Monday, February 25, 2013

Adventures with Chicken Stock

I had a rare burst of domesticity yesterday. Despite my sinuses, I managed to get a few things sorted: de-fuzzed the kettle (want to make a chemist happy - boil foul chemical as he comes through door), went shopping for dinner and lunches for the week, did a few dishes, blogged and wrote something serious (for a change).

After Boy and I reduced the roast chicken to bones, I bundled what was left into a large pot, threw some veggies in after the carcass, tried to drown it all in cold water and sprinkled it all liberally with mixed herbs.

Yes, I am aware there are proper, bona fide recipes for making stock. No, I've never used them, nor am I ever likely to. My version, if left to it's own devices, works well enough.

I went upstairs to work on my piece for the writing workshop. After a couple of hours, I came down, poked it and thought I ought to do something constructive with it. It is not unknown for pans of stock to sit on a corner of the stove for the rest of the week, desperately trying to attract my attention until they make a bid for freedom, forever hurt and disappointed in me.

I strained the stock into a large plastic jug and stared at it. Being all domesticated, my fridge now had food in it, a minor miracle. There was no room for the stock in this jug. A lightbulb went off in my head. I had a large plastic box, just perfect for the occasion. I fished it out of the cupboard tipped the contents of the jug into it. 

And that's when the trouble started.

I couldn't figure out why there was a growing puddle of stock on my counter. I hadn't been clumsy pouring the stock. So I picked it up, hot stock dripped from the bottom. 

Oh crap, I think. The container is cracked. I must tip it back into the pan. Which was a great idea; you would suppose.

Except I splashed my hand doing it. And jumped. And dropped the container with a litre and a half of liquid.

As Boy and I mopped hot chicken stock off the floor, we observed it hadn't missed soaking very much at all. The cooker, the oven front, down the kitchen drawers, handles, floor, bins...ah yes, we cleaned them all.

Boy had turned up after the spill. Apparently, my language was fairly foul (badoom tish).

Fine. I stomped up the stairs to carry on writing. There's only so much crying you can do over spilt stock (ha-ha) and I wanted to finish my piece so Boy and I could chill out together before bedtime.

After awhile, Boy poked his head through my study door.

"What's that noise?" 

We listen.

A loud clicking noise. We investigate.

My cooker's ignition system was sparking away merrily. The damn stock had shorted my cooker! We dismantle it and start to clean and poke and scratch our heads. I try switching everything off at plugs and circuit boards to no avail.

I ring Lawrence at home. He thinks hard and scratches his head. On his advice, I dismantle the cooker further, dry everything I could find.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am not going to bore you further with the details. All I am going to say is that however clean I thought my cooker was to start with....I was delusional. I'm somewhat surprised my dinner guests of days gone by, have not required hospitalisation (I say days gone by, because no one in their right mind would eat here after reading that). No wonder Boy and I have such robust gastric systems.

As I struggled to pull the knobs off and poke cotton buds on every bit of electrical gubbins I  find, Lawrence remarked that somehow he wasn't expecting the late-night phone call to be about my hot stock.

He's got a point.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

When Life Gives you Lemons

...preserve those suckers!

After waiting weeks and weeks, we decided to debut the lemons yesterday. 

The preserved lemons after their 7 week stint in my cupboard

They looked fantastic. No mould, nothing nasty at all. Their texture had gone slightly gelatinous, but otherwise kept their shape and colour. When I took a small bite, salty lemony goodness flooded my tastebuds. I'm not sure I would want to have a few slices with feta as one person suggested, but as Lawrence pointed out, you don't eat lime pickle straight from the jar either.

So, what to do with them?

In true Ottolenghi style, we went Moroccan.

The lamb, fresh from the local butcher

Lawrence likes recipes, I like winging it, and as I was cooking, we flew. He diced the lamb whilst I chopped a red onion, a red pepper and assembled the spices: paprika, turmeric, coriander, ground ginger, cumin and a splash of chilli oil. I fried these off in some olive oil. We (by which I mean Lawrence) threw in two cartons of chopped tomatoes, a tin of kidney beans and a tin of chick peas, as well as a few diced potatoes and a few cloves of garlic. He also cut up a large handful of apricots. And of course 2/3 of a preserved lemon!

The star of the show!

We stirred and let it all bubble for over an hour.

Hurry up! Hungry!

It was awful waiting for it to cook. I dribbled with anticipation. We dished it out and served it with the rest of the loaf Lawrence had brought over in the morning. It was delish! The preserved lemons lightened the stew and the smell was absolutely amazing. The lamb was so tender, it melted. Om nom nom.

One thing is for certain. I'm a better cook than I am a food photographer! :-) 

My sinuses might have ruined our plans for the weekend, but I refuse to let them get in the way of further experimentation. I will be roasting a chicken later and making couscous to take into work as a pack up. Yes, they will be very lemony indeed.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Job Description

Them: Hi, lovely to meet you. So what is it you do for a living?

Me: Well, amongst other things, I'm a writer.

Them: Really? What do you write?

Me: Pretty much anything.

I've been practicing you see. I've been standing in front of my mirror and saying "I am a writer." I write for a living. I do marketing on the side (after all, eating regularly and paying bills before they go red, is a good thing).

There have been a few issues along the way.

Firstly, I have four writing projects on my desk, in various stages. When I say various stages, I mean, various stages of planning and several versions of Chapter One.

Secondly, the paying the bills job is demanding. As is running a household. As is trying to hang out with Boy before he flies the nest. As is having a relationship with Lawrence, who keeps coming up with really fun things to do. As is having friends who insist on seeing me more than once a year. As is...

Yeah, you get the picture.

Thirdly, when I say writing, there are two things that happen. They ask what kind of writing? I write genre and literary fiction. And then they sniff. Because I said genre fiction.

I did a creative writing degree at the Norwich School of Art and Design. I did a BA. In Literary Fiction Reality, they start sniffing. What? No MA at UEA? It's worse when you answer those questions talking to someone on the MA. The snobbery that exists on the scene is breathtaking. 

For the author who wrote a tome only 5 people could bear to spend the time and the £5.99 and read it cover to cover, who felated the right people at the right time and who has a significant other with a regular income - they sniff the loudest. If you make a living selling copy, writing romance/crime/thrillers/erotica, they want to scrape their shoes on your achievements. Popularist whore.

Don't get me wrong, I've done my fair share of sniffing. I'm sorry, but I don't care if Dan Brown touched a nerve and sold a shed load of books and bought Hawaii - as a writer, he sucks arse. His writing is eye-bleedingly awful. I know, I've read 2 of his books. I'd rather read the instructions on my tax return.

I've done my share of apologising for the genre books that litter my house. 

The thing is, I became an avid reader of Mills and Boon when I was 13. I could teach a History of Romance Publishing in the 80s-90s, because I read them all: Loveswept, Harlequin, M&B. I read the rise and rise of Kay Hooper and Nora Roberts. In second-hand books shops, I sweep up any Violet Winspear I can find.

I have two copies of several David Gemmell books. You see the first copy of Legend, I bought in 1988, is beginning to fall apart. I re-read it. Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me that girls make awesome adventurers in 1982 with her Sword and Sorceress anthologies. I read Terry Pratchett before he was cool.

When I was16, I stayed up all night huddled under the covers, reading IT. I could not put it down. Then I found Dean Koontz in the early 90s. I wrote an essay on Midnight, to secure my place on a rural Access course that got me to university to study Development Studies.

I found Chick Lit going to a 10 credit, Introduction to Popular Fiction course. The first chick lit book was Guilty Creatures by Sue Welfare. I was hooked. On my shelves are Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, Carmen Reid, Carole Matthews. These women wrote stories where the price of happily ever after is high. They worked for it! If you think Rachel's Holiday is easy reading, think again. It's got nothing to do with white sandy beaches. It's got everything to do with drug addiction and the 'easy option' of rehab.

I studied To Kill a Mockingbird at school. I had to buy another copy. One without lines and annotations. When I need to be reminded of beautiful writing, I read that again. The glorious simplicity and elegance of Harper Lee's storytelling, continues to inspire me.

The different types of books in this house vary. But the overwhelming majority are genre. Yes, they are formulaic. The girl gets the guy. The bad guy gets his comeuppance. They live happily ever after. In some cases, the vampire gets his dinner (though I was always taught not to play with my food, it's all consenting adult territory).

As a writer, I want to explore all these possibilities. I have a literary novel in me. But that's going to be a long-term thing. I can only write it a bit at a time. It's emotionally gruelling (for all kinds of reasons) and when I look at my bank account, I am realistic in the fact that I won't ever become rich on the back of it. So, for kicks and dosh I am writing other things: romance, urban fantasy and erotica.

Unfortunately, from a marketing POV, I'm a bit of a nightmare. It means I shall have to create several different alter-egos. I'm going to have to be crafty about who I admit my writing habits to. The great thing about being a writer is that most of my past-times, I can put under tax-deductible and/or research. I had a slow day yesterday and cried my way through 3 Mills and Boons. I've been playing Skyrim on the Xbox, it's been great for re-inforcing the necessity of attention to detail in the creation of worlds. Going out and about, is for the stimulation of ideas. Blogging, obviously is about marketing and Facebook and twitter are all about networking, fan and brand creation.

Now, if only I could get something ready to submit to a publisher....