Wednesday 22 January 2014

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou......

I am not about to start home brewing but I decided to have a go at baking bread. I bake lots of bread but it is usually whole-wheat and the kind that is mixed and baked without kneading (or with a bread machine which gives a great result but is curiously unsatisfying).  I have tried various yeast-based things in the past – without success: the doughnuts looked more like gingernuts.

Having invested in “fast-action yeast” all the recipes seemed to use instant yeast (where you find fresh yeast in London goodness knows). However, I found this recipe online Handbaked traditional white bread and set to work.
The first thing to hit me was the smell. I was instantly transported back to the kitchen of my childhood where our cook (who came from what was then Portuguese East Africa and is now Maputo) used to make white bread, rolls and sometimes bagels several times a week. The recipe was the same and, although I never realised it, it was the recipe for challah – the only difference being that it was plaited in the traditional way for Friday night.

Who knows what the recipe was – he never used a written recipe but cooked by touch and taste. I did learn how to make the thinnest crepes by watching him and certainly licked the bowl when chocolate cake was being made but never thought of writing anything down, and how would you calculate the measures as he measured by handfuls.

What is also quite curious – I have never kneaded bread before but I seemed to know how – some sort of folk memory or just watching chefs on TV! Yes, it was very soothing and the smell of the fermenting yeast, the dough and the baking bread was déjà vu all over again!

I still think I prefer the whole-wheat kind and can only aspire to the giant challah my sister makes for her Friday night dinner but it was a satisfying day and the result was OK as well.

Monday 20 January 2014

Culture on the cheap

Every time we go abroad I am shocked by how expensive it is to visit art galleries and museums. No wonder tourism to London is soaring – apparently a new record last summer with the number of foreign tourists up by 20 per cent. Official figures have shown that close to 5 million visitors came to London between July and September 2013 and they spent £3.372 billion which is up, even on the Olympic year.

Of course they will be visiting many tourist attractions for which they will pay but, for example, the National Gallery said that visitor numbers were “through the roof” up 17 per cent on the prior year. Unless you are attending one of the special exhibitions – it is FREE. The V&A is free; the British Museum is free -  and when I have visited very few people have put money in the boxes at the front. They are not free in Europe – but this is a rant for another day.

The purpose of this is to emphasise how you can enjoy the cultural delights of London for no or very little money.  On Friday I was walking past Somerset House and decided to visit the Isabella Blow - fashion galore exhibition. This is not one of the free ones but at £12.50 it seemed very reasonable. (The main collection that is housed there, the Courtauld Collection charges £6.00 - contrast this with one of my favourite small galleries in Basel Foundation Beyeler which charges 26.80 Swiss Francs (about £18.00) to visit the collection.) 

Back to Isabella Blow – you can read all about her in the link above – just to say it is a stunning show with films about her, and of her, and amazing couture clothes and hats from her own and other collections. Couture is about as relevant to me as sky-diving but when you see these clothes and hats up close you realise that the dividing line between this and art is very fine.  I came out uplifted.

Sunday we visited another favourite of mine, The Wallace Collection.  This is FREE and importantly it is not huge so you can while away a couple of hours and get an overview of most of it.  I can’t even begin to list some of the highlights as there are so many – paintings, porcelain, furniture, some amazing snuff boxes – and arms and amoury (the only part that is really not of interest to me).  They also have an exhibition of contemporary glass, which is quite quirky.  (They have substantially restored the building - have a look at the drapes and the cords holding them – these were commissioned from the same factory in France that made the originals and are stunning.) Having just visited the Isabella Blow exhibition it did occur to me that there are parallels between Reynolds or Watteau painting fine silk and satin and Julian Macdonald and Philip Treacy producing garments and hats from it. 

Today, Monday, was another bargain, and not far from the Wallace Collection, a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, a mere £10 and you could also have listened to it for free on BBC Radio 3!

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Human Tissue Authority – emergency out of hours....

I have been sleeping with my mobile phone next to my bed the past two weeks – it also hasn’t left my side through all the holidays.  I wasn’t waiting for either good or bad personal news but was on the emergency out-of-hours rota for the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) where I am a non-executive member.  This is something that all non-executive members and senior staff do once or twice a year. Calls are very rare but when they do happen it could be a life or death situation.

You probably know that you can sign an organ donor card which means that if you die in circumstances where your organs can be used, they will be – opt in.  I did this several years ago.  In Wales the situation will change on December 1, 2015 when The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act becomes effective which will mean that you will need to opt out.

However, when it comes to donations of solid organs from living people, this is regulated by the HTA (see Organ Donations - frequently asked questions). The Human Tissue Act 2004, and associated regulations, requires the HTA to assess all proposed transplants from living donors and to decide whether the transplant should be approved, based on criteria set by Parliament. These are most often kidneys – you have two and can manage with one, or part of the liver – it can regenerate.

All donors and recipients are required to see a local Independent Assessor who is trained and accredited by the HTA. The Independent Assessor interviews the donor and recipient (both separately and together) and is independent of the healthcare teams who are involved with the transplant. The purpose of the interview is to ensure that no reward has been or will be given for the donation and the donor has given consent to the removal of their organ.

The donor must have the mental capacity to give consent and they must demonstrate an understanding of the medical procedure and the risks involved. We have to be satisfied that the donor has not been coerced into agreeing and is not under any duress. The Independent Assessor will then submit a report to the HTA; this report will be used to make a decision on the case.

Every week certain living donation cases are referred to a panel of non-executive members who assess the information and then make a decision on whether the transplant can go ahead, on the basis that the requirements of the Human Tissue Act 2004 have been met.

Very occasionally this will happen as an emergency out of hours, this might be when a person goes into sudden liver failure and has a potential living donor available. As the HTA is still responsible for ensuring that the requirements of the Human Tissue Act 2004 have been met, even in emergency cases, this responsibility is delegated to the individual on duty at the time.  We have all received training and have strict guidelines to follow. 

It is rare and unlikely but you can’t take chances so the processes are in place, just in case.

It is a criminal offence to carry out a transplant operation between two living people if the conditions of the Human Tissue Act 2004 are not met. This means valid consent must have been given.

It is also an offence to buy or sell organs or human tissue. If convicted, the penalty for these offences can be a prison sentence of up to three years, a fine, or both.

Sunday 5 January 2014

It’s not the rain that’s making me grumpy

There were a number of programmes on British TV a few years ago called Grumpy Old Men and Grumpy Old Women. All the contributors were in the public eye – actors, presenters, comedians etc and the programmes were hilarious.  All the things many of us think (even if neither grumpy nor old) said out loud.

Reading the news at the moment is making me very grumpy.  Article on the front page of The Sunday Times today with a cover photograph of a man rescued by the RNLI from a jetty in Cornwall while photographing the storm after being warned how dangerous it was.  Further, a father was holding his child over the sea wall when a wave swept him off his feet; fortunately he and the child were OK.  People have lost their lives and others rescued after ignoring warnings.

Why is it OK for these people to put others at risk and pressure on already strained services in a very difficult situation to indulge themselves?  I have watched amazing programmes about people who chase hurricanes and reporters knee deep in water reporting the storms. It's dangerous. Reporters die every year, three of the people who featured in a Discovery Channel programme on "storm chasers" died last year - and they were experienced. Are people so divorced from reality that seeing (apparently) survivable catastrophe and disaster on television has diluted the danger of what they are doing? 

Reading Guido Fawkes "UK Environment Agency massively overstaffed, arguably worlds most bloated quango" has led me to this blog by an insider at the Environmental Agency which is worrying to me as a tax payer (it is my money that is paying them) and should be very worrying to those affected by floods; if the agency is as overstaffed as indicated and there is widespread abuse of flexitime, money has been wasted.  Inside the Environment Agency

To comment or not to comment?

I don’t get many comments on my blog which is not surprising as I don’t publish them.  This is not because I am afraid of what people might say but rather because I wouldn’t want them to be published without my reading them and I would then have to decide which ones to publish or not and then justify it and it all becomes too much like hard work. If you leave a message I will see it and thank you to those who have.

I have a dilemma as someone – Emily – has left me a message and asked me to get in touch: I don’t have her email address so suggest if she or anyone else wants to get in touch with me - contact me through LinkedIn. It has a secure message system that avoids one having to give out a personal email address.

Perhaps I am missing a trick here but my blog is an occasional indulgence and I don’t want to turn it into hard work....

Friday 3 January 2014

A whisk, a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl.

I have spent a bit of time in the kitchen over the past two weeks (there’s a surprise!) and I was wondering to myself how much things have changed since my grandmother’s time. 

A recipe for healthy eating, I am told, is never to eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognise. This may steer you away from turkey twizzlers and highly processed foods, but I don’t believe that their diet was all that healthy although they ate a good deal less and walked a good deal more.

However, I was thinking more about the kitchen equipment.  I have no idea what it was like when my grandmother was first married at the end of WW1 but I do have vivid memories of her kitchen and my mother’s when I was a child.

The things I recognise are the wooden spoon, colander, sieve, grater, whisk, slotted spoon, mixing bowls amongst others – all used frequently over the holidays.  I do remember the agonies of the hand beater, which formed part of my kitchen equipment when I started off – now it has been overtaken by a variety of electric mixers and beaters.  My grandmother and mother both had Sunbeam Mixmasters, which were used for whipped cream, egg whites and cakes, but my most used piece of equipment is definitely the food processor.

A New Year’s present from Number One Husband’s brother was a file of handwritten recipes from their mother who was a superb baker.  Whenever she came to London to stay she would copy out their favourite recipes and bring them.  I have quite a number of them already but missing (but now found) was the one for caramel shortbread – known here as Millionaire’s Shortbread.  I have found a similar recipe but nothing is the same as the one you ate as a child.

I wouldn’t want you to think all the childhood memories in the family only revolve around food (you wouldn’t be entirely wrong) and certainly my children have very fond memories of arriving in Cape Town to stay with Granny and the curved sideboard that was full of tins of biscuits – each type in a different tin.  Now that I am not working full time I have the time and the inclination to do the same – making biscuits is very relaxing and almost without exception all the recipes are hers.  Some new ones to experiment with once the tins are empty!