Posts Tagged ‘NaNoWriMo’

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…

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.

Nanny Rhino and the law of tea

Yes, that’s right. I’m fobbing you off with something from my Nanny Rhino, rather than writing a proper blog for you. Again. Apologies. I have been busy (for ‘busy,’ read: lazy).

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Tea. What a wonderful wonderful beverage. Not much beats a tea. As a non-drinker (of the alcoholic variety, I of course, do drink other things), tea is as wacky as it gets in my world. Well, apart from when I occasionally drink coffee.

 

I do get quite wacky with my tea sometimes. When I first moved to university and happened to have a peppermint tea at someone’s house, a whole new world opened up in front of me. And it was very exciting indeed. I used to have a small travel kettle in my room which just brewed enough for one cup. I also had a rubbishy student job at a coffee place inside a train station. They would open at the crack of dawn to get the early commuters and close late at night to get the drunken husbands desperately trying to sober up with espressos before returning home to their wives.

 

I was often on the early shifts, which meant arriving at 5.30am. Whether cycling or taking the bus, I needed to leave myself about twenty minutes. So my alarm would go off at 4.15am and I would grumpily throw back the duvet and force myself over to the desk to put the kettle on. A mug with a tea bag would be waiting, having been placed there the night before. The kettle would boil, the water would go in and while it brewed, I would gripe about early starts and it surely being against the Human Rights Act and I could possibly sue my employers. Then the tea would finish brewing, I’d ditch the bag and, depending on which tea it was, I’d add milk and have a sip.

 

Things slowly seemed kind of nice then. I could hear the birds singing and see the sun rising. I would put in headphones and listen to I Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones (always the same song, because of the line “I waited till I saw the sun.”) and write. I was doing a joint honours degree and one of my subjects was Creative Writing. The lecturers had advised us to write for twenty minutes every morning. I realised what I always realise at that time of day, when my grumpiness has slid off and down under the floorboards some place and all the nice things about being awake in an empty world while everyone else sleeps become obvious. There’s just me. Me and my cup of tea. My day feels nicer when I start it that way.

 

Yesterday morning, for example, even though I didn’t have time to have tea at home, I managed an earl grey and a scone in between all the breakfast and coffee orders at work. It helped.

 

I have been known to branch out quite spectacularly when making tea. I went for milk-less tea for a long time, which led to forays into the world of fresh mint tea (plucked from my own garden), cardamom concoctions and licorice infusions. When living abroad in Namibia, my friend, Lucy, and I, in our poverty, drank a lot of rooibos tea, to keep our tummies full! It was dirt cheap for a box of fifty and every evening, we would stand at our window in our kitchen and watch the sun set over the water. We were living on the coast, our little house looking out over the Atlantic ocean, and got the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. Colours I didn’t think belonged in a sky – greys, oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples. Rooibos tea will always mean beautiful African sunsets to me.

 

Careless brewers, who throw the bag in walk away from it, then return later in the day to add milk, should be publicly reprimanded for killing tea. Teabag squeezers also need the same level of punishment.

 

Don’t just leave it there for ten minutes! It shows you don’t care. It comes out like black coffee and is far too bitter. And don’t go the opposite direction and try to brew it too quickly by taking a teaspoon and squeezing your bag against the side of the cup! What’s wrong with you? You’re suffocating it. Let it brew gently. Unless you have so little respect for yourself that you don’t mind drinking tannin, then please do not squeeze. 

Nanny Rhino and the Thai green curry

I have been writing my NaNoWriMo for the past ten days and yesterday, when I was telling Danda about it, he was nodding and smiling encouragingly, saying ‘mm’ and ‘yes, dear’ in all the right places. Then, after a few minutes, he waited for a pause, looked at me quizzically and said, “Who’s Nanny Rhino?”

So, in honour of Danda and of Nanny Rhino, I present to you, the story of the homemade Thai green curry, from way back at the beginning of my Nanny Rhino adventure, on the 1st of this month.

(That thing in the bottom left hand corner is her knitting and the more astute among you will have noticed her lovely frilly cardigan. The square by her chin is an old person’s bus pass. Danda would like it to be known that HE drew this picture and he would like to be credited for it when I become a world famous writer.)

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Chillies are a subject close to my heart. I have chilli plants in my garden so whenever I cook with it, I feel a little sentimental. If I pick them at different times in their growth, I use them for different things. When they are young and green, I can load them into a mild green curry for flavour and a bit of kick. When they get older and become red, they need treating with more respect, de-seeding to save my head from blowing off, and adding in small quantities to beef chilli.

 

Although, having said that, I was once trying to impress with dinner. It was the first time I had ever cooked for my brother, a few years ago. I wanted to appear like a grown up. Being the younger sister, I always feel a bit little, no matter how old we both get. I had recently discovered Thai green curry. In fact, it was the second thing I ever cooked when I started cooking properly. You know what I mean, the period in which first really discover food and explore a new world.

 

I had decided this was the dish to show off with and I would cook it completely from scratch. I was going to make my own curry paste and everything. So I went gaily a-picking in the garden and returned to the kitchen, my basket bursting with large green chillies. Feeling brave, I threw about seven into my food processor, seeds and all and got whizzing. I whizzed in bits and pieces of everything Thai that I could lay my hands on in the kitchen. I think was growing basil at the time and lots of those went in. Lemongrass, peppercorns, lime leaves, shallots, everything. Whizz, whizz, whizz. I took the lid off to check my curry paste progress and caught a whiff of something fabulous-smelling. I put my face over the paste and sniffed deeply.

 

Therein lay my mistake. I can’t even describe to you what happened next. It felt like my face had been hit with a sledgehammer. Such pain! The section inbetween my nose and top lip stung like a million wasps had attacked me. My eyes watered uncontrollably and I just let my nose run without wiping it. The slightest dab was more pain than I could handle. Even my chin and forehead were on fire.

 

I sat down at my kitchen table, in shock, blindly trying to continue on with my curry. Time was tight and I didn’t have time for this nonsense. It seemed like something childish and silly, to be having a reaction to a few little chillies. It would surely pass, I thought doubtfully.

 

It did not pass. For approximately forty minutes, I sat, trying to stay conscious and just about remaining on this side of the calling-the-emergency-services fence.

 

The rest of the curry passed by in a chilli-intoxicated blur, my brother loved it, ate all the little leftovers and was impressed by my efforts. I jokingly mentioned my near-death experience in passing, something along the lines of, “O, I accidentally smelled the curry paste as I was making it. It was so strong!” I think I came across quite casual and not like the panicked maniac this curry had turned me into.

 

To this day, I’m not sure whether he knows what I risked to make his dinner.