Thursday, 27 July 2017

Three Minute Thursday #3 - Crunch Time

Here are some ideas, which are quick and easy, for using up any celery which may be lurking in the fridge. Celery is an ancient veg - trivial fact - Howard Carter found that King Tutankhamen's tomb had been decorated with garlands of wild celery.  

Salads; Everybody knows Waldorf Salad contains celery [plus apple, walnuts, mayo and grapes or raisins] but a stick of celery diced and thrown into any salad gives a bit of extra crunch. 
Braised - when you roast a chicken, cut a few celery sticks in half and lay them round the bird in the roasting pan. They will make a lovely hot vegetable.

Crudités - [or Cruddites to rhyme with Luddites, if you must] One carrot, one stick of celery quickly washed and sliced, served with a small pot of soft cheese [or hummus or salsa]. A much healthier snack than a stack of crackers or Pringles...

Remember to save your celery leaves from the top as a pretty, instant garnish for soup

Canapés - pipe or spread soft cheese into the trough along a stick of celery then cut with a sharp knife. Use herbed cheese, or sprinkle plain with a little paprika/pimenton for an attractive contrast

Make a quick relish - this one goes well with roast or bbq chicken - Chop celery and cucumber into dice, add spring onions, seasonings and olive oil. A handful of cranberries, if you have them will add a hint of tartness and a pop of colour.

And never forget the celery curls - cut a stick into 5cm lengths, and make narrow cuts just halfway down. That will take just a few minutes. Leave these in a bowl of iced water in the fridge - come back later to twirly little garnishes.

More Celery Trivia - both Madame de Pompadour and Casanova believed celery to be an aphrodisiac. Mediaeval magicians thought if they put celery seeds in their shoes it would help them to fly.

And I am sorry, but it is a myth that 'celery helps you slim, because it takes more calories to chew a stick than are contained in that stick'. But is is full of water and fibre, which makes it a healthy snack.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Coming Home

We went to Dunkirk yesterday- not the place, the film. I found it excellent. It is set in three 'chapters' - land, air, and sea.
The first is the beach area at Dunkirk itself, and particularly the Mole, a pier built out into the ocean so that troops could board ships which were unable to come right up to the shallower waters. British troops [and some French and other nationalities] retreating from the Germans had ended up stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, awaiting rescue by the British navy. But lined up on the beach - in orderly British queues [a historically correct fact] or waiting patiently along the Mole to board the next vessel, these 400,000 men were at the mercy of the Luftwaffe. 
Kenneth Branagh plays Commander Bolton, who masterminded the evacuation and proves yet again what a fine actor he is. He has said that Christopher Nolan, the director didn't let anyone get 'soft' - once you put on the uniform, that was it -no sitting down, no cups of tea. Fight on till it was done, and the filming was completed.
Then the air - this section shows the bravery of the British Spitfire pilots who went out to try and shoot down the German planes which were attacking the minesweepers at sea, and the men on the beaches.
Listen out for the distinctive voice of Michael Caine - never seen but he is heard, as a radio operator in conversation with a pilot. The shots of the planes, against the blue sea and sky were utterly stunning.

And finally the sea - Mark Rylance, an ordinary middle aged man from Dorset*, with a little boat, answers the call. He sets sail with his son, and a young family friend, to travel to France and rescue some stranded soldiers. *People tend to recall that the flotilla left from the Kent coast - this was a nod to those other amateur sailors from the other places who bravely set out across the Channel [you can see another of Dorset's Dunkirk Boats at Poole Lifeboat Station]
I'd happily watch MR in anything - he is such a gifted guy. I am not giving any plot spoilers- other than to say there were some very clever and poignant twists to the story.
Oh, and Harry from One Direction is in it too. Yes, he is a competent actor, and yes I agree with Nolan's view that it was important to use young, inexperienced boys - because so many of those lads waiting on the beaches in June 1940 were young and terrified.
I hate war and violence. It is clear from the ads and trailers shown before the film, that they expect the audience to be mostly blokes. But this film does not set out to glorify war - it shows bravery, and willingness to make self sacrifice. It also shows the instinct for self-preservation, and how sometimes that may affect the choices people make, or the way they treat others. It demonstrates how the combined determination of a few, relatively insignificant, individuals can overcome the great, evil war machine. 
The background music is excellent - the clever use of the heartbeat device was particularly good at moments of suspense. 
But when the flotilla of little ships arrived, and the music segued into Elgar's Nimrod, I lost it completely, and was sitting there in the cinema weeping.
This film celebrates those brave soldiers who managed to come home, and honours the memory of those who didn't - and acknowledges the courage of those who risked everything to bring them back.

You can read Churchill's speech after Dunkirk here - but you probably know these lines already [yes, they do occur at the end of the film]
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

I know there were a few changes for dramatic purposes - but it's pretty accurate as far as I can tell. It had scary moments, poignant moments, and uplifting, joyful moments. I found it inspiring, challenging, and thought provoking.  
Personally, I would rate this film 5*

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sweet Treat

Last Thursday, my neighbour Jim called round to say his apples were ripe for picking, a little earlier this year than last. I picked some, and have promised to make him some pies for his freezer, but I used three small ones to make Rachel Allen's Apple Cake. 
I have done this recipe before, it is very easy and makes a lovely moist sponge with a sugary golden top.
  • 2 eggs
  • 175 g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 85 g butter
  • 75 ml milk
  • 125 g plain flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • cream, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/gas 6. Line the sides and base of a 20 x 20cm square cake tin with parchment paper.
2. Using an electric whisk, whisk the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla extract in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and mousse-like and the whisk leaves a figure of eight pattern (this will take about 5 minutes).
3. Melt the butter in a saucepan with the milk, then pour onto the eggs, whisking all the time. Sift in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and fold carefully into the batter so that there are no lumps of flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface.
4. Arrange the apple slices over the batter. (They will sink to the bottom.) Sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar and bake in the oven for ten minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180ºC/gas 4 and bake for a further 20-25 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.
5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes in the tin. Cut into squares and serve warm with cream
It does not last long in our house! Served with cream, with yogurt, and by itself

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ear, Ear!

I know this is a trivial thing, but... I have had sticky-out ears for all my life to rival those of Dumbo and Prince Charles [except I hide mine under my haircut] I thought I'd got used to them.
However, since I acquired a new mobile phone [OK, inherited my daughter's cast off smartphone] I am finding that mid call, my dumbo-ear somehow touches the screen and cuts me off, or redials someone else, or causes other problems. It happens whether or not I am wearing ear-rings, with both left and right ears. [no jokes about final frontears, please]

It's OK if I hold my mobile in front of me and use speakerphone, but sometimes that is not appropriate when it is a private call. Does anyone else suffer from this interfearence ? Any suggestions?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Did You Say 118?

Perhaps 118 reminds you of the adverts for that company - 118118  - with the two crazy moustachioed runners. Firstly they were advertising a directory enquiries service

And then as their company had a dramatic reduction in profits, because their call charges were so high, they re-invented themselves as a loans provider.
But the number 118 reminds me of that Psalm in the middle of the Bible. It has some great, and familiar verses in it - The Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes...Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever...This is the day that the Lord has made, we shall rejoice and be glad in it...The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid.
118 118 have made two claims - the first was that they could help connect you with the people who will help you, and the second is that "you are not alone, we are a loan". In both cases, you will end up paying rather a lot of money for their assistance.

But look again at Psalm 118 - if you take all the verses in the Bible, the exact middle verse is right there - Psalm 118:8 says
"It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man"
At the very heart of our faith is the truth us that Jesus came to help us reconnect with God - and that we are never alone, because nothing can separate us from God's love.
If I have to choose one or the other, I will go for 118:8 rather than 118 118 - much more reliable, imho!
btw, it was suggested that the two runners modelled themselves on David Bedford, the British athlete who was so successful in the 1970s. When DB complained about his image being misappropriated, the American parent company said "We have never heard of him, we are basing our runners on Steve Prefontaine, the US athlete who died in 1975" Look at the picture and judge for yourself. I think the Psalmist had a point about where to put your trust.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Cracking Jokes

Sorry, no time for a proper blog post today. It has been a very busy week and unexpected urgent things crowded in and required time [and money] This morning we are off, bright and early to a gathering of the Almond Clan for some Significant Birthday celebrations.
Please note, technically the almond is not a nut but a drupe, and it is related to the peach. 
In the last 37 years since I changed my surname, I've been given a number of plaques similar to the one below. The first time it was mildly funny. Is it awful of me to confess passing on subsequent ones to the nearest CS?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Miss Austen, Take Note!

So we have been given details of the new ten pound note featuring Jane Austen.
The £10 note has security features that the Bank says make it very difficult to counterfeit. It is expected to last at least two-and-a-half times longer than paper £10 notes – about five years in total.

The new tactile feature is a series of raised dots in the top left-hand corner, developed in conjunction with the RNIB, the charity that supports people with sight loss. This is in addition to the elements already incorporated in UK banknotes for visually impaired people: the tiered sizing, bold numerals, raised print and differing colour palettes.
That is all very good - and the fact that a woman is featured is also brilliant. 
...lots of people are unhappy about the quotation printed on the note - I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading...In Pride and Prejudice, it was spoken by Miss Caroline Bingley as she flirted with Mr Darcy. She was a deceitful character with no interest in books. This brief clip explains...

I apologise that the voiceover is an American who clearly thinks he is the world expert on JA, and probably thinks she was an American too. This is a difficult one - quotations are often taken right out of context, because they make a good soundbite. This one is already on plaques and teatowels and notebook covers. 
Perhaps Mark Carney received one for Christmas and liked the quote without having read P&P himself [MC is Canadian after all, and probably had to read Anne of Green Gables, Margaret Attwood and Michael Ondaatje at school]
Another Austen Gaffe was by the Tory MP Andrea Leadsom, who declared JA to be one of our greatest living authors.
Can I state at this point that I think JA is okay, but I haven't really enjoyed her books as much as the rest of the world seems to. Sorry. That's just me - you will have to forgive me for my lack of literary taste here.
However, I am not in the same group as the guy on Pointless a couple of months back, who thought Jane Austen included Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox as one of her characters in P&P.
Ah well, as JA said [in Mansfield Park, I think]
Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery
I shall endeavour to keep writing a cheerful blog. Dear reader, if you are a committed Janeite, and have any new tenners and are desperately unhappy with the quote, feel free to pop them in the post to me, and I will ensure they are spent with all due sense and sensibility.