Thursday, December 20
Like most men, when I get a cold I go down with all the unexpected swiftness of the Hindenburg having a bad landing. I have spent most of this past week with my eyes streaming, my nose running, lungs struggling to pass oxygen through mucus-filled sludge. Get the idea? ILL.
Having set the scene, I bring you, gentle reader, to the marital bedroom.
INT. BEDROOM. 4.30 A.M. DARKNESS.
THE PHANTOM is sitting on the edge of the bed, having woken up, yet again, coughing.
HIS BETTER HALF rouses from the depths of her slumber...
BETTER HALF: You alright?
PHANTOM: Yeah, I just woke up again, I woke myself up coughing...
BETTER HALF: No you didn't...
PHANTOM: Yes, I woke up choking and coughing...
BETTER HALF: No you didn't...
Yes, it had to happen. After twenty years of being married, my wife has got to the point where she can argue with me in her sleep!
Thursday, December 6
Sunday, December 2
Saturday, December 1
The last three and a bit weeks passed too quickly to capture in this blog.
- Seeing Arcade Fire live at Alexandra Palace
- Cooking curries for our friends Eze and Jackie's new son. We did (by special request) veggie curries as part of a bring-and-share at our church. These events are beginning to get a reputation and the queue for food stretched right out of the building. Edible Love in generous portions at the baptism of Onyedikachi Sean Ugoala.
- Doing a really good interview for an internal vacancy at my college.
- After standing all night for Arcade Fire my Sciatica is killing me.
- I couldn't hang around at the feast as I had to go shopping for my mum, and then work on my job application.
- There were only two vacancies. I came third...
Thursday, November 8
This photo shows The Phantom looking rather nervous. I'm not a great lover of boats, and had just been handed a set of waders to put on which looked like they had come straight out of the costume locker for the film "The Perfect Storm".
This is JJ's oyster barge, with my better half looking cool for'ard.
Early morning light over the oyster beds...
This is John Joe, hefting a sack of oysters. We were standing way out at sea. The oyster beds are only uncovered at low tide, for a couple of hours morning and evening, two weeks out of four.
We were out to do some quality control. This is the contents of one bag...
I soon started to relax when I realised that we had an oyster knife on board. After all, there's only one real way to do quality control on an oyster. Eating it. I will never eat an oyster any fresher than those I ate, standing in the Atlantic that morning.
And this is A Happy Phantom, with two kilos of mussels and two dozen spanking fresh oysters for that night's supper. I'm afraid I didn't get any photographs that night, we were too busy eating!
Wednesday, November 7
Tuesday, November 6
And some very idiosyncratic road markings on the more quiet lanes...
In best Irish style it has turned a disused slate quarry into a tourist attraction by transforming it into a religious grotto, with statues of the Virgin and St. Bernadette...
And if you ever wondered where Kerrygold butter comes from, we met a couple who know...
Sunday, October 28
Whole banks of delicate nodding heads, some robust, others more delicate, line the roadsides.
It is such a feature of the area that in Chapeltown, the northernmost village on the island, they even have a restaurant named after them, with this particularly fetching sign:
If you are in the area, pay a visit to Glanleam. It is a hotel with a sloping series of gardens working down a sheltered slope which actually boasts a sub-tropical climate. There are tree ferns abounding, glades of bamboo, and a fine walled vegetable garden.
This magnificent Ram's head decorates one of the iron gates which protect it. It has a pagan look to it, suggesting virility and strong growth. Maybe it is a reference to Puck Fair, celebrated in the nearby town of Killorglin.
Friday, October 26
This is the civil war memorial there. The soldier has a soviet-era look to him. A little bit cuddly and rounded.
The strangest things can give you culture shock. We are so used to seeing Pound Shops in the inner cities, but over in Ireland they have...
Look carefully, and you can see what the Euro Shop was in a previous life.
How many people went into banking for job security, and were overtaken by technology?
Thursday, October 25
I can't complain though. The countryside is simply stunning...
I was taking photos before I had even arrived at the terminal building. I couldn't resist this sign...
There is something "Twin Peaks" about it.
Friday, October 19
I'm off to the West of Ireland soon, to meet my better half. This time I will take my card reader with me. Valentia here I come! More soon, with photos hopefully.
Thursday, October 18
There is something magical about chutney, such uninspiring ingredients brought together with breath-taking amounts of vinegar, producing something so rich and complex...
The finished result, dark, mysterious. Just three months till we can open it!
Saturday, October 13
Our pelargoniums are still glowing red in the sunshine.
And in the shade at the end of the garden the last of the wild foxgloves keep their secrets, hoods bobbing gently in the freshening evening breezes.
Friday, October 12
Monday, October 8
Saturday, October 6
I favour a really rich pastry, say 14 oz flour, 7 oz butter, 3 egg yolks and iced water. Pastry this rich can be very crumbly, difficult to roll out and bake blind. A couple of weeks ago I tried out a couple of tips which I am pleased to pass on.
First, don't even try to roll out the pastry to fit the flan tin. Instead, roll the dough into a sausage shape when you make it (wrap it in cling film while you rest it). Then, to make the pastry case, just cut pound-coin thickness slices off the roll, and push them into the tin.
Just fill up any gaps as you go. It's so much easier than having the dough tear or stretch, and you don't waste any as off-cuts either.
The second tip is about baking blind. Usually the books tell you to line the pastry case with foil, then add baking beans to weigh down the pastry. I always find that the tinfoil sticks to the pastry, and it rarely shapes itself properly to the pastry case. So, don't use tinfoil, use clingfilm!
Don't worry, it won't melt at the heat used do bake pastry. It conforms perfectly to the shape of the pastry case, and never sticks.
The finished cheese and vegetable flan in all its glory...
Friday, October 5
Saving time like this can only work if you have been shopping with cooking-ahead in mind. I had bought a piece of boned, stuffed shoulder of pork and some minced beef. I also checked that I had flour, butter and eggs in the store cupboards.The night before I made a batch of rich (2:1 flour to butter) shortcrust pastry. In the food processor this took 5 minutes,no more. I rolled the pastry in cling film, and left it in the fridge to rest overnight.
The pastry went to line two flan tins, was baked blind and turned into vegetable and cheese flans (or quiches, for the more pretentious of us.)
The flans were baked at gas 4, which was also the temperature I roasted the pork at. Whilst these were in the oven I made a beef chilli. Somehow adding the chilli heat and some(tinned)kidney beans makes mince-for-two go twice as far.
All in, I spent about two hours actually cooking, and by the time I finished we had the main ingredients for our dinners for the rest of the week.
I was particularly pleased with a couple of neat bits of technique with the flan cases which I tried for the first time...
What have I been up to?
I have the pleasure of working in one of London's best Sixth Form Colleges. However, anyone who has ever worked in education will tell you the same thing - the first part of the autumn term is exhausting.
No matter how well prepared you may be, when term starts everything needs to be done now, or preferably yesterday.
Most evenings recently have found my lovely wife and I crashed out in the sitting room, with just enough energy left to stroke our visiting cats. Most nights have found us too knackered to even try and find something decent on tv. The energy used up in hunting is rarely rewarded by finding anything watchable.
Even our diet has suffered, with that nice Croatian who delivers the Chinese takeaway becoming a regular visitor.
Things are easing off now though, and I have some posts ready to go.
The Phantom is Back!
Thursday, October 4
Monday, September 17
I have always found that getting a home-made pizza into a hot oven and onto a hot pizza stone is a bit of a struggle.
Simply get yourself a box of baking parchment, also known as silicone paper. Cut a piece a few inches larger than your proposed pizza, and simply roll the dough out on top of the paper. When you have finished adding the toppings, simply slide the entire thing, paper and all, onto your pizza stone or baking sheet. Lifting it out is also a doddle.
(This will make enough dough for two pizzas. If you only want one, freeze half for next time...)
12oz strong bread flour
7.5fl oz tepid water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon easy blend dried yeast.
In a large bowl mix all dry ingredients together well.
Add the olive oil to the water, then pour half into a well in the centre of the flour.Stir to incorporate, adding more liquid until the mixture coheres. (You may need to add more liquid, depending on your flour, but try not to get it over wet and sticky.)
Knead to a ball in the bowl, then drop it onto a clean worktop. Knead by stretching the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, then gather back in, turn by a quarter and repeat. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is elastic, and bounces back when pressed.
Cover the dough with oiled clingfilm and leave to rise until doubled in size, probably an hour or so.
When nearly doubled, put oven on to pre-heat at gas 8, 230C.
When doubled in size, knead gently for a minute to flatten the dough.
Cut in half, and roll each piece out into a circle about 10 or 12 inches across. Do this directly onto the baking parchment.
All that remains then is to spread the dough with a smear of good quality tomato puree or well-reduced homemade tomato sauce, then add your favourite toppings. Yesterday's was halved cherry tomatoes, chorizo sausage and mozzarella.
Slide your pizza onto a baking stone or oven tray, and bake towards the top of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Lovely.
P.S. The idea for the parchment paper came from a most excellent book by Tom Norrington-Davies, Cupboard Love. It's full of good ideas, and realistic suggestions for after-work cooking.
Sunday, September 16
I have to confess that we are not the world's greatest salad eaters, and I always think that toms taste better cooked, even baby ones.
One of the nicest ways of making a star out of them is on top of a freshly baked pizza base, with some basil torn over just before serving...
I'll post the recipe tomorrow, along with a tip that made my day when I read it!
Thursday, September 13
Work is still exhausting, and we are chasing our tails doing umpteen things at the same time.
I know I should be getting more exercise, but at the moment the 45 minute walk to work is about my limit, and I'm not doing that every day either...
My Learned friend Welsh Dog has decided to start a new blog which may serve as a shining beacon of inspiration to us all. I suggest you point your browser over to Fat man On A Diet.
After a hard days work there is nothing better than relaxing and reading about someone else literally slogging away on a treadmill.
As Mark Twain said, "I love hard work... I could watch people do it all day long!"
Sunday, September 9
Culture shock seems to be the best explanation. Seasonal Affective Disorder struck as soon as our plane opened its doors at Gatwick Airport. Everything and every place seemed so gray. And Dreary. And Tiring.
No energy to blog. Sorry!
As usual at this time of year, my working days over the last two weeks have been filled with getting our library ready to go for this year's intake of students. Tomorrow is when it all kicks off.
We are going to be short staffed, and at half-four on Friday afternoon we heard that our IT department had
Problem solving is what we do best. Probably because we get lots of practice.
Sunday, August 26
And, now, by special request, Breakfast Porn!
In a comment a few days ago Amalee mentioned that she loved "holiday breakfasts". I think I know exactly what she means.
Most working days for me start with a cuppa, and some cereal or an apple, eaten in a rush and leaving me feeling slightly icky afterwards. Holidays are one of the few times when we can just take our time, warm up slowly, and, if we feel like it, we can indulge.
Breakfast ingredients on Crete are of variable quality. The "bacon" is usually streaky, cut far too thin and industrially packed. despite this, it cooks quite well, producing a decent amount of fat, and you can get it crispy if you wish. (Most Greeks don't seem to.) "Sausages" on a Cretan menu are normally frankfurters, and undistinguished. However, the star of the morning repast in Crete, and indeed anywhere in Greece, is the egg.
Greek eggs are what they used to be like in the U.K. They are always golden, perky and rich. They always have a luxurious freshness about them, wherever you buy them.
To enjoy them at their best, try scrambling them. Most self-catering apartments just have a two ring electric stove top, so if you want bacon, fry that first. Then just scramble a box of eggs and anoint your plate with golden creaminess. If you like (We Liked) You can fry some bread in the bacon fat...
Breakfast #1. Scrambled egg, bacon, fried bread.
Adding some of the cooked new potatoes from your previous lunch and some peppers and fried onion gives you a beautiful base for a substantial "Spanish" omelette...
(We were too busy eating to photograph the finished Omelette).
And a special shout out to the "Irish Taverna" (Which also does Thai food in the evening, very Irish). This place produced a "Full Irish" breakfast which was notable for including fried potatoes, mushrooms that weren't from a tin, and sausages that were "Almost home-made". I questioned the Irishman about that. The sausages (95% pork) were homemade, but by a Greek lady in the village. She should open a place of her own. They were delicious...
"The Full Irish" In All It's Glory...
I am aware that, to some, breakfast is an opportunity to leave healthy offerings at the door of the Temple that is their bodies.
Even we feel like that sometimes. So, take rich, 10% greek yogurt, ripe nectarines and peaches, grown up the road, and add these babies...
...Which were growing over our patio...
And you have...
...The Healthy Option.
Enjoy, and Have A Nice Day Now!
Saturday, August 25
We got in to Gatwick airport at around 7pm and everywhere was cold, overcast and dreary. A fine drizzle completed the re-acclimatization and reminded us that Greece wasn't just 3 1/2 hours away, it was gone for another year.
We instantly started suffering from SAD, and it has been too depressing to post for the last few days.
We have been surrounded by damp piles of washing, and the house and garden alike smell of Autumn, musty, damp and cool.
This morning though, I woke at 7 to see the sun sneaking through the window blinds. Tigger was calling for his breakfast, and everything looked brighter again.
It is good to be back, after all.
And remember, One Person's Sunset is Someone Else's Morning.
Wednesday, August 15
I noticed the Blonde Guy first. He was reclining on a sun lounger. Like a corpse reclines. He was wearing shorts. Nothing else.
Now Blonde Guys are not unusual round these parts. There is a Swedish Complex very close. (Hotel is too small a word. This place looks like one of those big sets from a James Bond movie. I swear I saw a man in a leather armchair cuddling a Persian cat.)
It is just up the hill. 700 Swedes, all looking for alcohol and entertainment. (Well, actually to the Swedes they seem to be the same thing.)
This chap was notable for two things. He looked like Martin Clunes, and he was sleeping the sleep of the heavily Hung-Over. I.E. Nearly Dead.
We had a certain amount of fun watching his pale Nordic skin slowly turn to crackling in front of us. I actually, (only briefly) considered either spraying him with water or squirting him with sun lotion. I did neither, naturally.
Then he woke up. He spoke perfect, polite English, with a hangover.
"Hello!. How long have you been here?"
Not as long as you.
"I work here, at the S*****G" (Swedish place.)"
"We had a staff party last night. This is as far as I got on the way back. We went to the Rock Bar..."
" I Think..."
"It has been 45 degrees Centigrade here for the last three weeks."
" I work in the entertainment section at the complex."
We felt he was being chatty, but also needed to unburden himself of some terrible secret...
"It is not a bad job. I work with the children. Four hours a day. Not bad."
"Sometimes I dress up as a giant Giraffe..."
"That is not too bad."
"On other days I dress up in the bear costume. I was in the bear costume all last week. 45 Degrees. "
"It was not good."
With that he stood up without looking. And walked into the pool....
Despite the fact that the Phantom can only execute a doggy paddle that would embarass a baby Pekinese, he has discovered something he can do better than his wife. (Yup, the qualified swimming instructor).
She is qualified to teach in the U.K. of course, and despite the large number of "fun" poools with all sorts of flumes and slides, surfing is not big in your average municipal pool.
I had seen her eyeing the body boards for the last few days. She bought one, and we strode, (or in my case manfully crept, sideways), into the sea. Breakers erupting to head height all around.*
She jumped on, head-butted the polystyrene board, and fell off.
This happened again. Twice.
Being male, I genetically knew what needed to be done.
"You need to leap on the crest of the wave, just as it breaks.... Keep the nose down, you need a shallow angle of attack."
After I had emptied my ears and eyes from the torrent of warm, salty water she had expertly sent in my direction, I realised what I had done. Like a London Gangster in the East End opening a Kray-free nightclub I had committed the ultimate sin. I was moving-in on my wife's Territory.
I would Have To Pay...
The next wave was looking vaguely like a tower block as it insinuated its way towards us. I prepared my self, said a prayer, waited until just the moment....
Leapt onto the board.
And coasted, literally riding along on the crest of the wave, right on to the beach.
Best of all:
- My wife was watching
- And I kept my hat and sunglasses on throughout.
Colonel Kilgore surfing off the beach under rocket fire in Apocalypse Now wasn't in it.
I swear I could hear Wagner...
* (I may be exaggerating. Maybe)
Tuesday, August 7
Well folks, some people (like my wife) think I am deeply sad to be blogging on holiday. Myself, I just like to think I am keeping the faith, and thinking of my loyal readership.
(Excuse me while I take a gulp of my ice cold Mythos beer.......
Ah! That's better. Beer mug just out of the freezer, rime of frost around the jug. Lovely.)
My lovely other half is down on the beach, all of 30 seconds away from here. I'm in the bar of our apartments, and being civilised they have 2 internet computers set up, just a few paces from the drinks and food.
It's a long journey down from London to Crete, and another couple of hours by coach to get here, which is Macrigyalos, give or take a letter or two.
We are in rooms literally overlooking the sea, with palm trees filling in the gap between our patio and the sea.
We have managed to leave the worst of the stresses of London behind already. The quiet beauty of this area does that. This resort is still relatively undeveloped. We haven't been back here for at least 7 years, but yesterday when we walked down the main (only) street, two of the shopkeepers came and greeted us, welcoming us back.
Bougainvillea (I think, one for Amalee to rule on when I get photos up) blooms are intertwining, grapes hanging in bunches above our heads wherever we go.
The sun is fierce at this time of day, so in a while I will go back to our room and fix some lunch, local Louganiga (sausages) in fresh baps with feta and sun-ripe tomatoes.
The restaurants are decent, but none really shine. Fortunately we have a brand new butchers (kreatopoleion) and a fishmonger (psaro something or other) since our last visit, and I love cooking on holiday. (more Madness?)
I will take plenty of photos (I will make sure to get some brakfast porn for A.I.) but I didn't bring my card reader so will have to upload back in the U.K.
Thanks to all for the kind wishes.
More in a few sun-drenched days.
Tomorrow, Chrissy Island, Today, the beach!!
Love from the Phantom and his sun bronzed lady.
Saturday, August 4
Wednesday, August 1
Today my wife and the Legal Eagle were joined by our old friend "Battey Moo". (Just don't ask).
Another reason for me feeling guilty was that I didn't do any cooking for our feast. I was working a half-day, so I thought I would relax and let someone else put in the effort. I popped into Olga Stores, a long-established Italian Deli in Penton Street, just around the corner from Chapel Market.
For a sunny day lunch an Italian Deli is very hard to beat. In quick order I had secured ham with rosemary, some pastrami, peppers (stuffed with tuna and capers), artichokes and anchovies, both marinated in oil and of course olives. I added some mushrooms a la Greque and a buffalo mozzarella, milky and soft. The cheese would be sliced and added to tomatoes and home-grown basil, the only work I had in the whole meal. Oh, and I washed some lettuce leaves. That was it.
Ripe peaches and cherries dipped in creamy yogurt provided dessert. It was a most satisfying afternoon.
I think I can live with the Guilt.
Sunday, July 29
By and large, the flooding that has occurred here has been in low-lying sites such as tube stations. An inconvenience at worst, but nothing disastrous. Two Fridays ago central
In our little part of the world the only real problem caused by the rain is that the slugs and snails have been busier than normal, shredding everything within reach and even climbing up walls the better to feast on our window boxes.
My good lady wife is back to her nocturnal slug hunting, torch in one hand, slug squishing trowel in the other. Some of the neighbours think we are a little strange.
It entertains the cats too.
Now if only snails moved fast enough to tempt the cats, our problems would be solved….
Thursday, July 26
Meanwhile, at my college, whilst the teachers are relaxing, we few (Very Few!) in the Library are stocktaking, preparing new books, and re-arranging the shelves. We have over 21,000 books and DVDs at the moment, and by the time September arrives we will have moved every single one eight feet sideways and put them back on the shelves! It's tiring, and when I get home gardening is far from my mind.
However, we managed to get outside this evening, in one of those magical periods when the weather suddenly clears and the blue of the sky looks as if it has been scrubbed clean.
The Fuchsias and Montbretia may be drooping, but the colours set each other off beautifully.
The Agapanthus have been waiting for ages to bloom, and finally found the courage to do so.
My better half stopped to have a chat with our next-door-neighbour. Our gardens are slightly sloping, so she knelt on a garden chair to have a proper over-the-fence chat.
Regular readers will know that our cats are firm believers in only sitting on humans under certain conditions, namely
- If They Haven't Asked Them To
- When They Least Expect It
- And Preferably When It Causes Them Most Inconvenience.
Instantly relaxing himself, my wife was rendered helpless. Another Success for the Feline Takeover of the World.