2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 20,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Pudding club: sticky toffee pudding

I last made this some years ago, when Simon Hopkinson’s cookery programme was on TV. But it seems I didn’t write about it at the time, so here’s a quick post to put things right.

I made it exactly as per this BBC recipe.

It’s a truly delicious recipe – as you’d expect for something that includes over a pint of cream and most of a block of butter, along with a variety of interesting types of sugar, one of which I’d never used till the recipe sent me hunting for it.

The recipe says “serves 4″ but even someone as sceptical of serving sizes as I am would think this recipe comfortably feeds 6.

Sticky toffee pudding for tomorrow's pudding club. Two toffee sauces for assembly.

The other reason this one sticks in the mind is that two years ago when I made it and photographed it and put it on Flickr, some wazzocky company took me to task for using the phrase “pudding club” in the description because they thought they owned it. Fools!

Solar panel performance – 2012

Another year, another desperately late solar panel performance post. It’s been sitting on my to-do list since January 2nd, but at least writing this will let me tick off something today.

solar 2012

So last year continued a downward trend that looks like it will be over by the end of 2013. At this stage in the year, the graph is the only source of information still recorded so we’ll have to guesstimate the heat output as 3666kWh.

Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from last month now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 5.06p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas. Interestingly this appears to be a lower cost than last year’s gas cost.

That means the solar panel gathered around £185.50 of energy last year.

The running total to the end of 2012 is therefore £831.06.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to that figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

This year I have had my annual half-hearted attempt to work out if it’s possible to do more comprehensive data logging using the equipment I have. I did pay extra for the ethernet connection with the idea of putting some sort of graph on my website to show how the system is doing in real time. I’m super jealous of this guy who has done exactly that with the same setup as me. And as a favour to everyone else he has made public the code to do it. And I don’t have a clue what any of it means or how to use it!

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

Things I stock up on in French supermarkets

As a frequent traveller to French France there are a bunch of things I try and buy a bunch every time I’m over there.

Our recent school trip had the super wheeze of stopping off in a hypermarket instead of using motorway services, which was a really effective way of exposing the students to an opportunity to use their transactional French, and just have a glimpse of every day French life.

And there was also a chance for teachers to shop.

Some things I always, or nearly always buy in French shops:

Coffee filters. So much cheaper in France than England!

Olive oil. Ditto.

Bonne maman jam. A luxury brand in England, but an every day one in France, so it’s cheaper over there. I have very pedestrian tastes, so I pretty much only buy fraise, and sometimes gelée de mûres, but there is a huge range of fruits available too. P is rather partial to châtaigne – chestnuts – which comes in a jar with a brown gingham top.

Speculoos spread. We found this for the first time last year, but it has since become available in English supermarkets too. See also Dan Lepard’s recipe made with English mixed spice.

Carambars. This is a very recent addition to my lexicon, influenced by Dom’s MFL blog. Delicious sweets, each one with a truly corny French joke on. You can also make them into a tarte. I’m afraid I bought four bags – two fruit flavour, one original, and one pâté de nougat, and I have just sat for days troughing them. I don’t understand all the jokes – the ones based on puns on names of French sportspeople are especially difficult – but it’s fun to see what I do get. If there are any left I could use them as rewards in lessons, or use them with this reading comp resource and this youtube advert:

Classroom tat. The last few years I have a quick look to see if there’s anything I can use for teaching. One of our “ofsted ready” preparations is about use of authentic materials, so things like calendars, maps, exercise books, stationery, etc call all help with that. The last few years, there has been a real trend for American 50s chic amongst the tat in French supermarkets, which has been a bit of a pain. I’m still on the look out for a large French / German perpetual calendar I could use on the board, but ultimately I think I’m just going to have to make one.

Moving on to matters more alcoholic and less suited to school trips…

Pastis. Available in England. A nice refreshing aniseed summer drink with ice and water that goes cloudy when you dilute it. It’s also a super ingredient for cooking fennel as many ways of cooking it lose its gentle aniseed flavour.

Crème de…. Crème de cassis is a blackcurrant liqueur, a little like alcoholic ribena. It’s used with champagne to make a kir royal, or white wine to make a kir. It’s a similar idea to flavoured syrups in American coffees. It makes a lovely simple cocktail, takes the edge of any slightly nasty white wine, and since it’s a liqueur served in a glass of wine, is pretty effective at taking the edge of you too. Crème de cassis is widely available in the UK, but (sing it with me) much cheaper in France. Much more interestingly, though, are the wider varieties of crème de… that you can use in the same way. Pêche is an old favourite, as is framboise, but this time to mix things up a bit I’ve come home with bottles of crème de pamplemousse rose and crème de cérise. One of my favourite drinks of late has been a gin-and-tonic-and-pink-grapefruit-juice, so pink grapefruit is a flavour I use a lot.

Meal plan nowish

Ouf, I don’t know where the time goes.

(I do, I know exactly where it goes. 12 hour days of school work, and every waking minute worrying that the school work is not good enough is where it goes.)

Anyway, since I last allowed me fingers to fly over the keys of the blog, we now have a veg box arriving, the first last Wednesday.

Astoundingly, it’s around six years since we last had a regular veg box, and that was not a universally positive experience.

Still, on verra. After all, I’m massively less fussy than I… no wait.

This week’s offering from Riverford was – with one exception – all perfectly normal stuff. Carrots, onions, mushrooms. Apples, bananas (not as many as I would like) and oranges, which we don’t really eat but I can happily juice. A salad bag, some celery. And the only slightly outré offering – a head of kale. I can cope with these things. I could cope better if we weren’t already quite well stocked with veggies, but no matter.

We’ve been living a little from the freezer anyway, and will continue to do so this week, but here’s what it vaguely looks like:

(drawing a veil over two nights of takeaway)

Last Friday was leftover Thai pork patties.

Saturday was a visit to friends – they fed us lovely onion tartlets and a leg of lamb, and I made Raymond Blanc’s pineapple sorbet and Nigella’s Nutella panna cotta.

Nigella 's Nutella panna cotta

As written, the recipe needs more gelatin as the they did not quite set enough.

Sunday was the first real foray into the veg box – kale and potato cakes topped with grilled cheese and a celery salad with a mustard vinaigrette dressing. The potato cakes were made plainer than the recipe with no real spice at all, and were still good homely fare. The cheese helped no end.

Tomorrow, the plan is bangers and mash with onion gravy and the rest of the kale.

Tuesday, a small bag of pork mince from the freezer will become pineapple rice a recipe which introduced me to toasted sesame oil, a miracle flavour ingredient which does wonderful things to salad dressings and lifts the entire recipe up.

Wednesday is that busy night again, straight from school to yoga, and if we have the strength of mind not to come home via the chippy again, we shall have hummus and crudités and the remains of the veg box.

Thursday is the last day planned. Last time we had veggie falafel burgers the recipe made an absolute ton, so we shall be defrosting and frying the remains of that and eating it with pitta bread.