Big A's Culinary Adventures

>> Thursday, 23 October 2014

This is another post from my sis on fb.  It just made me spit tea all over the keyboard, so wanting to bask in the reflection of her glory (yet again), I have nicked it for your reading pleasure.

A bit of background: my sister (the former blogger known as Footballer's Knees) lives with her husband Big A, and 18 year old son, J.  Once a week she spends the night away from home on business - no prizes for guessing which day that is...

Big A's food baby is hanging around, despite frequent grym visits, so his personal trainer has suggested that he keeps a Food Diary for a week. Here follows my imagining of that diary:

This is the food what I have eaten this week, by Big A:
Dear Diary, tonight we had super noodles and potato waffles and crispy pancakes cos it was Boys Teas. Mmmn, lush, brill. J said he wished we could eat that every night and I said yep but we wouldn't be allowed because of the bad fat. And then we were sad until Defiance came on. Style.
Dear Diary, today the grown up was back so I had to eat boring healthy food, yuck. I said that it made me a bit sick in my mouth and she got cross so I had to stay at the table and miss New Girl.
Dear Diary, tonight it was Lamb Tagine and something called Cush Cush which tasted like tiny ants' brains. Diary, I tried to eat it but it was totally disgusting and I had to keep it in my mouth and then go to the toilet and spit it out. J saw me and I had to pay for his petrol so he wouldn't tell.
DD, tea tonight was so lush, we got a curry. And poppadoms. And naan. And beer. And special rice. I was a bit tired afterwards and I fell asleep in front of Suburgatory and then got told off for farting and laughing at it. Tomorrow we're going out for teas, I wonder what we'll eat?
DD, last night I drank a lot of beer. Today I was quite tired. I ate a bacon sandwich, a grab bag of Wotsits, a Ginster's pasty, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, treacle tart, a ham sandwich, a bag of Maltesers and a bowl of Cheerios. And an apple. Pie.
The End.


Inspirational Quotes. Or not...

>> Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I love a good inspirational quote.  In fact, I have to admit that there are couple which I have even copied out into the front of my notebook to refer to in times of need.  What would Edmund Burke* say about this, I ask myself as I ponder whether giving the kids shop-bought pizza for the 2nd night running makes me a bad mother.  What would Marcus Aurelius** say?

(Just kidding.)


Is it just me, or are we currently drowning in a sea of facile truisms being spread through the internet by social meeja? Most are so superficial that it seems to me that almost anyone could come up with them.

So, based on some of my own deep and meaningful recent life experiences I've given it a go myself. I've even added extra exclamation marks and the odd emoticon instruction so that you can experience them to their full potential.

(I expect Hallmark to be in touch shortly to discuss royalty fees before they start the presses running on the first of a series of Potty Diaries Inspirational Quotes, coming to you on mugs and greetings cards soon...)

Life is Short; Eat Dessert First.  (OK, I didn't come up with that one myself, and have no idea who did.  It was probably Hallmark, now I come to think of it.  But it is one of my favourites...)

Life:  too short to eat bad chocolate / drink bad wine / eat low fat spread / knit your own pasta (delete as appropriate)

Leave that blocked pore ALONE!  (Insert stop sign)

If you can't leave the blocked pore alone, a good beautician can work wonders!!!

You can never have too many scarves (to hide the damage from the badly handled blocked pore, if nothing else).  Smiley face smiley face

Taking down your kids' trampoline before the temperatures drop below freezing is good use of a spare hour!!

Taking down your kids' trampoline after the temperatures have dropped below freezing will remind you to do it earlier next year!!  (Insert smiley face here)

Freshly varnished nails and taking down your kids' trampoline are mutually exclusive concepts. (insert sad face and advert for intensive treatment hand and nail moisturising lotion)

Do you have any inspirational quotes of your own to add?

And now, the real McCoy...

*"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

** "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be.  Be one."  (Marcus Aurelius)


Writes of passage

>> Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Today, I had to do something unexpectedly difficult.

Regular readers may have picked up on the fact that sometime in the next year there's a strong possibility we'll move on from Russia.  In an effort to minimise the fuss when / if that actually happens, I am slowly but surely trying to empty the house of 'stuff' that we won't want to take with us (for which read; pay to move from one country to another), which we have accumulated during the last 5 years.

Mostly, this 'stuff' is associated in some shape or form with the Boys.  Toys, books, outgrown clothes, skates and shoes. You know; all the things that you curse when they stop you closing a cupboard door or the lid of a toy box, or which form an unsightly heap in the corner of your children's bedroom.  Things that you want to pass on that aren't quite good enough to give to friends, but which are too good to just throw out.

There are no Oxfams here, you see.  No handy shops on the high street that will be happy to pass your kids' pre-loved snowpants on to less fortunate children.  Certainly, there are charitable organisations that will do a similar job, but you have to know where they are and then - in this traffic-congested city - get the 'stuff' you want to donate to them delivered.

Catering to an expat population constantly in motion, the Boys' school does a good job of taking some of the strain; there's a thriving exchange for slightly worn unwanted school uniform items, there's a second-hand library where you can sell or replace books that are no longer relevant with ones that your kids might actually read, and there's a yearly 'skate swap' that takes some of the financial pain away, but there are still some things that there just isn't much call for.

Like, dressing up clothes.

My two boys have, in their time, loved dressing up.  Boy #1 is mostly past that now (sadly), but Boy #2 less so - the knights' outfit, the cuddly lion, the Power Ranger and the wizard still surface from time to time.  Unfortunately, however, there were a plethora of other dress-up outfits that whilst still much loved, don't fit anymore.  That'll happen when the label says '4 - 5 years' and your youngest child is going on 9...

So this morning, I took 13 - yes, THIRTEEN - dressing up outfits to the school, for the pre-Halloween costume swap.  As I stood there handing them over one at a time and explaining what they were, I was struck by an almost overpowering impulse to stuff them all back into my blue Ikea hold-all and run away with them.  All of a sudden it seemed as if I was giving away my children's memories rather than just random pieces of material.

I know, I can't keep them.  That would be ridiculous.  I already have a basket containing various small items of clothing that I can't bring myself to part with; a baby-grow, a blanket, that lovely shirt they both wore one after the other when they reached 4 years old, those cute baby socks.  That revolting sweater that was part of Boy #1's school uniform in London, the faded over-sized t-shirt they consecutively wore on beach holidays to keep them out of the sun.

Yes; keeping their dress up clothes as well is out of the question.  And it's certainly not necessary from their point of view; they were completely unconcerned when I suggested we get rid of the Bob the Builder / Fireman Sam outfit (reversible and oh-so-handy), the skeleton, chef, vet and doctor outfits, the 3 sets of pirate garb in varying sizes, the princes cloaks, the fireman kit, and police uniforms still with matching hats.

It's me who has the problem.

I think it's because this is such tangible evidence of the fact that Boys #1 and #2 are growing up.  This morning I felt not as if I was simply handing over brightly coloured pieces of material.  I felt rather that I was saying goodbye to the two small boys who used to race about the house chasing each other with pirate swords, or stopping traffic on the floor of the playroom, or helping me in the kitchen dressed in a floppy chef's hat.  As if I was bidding farewell to the sensation of a small warm hand in mine during the walk home from school, and the feeling of the embrace of a hot sleepy pre-schooler's arms around my neck when they were too tired to walk up the stairs to go to bed.

You would have been proud of me, though.  Instead of snatching it all back and wailing 'I don't want to!  I'm not ready!  Give them back!', I smiled, watched the other mums with kids younger than mine get excited about what we'd donated, and walked on to the next stage.

Because that's what mums do.

(Mind you, god knows what I'm going to do with 13 swap tickets.  I would say there is every chance that come Saturday, when the swap actually takes place, I may actually find myself buying half of the costumes back...)


Today's 'Through The Looking Glass' moment is brought to you courtesy of...

>> Tuesday, 7 October 2014

... Auchan supermarket.

When I first began to visit Russia in the mid 1990's there was what seemed to me to be an antiquated payment system in place in many retail outlets.  It worked as follows:

1.  The customer selected their item.

2.  They would inform the shop assistant of their choice (it was usually stored out of reach, often behind glass).

3.  The shop assistant would then remove the item from the shelf but instead of taking payment and handing over the purchase, they would put it to one side, hand-write a sales ticket, and send the customer to the caisse (or payment till).  Often this would be on the other side of the shop floor.

4.  The customer would take their ticket to the caisse, where they paid and were given a receipt as proof of purchase.

5.  They would then return with proof of purchase to the original desk where they had selected  their item.

6.  At this point they would present the new receipt to the shop assistant, and only then would they take possession of their purchase.

Now it may be that this is a system in wide-spread global use, but in my life up until that point I had never encountered it outside of the UK tv series 'Are You Being Served?'.  (A sitcom about an outdated department store).

Consequently I was somewhat relieved when we moved to Moscow at the beginning of 2010 to find that this system had mostly been abandoned and paying for goods was now a lot more straightforward.

Today, however, I wondered as if I might have fallen through a crack in the time/space continuum (yes, I HAVE been watching the new series of 'Dr Who') when I encountered this at Auchan.

There are still cashiers (and queues, which I suppose is not suprising since both staff and customers are like rabbits in headlights when faced with this new system), who run all the items through the till as usual.  However, payment is made by taking the receipt that the cashier gives you to a machine sited a few metres behind the till, scanning the receipt, and paying the machine directly.  Once you've done that, the machine prints out another receipt, which you need to scan to get through a security gate (complete with security guard) to exit the till area.

Tell me, please, that time isn't slipping backwards?

Now, for persevering through that bit of a moan, here's your reward: an excerpt from the episode 'Are You Being Served' where the staff are learning to ballroom dance.  I particularly liked Captain Peacock's and Mr Humphrey's demonstration with the fishtail....


Trying to say something without actually saying it...

>> Tuesday, 30 September 2014

This post has been simmering away on the edges of my blog-consciousness for a couple of weeks now.  I couldn't ignore it any more...

'Number 10 Downing Street was besieged today by middle class shoppers aggrieved at the lack of palatable fresh milk, green vegetables, and imported meat and dairy products available in supermarkets since the government imposed sanctions on products sourced from the other side of the English Channel.

Handbags and umbrellas were raised in the air as a sign of solidarity by ladies of a certain age protesting about the impossibility of obtaining basic staples such as green beans, broccoli, and bagged salads, and Marks & Spencers reported a rush of customers fighting in the aisles to buy up the last stocks of Parma ham.

In answer to the widespread criticism of the government bans, David Cameron was reported as saying "I know it's hard to work out what to feed your growing families, but I think all our citizens will agree that this is an important step in establishing our position as a proud and independent nation, and one that is unencumbered by the obligations placed upon us by untrammelled access to the decadent products sourced from Abroad.  Like, Danish bacon.  Or Finnish milk.  Or French cheese.  French cheese in particular is an evil that our pure and unsullied national consciousness can do without."

Looking stern and and composed in his bowler hat as he walked his British Bulldog to the park, he continued.  "Join me, Citizens, in embracing a return to Blitz Spirit and to our venerable history of a national cuisine of meat and two veg, and lumpy custard with apple crumble.  Let us shun the evil olive oil-led culinary revolution that resulted in our current indebtedness to those who criticise our annexation of the Dordogne - where after all, we are only trying to safeguard the livelihood of those Britons who have made their life there and who are being forced to speak French - FRENCH - whenever they need to carry out the smallest domestic task - and reject these continental fripperies that have made our once proud nation weak."

Leaders of the protest remain unimpressed by Mr Cameron's fighting talk, and vowed to continue their occupation of Whitehall until the aisles of the local Waitrose are once again fully stocked with artisan soft cheeses and French Golden Delicious...'

Clearly, the paragraphs above are entirely fabricated.  It would be totally ridiculous; no British government would do this to their voters; there would be uproar and their time in power would be numbered - probably in days, not weeks - because we, the all-powerful consumer, the engine that keeps the British economy moving, would not stand for it.

But I don't live in the UK.  I live in Russia.

And guess what's happening, right here, right now, today and for the foreseeable future?

The difference is, the local population just put up with it.  Blitz Spirit?  With all due respect - and I say this as patriotic British woman, proud of my roots and my country - Britain might talk about Blitz Spirit, but the Russians wrote the book on it.  Although, if I'm honest, it's less about pulling together, and more about keeping your head below the parapet, but that's a subject for another post (probably when I'm not living in this location).

The average Russian is stoic in the extreme; within living memory most family histories contain more hardship and terror than you or I could possibly imagine.  The current difficulties they are facing are as nothing compared to what gets talked about - or not talked about - around the table at family celebrations.  And it doesn't matter who is imposing the conditions that lead to these difficulties, whether it's foreign governments or their own administration; despite the hope of various other nations, at present they won't stand up and force change from within because, given the history - recent and otherwise - of what happens to those who have done so, no-one wants to single themself out.  And I don't blame them.  Would you?

And this, in my almost certainly less-than-objective opinion, is why this current face-off between the West and the East is not going to end well.  Someone has to step up, be the bigger person, and say 'enough of this.'  Enough sanctions, enough tit-for-tats, enough sabre-rattling; it's not working.

Please, let's be grown ups about this.  Somebody has to.


The writing's on the wall. Except, it's not.

>> Tuesday, 23 September 2014

We are considering a move back to the UK within the next year.  Nothing's certain, but in an effort to have all our ducks in a row in case we do relocate, Boys #1 and #2 need to get ready for entrance exams to possible new schools.

This presents any number of challenges, but one of the main ones to exercise my mind at present is teaching them how to write.

Yes, of course they can write; let me explain...

Their current school is very keen on IT, to the extent that Boy #1 in Grade 5 should already have access to his own laptop (he doesn't - but only because we haven't got round to sorting that out yet), and every child aged 7 upwards has access to an iPad in class.  Developing the children's typing skills is seen as being equally - if not more so - important as their being able to write continuously for 20 minutes or more.

Now, I am all about new technology; you're reading this on a blog, after all.  But for some time I've thought that being able to write a side of A4 - definitely for a 10/11 year old - should be a basic skill and one that most children should be able to deliver.  I've thought it, yes - but until this summer I didn't do anything about it.

Cut to the end of the summer term this year, when it suddenly became clear that if we want our Boys to have the chance to enter one of three schools in the area we may move to, they are both going to need to sit entrance exams.  Separate ones, for each school.  And separate papers, for each school.

Which, as I discovered when visiting the schools in June, will not be on a computer.  (Well, of course they won't.)

You might not think this would be much of a problem.  Surely filling in any holes in their learning from having been taught a different curriculum should be the main thing?  Actually, there are fewer holes than you might imagine, but in any case, that's not my prime concern.  Because it doesn't matter how much they learn about paragraphs, punctuation, fractions, long division, or creative writing if they can't actually sit and write about these things for more than 5 minutes at a time.  And until June of this year - when their school holidays started and Evil Mummy stepped in to make sure that they actually just sat. And. Wrote. for longer and longer periods of time, - my two boys were unable to do that.

Writing for extended periods of time takes muscles, you see; something that we adults, used to doing everything online nowadays, tend to forget.  And these muscles are different to the ones we use when tapping away on a keyboard.  And as I discovered in June, Boys #1 and #2 were, until recently, physically incapable of just sitting and writing for more than a few minutes of time without developing muscle fatigue.

So, we've been working on it at home.  But that's not enough, and today I had to go into school and meet both their teachers and explain exactly why it was that some of the online homework they are being set will be coming back in their notebooks - hand-written - from now on.  And I could see, in my separate conversations with them, that the teachers were struggling to understand why this was, so I decided to set it out simply for them.

Here's an abridged version of those two conversations.

Both boys will need to sit entrance exams.  Yes, that they understood.  Both boys will need to sit different exams for up to 3 schools.  Yeeees...  That's three different lots of exams.  Yeees...  Times 3 sets of papers, for each.  Okaaaayyy...  Each paper lasting between 30 minutes and one hour, depending on the school.  Riiiiggght.   (The penny was starting to drop).  So if, as is possible, they sit the exams all in the same week (to avoid our having to fly backwards and forwards and to minimise the amount of time they were out of their current school), they would need to have the muscle strength to sit and write for up to an hour continuously more than 6 times in the same week.

Cue panic in the teachers' eyes as they both realised how far removed that is from what they are currently teaching their class.

And, more than likely, cue a slight change in how they ask my children to deliver their homework.

Boys #1 and #2 will be SO pleased with me...


Piano man

>> Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Here's a very middle-class statement for you: we had the piano tuned recently - as you do.

Apparently this is a yearly necessity here in Moscow, where the central heating and dry atmosphere play havoc with most wood-based instruments*.  Given that in addition to these problems it was manhandled to a different room - twice - over the summer, left unattended in a houseful of workmen for 6 weeks (more of which another time), and that the humidifier Boy #2's piano teacher recommended we buy to keep it in good condition has been sitting in a cupboard after I used it for a week only to realise it was making everything in the room damp (go figure), my hopes for a speedy visit from the piano tuner were not high.

Natalya** the Piano Teacher had assured me that we should probably expect the tuner to need to stay for at least an hour and a half, perhaps longer, so I told Husband - who was the one due to be in the house at the time - to Be Prepared.

However, the Tuner was in and out in around half an hour, and even passed on to Natalya how impressed he'd been by the state the piano was in (he had been the person who originally tuned it for us after it was delivered a year ago).  She herself was surprised, and wondered why that was.

Oh, that's easy, I told her.  It's because of the heating.  You know how you, Natalya, are always complaining that our house is too cold in the winter? (We keep it at around 20degC; warmer than the 18degC my parents used to set their thermostat to when I was growing up in a draughty and badly-insulated but completely charming mill house, but significantly cooler than the at least 24 - 25degC most Russians favour in winter).  Yes... she answered, perhaps knowing what was coming next.  Well, that's why the piano is in better condition than expected, I continued.  Because it's not subjected to such extremes of temperature.

Interesting, answered Natalya.  You might have something there.

Of course, neither of us mentioned what we both knew was the real reason for the piano's relative tunefulness.  

Outside of his hour-long lessons, Boy #2 does a grand total of 20 minutes practice a week (and even that is an improvement on his previous record).

Of course it wasn't out of tune;  the damn thing hardly ever gets played...

*and, fyi, furniture.  If you're considering moving to Moscow, leave your much-loved antiques and inherited tables etc back home.  Yet another reason why Ikea is the decorative choice of so many expats here...

** Not her real name, which is at least as Russian as that, if not more so


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