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Monday, 23 May 2011

Sand at Southbank

This week we've been into central London about FOUR times (shock horror!) and it's such a relief to get out of the SW london bubble and see what's going on in town.

Aside from hearing part of the piano festival at Royal festival hall, checking out an old friend's new tapas bar in West India Quay, chilling out with uni friends in Clerkenwell, having long lunches in toddler friendly Giraffe and Pizza Express, showing Leon the wonders of Trafalgar square's fountains in galeforce winds and rediscovering the shops in Covent Garden on a mission to track down a specific pair of shoes (size 41 always runs out!) our respite has consistently been on the Southbank.

Placed neatly next to Waterloo, there's currently a Southend-on-sea theme going on cue seaside beach huts, vintage swimsuit displays, ice-cream vans and a large stretch of sand offering a fantastic distraction for any little person. And a therapeutic treat for my tired feet pushing into the sand grains. Lovely!

The next day we returned with bucket and spade at the ready!

It's open from 10am until 9pm every day until September so keep in mind if you're in the area.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, 19 May 2011

L'affaire DSK : Can Frenchmen be trusted?

The enticing Dominique Strauss-Khan case is hard to ignore. One of the latest suggestions for a set-up to replace the head of the IMF, explains how DSK's plans for the IMF's use of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) would end the USA's ability to print off their debt. Juicy!

Putting aside honey-pot speculations to oust the IMF leader, Sarkozy conspiracies to frame one of the favoured socialist french presidential candidates, and all the natter about privacy laws and the fact that DSK's lawyers were surprised because the alleged rape victim was "not very attractive", not to mention plenty of other sex attack allegations against him resurfacing and the fact that he probably feels he can do what he likes... I've become most enthralled with the way the whole DSK case has brought to light the topic of the french chaud lapin. ("horny rabbit")

Sex, Politics and a bit of privacy
Ben Macintyre's fascinating article "France's unfaithful servants of the people" in yesterday's Times, outlined the seductive necessity of french politicians and how they can easily get away with compulsive womanising thanks to the protective privacy laws. According to his research, all post-war French presidents serving their country in the last century, sauf Charles de Gaulle, have had adulterous affairs, are pretty-much womanisers and have happily pursued the fairer sex just because they can. Power and sex thing happening there I suppose, making the most of their alpha male status. Yet it probably wouldn't work in the UK as it would be happily aired in public. But shouldn't we adopt the french more private way, where an adulterous affair be kept between two spouses to decide who knows about it and spare the emotions of the cheated rather than shouting about it from the rooftops?

Sexually inhibited?
The other difference that sets us aside from the french is how blogger Anne Penketh describes an "eternal clash of civilizations between the sexually uninhibited French and the puritanical Anglo-Saxon world". Now, I'm not sure if the UK shares the puritanical title as much as the US, but the frenchmen certainly wear the label of loverman proudly. I remember being shocked in my first week in Paris for my first work placement, by the confidence of the guys in chatting up girls and innuendo after innuendo even in the office! But this isn't about sexism in the workplace or even about the much talked about french obsession with sex. Well OK just a bit - their penchant for producing aphrodisiacs (food, wine, perfume, pretty underwear, sexy knowledgeable beings...), their supposed liberalism, the phallic Eiffel Tower, art, poetry, and well, any sexy word we have in the english language is of french origin. But it's more about the french people having a confident attitude to sex and not seeing it as a taboo.

After work romp
Yes it's a stereotype. Frenchmen can be chauvinistic, arrogant, notably old-fashioned and find it hard to appreciate a woman as an equal. But they're romantic, intelligent, and know how to 'woo' a woman. However for the male image of a woman is often of a mother or a lover and difficult to find an in-between. French ladies are supposedly more feminine, intelligent, chic and confident and are apparently happy to play the part of the lover. So, this is the part that scares me! The cinq à sept, a concept I learned about when reading Stephen Clarke's A Year In The Merde a few years ago, is between 5-7pm when frenchmen visit their mistresses - after work and back in time for dinner! This has apparently changed to 2-4pm (who monitors these things?!) to suit longer working hours and so that women can also have fun while kids are at school ;)

So there I was thinking I'd come across a horrible discovery that was known to all french people - and that further down the line on our return to Paris he might take a mistress! Luckily my darling husband said it's all bollocks and had never heard of it! Well thanks goodness for that. I know it's a touchy subject, but would you rather know if your man had a mistress, just accept it and carry on with happy families or not want to know? It just seems a bit inconceivable. Perhaps you'd take on a lover and play the game. As long as it's brushed under the carpet a bit and the kids don't get involved... But then there are successful households where this works (the original ménage à trois) like E. Nesbit's co-habiting with her husband Hubert Bland and his mistress Alice Hoatson and her 2 kids - but they were proper socialists... would that work today... Why is this even in my head?

On a final note, American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, suggested that in a hundred years time we will have three mates: "one for the adolescent urges, one for child bearing and one for companionship" Edith Kunz, says that this is how it's been in France for a long time... Is this where we're heading?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Young's Seafood event

"Ahh comment on va se régaler! La bouffe française est la meilleure! Quel festin!"
*"Oh we're going to eat so well, french food is the best! what a feast!"

These phrases are often uttered by my Frenchman when awaiting a trip to the homeland. I don't appreciate his blindness to my wonderful home cooked meals but understand where he's coming from. They just know how to mix things together to create a delicious platter. On our recent trip to Bretagne we were certainly spoilt by our hosts by dining Coquilles St Jacques one night, and a massive seafood platter filled with Oysters, Spider Crab, Langoustines, Bigornot, Palourde... yum! We sometimes buy fresh prawns, and fish (mackerel in foil with veg chucked in or steamed salmon and broccoli à la Jamie Oliver) but not enough! According to the Department of Health we're meant to eat two portions of fish a week and the Mixed Up household currently goes by one if anything! Oh dear.

With a hope to improve my seafood cuisine and find out more about fish I was delighted be invited by Young's Seafood to L'Atelier de Chefs cookery school in Wigmore Street to perfect my culinary skills and know more about Fish.
Bring it on little fishies!
Two a week
Young's Nutrition Director Clare Leonard shared the nutritional benefits of fish with us; Crammed full of Vitamins A, D, Omega 3, sea minerals and protein, Fish is so GOOD for you! And not very fattening. So make sure you're eating the 2 portions a week including one portion of Oily fish.
Oily fish can be forage fishe e.g. sardine, herring and anchovy or pelagic fish e.g. salmon, trout, herring, fresh tune and mackerel (my staple choice as it's rather cheap!)
White fish include cod (but leave them alone for now!), haddock, whiting and sole.
Oh, and 1 portion = 140g, 1 fillet or 4 fishfingers!

Did you know that:
  • Fish and the Sun give us Vitamin D allowing us to absorb calcium and strengthen teeth and bones, but we're not getting enough of the latter - not because of the lack of sun in the UK, but because we need to get out more. Fish is our biggest dietary source of Vitamin D, so by eating more fish you can stay inside and watch TV! No seriously, get outside more - isn't it awful we're spending so much time indoors that our Vitamin D levels have depleted...?
  • The Omega 3  keeps your heart healthy and is essential for your child's developing brain -  but our bodies can't produce it so our diet needs to include plenty of it so oily fish is a fantastic supplier of omega 3.
  • 1 portion of fish  provides half your daily Protein requirement - which is great for growing kids as it builds muscles, bones and repairs bumps and bruises (Leon's toddling about ensures a constant supply of these!) However you need to vary with other types of proteins (pulses lentils, beans, quinoa, tofu...) 
Easy and healthy
    White fish is low in fat and is so easy to prepare with the simplest ingredients. Onions, tomatoes, spinach, leeks, pancetta, cheddar, mozzarella, butter - all of which I usually have in the fridge or an alternative, will make you three delicious platters that can be ready in 15 mins. Top chef Serge Nollent demonstrated how to easily prepare three fishy dishes and then two teams of mummy bloggers had a go!

    Team Cod cooked up a delicious Roast Cod with cider braised leeks, peas and pancetta and Team Haddock successfully produced this fantastically easy and mouth-watering Smoked Haddock, Cheese and Tomato Bake 

    Serves 4
    4 fillets / portions 100g to 120g each of smoked haddock skin off
    8 medium size ripe tomatoes cut into quarters
    2 slice red onions
    2 crushed garlic cloves
    2 sprigs of rosemary
    80 g grated mild cheddar
    1 ball of mozzarella
    Extra virgin olive oil
    Sea salt &ground black pepper
    • Preheat oven gas mark 6 / 200c
    • Sauté the tomato, red onion & garlic in olive oil on medium heat for up to 4 minutes, season slightly (remember the smoked haddock is already salted).
    • Put into oven proof dish, place fillets on top, sprinkle cheddar & tear up mozzarella, place rosemary sprig between fillets, season with ground black pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
    • Cook in oven, top shelf for 15 minutes. Serve.
    Et voilà! One mouth-watering smoked haddock, cheese & tomato bake
    Team Haddock with Serge Nollent and our final dish
    Cooking up a storm I'm looking forward to trying these out again - with a lot of confidence after tasting the superb dishes that we successfully duplicated (pretty much!). Prepping up by chopping onions etc will definitely help and although following recipes is useful, once you know the basics of a recipe, you can replace with a different ingredients: parmesan instead of cheddar, low fat yoghurt instead of creme fraiche, wine instead of cider and you could live off fish forever!!  

    No Fishy Fishing

    All Young's seafood comes from sustainable sources and are accredited by the MSC. Their purchasing decisions are made with keeping in mind the capacity of the environment to support the fishing practices involved and supplying seafood for over 200 years definitely know their stuff when it comes to fish. Young's have developed positive steps to fish sustainability through Fish for Life - their award winning approach to sustainable fishing, by funding research and engaging with the fish industry and lobbying governments to implement better legislation. Young's understand their ethical obligation to do so, if future generations are to enjoy the delicious fish we do today! Additionally, frozen fish reduces food waste as it'll keep for months!

    Young's Fish Expert Duncan Lucas demonstrating his filleting skills
    Young's fish expert Duncan Lucas shared his filleting skills with us and we discovered what it takes to produce a top quality fillet that any chef would be thrilled to receive. From slicing, snipping, flipping, cutting and plucking out the bones, we learned the importance of a well filleted fish and I was pleased to know that at Young's they are hot on minimising fish waste. Duncan explained how fish heads are send to Malaysia where they are eaten as a delicacy and fish cheeks and tongues are highly sought after luxuries in Norway! We were lucky enough to have a taste of these fishy facial parts and I indeed say that they were deliciously tender and lighter than the main fish.

    I was very happy to have tasted a range of Young's products especially the breaded chip shop Mackerel and King Prawns that were absolutely delicious. It was certainly inspiring to taste how the accompaniments can totally liven up a dish and change it from a weekday evening meal to a lighter lunch. We tasted the breaded fish alongside a sublimely healthy basil salad and the king prawns in a pomegranate and mango salad - divine!! It's so easy to include fish in your diet and there are plenty more recipes and Serge's podcasts on the Young's website. I'm definitely going to delight my husband with showing off my new culinary skills with these beautiful seafood dishes.

    It was also a pleasure meeting some other mummy bloggers so please take a look at their blogs if you haven't yet : The heavily preggers, mum of toddler and poster of beautiful photos, another mexicana married to a frenchman, yet another femme de français and foodie blogger, first to review Young's event and super reviewer