Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

It's New Year's Eve, Mr KE and I have got absolutely nothing planned and it's great. We have had a lovely Christmas break, just the two of us taking it easy. I haven't even been sale shopping; haven't even been into town....which is very unlike me (contrast with last year) but oh well, I have other things on my mind! This year I have spending my money on buggies and baby clothes :)

So what have we been up to?

  • We had roast chicken for our Christmas dinner; with pigs in blankets (cocktail sausages wrapped in streaky bacon), roast potatoes, baby carrots, peas, bread sauce and gravy. No christmas pudding because Mr KE doesn't eat it and I'm not such a big fan. Instead, lots of chocolates and sweet gooey things all day.
  • On Boxing Day Mr KE went to watch our local football team with his friends while I snoozed on the sofa.
  • We have been sleeping in, going on long walks in our local parks and eating lots of indulgent food.
  • Mr KE has been DIY-ing while I watch TV ....yes, it's a hard life....
It's now 7pm, we have no plans for dinner (takeaway? forage in the fridge? just eat more chocolate?) and the lack of pressure is really relaxing. You know what I mean - it's New Year's Eve...must have a good time.....even if you get totally stressed out doing it!

Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Breakfast

(Couldn't decide which photo to post - so I've posted both...)

When I was young, we always had ham sandwiches for breakfast on Christmas morning. We would normally get up late, after the excitement of Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass, opening presents, and wander downstairs in search of food.

By the time we got up, the kitchen would be in full swing preparing for lunch, guests etc. There would be a big ham in the kitchen, ready for us to cut thick slices of salty meat and make sandwiches.

Mr KE's mother does the same, so to me - christmas breakfast is not complete without proper ham! With just me and Mr KE around, I got some slices from our local deli and very nice they are too.

We ate in the kitchen because I couldn't be bothered to clear the dining table - lazy me.....

...of course, Christmas means a never ending supply of chocolate. We started straight after breakfast with these yummies. Special thanks to our chocolate supplier, you know who you are!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve

Mr KE popped into M&S on his way home and fancied these chinese snacks, so we had them as starters on Christmas Eve. They were all duck-based and came with a little pot of hoisin sauce.

For our main course, we had individual beef wellingtons, potatoes dauphinoise and green beans. The beef wellingtons were from Waitrose but I made the potatoes from scratch; they are basically potatoes cooked in layers with double cream and milk. Very decadent indeed!

As for the Beef Wellingtons, they were OK but I can't help thinking that it is a bit of a waste of beef fillet. If you haven't had it before, beef wellington is beef fillet, pate and mushrooms wrapped in puff pastry. Very 1970s dinner party. These days it's more fashionable to have cook things simply eg if I had a good bit of beef, I would just pan fry it with a bit of salt and pepper.

Anyway, we were too stuffed after our meal for any pudding, so we just crashed out on the sofa for a rest before heading off to midnight mass. I had to have a nap before our walk up the hill...I need to conserve my energy these days!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas - Past, Present and Future

This will be the first Christmas ever that Mr KE and I are spending together on our own - and this is probably the only Christmas that it will be just the two of us. Well, for some years to come anyway.

We normally spend the holidays with his parents in the countryside but this year we are avoiding the journey and staying at home. To be honest, I'm quite looking forward to spending some you-and-me time with Mr KE in our London nest before the pipsqueak arrives. As I have been reminded by lots of friends who have young children - spend as much time with your husband as possible, go to the pub, eat out and enjoy sleeping in. I know that they are not trying to be negative about having children, but the reality is that life will be completely different...but that's okay.

From a practical point of view, this means that I am cooking our Christmas dinner!! My mother-in-law always has christmas completely organised so usually we just turn up at their house, eat lots of delicious food and spend the whole holiday sitting on the sofa watching TV and eating chocolates. I am totally useless daughter-in-law, hahahaha.

Although we aren't really thinking about Christmas (we haven't even got a tree), I still have to make some kind of effort on the food front. I've even written out "menus" :) .... good little wife or what??

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Last Day at Work

Today was my last at work. I have a few days leave to use up so my maternity leave doesn't officially start till the New Year. It feels really surreal, because I've always had a mental picture that I would start seriously preparing for the pipsqueak once I had finished work. So now, that's it.

It was a very quiet day at work, with a lot of people on leave or at meetings etc. The overall feeling in the office is one of pessimism; everyone thinks that 2009 will be a very difficult year. In a way, this is a very good time to be on maternity leave as I will be away during the hard times.

I can't complain about my conditions; I can have up to one year's leave and go back to my current job, or my Employer has to provide me with an equivalent position. (This is Employment Law in the UK) I get 12 weeks maternity leave at 90% pay and statutory maternity pay (SMP) for 6 months after that, which is about £500 a month. The company will also continue to pay for my health insurance, mobile phone, pension and car allowance (hooray!) while I am on leave. In this situation though, the most valuable thing is that your job is essentially safeguarded for one year.

The UK minimum is 6 weeks at 90%, but it really depends on your Employer. A friend of mine had 6 months full pay, then her SMP kicked in. She was on maternity leave for a year, went back to work for a few weeks, then resigned. And you know what, her company actually owed her money because you still accrue annual leave when you are on maternity leave, so they had to pay her for the annual leave that she didn't take. Unfortunately, not all companies are that generous!

The Hospital Tour

On Monday afternoon Mr KE and I went on a tour of the hospital's maternity wing. We waited there with a few other couples...and waited ...and waited. The tour was supposed to start at 4pm, then at 4:40 a doctor popped her head round the door and told us that all the midwives (who normally give the tour) were busy. So she would give us a short tour instead, in a little while.

Fair enough, in a busy hospital, us "tourists" are not the priority. So it was 5 o'clock before we actually had a look a round the delivery suites.

The delivery rooms themselves were OK, you get a private room with en-suite bathrooms, armchairs, birthing balls and CD players. Some of the rooms had facilities for water births. We were advised to bring pillows (!) because there is chronic shortage in the NHS...people steal them apparently. Even so, they are still hospital rooms with lots of medical equipment in the room eg resuscitation equipment, monitoring equipment. So not really an environment where you would to spend a lot of time.

You are only allowed 2 people in the suite with you, for security reasons, infection control and also out of respect for the other people giving birth. It made me smile thinking of the Brunei hospitals which are over-run with visitors.

We also found out about admission procedures. When you come in, you get assessed by a midwife and there is a triage system (like A&E) where the more serious cases get prioritised. So there is no point going in too early as you will just have to wait in the corridor. As the doctor said, there is nothing more annoying than seeing someone else walk straight in when you have been waiting with contractions for 2 hours. But they will just take the person who is more advanced in labour, regardless of how long you have been waiting.

After watching lots of movies where someone starts contractions, and it's quick quick get to a hospital; it's quite reassuring to find out that it's more like start contractions, go the hospital, the midwife will probably send you home and say come back when you are really in labour. Like in 8 hours time.

So the lesson of the day was: stay at home as long as possible. That's what I'm going to do (hopefully).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chocolate Making

While my workplace seems to be all doom-and-gloom, Mr K-E and his colleagues have been defying the recession with lots of office outings. Two weeks ago they went ice-skating at Somerset House and on Thursday night, his team went on a chocolate-making evening.

I was really jealous, so I asked him to take lots of photos for me.

The set-up was a long table covered in greaseproof paper.

To start off with, the instructor explained the difference between "real chocolate" and "confectionary bars". It is all to do with amount of actual cacao in them. So Cadbury's Dairy Milk is a confectionery bar, not strictly speaking "chocolate".

I remember a few years ago there was uproar when the EU were going to impose a standard i.e. only a product with in excess of 50% cacao could be called chocolate. This would mean that most of the "chocolate" in the UK would not be allowed to be sold as chocolate....well, that idea was quickly shot down and manufacturers still call their low cocoa/high vegetable fat bars chocolate bars.

Anyway, back to the chocolate making.

Everyone has their own "stations". You start off with the fillings, a bar of soft dark chocolate (like a ganache) and a bar of semi-brittle nutty paste.

The funny looking fork is for dunking in chocolate. (More about that later)

You get mini cookie-cutters in different shapes. You can see the round one in this photo along with big bowls of dark, milk and white melted chocolate. On the table there are also saucers of dry toppings (cocoa powder, coconut etc) and caramel-covered almonds.

They used a special kind of chocolate which stays melted at room temperature.

In short, you cut a shape out of the "block" and then use your fork to completely cover it in chocolate. Shake off the excess and leave it on the table to dry. If you want to decorate it, you need to do it before it is completely set.

People were quite sceptical before but everyone really enjoyed it.

Look at the state of the table!

You also get two glasses of champagne to help with creativity :)

These were Mr KE's efforts. Some people were eating the chocolate all the way through, but Mr KE was concentrating so hard on making them look nice that he didn't eat any during the session.

He wrapped them up nicely and brought them home for me to eat.

They are lovely, really fresh - the nicest chocolates I've ever had. And I'm not just saying that because my husband made them!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

New Car

We picked up our new (second-hand) car on Thursday night, woo hoo!! It almost didn't happen, because despite two e-mails and a phone call to our bank warning them that there would be a large transaction on our current account, there was still a problem during the money transfer.

Aarrrggghhh!! Luckily the cashier at the car dealer persisted and finally (after one hour of calling the bank and holding and being transferred from one person to another) the transaction was processed. Most dealers do not take personal cheques or credit cards, so unless you want to carry thousands of pounds with you in cash; the only way to transfer the money is by direct debit. Oh well, I suppose it means that the money in my current account is secure.

This weekend we drove down to Southampton to see my favourite nephew :) who is really cute. Mr KE loves the new car....after driving our little "lawnmower" for 5 years, oh, the thrill of having power steering and 5th gear!!