You say tomato, I say tomato

Our neighbours, and friends, have a rather large collection of animals so when they wanted to take a few days away we offered to look after the menagerie for them. Once they were certain we were serious and had fully briefed us on what to do when with the dogs, cats, rabbits, macaws, parrots, goats, chickens, tortoises and various assorted other birds, off they went with the instructions that any eggs, fruit and veg we wanted we could have rather than leave them to waste. And so we very quickly amassed a huge supply of the best tasting tomatoes we’ve had for a long time.

Salads ✔️

tomato pasta sauce ✔️

grilled tomato ✔️

I then thought of making a curry and wanted a vegetarian recipe. Poring over recipes on my ipad I saw a couple that looked interesting so decided to use parts of both and combine to make my version, a tomato, aubergine and chickpea curry.

As with all recipe experiments the proof really was in the tasting. And it was a huge hit with both of us so here’s what I did:

Ingredients

2 large tomatoes (and I mean large these were each the size of small plate) chopped into bite sized pieces.

1 small aubergine chopped into bite sized pieces

2 onions chopped

4 garlic cloves chopped

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 can coconut milk

1 jar of chickpeas

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon mild chilli powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons turmeric

Method

Heat oil in saucepan and sweat onions on low heat for 5 minutes, add chopped garlic, tomatoes and aubergine. Stir to amalgamate. Add all spices, stir and cook on low heat for 20 minutes. Add coconut milk, bring to boil, reduce heat add chickpeas and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until sauce is rich and thickened. Serve with basmati rice.

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Trendsetter, moi?

A flying visit to the UK last weekend for some much needed family catch-up time was lovely. It literally was a flying visit as we got the plane (those drugs are still coming in handy see previous blogs). A bargain fare with Ryanair was too good to ignore. 

We also hired a car to get us to Suffolk, London and Oxford. The hire company tried to persuade us to upgrade the car we’d ordered, we had typically chosen the cheapest vehicle to save money but also we didn’t need that Qashqai we were being offered, only for the company to give us a free upgrade anyway. My advice stick to your choice they often don’t have the cheapest vehicles as they are the most popular choice so you’ll be quids in.

A visit to London is always an opportunity to visit Pappagones Italian restaurant, the best Italian restaurant outside of Italy I think, always good quality food. A slight mistake to visit on a Friday night though, it was understandably busy to the point of being overwhelming which unfortunately took the edge off the experience. My advice of visiting this fab place is to choose wisely so you’ve got room for their amazing Banoffee pie. (Lots of advice in this blog you lucky lot).

Oxford was beautiful as ever, I never tire of seeing the colleges and yes it’s busy but worth it, especially when you’ve got great company. It was definitely a day of fun and giggles and more importantly time with my daughter.

An early start on Sunday as we headed back to Stansted airport and the flight home. Doom laden Facebook posts telling of 100km winds in our area sent my anxiety levels sky-high. I duly took my calming tablets but they seemed to be taking their time to work. Fortunately and another piece of advice; don’t believe Facebook posts, it was a calm flight with no turbulence and definitely no gales to greet us on our landing in Perpignan.

Anyway the real point of this blog was really about picking up a Sunday newspaper on our way home, we haven’t read the Sunday Times for nearly 3 years and yes I know we shouldn’t be lining Murdochs overflowing wallet any further or reading such biased papers but we did. I finally got to read Style this morning. It was always my go to section of the paper so I was looking forward to browsing the pages, but yes you’ve guessed it, what a load of tosh. With fashions that no one in their right mind would wear, to a ridiculous article claiming you should adjust your beauty regime to match your menstrual cycle (seriously WTF) and a suggestion to part your eyebrows (yes you’ve read that correctly) so you can make them look like a feather (easier to stick a feather above each eye if you really want to look a fool). But there was one tiny snippet that shows I’m still ahead of the game, palm painting, this is where the hairdresser freestyles putting the highlights in your hair with his/her hands and my lovely French hairdressers have been doing that to me for the past couple of years. So I’m still trend setting from the sunny slopes of the Pyrenees Orientale.

Slinging in Singapore 

Singapore was our original (and first) destination of our holiday. The first thing that strikes you once you’re out of the airport is the heat and humidity, it’s overpowering. Air conditioning is an absolute must but even that barely touches the heat at times, everywhere you go you’re looking forward to the next air conditioned area just for a brief respite. My nicely coiffed hair went from sleek and shiny to a frizzy mess within hours, no amount of hair conditioner or coconut oil could tame the suddenly wild locks, any attempt to look chic and sophisticated disappeared immediately. But enough of my hair issues what is Singapore like?

It’s clean, bright, full of modern architectural wonders and busy, very busy. It’s a place that awakens and overpowers your senses, there isn’t a journey that doesn’t involve constant head turning and exclamations of ‘look at that’. We were only there a week but I cannot imagine that you’d ever get blasé about the sights. The incredible Marina Bay Sands complex Singapore - Marina Bay Sandswith a giant surfboard atop which has an elegant and expensive bar, as well as an infinity pool and goodness knows what else was the first place we visited and even on a hot and very rainy day (note photo is not of the rainy day) it didn’t fail to impress.

I didn’t mention the rain did I? Oh my goodness can it rain. It was like standing with someone pouring bucket after bucket of water over you for up to an hour and longer. One day when we decided to go out on our own exploring we rejected the offer of an umbrella. Big mistake. On our way back our 10 minute walk left us wetter than if we’d just jumped in the river fully clothed.

Aside from all the glitz of the gleaming new buildings there is some character, Chinatown was especially exciting, full of shops and stalls, brightly coloured and selling everything you could imagine and crucially at a fraction of the cost elsewhere. As a bargain lover I was in my element. Yes of course there’s tat but there’s also plenty of beautiful things to buy too, plus I got my supply of Tiger Balm (the best thing for all aches and pains, coughs and snuffles).

Yes Singapore is expensive, there’s no denying it. Alcohol is almost(!) prohibitively expensive. One of the exceptions to this is public transport, that is good value and as you would expect very efficient. The other exception is the Hawker stalls selling glorious food at silly prices. As lovers of good food we went to the only Michelin recognised hawker stall for lunch, we queued for nearly an hour (this was the only stall where there was a queue) and watched as the food was freshly cooked, then expertly chopped up to be served on paper plates when you finally got to the front of the queue. Some customers waved their arms in celebration as they finally got served their meal that they had been patiently waiting for. Was it Michelin quality food? I’m not sure, it was excellent that is certain, it was fresh, full of flavour and beautifully cooked so if that’s the criteria that Michelin looks for then yes it is. We loved our meal, that was what was important and we can certainly tick off that as one of the Michelin restaurants we’ve visited and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. And best of all the total cost for both our meals….$4.50 the equivalent of about £2.50.

Of course no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to Raffles Hotel for cocktails. We loved it. It’s a beautiful colonial building, with friendly and efficient staff and it delivers what you expect, a tasty drink, in classy surroundings with a touch of authenticity.

Aside from the food and of course the joy of spending time with the family other things that were amazing were the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanical Gardens, both these places were stunning. Filled with plants, animals, sculptures and of course lots of people. We took the most photos in these places, everywhere we looked there was something exciting to see and the grandchildren clearly loved visiting them even though it was probably the umpteenth time they’d done so in the short time they’ve lived there.

Would we visit Singapore again? Whilst we’ve got family there definitely yes, otherwise no. It’s a striking place and we’re glad we’ve been but it lacks a soul. It is a large business district essentially that has areas, beautifully designed and executed areas, for pleasure but it isn’t a holiday destination in my view.

If music be the food of love……

As a long time attender of gigs I finally got to attend a music festival last week. Ok it was only one day of the four days, there were not banks of tents, mud, and generally unwashed people milling around but it was a music festival and it was all day and there were three different stages for bands to perform on so in my book it fitted the bill.

Not being experienced festival goers we packed our insulated backpack filled it with cool blocks, water, Cola and a couple of baguettes from our favourite bakery and to keep the sun off us we took a large golf umbrella. Sensible.

The festival was well-organised with free car parking and free bus shuttle to the venue. So far so good. Well apart from slight mishap as I banged my head on the rail above the bus seat, but no one noticed so I still was exuding cool, in my eyes anyway.

Arriving at the venue, a lovely château up on a hill with views across the Mediterranean, we noticed the age range of fellow attendees to vary from young to old.  A good sign.

When we went through the entrance gates our sensible baggage was not allowed so we had to put the brolly,  ice blocks and cans of drinks into the ‘left luggage’ area before heading in.

Our first views of the area inside was impressive with the backdrop of the chateau and set amongst the trees was a stage and surrounding the area were a good variety of food and drink stalls.

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We set our blanket down and settled ourselves ready for the first 3 acts; all pretty good but the shining star of the lot were Mountain Men, a bluegrass band with so much energy you couldn’t fail to stamp your feet and enjoy their music.

After that set we headed to the larger area where 2 stages were set at right angles to each other and this was where the remaining acts were going to perform. Alternating between the stages and with barely a breath between acts, it was incredible organisation.  All you had to do was turn your head from one stage to the other ; no decision needed on who to see, you saw them all.

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The atmosphere was excellent,  no rowdy drunken behaviour,  good humour abounded. It really was a family friendly environment.

As to the acts, well clearly Santana were the stars of the show, giving a polished performance as you would expect. One act stood out for us, not because he was good however,  but because we were incredulous that despite being so awful he is clearly a much loved French singer. We stood in shock as his awful songs were greeted with cheers and singalongs.  We squirmed as he ‘seductively’ undid the buttons of his shirt. We laughed as he tried to exude rock star status by leaping off the stage, running through the crowd to clamber astride the water fountain then hitching a lift back to the stage on the back of some poor man in the audience. One can only imagine how that chap felt with his neck wrapped by the sweaty crotch of this fella. But we clearly were in a minority, his French fans loved him, young, old, male and female.  Très bizarre.

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Another act followed Mr Charisma and that was a lad from Suffolk who barely speaks any French,  sings in English and is obviously another big star over here. This time however we could appreciate a bit more why he was popular. Still not necessarily to our taste but at least his songs had more than 3 words in them.

After Santana finished and buoyed up by our first experience of a music festival we headed back, picked up our brolly, ice blocks and cans and headed for the free bus back to the car park and the short drive home.

An excellent day out. Proof yet again that the French are superb at organisation. And yes I think we might do it again.

Food, Glorious Food

I spent the first 25 years of my life being a very fussy eater, I had no desire to try new fancy foods and I did very well on a diet of simple foods, in fact very well in terms of weight control, though I didn’t think of that at the time. I was very skinny back then eating whatever I wanted when I wanted but only what I liked.

I was (and probably still am) very much a creature of habit especially with breakfasts, I went for very long periods of time when my breakfast was either Cornflakes with the ‘top of the milk’ or beans on toast. The ‘top of the milk’ was the cream from the full fat milk that we all drank back then it was delivered by the milkman and the cream sat nicely at the top of the bottle; that was what I had poured over my cornflakes with a good sprinkling of sugar – delicious. As for the beans on toast, well I had my perculiarities there too (and still do) I would only eat Crosse & Blackwell beans, a far superior sauce in my opinion to Heinz.

My poor Mother. I was insufferable if neither were available for my breakfast. I still wince when I think of my behaviour.

Teenage lunch was almost always saving school lunch money to buy chips from the nearby chippie. It was rare to eat school dinners once I had got through the ‘good girl’ phase of being in the 1st year of senior school and the regular skipping out of the school grounds at Midday to rush down to the chippie for a bag and occassionally a fag were the order of the day. Once I started work there was lunch (or dinner as we called it) in the work restaurant. I was lucky enough to work where we not only had a waitress service restaurant, a self service restaurant, a sald bar, a burger bar and a fully stocked pub on site so choice was always good but invariably it was burgers for lunch followed by a cinzano & lemonade in the bar. Classy eh?

Evening meals were good hearty home cooking. Mum made the best meat puddings, beef chunks in a rich onion & beef gravy cooked in suet, wrapped in cotton, tied with string and boiled on the hob for hours. So delicious. In fact all her meals were lovely; simple but lovely. She never once weighed her ingredients, she just knew what was needed. I learnt to cook from her but could never, at the time, get the idea of just knowing how much flour was needed for the batter (we didn’t call it Yorkshire pudding), or how much of any other ingredients were needed to make a dish. It is something that I have finally got the confidence to do after many, many years but I still resort to the scales in most instances.

Food, and my waistline, changed once I had moved away from home and started to go out for meals with new work colleagues/friends and I was introduced to the delights of mushrooms (yes I know!), curries and then more exotic foods.

I now eat a huge variety of foods but there are still some that I won’t entertain like hearts and kidneys. I had one bad experience in France when my french was not so good and I saw Bouef and thought that’ll be what I have, the dish was served and the beef looked a bit unusual, and had a dimply outer. I struggled with it for a while and finally gave up and said to my husband (now my ex though that may not be related) ‘I really cannot eat this’. He then told me I had ordered and eaten tongue. Yuk. I am not sure I ever forgave him for keeping quiet when I placed the order.

It is now a treat to have good old fashioned simple foods and something like a rich cottage pie or sausage and mash are the rarer, but much loved, dishes served at mealtimes. I am still a bit of a creature of habit with breakfasts going for years having the same Monday to Friday breakfasts, currently a fruity granola, and at weekends having bacon & eggs. So some things never change.