Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Category

World Takeover fast approaching

The world takeover is two days away (possibly three) and I have little brain space for other things.  There are a few things that I could hash together to see if it makes a full post. Here goes.

1. Sitting at the computer is giving me a bit of a bad back. It’s making me feel old. I’m wondering how soon this would have happened if I’d gone down the office-job route.

2. My NaNoWriMo is behind by about three days. It doesn’t sound much but it translates to about 5000 words. Which I need to do today. So then it does sound like a lot.

3. I’m having trouble working out how to get photos I’ve taken on my phone to all come out the same size on the website. Some come out big and some come out teeny tiny and some are just right. How/why does this happen? Why don’t they all look the same size?

4. Last night, during Masterchef, the contestants had to make something with a random selection of ingredients. Last time I asked Danda what he would have made, this was his answer. This time, they had a mango, some ricotta, a coconut, brown crab, an aubergine and some other stuff I’ve forgotten. I think I’d make something desserty, I said to Danda, what would you make? Danda’s answer – I’d eat the mango and throw the coconut at Monica’s head. Ever the professional chef.

5. I want a cup of tea.

And now, here’s a photo. To try and rescue this non-post. It’s a tiny snail.
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And so it begins again

Yesterday, I sat down at my computer and wrote a sentence. It was not terribly meaningful or inspiring but it popped into my head so I wrote it. And that was the beginning of this month of madness that is beginning yet again. It’s NaNoWriMo time! Last year, if any of you were with me, you’ll remember that I had an entire conversation with Danda about my NaNoWriMo, in which he nodded and made all the correct understanding noises then asked me a few minutes later, “Who’s Nanny Rhino?” Thus, it became Nanny Rhino instead of NaNoWriMo. I decided to repost my summing up of last year’s effort today, to help me get in the mood.

“My Nanny Rhino journey began on November 1st, obviously. I sat down, wrote ‘The Food And I’ on the page (like that film, The King And I) and I started writing. The first thing I wrote about was microwave chips. Who knows why? It just came into my head so I wrote it. Then I wrote about squid. Then I had reached 1667 words and gone a little further than that. So I stopped. The next day I wrote about truffles. I hit my 1667 word count again. It was easy. I read posts on blogs about how by the end of this month of NaNoWriMo, friendships and marriages would have been tested to their max, mental states become frayed and mealtimes passed by in a haze. I didn’t know what they were talking about. The words flowed freely and I wondered if I’d stop at 50,000 or just keep going. I loved it.

And so it went, happily, uninterrupted, until November 10th.Then the invites to dinner came, the extra workload, the work I was meant to be doing from home, which I had cast aside for NaNoWriMo but which now really needed doing. I started carrying a pad with me to try and snatch bits of time to scribble something I could type up later.

For a whole week, NaNoWriMo didn’t get very much attention. I managed a few thousand but, by the time I got a few hours to sit at the computer, I was five days behind. There was nothing else for it. I sat down and wrote ten thousand words in a day and caught up.

The next day I was back to writing 1667 words and feeling good. Then the next few days, I was busy and when I next got to the computer, I started writing and the biggest load of nonsense found it’s way on to the page. Who wrote that drivel about nutmeg and limes? Shockingly enough, I did. I pretended all was fine and moved on hurriedly, excelling myself with my section about cheese.

I fell behind a few days from the end and squeezed four and a half thousand on to November 30th, the last day of NaNoWriMo. I finished on 50393 words. There is some nonsense, some slightly better stuff and some recipes.

All in all, I’m extremely pleased I undertook the challenge. I feel great having done it, although I haven’t yet got out of the habit of drifting to the computer as soon as I get in the house…”

My Nanny Rhino journey

My Nanny Rhino journey began on November 1st, obviously. I sat down, wrote ‘The Food And I’ on the page (like that film, The King And I) and I started writing. The first thing I wrote about was microwave chips. Who knows why? It just came into my head so I wrote it. Then I wrote about squid. Then I had reached 1667 words and gone a little further than that. So I stopped. The next day I wrote about truffles. I hit my 1667 word count again. It was easy. I read posts on blogs about how by the end of this month of NaNoWriMo, friendships and marriages would have been tested to their max, mental states become frayed and mealtimes passed by in a haze. I didn’t know what they were talking about. The words flowed freely and I wondered if I’d stop at 50,000 or just keep going. I loved it. And so it went, happily, uninterrupted, until November 10th.

Then the invites to dinner came, the extra workload, the work I was meant to be doing from home, which I had cast aside for NaNoWriMo but which now really needed doing. I started carrying a pad with me to try and snatch bits of time to scribble something I could type up later. For a whole week, NaNoWriMo didn’t get very much attention. I managed a few thousand but, by the time I got a few hours to sit at the computer, I was five days behind. There was nothing else for it. I sat down and wrote ten thousand words in a day and caught up.

The next day I was back to writing 1667 words and feeling good. Then the next few days, I was busy and when I next got to the computer, I started writing and the biggest load of nonsense found it’s way on to the page. Who wrote that drivel about nutmeg and limes? Shockingly enough, I did. I pretended all was fine and moved on hurriedly, excelling myself with my section about cheese.

I fell behind a few days from the end and squeezed four and a half thousand on to November 30th, the last day of NaNoWriMo. I finished on 50393 words. There is some nonsense, some slightly better stuff and some recipes.

All in all, I’m extremely pleased I undertook the challenge. I feel great having done it, although I haven’t yet got out of the habit of drifting to the computer as soon as I get in the house…

To my dearly departed Kindle

Last night, my Kindle – and my heart – broke. I am sad. Almost too sad to write. But not quite.

I put it in my bag yesterday morning and took it with me on the train to Cambridge to visit a special birthday girl. I opened the cover and looked at it. It had the battery empty symbol on it. I was annoyed. I had been looking forward to getting stuck into A Tale Of Two Cities. O well.

I had to wait until I got back home today to plug it in. This I did, at about 7pm. When I looked at it about half an hour later, there were lots of lines and white patches all over the screen….

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My heart sank. This happened to my first Kindle. The one I have now is a replacement after the exact same thing happened. I called Amazon up and they can sort me another one but I have to speak to someone in the office when it opens on Monday about seeing if they can do it on my warranty.

Readers, I’m sad now. All the joyous celebrating after completing my first ever Nanny Rhino successfully within the deadline seems to have been forgotten. I am just very sad.

I miss my Kindle already….. (Yes, I have the Kindle app on my phone, but that’s not the point, alright?!)

On chocolate

More Nanny Rhino today…

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I’m not one of those girls who’s mad on chocolate. I like it, don’t get me wrong. But whenever I think of chocolate lovers, I think of a girl I went to secondary school with, Gwen, who would go around the common room in sixth form, asking if anyone had chocolate with them and could she buy it from them. She’d be brandishing a fifty pence piece to back up her request and asking around desperately. At the time, I was a bit young to wonder why she had such a thing for chocolate. I just thought it was a little strange.

 

Alternately, a girl I went to junior school with, Louise, was allergic to chocolate! Allergic! It’d be a pretty sad existence if you couldn’t give in to the odd chocolate moment.

 

When my brother and I were younger, I distinctly remember being a massive fan of Yorkie bars. It was always my favourite. If we got given 50p by a generous relative, we would scuttle off to the sweet shop around the corner and giggle excitedly, while we looked at all the sherbet sticks and flying saucer sweets and fried egg sweets and Mr Freezy flavoured ice sticks. A lot of the time, though, I’d get a Yorkie. Now I think about it, I fear I may have been wasting a fantastic opportunity for potential sweetie-induced happiness. I just wanted a big bar of solid chocolate. Then Yorkie brought out these adverts on TV which said, “Yorkie! Not for girls!” So I had a little-girl-tiff and stopped buying them. I switched my allegiance to Dime bars, which were about half the price anyway, and shook my proverbial fist at the the Yorkie makers, knowing they’d notice my missing custom and regret their silly no-girls advert.

 

Speaking of chocolate, actually, there are lots of new weird and wacky things happening with chocolate, which take inspiration from it’s original use as a savoury drink, mixed with chilli, when first discovered and drunk in South America. So chilli chocolate bars abound the shelves of high end delicatessens or your local Whole Foods. I like the idea of liking chilli and chocolate together. I have tried, and failed, to get myself to like it. I just cannot stand the prickly heat in the back of my throat after I have swallowed a lovely mouthful of sweet melty chocolate. My senses scream at me to stop. It is just wrong, I’m sorry for those of you who love this combination.

 

Another thing which doesn’t work for me is chocolate pasta. I had originally thought that it would be great with something savoury. A friend told me he had it with a veal dish. Great, I thought, let me be gourmet and get into this chocolate pasta scene! Then someone told me that I had it all wrong. Chocolate pasta was a dessert and I must warm some cream up, add walnuts, cook my pasta and then add it to my warm cream and walnuts, mix around and then serve up, as my dessert. Ok, I thought, that sounds interesting, I can do that.

 

And I did it.

 

And it tasted like…. pasta with cream and walnuts. Normal regular pasta with cream and walnuts. In all honesty, cream and walnuts are not my usual accompaniment to pasta so I put it aside, disappointed. All that anticipation, all that planning… and it just tasted like regular pasta. Maybe I got it from the wrong company. Maybe I should have looked around for a really great quality one or asked for recommendations. Anyway, that’s the end of the road for my chocolate pasta journey, I think.

 

Now, another chocolate thing that I have reached the end of the road with is chocolate mousse. Not eating it! No, I am of course still eating it. Making it myself at home though, no more! In the early days of cooking in my kitchen, I didn’t have an electric whisk so I whisked my egg whites by hand. I would get severe arm ache and give up before it had quite finished being whisked. I’d just keep on with the recipe, in blind hope that it would be fine. It wasn’t. It would come out to dense and hard, instead of soft and fluffy. I tried it a second time, having convinced myself that the eggs must have been rubbish or something. The same thing happened. So I stopped making chocolate mousse. Maybe that’s silly, because now I have an electric whisk so I could try it again. I think I have a mental block with chocolate mousse now though.

 

I did go through a stage of drinking unsweetened hot chocolate not too long ago. It was an unexpected pleasure which grew on me. I used Bournville cocoa powder, steamed milk and vanilla or almond extract. I occasionally used orange oil but it tended to overwhelm the whole thing. Peppermint did the same and almost tasted toothpaste-ish. So I stuck to vanilla or almond. Because it’s bitter, it takes a few times to get used to it but I started really looking forward to my evening vanilla hot chocolate after a while.

 

Another of my favourite things to do with chocolate when I have guests over is a kind of help-yourself thing. I grate a load of dark chocolate, finely chop some mint, mix them together and put it in a small dish. I grate some more and zest an orange in with it and put that into a dish. Sometimes I do one of plain dark chocolate grated. You can play around with what flavours you want to add. Then I get loads of those mini pots of icecream and tell everyone to pick a pot and top it with whatever they want from the dishes of chocolate. Or you could go even simpler, get a huge bowl, half some strawberries and throw in some cherries, then get some dark chocolate and break it roughly into pieces and throw in aswell and get get nibbling.

 

With Christmas approaching, I am guessing my chocolate intake will increase drastically. Not because there is far better chocolate around at Christmas and I will be unable to control myself. It’s more because it will be there, freely available and right in front of my face (of course, I could choose not to stand directly in front of the Christmas chocolate and sweeties aisle at the supermarket but I like it there, ok?). So I will eat it. Because I can see it. Advent calendars, not a favourite or any special memories but a nice reason to eat chocolate first thing every morning. A selection box, again no amazing memories, just that my grandfather used to get us one every year, without fail. But if I bought all those individual chocolate bars in a shop and ate them all in one day, people would judge me, quite harshly I should think. Wrap it in a plastic packet with a fun Christmas picture on the front and call it a ‘selection box’ and it’s suddenly fine! Eat them all, no problem!

 

In Namibia, my friend Lucy and I, used to get a chocolate bar called Top Deck, if we had any spare money. This was an exciting time for us, when it happened. It was white chocolate on the bottom and milk chocolate on the top. It looked beautiful and we loved it, although I’ve no memory of how it tasted.

 

On mushrooms

Yesterday, I found an old skirt which had little pictures of mushrooms all over it and so I wrote about mushrooms for my Nanny Rhino. I am going to share my mushroom chat with you as I wrote ten thousand words yesterday catching up on the days I missed with Nanny Rhino so I am all written out for a day or so.

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There are so many things to do and places to go with mushrooms that it’s hard to know where to start. I’d love to start in Rome, where any restaurant worth it’s salt would be proudly displaying a wooden crate of porcini mushrooms on one of its tables outside. Since this visit and my mass consumption of the fantastic porcini mushrooms, I am struggling with eating them here as they are all of the dried variety, which was fine and nice and lovely, until I saw the fresh ones in Italy. Now I feel differently about dried porcini. I feel a bit sad for them as they are trapped there on the shelf, in a little jar, moisture-less. Without any fresh porcini of my own, I am simply not eating porcini mushrooms. It is a sad state of affairs. Dried porcini are great for risottos though, as you can use the soaking liquids to hydrate your rice. It’s still not quite the same though, is it?

 

My next favourite mushroom is probably an oyster mushroom as I love their shape and texture. I love how wild and uncouth they look, all misshapen and not at all uniform like their little cousins, the button mushrooms. The problem with this could be that people may mistake your oyster mushrooms in your stir fry for a slab of fat off the meat (as happened to me when making a duck stir-fry), so it’s your decision whether you want to run the risk of being thought of as a ‘fat-cooker’.

 

Shiittake are my next favourite, for similar reasons to the oyster mushroom. It is kind of irregular and a dark mysterious colour. They have a great flavour that I love cooking with beef in a stir-fry.

 

Enoki mushrooms, so long and thin and tiny are great for throwing into dishes last minute, for an extra bit of flavour. Their size means they don’t need much cooking before they soften and taste lovely. I love putting them onto a pizza last minute before quickly oven baking it as it adds another element to something with relatively few ingredients.

 

Next we have the portobello and the chestnut mushrooms, larger, meatier and better for roasting than their smaller counterparts. They can also hold their own quite well in a pie or vegetarian lasagne with spinach and ricotta.

 

Lastly we have the humble button mushroom, great for general use, fabulous fried in a breakfast, but with less of the qualities that draw me so well to the other mushrooms.

 

Actually, I have a less-than-fantastic memory connected to a portobello mushroom. I was seeing a guy for a few months and we could both see that things were in steady decline. In the height of our excitement while things were great, though, we had booked tickets to go to a literature festival somewhere in the countryside. The ticket had been quite expensive and I had booked the day off work so I was reluctant to give it up. Also the gentleman in question didn’t seem that keen on letting the relationship go, although I knew he knew it was over.

 

He was all up for driving there and giving me a lift and acting like things were fine so I took the lift, slept all the way there and planned other similar tactics of avoidance once there. I thought I’d just potter off and get lost in the crowds. He wasn’t so easy to shake though. It took him hours to finally say he fancied seeing something he didn’t think I’d like and wandering off in the other direction.

 

I found the furthest away corner and went for a long walk among the trees, where none of the fun was happening. I saw a group of people open water swimming and got chatting and generally just soaked up the lovely day. I eventually got back into the foray of people and book stalls and performances and fun and watched an old work colleague doing performance poetry. Here, I had solace. Should the gentleman wander along and want to sit down, I could say I was busily engaged in supporting my friend and paying attention to his performance and apologies but I wasn’t able to have a chat right now. The gentleman did not appear though and the next performer was hilarious so I stayed there. At one of the food stands nearby, I ordered an amazing portobello mushroom burger with halloumi cheese and red pepper. I sat down with my burger, deep in thoughts about life and this tasty mushroom burger. It was such a great moment, there, sitting on the ground, with people milling about, books in hands, intelligent discussion being had all around me, a performer on a little stage not far away and these beautiful purple flowers lining a little garden wall to my left.

 

That’s when the gentleman came along, greeted me in surprise and sat down next to me, ruining my moment. My excuses for silence were none, apart from the tasty mushroom burger in my hands, which required all of my attention. We were stuck together again then, for the rest of the afternoon, until it all became too painfully obvious and, in a quiet late afternoon moment, sitting on the grass, he fell asleep and I sneaked away, got my bag and headed for the nearest main road to find a train station and scarper off back home, away from this awful awkwardness that I should never have embarked upon in the first place.

Nanny Rhino and the three bird roast

My excuse fobbing you off with my Nanny Rhino entry today instead of writing a proper blog entry?

I woke up late.

Feeble.

So anyway, today it’s about duck. Enjoy.

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Duck has been a recent revelation to me. My interactions with it have been few but all extremely enjoyable. I first ate duck at a small restaurant near a yoga class I used to take every week. It was Bikram yoga which, for those of you who don’t know, is like yoga on acid. It’s in a heated room and is like a fight to the death, a struggle between good and evil, between you and the heat, to win and make it to the 90 minute mark without having passed out or vomited. If you make it to this 90 minute mark, you feel invincible. Shaky on your legs, but invincible. And really damn hungry! I would wobble out of the class, change and leave, wide-eyed, looking for the nearest place I could get food. I would have taken anything on offer but thankfully, the nearest thing was actually a really great little restaurant. I’d order about four things off the menu, blinded by my intense hunger, not even sure what I’d ordered.

 

Quite often, a total surprise to me, a duck stir fry would arrive and I would consume it in one inhalation. It was so amazing. Inspired by this, I would occasionally buy a duck and hoisin sauce wrap so my mind had started to pair the two together.

 

Then last Christmas, a neighbour had recommended I buy a turkey crown for Christmas Day lunch as a full turkey is really too big for two. So off I went to Waitrose, on Christmas Eve, to buy my turkey crown. Surprise of the century when I got there – no turkey crowns! Well, who would have believed that on Christmas Eve, the shop would have sold out of turkey. Clearly, my forward-planning skills have much improvement to make.

 

I looked sadly at the shelves, which were mostly bare, and spotted two candidates for Christmas lunch. One was a stuffed duck crown with a pork and orange stuffing. The other was a three bird roast; a pheasant, stuffed into a partridge, stuffed into a duck. Noticing all the wide-eyed panic around me, I grabbed both, held on tight and called my other half.

 

I’ve got stuffed duck crown or a three bird roast! Which do you want? There’s not much time! I might not make it out with anything!”

 

The, uh, the three bird roast! The three bird roast!” he yelled. “Good luck!”

 

Throwing the crown back on the shelf, I made a mad dash for the tills, holding my three bird roast protectively. A few people made eyes at it, longingly, but I pulled my jacket around it and kept my head down until my money was handed over and I was out of the shop, on the home straight.

 

That duck was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I made a simple carrot and turnip mash on the side and we used the roasting juices to make gravy and we just ate and ate and ate. I couldn’t believe how amazing it was.

 

The following recipe is another thing I made to impress my brother and his wife when they came over for dinner. It’s a guesswork version of the first duck I ate, post-yoga.

 

Duck stir-fry

Olive oil

8 mini duck breast fillets (or two large, with the fat removed)

A few spring onions

A handful of oyster mushrooms

1 orange/red pepper

Hoisin sauce (plum sauce will also be fine)

1 white onion

1 garlic clove

Thick egg noodles

Sesame seeds

Put some hot water in a pan to boil.

Put a splash of olive oil into a wok and add the garlic clove and the onion, finely chopped. When everything has warmed up, add your pepper, sliced into long batons and mix everything around a bit. Add your duck fillets in, depending on the size, you can slice them smaller, if they look a bit too large.

While the duck is cooking, put your egg noodles into your pan of water, which should be boiling by now and give them a few minutes to cook. When cooked to al dente, drain the noodles and let them sit for a second.

Add the chopped oyster mushrooms to your pan with the duck and check your duck to see if it is cooked through. If it is, give the mushrooms a minutes or two to soften. Add your hoisin sauce in and stir immediately so everything gets coated. Then add your noodles in and mix again, so the sauce is evenly coating everything. Lastly, add in the spring onions, finely sliced, toss everything around a bit and serve, finishing with some sesame seeds, sprinkled on top.

I must just add a little aside to this Nanny Rhino post because my brother, having eaten the whole thing and the main and the dessert, asked, as we were sitting chatting, what was in the duck starter. As I listed the ingredients, he went “O! Mushrooms! I thought that was just bits of fat off the duck and I didn’t want to say anything.”

 

So I apparently come across as the type of woman who would serve up a stir-fry which had slabs of fat in it. I don’t know whether to be a little depressed over that.