A Slip of the Finger

I will never forget, if I live to be a hundred, one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. It took place on the morning when I turned 40. The day had started as a normal Tuesday work day; although I had already received a number of phone calls from close friends as well as the usual bundle of Facebook messages, which I had checked during a tea break. What no-one knew, and not even my long-term fiancé, Jake, was that I had also received a call from my gynaecologist whom I had seen the previous day. It was this call which resulted in my extremely embarrassing experience – even thinking about it several years later, I feel quite sick to my stomach!

By nature I am a very private person, and although I do have friends at work, none of them are so close that I would discuss my personal life with them. Some facts are only ever disclosed to one or two friends whom I have had since school and university days.  Jake is the total opposite to me and is very social and has a huge amount of friends. We used to work for the same company, and the only reason that he was still a fiancé and not a husband at that time was due to the fact that his hard- nosed ex-wife was still making it financially impossible for him to finalise their divorce.  We were struggling to get her to understand that, as there were no children in the marriage, she had no right to demand all the things she felt entitled to after 10 years of being with Jake. Well, that was something we were trying to sort out, but in the meantime, to all intents and purposes, Jake and I were committed to being a lifelong couple.

To get back to my 40th birthday and the phone call which caused me such embarrassment. Jake and I were keen to start a family when we first met and, although we were both very fit and healthy nothing had happened. We were not prepared to undergo any fertility treatments and run the risk of a multiple birth. We had already decided that if we were not going to be able to have children then we would concentrate on the two of us and do as much travelling as possible and enjoy being parents to our four legged fur babies.

Anyway, I am waffling and I need to get back to the day in question when I had received the call from my doctor.  I had been feeling really down for the past few weeks and always tired and my cycle was all upside down and seemed to have disappeared altogether. I was very worried that, Iike my mother, I was already starting early menopause. I had both blood and urine samples taken but before he could give me any information, the doctor’s mobile phone rang and he had to race to the local hospital where one of his patients was in labour.

When I heard his voice on the end of the phone the following day, I was very nervous as I just did not know what I was going to hear. “Hello Kate, this is Dr Jacobs. Firstly, I must apologise for having to rush away yesterday, but babies have a way of making their own arrangements. Anyway, I hope you are sitting down as I have some news which might be rather unexpected.  You are in fact pregnant and that’s why you have been feeling the way you have. From what you told me yesterday, you are probably around 8 weeks already. Congratulations, and I remember you saying that today is your 40th birthday, so double congratulations are in order.  You need to make another appointment for us to do a scan and then we will be able to see if all is progressing the way it should.  I am sure that, with your usual level of good health, there is nothing to worry about at all.”

When the call was concluded I felt totally shocked! I had almost given up the idea of our ever having our own child and, now being 40, had felt that it was highly unlikely that it would ever happen. Once I had recovered I decided that, rather than phoning Jake who I knew had a very busy schedule that day, I would just write him an e-mail and send it directly to his desk. I quickly wrote him a note saying that I had just received the best possible 40th birthday present and started it off with  “Congratulations you Sexy Hunk – your sperm has done the job” and added a grinning emoji and a picture of two clinking champagne glasses, just for good measure. Then I pressed the send button.

It was just a few minutes later that my boss, George Jones, popped his head around my office door waving a piece of paper in his hand with a huge grin on his face. “I think you sent this to the wrong sperm donor Kate!”  I nearly died when I realised what had happened! I had sent it to George instead of Jake and now I was sure that the entire office would hear the news even before my poor fiancé.  What on earth could I do to rectify this most embarrassing of situations! Just bite the bullet, pretend to see the funny side of things and go straight over to Jake’s office to tell him the news in person instead of touching the wretched computer again! Technology? Only good when the person using it concentrates at all times- even when they are suffering from emotional challenges!

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Caramel Sticky Buns

These buns are fantastic accompanied by an espresso.

Ingredients

  • 310 ml buttermilk
  • 55 g sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 640 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 g unsalted butter, softened

Caramel

  • 165 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 55 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 60 ml light corn syrup
  • 30 ml water
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Filling

  • 105 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Buttermilk, for brushing

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk, sugar, yeast and salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, eggs and buttermilk mixture in a stand mixer using the dough hook or in a bowl using a wooden spoon, until a dough begins to form.
  3. Add the softened butter.
  4. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. It will be soft and slightly sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.

Caramel

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients with a whisk until smooth.
  2. Pour into a buttered 33 x 23 cm glass baking dish. Set aside.

Filling

  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. On a generously floured surface, roll out the dough into a 50 x 35 cm rectangle. Brush with the melted butter and cover with the brown sugar mixture. Roll the dough into a log 50 cm long. Cut into 12 slices.
  3. Place the dough slices onto the caramel. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.
  4. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  5. Brush the buns with buttermilk. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked all the way through.
  6. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Place a large serving platter over the baking dish. Turn out the sticky buns onto the platter.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

A Numbers Game

Every time we open a magazine or a newspaper or hear an announcement regarding a celebrity or even a criminal, we always seem to search to discover their age. What is it about one’s age that creates such fascination?  Does it mean that one can be too old or too young to do whatever it is that makes the deed or occasion noteworthy? The first question we ask one another is, “how old was she/he”? This is even more relevant when the person involved has either had an illness, or worse still, died.

This fixation with age must be something which is linked to a first world mentality perhaps? No-one seems to worry about the age of, for example, The Dalai Lama. His face emanates kindness and caring but it is also creased with signs of age. I have never heard anyone say that he may be past his prime, or a bit too old for the job! With medical advancement it is now a fact of life that, where people have access to good nutrition and health care, they are living much longer than in the past. This is posing huge problems due to the drain on a country’s medical system as well as impacting negatively on job opportunities for younger people. If you have to carry on working due to a shortage of money then you most certainly would not choose to retire at 60 or 65. Not all companies make it mandatory to stop working once these milestones are reached.  Therefore, it stands to reason that the pattern of having one person leave the company and a younger one being employed in their place no longer applies.

I have just heard a discussion on local radio where people were talking about having changed their career direction in mid- life and qualified in a field which until then had been something of a pipe dream. One man had graduated as a medical doctor at the age of 51 after having previously spent years in the corporate world. In this case one would assume that age might be to his advantage. If you have the need to see a doctor and he is middle-aged you would hardly even consider the fact that he may have very little practical experience. His age should work in his favour as I can’t imagine that there would be a banner on the practice wall announcing, “Our newly qualified Dr. so and so (age 51) has joined our practice. Welcome!”

“You have to embrace getting older. Life is precious
and when you’ve lost a lot of people, you realise
each day is a gift.
” – Meryl Streep. (American Actress)

People tend to panic about getting older and perhaps losing their youthful looks, but when one has had friends who died in their mid-thirties or early forties of cancer, then it really is a case of every day of good health being a gift which needs to be savoured. This epidemic of trying to stay as young at 50 as one was in one’s early twenties is crazy. One only has to look at current pictures of 1970’s Hollywood stars to see that sometimes it might be best to let nature take its course instead of searching for eternal youth. With botox, lip and cheek fillers some of these have-beens now look like cartoon characters. There are actors such as Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, to name just a few, although showing signs of age still manage to remain dignified and believable. Life moves on, and whilst it’s great to make the best of ourselves, there are limits me thinks?

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We need to be careful that, by focusing too much on our age, we limit our potential. There are martial arts clubs as well as dance studios which cater for beginners of all ages. However, I would imagine that, for example, taking up either of these exercise regimes would have their limitations. Bruce Lee, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn began early in life to pursue their chosen field of expertise. Somehow, it would seem to be far-fetched to imagine that a forty-something person would be able to reach particularly great heights in either of the above disciplines. I could be wrong and I hope that I am.

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There are many instances where top surgeons, artists and business people for example are still achieving amazing results well into their latter years. As long as one has good health and is not showing signs of slowing down, then the many years of experience are obviously an incredible advantage. Mentoring younger people can be an extremely valuable way in which one’s abundance of knowledge and experience will be passed on to the next generation. After all, what is the use of knowledge if it is not shared? Many valuable discoveries have probably died along with their discoverers due to selfishness and an ego-centred attitude and an aversion to sharing their findings.

The Rolling Stones, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, and not forgetting the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan are just a few of many musicians who have not allowed getting older to hamper them in any way. In fact, like a good wine, they just appear to keep on getting better as the years go by. One only has to take note of the age of the people packing the stadiums when they perform at their live concerts to realise that age, when it comes to music and entertainment is totally irrelevant. Many of the concert goers are at least 30 or even 40 years younger than their idols.

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Another angle where age seems to rear its ugly head is in a situation when a woman marries or becomes involved with a much younger man. Somehow it seems to be far more acceptable for a woman to be in a relationship with a man much older than herself as opposed to her finding a young stud! The latter is seen as a case of cradle snatching and often looked down upon by friends and relatives. However, I have read findings over the years that women tend to reach their sexual maturity around the age of 40 whereas men peak at 20, so wouldn’t it make sense to marry someone who’s sexual age tallies with one’s own? However, it has also become a fact over the years that 18 is no longer viewed as the start of adulthood, as it was in the past. Now, it seems that one has to reach the ripe old age of 25 to qualify for adult status in many cases. There are clubs and restaurants who limit the clientele to those of a more adult age – obviously due to potential hooliganistic behaviour from the younger generation. Therefore, one’s social life could be seriously curtailed if the new husband is still viewed by society at large as a juvenile, despite the fun and games in the bedroom!

It used to be frowned upon to ask a woman how old she was, but this certainly no longer seems to be the case in many Western societies, by all accounts. Anyway, having to reveal your ID number in South Africa, there is no running away from the fact. As long as the person to whom you give the required information has a working knowledge of arithmetic, they will very quickly work out how old you are. What bigger complement can there be than the recipient of the information turning to you and saying that they would never have thought you were that age!  What is the point of lying anyway, after all life is for living, and each day counts. So, while age is relevant and we are all obsessed with finding out how old everyone we come in contact with is, it really is a privilege to, hopefully, make old bones!

“Do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease
to  stand like curious children before the Great 
Mystery into
which we were born.”
– Albert Einstein (German – born theoretical physicist)

Roast Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg ripe tomatoes halved
  • 2 red peppers deseeded and quartered
  • I large onion cut into chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tblsp dried oregano
  • 1 Lt vegetable stock
  • 2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tblsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Heat oven to 160 degC.
  • Combine the tomatoes, onion, peppers, and garlic in a roasting pan.
  • Add oregano, balsamic vinegar, a good splash of olive oil and sugar and mix altogether using your hands.
  • Roast in the oven for about 30 – 45 minutes until the tomatoes are breaking down and releasing their juices. Its Ok if some of the skin blackens as this adds a slightly smoky flavour.
  • Transfer ingredients to a medium sized pot and add the tomato paste and enough stock to cover all ingredients.
  • Gently simmer for about 1 hour.
  • Transfer ingredients to a blender and blend ingredient into a smooth, thickish liquid.
  • Strain through a sieve back into the pot, adjust seasoning in need, and keep warm.
  • Serve with croutons and fresh basil.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

Service with a smile – the ups and downs of running a pub/restaurant – Part 1.

Part 1

There are so many memories, both good and sometimes not so good, which I hope will make interesting reading for anyone who frequents pubs and restaurants.  Knowing what goes on behind the scenes whilst you are tucking into that succulent steak and taking a sip from a glass of really good wine could surprise you if you ever found out! However, some secrets are best kept secret to protect innocent people involved!

After having tired of the many years of being witness to the constant presence of in-house politics in the corporate world, my other half decided that it was time for us to have our own business and to take control over our lives. Little did we realise that having control, when dealing with the public at large, is more a dream than a reality. However, we were excited to try something quite new and, after a great deal of research, decided that to go the franchise route would offer us a much better chance of succeeding in our venture than trying to go it alone.

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,
by which 
so much happiness is produced as by
a good tavern.
” – Samuel Johnson

Due to many stumbling blocks along the way to our getting our business up and running, we finally opened our doors (under the watchful eye of several members of the franchise head office staff) a few weeks before Christmas. What an opening it proved to be. From the moment the locals knew we were in operation, it was absolute pandemonium. Despite all of us, owners and managers, front of house staff, as well as the entire kitchen complement, having received fairly in-depth training from the franchisor, the reality of providing quick, efficient service to the masses was daunting to say the least! None of us had time to eat anything at all whilst on duty during the first few weeks. Our uniforms started hanging off us due to weight loss but we were too busy rushing around to even notice!

The pub we bought had an Irish theme and catered for 75 people in the restaurant area. There were also tables in the bar area where one could eat as well. Therefore, it stands to reason that for brand new owners and staff it was no mean feat to keep demanding patrons happy all the time. Despite having had a trial evening where friends and family had been invited to test our capabilities in preparing meals and giving the appropriate service, the first few days of business were totally crazy. The most relaxed members of our entire staff were the barmen as they had taken to their job like ducks to water, or drunks to drink! They were young, enthusiastic and great with the public.

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We had really hit the jackpot by finding ourselves a true Irishman several weeks before we opened and we employed him as our head barman due to his previous experience and outgoing personality. He was confident in handling a busy bar and he proved to be an absolute bonus for the few months in which he worked for us. He left in a bit of a hurry under some sort of a cloud, by all account but it was probably due to domestic problems. He was in his early twenties and had a great affinity for a certain four letter word whilst telling you where to go! This came out of Gordon’s mouth regularly in a broad Belfast accent. He was working in a pub and not a church or a school so there was no need to censor the barman.  The piece de resistance was the fact that he taught one of our young Black kitchen staff to parrot his expression. Every evening as Jonathan left to catch the staff transport, Gordon would ask him to repeat his favourite saying.  The reaction of the patrons when they heard a Black guy swearing in an Irish accent had to be seen to be believed.

The kitchen staff were under great pressure in those early days but all things considered the mistakes were few and far between. The food which came out of our kitchen was first class and relatively speedily prepared. There are many amusing incidents which I would love to share with you which involved our kitchen workers, but this I will leave for a later post.

Our young waiters had all just recently left school and there were some amusing incidents (in hindsight, and not at the time). A few weeks into running the business a rather irate woman called me over to her table to complain about one of my waiters who had sworn at her. I asked who had served her and she told me who it was – the only boy we had as yet employed (girls were the favoured choice of the franchisor – but we soon changed the dynamics to suit our needs). I called the youngster over and, away from prying eyes, I asked him what had happened. It turned out that the woman had asked him what was in the pie of the day? Being new to the menu as well as the job he answered “shit, I don’t know!” We all found it amusing – pity the miserable old bat couldn’t see the humour! Anyway, afterwards we tried to ensure that all the young staff actually had a good idea of the contents of each day’s special pie!

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We were put on a spot by our replacement bank manager to give his blonde and rather dumb daughter a part time waitressing job. Suffice to say she didn’t last very long as she just could not learn at all. The best memory I have of her was the busy Sunday lunch when one of the waiters was frantically looking for the chicken schnitzel which the kitchen staff had prepared ready for delivery to the customer. It had disappeared from the relevant preparation station. However, there was an abandoned ostrich fillet starter standing all alone in the cold prep section. We soon found out what had happened. The dizzy blonde had grabbed the schnitzel and taken it to the customer who had ordered the ostrich starter, who in turn hadn’t said a word and proceeded to devour it. When the waitress was told what she had done, her reply was, “well, I knew it was some kind of a bird!”

So many memories, but that is all for now! Will be back with another batch of memories of those busy days (and nights too!).

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they  wake up
in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going
to feel all day.” – Jack Lemmon