The secret of my success

December 10th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

I would like to think that people come to my parties and invite me to theirs because they love my warm personality and sparkling repartee. But in my heart I know it is because they love my Shrimp Tandoori, for which I receive many invitations requests every year. It has become my signature dish, and it came about by accident.

My sister, The Skinny Cow, is a fabulous cook who lives on a farm in County Wexford, Ireland and loves to entertain. At the drop of a hat, she will throw together a meal for hundreds of guests, then serve them breakfast and lunch the following day because she can’t get rid of them. Just this week, I telephoned her on Sunday afternoon, as she was getting dinner for fourteen people. Thirty guests had been invited to the farm for a buffet lunch on Saturday, which evolved into dinner for twenty on Saturday night, breakfast for seven on Sunday morning, followed by lunch for ten and the dinner she was preparing when I called. She suggested I call back the following Tuesday or, better yet, Wednesday, when she was pretty sure she might finally have the house to herself.

For “large” parties, she sometimes makes Tandoori-flavoured cocktail sausages as an hors d’oeuvre. I love them, but can’t find cocktail sausages, which are bite-sized pork sausages, here in Canada. I was used to serving shrimp sauteed in butter, garlic and dill-weed, but just about every one of my friends and neighbours had cadged the recipe for their own parties, and we were all getting just a teensy bit tired of them. Which is when the proverbial bulb lit above my head and I thought to myself “Self! What about trying shrimp with Tandoori seasoning?” To which myself replied “Not a bad idea, You. Let’s try it.” And the rest, as they say is history.

I have happily passed the recipe around to friends and neighbours, but they just can’t seem to replicate it. That may be because I don’t really understand the recipe myself; it’s a handful of this and a couple of spoonfuls or so of that. But, if you would like to try it for yourself, here are the ingredients and method. You’ll have to decide the measures yourself, according to taste. Let me know how you get on. If you’re a friggin’ genius in the kitchen, like Jan, which I most certainly am not, you might like to try using raw shrimp. If the recipe works, you could become as popular as me.

Shrimp Tandoori

  • Frozen cooked shrimp, thawed (I use Jumbo Tiger Shrimp. If I were making this in Ireland, I would use prawns)
  • Sharwood’s Tandoori BBQ Marinade Spice Mix
  • Juice of one or two limes
  • Butter
  • Olive oil

In a large pan or wok, heat the butter and olive oil over moderate heat. When the foam subsides, add Tandoori spice mix and cook for a minute or two. Add the lime juice and stir in well. Throw in the shrimp, toss until covered in the spice/oil mixture and warm through. Pile into a dish and serve with lime wedges. (I often make them on the morning before a party, store in the fridge for an hour or two and serve cold.)

That’s all it takes. I have absolutely no idea how they taste, because I’m allergic to shellfish and will die if I try any. But everybody else seems to like them.

Childhood memories

December 7th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

I’m currently reading this wonderful novel by A. S. Byatt, a writer whose reputation has, for many years, been unfairly overshadowed by the popularity of her sister, Margaret Drabble.

I was a devout fan of Drabble’s early fiction, especially A Summer Birdcage, The Garrick Year and The Millstone, but I went off her a bit when she went all heavy, ‘doon t’mine’ Yorkshire in some of her later works. I found The Peppered Moth, her semi-fictional account of her mother’s life, unreadable and never finished it. Then last summer, I picked up a copy of her recent novel The Red Queen, set in 18th-century Korea, and was absolutely enchanted. So I’m thinking I should get back into Drabble again, although I’m not quite sure when I can squeeze in the time. During that mythical shangri-la of retirement, when I will spend every waking hour catching up on my reading? Unlikely, if The First Husband has his way. He’ll be dragging me around the world, insisting I keep moving, lest I perish like the shark!

However, getting back to Byatt: (See what I mean? Overshadowed by her bloody sister again!) She has been gradually moving away from the somewhat showy erudition of her earlier works and, ever since her Booker-winning Possession, has been writing novels I’ve found utterly engrossing.

This one is no exception. In fact, I’m reading it rather more slowly than is my wont (I usually tear through books at a canter, then forget everything I’ve read within a few days, alas) so that I might savour it. This paragraph, at the beginning of Chapter 3, really resonated with me because, although it describes a time near the end of the Victorian era, it reminded me so much of my own childhood.

…the children in this world had their own separate, largely independent lives, as children. They roamed the woods and fields, built hiding-places and climbed trees, hunted, fished, rode ponies and bicycles, with no other company than that of other children. And there were many other children. There were large families, in which relations shifted subtly as new people were born … and in which a child also had a group identity, as ‘one of the older ones’ or ‘one of the younger ones’. The younger ones were often enslaved or ignored by the older ones, and were perennially indignant. The older ones resented being told to take the younger ones along, when they were planning dangerous escapades.

In this age of helicopter parenting, it’s sweet to look back to such innocent times: the warm summer days when our mothers shooed us out the door immediately after breakfast, warning us not to come back until lunchtime. And, since I grew up in 1950s Ireland, there were indeed many other children out there, with the same order ringing in their ears. As a middle child, with two older and two younger than me, I experienced both identities, although not as part of a group. I was first dragged reluctantly along by my brother and sister—seven and five years older respectively—and then I hauled my two younger sisters—five and three years younger—along in my turn.

Being the dragger-along was much easier, on me and on my younger sisters. As the dragee, I was terrorised by my older sister, aka The She-devil. As I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages, it was her mission to at least scar me for life, if I couldn’t be drowned, stabbed or pushed under a bus. When my turn in the role of Big Sis came along, I was more likely to be looking for a quiet spot where I could read the books I smuggled out with me, than planning any dangerous escapades, and we soon came to an understanding. So long as they did their level best not to get themselves killed, I would happily leave them to their own devices and we would meet up in time to return home as a single unit. It never occurred to me, of course (and I was supposed to be the one with the brains) that my mother might occasionally have wondered why my sisters always came home in flitters from their adventures, while I was in the same pristine condition as when I left the house.

English as she is spoke

December 2nd, 2009 § 8 comments § permalink

Let me state, right off the bat, that I’m no Lynne Truss. I don’t roam the land, armed with a magic marker, correcting apostrophes. Not that I haven’t been tempted, mind. I’m sure it is no coincidence that a street-wide banner in our town, proclaiming IT’S A DICKEN’S OF A CHRISTMAS, fell down during a wind storm. Every time I drove under it, I muttered imprecations and wished it evil. Definitely not a coincidence: just the Grammar Gods answering my prayers. Mirabile dictu, when the banner went back up, the offending apostrophe had been removed. (If you don’t know which one I mean, you probably should not be reading this blog!)

I get it that English is a living language and must move with the times. It’s not as if it hasn’t changed over the millennia. After all, who among us can understand a word of Chaucer in the original? (Okay, smartypants, sit down. It was a rhetorical question!) But I cannot and will not accept that writers can just make up spelling as they go. The rules of grammar may be somewhat flexible; remember when a split infinitive made you shuffle uneasily, waiting for lightning to strike? Which reminds me, I have a rather quaint story about that. Back in the days of steam, during a previous life as an executive secretary, I walked into an all-male meeting (carrying a tray of coffee; how else would I gain admission?) just as my boss burst out “We’ll just have to fucking go over it again!” Shock, horror, red faces all around the table. (I did say this was back in the days of steam, right?) Without missing a beat, Yours Truly, unflappable Girl Friday, pipes up, “Mr D, you really must stop splitting your infinitives.”

But I digress. However flexible grammar may be, as far as I’m concerned the rules of spelling – reluctantly excluding strange American habits like subtracting ‘u’ from words like ‘colour’ and adding syllables to words like ‘preventive’ – are immutable. So I’m mad as a wet cat last Monday when I see, in a so-called quality magazine, ‘shoe-in’ for ‘shoo-in,’ ‘pouring over’ for ‘poring over,’ ‘bellweather’ for ‘bellwether,’ and ‘momento’ for ‘memento.’ Did somebody declare November 30th National Stupid Day and forget to send me the memo?

Disclaimer: No apostrophes were harmed in the making of this post. Any spelling errors are deliberate.

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