Indian Food For Beginners: September Tandoori Night

Tandoori Night Sept 2014

For his 40th birthday, my gift to Badgerman was to host a Curry Night for four, once a month for the next 6 months, cooking everything from scratch using the recipes and fresh spices provided by The Spicery. As I am a complete novice at making Indian food and generally using spices, this was definitely going to be a labour of love and also the perfect foil for a blog series, which I introduced last month. Below is the first installment.

We finally hosted our first Curry Night dinner party yesterday evening. I was a bit anxious because I would be cooking this entire dinner with the guests already in attendance but as it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried: it wasn’t at all difficult to make and was a complete success. So let’s just see what happened, shall we?

The dishes, the sights, the smells, the experience

 

I made Tandoori Chicken, Dum Aloo (a potato and tomato dish), Cucumber Raita, a Tomato and Onion Salad and Mango Chutney. I also made some rice on the side and we bought some Naans and Poppadoms.

The results were pretty phenomenal. The mango chutney in particular looked stunning with rich golden colours and an attractive gloss. It was also really simple to make (if you have the spices, that is).

Mango chutney

All the recipes were very easy to follow. Preparation included, it took only 1 hour and 30 minutes to make everything from start to finish. All the dishes were delicious and very fragrant without setting fire to my mouth. I am a complete lightweight when it comes to heat, and there was only a slight kick here and there (I did not break the long chillies into pieces on purpose, although I could have done). Badgerman, who can and will withhold a much stronger heat than I ever could, later admitted he was grateful that he would not be getting any curry sweats after the meal, as he is a teacher and that’s not something you want to burden kids with on a Monday morning.

I only had two issues, if you can call them that. One was with the mango chutney. I started the cooking process at medium heat and it probably was a bit too low and wasn’t caramelising or thickening the chutney properly. When I did turn up the heat, it transformed the dish into a very beautiful thing.

To make the Dum Aloo, I first had to peel 1 kg of baby new potatoes. Have you tried to peel a potato the size of a golf ball? It’s a tedious pain in the arse, that’s what it is. On the other hand, my friend Jenny was wonderful and despite being the guest, lent a hand so we got the job done in no time. Other than that, it was actually my favourite dish of all. I cooked the potatoes and tomatoes in a large pan and the spiced water reduced and turned into a thick sauce in 30 minutes. I will definitely make this one again.

In Summary

The whole thing was superb, very fragrant without being too hot (for my taste). I can’t wait until next month when I make Butter Chicken, which is apparently ‘a more sophisticated version of chicken tikka masala’.

tandoori spread Sept 2014

What I’m Into – September 2014

What I'm Into Sept 2014

How long ago were the summer holidays again? Only one month? September has been busy, stressful and physically challenging, though thankfully we’ve also had some good news and great weather. Still I’m glad October is here and I can give Baked Pumpkin Cheese Fondue a try. It’s totally going to happen.

Anyway, I’m joining with Leigh Kramer and looking back at all the things that have been going on in my life in September.

What I’m Watching

Regular Shows: Dr Who, The Great British Bake-Off

I’ve lost interest in both The 100 and Under the Dome, which have been increasingly underwhelming and ludicrous as time went on.

I’m having the hardest time restarting Friends after my August hiatus, what’s up with that?

I’ve binge watched Outlander, season 3 of Once Upon A Time and last Sunday’s episode, and season 3 of Parks & Rec. Don’t ask how I’ve been able to watch these shows that are not currently showing in the UK. But basically, I loved every minute of every single one of them (especially Outlander, see below).

What I’m Reading

I finally found A Dance With Dragons: Part 1at the library and devoured it in a couple of days. Great book, can’t wait to read Part Two.

My blog Reader filled with reviews and Tumblrs about new show Outlander (Cross Stitch, UK), which was rewarding and frustrating in equal measures at the time (before I found a way to watch it). It is the TV version of my favourite book series but one which I tend to only recommend to a select few due to some of the content in the same way that I don’t recommend Game of Thrones the TV show to everyone either. It’s a matter of taste but some people find the violence and the naughty bits (even in a marital context) too graphic. Or maybe it’s because I remember I was 16 when I read the first book and my mum’s eyes popped a little when she tried it after me. I’ve genuinely enjoyed all the recaps and gif sets I found online despite all the spoilers but since I’ve read the (enormous) books about 10 times each, it was just a lot of fun. I am on the library waiting list to read the latest one (number 8 in the series!) Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. I’ll buy it for sure but due to lack of space on the bookshelves I’ll be waiting for the paperback.

What I’m Listening To

Let it goooooo, let it gooooo! Because Luciole is 15 months and can sing along to some of the chorus – minus most of the words but you can still make it out. Da da GO! Da da GO!

Favourite Picture

20140914_boozy luciole

I know I shouldn’t like this one as much as I do. Badger beer is very tasty, I can’t begrudge her that.

What I’ve Been Doing

  • I dove right back into the swing of things, also known as ‘I don’t remember what it’s like to be on holiday and it’s only been a day‘.
  • I met up with friends in the famed town that is Romford, Essex and ate too much cheese, cake and Haribos.
  • I started to clear stuff up at home. I promise, I did. I even bought a table at a baby stuff nearly-new sale for next Saturday.
  • In completely unexpected news, I am now on Tumblr. I had zero intention of doing this, right to the second when I pressed the create button. Tumblr is a weird place full of very immersed fandom members and it scares me a little. I’m really only on the periphery and might never use it properly but I love commenting on things and it bugged me that the only way to do that on Tumblr is to have an account with them. So now I have one, for better or for worse.

At Home on the Blog

I finally wrote that post about our passport difficulties for Luciole, and how it really was a miracle that we got it in time for our holidays.

I’m going to get six parcels full of fresh spices in the post over the next six months and start my Beginner’s Journey into Indian Curries from scratch, all in honour of Badgerman’s 40th birthday. Between Luciole being ill, my cut finger and other things, I’ve not yet hosted the first one, which was due this month but you can expect a post in the next couple of weeks. That is, unless the roof caves in or something similarly disastrous.

And then of course, I cut my thumb, went to the emergency department and subsequently sang the praises of my super sharp knives

Ah, yes, I discovered Washi tape and used it in some clever ways. If you’re into craft, it’s a handy little thing to have. If you’re not, well, it’s a bit weird but pretty.

In case you haven’t noticed, I updated my blog design! It was long overdue and it’s not perfect but it will do, don’t you think? I unveiled it with a post raving about this fab design website called canva, which I’m not linking to here because you should all totally check it out, but only once you’ve read the post.

Luciole was ill last week and I talked about how everyone in the UK (and probably the US and 75% of the rest of the world) gets freaked out when they hear the word suppository. It sure is a culture clash.

Last but not least, another post about cultural differences: you think you know how things work, and then preschool happens and it’s a whole new world of discomfort.

And that’s it folks! Check out all the other September entries over at:

Note: this post contains affiliate links; if you click through, any purchase you make supports this site.

I have ‘issues’ with the English pre-school system

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It’s no surprise to anyone who has spoken to me in the last few weeks that I can’t get my head around the English pre-school system. I really don’t get it: the whole way it is organised – or not organised – is a mystery to me. Before anyone thinks this is going to  be a ranty post dissing the whole thing and praising the French way of doing it, I am not going to do that. I’m happy to accept that I’m probably at fault in this instance because it’s been by far one of the biggest culture shocks I’ve experienced in years. And yeah, it’s at least in part because I am bitter about the fact that I failed to get Little Girl a space at a pre-school for the beginning of September. So I’m just going to explain the differences that struck me most so you can maybe see why it’s been a head-doer for me.

In France, school starts at three years old. Before you start primary school at 6 years old, you spend three years in the school system going through the Maternelle; they are called small, middle and big sections. Whilst the first year, like pre-school, is not compulsory, most children attend from day one, most likely because why wouldn’t they? In terms of what happens in the classroom, it is very much like an English pre-school, the environment is designed for them to learn by play. The main difference that I can see is that as it is officially ‘school’, so children are guaranteed a place in the school in their catchment area. You get your letter, you put down your preferences, you wait, the end. Not so in England.

I was astounded when I discovered that I should have put Little Girl on a pre-school waiting list from about 6 months old if I hoped to guarantee her place when she would start the term after her third birthday. Astounded. I knew nothing about it at the time of course, what with still being in shock that I’d given birth to an actual real baby and it was still alive and, goodness me, already moving on to the weaning stage. So when I was asked where I thought she’d go to pre-school when she was about 18 months old, I felt super-stressed and didn’t have a clue what to do about it, so I just dug my head in the sand a bit and thought I had plenty of time to figure it out. It was the wrong decision to make, as I found out this summer.

At the end of last year, I bit the bullet and visited places, because you have to do that yourself, and you have to decide what the best fit for your child might be. For me, based on my zero experience in what preschool is supposed to look like, was really disconcerting. But I did visit a few and got my list of important things to look for down to three:

Safety: my first visit to a preschool, on a rainy day, was fine until I had to go down a metal fire escape ladder to get to the playground, the very same steps the children would also have to follow to play outside. I feared for my life, and decided that maybe, I did have a faint idea about where I didn’t want my child to go.

Sanitation: I clearly visited the wrong day, because throughout the 30 minutes I spent in that second place, the smell of poo was so seriously overpowering that it put me right off my lunch and that preschool as well.

Cost: another thing that surprised and shocked me a little. You often have to pay an administrative fee to put your child on a waiting list, and it doesn’t guarantee a place. It can be as little as £10, but even that adds up quickly if you want to up your chances by putting your child’s name down in more than one place. And then, because pre-school is literally ‘pre’ school, it is not actually free. The government only subsidises 15 hours a week, which is not very much at all, basically three mornings. A lot of places are nurseries that run all year round and only have a limited number of subsidised spaces. They will only offer 12 out of the 15 free hours because it’s more profitable that way, and you’re automatically at the bottom of their waiting list.

Unfortunately, this is what happened with Little Girl. I put her down at the one place I wanted her to go, a pre-school located in an actual school, with grounds and a distinct scholarly feel that I felt would better prepare her for when she goes to ‘proper school’ next year. Then we got the letter telling us she didn’t have a space for a September start in the middle of July, the week before the end of the term, thus giving us no chance to contact anyone to try and find a place elsewhere.

I left a few slightly deranged voicemails at one pre-school and then went off on holiday feeling like the worst mother in the whole world. And was reminded of it again when we got back and received an invitation to go to an open day at the pre-school she hadn’t gotten into; then felt even worse when she picked up the leaflet and said ‘look maman, it’s my school!’ in the most excited voice. I could have wept.

In the end, I’m happy to say that we eventually got a place at a preschool not five minutes away. I don’t really know how it happened, I think it might be another miracle if I’m honest. Little Girl started last Wednesday and loved it. She’s only there two mornings a week but they will add to it as soon as they are able.

The biggest thing that get me about the whole saga is that Little Girl is only going to be there for a few months. School officially starts at 4 years old and as an end-of-July baby, she will start next September. So this whole hassle, stress and disappointment was all for a measly 9 months of her life. So yes, I don’t really get it.

Bring out the scary meds

scary meds header 280914

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the first reflex of a British parent when their children are ill is to reach for the Calpol or Nurofen.

For non-Brits, I’m talking about liquid paracetamol, generally strawberry-flavoured, that comes with a syringe to administer straight into your infant’s mouth; like kids’ Doliprane in France. And most kids like it a lot, and by that I mean ‘would like it on tap, thank you very much’. Little Girl, upon spotting the bottle of calpol, has been known to try to convince me she is at death’s door and say with a sad voice ‘maman, I’m not very well, I need some calpol.’ Yeah, right.

What has always puzzled me, is the fact that there is no alternative over-the-counter medicine for children. So what do the parents of the refluxy-vomitty child do if he or she is not well on top of the refluxy-vomitty thing? Or in my case, what to do with a child who HATES Calpol? Luciole will go to quite some lengths to not ingest it. Let it dribble out, turn her head away, full body escape attempt, gagging if it as much as touches her lips; with a lot of wailing and general mayhem. It gives me stress-induced palpitations just to think about it. She really does hate the stuff, and there is nothing else to be had.

She’s been ill this past week with a really high fever and has dug her heels in at every attempt to get the meds inside her so I went to the GP and got what I was hoping for: suppositories. I could have hugged her. I barely restrained myself from going ‘yesssss’ and do a fist-pump. She looked quite taken aback at the joy on my face, which is not surprising because I would bet she rarely gets this kind of reaction at the mention of suppositories.

There is this huge stigma around suppositories in this country. Literally everyone goes ‘ewww‘ and ‘only the French‘ when I talk about how suppositories are the best thing ever. And it drive me UP THE WALL. If you said or thought ‘eww’ when you read the dreaded word, know that right now, I am side-eyeing you and patronising the hell out of you because you know what, stop it this instant with the childishness. It is a perfectly acceptable way of administrating medicine and dare I say it, The Best Way when it comes to treating your sick child. It is safe. It is pain-free. It works almost instantly. And yes, it goes into the back passage. Big deal.

Right. Rant over. I think. Maybe.  I just don’t get the phobia at all when it solves so many problems in one smooth sweep (pun intended).

Suppositories: putting the fear of man into every Englishman's heart since forever
Suppositories: putting the fear of man into every Englishman’s heart since forever

I’d never given anyone a suppository before yesterday, and let me tell you, after the histrionics we’ve had around the Calpol in the last couple of days, this was by far the easiest, pain-free. stress-free and also most anti-climatic event ever. There was no mess, she barely noticed it happened when I did it at the end of her nappy change, and she was, as expected, much better within 15 minutes, and so that was that.

The fever didn’t come back after, so I am now in possession of another 19 of these babies and I am going to use every single one of them. Not all at once though, obviously.

One for the geeks: New Blog Design

new blog design 170914

I know, I know, I should be de-cluttering my coat closet instead of tinkering with my perfectly satisfying blog design. What can I say, I’m the ultimate procrastinator.

In my defense, as flimsy an excuse as it is, I discovered a plethora of exciting websites and got distracted from the important stuff of organising my life.

I’ll tell you all about these below but first, a confession. I lied in the first sentence of this post. The old design was not, in fact, perfectly satisfying at all. It was quite clunky and limited and a little bit old-fashioned, and I had been fancying a change for quite some time. I just couldn’t be bothered and couldn’t figure out what I wanted.

But then, as I was saying above, today I discovered a couple of exciting new design websites and couldn’t resist their appeal:

  • Stacey Corrin is the one that sent me down this rabbit hole in one moment of impulse and I’ve already forgotten how I got onto her website, despite that it was like, 5 minutes ago. She has a tutorial for making a blog media kit and I was like ‘who needs a media kit and what is it?’ and then boom, I get introduced to Canva, and I was drooling and thinking ‘I must find a way to use this thing right now even if I must make something up from scratch to do so!’ – and I still fail the geek quizzes, believe it or not.
  • Canva is a fabulous design website; you can use it to create banners for your various social media platforms, posters, invitations and lots more, using your own designs or one of the many options available on the site, including a very generous catalogue of free stuff. The tutorials are fun and interactive, and there is a lot to love there. I usually use PicMonkey for my photo designs but I will definitely incorporate the two from now on.

design virgin example (2)

  • In another article, Stacey was talking about colour coordination and had some gorgeous swatches (especially on her Pinterest boards). So again, <drooling>, but then it occurred to me that it’s all very well to admire the colour palettes that have been gathered together but how do you know colour names to reproduce on your own designs? A quick search took me to a page full of the HTML colour codes (gorgeous!) so I can adjust the tone more specifically than the point, click and hope for the best method.

Case in point: you can see on my new design that when you hover on the navigation, the buttons turn green. I was able to incorporate the green into the header and pretend that it was planned that way from the start, which make the whole thing a little bit more appealing, don’t you think? Web designers around the world are probably shaking their head muttering ‘amateur’ to themselves, and yes, I’m a real beginner at this but I still love it.

Another deciding factor for the change was the fact that in recent times I’ve tried to improve the look of the posts by systematically including a photo header with a fancy post title. I know I’m not a photographer, but it’s a challenge to myself to make more of an effort, if not with a photo then still with a design element that makes the post stand out more. The new design requires me to do so if I want to keep things pretty.

As to the actual redesign, I know it’s quite a drastic change and I hope you’re not all thrown off by it. For those that care and don’t know where to find the information, I settled on WordPress’ own Twenty Fourteen magazine-style design. It’s a free theme and I’m not spending any extra money on anything so there are some limits to what I can play with, especially with the colour scheme but I personally think that in terms of readability and funkyness, it wins over the old Fadtastic I was using before.

As this is a free blog on wordpress.com, all design changes are completely down to me, from the header with the name of the blog to the order of the widgets, so please bear with me as I spend the next few days testing things out. I would really be grateful for your feedback either in the comments or by email, especially if there is something that you think has either vastly improved or just doesn’t work at all.

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