I am a very keen amateur cook, and dream of the day I can have a spacious, shiny kitchen filled to bursting with all manner of delicious fresh produce! So far, my kitchen adventures have been limited, not so much by skill (my mother taught me well!) as by time, budget and the diminutive size of my current kitchen.

Therefore, it was both a treat and a trial to watch the many Festive cookery programs on the TV over the last month. I managed to watch a goodly proportion of them, and in this entry I’m going to give a brief review of the more memorable ones.

I very much enjoyed the several River Cottage Christmas Specials that aired in December. I’m honestly not sure which ones were associated with which years, but I was generally impressed with the variety of recipes and Hugh’s unbridled enthusiasm towards them. High points for me were the German pepper-biscuits covered in chocolate, and the tender, slow-cooked beef brisket. However this is not a show aimed at vegetarians or those who can’t bear to watch a butcher at work.

Due to bad timing, I only watched a few minutes of the Hairy Bikers, who were demonstrating recipes based around the 12 days of Christmas. I have always liked them  for their easy, laid back presenting style and apparently genuine friendliness. The festive pannacotta looked divine!

The Victorian Farm Christmas, though not strictly a foodie programme, was the ultimate in cosy fireside viewing. There were several interesting recipes, including the “fruit gums” which looked incredibly messy but rather fun!

Kirstie Allsop also deserves a mention for her “Homemade Christmas”. A delightful series of programmes featuring the rosy cheeked Kirstie whose childlike enthusiasm for anything glittery was adorable, I was inspired by the crafts and recipes alike. A recipe for quick mince pies (made rather like eccles cakes out of puff pastry, and tips on making your turkey pretty, were the highlights!

Delia Smith’s Christmas offering this year sadly fell a little flat. She was coming from a “for beginners” standpoint but lets face it, is a brand new cook really going to be interested in making their own Christmas pudding, fancy flaky pastry or bread sauce? Hence the tone of the programme was more than a little bit patronising. Although I am decidedly against the current “everything must be low fat” trend, I do think Delia pushed a little too far in the opposite direction. The sheer quantity of butter she added to her bread sauce was so ridiculous as to be hilarious, and the suggestion for wrapping leftover rich Christmas pudding in rich pastry and serving it with rich cream made my arteries recoil in horror!

The absolute low point this year was Nigella Lawson’s offering. Her “Sexy Housewife” thing has turned her into a complete caricature and is actually quite laughable when she starts pouting over her dubiously appealing amaretti biscuit Rocky Road! Her roast beef was merely waved at the oven – I’m all for rare meat, particularly when the alternative is chewy, overdone turkey, but this was ridiculous! I can honestly say that I was not in the slightest bit tempted by any of her recipes, which is unusual for me and cookery programmes!

And that leads me to the high point! The Naked Chef himself, Jamie Oliver, was back with a series of programmes about several different aspects of holiday cookery. In a move that could have led to the show being overly sentimental and patronising, he got his entire family involved, from his adorable Nan (nicknamed Tiger) to his two older daughters. Thankfully, due to the participants’ obvious enthusiasm and Jamie’s warm cheekiness, it was a delight from start to finish. I thought it particularly commendable that he let his small daughters cook their “breakfast pancakes” entirely unaided and didn’t bat an eyelid at the mess they made, even on camera! Pretty much every recipe he made was mouthwatering and the presentation was absolutely fantastic. The whole show had a laid back, friendly, genuinely joyful atmosphere which made it my favourite Christmas Foodie TV for 2009!


Libel Reform

As a scientist, I am very aware of the importance of free speech, in the sense that within the scientific community everyone and anyone is free to comment on or criticise your published work from a point of view of evidence (or lack thereof) and your interpretation of the same.

This is the way it has to be. Scientific research must be backed by evidence. Always.

It should always be okay to require evidence for the claims made by corporations, associations and even individuals.

As it stands, English libel law stifles scientific debate in the media. A much-publicised recent case involving journalist Simon Singh being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association is a good example. He dared to write some less-than-complimentary things (none of which were without evidence, it must be said) about the Association and is currently in the midst of battling for a right to appeal. Many journalists/writers/columnists in similar positions are forced to withdraw from the fight simply because they cannot afford the legal support they need.

That is where the Campaign for Libel Reform comes in.

Please, visit their website http://www.libelreform.org and sign the petition.

We need to act on this, and fast.

Minor annoyance…

That Jason Derulo song – you know, “Whatcha Say”, has been getting massive air-time lately. I’m hearing it everywhere. And everyone keeps commenting on how catchy it is. The thing is, the only catchy bit of the song is the sample of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”…

Why does it feel like Jason Whatshisface is getting credit for Immi’s brilliance?? Grr.

As a test, when a friend said that she liked “that new song, Whatcha Say” I asked her to sing a bit, pretending I didn’t know it. And yes, she immediately sang the sampled lyrics!

Back in the classroom…

So I’ve found myself back at school, albeit briefly…

I’m currently attending a two-week summer school on a particular aspect of physics that is very relevant to my PhD project. There are about 50 other students here who are all involved in research that is also relevant to this aspect of physics. I’m here because my research is my passion and any opportunity to further my knowledge is one which I will definitely make the most of! Since places on the school are highly competitive and we all had to “fight” to get in, it’s a fair assumption that all the other students feel the same way.

Why then, do some of them feel the need to talk, constantly and audibly, during lectures? I honestly thought that people grew out of such behaviour in their first year of Undergraduate studies, if not before!

I’m equally mystified by those people who have their laptops out on the desks, not to take notes, but to browse Facebook, IM each other (what happened to good old fashioned note passing?) and even more bizarrely, look for flights and hotel rooms…

I just don’t get it. No one is forcing them to be here. They chose to be here. They are PAYING to be there! What the frilly heck is going on?

Blog roll #1

I sure picked a tough one to start on the blog roll.

“What’s the most expensive meal you’ve ever eaten, and what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?”

Okay, the first part is easy enough. The most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten was at a small restaurant in Cornwall, just off the beach and near the cottage we’d rented. We arrived quite late on in the day, so it was dark, and we had no intention of driving around for ages to find somewhere to eat when there was a nice looking restaurant right there! When we got inside and saw the prices, my father tried to get us to leave and find somewhere else, but my mother and I were cold, tired, hungry and within a few feet of delicious looking food… there was no way we were leaving! My meal was a piece of red snapper on a bed of various vegetables with this really light, lemony sauce and it was absolutely delicious! I do remember being confused at the size of the dish – it was so tiny compared with the “non-gourmet” food I was used to! I know I ordered some kind of chocolate mousse for dessert, and that was good too, but my overriding memory of that night was the fact that we were almost asleep in our coffee, and the look on my father’s face when he handed over his credit card!

My answer to the second part of the question depends on how I define the word “best”.

If we’re talking meal that was most appreciated then it has to be a plate of baked-beans-on-toast that was the first thing I was given after a bout of food poisoning. I was 13 years old and on a school trip in France. The hotel we stayed at had some interesting ideas about food but there was nothing to suggest there was anything unhygienic about it, until the last morning of our trip when several people starting getting sick. Initially our teachers put it down to heat exhaustion, but after it began spreading through the group at an alarming rate, they had to change their minds! “It must have been the meat in the sandwiches!” Some said, but the vegetarians were getting sick too. And the people who only drunk bottled water. And the people that wouldn’t touch the rice/potatoes/anything. The only thing that EVERYBODY ate was the oranges cut up into segments they put in our lunch boxes. To this day I shudder at the memory of a 14 hour coach ride from France back to the UK, including a bumpy ferry crossing, with no sanitation apart from the coach toilet, and upwards of twenty people throwing up on a regular basis. Ewwww. When I got home, I fell into a dead sleep for nearly twenty four hours, and woke up at five in the morning, ravenously hungry. I woke my poor mother, and she provided me with the aforementioned plate of beans on toast. Pure, unadulterated pleasure!

If we’re talking best tasting meal, then I would have to say one that I had in a Greek/Indian/Chinese fusion restaurant in Cyprus. It was set up like a traditional Greek meze, but some of the dishes had other influences too.  I honestly couldn’t list all of the different things we tried, but each bite was better than the one before, and we spent the entire meal beaming from ear to ear and exclaiming in delight. I think the waiters thought we were mad,  but must have appreciated the tip we left! The setting was so perfect too, I’ll never forget it. We were right on the beach, with the lights from the restaurant just shimmering on the water, and there was enough of a breeze that we sometimes got a beautifully refreshing waft of salty sea air, and sometimes a warm breeze scented with eucalyptus.

And finally, if we’re talking most fun meal then I only have to think back a couple of years to a volunteering holiday in the Lake District. I’d gone on this holiday on a whim, born out of a desire to “do something” with my summer break from University. A group of about 13 people from all walks of life came together to work on projects for the National Trust – in our case we were removing a troublesome weed from the lake edges and riverbanks, and removing some redundant fencing from a tree planting project that had long since matured. Every night we would eat together round the big table at our campsite. One of our group members was a fantastically funny German guy called Klaus. One night he mentioned that he didn’t fit in at home in Germany because people told him his sense of humour was “too British” so we asked him what kind of things he found funny. What followed was a comedic monologue to rival any of the greats… we listened absolutely spellbound, the dinner we’d been so eager for impossible to eat because of the fits of laughter we were in. Some of us were in grave danger of asphyxiation cause we were laughing that much. For the rest of the holiday, we had to shovel down our dinners, because we knew it was only a matter of time before someone mentioned Klaus’ speech, or he brought it up himself, and then we would be just as helpless as the first time!

That’s what I’ve been asking myself lately. A few weeks ago I felt like I’d really developed a nice momentum in my life. I was working long hours, sure, but I was enjoying what I was doing even so. I was excited about various new hobbies that I was developing (crocheting, ice skating…) and I generally felt like the days were sailing by quite happily.

Now it’s like I’ve just totally ground to a halt. I’m still doing the same hours at work, but now I can’t find time in the evenings to do anything, mostly because I sit and stew about the fact that I haven’t got time to do anything! Washing up has sat in the sink for days, my crochet projects sit untouched under my coffee table, I haven’t been down the ice rink in more than a fortnight. It’s not that I don’t want to do these things, somehow I just seem to spend all the time that I could be doing them, sitting and worrying about the fact that I’m not!

Reading that last sentence back I can only roll my eyes and remind myself of the title of this blog! Now the fact that I’m thinking about not doing something prevents me from doing the thing I’m thinking about not doing! The last few days I’ve actually caught myself thinking “wow, I’m hungry” and not doing anything about it – just watching the clock and noticing my hunger getting worse, until it got late enough to be bed time.

I apologise for the fact that I’ve now restated the same thing three times. It’s just such an astonishingly dumb thing for me to be doing that I’m hoping seeing it written down in several different ways might make me realise that. The very fact that I’m writing this is a good sign, since the last few days I’ve been sitting slumped on the sofa, pinned down by inertia, thinking about how I could be writing on my blog.

So it’s clear I need to give myself a good ol’ kick up the backside.

…wish me luck?

Oh my… June 2008?

I’m one of those people who always has an enormous “things to do” list, and since I seem to spend more time adding things to the list than doing the things already on the list, some things get completely ignored, not because I don’t want to do them or because I forget about them but because I haven’t got around to it yet…

No prizes for guessing where I’m going with this… I’ve been meaning to write blog entries regularly since the last time I posted. I’ve even thought on numerous occasions “that would make a great blog post”, before whatever was next on my list cycled round to the front of my brain and the blog missed its chance once again!

So tonight, I finally find the time to sit and write an entry and discover it’s been MORE THAN A YEAR since the last! I had no idea my “getting round to it” time frame had grown so large! Yikes!

Now that I’ve gotten that revelation out of the way, I can honestly say that I will really, really, try to keep this up.