My blogging 2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

How to spend Heathrow free wifi efficiently

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The Ashbridges are renowned for the their punctuality, at the very least we hope. So can we really take that too far?

After a long, long wait for a new swanky visa stamp, I am finally making my way back stateside, and with 5 hours on my hands (and I am already checked in) what is a girl to do? Ponder on important life issues perhaps?

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of being 5 hours early for your flight? 

Or not.

 The Advantages:
1) With 5 hours to kill, queues are a joy because there is no way Heathrow madness can affect you. YOU are luxuriously early and time is of no consequence. And incidentally “The Daily Telegraph” indicates that some scientists somewhere think queues are good for you (please don’t judge, it came free with my Buxton Water!). So not only are you standing, but you are standing for the good of you own health. Bonus.
2) The airport lady is still in relaxed mode because at this point, the day is ever so young. She has a good old natter with you and you get upgraded to more leg room and she ignores the fact that your bag is clearly overweight, jam-packed full of M&S office attire. And as you leave she wishes you all the very best in finding a lovely lawyer man “like from that show The Good Wife”
3) You can drink the bottle of water (Buxton Spring) you bought over the course of several minutes, instead of seconds, thus not upsetting your already temperamental tummy given the prospect of long haul flying.
But conversely, what could be the downside to all this promptuousity (Not a real word)?
The Disadvantages:
1) You have hours to wait in terminal 3, which is NOT terminal 5!
2) Heathrow only offers 45 min free wifi to keep guests amused. Timing this is irrelevant as some hours will have to be spent sans wifi

3) When revealing your profession (because Americans are nosey before letting you back into the land of opportunities) you are directly compared to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. You don’t enjoy this comparison but smile nonetheless because your bag is clearly overweight and your legs dream of stretching out in the exit rows!

And so, in conclusion, being early ALWAYS pays off, although wifi could perhaps be better spent (5 min remaining).
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Geordie Pride: Great North Run 2013

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It doesn’t take much to draw out the Geordie pride in this Northern lass, so a huge global event like the Great North Run just sets me to almost bursting. In fact, this 55,000 field race, from over 100,000 applicants, makes it Britain’s biggest participation event, and the Geordies LOVE to host a big party.

But why is this Great Run so universally loved, attracting people from over 40 countries to the North East of England?

Could it be the weather?

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Probably not!

Could it be the joyous fun of running long distances?

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Hmm…. curious stuff. Yet doubtful.

What could possibly motivate 55,000 people to get up on a chilly Sunday morning, the North sea breeze cutting at their scantily clad bodies, to run 13.1 miles of tarmac roads only to get a medal and short term fear of stairs?

collage gnrThe glee of running 13.1 miles with 55,499 friends at the Great North Run

Today, as my mother and I waited on the banks of the South Shields coastline, gloomy skies above us, surrounded by fellow wrapped up Geordies, we marvelled at this wonderful event on our doorstep (and literally on the doorsteps of many). Catterick Garrison soldiers marched along the final 200m to guide and cheer the elite runners in.

We watched David Weir destroy his fellow elite wheelchair racers as he powered through the finish line to yet another victory. We saw the legendary Dibaba stripped of her 11-year winning streak as Kenya stormed through the tape. Jeptoo crushing her opponents. And then we watched what is being pitched as the greatest finish in the history of this Great British competition. Sticking together for 10 miles or more, Mo and Haile battled along the route with Bekele sitting just behind them. Then as the end drew near, Bekele made a run for it, and it seemed Haile and Mo were left stranded, aghast. But no, in the final 800m, The Mo-Bot, cheered on with a surge of crowd participation (we nearly burst some blood vessels), grit his teeth and gave it some welly. If you were not there, you missed a treat. We were jumping up and down as they fought it out with only metres to go (check out my photo finish above). Mo came in a close second, and this effort of cheer and sheer will to drive him through almost finished off the audience. Then, with a sigh of joy, a rustle and a jiggle of pride, we looked out to the North Sea. A shared pride in being British.

5 minutes later, partially recovered from the exciting drama that had just got us screeching for another British win, we rallied our viewing neighbours to cheer on Dr James Kelly, PhD Chemist, international runner extraordinaire!

“Go James!” we all shouted. “GO JAMES!”

1003927_10100601624052983_896829386_nDr Kelly. The magnificent.

He took only 1 hour and 6 minutes to run 13.1 miles. Placing 22nd! Mind boggling stuff!

It is particularly mind boggling to me in fact, as I continue to battle with my very conservative half marathon time of 2 hours this year. 3 times I have tried to become a runner. And 3 times I have slowed to an almost stop as 9 miles rolls in and Beth’s quads say NO MORE NOW! I ran a Central Park half (twice) and I ran to Brooklyn (slowly), and each time I took 2 hours, or thereabouts. I even got beat by a baby yesterday. A BABY. This is no joke. I should add here that his dad was pushing him in a perambulator, but still. OUCH. All summer I have been loving the camaraderie of a wonderful nationwide venture: Park Run. A weekly 9am jog around a local park, mine is Saltwell Park in Gateshead, but you can find more convenient runs all over the country. To me, after repeatedly hitting a 9 mile wall, 5K always seems more doable on a Saturday morning when the day is my oyster (is that a saying?). I have seen little progress, but I always finish with my heart pumping effectively (phew) and my legs feeling like they don’t much like the idea of long distance but will at least humour me in this resolve. As long I go nice and slow.

So to me, a loser to babies and almost anyone else, anything near the 1 hour mark is genius. Bravo James.

Once the elite runners ran (in the actual sense of the word) towards the warmth, a shower and a long sit, the fun runners began to filter through. And I like to call this time “when Beth comes into her own”. I can clap loudly for England. Oh yes, and the cheering. I go at it like there is no tomorrow. If your name is on your shirt, I’ll scream it. If you have a crumpling frame, I’ll squeal to distract you as you approach the end. And if you are standing next to me. Apologies.

What a day. What a northern Geordie filled day. Can I be any more proud of my people?

Nope!

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Fish and Chips for lunch, home, and a lie down. Too much excitement for this Geordie.

Summer Salads. Homey Herbs

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The sister surpassed herself this week. Again. Cheeky lamb kebabs (kebobs?) without the skewer action. We shall call this dish:

“Lamb Kebobs (skewers optional)”

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Lemon chunk ready for squeezing. Let me at it!

mushroom salad with lemon dressing (see previous salad/dressing in this series)

lamb marinade
fennel seeds,
cumin seeds,
coriander seeds,
lemon juice and zest,
1 garlic clove,
olive oil
and pepper

mint yoghurt
low fat natural yoghurt,
garlic clove,
and fresh mint

First, to prepare the marinade crush the fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds into a fine powder with your pestle and mortar. Then mix with fresh parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, olive oil and pepper. Marinade for as long as you can and then grill on skewers or not! Prepare salad and dress just before serving with a simple mint yoghurt, using fresh mint from the garden. Grow it. It is an easy going plant. Thrives absolutely.

Eat outside.

And then…

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for dessert? Yes, fruit scones with clotted cream are the business

Sweet, sweet summer

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With all of this cooking and eating and cooking, and then eating again, I was feeling the balance of savoury to sweet needed a bit of tweaking. So we embarked on a couple of days of trial baking as an attempt to try out some new recipes. We opened up all the baking books, highlighting our favourites. Here is the shortlist in action.

Coconut macaroons

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Coconut and almond macaroons

ingredients
2 egg whites
115g (4 oz) icing sugar
115g (4 oz) ground almonds
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
115g (4 oz) dessicated coconut

directions
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (Gas 2). Grease two baking trays.
Use an electric beater to whisk the egg whites until stiff but moist. Sift in the icing sugar and gently fold into the egg whites. Gently fold in the almonds, vanilla extract and dessicated coconut until the mixture is combined, forming a sticky dough.
Spoon walnut-sized pieces of the mixture onto the baking trays.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the macaroons are crisp and golden on the outside.
Transfer to a cooling rack.

Florentines (Chocolate optional. haha of course it is)

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ingredients
50g caster sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons Congac or Grand Marnier
60g butter
50g plain flour
75g slivered almonds
50g sultanas
50g glace red or green cherries
100g chocolate, melted

directions
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / Gas mark 4. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper or parchment.
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, honey, liqueur and butter. Warm over a low heat to melt the butter and sugar; remove from heat and stir well.
Add the flour, almonds, sultanas and glace cherries; stir well to combine evenly.
Spoon small amounts of the mixture onto the trays, leaving some space between them to prevent sticking together.
Bake for 8 – 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven but let them harden on the tray for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack.
Dip one side of each florentine into melted chocolate and leave to harden.
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These were my top faves of the day

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A platter of delights

Betty’s of Harrogate Fat Rascals

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Pre-oven fat rascals. Cherries for the eyes and an almond for the snarl. Cheeky rascals.

ingredients
100 g butter, softened
250 g plain flour
75 g currants
50 g mixed citrus peels
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
75 g golden caster sugar
150 ml whipping cream or 150 ml sour cream or 150 ml creme fraiche
1 egg, beaten
glace cherries, for decoration
blanched almond, for decoration (whole)

directions
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425F/Gas 7 and grease or line a baking sheet, or a cookie sheet.
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well.
Add the cream and mix to a stiff paste – a firm dough.
Roll the mixture out on a floured board, to about 1″ thickness and stamp out rounds, of about 3″ in diameter. ( You can also shape the fat rascals by hand; take a piece of dough, about the size of a small egg, and make a small ball – flatten it out slghtly into bread roll shapes – like a bread bap shape.)
Arrange them on the greased baking tray and glaze them generously with the beaten egg.
Then place 2 whole blanched almonds on top with a halved glace cherry for decoration – pushing them down gently into the dough, so they do not fall off during baking!
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they have risen and are golden brown.
Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack.
Store them in an airtight tin for up to 4 days OR eat them straight away. Whichever.

IMG_1079Hello Fat Rascals

I think the balance has been restored!

Sharing the yield this summer

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Sharing is universally encouraged and, here in the North East, we particularly enjoy sharing with our neighbours. In exchange for their veggie gifts (see below), mother makes her signature bake (Victoria Sponge either with butter cream and jam or whipped double cream and jam– raspberry of course). The advantages of this are two-fold for us. One, we get mega marrows so sister can create, create, create, and second, we keep the other half of the cake and feast on it for supper. Win, win.

IMG_1087Marrow, cucumber and courgette. c/o neighbouring allotment

So what to do with a marrow. They are large, watery and rather awkward.

Here is a nice and easy option we enjoyed recently to make use of our kind gift (and to attempt to eat proper food before we tucked into that cake)

Stuffed marrow

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We were all stuffed

2 red peppers, seeds removed and sliced finely
1 onion, sliced finely
chopped, fresh coriander
1 small onion, sliced finely
1 marrow
25ml extra virgin olive oil
50g pine nuts
150g feta cheese, diced
A sprinkle of breadcrumbs

After de-seeding the marrow fully so it essentially acts as a vessel for the filling goodness, load up HMS Chunky Marrow with all the ingredients and whack it in the oven. Cook until hot and, therefore, ready to eat.

We highly recommend sharing in this house.

Last Summer Series. The top meal revealed

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Now that I am back in force and whipping through the blogging posts, here is a post you have all been waiting for. What has been voted the top meal of the summer so far? What meal encompasses all that is youthful summer holidays and homemade creations? And who in the world is voting for all of this?

All will be revealed. First, who is voting? Well mother and I are voting (Dad gets a what’s app picture message so that he feels included but he cannot always vote without taking obligatory “taste test”). I am the official and unofficial “taster”. I sit at the kitchen table, waiting for my meal like an impatient child (still in my 20s so I am surely getting away with it). And then the plate arrives. The winning plate of Summer in Kibblesworth 2013.

Grilled lemon chicken with lemon jus and lemon gremolata with a side salad

IMG_1013What? Is that a cup of tea on your tray? How British am I!?

marinade
lemon juice,
olive oil,
wholegrain mustard,
and pepper

chicken (sliced into generous chunks),

side salad
see Baby Sister’s Steak Salad and then add sliced radishes from your neighbours allotment (or a shop)

lemon jus
remainder of marinade + chicken juices from grill

gremolata
finely chopped parsley
crushed garlic
and lemon zest

First marinade the chopped chicken for up to 12 hours (or however long you have). Slot the chicken onto skewers and grill in oven or on BBQ (and with this summer weather I suggest the latter). Prepare salad as previously described and mix the ingredients for the gremolata. Promptly make jus with the remaining marinade and grilled chicken juices and bring to boil in a pan until it has reduced to a jus-y goo. Place 3 skewers on each plate taking part, along with a side salad helping and pour over copious jus-ness. Sprinkle with gremolata to finish.

Munch away.

Pad thai from Thailand makes for an exotic final summer

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Directly from the country of Thailand came this asian dish, complemented with our garden delights. Here is

Pad thai topped with pak choi

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Pad thai on a Tuesday evening

2-3mm wide flat rice sticks
fish sauce
pad thai mix
pinch of chilli powder, to taste
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
chopped and fried chicken
2 large eggs, ready cracked
chopped and fried courgettes and red onion

top with grilled pak choi

Pre-boil the rice sticks (only for a couple of min). Add fish sauce + pad thai mix + chilli powder to fried chicken, courgettes and red onion in a pan and then add boiled rice sticks. Mix in beaten eggs until cooked and load on plate with gusto. Top with grilled pak choi and serve with flair.

Eat with a background of BBC 6 o’ clock news and follow with The One Show before selecting a classic movie, preferably featuring Dustin or Al or undoubtedly Bobby De Niro.

The last summer continued… meals fit for a king (Baby King George in particular)

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If I had to choose a final dish before I croaked I definitely would have some salad on my plate. But with my sister’s plethora of meals, it would be hard to choose what would cover the rest of the plate. But salad, yes. That is a certainty. Like death and taxes perhaps!?

Baby Sister’s Steak Salad

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for the salad
sirloin steak (sliced),
new potatoes (or some from your growbag?),
vine tomatoes (if your greenhouse doesn’t grow them fast enough, Waitrose will absolutely suffice),
frisee salad (supplement with leaves from the garden),
mixed funky mushrooms,
red onions

and for the dressing
wholegrain mustard (1/2 tsp),
generous sprinkling of pepper,
chopped basil,
olive oil,
lemon juice,
hazelnut oil
and red wine vinegar (liquid proportions to taste)

Boil the halved new potatoes. Fry the sirloin steak in a frying pan and then add chopped red onions before compiling the salad.

Mix the frisee salad, boiled new potatoes, special yummy mushrooms, and chopped tomatoes then let it sit while you make the dressing. After adding a little of this and a little of that (she does it by eye so you try that too OK?) pour over salad and shuffle and turn everything around with your hands. As long as they are clean of course.

Separate out into generous helpings for each of your family members and friends and load the top with the sirloin steak/red onion combo.

Serve with a smile. Licking the plate is optional.

The last summer holiday of my 20s

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I rightly admit that this is a rather grand title for this blog post. But I have been silent in these parts for a while now and thought I better reintroduce my blog voice with a punchy headline. Catch your waning attention perhaps!?

After a short (OK quite lengthy) repose, I have returned to the blogosphere midway through the FINAL SUMMER OF MY 20s! With old careers ending and new peeking over the horizon, I have been in a bit of flux these past months. Part of the kerfuffle involved relocating back to the UK for the summer before I begin again, with renewed force in the Big Apple. This time mixing with the journalistic glitterati in Renzo Piano’s magnificent skyscraper, the New York Times Building. By Jove am I excited!!

But before I step back into the fray that is the bustling urban chaos of NYC, I must sit and ponder in my village back in the North East of England (read: wait for my visa to start). However, timing wise, everything has worked out quite spectacularly for our family. My wandering sister also returned from her wonderful work in Bangladesh to join me in this pause before our new jobs begin in the cities of New York and London. So what are we doing with ourselves with all this time allocated to pensive activities? Well eating of course. Healthy style.

Not only is my sister a provider of shelter but she is also a self-confessed horticultural genius. And so her budding garden, prepared lovingly during her last trip home, and maintained superbly by the matriarch of the house, is in full bloom upon our return.

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A lettuce patch interspersed with chive, lemon balm and salad burnet (a slightly random but nevertheless, endearing herb)

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Pots of herby goodness, thriving in our patioed back garden: greek basil, basil basil, parsley and mint

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Tomatoes in father’s greenhouse creation. A gift to the mother.

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The beginning of a torrent of corn. See later for the continuation of that saga!

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Bags of potatoes. These homegrown pots make for magnificent mash.

So with this basis in soil, our family is prepared for a summer of culinary living. So let’s get on with it!