lists, travel

Berlin

Tomorrow C and I are off to Berlin for a 2 night City Break. Already booked a table for Thursday evening at the number 1 rated restaurant in Berlin on Trip Advisor, Restaurant Heising and have a tour of the Reichstag booked for tomorrow. I’ve got the day off today as well to sort things out and prepare and my lists are playing a blinder! The excitement is cranking up and tonight I’m driving to Nottingham to drop my son off while I’m away – he’s staying with my parents and also my brother’s family while C’s son is on a school trip to Normandy in France. Hope to post some great photos and travelogue. Watch this space!

lists, travel

List, at last!

The feeling! The freedom! The…the…the sheer joy! I’ve done it, I’ve made a list! OK, it may not be up there with Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ list but I bet he didn’t feel so blissfully empowered as I do having completed mine. You see, I am, after all, Lazy Bill. I don’t usually do things such as lists, I am, generally speaking, disorganised; I just do things when I have to with a minimum of preparation or pre-oganisation. But with my list in hand, I can say “I’m Prepared”, I have a plan and I’m going to make it work!

Right, I’ve calmed down a bit now, the euphoria is wearing off. So what is this list, I suspect you’re all wondering, that is causing such elation? Well, I’ll tell you. Next week, my wife is taking me to Berlin for a few days as part of the celebrations for my impending 50th birthday. We fly from Liverpool to Schonefeld Airport on Wednesday, spend a couple of nights at the Grand Hotel Esplanade and return on Friday. Now, normally when I go on a trip, I just get a large bag out the cupboard, scan my wardrobe, put a few clothing essentialls inthe bag, a shirt or two, t-shirts, toiletries and before I know it I’ve got enough clothing and accessories to last a month long cuise through the freezing Norwegian Fjords and crossing the Atlnatic for a sojourn across the Caribbean. But that’s not how it is this time…Oh no. this time I’m travelling light and I’m planning ahead!

Last Saturday we went to Manchester and I bought myself a 40 litre bag, just the right size to take into the cabin and this will carry my ‘stuff’ in its entirety.

My new North Face 'hand luggage' bag
My new North Face ‘hand luggage’ bag

The bag cost £120 and it has all the right dimensions get in an Easyjet cabin for free, so for a return journey that’s a saving of £50 so it’s already saved me about 40% of its value! And the list? Well, about 5 days ago during a quiet period at work I got a piece of paper out and made a list of all the clothing and toiletries I’m going to take. I’ve transferred it all onto useful little app called Wunderlist and I’m good to go! I’m even tempted to pack my bag now, a full 5 days before we set off just so I can feel doubly organised (and probably doubly smug).

It’s a little thing but in some ways means much to me that I’ve discovered, on the eve of my 50th birthday, that a little bit of forward planning and preparation has taken the stress out of a process I’ve always considered a dull and stressful chore which is one of those requirements that cause stress and anxiety which is at the root of my laziness and underachievement. Yes, it’s true, I avoid stress and anxiety like the plague so if its not worth doing I don’t do it and if it has to be done I do it at the last minute in a rush of stress fuelled adrenaline.

So, it’s goodbye stress and its goodbye anxiety. Lists are the future. If only I’d known 35 years ago.

Food And Drink

Even More Chinese Food

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This time it’s Curried Rice Noodles with Chicken; a Thai dish (I know, not, of course, Chinese) made with a traditional Thai red curry paste – as this was a mid-week meal I used a ready made paste.

Quite quick and easy to cook; heat some oil in a wok, add the curry paste and stir fry the chicken in the oil and paste in batches for a couple of minutes each. Then return all the chicken to the wok with chopped red chilli, fish sauce and lime juice; stir and simmer for a minute. Add bean sprouts and pre-cooked rice vermicelli; toss well. For a garnish I fried some chopped onion and garlic until brown and crisp and sprinkled on the top with coriander and chopped pea-nuts. Very nice!

food, Food And Drink

Turkish Coffee

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We all love Italian coffee, right? Well, certainly the versions of latte, cappuccino served up by the giant conglomerates such as Starbucks, Costa, Nero etc and copied by copious independent cafes, merely to keep pace. But what about Turkish coffee?

My first perception of Turkish coffee was when I would travel to Tottenham Hotspur home matches in North London and after alighting at Seven Sisters tube station I would walk past a myriad of Turkish coffee bars and see young Turks through the windows sitting in groups with a small cup of coffee in front of them and generally smoking a cigarette (no doubt Turkish tobacco). I always wondered where the pleasure was to be found in quaffing what looked nothing more than a mouthful of black coffee but I assumed there was something in it. And of course, in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, Ali Kerim Bey offers Bond a Turkish coffee which he requests medium sweet.

My first taste of Turkish coffee came soon after the outstanding Turkish Anatolia restaurant opened in my local Lytham St Annes and we paid a visit for Mother’s Day. We ordered Turkish coffee and I initially declined to take it with sugar. However, I was advised by the Turkish restaurateur to take it with sugar so in true 007 style, I ordered it ‘medium sweet’. I watched him make the beverage in a traditional cezve pot and pour it into cups narrower and slightly taller than the traditional espresso cup. I was initially surprised at how thick the coffee was and because I usually take espresso without sugar I also noticed the sweetness which helped reduce the bitterness. After you drink your way to the bottom of the cup you find a thick layer of coffee grounds which are not to be drunk and a bit of research tells me there is various superstition attached to the grounds which can reveal your fortune!

Yesterday I was enjoying Turkish coffee again with C in Manchester’s Topkapi Palace restaurant where we enjoyed a meal from the lunchtime menu, two courses for £7.35 with a bottle of Turkish wine followed by the coffee ordered, as usual, medium sweet.

If you have the chance I would recommend searching out the opportunity to try a Turkish coffee which makes a pleasant change from the usual espresso and gives you a similar hit of caffeine. It also takes your taste buds all the way to The Bosphorous where east meets wets…etc zzzz

food

When life gives you lemons…

Preserve them!

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I’ve been a keen cook since the early 1980s (I have a feeling that story will be one of the subjects of a future blog) and some 30 years on I’m currently getting to know and enjoy cooking from countries that embrace Muslim culture mainly thanks to a book C bought me for Christmas called Arabesque by the excellent cookery writer Claudia Roden.

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This wonderful compendium of recipes from Turkey, Lebanon and Morrocco inspired me to try my hand for the first time at preserving lemons (or preserving anything for that matter) and here is the jar 6 weeks on from the picture taken above.

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The lemons are now ready for use and would have been utilised for tonight’s lamb, potato and pea tagine except that we still have a few left over in a jar of the same preserved lemons I recently found in a Waitrose store in Preston along with the uncommon spice that is ubiquitous in Turkish cuisine; sumac.

Here’s how I made preserved lemons from Arabesque:

Ingredients
4 (or more) lemons
4 table spoons of sea salt
Juice of 4 (or more) additional lemons

Wash and scrub the lemons and make 4 slices in each lemon from top to bottom. Stuff each lemon with a tablespoon of sea salt into the slits. Press the lemons down into a sterilising jar and close the lid. Leave them for 3-4 days.

Open the jar and press the lemons down as much as possible then cover in lemon juice squeezed from the other lemons. Close the jar again and leave for at least a month. Before use, wash the lemons under running water to lose the salt and enjoy.

I’m really impatient to try my lemons so while writing this I have decided to use them in tonight’s recipe so I will let you know how they taste.

Catch you later, I’m off to the kitchen!

politics

Sunday morning politics

Most Sunday mornings my wife and I enjoy a bit of a lie-in bed, but no-one wants to know about that! However, this morning her son is involved in a ju-jitsu grading to we are all up early. Or rather I am in bed watching the Sunday morning political programme on the BBC; The Andrew Marr Show. The show starts off with a review of the morning papers by invited guests, contains a couple of interviews with some contemporary big hitters, a feature on the actor who plays Q in Skyfall and some other bits and pieces. One of the main topics of discussion today has been prompted by the new Archbishop Of Canterbury who has criticised the government’s proposed benefits reforms as he feels they will hit the poorest families with children already living below the poverty line. The government will argue the cuts are necessary because we have a bloated benefits bill in the UK which discourages people to get into work as they are not much better off than if they are sitting at home all day receiving free money. So who is right?

In my job I see people regularly applying for housing and council tax benefit, some are serial benefits claimants, some are those who have recently lost jobs and need the safety net of benefit to fall on, some are elderly people with no savings and just the state pension to keep them going and others are single parents of choice with children who don’t work but need their rent paying. Most people get means tested benefits based upon their needs and children can mean the addition of tax credits so they can be in receipt a couple of hundred £s a week plus another £115+ depending on the size of their family in housing benefit to pay their rent plus money towards their council tax of up to 100% of their bill. So the government will ask, where is the incentive for these people to give that up and go to work and I think it is a question worth asking. The archbishop on the other hand says that such benefit cuts will result in children suffering and receiving even less. On the Marr show this morning, the chairman of charity Save The Children argued that child poverty in the UK is often the poverty of love and education from parents and anyone watching the recent 999 programme about residents in the town of Blackpool will realise there are scores of disfunctional families in the UK who clearly have few if any parenting skills, life skills and no prospects of wanting a job. (Incidentally, I blame the policies of the Thatcher era for this problem in our society). So he believes that there is money for families in this country and is in favour of the government’s Universal Credit proposals which has many benefits reforms as well as putting them all into a single basket of one ‘universal’ benefit but the main objective of the policies is to ensure it incentivise people to get work and rewards people in work rather than on benefits.

Former Labour leader Tony Blair at the start of his Premiership asked his then welfare supremo Frank Field to think the unthinkable to come up with a reform of benefits – he did, he got the sack and nothing was done under a Labour government which remained in power for 13 years. This is a pity because a left leaning Labour government would no doubt have introduced reforms less punitive than the Conservative welfare reformer Iain Duncan-Smith has introduced. But we are where we are with a Conservative led coalition government and the benefits reforms are already on their way in with more being introduced on April 1st and universal credit coming in in October 2013.

Since Thatcher decimated communities and British industry thus removing the security of work and affluence for millions in the 1980s successive leaders seemed to offer recompense to to them by creating a comfortable welfare system to assuage the projects of redundancy and unemployment. Unfortunately this has created a change in our society where too many people have found comfort in unemployment and now see it as a lifestyle choice and if you have children the additional benefits and elevation in the social housing queue mean that many children are not conceived in love but as a means of financial progression and it is here where I agree with the Save The Children man. But what of the children in these families who will see a cut in their family incomes and less money to have spent on them. Unfortunately the policies of the past 30 years have created the situation I described with many choosing the benefits option over the work option -for benefits paid for by the working tax payer and they need to change to change and improve our society. It is hard to argue for changes which sees innocent children suffer more than perhaps they already are but I once saw one Tory tweet that adults should take responsibility for conceiving children and be aware that they will have a responsibility to support them themselves and not rely on the state to pay for their upbringing. This seems right but again we already have children in these families who will see household income cut.

The answer is that these benefit reforms should be introduced but the most vulnerable in our society should be protected from them. Families with children should not have their benefits cut until all children born before April 1st 2013 reach the age of 12. This will give time for families with children to adjust without a cut in their household income and young adults will realise that they will face the cuts and think carefully about family planning before embarking on creating a human life. In all things there is a compromise and a balance. Do not punish children born now, they are innocent and have been born into the families they find themselves through no fault of their own. But in future adults must take responsibility for their own children in the knowledge of what support they will receive from the state or if they get a job and can support their family with the added financial income the reforms will bring through being in work.