Birthday 2015

I’m having a ridiculously extended birthday- It was well over a week ago now, but I went out for dinner on Friday with Mark, followed by pub, while nanny Sue babysat, then on Saturday (actual birthday day), I had lunch with my fam, and after whinging for about two ages that I couldn’t be bothered to go, I dragged myself out and was very glad I did- not quite for my birthday, but some friends were going to StreetFeast in Dalston, so I went along for the ride. It was a hell of a lot colder when I left the house than I thought it was going to be, so as StreetFeast is sort of semi-outside, I took a quick dive into Westfield and Stratford to panic-buy a jumper!

For those not in the know, StreetFeast is a collection of bars and food stalls. My main regret of the evening is that I got too involved in the cocktails (which were admittedly a bit disappointing but pretty deadly) and didn’t eat enough food- I only ate one measly portion of gyoza, which were fricking amazing- I was burping the coriander dipping sauce for about three hours afterwards, and am not ashamed to say that it wasn’t altogether unpleasant! After the deadly cocktails, we took a cab back to the motherlands and went to an awful awful nightclub which was full of teenagers, and danced to Busted. I’m cool like that.

On Sunday, after a birthday party for Mark’s grandad (and a buffet, obvs), I went out with the family Ad for Prezzos, thus ending my food-based birthday weekend. And it’s not over yet- Mark bought me a groupon thing for cuban food in Camden, which we’re going to redeem soon, AND we’re off to the theatre with my sister and bro in law, and there was talk of lunch before that. It’s a good job most of my trousers are elasticated.


Food guilt

It started with a goats cheese salad

A lovingly prepared goats cheese, beetroot and pumpkin seed salad, which I was meant to be eating for my lunch. Instead, I have a crappy supermarket sandwich and a bag of crisps. And why?, I hear you cry… well, its that pregnancy thing again, isn’t it!

Quite early on in my pregnancy, I read a book called ‘Expecting Better’, which was basically about how the government-defined guidelines on what you can and can’t consume in pregnancy are somewhat over-cautious, plus a summing up of the research, so you could make an informed decision on what you think is worth the risk of eating. So for the last 22-odd weeks, I’ve been basically flagrantly disregarding the  NHS list as and when I fancied it, as long as I had an awesome statistic or two to back myself up.

Up until now, my absolute veto list started and finished with the following:
-Liver and liver-related products (too much Vit A is bad for babies, so I’m told)
-Excessive amounts of tuna (Too much mercury is equally as bad)

And from the list of doom, I think I’ve had…

-a small piece of brie somewhere around week 6 and a brilliant Marks and Spencer goats cheese salad
Reasoning- Listeriosis= bad for babies- it causes miscarriage and all kinds of bad stuff. So I look at the figures. In 2011, there were 147 cases of listeriosis in England and Wales, 27 of which were in pregnant women. There were 724,000 births in 2011, which in very vague terms, which a statistician would probably tell me aren’t statistically viable, means the vague chances of getting listeriosis are only about 0.004% – pretty teeny weeny really

-Runny eggs
I’m not going to feel guilty about this one- salmonella apparently only affects you, not your baby, and the number of cases of salmonella from eggs in this country was pretty small

After an immense amount of reading around this, I decided a self-imposed limit of a unit a week, and always with food was a risk I was more than comfortable with

Lovely lovely tea. I drink a fair amount of tea and the occasional coffee. Guidelines say three cups a day should be your limit- I might have had four on the odd day I guess- I’ve not kept a strict count

So basically nothing really to write home about, and as you can see, a couple of instances of cheeses from the ‘risky list’- Nothing I felt particularly guilty about at the time, all items were a calculated risk that I decided was worth taking

So why am I feeling unable to eat my goats cheese now, I ask you? I can only assume the maternal part brain that I genuinely never really thought I possessed may have finally wandered in to join the party and is giving the rational side of my brain a massive seeing to- it’s the only reason I can come up with! Come back rational brain!! I miss you!

Post-post note:
And would you believe it, after all that, I found another reference to goats cheese on the NHS website that says soft goats cheese is fine, it’s a very specific type of goats cheese, called Chevre, which you need to avoid. So I could have just eaten the bloody salad all along!

Dinner home alone

Mark is out and Im having a little solo girls night in. Am planning on watching a crap film that he’d not enjoy and have taken the opportunity to eat a cheese-based dinner. Still a little bit full from the Crawfish boil yesterday but I’m a piggy hog!

My friend Sarah went to a cheese and wine tasting at Lords cricket ground and bought me back a piece of smoked Stilton. Ive rather naughtily been picking at it all day at work, and decided to use a bit more of it in a pasta dinner. Also, yesterday we were talking about celery and I was surprised so many of my friends didn’t like it cooked- I’m a massive fan of cooked celery and always have a head in the fridge – knowing how well cheese and celery go, May I present Blue cheese and celery pasta!


Ingredients- 2 handfuls of pasta, 2 sticks of celery chopped up small, a slug of cream and a handful of crumbled blue cheese.  I used the aforementioned smoked Stilton and some Shropshire blue that I had in the fridge that needed eating.

Method- cook pasta.  I won’t insult you by going into the details. Fry celery in a pan for a few minutes, then add cream, cheese and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir until the cheese melts and keep warm until the pastas ready. Plink in bowl, Eat!


Hangover cures

Now, far be it from me to condone drinking one too many and ending up more than a little fuzzy headed, I’m sure we’ve all been there at one point or another (save for those rare individuals who have never had a drink)- On the whole, I tend to pretend my way out of a hangover- ‘what, me? A bit merry last night? oohh no- I wasn’t drunk at all- look, I don’t even have a hangover’, before bustling off to fold some washing or something equally non-strenuous, which gives the impression that you’re hard at work while doing very little (try it, you’d be surprised how much better it makes you feel), occasionally there are nights where you do just go that little bit far, and nothing but sitting on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, watching rubbish on the TV will make you feel better.

I personally, in these situations, am a muncher- I have friends who can’t face eating a thing on a hangover, but I tend to go more in the direction of eating everything- Here are my top picks!

1- McDonalds in all its glory. My first job, while I was still in VI form, was working in McDonalds, and I spent many a friday night drinking gut rotting beer in dirty nightclubs, followed by many a hung over Saturday trying not to puke over the customers. Consequently, in some kind of weird pavlovian response, when hung over, a maccas WILL sort me out. Doesn’t matter which burger- Any will do. And on the rare occasion that food isn’t doing it for me, a full fat coke will do the trick- It’s just not the same from a can or a bottle

2. The turkey breast and al fresco salad sandwich. Another throwback from my youth, and a favourite of my then boyfriend, now husband (who incidentally also worked in McDonalds with me- ah the romance). I suppose in contrast to the unhealthy nature of the majority of our hangover meals, a turkey and salad sandwich seemed positively saintly- It HAS to be al fresco salad because it doesn’t work otherwise, OK- something about the crunchy but sweetness of the peppers and carrots which makes it comforting but reasonably virtuous and the turkey has to be good for protein, right?

3. Sorry, but the al fresco salad sandwich is going to be the closest I get to something resembling a healthy option! Next up, breakfast in a tin. Oh lord, I have some really hideous hangover habits, don’t I! Now this harks back to my festival-going years- days at the Reading festival drinking beer in a field in the sunshine, followed by a night of drinking in a freezing cold field, followed by not being able to afford to fork out a tenner for a bacon sandwich, so breakfast in a tin, eaten cold if particularly lazy, or hot if can be bothered to find the camping stove is my ultimate festival breakfast (which also finds its way into my non-festival, home-based hangover repertoire. To give you the full rundown, it’s baked beans, sausage, some bacon slice things, mushrooms and these weird reformed egg and bacon ball thingys that are a bit like scotch eggs. Equally brilliant in different measures is the HP Full Monty- Same thing, but in a red tin and with the delicious addition of potato cubes for the all important carbs

4. Dirty lasagne from Aldi. Sadly, the horsemeat scandal has put the mockers on this as I’m too scared to buy it, let alone eat it. Back in the glory days though, me and Mark used to buy one and share it, in spite of the fact it’s meant to serve about 4 people!



5. Cheese on toast- Probably the closest I’ll get to hang over food preparation- slicing cheese and keeping a careful eye out so the whole shebang doesn’t burn under the grill. Thankfully, Mark makes the best cheese on toast known to man (something about the addition of worcester source) and so I can generally just whimper loudly from the sofa until he makes it for me :D. This should be accompanied with orange squash, to replace lost sugars.

Wow- not one single solitary vegetable, with the exception of lettuce… and tinned mushrooms! As a minor disclaimer, I should point out at this juncture that I’m not condoning going out and getting smashed, but lets face it, it’s happened to the best of us at one point or the other!

Fooodie Penpals

Last month I stumbled across an interesting initiative on Carol Anne Grady’s blog This is Rock Salt

Namely foodie penpals- Basically, you sign up, get paired up with a pen pal, to whom you have to send a box of foodie delights. In turn, someone else sends you a box of nice stuff. Think of it as a culinary chain letter.

Lots of the people on the lists have blogs, and the idea is that you post up about the contents of the box you receive on your blog, although neither my sender or receiver had a blog, so I guess there are plenty of people who don’t, so don’t let that put you off.

I sent over to my penpal a box including Tiptree jam (made just up the road from me), a hot chocolate stirrer, some home made cake decorations, harrisa (because I’m using it loads at the moment), plus a recipe for harrisa chicken, and some habas fritas- deep fried broad beans. Om nom nom

My foodie penpal, Vicki, unfortunately, emailed me to say she’d sent my box the day that I was leaving for San Francisco- stupid of me not to mention it but anyhow, she said there was something fresh in there that might not be in the best nick by the time I returned but wouldn’t ruin anything else, so I decided to take my chances! Finally, a week and a bit later, when I returned from SF I got over to the post office to pick up my parcel and wit woo- it was brilliant!


From the left of the picture-
-Glastonbury cheddar (thankfully the box had been in a cool place at the post office, so this was absolutely fine, if a wee bit sweaty)- I am an absolute cheese beast. My hen party was a cheese and wine tasting night and I love cheese in all its varied and brilliant forms. Massive tick
-Cranberry and blood orange fruit tea. I must admit, there aren’t that many fruit teas that I drink, but Vicki assures me that she drinks this by the gallon, so I’m more than willing to give it a go!
-Bath cakes- to go with the cheese (two local choices, by the way, as Vicki is from Somerset)
-In the bag- the fresh element- Wild garlic, picked from the river near Vicki’s house- HOW COOL IS THAT?! It’s a tiny bit worse for wear, what with being a week old, but I think I’m going to be able to salvage some of it- a bit of a plunge in iced water should bring it up fine I think- Then I can try the wild garlic pesto recipe that was included in the parcel!
-Orange dark chocolate. Say no more. Literally. I’ve already started eating it
-In the jar- Dukkah- Now, I’ve heard of Dukkah, but never tried it, so muchly looking forward to that- It’s a middle eastern dip- Vicki says to dip bread in olive oil and dip it in the crumbs, or use it as a seasoning

Blatantly going to crack open a bottle of wine and have some cheese and Bath biscuits shortly! What a great introduction to foodie penpals. I’m not going to be doing it next month, as we’re away again (jet set lifestyle or what!) but I’ll definitely be signing up again

Thanks Vicki, if you’re reading this!

Food glorious whoops blew the budget

Last shop of the month completed, I am miffed to say that we blew the budget and came in spending a grand total of £145.66, rather than the planned £110.

On the other hand though, that did include a night of cooking for friends, a lot more ‘proper cooking’ than usual, precisely zero take aways and only two non-packed lunches so I’m not going to be too hard on myself- That actually works out at 81p per meal, which put that way looks nothing short of a miracle!!

I’ve decided to have another go next month, with the budget being £145 again- I know what you’re thinking- ‘well, thats not much of a challange now, is it?!’ and you’d be right, but I think the last month has taught me the benefit of setting a sensible limit. While me and the mister have never really gone mental at the supermarket and started chucking duck breasts and caviar in the trolley, giving ourselves a sensible budget has made us think a bit more about what we buy, rather than relying on convenience food, like microwave rice and we’ve made a welcome return to what I term ‘proper cooking’- Yes it’s not that expensive to buy a frozen pizza and have that with a bag of salad, but it’s much nicer, and not particularly time consuming to make something from scratch.

I’m quite glad to be getting my cooking mojo back- It disappeared pretty much when we moved house- I’d spent the 6 months previous to the move on the go constantly and in my mind moving just gave me an excuse to draw a line under all the hard work and be ridiculously lazy for the next five! So there you go, that’s what I’m taking away from my budgetting exercise- nothing to do with money, but a return to my former, slightly less lazy self!

Sweet potato and chickpea curry for dins tonight, followed by a few hours of housework. I shall be a semi-domestic godess once more!

Happy Sunday

And yes, as the title says, happy sunday everyone! I’ve actually had a really nice, busy weekend- The last few I’ve spent hanging out with my mum and my sister, and having a very nice, chilled out time (and drinking prosecco- lovely!) , but this weekend was a bit different-

On Friday, I went straight from work to Bristol, for a conference. That’s my day job, by the way- I organise conferences, for the association of plastic surgeons, so this weekend was a study day for medical students, all of whom were very nice. So consequently, on Friday I went to Bristol, and met up with the lovely Matt, Katie and Chris for some pub dinner action. I am consequently extremely jealous of Bristol- there were lovely houses (we went back to Matt’s after the pub for a drink and met his house mates who were having a huge dinner party/Israeli feast- which reminded me of the schmoozy side of uni, where you attempt to out-brilliant everyone else (listened to two trainee surgeons talking about who had the worst necrotising faciitis patient (its basically a bacteria that eats your flesh- lovely) but the pub was fab and made me jealous of the fact that I don’t have anything like that nearby- Any pub that gives you a choice of gin, is a-ok in my eyes, and my gin of choice (hendricks, served with thinly sliced cucumber) was absolutely delicious, not to mention a rather nice dinner. Anyhow, after saturday in Brizzle, spent with a massive box of pigs trotters (to allow the students to practice tendon repair techniques), I battled home via several delays on the overground courtesy of ‘Cardiff being very busy because of the rugby’ and the circle line being rubbish because, well, the circle line is always rubbish, I finally got back to the other half’s rugby club just at the end of the England-Wales game, for a couple of pints, and then on to a local pub for more pints of cider and a rather good acoustic band that I danced enthusiastically to.

box of trotters- All in a day's work

box of trotters- All in a day’s work

We were having our buddies Janine and Ash over for dinner on sunday, and being vaugely unimaginative, I found a whole page of lovely food in Good Food magazine and strove to create it all. Because the dessert needed chilling overnight, I had to buy the ingredients in sainsburys, handily next to the pub, and then cooked the whole thing, while, quite frankly, drunk as a lord, then let it cool down before putting it in the fridge to chill overnight. This basically led to me falling asleep on the sofa, and waking up at 5am, rescuing the now cold pie from the oven which I’d somehow managed to turn off at the right time, and putting it in the fridge and going to bed. I woke up the next morning to find that I’d used basically every bowl and pan in the house, and had left a trail of random ingredients in my wake (half a packet of biscuits, half a lemon etc etc)


not a bad effort for something I baked while steaming drunk!- St clements pie- mmmmm

So drunk dessert cooked, and sleep had, we popped to the supermarket, realised that lamb was quite expensive, changed our menu plans to a rather cheaper free range chicken and served with broccoli, roasted new potatoes, peas and carrots that I boiled with some butter, a massive squeeze of honey and some fresh thyme- Delicious! I must admit, we have vaguely blown the shopping budget as per our £110 limit, but I think if we add everything else up and get a few more dinners out of our free range beast, we should be ok- Stay tuned for more!

Anyhow, three bottles of wine later, here I am (it was only us girls that were drinking, so a bottle and a half of wine on a sunday night was probably slightly excessive, but very much enjoyed!) having had variously, a nice catch up with new friends (in Bristol), a bit of an ego boost (at Mark’s rugby club, where everyone is really lovely to me) and a massive catch up with friends, which we’ve been planning on doing for aaages. My only down side is that I spent most of saturday travelling and working, when I could have been hanging out with my mum, sister, niece and nephew, but you can’t have it all, eh!

Food glorious food- week 2

The March food challange is, I’m pleased to say, succeeding. So much so, that since the first shop of the month, on 2nd March, I’ve spent precisely £9.50 on food, bringing our total for the month to £53.46

This admittedly has been helped in no small part by having a whole day of eating at our respective mums’ houses on Sunday, for Mother’s Day (don’t worry- you’ll be pleased to know my mum lifted precisely no fingers and I did the cooking of lunch, afternoon tea and dinner (burp)) and a massive parcel of quiche, cheese, salad and scotch eggs that Mark bought home from his mum’s that’s been keeping us going on lunches so far this week!

Will have to do a bit of a top up tomorrow, as although we still have half a roast chicken, several portions of chilli, another pack of chicken legs and a ridiculous amount of pasta and rice, the cupboards are looking bereft of fruit and veg- Off to my sister’s for dinner tonight though, so that’s another meal we don’t have to buy… I’m sensing that if we do complete this challange, it’ll only be because we’ve not actually been at home to eat much this month- Might have to try something similar in April just to prove a point!

Supermarket Challenge- the first shop

If you saw my last post, you’ll know that the Gem&Mark household is undertaking what I am excitingly calling ‘the supermarket challenge’. In a nutshell, for the month of March, we pledge to spend no more than £110 on food, toiletries and cleaning bobbins.

There’s two of us (Me and Mark, obviously!), no kids, no pets, eating three meals a day plus snacks, apart from on the days that we go to our respective families’ homes and eat their food instead!

So, the first shop- Here it is, for a grand total of £48.82 (and including some bread and toiletry bits that aren’t in the picture!)


Granted this will last more than a week, (there’s a huge pack of mince, a whole chicken and two packs of drumsticks in there for pity’s sakes!!) but for this week, meal plans will be…
Cereal and milk for breakfast, plus juice

Lunches- Ham or cheese and salad sandwiches, and leek and potato soup (there’s leeks potatoes, ham and cheese in the fridge left over from last week!)

Snacks for a week- Mostly in the form of yoghurt . Lucky Mark gets free fruit at work, so he’ll be taking advantage of that! and we do have a sweetie drawer at home, of stuff left over from Christmas, should the urge strike

Dinners for a week, plus a fair lot of leftovers:
-2 days worth of shepherds pie (with the rest of the mincey mix made into three days worth of chilli, with a tin of kidney beans for the freezer- I put a LOT of veg in my mincey dishes, so it’s easy to stretch them out over a few days)
Tandoori chicken drumsticks with rice
-Moroccan chicken stew (with the rest of the pack of drumsticks- the other pack’s going in the freezer- they were only £2 a pack- bargain!)
Spiced carrot and chickpea pilaf– It sounds nice- It’s tonight’s dinner, so we hope it is!
(we’ll likely be at various parents’ houses for the other two days- hoorah- free food!)

A lazy sunday of cultural stuff

For once, Mark wasn’t playing rugby this weekend, so we have had a Saturday of ‘doing’. Namely cleaning the house, a bit of baking for a wedding cake consultation and cooking dinner for the in-laws, which involved investigating the butchers’ in the parade of shops at the end of the road. I’ve never bought anything in a proper butchers before- a vague befuddled feeling about weights and measures has always put me off, I mean, are you meant to know how much meat weighs? ‘Hello butcher, I’d like a pound of stewing beef and a kilo of pork loin’…have I just bought enough for a week, a meal or a dieter?! What can I say, I prefer to know I’m using the right lingo, rather than risk having a shopkeeper laugh at me…. anyway, the butchers was surprisingly busy- so much for the death of the high street, it took 10 minutes to even get served! And I blagged my way through weights and measures by dealing only in whole items- Lamb chops to be precise. If I ever had to go back for mince, I’ll probably have to do some research first! We gave this a go- lamb chops with leek mashed potato and redcurrant and mustard sauce– I highly recommend it. We went for chops rather than cutlets, so it took a wee bit longer to cook, and in retrospect, cutlets might have been better because the chops were a little on the gristly side but other than that it was pretty triumphant.

Because of working reasonably hard on Saturday to get the house straight, we have had a lovely Sunday to ourselves and so decided to take ourselves off to a couple of museums.

Mark’s pick first- The Museum of London Docklands. I was admittedly a bit sad at his pick- There was a really cool sounding exhibition on at the actual Museum of London, about dissections and grave robbers that I quite fancied, but still, his choice, so off we went. The museum gives the history of London’s docks from Roman times to the present day and was, I’m pleased to report, an interesting choice. I wish we’d not spent quite as long on the first floor, because we were a bit exhausted by the time we got into the Victorian times and up to present day, which I personally found a bit more interesting- I love a bit of social history, and this gave more information on the actual people who were around at the time. There was a great account from one of the inspectors who went round the Isle of Dogs after a big bombing raid in the Blitz, who reported that while there was no electricity, gas or water, the pubs had managed to stay open- God bless the East End, eh!

1930s room from the Geffrye Museum website

A quick bit of lunch in the wetherspoons next door (mmmmm, microwave sausage and mash anyone?!), and we were off to my choice- The Geffrye Museum in Hoxton. I used to come here loads when I was a kid, mainly, so I’m told, because they used to have brilliant activity sheets for children to fill out as they went round the museum, so I hold fond memories of it from then, plus the aforementioned more than passing interest in social history. Now to give the Geffrye Museum in a nutshell, it’s basically room sets of front rooms/drawing rooms/parlours (call them what you will) from a typical middle class person’s house from eras going from the 1600s up to the present day. We were particularly interested to have a look at the 1930s house, because I’m quite keen to do up our newly purchased 1930s semi in a vaguely sympathetic style, so it was great to see the room sets around that era.

Now we’re back home after that, awaiting our buddies Dan and Ange, who are coming over to discuss cakes, for their wedding in December- we’ll be baking it as our wedding present to them- So it will shortly be time for tea, a chat and a nice slice of victoria sponge, and then Sunday night TV, and yet more chilling. And a very lovely weekend it has been too!