gin

The Gin Thing

Somebody asked me recently if I thought there was any mileage in a particular variety of gin they were thinking about producing. Obviously there’s some commitment and expense involved in producing a gin of any description, so I gave it some consideration!

So gin appears to have been the new ‘in thing’ for the last couple of years, which given the fact that it’s one of the oldest and most traditional of beverages out there, is kind of ironic. Barely a week goes by without a new ‘micro-gin’ appearing , each one purporting to have the purest process and ultimate mix of botanicals to tempt you to their door. Novelty flavours adorn our shelves, some almost too preposterous to contemplate, but actually, so easy to drink. And the merchandisers have jumped on the band wagon as well! Shopping bags, aprons, door plaques all suggesting that gin is the lifestyle drink of our time! That most classic of British cocktails has become a modern trend that shows no sign of slowing down. (And yes, I know the Dutch invented it!)

Ably assisted by the equally meteoric rise of the tonic market undoubtedly pioneered by the remarkable story of Fever Tree tonic, the gin market continues to spew previously unimaginable combinations claiming to be ‘gin and tonic’. Rhubarb gin and ginger tonic, cardamon gin and Mediterranean tonic, coconut gin and elderflower tonic..the list goes on!

And the bi-products don’t stop there! An off the cuff quip on Facebook about ‘gin and crisps for tea’ when my husband was away has somehow marked me down as a hardened gin-drinker, an expert in the field!  The reality was that my most daring deviation from a simple Gordon’s and tonic prior to that, had been one of my favourite product innovations – gin in a tin! For a busy mum, there is no sweeter thing than a perfectly chilled version of a perfectly mixed G&T that requires nothing more than a pull of a ring and a pour over ice! And portable too for those emergencies/picnic opportunities.

Friends quickly introduced me to the joys of Bombay Sapphire – and there my journey through the magic Gin-dom began! Every single ‘gin-ovation’ on the market has been tagged on my Facebook page – sorbets, crisps, cakes, tarts, face scrubs, lip balms, you name it! I’ve even had a gin and tonic cake baked for me.

I am naturally very grateful, and can boast a fabulous collection of gins on my shelf, and and a merchandise collection I’m proud of.

But for me, it has increasingly become about the aesthetics! The packaging can outweigh the flavour when it comes to the look of that gin shelf, and for any prospective gin producer, I think that is the thing to invest as much time and energy into, as the taste of the stuff itself.

A gin shelf really can be a thing of beauty these days. With gin brands old, micro and new bringing in the big boys of branding to perfect their visual image!

I mean, who doesn’t love a Silent Pool bottle – can anyone bear to put one in the bin? It is a thing of design brilliance, evoking not only the unique colour of the ‘Silent Pool’ in the Surrey Hills from which it is hails, but also the turquoise of an Asian sea across which gin drinkers of yesteryear must have surely gazed with their sundowner in hand!

Brighton, Monkey and Portobello gins rank highly for me in their design beauty giving us a taste of vintage glamour, with the Hoxtons, the Pinksters and the Opi adding to the wild and whacky both in bottle design and flavour.

Of course, images like these are social media gold, and Instagram, or ‘Gin-stagram’ as I like to call it have done their part to encourage the gin revolution, and as Spring turns to Summer I can only imagine the frequency with which #gin will appear in our feeds in some form or another! The rise of the gin craze in my opinion is far from over. A humble gin and tonic has become an art form, and a mouth watering one at that. And all I can really say is, I’ll drink to that!

Knitted Unicorn
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Motherhood Achievement Alert or Tales of Knitting a Unicorn!

So I’ve done it – I’ve reached the pinnacle of my motherhood career – I have achieved the ultimate, I can do no better  – and my daughter is only 7!  Where do I go from here ?Because on holiday, I …knitted…a …unicorn!!!

On the extraordinary journey that has been motherhood I have so far failed on all counts even from the point of conception, which was more challenging than it needed to be. Pregnancy was complicated.. birth too! Breastfeeding I eventually managed, but not without some struggles along the way, and mainly because I couldn’t be bothered sterilising things. Sleep scheduling – a total washout!  My baby hasn’t slept in 7 years! Didn’t even get past the starting gates. Weaning…or Annabel Karmel Hell as I like to call it – not possible when you have given birth to a koala who insists on being strapped to your chest, and  anyway, do babies really need a bayleaf and a peppercorn in the bechamel sauce for their fish pie! Give me strength!

Passing her into the hands of others for a substantial part of her day was the best thing I ever did! Nursery was also a nightmare in the beginning, screaming child left daily, but in the end she thrived, as she has done at school.  I, on the other hand, have struggled to keep on top of life – the things that you have to remember, the school uniform labelling, the days that they have sausage and mash on the menu and a packed lunch is required!  I haven’t kept up with her reading, and I haven’t felt like I’m really in control.

I’ve done better at birthday parties, but have learned the hard way to keep it simple and delegate where you can, but from her first birthday I decided I had to create a cakey masterpiece to mark the occasion, and I went 3D from the start!  Not being a baker, it was all about the icing, so we’ve had a duck, three little pigs (including house of straw) and a 3D Rapunzel including icing hair.  Frozen was an inevitable theme and then my favourites, The Singing Mermaid and Miss Moon, all featuring  icing figures resembling Bet Lynch after her most recent break up! But they prompted the odd ooh and aaah!

Fancy dress costumes have also been on my hit list of ‘things I must do as a mother’! I was determined not to resort to Tesco’s for nativities, and have created a donkey, a star and a camel from scratch, all to much stress, late nights and usually functional issues. But I’ve tried! The camel drove me to buy a sewing machine which I was then too panicked to work out how to thread, but a year later I did manage to thread it go create a cow girl waist coat for her very last nativity! That may not see the light of day for a while!

The irony of all this is that people think I can actually do this stuff!  They think I am a talented baker and seamstress, when the reality is I am a pretender – I have a go and and pray! My cakes are inedible for a start, and my costumes will only stand one wear before they disintegrate! Not that I didn’t do needlework at school – I did, like every other schoolgirl of the 70s, forced to master a pedal powered Singer, while the boys did more interesting things like woodwork! But it served me well when I wanted to shorten my school skirt, or create the ra-ra that my mother refused to buy me!

But knitting has long been on my horizon as something I wanted to re-acquaint myself with – I used to love knitting as a kid, and by all accounts it’s quite trendy to knit these days!  Yes, even youngsters do it! Plus  you can watch the telly at the same time! Last year I took some knitting needles on holiday and managed a teddy bear jumper for one of Ella’s pool mates! It was unskilled and very rough around the edges but it clothed a bear. I was pleased with my efforts.

This year, having grabbed a knitting magazine from Tesco’s on my final pre-holiday shop, I decided the time was right – I needed to create something proper and actually follow a knitting pattern….deciper those unguessable letters and work out how to cast on, knit back and front and all that jazz – I like a plan after all!  Thanks to YouTube I did it! And despite not having the appropriate equipment, ie. DP needles, which to the uninitiated I should point out are ‘double point’ knitting needles – ooh get me – I managed it!  A little resourcefulness on the part of the children saw them presenting me with 4 satay sticks and a pencil sharpener, and home made DP needles were born!

Of course, Ella was delighted with her mummy’s talents, which has always been the point, no matter how rough the results, but knitting really is very easy after all.  And best of all, she decided that she wanted her new best friend on holiday, Gracie, to receive the fruits of her mummy’s labours, which can only make me very proud. It also meant I had to knit Gracie’s little brother a fish pretty darned quick, but once you’ve got the unicorn basics, a fish is simple stuff!

 

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Mein Daddy

Smile and Wave Boys

I have written this blog post in my head a thousand times.  The first time was a year ago today when I realised it was my dad’s birthday, and that that meant that one week later, he would have been dead five years.   Five years…that seemed an awful long time when I had done so little to really remember him. And I couldn’t do it.  At that point, in a hotel bar with a gin in my hand, it hit me quite hard – maybe it was the environment – a place that I would inevitably always associate with him.  But the fact that he had been gone for 5 years made it feel like it was yesterday!  Where had that time gone?

Despite many years of ill health, his death came suddenly and very quickly when Ella was only 4 months old.  Everybody’s world is turned upside down…

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 The Magical Mysteries of Batter Week

There came a point last week, after many days of sensational Bake Off headlines, when I started to think…really now, there are more important things happening in the world. Let’s move on! How many column inches can we give a tv show, albeit the nation’s most beloved!

But this evening I was humbled. This evening I realised why this show has risen like the enriched dough of Bread Week, to the dizzy heights and price tag that it has. Because tonight I witnessed a minor miracle in the after school chaos that usually adorns this household.

Yesterday, my daughter, who had spent most of the summer holidays glued to Disney Channel (when I say most, I mean most of her TV time), watched 3 back to back episodes of Bake Off. All of her own volition, carefully selecting Batter Week, Biscuit Week and Bread Week in the order of her desire.

Now, whilst I had adopted a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude to the Disney Channel situation – one honed from the 6 month ‘eat nothing but spag bol’ phase, the 2 year ‘watch nothing but Peppa Pig’ phase, and the 3 week love affair with mini bags of Maltesers, that she sneaked at breakfast time, I was really hoping that at some point we might add a bit of variety and age appropriateness to our viewing.  But try as I might to find something engaging on CBBC, nothing would divert her from her Disney.

So relief was mine when this evening, she sat down, turned the television on, and went straight back to Batter Week!  Minutes later she appeared with my laptop in her hands, having Googled Bake Off pancakes. And there they were.  The lacy pancakes of the technical challenge. Recipe to be followed. Which she did – single handedly whilst I prepared separate dinners for her, her dad, the dog, the guinea pigs and the chickens!

Batter rested and tea eaten, we melted our butter and heated our pan. We made our practice pancakes. We made our non-practice pancakes. And we relaxed and enjoyed a moment that I will remember for a very long time.  Our enjoyment curtailed by an overheating induction hob, we made an appointment to resume for breakfast tomorrow morning! Because guess what, it is dead easy!!!!  And so much fun.

So there I think we have it. There we have the reason why the headlines, the price tags and the banter and debate should be tolerated, embraced and acknowledged. Because like it or not, popular TV can have a very important place in our lives. Ella has been totally transfixed by Bake Off, particularly Batter Week as an ardent Yorkshire Pudding fan, but more than that she took what she had learned from watching, and put it into remarkable practice. She is only 6 after all.

So thank you Paul, Mary, Sue, Mel, the BBC, the production company, Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n’ all, for creating such exceptional television magic. It remains to be seen whether Channel 4 have the same magic touch, and which of the main ingredients create the perfect mix. But I for one will be sneaking off and knocking up another batch of that lacy pancake batter – because let me tell you, addictive isn’t the word for creating and cooking lacy patterns out of flour, eggs and milk! Compulsory is the word! Give it a go! Therapy in a bowl! We’re doing Mickey Mouse next!

 

 

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The Sum of Small Parts

So, the last few days have been some of the most surprising of my life. First of all a surprising victory for the Brexit campaign, and secondly my own reaction to it…which I have to say I am deeply shocked and surprised by. I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears on a regular basis, and when somebody mentioned the feeling of grief to me yesterday, we all agreed that that is exactly what it felt like. Obviously I have very deep European connections, and I work for a very European organisation, but I know I am not alone.

Of course there has been a lot of emotional out-pouring on various social media, and most people are beginning to tire of it a little. I am trying to move on – onwards and onwards I keep saying. In my heart I hope and believe that we will learn from this. But what I am concerned about is the the fact that some of my nearest and dearest don’t understand why I feel like this – and that that may cause a gulf between us. I know we are all having those ‘which way did you vote’ conversations, uncomfortably at best…and I think we have to recognise the factors that made individuals take the decisions that they did, on both sides.

For me, I was totally ambivalent about the Referendum simply because I felt completely unqualified to make the decision that had befallen me. I didn’t understand the issues, the impact or the consequences involved, and I just didn’t believe that we would ever get close to an ‘out’ vote. It was only when somebody challenged me – he gave me ‘homework’, said he hadn’t decided which way to vote, but said that it was our moral duty to inform ourselves and make an informed choice that I started to get engaged. He also sited immigration as a reason he was thinking out, and used the prison population as an example. And that was where he hooked me in, because I worked in a prison for 2 and half years and I suddenly felt qualified to comment.

From that point on I started to ask questions of people I considered to be more intelligent, more knowledgable and more qualified to make the decision than I. I started to listen intently to anything that was on the radio – and there was lots – all coming at it from different angles, not just politicians doing what they did so badly, not just irresponsible headlines on tabloid and broadsheet press alike, but lots of debate from ordinary members of the public, businessmen, different communities, etc. I wanted a balanced view from all parts of the argument. The Jeremy Vine Show became my friend. I listened to Eddie Izzard make an impassioned plea for Remain, but I didn’t find it very convincing I have to say, much to my disappointment. I listened to others declare that we needed control, we needed sovereignty, and we needed democracy. And I didn’t really understand what they meant by that.  I read lots of blogs, trying to sort out the facts from the fiction. I got increasingly angry with the ‘official communication materials’ being shoved through my door which gave ‘factual statements’ which were not factual at all but were intended to motivate people to vote a particular way.

The truth is that not everyone took the time to become informed – they believed the soundbites, the headlines, the literature coming through their door. Because they probably never thought the consequences would be what they are either.  And I only really became truly engaged and motivated when the ultimate tragedy happened. A young and promising politician who had so much to give, was taken from us, at a time when she was needed the most. Boy can we see that now!!! I felt I owed it to her and people like her to vote with knowledge and with belief and with hope for my daughter’s future. And that’s what I did.

Now I also know I live in a bubble, and that I can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be long term unemployed or anything like that – those that know me however, know that my roots are humble, and any successes in life, is self-attained. And I also appreciate that lots of people were angry, wanted change, etc. But I have to say that most people that I have met who voted ‘out’ didn’t vote for those reasons either. As far as I can tell the ‘out’ campaign had so many ‘toys’ in their ‘toy box’ they managed to get something to resonate with anybody who was struggling to make a decision. And the ultimate irony was, that people bought it and believed that they could deliver. Which of course they can’t , because we now realise that they actually have no power. And that if we want those things to change, we need to do it a different way!

In my view, a lot of people (and I say a lot, not everybody obviously) got this confused with a general election, they thought that the argument was rich versus poor, left versus right, that immigration had to be stopped at whatever cost, even though Europeans make up only part of the immigration statistic, that we would be better off making our own decisions. All of these are worthwhile reasons to vote ‘out’ if you really believe them – all of them are worthy reasons for any vote if you really believe that that vote will right the wrongs that ail you, and I totally respect anyone and everyone for the decision that they made. But as somebody who left school with a few ‘O’-levels to her name, even having failed sociology, I for one felt ill equipped to make that decision – and I think that others felt the same. We have therefore made a huge decision for our nation based on ‘gut feelings’, fear, believing untruths that were unforgivably told to us, rolling a dice even, and now we can’t do anything about it. I think the ‘out’ vote was a sum of many parts -people grabbing something they could relate to – but when you’ve only got a choice of two, it’s hard to make a balanced decision right?!

I also think we have to stand by the referendum result and learn from it! Because I think we will. If this process has shown anything it is that people really do care, that they really do want change, and that there is a lot of passion out there to get it done. Out with the old and in with the new is what I say! And please educate the future generations better than you educated mine! Now somebody go and buy Angela Merkel a very large beer! And make sure it’s cold.

 

 

Running, Uncategorized

Yes You Can!

I start this with an apology to all of those people who are completely bored with people going on about running, who yawn and groan every time somebody posts their run or their time on whatever social media. But we all have to have our thing, and as  life enhancing things go, I’m afraid I cannot do anything but evangelise. At least it’s not puppies or lost dogs!

Because the message that I really want to get out there to all of those people who I have met over the years who have said to me ‘oh, I could never run’, is yes, you can!!  I too was one of those people, and now I wouldn’t want to be without a pair of trainers in my life.  And I am no spring chicken! At almost 48, I’d expected to be shuffling around in slippers, not Nikes, but that is the beauty of running. Anyone can!

Trust me, it’s not like I come from a  sporty background. I have a highly talented, sporty and athletic sister who likes to affectionately call me ‘un-co’ because I am so un-co-ordinated. I love her too believe me – and above all I am immensely proud of her. My sporting achievements at school were zero, literally. I was a regular in the consolation race, and I always came last in that – still do in the mum’s race on sports day. And I literally NEVER got picked for the school team. It’s not great for one’s confidence I have to say.

Listen, the truth is I only took up running because I met some bloke at a party. He dragged me out to Regents Park on a Nike organised park run and the rest is history. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t love it straight away, but I was kind of keen on him and he was very encouraging!  So, that was the start of it – me trying to bag a bloke at a party! Surprise surprise!

As it turned out he was a lovely fella who totally changed my life. He married someone else, of course, but what he did do was continually tell me ‘yes, you can’ as I plodded my way round Clapham Common. He held my hand all the way around my first ever 10K – the infamous Nike 10k in Richmond Park back in 2003.  And I literally loved every second of it. It hurt a bit but the atmosphere and euphoria of achieving something you never ever thought you could achieve was amazing..life changing..confidence giving…dream building!

Then over a gin or 10 with a work colleague, I took on the ultimate dare – to enter the London Marathon ballot! And wouldn’t you know it, she who wins nothing, got a golden ticket – bingo, full house, woohoo! I was gobsmacked and terrified. But I looked at the training plan – got my head around it – decided to take one step at a time.  Before I knew it I was running distances I could never have dreamed of. I’d ditched the tube in favour of running home! Bridget Jones on my iPod – I was literally in a movie!

I have said it often, and I will say it again, having just relived it with my husband, but the London Marathon was the best day of my life.  The ultimate in achieving that which you never ever dreamed in a million years you could achieve, one that you’ve watched on the telly year after year thinking, I could never do that. And then it’s you, rounding the Cutty Sark, drinking in the crowds on Tower Bridge, enduring the Isle of Dogs, dragging your screaming body up the Mall and over the line. And it truly is awesome.

But I will never do that again.  These days  I get enough of a buzz out of running shorter distances, with  good friends. And this weekend I had the ultimate pleasure of doing both at the inaugural 10k in my home village.  Run Wisborough was another highlight of my life. The run itself was awful, in searing temperatures, with no time to acclimatise. ‘Just get round’ replaced any other thoughts very quickly. But to run in your home village, a village of immense warmth and beauty, was a real thrill. Especially with my beloved running chums – the Buns on the Run, with my beautiful family cheering me on. Even Duncan (the dog), locked in the house, which was on the route – I could hear him barking as I ran past!

So to all of you thinking, I could never do that, I have to say ‘yes, you can’ because  it is literally all about one step at a time. It doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t have to be hard, and it can give you so much!  Here are my Top 5 Tips to giving it a go!

  1. When I say it doesn’t have to hurt – it doesn’t! When you get out of breath – walk – nobody wants a burning chest, and you will naturally make progress without getting one. Most 0-5K training plans start with a running and walking pattern which builds up your fitness and distance gradually and genuinely doesn’t hurt!
  2. Pick a goal, whether it’s a particular race or event or a distance you want to achieve, and download an app or a plan to follow. But don’t think you have to stick to a plan rigidly. You don’t. Just do what you can do. You will be totally amazed at the speed of the progress you make I promise you!
  3. Get some good gear – good shoes really!  Ones that you can love, preferably from a running shop that can advise you – and good socks even better (my Balega Hidden Comfort seldom leave my feet, even when I’m not running!!) Happy feet make happy runners! And who doesn’t love to shop.
  4. Run with friends! Yes, that is a new one on me. I only started doing that last June. I always ran alone, me and my iPod.  I was terrified people would be going too fast for me, or would want to talk when I had no breath, or would be better than me. But let me tell you, they are not. And it’s a wonderfully social thing to do.
  5. Don’t panic. There will be days when you feel dreadful. When you do think – I can’t do this. And then the next day you will feel on top of the world. There are many reasons for this. But one thing is for sure, this too will pass.

Here end-eth my sermon!  I thank-eth you for reading it! x

 

 

Running, Uncategorized

The Real Runkeeper

So this morning I headed out on what I had intended to be a lengthyish run.  I had 10km in my mind, and I knew that with the right head on my shoulders, I could probably manage that without too much trouble.  But the truth is, you never know just what is going to happen until you get out there.  You never know whether it’s going to feel good, or bad or indifferent.  Sometimes you need every tool in the toolkit just to get you to the end of the road, and other days you could fly forever.

Of course, these days we have some very sophisticated tools in that toolkit to help us out.  And this morning I took extra care to ensure that my phone was fully charged after last week’s minor disaster – battery died at 2km – no tunes and no encouraging words from Runkeeper for the remainder of a 7.5km run.  To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I thought, but the more serious implication of such a technical failure, was that my beloved Runkeeper didn’t log what I know was a particularly good run!! And there’s nothing you can do about that! No pat not he back, no glorious moment for posterity!

Now I love Runkeeper. It was my first bit of running software, and much like your first bank account, although you know it’s probably not perfect, and there are better ones out there, you have an emotional attachment to it.  It knows your history inside out and you’ve been intimately acquainted though some real highs and lows in your life. When everybody else is bored out of their minds at you droning on about how much you love running, Runkeeper is whispering in your ear, ‘good job’, ‘well done’, and ‘that’s a new record’ even if that record is the fastest walk round the block in the last week – it can find good in everything.

One of the lovely features about Runkeeper is that you can take a photo to remind you of that run – be it with friends, on your own or just to remind you of a particularly uplifting view.  And alongside that it allows you to rate your run with a smiley face – with poor, okay and great as your three options.  But it occurred to me today as I was trying to work out which smiley face I would be clicking on at the end of my run, that the reality is that it is hard to categorise your runs within these parameters.  For me, I have to categorise them as follows:

  1. A Forever Run – the ones where you feel like you can literally run forever!  I can’t remember the last time I had one of these, and I am pretty sure it was before any form of technology came into our lives to whisper pace in to our ears, and make you run a little bit faster than you might normally be inclined to do. I think they tend to come either with youthful enthusiasm or massive amounts of experience, and I have neither.
  2. The Flyer – more common these days.  It’s when everything just goes right – ambition, distance, pace, weather and general state of health. Usually more likely to occur when you haven’t had half a bottle of wine the night before, and have prepared appropriately with porridge.
  3. The Social – running with friends, with no particular goals or ambitions in mind, at a gentle pace, having a good chat. I am lucky enough to have my beloved Buns on the Run who have made running so special.
  4. The Grinder – ambition and preparation have not quite matched.  You are determined to get out there and do as you’d intended, but today it really is mind over matter.
  5. The S*d This for a Game of Soldiers – it just all goes wrong.  You go into a blind panic.  I can’t run.  I never want to run again. It happens to us all and 9 times out of 10 we feel 100% better next time.

Of course, on Race Day, there is one further category and that is the ‘I think I am Going to Throw Up on the Finish Line’.  I haven’t done it yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

So there you have it.  I’m not sure what the developers of running software will think of these variations, but it gave me something to occupy my mind as I fluctuated between a Flyer and Grinder this morning!  Thanks to an awesome mix of running toons provided by my lovely Runkeeper, I would have to conclude that this morning on balance was all good.  With grateful thanks to Example, Robbie Williams, Duran Duran and the lovely Barry Manilow!  Not to mention Sing by Gary Barlow which had me shedding tears at km 5!

And finally, one word about my husband, because this week it is definitely not about me, it is about him.  This weekend he will be running the London Marathon.  It’s something he’s always wanted to do since I did it in 2005!  Can’t have the Missis having one up one you can you? But he’s 10 years older than I was, and has a family and a business to look after.  He is the most driven and determined person I know and his marathon training has been no different. He has definitely ‘ground out’ the tough stuff, he doesn’t love running like I do, but I have no doubt he will do brilliantly on Sunday and we will all be there to cheer him on.  He’s been ably and heart warmingly assisted by his wing men Gareth and Bill, who have been beside him every mile of the gruelling training regime, and he and I can’t thank them enough for such extraordinary friendship.  Let’s hope fate is kind to everyone running on Sunday! As a wise man said to me once, Marathon Running is 10% physical, and 90% Mental. It is definitely mental!  That is for sure!