Saturday, 29 October 2011

Autumn soup time!

Winter is truly on its way with the clocks going back tonight, less than two months until Christmas and the alarm clock going off in the dark. I feel so ambivalent about this time o the year.  It is such a beautiful season in England with the glorious colours of Autumn, the fun of fireworks night and snuggling up around a cosy fire with a big bowl of Autumn soup.

Autumn has arrived in our tiny back garden and him-at-home has been very busy preparing it for winter. 
Autumn in Miniature
My new favourite plant this year is the heuchera.  They come in such an amazing variety of colours from bright green through all the colours of Autumn to the deepest of deep reds.  They keep their colour all through the winter when my other favourites – hostas and ferns -have tucked themselves under the soil, to hibernate until spring comes again.  Heucheras, winter pansies and cyclamen brighten up our wintery garden and make me smile on those dull grey days.
I love my food to be as seasonal and ritually relevant as I can get it.  I hate eating salad in the winter and avoid those horrible tasteless imported strawberries when the wonderfully fragrant English ones are out of season.  I won’t eat hot cross buns on any other day but Good Friday and mince pies and mulled wine are only for Christmas.  I love looking forward to those special occasions – the first asparagus, spinach time, Apple harvest,  and pumpkin time.  Not only does it make food so much more special to eat it seasonally, it is much cheaper.  I’ve decided this blog is the perfect place to share my autumn soup recipe with you.  It can be made in vast quantities, with endless variations and each batch tastes different!  When I am stuck on an essay or fed up with reading some impenetrable paper where every second word has to one of at least 4 syllables to demonstrate the author’s impressive vocabulary, making my soup is a perfect distraction.  Nothing needs to be measured and there is no special equipment needed. We are a walk away from Lewisham Market and we just pick up vast quantities of whatever veg is going cheap.  Be warned though – don’t use green veg in it – I tried and it was awful.
Alice’s Autumn Soup – the perfect fuel for course work writing!
·         2 onions roughly chopped (wear swimming goggles if you are worried about tears!)
·         Garlic (as much as you like – I stick in 3 or 4 cloves and never have trouble with vampires!) either chopped or crushed
·         Root vegetables e.g. carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip, swede all chopped up about the size of dice.  I prefer to have more orange veg than the white veg.
·         Pepper, salt, mixed herbs.  If you want to go more exotic you can spice it up with a bit of  paprika, coriander, curry  powder – whatever takes your fancy
·         Stock – make it up with a stock cube either chicken, vegetable or beef.  You may need two if you make a huge quantity. 
·         Tinned tomatoes – one or two tins depending how much you make.
·         Oil – I always use olive because it is so good for you  - and it tastes the best!
·         ….and Alice’s secret ingredient – a teaspoon of vegemite!  But don’t worry if you haven’t got it!
·         Chop everything up but keep the onions and garlic separate.
·         In a large pan pour about a tablespoon of oil, warm it up and then add the onion.  Stay with it, stirring it gently over a low heat until it goes clear.
·         Add garlic and stir it for another couple of minutes
·         Add all the other vegetables and stir them around to coat with the oil. Turn the heat down very low, cover the pan and leave it the vegetables to ‘sweat’ for about 10  - 20minutes.  Be really careful not to have the heat too high or they will catch on the bottom of the pan and burn – that tastes disgusting! Keep checking them and stir occasionally.
·         Meanwhile mix up the stock cubes with warm water - about a pint will do for now.
·         Add the stock, tinned tomatoes and seasonings and stir around.  Add more water if you want.
·         Bring it all to the boil then turn the heat down until it is all just simmering gently.
·         Depending on the size of your batch it will take between 30-60 minutes for everything to go lovely and soft. Plenty of time to get another couple of articles read or an essay mapped out!
·         Taste it and add more seasonings if you wish.
·         Take it off the heat and when cooled slightly mash it all up with a potato masher or use a food processor if you have one.  If it is too thick add more water.
·         Serve it up just as it is or add cream, cream fraiche, parmesan cheese, croutons chopped up coriander &/or parsley, a swirl of Worcester sauce
·         This soup freezes really well but remember to just freeze the basic soup, not the serving add ons.  If you freeze it really thick it will take up less space in the freezer and thawed it can be thinned with more water.
Autumn Soup
So there you have it - my autumn soup recipe.  I always eat it in my special soup bowls I made at school in Oz .They are old and chipped but just completely perfect to wrap your  chilly hands around on a cold wintery day as you indulge!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Open Day and a trip to the loo

Saturday was a beautiful day – chilly but bright and sunny. This is my absolute favourite sort of Autumn weather. The UoG Open Day started at 10 o’clock and all the ambassadors had to arrive at 8am to help set up. That always feels so early as I prop my eyelids up with matchsticks during my early Saturday brekkie!  This time we were trying a new set up – instead of leading tours of visitors we were allocated to ‘tour points’. These were marked by red balloons with tour routes marked by red stars on the ground and blue balloons.  The balloons looked lovely all along the fence between the two campuses – unfortunately they were very appealing to the locals and had disappeared by 10.30!
Open Day balloons

I was stationed at tour point no 7 on the Mansion site, with Dan, a first year student paramedic. We had to memorise a script about the history of the mansion site and show people the common room, (formerly the drawing room), the winter gardens and an area I had never visited previously – the Victorian ladies’ loo. Well, dear reader – that was the highlight of the day for me!  This hidden gem was part of the original mansion constructed on this site by the immensely rich Colonel North in the 1890’s. Bombing in the second world war destroyed much of the building including a full set of Turkish baths, but the entrance foyer, the ballroom  (now the library) and the wonderful, glass houses of the winter gardens are still here. They give a good impression of just how over-the-top the whole place must have been – quite an ostentations display of wealth and privilege. His backyard was Avery Hill Park and there was plenty of space for his regiment 250 men to camp there!
Unfortunately he wasn’t around for long after the building was finished and after his death it had to be sold. any way back to those loos! The corridor is like any educational institutional corridor and you go through a door marked ‘Staff only’ and enter another world!
Marble basins

“Harry Potter loos!”  exclaimed some of our visitors delightedly.
And all that marble! Imagine popping in here to powder your nose between dances in the ballroom!
And only the best in porcelain! Royal Doulton no less! I love the attention to detail – the soap dish carved out of solid marble and those gorgeous Victorian taps.

...and then we get to the windows! The detail is beautiful. Luckily I had two architecture students who shared my interest so that I could wax lyrical with them! They are designed and manufactured by Campbell Smith & Co., well known church window makers of the time.
Windows and ceiling
The ceiling is quite amazing also. It is fully tiled using a technique known as Burmantoft’s fa├»ence, praised in British Architecture as “the best of its kind we have seen”. I discovered Burmantoft’s pottery works was near Leeds in Yorkshire. now you know!  I wonder where I will be next Open Day?  Am I going to be privy to some more hidden treasures, I wonder!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Oh Glorious Vegemite!!

Being such an international university the Enquiry Unit is like a mini league of nations.  We all have our favourite national dishes and enjoy swapping notes.  We had a debate the other day about which was better – marmite or vegemite.  As I consider there to be no contest, I thought it was time to write in defence of my national icon.

A recent news article caught my eye.   In August the Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was flying to New York from Mexico when he was stopped by authorities suspicious of the jar of dark brown liquid in his cabin baggage.  He tweeted that it ‘required foreign ministerial intervention’ to explain that it was his breakfast and was good very good for you. This followed another story about an encounter between the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Barack Obama.  He had the audacity to describe the hallowed substance "a quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear all over your toast", then pronouncing it "horrible". I must say – I thought Obama had impeccable taste until I read that – he has now gone down in my estimation somewhat!
…and woes betide anyone that dares mess with the special recipe. Kraft, the makers of Vegemite, developed a new, creamier, cheesy version and asked the public to suggest a name.  Web designer Dean Robbins won after submitting the name iSnack2.0. However, Kraft had to scrap the name after public outcry that it was "the worst name ever" and "unAustralian".
One respondent demanded that poor Dean should be forced to run down the main street of Sydney "wearing nothing but a generous lathering of old-fashioned Vegemite as retribution for his cultural crime".

Vegemite was invented in Australia in1923 as a way to utilise yeast extract left over from the beer brewing process.  My dad told me that they had the idea of naming it Pa-wont in response to the (in any self respecting Aussie’s opinion) far inferior British product Marmite!  It is an acquired taste like coffee and olives and for true acclimatisation, one needs to be raised on the wonderful stuff.  My mother used to make rusks for us when we were babies and flavour them with vegemite.  She also used it to flavour stews and soups and every time she added it would warn us not to tell Dad or he wouldn’t eat it!
Whenever I have a guest arriving from Oz who asks what to bring – my answer is always the same – a decent sized jar of vegemite!  How sublime to dip my knife into a whole 1 kilo jar of the wonderful stuff! Him- at- home cannot understand my love of the stuff and as I prepare one of my all time favourite snacks of ryvita or oatcakes with vegemite and extra mature cheddar cheese, he never fails to remark that, once again, I am spoiling a perfectly good oat cake/ryvita!  I sort of have to forgive him because he is British and pretty perfect in every other way!
The Vegemite Girls
I thought I would see what else has been written about the lovely stuff and these were some of my favourites from the Urban dictionary:
·         Very potent in strong doses, able to render your taste buds on the verge of withering up and dying. If you've grown up around Vegemite then this will have no effect on you.

·         Thick brown brewer's yeast paste from the Land Down Under. The slightest dollop on the end of a toothpick touched to a slug's back will incapacitate it in a matter of seconds, and render it a salty and torturous pool of black ooze in just under a minute effectively creating another couple ounces of Vegemite to dab on one's toast.

·         A semi edible dark brown paste. Traditionally used by Australians to disgust foreigners. Highly effective on North Americans.
 "Try this Chip, It's called vegemite. It tastes like nutella".

spread THINLY on toast or bread, with or without butter.
If spread too thickly, vegemite is inedible, even for Aussies.

When I left Oz so many centuries ago, being such a well-prepared traveller and a former girl guide, I made sure I packed two very important items – my vegemite and my snake bite kit.  I still have the snake bite kit, but still haven’t had a chance to use it. Maybe snakes, being very wise, know that I am so well fortified by my daily intake of vegemite they wouldn’t get near me!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A busy week in the life of a UoG Ambassador!

As UoG Ambassador I find myself in quite a variety of settings.  This week was an exceptional one where I attended three different events.
On Monday I was with Remco in a marquee in the middle of Woolwich.  On one side of us were the Woolwich recycling / rubbish disposal people and on the other were Representatives from Greenwich Community College - one of our partner colleges.  We were there to answer questions about access to university in general and to UoG in particular. Most wanted to talk about undergraduate entry but I was surprised at how many came up to enquire about postgraduate courses.
On Tuesday I spent the morning with three other ambassadors at a school in Welling working 1-2-1 with A level students writing personal statements for their UCAS application forms.  This was the second of four weekly sessions we are doing and I am really enjoying it.  I went from there to my fortnightly supervisory session at my placement in Chislehurst and then off to college until 8pm.
Wednesday found me back in the Enquiry Unit doing my weekly stint answering phones.  We are still getting enquiries from people wanting to get onto courses for this year despite being three weeks into the new term and Clearing well closed. I haven’t counted the numerous ways I have found for politely, but assertively, saying ‘no’ to those really persistent callers until they really do get the message that they will not be offered a place! We are not allowed to hang up on callers but at times it can be very tempting – especially when I get a caller like the one who demanded to speak to the head of school because I ‘am only the switchboard’!
Thursday was placement morning but rather a disappointing one as only one out of my four booked clients turned.  I spent quite a bit of time twiddling my thumbs, having a cuppa and comparing notes with another of the counsellors who had a similar wasted morning.  I came home in time to sit down to a lovely lunch prepared by him-at-home.
That evening was the second stained glass class.  I have to come up with designs for the two holes in our bathroom wall that need filling with glass panels.  After such a long and exhausting summer of work, I am feeling very artistically uninspired so instead of battling away on paper, I am doing lots of little test pieces, trying our different ‘fusing’ techniques.  I will write more about that late, but for now suffice to say it involves doing weird things with special glass that baked in a kiln so it all sticks together.
Friday and Saturday were my days to be off to the Excel Centre for the World Skills event.  It was a four day event and so huge with such tight security that it took me half an hour to get from the front entrance to our UoG stand. 
I was working on the School of Health and Social Care table with first year student paramedics and a student nurse.  Last year I wrote about my adventures with the injection bum this year I thought you might like a picture of her.  She features here with the very obliging Leigh and Mary. 
Injection Bum
We demonstrated giving injections then let people have a go. We showed how to test lung capacity, pulses, blood oxygen levels and blood pressures.  We talked to hundreds of people about our courses, how to apply, entry requirements etc.  We gave out lots of freebies and our rulers were particularly sought after. – maybe to keep the more unruly students under control!
 In our breaks we ventured out to look at other stalls and had a little competition to see what interesting things we could learn or come back with.
I learnt to sharpen a chisel in the cabinet making section – quite an involved process because you have to get your angles right.  I also got to cook a pancake – and eat it! – at one of the catering college’s stalls.  I leant about navigation lights on ships - how to tell which way the ship is facing and whether it is ‘steaming’ or at anchor – very useful knowledge for life in Hither Green!
Right next to us was the Royal Household stall.  The others told me that Princess Anne had popped in to say hello on Thursday which created quite traffic jam in our usually quietish section of the hall.  Now if you are wondering why there is never a royal hair out of place, it is down to these amazing people – the Royal household!
Royal Household
There were demonstrations of how to pack a suitcase properly – lots of tissue paper involved here, and  of how to clean shoes properly – the paramedic students all left with very sparkly ones after having theirs commandeered for demonstration purposes after the chaps got bored with polishing their own for the umpteenth time! This all leaves me with a question: does the Queen ever wear out anything?  My Kate informs me that horsey people are very suspicious about new stuff and reckons that Her Maj probably does wear out her wellies and puffa jacket!
Shoe Cleaning
I watched an incredibly talented painter/decorator showing how to achieve the painted marbling effect on the fake columns you see everywhere in the palaces while another demonstrated gilding using very fine sheets of 22 carat gold leaf.  And if you have ever wondered how her Maj likes her brekkie tray – look no further!
Breakfast Tray
No wonder she has to be good at speaking French – her breakfast menu is written in it!  One young guy explained that he was doing a six year apprenticeship as a carriage restorer and enjoyed living on the job in Buckingham Palace – as it was close to all amenities!  He expects he will stay on after completing his apprenticeship as there isn’t much call for this particular speciality! Staff from the Royal Mews showed how all the horse tack and special ceremonial headdresses for the horses is made - a  verrryyy fiddly and time consuming task.
Making Tack
I never imagined that when I signed up for my MSc that I would end up involved in such a variety of adventures!   Now it is back to normal life for a while as I settle down to all the reading I have to do to catch up before my next college session. ..and it is Open day next Saturday.  I wonder if I will be doing the teas ….again!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Getting Stuck in!

Reality is hitting me; too much work to do, too many academic papers to read with too many big words and the demise of summer.  The last few days of sunshine and temperatures in the high 20’s felt just like a lovely warm autumnal Melbourne day leaving me feeling quite discombobulated and a bit home sick. However, we are now back to the London Autumn weather – grey skies, wind and rain; time to get out those winter woollies!
I am in my second week of the course now and having to really knuckle down.  Our group is very compact.  We have 12 members, including three newbies, so we all know each other pretty well.  Although members have come and gone, it has always been a really supportive group we help each other obtain the weekly readings, emailing copies if someone is struggling to access the databases, or doing an extra photocopy for someone else who is stuck, unable to make it to the library due to some crisis or other.  Although our course is part-time, there is lot to fit in around the actual ‘contact hours’ of Tuesday 2pm – 8pm and helping each other out makes an incredible difference.  We all live so far apart with our main contact being by email. An SOS email from one student, always generates a helpful response and sometimes several.  Many the time, especially in my first year, I got myself into a right old tizz about something or other and was calmed down wonderfully by a kind email!  My mother always used to say “Two heads are better than one even if they’re sheep’s heads!”   However – she is Australian so she would say something like that!

I am really pleased that this year we are not doing the experiential group between 8 and 9 pm.  We had to do this for the first two years.  I found the first year group experience really useful but I pretty much hated my second year group experience and really don’t think it was helpful to my development as a counsellor.  I have decided I pretty much hate group work as well.  I am happy to work in a pair or in a threesome but having to do project work with more than that drives me bonkers and it always has.  I wonder if it has something to do with me coming from a very large family and constantly having to negotiate everything?  Maybe I need a few more years of therapy!
Last weekend I went down to West Sussex to see my daughter Kate for the first time in three months. We were so excited to catch up although she soon set me to work!  She is starting courses in accounting and book keeping and needs to apply for part-time jobs in the field and so asked me to help her write her CV.  She has loads of experience working in the horse world – competing, teaching people to ride, stable management, schooling young horses, and running her own business.  It is important that she provides evidence of the valuable transferable skills she has acquired.  The university runs workshops and one-to-one drop in sessions on CV writing which are so useful in helping students to make that transition from university to work so I may go and pick their brains for ideas.  I am really lucky that I have a brilliant sister in Oz who is an editor – very handy to consult on such things.  She was brilliant when I needed help writing my personal statement for my masters application.  I am always amazed when people think they can polish off a good personal statement overnight.  It took me absolutely ages to write mine.
Anyway, I digress! After Kate had picked my brains, we sat down to a wonderful meal prepared by her boyfriend, followed by us watching Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride accompanied by a bottle of bubbly cava.  I love Burton’s work with its peculiar mix of the bizarre, the humorous, the chaotic, the melancholic and the playful.


Kate’s corner of West Sussex is so beautiful and there is always something ready to pick for food, decoration or just a treat.  She was telling me that she was quite mystified finding lots of acorns on the ground around one of the trees in her communal garden.  She consulted with her neighbour over the problem of them all missing their little hats.  Her neighbour came to inspect the strange bare-headed acorns and burst out laughing.  She explained to Kate that these were not acorns but hazelnuts!
…and delicious they were too as we spent a pleasant evening with the nutcrackers!