Monday, January 29

Blogging Goes Mainstream

It had to happen eventually! Bloggers have finally become accepted into that epitome of Little Britain, The Archers. Ambridge has always been at the forefront of the techno-revolution. The village has its own website, and the local pub, The Bull, even has an internet cafe.

Now, Ian and Adam, recently "Civil Partnered", have set up a blog on which to document their honeymoon trip. Mind you, they are the only gays in the village, and therefore allowed to be a little avant garde.

Thursday, January 25

A Month Since Christmas

It’s hard to believe but it really is one twelfth of a year since Christmas day. It’s been a long month, tiring. Going back to work always takes an effort, but especially so when the mornings are still dark, and the cold nights make a warm duvet even more difficult to throw off.

It doesn’t even seem like a week since gales were sweeping the country. Yesterday brought the first of the winter’s snow for those of us in the south. I had to rush into work for an early start, but I couldn’t resist snatching a photo of our garden.

The snow works a silent magic every time.

With time seeming to speed up, now is the moment to start planning for the coming summer in our garden. The pyramid on the right in the photo is a mini greenhouse, a Growmate. A few years ago we got organised, sowing seeds and growing petunias, bizzy-lizzies, salvias, chillis, basil and tumbling tomatoes. Recently we have let things slip, and the Growmate has been more of a storage space. (Though Bernard, one of our visiting cats, was using it as an highly architectural litter tray until we discovered what he was doing.)

This year will be different. (Do we say that every year?) I have learned my lessons. After our first successful year I got over-ambitious, planting seeds too early when the days were still too short. The resulting seedlings grew spindly and fell over, or succumbed to damping-off. This year I will plan ahead, but bide my time…

Tuesday, January 23

English – The Language of Uncertainty

If the purpose of a newspaper headline is to convey unequivocal meaning quickly, this headline singularly fails the test…

When I first saw the above headline (on the current edition of Eastern Eye) I thought it concerned a vigorous debate about reincarnation! It turned about to be about a man released from prison in Pakistan. I link to the Guardian’s article here.

Thursday, January 18

Before and After

This was the proud, three storey high billboard which used to face our college.

After today's Gales this was all that was left to clear up...

It looked bloody heavy too. Luckily nobody was hit, though the debris closed one lane of the road for the afternoon

An Ill Wind

I wrote the previous item in my lunchbreak. It was only when I went out for a stroll later that I realised quite how bad the weather is here in London.

Just outside our college a large advertising hoarding had been blown down onto the road. The park just down the road had been closed because a number of trees had been uprooted.

Now, at afternoon break time, our college is empty and, for once, silent.

A glass roof at the front of our building has been bucking and twisting, threatening to shatter at any moment. It is right in front of our main entrance (and exit) and is our main fire route out of the building. Naturally that exit can’t be used, so all the students have been sent home. There are just three of us in the library now, and the place feels like a cross between the Titanic and the Marie Celeste….

Lowpoint of the Year

There is definitely something in the air at this time of year. A miasma of malaise seems to hover just above everyone you talk to. Although the days have been getting longer for nearly a month now, they still seem pinched, grey, drab and dismal. The mornings are still dark and oppressive. I normally wake up a few minutes before my alarm goes off. In the last week I have slept clean through the alarm three times.

January 2nd may have been the worst day
for staff sickness generally, but in our library we have had 20% sickness rates all week long. Half term is only a month away, but it feels like forever to wait….

The last few days all I have felt good for when I get home is just crashing out on the floor in front of the TV and the paper, or falling asleep in the armchair with one of our visiting cats.

Still, things aren’t necessarily better when the sun is shining. Check out this article
from my friend Welsh Dog over at Opinion Australia.

After reading that, the rain and greyness doesn’t seem so bad after all!

Monday, January 8


The Grilled Jacket Potato is one of the few items in my culinary repertoire that I actually feel I have invented. I say "feel" because in the kitchen very few ideas are new. All i can say with any honesty is that I don't recall seeing the idea anywhere else.

One of the most common uses of the microwave must surely be making a jacket potato. They certainly cook quickly,but they can be somewhat unsatisfying. The very speed with which they cook seems to deprive the spud of flavour. Cooked in a traditional oven the outside skin crisps up, providing depth of flavour and contrasts in texture. The nuked spud seems soft and pallid in comparison.

My technique is designed to give the potato back some some flavour and texture. It is still quick, and the gain in flavour is significant.

1. Prick potato with fork a couple of times and cook as normal in the microwave.

2. Cut potato in half through longest axis.

3. Score cut sides of spud lightly in a diamond pattern.

4. Cut a piece of butter about an inch square from a fridge-hard block.

5. Spear butter with a fork and run gently over the cut surface of the potato, allowing as much butter to melt as your waistline or conscience will allow.

6. Grind plenty of black pepper and salt onto the now slightly roughened, buttery surface.

7. Place under a pre-heated grill until golden, brown, and irresistible.

I came up with the idea as an alternative to full-on roast potatoes. You get some of the crunch without so many calories!

Wednesday, January 3

The Last of the Christmas Veg Box

It is amazing how dependent one can get on a vegbox. Last night we used the last vegetable from our enlarged order delivered the Friday before Christmas. We are counting the days…

We had ordered an extra cauliflower, and it was still lovely and fresh when we had it last night, to accompany roast chicken and our special invention, the Grilled Jacket Potato. (More on the GJP tomorrow.)

Now, spuds, cauliflower and chicken could end up being a plate full of grey. However, we still had some double cream left in the fridge, and plenty of cheese. So, feeling indulgent, we decided to have cauliflower cheese. The gratineed top lifts the whole meal.

Doesn’t this look delicious?

The secret to a good Cauli Cheese is simple, steam the cauliflower for just a few minutes and then allow to cool, uncovered. This make sure the cauli is dry, preventing the cheese sauce from being thinned down by watery juices, and still leaving the veg with some texture.

The sauce was made with ½ pint milk, ¼ pint double cream, a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and roughly a quarter of a packet of butter. The technique was Delia Smith’s all-in-one white sauce method.

I used extra flour for a thicker end result. Once the sauce was made, and off the heat, I added a goodly amount of grated mature cheddar, and a small amount of freshly grated parmesan. The mixture was assembled in a greased gratin dish, the cauliflower given a dusting of nutmeg before the sauce was put on, and finally finished with a further sprinkling of parmigiano on top of the sauce. Twenty minutes in a hot oven did nicely. You can give it a flash under the grill to finish colouring the top if needed.

This dish is so good, you could have it as a main course with just a salad and some crusty bread.

Monday, January 1

Happy New Year To All Our Readers

Wherever you are in the world we both hope you have a Happy and Healthy 2007.

My fellow Finsbury Park blogger a.c.t. posted a photo of her family Nativity scene.

Over here at Phantom H.Q. the Health and Safety Inspectors decided that straw and our passion for night-lights was a bit of a risky combination, so we had to give the hay the old heave ho.

We like a slightly non-traditional twist, so see if you can spot the odd-one-out in our crib scene...

This just happens to be post 101. It seems appropriate to hit a turning point like that on the first day of the New Year. Phantom's Resolution? Keep Blogging!!