Skyfall

Up until recently, I’ve not really been a fan of Bond films. And yes, by recently, I mean Daniel Craig. To be fair, this latest set of Bond films are nothing like the totally hammy, cliché films from the like of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but I have just never been able to sit through and concentrate on any of the Bond films previous to Daniel Craig’s incarnation of 007. When Casino Royale came out, I was a bit confused as to why it seemed like it was going back to the beginning, but it wasn’t, but I soon got swept up enough in the storyline to not really care. To me, that’s what makes a difference, is that these new films seem to have more of a plot, instead of the random mad genius on an island somewhere, determined to take over the world. The recent Bond films are more realistic, gritty and actually show the MI6 agent a little worse for wear occasionally, which in turn makes him seem more human. And nothing shows how human James Bond is more than the opening of Skyfall.

Instantly we are thrown into a fast-paced action sequence with cars and motorbikes and trains, with Bond taking extreme measures to chase down the baddy and obtain ‘The List’. The film is nothing short of amazing action sequences, fast chases and twists that will give you whiplash, and all this brought forward into the modern age of computer warfare. There are scenic shots that will take your breath away, and the rest of the film is so tense you’ll be holding it – so the key thing here is remember to breathe! The introduction of new characters into the films has been so well done, and fantastic casting particularly of Ralph Fiennes, as well as a new Q for the new times Bond is in. The real draw for this film however, is a further glimpse into the real life of the enigmatic secret agent; so cool as he lands on the back of a destroyed train carriage, simply adjusting his cufflinks; so suave as he sneaks on board the Bond girl’s ship (that is both euphemism and literal description!) Instead, bits of Bond’s history is revealed to us, showing us more James than 007, as well as hints of the future; or is it the past?

I’ll leave you to work out in your own mind what is going on –I thoroughly recommend going to see this film, even if you’ve not been a fan of previous Bonds. The great thing about this series of films is that you don’t really need to see the others to know what’s going on in any of them, but I would also recommend having a look at Casino Royale and Quantom of Solace if you really are a Bond virgin! Like the rest of the Bond girls, you won’t be for long…

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x

Slow Cooker, Quick Dinner!

Everyone has that lifesaving bit of kitchen equipment at home. Some people can’t live without their mandolin, for others it’s a good old-fashioned hand whisk – but for me, my best friend in the kitchen has to be my slow cooker. It was a wedding present from my aunt and uncle, and little did they know they saved me from many hungry nights and eating apart from my husband. I hadn’t long started a job where I was working late shifts from 12pm-8pm, and I was struggling making the simplest meals I could but still not eating until 9pm most evenings, which really wasn’t fair on poor Dave who was sitting there waiting for me to come home, and as I’m still teaching him how to cook, there wasn’t much he could do about it.

In comes Lakeland ltd mini slow cooker, designed for just two, making it perfect for us. People at work had actually been telling me about their slow cookers waiting for them at the end of a late shift, and I had thought of looking into it myself. I was a bit wary, having been brought up by my dad’s phobia of the things believing there was no more variety than casseroles containing beef one night, lamb the next, but at work I was getting recipes for Thai pork and all sorts, so I was ecstatic when we got a slow cooker AND recipe book for our wedding present.

I do two lates a week, so the need for variety was even greater than just bringing my dad round to this style of cooking, I wanted to make sure we weren’t having the same thing several times a month, and that the preparation was easy enough for me to do before I went into work each day. A quick browse through the recipe book my cousin picked out brought up things like Abruzzi lamb, a dish with tomatoes and pasta, various curries from across the globe as well as the more homely beef and ale hotchpots, or steak and mushroom pies. At the moment, I’ve just been using recipes with the very slow cooking times of 8-10hrs, tending to be the meat options, but the recipe book also contains soups, fish and vegetable meals, which all take a lot less time to cook so I’ve not really been able to try them out yet.

The recipes we have tried though are all really delicious and so different – the first one I tried was the Abruzzi lamb, made with an onion and stock mixture, with cherry tomatoes and pancetta with rosemary to go perfectly with the lamb. I have honestly never tasted meat so tender – it’s almost like fish in the way it falls to pieces as you cut it up, and quite literally melts in your mouth. I wouldn’t have put lamb with pasta personally, but it works beautifully, feeling like a really rustic, gorgeous italian dish. Another amazing one was a tomato chicken dish where the rice is cooked in the slow cooker, really flavourful and interesting, almost like paella but not. The beef and ale hotchpot was so rich and again the meat was cooked to perfection, and the oriental dishes are a really nice way of having something unusual but with little effort. All the recipes take barely more than 30 minutes to prepare in the morning, generally just browning off the meat and mixing up and onion mixture of some sort with whatever stock is required – it could not be easier.

The only problem is I’m whizzing through the recipes so quickly! Two a week doesn’t take long to finish off all the recipes than I can leave to cook all day, I’ll just have to try out the fish recipes at the weekend. I can’t wait to move into the bigger family home, get a larger slow cooker and convince my dad that there is more to the slow cooker than a boring casserole.

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x

P.S I now have a word to the wise – follow your slow cooker recipes EXACTLY – with something that you’re watching as you’re cooking it’s ok to make substitutes and correct as and when, but I left out yellow bean paste of a recipe and it dried out quite a bit :s not inedible, in fact the flavours were still really tasty, but poor Dave was left with a bit of a mess to clean up!

Halloween was a Bad day – Cake Makes up for it!

Yeah, Halloween went a bit wrong for me this year. Not in a, ‘Oh my god I was so scared I couldn’t sleep’ or scared of my own shadow way, more like in an ‘epic fail’ way. At work we were celebrating the day by having a fun day of dressing up, decorating our work stations and carving pumpkins for chocolate goodies. I had been nominated to do the pumpkin carving, not because I was particularly skilled, in fact I had never done before in my life, but I had found a recipe for pumpkin cake online and thought I could do a double whammy and impress the work judges. Well, that was a bit optimistic of me, particularly as I only got given the pumpkin the day before. So 31st October comes around, and I carve out the pumpkin pretty successfully, but I don’t have time to make the cake. Fail one. I decide to keep the pumpkin innards for another day, and try to toast the pumpkin seeds instead. Fail two. I start preparing dinner to go in the slow cooker whilst I work 12pm-8pm, and cut my thumb slicing potatoes. NOT carving the pumpkin, but slicing potatoes. Fail three. So I’m bleeding, manage to plaster the wound up and carry on with dinner, but this leaves me unable to put on my fancy dress costume consisting of a corset with hook-eye fastenings, that would hurt way too much. Fail Four. I throw on a random black dress, draw on a spider with eyeliner, and don’t have time to make myself lunch for the day. Fail five.

But, I finally got round to making the legendary pumpkin cake. The initial problem with not making it on Halloween was that I had to get some specific ingredients, but after a little tweaking I was able to to get what I needed from the local shop instead. The recipe required 500g pumpkin innards, so the important thing to remember here was to adjust the other ingredients accordingly to the 400g I got from my pumpkin. fortunately this was an easy round number, so just divide everything by five, and take that number away from the listed ingredient list. I hope. I was surprised (as I continue to be through my baking development) at how easy this cake was, literally popping the ingredients in the bowl, mixing them up whilst making sure the pumpkin is chopped up enough to not have any huge lumps, and cook in the oven. This was where the good old steel kebab skewer comes in handy, because at the listed 30min mark of cooking, the middle of the cake was literally wobbling like jelly with a cakey crust. It was an odd image, but definitely need a considerable amount more cooking time, as proved by the skewer test coming out gooey. I didn’t pay much more attention to time from there unfortunately, just hopping back and forth every ten minutes or so to see if it was any less wobbly, whilst not burning at the edges, but I think i probably cooked it for an extra 20 minutes or so. But that’s the point of course, it all depends on your cooker and equipment, so this is in no way to say ignore your recipe’s instructions and nuke it for double the time!
The cake was an absolute hit – family and friends alike said it was absolutely delicious. The icing made sugary but not too sweet, and the pumpkin was just right for texture, flavour and made the cake nice and moist. I had made a few substitutions, using allspice instead of mixed spice, and raisins instead of sultanas. Both of these were because I thought they were the same thing, but I am informed the cake was probably made tastier by using allspice instead, as it has a tastier blend of spices. I also used my own buttercream icing recipe instead of using the soft cheese mixture, again that was mostly due to a laziness of wanting to go and actually get the cheese. Sometimes baking is nicer and more fun because its something that can be done at a moments notice with items generally in the store cupboard. Fortunately, this whiled away a Saturday morning whilst hubby was at work, and also meant I had the inclination to do some household chores whilst the cake was actually cooking! Win win win all round!
Yours,
The Vintage Housewife x

A Day’s Riding in the New Forest…

It’s rare that me and my hubby get a whole day together – either I’m off to work 12-8, or we’ll have part of a day surrounded by Dave working an early morning then an evening shift. So when one of these rare occurrences came by, we were determined to make the most of it. Dave had suggested we take the bike down to the New Forest, as he wanted to take a look at some bike accessories from a company down that way, but we love the area so much, there’s some fantastic riding down there not to mention the incredible scenery, and of course, the cute ponies.

We set off around 10am, making the most of a lie in together but also wanting to be underway fairly soon. The weather wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t wet or particularly windy, and after a year of really naff biking weather, it was good enough for us. Layering up in our thermals, I had to put on two layers of socks because I still haven’t got around to buying myself some proper thick hiking/biking socks, and I really suffer from cold hands and feet – not the best ailment when you’re speeding down the motorway in the English weather. But, they did the job pretty well, and we were on our way towards Chichester, then Portsmouth and Southampton. It was a pretty lovely route the whole way down, because we take the back way from Shoreham round Steyning and Amberly. This route is one of our favourite shortcuts when heading west – lovely country roads and avoiding the awful Worthing/Littlehampton traffic. Once we got to Chichester, the trick there is to actually go through the town, instead of around the ring road. Generally speaking, the roundabouts get so haired up with traffic, its actually quicker to cut through the city centre, which again is a nice change from the motorway. The route from Chichester to Portsmouth goes by pretty quickly, and whilst the leg from there to Southampton always seems to take forever, its exciting to see the countryside changing from fields and hedges to the heathland surrounding the new forest, and eventually the towering woodlands the area is famous for.

It was even more lovely this time of year, with not only the scenery changing, but the colours of the trees were all turning stunning shades of yellow, orange and red. As it was a fairly dry day, the fallen leaves creating a beautiful blanket on the forest floor were whipped up in the wind, scattering all over the place. The sun occasionally shone through the clouds and trees, bringing everything to life with more vivid, golden colours than you can imagine. It was a stunning days riding, especially as we took the back routes through the forest instead of the mainlines from Lindhurst to Lymington – at the end of the day its not the biggest area in the world, and if you see an interesting looking route it’s bound to end up at a sign post to point you back in the right direction eventually. At the end of the day, you don’t come to the New Forest if you’re in a rush, do you?

More reason to take the winding back roads of the New Forest than the sheer beauty of the landscape, is that you’re far more likely to come across some of the locals! (Although to be fair we did see a pony looking rather disgruntled at the door of Brockenhurst’s Tescos, seemingly bemused as to why he wasn’t allowed in). You can’t go far in many directions without at least seeing a group of horses in the distance, let alone grazing at the side of the road, or using the road themselves. We saw ponies, horses, cows, donkeys and even some pigs! We have heard stories that when the pigs are let loose for the season, the tarmac of the road gets so warm during the day, that at night you can often come across a huge bundle of them on the road, sleeping on the warmth of the heated tarmac! All of them are the very picture of cuteness, particularly the little donkey foals!

For lunch, we had been recommended a pub on the Brockenhurst-Lymington road called the Hobler, as offering great pub grub at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone else had been recommended that as well, so when we got there, it was packed out. But that’s a good thing to know for future instances though! We carried on down the road into Brockenhurst, and after a little bit of riding round the houses, we came across the Snake Catcher. Just north of the railway crossing, we rode into the car park, optimistic, as there were a decent amount of cars  to suggest it was a good place, but not packed out. We were delightfully surprised by the quality and price of the food – I had a jumbo piece of battered fish, but they’d also been sensible with the amount of chips that came with it. The tartar sauce was incredible, really chunky, tasting more of capers than mayonnaise, which is a very good thing for me. Dave ordered the large portion of nachos with meat, thinking it to be the main sized portion as opposed to starter, and even he couldn’t finish it! There was a mountain of nachos and chilli and jalepenos and cheese and sour cream and salsa – all at very reasonable prices.

On the way back home, we took a route via Beaulieu and back up towards Lindhurst, trying to make the most of our time in the New Forest. Dave has a BMW 650gs, his pride and joy, and she has been on many adventures with us. (Yes, she. Tigs, or Tigger, if you want to know.) She really is a great bike two-up, very comfy for the pillion particularly with the comfy seat and Givi topbox. Dave’s also recently added a higher screen, reducing the buffeting from the wind at high speeds significantly, you can barely feel it now. The routes through the New Forest are really amazing for a pillion and rider – the 40mph speed limit means both can get a stunning view of the scenery, and the twisting winding roads are so much fun for both riders. We’ve been told by a rider who lives in Lymington that he can do a full days riding and never go further than 20 miles from his house. That sounds like the life to me!

Yours,

The Vintage Housewife x