Fill your peppers, and fill them good. Make sure you schmoosh it into the nooks and crannies at the bottom and heap it up a bit at the top. Lightly place the tops back on.
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Check on them. If you think they’re soft enough, then awesome. If not, give them another 5 minutes. Mine was in for 20 minutes and then rested in the oven soaking in the residual heat after I turned it off. They were soft, but with a bit of give still, and the tops were charred everso slightly.

These turned out DELICIOUS (own trumpet being blown). The insides were super creamy, but the anchovies made it really tangy as well, but not fishy tasting.  I’m also glad I used the broccoli–it added a nice splash of green, and because they had been charred a bit in the frying pan, had a really nice flavour that worked surprisingly well with the anchovies.

I served these with spaghetti and a vegetarian Bolognese sauce with mushrooms.

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Buttercream Frosting

While watching the FoodNetwork I was innundated with the fact that it was ‘National Cupcake Week’. Well, hell. I needed to make me some cupcakes then, didn’t I? It might be treason not to.
So, I went about looking for something new. I’m fairly simple in my cupcake taste–I likes me a chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream. Its pretty much the fav. But a local cupcake shop does a great chocolate mint cupcake, and I was really dying to try and replicate them. So–the hunt for a recipe began, and Google did not disappoint.
I used this awesome recipe for the cake–its from lulu at home.com.

As for the mint buttercream–I found this simple recipe from Chockylit’s blog. However, I did omit the milk. I don’t know exactly what I do wrong, but most times when I make buttercream frosting, it comes out runny. So yeah, I omitted the milk. I think its because I usually use olive oil margarine instead of butter or baking margarines. I’m not sure. All I know is that it still tastes goooood. I also added a tiny amount of green food colouring and some chocolate sprinkles to give it that ‘mint chocolate chip’ effect.

The cake part turned out SO nice. The fluffiest and moistest cake I have ever made, honest. It might have to do with the buttermilk and the oil in the mixture. I’m no baking-scientist–but damn, it worked and did the job like a BOSS. The frosting, is always delicious, I just wish I could do it justice more often!

Review: The Town (Yes, I’ve only just seen it…)

Ok. The Town. Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel ‘Prince of Thieves‘. Co-scripted, directed by, and starring Mr Ben Affleck. The novel and the film is based in Charlestown, a neighbourhood of one of my favourite cities: Boston, Massachusetts.

I want to start here with a word about Ben Affleck. I was there, man. I was there when Good Will Hunting hit. And it was good. And Ben Affleck was good. He was funny, tough, and with enough good looks to be a movie star but to also seem accessible to average, middle of the road ladies like myself. And, ok, Armageddon was a bit naff, and he couldn’t sincerely cry for crap, but still–when DON’T you want to watch a movie about space with Bruce Willis in it? Then, somehow, somewhere, someway…he got lost. Ben Affleck got lost. Some say it began with Forces of Nature. Others, the majority perhaps, say Pearl Harbor. Either way–BOOM. His name, especially once combined with La Lopez, became a joke. Despite his talent, his intelligence, his look, and even despite his acting chops–he was down for the count. In fact, he supposedly didn’t even want his name on Gone Baby Gone for fear of the public and movie critics bad-mouthing it just because his name was associated (I read that somewhere, and now can’t remember where. Sorry.). THAT’S how bad it got people.

Look at the cuteness...

Then comes Director Ben. With his director hat on, it seems like Ben Affleck has redeemed himself in film critics’ collective, judgemental eyes. Gone Baby Gone was a critical success, and so has been The Town.

Personally, I am all for a Ben Affleck reboot. I so liked him better than Matt Damon back in the day.

Anyway, back to the movie. The movie concerns 4 friends who like robbing banks. They’ve made a business out of it, and business is good. They kick a bit up to a local mafia-type guy called ‘Fergie’ aka ‘The Florist’ (…because he has a flower shop–genius!), who seems to find the guys jobs to work. This role is played by the late, awesome Peter Postlethwaite. He should have been in the movie more. Not just because he recently died, but because he’s awesome. He even put on an Irish accent. The lead, Doug, is played by Affleck, whose mother is long gone and whose father is behind bars for what one guesses is bank-robbery (cue ‘Bankrobber’ by The Clash. They don’t play it in the film though–I guess its too cliché. And even though Doug’s dad WAS a bank robber–I don’t know if he never hurt nobody). Doug is basically a soft little mollusc with a hard outer shell. A tough guy with a heart of gold, if you will. Doug was taken when his dad was sent up by his best friend James “Jem” Coughlin’s family. You soon learn that Jem is a hardcase. He’s nuts, basically. Through the film he gets more and more violent, and seems to put the rest of the crew in danger.

The opening of the film show’s a bank heist. Its cool, fairly calm (save Jem’s burst of violence on Victor Garber’s face), and awesomely efficient. Where Jem is mental, Doug is collected and even helps calm down bank manager Claire, who starts to freak when trying to open the vault. For whatever reason, the alarm gets triggered and Jem takes Claire hostage. They don’t hurt her, but blindfold and cuff her, and eventually leave here by the shore. You find out that they steal her license, and Jem wants to ‘take care of her’. The others think she’s scared and don’t know anything, so Doug decides to check up on her. He ends up really liking her. To the point where they start to date. Jem soon finds out. He gives Doug a bit of shit for it, but then lays off. However, soon Doug wants to stop going on the rob. Jem won’t let him. And neither will Fergie–who let’s Doug in on a few home truths. Literally. He ends up in this pickle–pull one last job to protect his new lady, and to ‘pay back’ his pal Jem for saving his life years ago (and serving 9 years jail time)–or run away. He goes with the former.

Also, in the midst of all this buddy-related drama, sits the FBI who have been trying to stop all these crazy bank robberies. John Hamm plays a pretty good Fed. He hauls the boys in, but gets nowhere. He then tries to find the weakest link, which he DOES in Jem’s sister, and once love interest to Dougie (and sometimes still bang-buddy), Krista–who is seemingly always doped up.He THEN presents the facts to Claire, who goes ballistic (fair enough) on Doug and tells him to never come near her again.

from the Bowdoin Daily Sun

The last job is Fenway Park, and as Fergie tells them–they’re go

ing to hit up ‘the cathedral of Boston’. It so is by the way. I used to live across the street from there. See the Citgo sign in that picture–yeah, I used to live in the building underneath it.

Ok–I’ve given most of the plot away, but I won’t tell you the ending. But SPOILER ALERT: Claire does sortof forgive him. And Doug goes away. That’s it, that’s all I’m saying.

I liked this movie. I watched it, and was into it. BUT–afterwards…it felt a bit basic. That, when you actually think about it, its like a lot of other heist movies. You WANT to like the robbers…even though they’re the baddies. You know some shit is going to go wrong somewhere. You KNOW the girl is going to find out the truth about the guy’s past. Even the ultimatum given by his best friend is fairly basic plot fodder. It was in Save the Last Dance for Peter Pan’s sake. You get some background to the characters, but not much, save for Doug. Doug and Jem–that’s about it. The other two dudes–I can’t even remember their names. Seriously. I get it though–the tough spot between wanting to live your own life and wanting to be there for family and friends. The realities of trying to get out of a bad situation. Its not cool, granted. But its been done, that’s all I’m saying.
And ok, one last SPOILER: Doug gives Claire a bag full of money…and a tangerine (why? Its a hint. But honestly, I didn’t get it until JUST NOW). And she TAKES it. I’m not sure I like that about her. But whatever.
What I did like was most of the characters. Claire was good, cut somewhat like Skylar in Good Will Hunting, perhaps, but a completely different character in total. And Rebecca Hall is always a delight. Jeremy Renner was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Jem–but sometimes, I think they nominate people who are the craziest. Not that he didn’t deserve it. He did crazy and scary really well. I liked the feel of the film–all the shots of various parts of Boston. I did say I loved Boston, right? But still–it gave you an idea of what was what. Of where these people came from. I liked the pace of the film. I liked the action sequences, especially the opening heist. Although, it was recently done in The Dark Knight–although in a much more psychotic way. In total, it made a good film, but plot wise…I’m not so sure its going up there with The Usual Suspects or…some other great movies involving crime. But hey–watch it.

But HURRAH! Ben Affleck is back! And PLEASE, for all of us, DO NOT MAKE ANOTHER MICHAEL BAY FILM. Thank you.

Snip-snip a no-no? The Foreskin Debate.

From istockphoto

Let me start out by stating that, as a woman, I feel underinformed on the topic of foreskin. I don’t have a penis, and therefore, I have no foreskin of which to discuss, remove, or wish I still had. The fascination lies, for me, in the debate about whether the removal of foreskin on infant males is right or wrong.

In the USA, it seems that it is strongly recommended by doctors that male children are circumcised as soon as possible after birth–for a variety of reasons. Some studies suggest that circumcision is beneficial to male health. Circumcision is not done instantly, or without parental consent (although, I’m sure mistakes have been made), but many parents seem to feel pressured to have the procedure carried out on their sons. The debate concerning circumcision seems to revolve around the question of whether it is right to remove foreskin without that person’s consent. Given that the procedure is usually performed on infants, does that mean only adult males should be circumcised?

At the moment, a proposed ban against circumcision is waiting on the November ballot in San Francisco, California. This ban, if passed, would make it illegal for a male to be circumcised until he is 18 years old. I am unsure whether medical reasons would be a sufficient exemption from this, but religious exemptions will not be made.

Today, at work, we got into a little discussion on this topic. A friend said he was against circumcision, but felt that it was no one’s business what parents did. He also reasoned that there should be no religious exemptions, that if there was a possibility that there should be, then that sort of ban should not exist in the first place. Fair enough.

The problem with passing this law, however, is that many people of the Jewish faith and heritage consider it discrimination. Take for example, Rabbi Abraham Cooper’s article on the subject–which, states that the activists behind this movement are arrogant in their opinions, believing them to be turned into law. The Jewish Journal has come out against the ban, and also against the random comic called ‘Foreskin Man’, which claims to be ‘pro-human rights’. The Journal, and others, claim it’s anti-semitic.

Not to downplay anti-semitism, but this viewpoint aside, is this ban the right thing to do? My personal opinion–its no one’s business but the family’s. Admittedly, foreskin cannot grow back (however, men can have foreskin replacement surgery). But if part of the problem is making a life and body defining choice for you barely concsious child–than cannot the same argument be made against bringing your child up religious? I was raised Roman Catholic, and even though I do not believe myself to be of that particular faith anymore, remnants remain. I think they always will. So, in a way, could you not say that this to is an irreversible act made without your child’s consent? Parents are not going to stop bringing their children up under a chosen faith. So, where does this end?

I agree with my friend. Its no one’s business.

I find circumcision, frankly, weird. But as I stated, I have no foreskin to consider, so its all weird to me anyway. I’ve told my husband that the decision will be up to him for that reason alone. I think that this a bigger issue, as it deals with actual physical alteration–but it does put me in mind of all the other things that ‘activists’ say are best for children. You need to breast-feed. You need to use cloth nappies. You need to let your child wean itself. On and on. To people who are new to the parenting game, or are going to be–the whole sheboigan is confusing and making these decisions is hard. Its not right that someone should be made to feel like a bad parent, or an unmindful parent, because they don’t agree or they don’t feel comfortable with certain processes. But that is another debate altogether…

In the end, a parent has a right to make a decision for their child, end of. Not especially if this, or especially if that. Parents make these choices because they believe they are for the child’s good–whether it be spirtual well-being or physical. A child might grow to resent this, but hey–that’s part of growing up, right?

Please also see this great article from another blogger:

Musings from a hard-lining moderate

Life Without Parole–Too Harsh for Teens?

copyright of Parker Brothers

Last night, my husband and I were watching the evening news. There was a story about the differences between America and Britain’s sentencing of children and young teenagers who commit crimes. Centering mostly on crimes like murder, accessory to murder, and rape–the sentence for non-adults in most states in America is life without parole. In Britain, depending on circumstances, this can be downgraded to life with chance of parole or even less time served. The question asked by the journalist was basically, ‘Do young criminals who are sentenced to life deserve a second chance?’

Admittedly, the judicial system in both countries isn’t perfect. Take Florida for example–where a 16-year old who was an accessory to armed robbery and murder was given life without parole because he was there. He didn’t pull the trigger. He DID choose to be there, however, so some sentence should have been laid on him, undoubtedly, but life? Without parole?

The above was one of the features the news used. One of the other stories focused on the life sentence  of a 14-year old who, with an older friend, car jacked a woman and her two young daughters. They drove, pulled over, raped the mother and shot her in the head. Then they drove some miles up the road, shot the girls and threw them into a nearby river. Miraculously, in a sense, the mother survived. But she has to live everyday with what those kids did, especially the fact that she’ll never see her daughters alive again. In the interview with the culprit, he apologised and said that was all he had to give now. The victim said she believed him, but didn’t think he deserved to live again, when her children couldn’t.

I admit I know little about the federal and state by state judicial system. I do know that within the last year or so, states such as Florida have begun to reconsider their sentencing laws. This means that they might give lighter sentences to crimes which are not murder. Also, that they are considering offering more in-jail counseling for younger inmates.

The United States has currently and fairly recently banned the death penalty for juveniles convicted of crimes like murder. In the  Supreme Court’s decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said teenagers were different, at least for purposes of the ultimate punishment. They are immature and irresponsible. They are more susceptible to negative influences, including peer pressure. And teenagers’ personalities are unformed. “Even a heinous crime committed by a juvenile,” Justice Kennedy concluded, is not “evidence of irretrievably depraved character.”

All in all, I believe reforms and more counselling are  a good thing. I don’t think someone should get life imprisonment because they wanted to hijack a car, steal someone’s purse, and then their friend kills that person. Jail time, certainly, a good amount of it. But life? No. However, for crimes like murder, I’m not sure how I feel about age being a factor. If you’re 14–you know that murder is wrong, especially when you take a gun out with you. Accidental murder, manslaughter, might be treated differently. It’s still murder, though. Someone made a choice to, say, beat the crap out of someone else…and then just keep going, not caring if the other never woke up.  If you rape someone, shoot them, and then shoot more people–that’s multiple homicide and there should be no going back from that. For some crimes, jail time can possibly serve double-duty–as a punishment and a chance for rehabilitation. Should murderers be given that opportunity–even if they’re young? Sure teenagers are more irresponsible, more prone to making rash decisions, more susceptible to peer pressure even, but that doesn’t make them totally stupid. It doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to be rational, non-violent, or responsible. I think saying that teens are immature and irresponsible is a cop-out. The decisions we make then help decide who we are later. We all might have changed somewhat since we were younger, but are we completely different, morals and all? Most of the case studies, and even the news story mentioned above, were quick to illustrate that some of these teens had horrible times growing up. Is that experience easier to handle when you’re older? Maybe. Maybe it changes you forever, no matter what you do. How is, say, 20 years of learning and growing all that different when your 16 from when your 26?

The journalist asked the two men if they thought they deserved another shot–they both replied affirmatively, although with enough grace to understand that what they did was inexcusable. Deserve is not the right word. Would these men be able to live a life on the outside–without committing these same types of crime? I believe they would. That’s not the same as deserving it. I find that I agree with the victim who lost her daughters–her children won’t get to have another shot, why should their murderer?

What do you think? Should juveniles who commit crimes like murder be given lighter sentences because they’re younger?

A Romantic Birthday Dinner

A few weeks ago, it was my husband’s birthday. He preferred a nice night in, with a romantic meal, than going out to eat as we were going to do for Valentine’s Day. So, I decided to come up with a special menu for his special dinner, full of things that he liked and that I enjoyed too (no liver and bacon here, people).  And we liked it so much that he said I could post it all online for you.

First Course/Appetizer: Seared Scallops and Bury Black Pudding with Watercress and a Mustard Cream Dressing
The idea came from a night out where we had some DELICIOUS black pudding. Black pudding, for those who haven’t been introduced is basically a blood sausage, but without any actual meat in it. Sounds nasty, tastes wonderful.

Recipe (idea taken from BBC Food):

  • 2 thick slices of large black pudding
  • 6 large scallops
  • small amount of olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • 1 bag of watercress, washed
  • 1 tsp of whole grain mustard
  • a good glug of cream
  • any herbs and spices you like
  1. Start by searing your black pudding in a hot pan. You won’t need any oil in the pan, as the pudding is fatty enough. Make sure it’s browned and crispy on both sides before removing from pan.  Keep the pan on the heat.
  2. Wash your scallops. Put them back in the paper or plastic tub they came in, and drizzle over a little olive oil. Sprinkle on any seasoning now–I chose some hot paprika, salt and pepper. Toss the scallops around, covering them in the oil and herbs and spices.
  3.  Place your scallops in the pan and don’t move them for at least 1 minute. Turn them over, again, leave them alone otherwise the tender scallop flesh could pull apart. When they’re cooked they should be slightly firm, and a little more opaque than they were before, but still soft if you press down lightly with a spatula or spoon.
  4. Get 2 plates, and  arrange a handful of washed watercress on each. Place your black pudding down first, then place one scallop on top, and one on each side.
  5. Whilst the pan is still hot add in the whole grain mustard–to be honest, any mustard would do. A friend of mine made some champagne mustard once upon a time, which would taste phenomenal in this, so choose what you like. Then, once the mustard as combined with the pan juices, add a glug of cream–use your discretion. Mix it all up.
  6. Spoon a little of the mustard cream dressing over the scallops, black pudding, and watercress. Save what’s left over in case you’d like some extra sauce.
  7. Serve!
  8.  

Second Course/Entrée:  Duck Breasts with Port and Sour Cherry Sauce
This was taken from a Delia Smith recipe I found online. Its simple, clever, and hella tasty. However, her recipe calls for wine, while I used port–but I think both have their merits and its good to use what’s on hand.  Also, I couldn’t find morello cherry preserves and instead bought black cherry preserves. I added some tartness to the sauce by added a tiny amount of red wine vinegar, around half a tsp.

Recipe:

  • 2 duck breasts (200g each)–the ones I bought from the local butchers were a lot smaller, so I also used duck legs, which my husband kindly de-boned for me.
  • salt and pepper

The sauce:

  • 25g dried sour cherries
  • 66ml red wine or port
  • 83g morello cherry preserve
  1. For the sauce: soak the cherries in the wine for approximately 15 minutes. Combine with the conserve and put into a saucepan. Simmer gently without a lid for 20 minutes, or until it reduces down slightly.
  2. Prick the skin of the duck slightly, with a fork, then with a sharp knife score the skin to form a diamond pattern. Season with the salt and pepper.
  3. Place them in a pan, skin side down (you won’t need oil–duck skin is very fatty), and cook very gently for 20 minutes until the skin is slightly brown and crispy. You want most of the fat to cook off. You can remove this later and use for roasting the best potatoes you’ll ever eat.  As the fat can get very hot, keep the pan on a low-moderate heat, otherwise the skin may colour too quickly and the duck won’t be as cooked. It’s all right for the duck to be slightly pink in the middle. Treat it like steak, not like chicken.
  4. Rest the duck for about 5 minutes, and then cut into thick slices. Serve on a bed of watercress and either drizzle your sauce over the meat, or put it on one side. I also sprinkled some pomegranate seeds over top– easy tip to getting the seeds out (courtesy of Jamie Oliver): cut the pomegranate along its equator, hold a half seed side down in your hand, then bang the crap out of the top with a wooden spoon or something. The seeds just fall out, but you might have to pick out a few bits of pith.
  5. I served this with boiled new potatoes that I tossed in butter and chopped chives and parsley, and some steamed sugar snap peas.
  6.  

Third Course/ Dessert: Pistachio and Rosewater Semolina Cake
Ah, the birthday cake. Oh, did I have plans for this cake. My husband LOVES desserts like baklava, Turkish delight, and lemon cake. I looked and looked until I found a cake that seemingly encompassed all three.

Recipe (from Waitrose.com): Please see the recipe via the link–I used it exactly. Well, there was supposed to be a rosewater cream, but we decided against that. Also, I went against the recommendation to use a basic springform cake pan, and used the pan’s bundt option instead. BIG MISTAKE. Basically, the cake will be upside down, and once that syrup sets in there is no way you’re gonna get that thing unglued. Lesson learned. I was disappointed, but we laughed and I just cut out pieces, sprinkled on some leftover pistachios and added a candle to hubby’s piece. It tastes great–and that’s the important thing!

What I Would Tell My Sixteen-Year-Old Self…

I recently read a post by one of my favourite bloggers, Lori Dyan, concerning the same sentiment. I thought I’d give it a shot. Lori starts out by saying she’s not really into regrets, but if there is a bit of wisdom she could have had at that age, this is what she would have told herself. So, this is what I would have told myself (not that I would have believed it…):

  1. Stop being so serious. Subpoint: stop the drama. It will subdue with age, but become a lifelong habit that is hard to break.
  2. Sometimes girls don’t like you hanging out with their boyfriends, even if your just friends. See also point 3…
  3. Don’t get crushes on other girl’s boyfriends–even when you KNOW he will never want you…because he already had a girlfriend, duh…and, well, he might just be gay. The jury is still out. This will be sortof repeated again, but in a more honest way. It still won’t end well. You will listen to Foreigner’s ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ alot if you don’t avoid this. And also, more importantly, lose some friends. Some won’t matter–others will.
  4. You know how you’re a bit intimidated by people in drama? Don’t be. They’re good people. Because you sit around all quiet all the time (not seriously shedding your skin until your senior year), they think you’re reserved, or worse, stuck up. They’ll come around once you open up, but open up little clam.
  5. Speaking of opening up–meet as many new people as possible. Sure, you already are, but there are some great friends out there waiting!
  6. On the other hand, sometimes people aren’t your friends, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some people are users. Some people just don’t like you. Deal with it. PS: I’m still struggling with this one.
  7. Stop worrying that you’re taller and bigger than most other girls. You’re cute, have a nice rack, and an ass that won’t quit. Go make out with some guys! They won’t say no, especially at that age. PS: Ditto on this one, although I did score myself a sweetass husband. Bonus.
  8. Stop being so afraid. You CAN sing, you CAN act, er…but no, you CANNOT dance…
  9. That said, be afraid of running for class Treasurer. You will lose. And to be honest–do you really want the job? Didn’t think so. Congrats again, Heather.
  10. You’re gonna fight with your mom. ALOT. Some things are unavoidable. Some things are hormonal. But for the love of Smucker’s jam, just cool off once in awhile and stop the argument before it starts. One of you’s gonna have to be the adult and its not always going to be your mom.
  11. You like to share your feelings. You always will. But there’s going to be someone who acts like they have your ‘best interest’ at heart, but will crush you by telling certain, specific people numerous lies and fabrications resulting in you losing a close friend, and making enemies of people who didn’t know you from Eve. So–don’t talk to guys who have crushes on you about other guys. It never ends well.
  12. Lastly, you’re going to look back on sixteen as an age of adventure and new beginnings. You just started high school. You just met a ton of new people. You’re involved in new activities, that you’re pretty good at. When you get older, you may not remember your high school years as the best of your life, but fairly close. So, relax. Have fun. Don’t worry so much about what other people think. You’re a good person.

Ok–so some of the things mentioned above seem like bad times. And maybe I wouldn’t have really wanted a warning. Every experience I’ve had has made me who I am, and has guided me to where I am. To the people in my life as well. Sure, there are things I might want to do a little differently, in order to save relationships, or not enter into weird situations, but where to draw the line. Because, if you look at anything close enough, even if its beautiful, you’ll see its cracks. Its imperfections. But I guess that’s life–imperfect, but beautiful.

Smoke Fairies and Sea of Bees

This very past weekend, I went to an awesome concert. Awesome because it not only featured 2 bands that were good, but also because it was in a library. That’s right. Music–amps and everything–in the LIBRARY.

 

Lancaster Library, from the Get It Loud In Libraries gallery site

First, lemme s’plain about the library. This concert was part of a nationwide programme called ‘Get it Loud in Libraries’. If you’re in the UK, you might have heard of it, and if you haven’t–check your local and see if they have anything on. Tickets are usually under a tenner, and SO worth it. Bands that have played have either already been popular or gone on to BE popular–bands like Florence+The Machine, Bat for Lashes, Everything Everything, and Juliette Lewis and The Licks. Its a great way to see great bands in a small venue.

 

Smoke Fairies Tour List–from their Facebook page

 

Featured at this particular concert was the great band Smoke Fairies (check out their website), who were supported by Sea of Bees (check out their website). Interesting, because though their music was fairly similar, the bands are from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean; the Fairies hailing from Chichester, England, and the Sea of Bees coming all the way over from California.

Admittedly, I’m horrible at describing music, or placing it in one genre or another. The best I can come up with on my own is that Smoke Fairies are folky-harmonic-rock with the occasional slide guitar, which loans it an American bluesy twang at times. Obviously, that observation isn’t too informative–so let me pass along some reviews given by more talented people. Here is the NME review of the Smoke Fairies album ‘Through Low Light and Trees’, by Rob Webb:

Here, the pair are more spirit than flesh; they haunt mid-Western prairies at night, appearing from the ether to strum guitars at bewildered passers-by, who stand transfixed as their otherworldly harmonies emanate from high above. Back in reality, ‘Through Low Light And Trees’ reminds us of Midnight Movies (anyone?), or perhaps an acoustic School Of Seven Bells – with healthy lashings of classic folk, -style, and a twist of the blues. At times, it’s too lovely and woozy for its own good – but when the mood sours, as on standouts ‘Devil In My Mind’ and ‘Erie Lackawanna’, it’s really rather intoxicating stuff.

Rob Webb

 

Ok, so maybe my description wasn’t too far off.

Listening to the album reviewed above is great, but seeing them live gives the music such energy and a POW factor that can’t be beat. I’m sure that’s true with most bands. Smoke Fairies seemed really into their music, and also really down to earth at the same time. Some of their songs seemed haunting, other’s rocked, and besides all that there was a peacefulness in the harmonies the 2 front women provided. The also peppered their set with easy banter and colourful anecdotes.

 

Cover of 'The Woods' single, from AltSounds

Sea of Bees–I’d never heard of them before.  I say them, because the other night there were 2 ladies on stage. However, the main lady of Sea of Bees is Julie B, or Julie Baezinger. Sea of Bees’ music has been described by Chris Martins of Spin Magazine as having:

… an impeccable knack for infusing despair with charm. Her pain is the loveless kind, and she conveys it in a voice equal parts twang and coo, backed by lush country-folk and gossamer bedroom haze. “Skinnybone” sounds like it takes place inside of a music box; “Marmalade” in dense woods on a moonless night. A quick dip into glitch seems like a novice move, but all that slide guitar and glockenspiel give Sea of Bees a seasoned sorrow.

Julie’s voice was the kind that first rocks you as peaceful, than passionate, then powerful. She sings with a kind of smoothness and grace that many singers can only aspire too. Its natural, beautiful talent. The only drawback from the singing, was Julie B’s insistence on talking and explaining all of her songs. While this can be interesting from time to time, her explanations were rather long-winded and not so easy to understand. My husband thought she was Dutch by the way she was speaking…even though she had an obvious North American accent.

All in all–a great evening…in a LIBRARY, listening to 2 new bands that I look forward to hearing in the future!

Check them out for yourself! These are some of my favourites from the night!

Smoke Fairies- ‘Living With Ghosts’

Sea of Bees- ‘The Woods’