Positive Thinking in the New Year?

P1000678Phew, all that enjoying ourselves is out of the way for another year. Aah, back to doom and gloom.

Wondering if you could contract something ghastly and get holed up in a cosy hospital until the spring? Yes, that’s what I like to see – a positive spirit.

Now you may regard New Year as an arbitrary mark on our Gregorian calendar. But whether you’d prefer the Julian or the Babylonian calendars – or even the latest pin-up, come to that – matters not a jot. New Year is a time for some positive thinking, for a new ethos, to change your horse.

Yes, we’re in straitened times. Some of you have had to eschew high-end supermarkets in favour of Asda for your weekly shop. Energy is through the roof – quite literally in my draughty Victorian house – and wages, if there are any, are rising at the rate of continental drift. Penury is staring us in the face.

Positive Thinking

P1000660But I’ve realised that the barrier to getting ourselves out of a rut is quite often…us.

Well, and the screaming children; and possibly the fathead partner without any soul that you thought it was a good idea to tie your lot to all those years ago; oh, and the  weather that’s no doubt cut off your electricity in what is turning out to be a decidedly breezy week in the UK. 

Even part of my local cliff, in the true spirit of a lemming, has lost its balance and slipped disconsolately into the English Channel. However, there really are so many opportunities in life, some of which we’re scarcely aware of. Why aren’t we? Because we plod along with our eyes metaphorically closed, afraid of leaving comfort zones and taking unfamiliar paths. I’ve done it myself. And I still do.

San Francisco Sunshine

P1000637There I was in California the other week – on a shoestring, naturally – and I gave a friend of mine a little errand. ‘Chad, old horse, run that folder up to the second floor, would you. There’s a good chap. And do stop wheezing,’ I said pleasantly.

Do you know what he shot back with? ‘Funnily enough, I was going to train to be a butler.’ And he let me in on the money involved. Well, cut out my heart and throw my liver to the dogs – we’re looking at salaries of £100,000 if you’re properly trained.

There’s a course involved, though. And probably a move – to live with and serve a Russian oligarch or a billionaire in Bahrain. But this is simply an example of a life shift that one is oblivious to. No, you’re right, it is much easier to stay at home and complain about everything being awful. To wit, it’s raining again and I’ve run out of decaffeinated teabags. Marvellous. Happy New Year…

Cooking For Dummies..

P1000598Cooking is easy,’ people are forever telling me, usually with the authority of a papal edict. ‘It’s really quick.’ But is it?

I’ll tell you what the problem is. You glance at a “fabulous, four-ingredient recipe” in a duffers’ book and pop to the supermarket. Easy peasy. But then gas marks are introduced, along with exasperating buzz words such as “leave to simmer”, “garnish with”, and “add a splash of herb-infused vinegar to taste”. Is it just me, or does the project now look steeper than a Dutch staircase?

Recipe Essentials

These cookbook blighters talk of paprika as though it’s a common household spice; as though twiddles of thyme are within easy reach; as though there ought to be saucepans in the kitchen. Tsk. There then follows a good deal of hand-wringing, which elicits subsidiary questions such as, ‘Does the curry house deliver?’

P1000599But this is ridiculous. If we pick up the phone again, we’re back to Gas Mark One. How hard can cooking really be? Despite the memory of an attempted lasagne lodging in my heart like a splinter, I stepped portentously into the kitchen.

Step 1: Don an apron – we’d hate to get sauce on those form-fitting tweeds. Step 2: Pour a pint of red wine. Step 3: Have the fire brigade on standby. Step 4: Don’t trust all this 11-min nonsense for pasta – whack it in for 15, just to be sure.

Delicious Dish

What do we need? Chicken breasts, red pesto, pine nuts, pasta and mushrooms – enough for three dinners. Oh, and olive oil. Buy a washed salad and a few cherry tomatoes if you’re feeling flush. Hold off on your second pint of red at this stage, though – there’s dangerous stuff with heat on the horizon.

P1000601Start boiling the pasta. Hello, we’re cooking! Roast the pine nuts in a pan (dry without oil) and put them in a bowl. Fry the chicken in a little oil for five minutes, add the mushrooms (ooh, they get smaller), and add red pesto. Drain the pasta, chuck the chicken delicacy on top and stir. Hey presto.

Ah, the pine nuts. They might be for the salad or they might not, I can’t remember. Doesn’t really matter – throw them in as well, they taste nice. Move over, Delia Smith, eh – with my minimalist approach, I might attempt a halloumi and grape salad at Easter.

I’ll leave you all with a final cooking tip: you can’t substitute pine nuts with pumpkin seeds. I got into trouble for that once..