Dinner party

I had planned to tidy the house over the summer holidays and then host a dinner party at the end of the summer holiday to celebrate getting over the C.H.A.O.S. (can’t have anyone over syndrome). However, I had left it very late to start and the place was still a long way from presentable when plans were formed to have dere ole friends over for a spot of supper.

Once a friend described a colleague as someone who went a little too far in preparing for dinner parties because “she made her own chocolates.” If it were tempering chocolate and moulds and fillings, I think I would agree but a few simple ganache based truffles are easily achievable if you have a few days’ warning.

Here’s our menu:

Orange gin and tonic

The original recipe from an old Olive magazine: Shake a tea spoon of marmalade for each shot of gin with some bitters and serve with tonic. I added some of crème de pamplemousse rose from a previous trip for a little more zing and was trying Fevertree tonic for the first time. This tasted good!

Frittata 

Another tip from Olive is to make frittata in a cake tin with a cake liner rather than a frying pan. This helps us particularly as we do not have any large non-stick frying pan. Fry an onion, a pepper, a grated carrot and some chopped sundried tomatoes. Add some ham chunks – I had roasted a bacon joint the day before to give some nice meaty chunks. Put the vegetables and meat into a lined cake tin. Beat six eggs with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, pour on and bake for 30 minutes at 180 deg c.

Sausages

I’m not so good at main courses, so any excuse to visit our local awesome butcher. Johnny provided us with some “cappuccino and chocolate” sausages and some “basil and tomato” ones. Popped in the oven as the starters went out, steamed some carrots and beans and boiled some new potatoes P grew in the garden. Served in warmed bowls for people to help themselves with gravy made with fried onions and mushrooms with red wine.

Pear 3 ways

Pear sorbet – blitz two tins of pears in syrup with the juice from one lemon and dump in the ice cream maker.

Poached pears – two large glasses of white wine, one of water, 300g sugar and a bunch of aromatics – star anise, lemongrass, ginger chunks, cloves, cardamom pods. Boil lightly until peeled pears are soft enough to push a toothpick into.

Pear jelly – set a pint of the poaching liquid with gelatin and separate into serving bowls, chill.

Reduce the remaining poaching liquid to a syrup to serve.

Vanilla mascarpone – one of the most delicious things I have ever made – a small tub of mascarpone beaten with two tablespoons of icing sugar, the scrapings from the inside of a vanilla pod and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Truffles

Two different ganaches fridged overnight and rolled into balls. Peanut butter ganache from Dan Lepard’s cake – half quantities – 120 gr dark chocolate, large spoon peanut butter, splash of sugar, 100mls double cream, melted very slowly and stirred together. Roll the truffles in either cocoa or chopped peanuts. For contrast, an Earl Grey white chocolate – scald 100mls double cream with some Earl Grey teabags, strain and melt 120 gr white chocolate into it. Roll in icing sugar.

Coffee

The latest beans from my monthly coffee club.

The dessert and starter were made well in advance, the main just cooked while we were eating.

Maybe now the house is edging tidier we might be able to do this more often.  I had a slightly crazy idea of doing two dinner parties two nights in a row with essentially the same meal twice running – edging from cooking to catering. The frittata would do 12. The poached pears could be doubled without too much hassle. Roasting 24 rather than 12 sausages makes no difference, but you would have to peel a few more carrots.  The real squeeze though would be having to do all the washing up overnight so you could start again the following night.

GCSE results

I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.

All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph

french

And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:

mfl entries graph

Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.

Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.

The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:

German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).

I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.

I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.

On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.

My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”