Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Mastering the Pogo Stick

When I was little, my favourite part of the seemingly endless summer holidays was our trip to Lewis to visit our maternal grandparents. Over-tired after the long car journey and the excitement of crossing the tumultuous Minch on the ferry (we would run about the boat, shouting and laughing, immune to whatever strange illness suddenly befell all the green-faced adults who lay frustratingly motionless across the seats of the observation lounge), we were always unrelentingly hyper by the time we arrived at Granny and Seanair’s in Back.  Cheerful greetings exchanged, suitcases dumped, beds bagsied, cherryade from the Co-op unwisely imbibed, Seanair would at last shift in his chair and reach into his pocket.  Sometimes, before he had the chance, one of us (usually Duncan) would pipe up, grinning, ‘When are we getting our tenner, Shen?’ before being shamed into silence by a stony glare from Mum.  Seanair would chuckle and hold out a crisp brown note each. ‘Well,’ he would say in that quiet way of his, ‘There you are, a’ ghraidh’. 

Satisfied, and pink-moustached from the cherryade, my brothers and I would reluctantly clamber up the stairs to bed past photos of Mum and our uncles from a time we couldn’t comprehend, squabbling about whether we would visit the beach or the toyshop first in the morning.

The morning would begin the way mornings at Granny and Seanair’s always began: with a big bowl of Shen’s salty porridge, just enough milk added to create brown islands in a white sea.  Then, finally, it would be time to go to the toyshop. 

The toyshop in Stornoway was packed so delightfully full of toys that I never knew where to begin.  While Murdo inevitably ran straight towards the fishing nets, and Duncan was immediately drawn to the toy cars, I would wander slowly around the entire shop, carefully considering each and every item before moving on to the next.  My brothers’ fishing nets and toy cars purchased, they would be whining impatiently while I lingered somewhere among the board games, overwhelmed by the very important decision I had to make: did I want Cluedo Travel Edition, gymnastics Barbie, or a pogo stick?  I would wander between the items that had, by some merit or other, made it on to my shortlist, staring at them indecisively, and occasionally catching sight of some other curiosity I hadn’t noticed before.  This new toy would then have to be painstakingly considered before either being rejected or added triumphantly to the shortlist.

Mum and Granny’s gentle nudging towards a decision would quickly turn to irritated nagging, before, finally, I would be told, ‘We’re going to Woolies now.  We can come back here on our way home.  You’re taking too long to decide.’  Disappointed, but determined not to act rashly and take such an important decision lightly, I would trail after my relieved family members, only to discover that Woolies held yet more tantalising delights.  Did I want a Boyzone cassette or a toilet that made a flushing sound for my dolls’ house?  Or did I still want one of the toys that had made the shortlist in the other shop?

Eventually, someone, usually Granny, would say, ‘You don’t have to spend your money today, you know!’ and, shocked by such a preposterous notion, I would be spurred into action. 
‘Okay! Okay, I want the pogo stick.’
‘Are you sure that’s what you want now?  You won’t change your mind and moan when we get home?’
‘Erm… Well maybe I want the Cluedo game.’
I would wander between the two for another ten minutes, while Mum sighed and looked at her watch, Granny smiled and shook her head, and my brothers whined.
‘Okay, I’ll get the pogo-stick,’ I would say, by this time clutching both it and the game.  As I would return the rejected toy to the shelf, I would stare at it wistfully, wondering if I’d made the right decision and wishing there could be some way of having both. 

£10 note proudly presented at the till and the pogo stick across my lap in the car, I would stare down at it, suddenly noticing flaws.  Was that a scratch?  What if I didn’t enjoy bouncing around on my new pogo stick?  What if I wasn’t any good at it?  What if it was too big to take home and I had to leave it at Granny’s?  Would the two weeks of enjoyment be worth it if that were the case?  I mourned, in that short 20 minute car journey, for all the toys I’d left behind.  It was too late to turn back and now I was stuck with this stupid pogo stick!  I knew it, I should have gone for the Cluedo.  What an idiot!  Cluedo Travel Edition would have been a much better choice; at least I already knew I liked it and I was good at it and we could play it on the ferry on the way home.

Back at Granny’s, packaging ripped off and scattered all over the floor, and Murdo asking when we could go to the rock pools so he could use his fishing net, I would play happily with my new toy.  All the toys I’d carefully considered and subsequently rejected were forgotten, never to be thought of again.  I’d made the right choice after all.

I spent most of the final two years of my undergraduate degree feeling like that indecisive eight-year-old in the toyshop in Stornoway again.  What would I do after I graduated?  The sheer number of options available to me was, like the toys, both wonderful and overwhelming.  Did I want to apply for graduate schemes, or travel, or go into teaching, or try and get work experience for journalism, or do a master’s with a view to doing a PhD?  I wandered from option to option, carefully considering each, rejecting some immediately and adding others to my short-list.  People told me I didn’t have to decide yet but the thought of having no direction after graduation spurred me into action. Finally, I settled, inevitably (inevitable because, like the pogo stick, it was the one thing I kept returning to), on a master’s.  A moment of self-doubt meant that I briefly considered teaching again, before deciding at last to accept my place on the master’s.

The summer after the flurry of excitement and pride that was graduation I was eight-year-old Sarah in the car on the way home from the toyshop again, clutching my new pogo stick and worrying if it had been the right choice after all.  What if I didn’t enjoy it?  What if I wasn’t any good?  What if I didn’t get to do a PhD afterwards?  Would the year be worth it if that were the case? 

And now, six weeks in to my master’s, and I am eight-year-old Sarah, cheerfully bouncing around my Granny’s garden on my new pogo stick, shrieking with delight (delighted shrieking is not literal, unless I’ve consumed too much wine).

(Plus, I still, at 21, feel that same excitement when Seanair digs into his pocket and produces a £10 note, even though it’s nothing compared to the support – both financially and emotionally – that he and my Granny have given me over the years, for which I will never be able to thank them enough.)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Souper Cold Cure

It’s that time of year again: everyone is back at Uni and everyone is therefore suffering from the plague known as ‘freshers’ flu’.  It’s like a cold but worse.  I have somehow managed to escape it the past couple of years, despite being the type of person who usually catches anything going around, but I think this year has made up for it with a vengeance.  My flat is like some sort of bizarre orchestra of coughing and spluttering and sniffing right now.  And a quick look on my facebook news feed reveals we are not the only ones suffering.

I think, and I hope I’m not speaking too soon, that I may have discovered a cure!  It didn’t make me completely better.  I still have a sore throat, a cough, and a stuffy nose, so don’t expect miracles.  But I am now, unlike yesterday, capable of being in an upright position without crying.  Yay! 

It started slowly with me.  I lost my voice on Wednesday and was feeling washed out with a sore throat but otherwise I was okay.  Thursday my voice was back but had been replaced with a chesty cough, but again, I was okay.  Then yesterday I woke up and felt like someone had pelted my entire body with a ton of bricks during the night.  Achy muscles, raging fever, sore chest, sore throat, sore head, sore ear, bad cough… the lot.  I showered, ate breakfast, got dressed (er, not in that order.  I didn’t eat my breakfast naked.  Might not have gone down too well with the flatmates), and then…crawled back into bed, where I remained for the rest of the day, mostly feeling sorry for myself and sometimes reading.  By tea-time hunger had struck to add to my list of complaints.  I decided to make soup with lots of healthy things in it to give my immune system a boost.  And it worked!!  Today I think I may manage to do things other than sleep! 

So here is my souper soup recipe (had to be a soup pun in here somewhere, I’m afraid):

3 packs of tomatoes
2 massive cloves of garlic borrowed from your brother without his knowledge (you don’t have to borrow them from your brother; you can just buy them from the supermarket like a normal person)
2 onions (I like onions a lot, most normal people probably would want less onions in their soup)
1 orange
1 tsp sugar
1 litre whatever stock you happen to have in cubed form.  I only had beef.  It worked okay but I would suggest that veg stock is probably better.
1 very very spicy chilli.  I used Scotch Bonnet.

1.      Chop the onions (now you can pretend it’s the onions making you cry, and not the effort of being in an upright position), garlic, tomatoes and chilli up roughly.  You’re going to blend it later, so it doesn’t matter how roughly chopped it is. 

2.     Be curious about how spicy a Scotch Bonnet actually is.  Think ‘it can’t be that bad’.  Put a minuscule bit on your tongue.  Immediately spit it out and then do a strange dance round the kitchen flapping your hands about near your mouth and add ‘sore tongue’ to your list of ailments.  Regret the fact you’ve already chucked the rest of the chilli into the pan.  You can leave this step out if you want, but I’m pretty sure the dancing helped cure me and the sore tongue was a welcome distraction from the other sore things.  WARNING:  REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE USING THE TOILET/REMOVING CONTACT LENSES/BLOWING YOUR NOSE. 

3.    Heat up some oil in a pan and fry the onion, garlic and chilli till soft.  Then add the tomatoes.  Keep them on a low heat for about 8 minutes until the tomatoes have gone all soft and mushy. 

4.    Add the teaspoon of sugar and wonder if it will actually make any difference to the flavour whatsoever or if your soup has been ruined by the Scotch Bonnet.

5.   Add the juice of your orange and then the stock.

6.    Bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes.

7.    Look through all the cupboards for the stick blender.  Be unable to find blender.  Get ill brother out of bed to help you look.  Realise you left it at the old flat.  Consider pushing the soup through a sieve instead and immediately disregard this idea as being too much effort. 

8.    Eat soup without blending it and wish you’d chopped the garlic up more finely.  Realise, though, that the Scotch Bonnet did not ruin the flavour and is just the right spice level for sweating out your fever.

9.    Feel better!

Now I am off to do all the things I intended to do yesterday.  Enjoy your soup! 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Talking to strangers isn't always as bad as your mum told you...

So it’s been a ridiculously long time since I have posted anything. To this blog I mean, though while we’re on the subject it has also been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted anything using something as archaic as a red postbox.

The reason for this long silence? Well, my dissertation has been handed in, of course, and I’ve now graduated from uni (with first class honours and two prizes. Not that I’m boasting. Okay I am definitely boasting). There’s nothing to procrastinate from anymore, and the uni-shaped hole in my life has been replaced by knitting. Due to my lack of knitting skills, I need my mum on hand for any knitting emergencies that may occur (and they do. Frequently). So today, while she’s at work and I’m at home alone, scared to pick up the knitting needles in case I accidentally ruin all 4 inches of my jumper-in-progress and have to start again, I thought I’d finally update this blog instead of watching Loose Women. (Let it be noted that when I say ‘instead of watching Loose Women’, what I really mean is ‘instead of giving Loose Women my full attention’. It is on in the background. Obviously.)

I thought I’d write about journeys, and my inexplicable ability to make friends with people while travelling without even trying.  I must have one of those faces – if I’m standing at a bus stop with ten other people and there’s a weirdo there who wants a chat with a stranger, 9 times out of 10 they will pick me to strike up some bizarre conversation with. And then sit next to on the bus.

It’s not all bad though.  Sometimes, very occasionally, I meet nice people.  And it’s also given me stories to tell, like these two.

Creepy Jonathan from the Ferry
After a week spent in Lewis with my grandparents I boarded the ferry with a long journey back to Aberdeen ahead of me. As usual, I headed straight for the good seats in the Observation Lounge where I could look out the window, waiting for the mainland to appear on the horizon and maybe even catching sight of a couple of seals or porpoises.

A tight-white-t-shirt-wearing man who would have better matched the d├ęcor on an Easyjet flight than the neutral tones of the CalMac ferry said ‘You’ve done this before! Going for the good seats!’ I laughed and agreed that yes, I had been on this ferry before, many times. He seemed a bit weird but there were a couple of normal looking guys of about my age with him so I continued with the conversation and when I was invited to join them I thought ‘Why not?’ It would beat sitting on my own reading my book for 2.5 hours.

It turned out that Jonathan, who had a foreign accent it was difficult to place, was not actually with the other two guys and he had met them in much the same way as he’d met me.

As soon as I was sitting next to Jonathan, he turned the sleaze volume up to full blast. Every time he spoke to me he touched my arm in a creepy, intense way and whenever I spoke to Tom or Sam (the other two guys) he interrupted us with a totally inane question directed at me. He was apparently from Gran Canaria and owned a plethora of pubs and casinos; was a scuba diving instructor; worked on boats; was a climbing instructor… in fact anything we mentioned, he’d done and done it better than us.  He invited me to work with him in one of his pubs in Gran Canaria for the summer and gave me his email address, which I only pretended to note down in my phone.  I’m pretty convinced if I naively turned up in Gran Canaria there would be no Jonathan, no pubs and casinos owned by him, and no job. In fact I’m even more convinced that Jonathan was actually from Hull or somewhere equally uninteresting, and that his ‘foreign’ accent was as fake as his tan.

It worked out well in the end though, because when the ferry arrived in Ullapool and we’d escaped Jonathan’s slimy clutches, it turned out that Tom, Sam and I were on the same bus to Inverness, and then because I’d missed my train to Aberdeen due to the bus being late we all went for some food and a couple of drinks while waiting for the next train. We’re still in touch now, so I guess it was worth enduring creepy Jonathan and his unnaturally white teeth.

Tam on the train
After graduation last Tuesday and subsequent celebrations in Aberdeen, I boarded the train back to my parents’ house near Stirling, where I am living for the summer.  On boarding the train I was in no mood for chit-chat, due to various circumstances on my way to the station, but it was crowded so I was forced to sit opposite a hefty middle-aged man with glasses.  On sitting down, I immediately took my book out and put my earphones in: it was undeniably evident I was not interested in chatter with a stranger.  Tam, though, obviously missed the life lesson where you don’t try and strike up conversation with a grumpy looking girl on the train who has her nose in a book and earphones in. 

And I’m glad that he did.

I could hear his voice muffled by my music and he was looking straight at me. There was no avoiding it.  It took effort to hide my irritation as I pulled out my earphones and marked my place in the book, and I probably didn’t manage to hide it, but thick-skinned Tam didn’t care.  ‘Mind if I open a beer?’ he was asking.
‘No, go ahead’

I was about to put my earphones back in, but he continued, relentless.
‘Do you want one?’
‘No, I’m fine.’ I turned back to my book.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Oh, I need one. I’ve just come from offshore. Not had a drink for two weeks!’
‘Oh right.’
‘Yeah. Off home to Balloch now. Well not quite yet. I usually get off at Stirling and get a lift back to Balloch but this time the wife and I are going to stay in a hotel for the night in Glasgow! So I’m getting off at Queen Street. Where are you headed?’
I realised then I wasn’t going to get any peace. He wasn’t giving up.  As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them. 

We chatted away, and I accepted a beer from him after all.  It made the train journey go by much quicker than usual, and he was much more fascinating than his middle-aged middle-class demeanour suggested: he’d been stranded in Libya when the riots broke out and was telling me all about the secret operation to get him out. He hadn’t even been able to speak to his wife for five days so that no one except those involved in getting him out could know where he was or what was happening.

Apart from him trying to set me up with his son (‘You look just like his ex!’), speaking to Tam was a pleasure.

And it got much, much more interesting.  At one point Tam went to the toilet and was gone for a while.  When he came back he said he’d bumped into someone he knew and did I mind if they joined us?  So then another man sat with us, whose name I never caught, but who was equally chatty and equally generous: he insisted, despite my protests, on buying me a glass of wine from the trolley.

Then (and this is where it goes from ‘completely feasible but slightly unusual situation’ to ‘completely bizarre but wonderful situation’) someone further down in our carriage stood up and started playing the bagpipes!  Soon the entire carriage was clapping along and smiling and laughing, even people who’d seemed as grumpy as I’d been at the start of the journey. 

When the train arrived in Stirling I was thoroughly cheered up as the party raged on.  Three people argued over who would help me off the train with my case, and Tam wished me well for the Master’s I’ll be starting in September.

Definitely the best train journey I’ve ever been on, and I may even go as far as to say it was worth the extortionate £40 I paid for the ticket. (Don’t tell Scotrail I said that though).

So, I’ve learnt something from these two experiences: it’s definitely worth hearing what people have to say when they strike up conversations with you on public transport. Your initial judgment may be proven correct, as with Jonathan, but it could lead you to other opportunities, such as making new friends like Tom and Sam.  Or, as with Tam, your initial judgment could be blown completely out of the water and you could end up in a much better mood stepping off the train than you were when you stepped on it, having spoken to some fascinating people with fascinating stories and had a totally bizarre, but totally wonderful, time. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

They have a lot of fish...

Today, when walking home from town along George Street, I was chatted up by a very strange man.

This is not an unusual occurence. I'm not boasting, though: I'm just a female who happens to walk along George Street a few times a week. Any other girl who ever spends any time on George Street will tell you there are plenty of very strange (usually drunk and stumbling out of the 524 Cocktail Bar which I doubt actually sells any cocktails, except maybe lager and lime. Having never been in, though, that sentiment is admittedly based purely on prejudice) men and sometimes, they attempt to chat you up. 'Chatting up' usually involves shouting 'nice arse!' at you as you rush past them.

Not this guy though.

He was maybe in his seventies or eighties and he was waiting at a bus stop. As I skipped past in my summery skirt he sleazily looked me up and down, winked, and did a leery giggle. Of course, I ignored him and kept walking and thought nothing of it.

I stopped to cross the road a little later and the bus I assumed he was on thundered past.
'Hello sexy,' said a voice by my side. I turned round. It was him.
'Err. Hi...' I mumbled and stared intently at the lights at the other side of the road, desperately willing the green man to burst into life.
'I've just sold my car. So I have to walk everywhere. I don't mind walking though. I used to walk a lot. You know. When I was in the service.'
He looked pleased that I'd responded, however non-committally.
'Yup. The Royal Marines,' he informed me, puffing his chest out proudly.
'Oh,' I nodded.
'You at the uni?'

The green man beeped shrilly and, relieved, I started to hastily cross the road. Bus stop man was fast though. He kept walking along beside me, chattering on about his friend and how his friend was on holiday and it was the time of year for it being Easter and all and wasn't the weather nice, while I nodded and gave awkward monosyllabic answers in an attempt to not be rude but not encourage him either.

Eventually, we arrived at mine.
'Well, this is me. Bye!'
'You not going to invite me in?' he leered, his whisky breath lingering in the air.

Suddenly I realised this creepy man now knew where I live.

'Errm. No. This is, uh, my friend's flat.'
He was sharp though, and I hadn't thought it through.

'So why did you get your keys out then?'
'Oh, um. These aren't my keys. My friends are away, you know, Easter and all... I'm just going in to feed their fish.'
'Oh okay. I'll wait for you out here then.'
'No! Ummm... I'll be a while. They... they, um, have a lot of fish.' I spluttered, before prancing inside.

Stalker situation averted, albeit very unskilfuly. Phew. Time to celebrate with some Easter egg...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Library Etiquette

I have been spending an extraordinary amount of time in the library recently, what with my dissertation being due in 3 weeks and all (2 weeks 5 days, in fact...which means I probably should not be writing this right now, but I'm stuck so I'm taking a 'break'), and I've seen some interesting sights in the past few weeks. Here's some library dos and don'ts (actually just don'ts, but 'dos and don'ts' sounds better).


Eat crisps - crunch, crunch, crunch, rustle rustle, crunch, crunch, crunch. Enough said. Everyone flouts the 'no eating and drinking in the library' rule - I am currently munching on a Twirl - but don't do it with crisps. They are impossible to eat quietly. I tried it once and succeeded only in making my crisps soggy in my mouth. Yuck.

Sing loudly to yourself - I have seen this happen. It was funny. The girl stopped when I walked in the room and we both laughed about it, but if she had obliviously carried on I'm pretty sure it would have become very annoying very fast.

Watch hour-long BBC iPlayer programs on the library computers when there's a massive queue of people waiting to get on and do actual uni work  - there was a whiney article in the Gaudie recently about people going on facebook on the library computers. I disagree. I have no problem with people going on facebook, as long as that is not their sole reason for taking up a valuable computer. I currently have facebook open in another tab, and obviously this blog does not come under 'uni work'.  But, it being a beautifully sunny Sunday afternoon when only the hardcore and/or desperate are stuck in this pit, I'm sitting across from two completely free computers and I'm multi-tasking: every time I get stuck on my dissertation I am coming on here and writing a bit and then going back to the dissertation with fresh eyes (that's the theory, anyway...). But if you're sitting watching online TV, that's all you can possibly be doing. And I wouldn't have a problem with it if there were lots of computers free, but if you're taking up a computer to watch 'Snog Marry Avoid' when loads of people are waiting to work on their imminently-due dissertations, that's not cool. Extra annoyance points for you if you have the volume up so loud everyone else can hear it spilling out your earphones.

Wear warm clothes - the library is stupidly hot and stuffy. You will melt. Some unfortunate person will be given the wholly undesirable job of cleaning up your liquid remains and you won't get your dissertation/essay/whatever handed in on time, due to being all melted and such. It's a bit of an extreme way to get an extension, and I wouldn't recommend it.

Bring a mini deckchair for your book to sit on - It had pink and yellow stripes. I presume it was so that the guy's hand/wrist wouldn't have to suffer the trauma of holding the book he was looking at. It didn't work; the pages kept flipping over, so he constantly had one hand on the book to keep his place. Then eventually he resorted to taking the book off the strange contraption and holding it anyway. What with his deckchair, laptop, notebook and rucksack he took up enough space on the table for two people. Greedy. The most amusing part came when he left and had a 20 minute long struggle to fit the deckchair back into his rucksack. It's bad enough trying to fit all your books into your bag and carry them about with you, but adding an awkwardly-shaped-and-probably-not-that-lightweight deckchair to the mix? That's just silly. If you have ever done such a thing, give yourself two ridiculous points and then take one away for providing entertainment to your fellow bored library users.

Sit with your girlfriend/boyfriend and eat their face at every opportunity - I don't know how you even find opportunity for kissing  in the library. It's not the most romantic place to take someone on a date. Since libraries are generally quiet, everyone will be disgusted by the wet slurpy noises that your kissing makes, and your whispers about what you're going to do to each other later will carry to the ears of surrounding exasperated - and now horrified - students.

Procrastinate - you want to spend as little time in the hot, stuffy deckchair- and couple-filled library as possible. The less you procrastinate the more you will get done and the quicker you can escape off home where you can eat crisps, sing to yourself, and watch BBC iPlayer to your heart's content.

So on that note, I should probably get back to the dissertation...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I love to cook and I enjoy creating tasty, healthy meals with lots of nice, fresh ingredients. Generally, I eat pretty healthily. I don't make a particular effort to do so: the foods I like just tend to be healthy. I'm not a big meat-eater, although I'm not a vegetarian, so a lot of the food I make is packed full of veggies and I love feeling smug that I've managed to consume my entire five-a-day in one meal.

But I also have an undying love for some very unhealthy, very strange foods. We all need to treat ourselves from time to time... and here is how I do it:

Cauliflower cheese with baked beans: Actually, this is still two of your five a day. Score! But it doesn't taste 'healthy'. It's comfort food at its best: heavy and cheesy and tomatoey and warming. I discovered this the way I discover most new food combinations: empty cupboards and being either too skint or too lazy to go to the supermarket. I had a teensy tiny portion of leftover cauliflower cheese - enough for a side dish but not enough for a meal. I wanted a meal and I didn't want to put in any effort to acquiring said meal whatsoever. Checking the fridge, the only other things I could find were half a tin of baked beans that really needed to be eaten, some sad looking spring onions, and a single mouldy tomato which was half frozen due to being shoved to the back of the shelf. The tomato and the spring onions were consigned to the bin and I was left with the beans. I heated them up separately and put them on the same plate as the cauliflower, intending to eat them one after the other. But I have an impulsive need I have apparently inherited from my Seanair (gaelic for grandpa) to mix whatever food is on my plate into one big gloopy mess. I did so and IT. WAS. AMAZING. Try it! It's definitely one for when you're feeling a bit lazy, so best to do it when you have leftover cauliflower cheese (I now make extra whenever I make it purely so I can have this 'dish' the following day) so you don't have to faff about making a cheese sauce. You can just heat and eat.

Pickled onions: Buy. Sit in front of TV eating them straight out the jar. I realise this sounds absolutely disgusting but as long as you're not planning on kissing/breathing near anyone that night (or for the next couple of days...), it's fine. And delicious. Maybe this one's down to personal taste; but before you judge me, please note that my brother has a pickled EGG addiction, which I feel is much worse. Judge him instead.

Nutella:  another 'straight out the jar' treat. I have to avoid buying Nutella for my toast, because I will sit and eat the whole jar with a teaspoon in one evening. Ben & Jerry's? Haagen Dazs? Pfft! Who needs them?! But, have you seen the adverts? Apparently the inclusion of FOUR WHOLE HAZELNUTS means it is healthy...

Fish finger sandwiches: This is a recent addition to my favourite guilty pleasures. I like them best with lashings of mayonnaise and gherkins on a wholemeal pitta. Yum. I also recently tried it with pickled beetroot instead of gherkins, and the addition of a tiny amount of ketchup (I despise ketchup, unless it is with mayo like in prawn marie rose). It was definitely a revelation, and I think I'll be having that combination again. And, again discovered due to empty cupboards, another favourite combination is fish fingers with coleslaw, gherkins, and rocket (again on wholemeal pitta). Don't knock it 'til you've tried it!

Mashed potatoes with Reggae Reggae sauce: I love mash and I love adding whatever condiments I can find to it. Horseradish mash is excellent with roast beef, mustard mash is amazing with gammon, and applesauce mash works with pork. You get the idea! But Reggae Reggae mash is great if you're in one of those moods on a dreich winter's day where you just want a big bowl of comforting mash. The sauce adds a bit of warmth and spice to the creamy potatoes. Be warned though, if you add too much your mouth will be on fire!

Roasted potato cubes with Caeser salad dressing: I love having potato wedges with garlic mayo but discovered this when I had run out of mayo and was too hungry and impatient to wait for wedges to cook so cut the potatoes into little cubes instead. It's delicious. 'Nough said.

So now you have a bit of an insight into how completely ridiculous and strange my food tastes are. But next time you're fancying a bit of comfort food, give one of these a go. I won't be offended if you give the pickled onions a miss, though. It's an acquired taste...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Rishi's: A Review

Having completely run out of money (and when I say 'run out of money', what I really mean is 'hit my overdraft limit') until I am paid on the 5th, I am currently relying on other people to take pity on me and buy me food. Luckily I do also have a few portions of food in the freezer to heat up when no one is willing or able to feed me. There is an element of fun in this, as I didn't think to label said portions and when frozen they all look like brownish sludge so it's a bit of a lucky dip as to whether I get beef in beer, chilli con carne, or vegetable dhansak for my tea.

So last night, Jamie felt sorry enough for me and my starvation (not melodramatic at all...) to take me out for curry at Rishi's on George Street. Most of the Indian restaurants in Aberdeen are actually run by Pakistanis, apparently, but my flatmate was on placement with a teacher originally from India who recommended Rishi's as the best place for authentic South Indian food.

For those of you who don't know, last summer I spent five weeks in Chennai, Tamil Nadu with Beyond Barriers, and one of my favourite things about the trip was the food, which was nothing like the curries you get in most restaurants in the UK. So I was very much looking forward to experiencing all my favourite dishes again, and Jamie was looking forward to tasting all the things I've been banging on about for the past nine months.

Due to India's win at the cricket yesterday the restaurant was absolutely heaving, so we were put in an upstairs room normally reserved for parties. It was just us and a massive table of twenty or so Indians.  The decor at the restaurant isn't great - pretty bare and mismatched - but we were there for the food, not the look of the place!

Despite being so busy, service was really prompt and attentive. They kept apologising for 'the wait'. What wait?!

I may have become a little over-excited in my ordering, and we ended up with a table absolutely heaving with Tiffin items, curry, rice, and breads.

We had a dosa between us, which was served with three types of chutney (coriander, coconut, and onion, I think) and sambar (a slightly spicy South Indian sauce made with lentils). A dosa is a bit like a very thin, crispy pancake, and tastes amazing with the chutneys and sambar.

We also ordered idli, which are like rice-cakes. They too come with the chutneys and sambar and although quite plain on their own, soak up the flavours of the chutneys really well. The other tiffin item we had was poori masala - a puffy deep-fried bread served with spicy potatoes.

Very tasty!

Curry-wise I had kadai paneer. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese. I would describe it as a cross between halloumi and cottage cheese. My curry was made with various spices and tomatoes. When in India I loved the curries made with paneer, so I loved being able to eat it again! I was also very much enjoying, much to Jamie's disgust, being able to eat with my fingers without receiving any odd looks. Though I did discover how out of practice I am! I had become used to doing it when in India, but felt clumsy and unco-ordinated attempting it again last night. It was nice, though, for anyone who (like Jamie) prefers to eat curry with a knife and fork, to see that the waitress automatically gave us cutlery while the Indians at the other table weren't given any. Curry definitely tastes better when eaten with fingers, though admittedly it is messy!

Jamie had a lamb dish, and the lamb was beautifully tender, falling apart in my fingers (and on his fork). We shared some lemon rice - another thing I have missed since first tasting it in Chennai. I have to say, though, that the lemon rice at Rishi's was nowhere near as good as Anjali's! (Anjali cooked most of our food when we were in India.) She was a particularly good cook though, so we won't hold it against Rishi's.

Another thing I really appreciated was that the waitress asked us how spicy we would like our curries. We both opted for 'medium', but Jamie was concerned it would still be too spicy, so the waitress said it wouldn't be a problem to send it back if he found it too much. Again: excellent, excellent service.

I found everything we had to be fairly mild, but Jamie thought it was very spicy and his bright red face and watery eyes confirmed this! So if you are a bit sensitive to spicy food (though Jamie claims he is not sensitive to spicy food: I am just hardened to it) and go to Rishi's, simply ask for your curry to be made a bit milder - they don't have any problems with such a request. And order a mango lassi to soothe your burning mouth! Lassi is a yoghurt drink, and at Rishi's you can choose from sweet, salt or mango. I ordered a sweet lassi to begin with, and Jamie had a Kingfisher, but after finding the curry too hot he also ordered a mango lassi. I tasted it and immediately regretted my decision to have a sweet one! Although mine was delicious, the mango one tasted so strongly of fresh juicy mangoes that it transported me straight back to Chennai, eating fresh mango each evening, stuffed after a beautiful meal cooked by Anjali.

We rounded off our meal with a cup of chai each. It was deliciously sweet, and Jamie was taken with the metal cups it was served in, but again, it didn't quite match up to Anjali's.

The bill was also a pleasant surprise, being less than we expected. The curries are about £5.99, while the tiffin items are £2-3 each.

We will definitely be going back there to try all the other things, like Chicken 65, that I had to restrain myself from ordering.

Having ordered such a ridiculous amount of food we, of course, couldn't finish it all. But the staff were happy to bag it up for us to take home and I'm looking forward to having the rest of my curry for tea tonight. Plus, it saves me defrosting one of my mystery meals!

Edited to add: Jamie says, 'You made me sound like a wuss! It may be partially true, but that chilli would have melted even Charlie Sheen's face off!'
So there you have it.