Sunday, May 27

Boy Do I Know The Feeling!

After the last few weeks of recovery I had to include this link. Many thanks to my Best Man, Welsh Dog, who is very big Down Under!

Friday, May 25

Feeling Lonely (2)

My wife and I go back a long way. God Willing we will celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary in less than four months time.

One of our little traditions is to wish each other happy anniversary every Friday evening at around 8.20. This goes back to our first date, which was at this time and on that day.

This Friday my better half is on a training course which won't finish until nine this evening.

I know it's not long, but I miss having her to say "Happy Anniversary" to.

It makes some people cringe, others rush to throw up. We think it is a lovely reminder. Relationships change over the years, no one is identical to themselves twenty years before. This is our way of reminding ourselves about the passion, the excitement and the strength of the feelings we had all those years ago.

Feeling Lonely

It's not often that I get to feel lonely. I'm a pretty self-contained individual. I guess it's the legacy of being an only child. But the last few days I have felt something or someone was missing. I'm afraid to say it is this book:

Regular readers may have noticed that it appeared as my "On The Bus Book" for quite a while. This was because Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson, is a book and a half. Actually it's three books. And even then it's only the first part of a trilogy! (The Baroque Cycle).

It's a historical epic anchored around real people such as Isaac Newton and King Louis 14th of France. It's a Fantasy, a philosophical work-out, a primer in Cartesian geometry, a pirate story. I could go on. It even had a Wiki devoted to it.

In short, it's a brilliant book, which I feel bereft of now I have finished it. To actually get 900 pages through and feel sad that it has ended says something for the quality of the experience that Neal Stephenson provides.

I already have the second volume of the trilogy sitting in the bedroom, but I'm making myself wait a while before I dive in. I'm like a smoker in a non-smoking area, glancing at my fag-packet every now-and-then for reassurance that I can get a hit later.

Friday, May 11

Veg Box Day Soup

Today I found tired spring onions and some lackluster carrots glaring at me resentfully from the veg rack.Friday is the day of the Phantom's Veg Box delivery. A day of "out with the old, in with the new". So it was use it or lose it time.

I had some stock left over from last night's supper, so soup seemed to be the natural thing to make. I made this today while my wife was in the garden cutting the grass and generally daring the rain to start.The recipe below doesn't take long to make or cook, and is ideal for lunch.

I refer to a "seed-toasting pan". This isn't some special gadget. If you ever have a small old saucepan that has lost its non-stick, or seen better days, don't throw it. Use it for dry toasting seeds such as coriander and cumin for curries, or pine nuts for salads and pesto.

I also refer to a mortar and pestle. Obviously not everyone will have one. I didn't feel up to rummaging for ours. As I am still taking things very easy I just used the end of my rolling pin and a large bowl!

Carrot and Coriander Soup.

10 small carrots, 5 medium or 2 or 3 monsters
3 small or 2 medium onions, or 2 large bunches of spring onions
2 heaped tablespoons of split red lentils
2 pints chicken stock
2 level tablespoons of whole coriander seeds.
2 cloves garlic
Olive oil

Peel carrots and onions. Chop both roughly to the size of Dolly Mixtures.

Wet the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil. When hot add onions, and let soften for 5 minutes or so. Then add carrots, stir, and continue to cook gently for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Try not to burn any of the onion.

Meanwhile, put the coriander seeds into the dry seed-toasting pan and heat over a medium gas, shaking the pan every so often. The seeds will darken slightly and give off a nutty smell. This should only take a minute or two. Pour the seeds into the mortar to cool, then grind with the pestle until fairly fine.

Chop the garlic coarsely, and add it and the split red lentils to the veg pan and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Add the crushed coriander to the veg pan, stir, and cook for a minute.

Add the stock, stir, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the lentils from catching.

Cool slightly, then whiz in small batches in the liquidizer or pass through a Mouli.

Thursday, May 10

Red and Blues (Part 2)

I have to confess that I had never been to the Albert Hall until this week. It seemed strange actually being inside an auditorium that I have seen so often on television, and “heard” so often on the radio, crackling over the ether on the shortwave, whilst sitting in the moonlight in Greece listening to the last night of the Proms on holiday.

We had excellent seats for the concert, just to the side of the stage and only about three rows back. Ms. Armatrading played with a trio of bass, drums and keyboard in support. There was a well-judged mixture of classics and new stuff, with a distinct bluesy feel to the new album (hardly a surprise as it is called Into The Blues).

She played for a solid hour and forty minutes and I am pleased to say that her voice is as strong and clear as it was back in the ‘Eighties. An excellent evening all round. For a sample of her new stuff, click here.

Red and Blues, (Part 1)

Being a boring, stay-at-home sort of guy, the Phantom always finds going out in the evening slightly problematic. Most public entertainments, be they on the stage or the cinema screen, tend to start around eight in the evening and finish a couple of hours later. The quandary is always the same – when do we eat, and where?

At home we naturally gravitate to eating at seven-thirty or eight. This is, of course, the time when most shows start. Factoring in travelling time means that eating at home before the show is rarely a realistic option when you are heading out for your entertainment.

I find it difficult to enjoy a meal out if I am more than a few minutes away from my ultimate destination. Seeing a show in the West End therefore tends to mean dining in Chinatown beforehand. A gig at the Hammersmith Apollo will probably mean a cheap and cheerful burger and chips at the local Wetherspoon pub.

Tuesday presented new challenges. We were headed for the Royal Albert Hall. The area around South Kensington is very much Terra Incognita for my wife and I. Our forays into Hooray Henry land tend to be limited to visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum or Chelsea Flower Show. I find the wide, embassy-ridden streets somewhat intimidating. You can walk for miles without seeing anything but grand houses and 4x4’s, people in pearl twinsets, au pairs, and poodles. Corner shops are rare, there are few pubs, and absolutely no kebab shops. Bereft of the familiar sights and smells, a north London lad can feel quite unsettled.

I had done some research the day before. I used the Time Out restaurant guide to give me a rough idea of what was on offer, then checked out reviews of a shortlist of places from there.

The winner, and our culinary oasis for the night was Moroccan restaurant Pasha.

The restaurant was enchanting, glowing with rich ochre and dark carved wood, burnished brass and copper, twinkling lamps, the floors and tables strewn with fresh rose petals.

The food was finely flavoured, scented with cumin, coriander and saffron. From the starters of smoky aubergine puree and home pickled-vegetables right through to the dessert of fresh fruits and pastries, nuts and sweetmeats the food was full of flavour and generous in quantity.

We had allowed ourselves a couple of hours from arriving at the restaurant to taking our seats at the concert. Another half an hour would have been good, to nibble on Turkish delight and drink some more hot, sweet mint tea, (poured in Moroccan Style from over the waiter’s head, like a spin bowler delivering a googly).

Five minutes walk away lay our main destination for the night. The Royal Hat Box, where Joan Armatrading was to perform. Of that, more later…

Tuesday, May 8

More Loafing About

My Learned Friend the Legal Eagle has requested the recipe for my picnic loaf, as featured previously.

Your wish is my pleasure.

Seeded Sandwich Bread.

I developed this loaf for picnics; the mixture of flours gives a loaf that holds together well, - the seeds add extra flavour and texture.

Apologies for the Imperial measurements, they just work better with these ingredients.

(For a 2lb loaf tin)

12oz Strong Stoneground Organic Wholemeal Flour

12oz Strong Organic White Flour

2 Tablespoons of poppy seeds

3 Tablespoons of sunflower seeds

1 Teaspoon of table salt

11/2 level teaspoons of Dove’s or Allinson’s Easy Blend Yeast

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil, plus extra for oiling bowl.

5 fl oz Boiling water, made up to 15 fl oz with cold water

Mix the dry ingredients well in a large bowl. Pour in the olive oil and most of the water mixture, which should feel hot to the fingers but not uncomfortably so.

Stir with a large spoon to mix together, adding the rest of the water as needed. A small amount of unincorporated flour is fine.

Dump the proto-dough onto the worktop, incorporate all the bits (the seeds will try and escape - do not let them.), and knead for about seven minutes. (You will get this down to about five minutes kneading with practice). Form the dough into a ball.

Pour a small puddle of extra oil into the bowl, drop in the dough, wiggle it about to coat lightly with oil, then cover loosely with clingfilm. Leave to rise until doubled in size. This is best done slowly, at room temperature.

When doubled in size, drop the dough back onto the counter and knead lightly for a minute to ensure there are no large air pockets.

Preheat the oven to gas 7, placing a rack in the middle of the oven.

Lightly oil or butter the loaf tin. Fold the dough into the tin, shaping the top slightly domed. Leave to “prove” (rise) until the dough rises to just above the top of the tin.

Make two evenly spaced cuts an inch or so down into the dough, running lengthways. This will allow the bread to rise evenly without tearing. Sprinkle with a dusting of wholemeal flour. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 – 40 minutes. You will know the bread is ready by the wonderful bready smell! Turn out of the tin and check it is cooked fully by tapping on the bottom of the loaf. It should sound “hollow”. (If not, put back in the oven for another five minutes or so, without the tin).

Cool on a rack, wrapped in a clean tea towel to help keep the crusts soft.

Friday, May 4

Memories Are Made Of This

Winning tickets for my wife and I to see Joan Armatrading yesterday set both our minds back more years than we would care to remember.

Over twenty years ago, as described here, we had met as trade union reps. There was an immediate attraction. I gave her my number. (My home number, mobile phones were the size of bricks and only for the ultra-rich). She rang for a date. Before I knew it, she had invited me on a little trip she was planning, and I had accepted.

A friend of hers was going to work in India. With Mother Theresa. My future wife was going to fly out and visit her. Thus it was that shortly after I had met my Better Half To Be, I was packing a rucksack and preparing for a month traveling from Calcutta north to Darjeeling, then up to Nepal, stopping in Kathmandu before flying back to Calcutta again.

I had never even been on a plane before.

Part of our luggage was a small recording Walkman cassette player with a built-in mono speaker. We only took five tapes with us, and they provided a soundtrack to that trip. What were the tapes?

Face Value (Phil Collins)

Chicken Skin Music (Ry Cooder)

Little Creatures (Talking Heads)

Planxty (Planxty)

And, Of Course, Joan Armatrading.

Thursday, May 3

Going Nicely So Far

I promised my Consultant I would take thing easy, as I mentioned yesterday. I intend to do so. You do not mess with a woman with the gravitas of Hattie Jaques, a double-barreled name, and a scalpel digging around your nether regions.

There is a difference between rest and inaction however. I fully intend to keep busy. It will be interesting to see what I can achieve with the help of my Indispensable Black Kit.

(The Phantom's Black Kit, modelled by Tigger, The Tabby Kit. Laptop, Mobile Phone, Camera, Palm organiser and Ipod.)

Things are already going well. I just used my phone to enter a competition on London's Capital Gold radio station. I have just heard on the radio that I am one of the ten winners. A pair of tickets to a concert next week should be in the post today.

I won't say what the tickets are for yet - let's wait until they flop onto the mat!

UPDATE 12.10: Andy from Capital Radio has just rung and given me a code to quote at the box office. So, to find out where the Phantom and his Better Half will be next Tuesday, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 2

It Only Hurts When I Larf

Or Cough. Or Sneeze.

Glad to be back anyway. Am under strict orders to take it easy for the next few days. I was expecting to be signed off work for two weeks, but the Consultant has insisted on me taking four weeks off.


So I'm writing this in our bedroom, the sound of a Greater Spotted Woodpecker hammering in the trees outside. Tigger is curled up on the bed keeping my toes warm, he's been here all morning.

I'll just rest until I can take another painkiller in half an hour, then I shall struggle into my day clothes and pick up the paper. No Rush.

May is all mine.

Tuesday, May 1

The Usual Pressure Blog

Goes something like this…. Busy at work, unable to find the time to write, apologies.

This is not that blog. I NEVER write during work time. That is practically theft.

(Though I have been very busy at work, now that you mention it.)

No, I have been very busy at home, unable to find the time to write, apologies.

HOWEVER… I am going into hospital today for a quick (and hopefully minor) running repair. When I get out I will be off work for a couple of weeks, with no excuses for not blogging!!

You may wonder why I have written this.

Well, any operation does have a risk. Something could go wrong.

At least if this IS the last post, no one will think I died because I left my Lunch in the fridge.