Home Alone Cooking: Gok’s Broccoli Sesame Soup

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I was poaching an egg for my breakfast – it sat atop a bundle of asparagus, steamed in the microwave, wrapped in a slice of smoked salmon.  You don’t need a recipe for something so quick and simple, but it was very very good, and would work on a low cal day too.

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Anyhoo, I decided to poach an additional egg for use later.

Gok’s soup had as its main ingredients broccoli, split into stalks and tops,  and spring onions.  The stalks and spronions were sauteed in a little coconut oil, and then the tops were added, along with a cup of chicken stock, and a half cup of cooked rice (I use some from a pack of microwave rice, lime and coriander flavour). The recipe called for fresh ginger, but I didn’t have any so I added a few slivers from my sushi ginger jar.

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Simmer everything together for about 15 minutes, until soft.  Blend with a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce in my trusty stick blender. (I’ve been using this every day for the past while – I don’t even put it away any more!)

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Presentation is important for this one – put the egg in a bowl, and carefully pour the soup around it.  Drizzle with some sesame oil, sprinkle some sesame seeds, and a few dots of chopped chilli (I get mine from a jar).

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It looked really pretty!

If I was doing it again, I would do the egg fresh, so that it was warmer, and runny.  But the combination of smooth green soup, the soft egg, the crunch of seeds and a kiss of chilli was a winner.

 

 

Home Alone Cooking: Best Sweet Potato

After an all day dance course, I was pretty hungry this evening, and ready for a satisfying dinner.  So I decide to try what Ella called her “best baked sweet potato recipe”.

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The baked sweet potato bit was easy – the recipe suggested baking in the oven for an hour, I used the microwave option in 10 minutes.

The main filling was half a can of black beans, drained and rinsed, with some sliced mushrooms, and a whole 3 cloves of garlic! Other seasonings were a teaspoon each of chilli flakes and ground coriander.

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The dressing was made from tahini, honey, olive oil, and the juice of one lime.

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And I got to use my lickle whisk!

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The potato was split open, and half an avocado spooned into it.

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Topped with the bean and mushroom, and then drizzled with the dressing. Colour wise it was a bit brown.

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Was it the best baked sweet potato ever?  Well, I licked the plate clean….

Home Alone Cooking: Pad Thai

img_0544Ella’s recipes are pretty versatile, and it’s easy to swap in ingredients that you have to hand.  In my case, a leek, some button mushrooms, and a few radishes.img_0545

I sliced these finely, and sauteed them with some bell pepper in a little coconut oil.  Look at those vivid colours!

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I soaked some fine rice noodles in boiling water, and then stirred them into the veg.

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The sauce was delicious, and I’ll be making it again:

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For 2 portions

  • 8 tablespoons olive oil
  • 15g fresh coriander
  • 3 tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon tamari
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Blend everything together in a food processor.

Stir the sauce through the noodles and veg.

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Not for a low-calorie day, but a very quick and easy satisfying dinner.

Home Alone Cooking: The Shappin!

Well, I have another week ahead of me catering for myself, so as usual I will be experimenting with some veggie/ vegan/ healthy/ low cal recipes.

To clarify, I’m not exclusively veggie or vegan, but I do like to experiment with dishes that are.  Lots of my friends and relatives follow this way of eating, and I like to have a range of dishes in my repertoire.

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Low cal wise, I  try to follow a 5:2 approach, though admittedly I’m not the best adherent.  But a tasty low-cal recipe is another handy addition to the recipe bank.

I’ve found that wheat and/or gluten does mess a bit with my digestion.  I’m not celiac, but I find my body does better when I limit wheat and carbohydrates.  As a runner and dancer, that’s quite important, as fuelling for intensive exercise sessions is crucial!

So my first step was to stock up with suitable ingredients.  Working full-time, I find that the click-and-collect option provided by supermarkets is a godsend, and Tesco do a collection spot right across the road from my house.  I was able to place my order while having my morning cuppa on Wednesday, and pick it up on the way home form work on Thursday.  No waiting, no hours and petrol spent going to the supermarket, and a very friendly bit of chit-chat with the delivery guy. Marvellous!

Now, Tesco didn’t have all the fancy ingredients I wanted, so I supplemented that with a call into Holland and Barratt, and the Aladdin’s cave that is Sawyers, Belfast, about 50m from my office.

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So here’s the whole haul of ingredients.

Leafy green veg – kale, spinach, broccoli and asparagus.

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Other veg – squash, peppers, mushrooms, avocado, sweet potato

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Fruit – pink grapefruit, figs, pomegranate, lemons and limes

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Store cupboard – lentils, cacao nibs, cacao powder, and baobab powder

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Tins – black beans, coconut oil, coconut milk, ginger curd, almond butter

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Dairy and dairy-like – almond milk, oat cream, cottage cheese

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So, with all these jewels, plus a few things I already have….what shall I make first?

 

5:2 recipes: Cactus Salad

I’ve a terrible habit of picking up bargains when I see them, especially more unusual items.  I came across this jar of cactus tips in Dobbies sale, and couldn’t resist.

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It had a salad recipe on the side, which I decided to try out.

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The other ingredients were a spoonful of salsa, and a chopped tomato and onion.

I’m not a big onion fan, but as long as it’s finely chopped and has had time to marinate a bit, it’s OK.

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I nearly came unstuck (if you see what I mean….) by my failure to be able to twist off the lid.  But I discovered that this pokey device at the end of a tin opener

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is not just for taking stones out of horses hooves, it can be used to prise under a lid and break the seal.  Voila!

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The cactus tips were rather good, a nice crunch, not an overpowering flavour.

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Calorie wise this was a total winner.  I omitted the oil from the recipe, and honestly it didn’t need it. The whole jar of drained cactus was about 10 calories. The tomato and onion added 30, and the most calorific element was the spoonful of salsa, at 40.  But the whole big satisfying bowlful was under 100.  It would make a great accompaniment for a slice of ham or chicken, for non-vegetarians.

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I’ll definitely be looking out for bargain cactus in the future!

 

Parkruns: Tim, Jim and Colin

I’ve met Tim Page a couple of times before – he’s working his way round all the Norn Irn parkruns raising awareness and funds for leukemia and lymphoma.  He was due to run at Colin Glen this week, and was feeling a bit nervous of its reputation as a tough one.  I’d managed to be first lady the  last time  I was here, and it holds a special place in my heart as it completed the NI set for me last year.  But Minnie had managed to hurt her paw, so there was no barkrun for her, and no way I could better my previous time without her assistance on the hills.  So I volunteered to keep Tim company on his run.

I arrived in good time and parked up, just before Tim himself appeared, and in between his stretches I got him to pose for the traditional “Cracker Says” moment.

IMG_0307A few other people recognised Tim, and we were also joined by parkrun Jim.

He famously came home from holiday in Spain in order to continue his parkruns, and was the first man in Ireland to complete 250. He’s recently added a second tattoo on his other calf to celebrate this achievement.

There was a good turnout, as a recent Steps to Health group were making their graduation run, and the spread of post run goodies looked very tasty indeed.

It’s a beautiful course,

winding its way through sun dappled trees,

across bridges,

and past some Gruffalo statues.

IMG_0311 It’s a gradual climb up to the lake, which you run round twice,

before a great downhill stretch all the way home.

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Tim had been worried about various niggles, including an achilles problem, so we agreed we would roughly run for 4 minutes, walk for 1. I acted as photographer and now and then I’d sprint ahead or stay behind to get a good picture.  Even if it was just of Jim’s tatts!

We smiled and laughed our way around the course, sharing stories about previous runs, jobs, and writing.

There was great cheering as we crossed the finish line, and I know Tim was relieved to have that one ticked off.

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Thank you to the super volunteers for their sterling work today, and well done all the first timers!

 

 

 

 

 

Dance with your soul

…is the title of a biography of Miss Milligan, who along with Mrs Stewart were the founders of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Miss Milligan used to distinguish between “dancers” and “performers”, and believed that there was more than just technical perfection to aim for, that the spirit and essence of the dance was more than good footwork.A1EslVHZntL.

After a bit of soul-searching myself (Did I REALLY want to devote substantial time money and energy into this?  For what great purpose? Would I be making the world a better place?) I’ve started my journey towards becoming a qualified Scottish Dance teacher. This consists of five separate modules.  Unit 1 is a written theory and history test, Unit 2 examines your own dancing skills, Unit 3 is a test of teaching prowess, Unit 4 is a portfolio of practical teaching experience, and Unit 5 is a final practical examination.  This year, I went to St Andrews Summer School for 2 weeks to sit Units 2 and 3.

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis!” is the refrain in Juno and the Paycock, and that was my feeling as well as I set off to hide in a dancing bubble for a fortnight, hoping to ignore the worrying world events and concentrate on something that I could do well, and that brought me joy.

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I’ve attended Summer School a few times before, but had never been there for opening week. It was noticeably quieter, there were no queues for the dining room, and there was space to dance in the common room and Younger Hall. After a welcome drinks reception on the Sunday evening, we Unit 2 candidates met up in the TV room to introduce each other, and meet Rebecca, our tutor, and Kathleen, our pianist. There were 10 of us for the first week, including two people re-sitting, and we came from all parts of the world. We would be spending most of our time in the Common Room, mornings and afternoons, and would have homework to do in the evenings. We were all housed on the same floor, which helped us to gel as a bunch.

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We’d already done some preparatory work before arriving, including analyses of the 12 dances we were expected to know very well for Unit 2.  There were four each of jigs, reels and strathspeys, and the exam on Friday would require us to dance one of each as first couple, as well as acting as supporting couples for the others. We would also be expected to do a recap before our dance.  As well as knowing the steps, this necessitated using your big-room voice, with appropriate hand gestures.  I found doing the recaps a little nerve-wracking to begin, and during one of them it was pointed out to me that I was standing with my hands on my hips, obviously focusing deeply on remembering the words!  Thankfully this was only during class, rather than the exam.  And before each recap the whole team got to “huddle” where we could remind each other of the main points.

On Tuesday evening, I managed to “sneak out” to the dance held by the local St Andrews branch in the lovely town hall.  While I was there, the chassis-ridden outside world crashed into my bubble, as my husband phoned me to tell me that Max had had to be rushed to the vets with bloat, a twisted stomach which I knew was a very serious condition.  He had had an emergency operation, but the next few days would be crucial. My fellow dancers were very supportive, one of them was a vet and was able to answer my questions, whilst others provided gin and hugs.

On Wednesday evening, things got even worse, when I received a phone call from my husband’s best friend, to tell me he’d been rushed to A&E suffering from severe dizziness and balance problems.  Thankfully he was released a few hours later, but I found myself seriously wondering if I should just go home. And that 2016 could just feck right off!

By mid-week, Rebecca had matched each of us with partners.  Being only 5’2, and knowing that there were a couple of tall guys in the group, I had expected to be dancing as a “woman”, but I was partnered as a “man” with Claire, and I think we made a great team.  It did mean I needed to work hard at some of the formations such as the Tournee, which I had practised on the assumption that I’d probably be a “woman”!

My husband visited Max every day, and kept me updated on his progress.  The poor wee thing looked miserable in photos, and I wished there was something more than facetime where I could stroke his silky ears or give him a chuckle under the chin.

Thursday Nights at Summer School are a big Younger Hall night.  I’ve given off in the past about the nonsense about having to buy a separate ticket for these, and last year I’d forgotten to get one!  So this year I’d bought my Thursday tickets in good time.  However, it was our exam on Friday, and the rest of the group wanted to have a final run through all the dances, doing as much “cleaning” and fine tuning as we could.  So my Thursday ticket lay sadly unused on my desk.

On Friday Claire and I checked that our chosen outfits didn’t class, and we had a final run through in the morning, before the exam in the afternoon. I wore a new dress in silver grey, with yellow polka dots, and it moved nicely when I danced. I’d met one of the examiners, Marilyn Watson, before.  She’d been my examiner at last year’s Dance Achievement Award, and had also recently visited Belfast to take a children’s day school.  With five couples doing the exam, only four were needed on the floor for each dance, so there was a welcome break at intervals.  The dances Claire and I were allotted were General Stuart’s Reel, Miss Hadden’s Reel (which is a jig….) and Miss Gibson’s Strathspey. There were a lot of Misses and Mrses in the names of the dances, as well as a General and a Duke, and a Reel which was a strathspey….

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We rattled through them all in good time, and celebrated with a glass of champagne at the garden party, before relaxing at the traditional Friday ceilidh.

No rest for the wicked, though, and on Saturday morning we were back in the Common Room making a start on Unit 3.  We were looking forward to dancing for fun in the Younger Hall on the Saturday night, and wanted to take some group photos. But at the interval I looked at my mobile phone to see four missed calls from my husband, and I knew what he was going to tell me.  Max had contracted an infection after the operation, and had slipped away that evening.  He hadn’t been in pain, and there had been someone with him.  Saturday nights usually finish with a “dregs” party, where everyone brings along their remaining stash of booze and nibbles, but I wasn’t in the mood to party and went to bed.

Sunday was a rare day off.  Having been stuck inside all week while the sun blazed in the sky, of course it was mizzly and grey.  I found my way to the beach and had a long walk, smiling at all the lovely doggies frolicking on the sand and in the surf.  Some Edinburgh friends came and took me out for lunch, which we had in the delightful fishing village of Craill, where I really enjoyed some dressed crab in a dinky little cafe overlooking the sea.

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Monday was back to studies, and our first chance at teaching to a group of volunteers, rather than just amongst ourselves.  Working with a real live musician was a new skill for all of us, and I was rather proud of my commanding “Ready…AND”s.  The structure we were learning was quite prescriptive – teach a step in certain incremental way, then do a skills exercise, leading to a formation, and for the exam there would be an additional 8 bars to dance to make up a 16 bar phrase.  We learned so much from watching each other do practise lessons, and we co-operated on writing our nightly lesson plans.  I only had my iPad with me, and I found that downloading Word for iPad, combined with the Office 365 package that I’d recently taken out, were a godsend.

We were allocated numbers at random, which would be the order we would do our test on Friday.  I was Lucky 7 – “the luck of the Irish!” said Rebecca.

In any spare time we had, we were working on an item for the Friday ceilidh.  George had come up with some new words to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”, and we tweaked and fine tuned these, and grabbed the odd 5 minutes with Kathleen to practise.

On Thursday morning, we gathered nervously outside the Common Room to receive our assignments in sealed envelopes handed out by Mervyn Short.  After this, we wouldn’t be able to speak to Rebecca, though we could use any of the other tutors for advice.  We agreed we would all open our envelopes together.  My step was strathspey travelling step, my formation was turn corner and partner, ending own sides, and the final 8 bars were advance and retire, and 1s turn 1 1/2 times to end opposite sides.  I double checked a few aspects of this: so the 1s were starting in the middle of the set facing their first corners? And finishing in 2nd place opposite sides?  The whole 16 bars was very like part of a dance, Strathglass House, and I was worried that the more experienced dancers in my group of volunteers would be disconcerted by the not-quite-ness.  And neither beginning nor ending a 16 bar phrase on own sides just felt a little awkward.

I did a quick lesson plan, ran my concerns past Mervyn, and decided to get some much needed fresh air.  In one shop of pretty things, I was just finishing my purchases when Rebecca entered – she put her had across her face and joked “I can’t see you!” I also decided to get a haircut, just so’s I’d be neat and tidy.

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We worked together during the day, timing each other, looking at YouTube videos of the various formations we had, reminding each other of the teaching points, and rehearsing our patter.  I felt sufficiently on top of things to get to Younger Hall this Thursday, though I spent some of it on the balcony trying to hone my observation skills.

As Lucky 7, I wouldn’t be on till the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get into my chosen outfit too soon, in case I spilled anything on it.  At breakfast time, someone expressed concern that my skirt was too long for the exam, and I explained that I would be changing later into a plain navy flippy skirt, with a navy top and my lucky star turquoise necklace. I spent Friday morning rehearsing and getting my timings down, and although I was nervous, I tucked into the traditional fish and chips lunch with gusto.

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Soon it was my turn.  I calmed my nerves with some Rescue Remedy, entered the room with a bright smile and handed my neatly printed lesson plans to the two examiners and Rebecca, and checked the music with Kathleen.  I was happy with how the lesson went, I tried my best to be engaging and bubbly, and to keep coaching in my biggest voice above the music.  I even managed to throw in a Eurovision quote before the final dance through – Nicky Byrne in this year’s Irish entry “Sunlight” sings “dance like you mean it.”

I was happy that I’d had no brain meltdown moments, and that I’d done my best.  But I was still anxious about the results – there are about 24 different attributes that the examiners are awarding a score of A,B,C or D to, and in some of them you MUST get a B or above.  And no more than two Ds in total.  So it could be one wee thing that means a fail.

Meanwhile, there was champagne to be quaffed at the garden party, and a final 5 minute rehearsal of our ceilidh item. It went well, and a number of people commented afterwards how much they had enjoyed it. Please forgive the blatant over-acting.

Those words in full:

Reach close reach, spring beat beat and
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
We’re Unit 3s from far away
We’re here to learn, and every day
While you went out dancing we were in this room, going
Reach close reach, spring beat beat
Our aching feet would love to be
In Younger Hall or in the sea
But we must do homework, need a lesson plan, hop step close
We show you how to pose, how to point your toes
Now your posture and grace
Will help each set you’re in begin
To dance like you know how it goes
We’ll teach you how to dance strathspey
And pas de basque with a jete
And if there’s a figure called a tournee
Yo’ll never ever go the wrong way
Rebecca’s looking sacred, I feel so unprepared
I’m facing volunteers
I’d like to introduce Kathleen
Who’ll come in whenever she hears (with the music)
My teaching points I must explain
The hands and arms and covering
Remember your posture, close your feet in 3rd once again
We never see the sun, Jim Stott says have some fun
And here’s a camera crew so get it right.
It rained on our day off – enough!
I’m sneaking out dancing tonight.
Exams are done, it’s party time
And Claire will say “all back to mine”
Can someone bring chocolate gin and lots of wine….
Reach close reach (etc)

Another Saturday morning and I STILL hadn’t been able to revisit the lovely local parkrun! We had a bit of a reminder of “what next” – I still need to do my written Unit 1, and then see if I can use some of the 7 weekly classes we have in Belfast Branch  to build up my Unit 4 portfolio. I realised just how Lucky I am, with the support and encouragement of a great lively branch, blessed with many very experienced and generous teachers.  We managed a quick rattle through some of the new Book 50 dances, and I spent the afternoon having a welcome potter around St Andrews’ charity shops.

RSCDS Book 50

The Saturday dance in Younger Hall was full of emotion. I was trying to get a dance with each of my fellow students, but there just wasn’t enough time.  We took some photos and headed back to the dregs party, and I squished and squeezed everything into my suitcase.

My journey home was uneventful, though I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, and was never so glad to have my husband’s arms around me.

The house is eerily quiet without Max, he was such a big presence in many ways.  Minnie is missing her companion, though she was overjoyed to see me. I got the hoped for email a few days later, telling me that I had successfully passed Units 2 and 3.

And I’ll leave you with Max, a soul who liked to go his own way.

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Maxim Von Thunder 2007 – 2016