My food blog update

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
So I named my food blog.  Well someone else did, but they let me know that there is nothing wrong with simple and in an instant they ended my misery  (Thank you, Sweetheart)! I nearly went with something to do with Pond Hopper, but as I've mentioned in the past, this isn't a blog I share with many and didn't want to risk drawing attention from the wrong people.  I won't say just yet what I went with because the site may be up, but it's far from ready to be viewed.  I've been working really hard to get it going, but I don't have the time to put into it that I'd prefer to so it's going much slower than I'd like.
All of my spare time for the last few weeks has been spent cooking, baking, shooting photos of everything I cook and bake, and developing the website.  I have been obsessed and can't sleep at night thinking about it all.  I hate when I don't know what I'm doing and lately, with the site development, I'm doing nothing but winging it.  If something isn't working or I'm unsure how to get the result I'm looking for, I stay awake at night trying not to think about how to make it work.  I will get there in the end, but like I said, I'm short on free time.
The baking is going really well.  I haven't baked anything other than the odd cake in many, many years so I wondered how it would go.  I knew it would have to be done because with shows like 'Bake Off' being so popular, people will expect baking recipes.  In the last few weeks I have made brownies, four different varieties of cakes, two cupcake recipes, two different cookie recipes and a very bad batch of cinnamon rolls.  Dough is apparently not my strong suit, but I bake a mean cake, I'm excellent at icing and my cookies have been lovely!  I guess baking is a lot like riding a bike.  So I have no doubt the dough will come in time because I used to be really good at it.
One of the things I didn't plan well was writing the recipes as I go.  That takes time I don't have.  With the baking, I've had no choice.  I'm only just getting back into it so I've taken notes as I went, but with the cooking it's been a different story. I've cooked some amazing meals and then photographed them, but didn't think about writing out the recipes.  When I cook, the process is organic.  It takes on a like of it's own.  It just flows and I don't think about taking the time to keep notes.  So, now I have a bunch of photos and a whole lot of recipe writing to do.  I really need to start recording the process or something because I could definitely see me burning something because I've stopped to write some notes!
Anyway, here's some of the photography from the last few weeks...

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Trying to name my food blog is killing me!  I might just go with 'Erren Cooks' just so I can get on with it!  But it's so boring!!  Everything I come up with is taken!  It's like I can't come up with  even one original thought!  I can't believe I'm using this blog to rant, but I'm so fed up!  Ok, rant over.

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My first attempt at food photography...

I'm about a quarter way through my food photography course.  It's just a basic course, but I'm so glad I've decided to do it.  Over the weekend we were invited to someone's house for dinner so I baked a cake with my little boy and tried out some of what I've learned so far.  This was the end result..

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Split Pea Soup

Thursday, February 6, 2014

This recipe has moved to my new food blog.  Click here to be redirected.

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Slow Cooker Beef Brisket

Cook time: 4-6 Hours
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Serves: 4-6


Olive oil, for searing
1 2lb/1kg brisket
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
4 cups/1litre beef stock
1/2 cup/120ml Sherry (or red wine)
2 tablespoons tomato paste/UK Tomato Puree
2 medium onions, chopped (I used 1 red 1 yellow, but any will do)
4 large carrots, sliced
4 medium potatoes 
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons plain flour
Salt & Pepper to taste


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the brisket on both sides with a good sized pinch of salt. Sear the brisket in the hot pan until browned.
To the slow cooker, add carrots, potatoes, celery and bay leaves. Put the seared brisket on top of the vegetables. 
In the same skillet you used to brown the brisket, add some more oil if needed and heat over medium heat.   Add the onions and saute until tender, but not soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic cook another two minutes.  Add the flour and coat the onions.  Add the sherry and stir well to avoid lumps.  Add the the stock, tomato paste, and salt & pepper. Pour the mixture over the brisket, and cook on high for 4 to 6 hours or low for 8 to 9 hours, until the meat is fork tender. 

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014
I am going to be posting a bunch of recipes I've been meaning to post for a while now, and need to get on top of before I start my new food blog.  I want as many as possible that I can have done so I'll only have to retake photos when the time comes.  I'll try to throw in other posts as well, but apologize in advance for all the recipes in one go!

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Eggplants and Aubergines

Monday, February 3, 2014
Among the many projects I'm working on right now, I am in the process of starting a food blog. I've sold six of my recipes to a magazine in the last year and have one more being published this month so I've been given the confidence to give it a go. It will combine three of my passions: Photography, Cooking and Writing so it's a no-brainer. Plus, if I'm a good enough cook to be published, surely I have to be good enough to get a following on a blog as well. I wish it was all about the food. That part is easy. I am a good cook. I've been doing it my whole life (my mom worked when I was growing up and I cooked dinner for the family from a very young age), but food blogs are about so much more than being a good cook. The photos have to be good - really good. If you don't have a good photo on Pinterest, you're dead in the water. So I am learning food photography. I got a DSLR camera and a good lens for Christmas & my birthday so I have the equipment. I've also started a food blogger course as well as a course on developing Wordpress websites and blogs. It's been a really long time since I've done any web design so I'm rusty. I started with a site for a new business my husband is starting and although I was pulling my hair out in the beginning, I am getting back into the swing of things (slowly, but surly).
Naming a food blog is the first hurdle I will have to get over. I came up with a great name or so I thought until I asked for feedback. I was going to call it 'Eggplants and Aubergines' Aubergine is the UK name for an eggplant so I thought it was a clever play on words being an American living in England, but Americans shot it down (even though all the English people I talked to thought it was a great idea because English people speak American and they got it). Americans couldn't wrap their heads around the word Aubergine and thought it wasn't memorable enough. I have to know my market and listen to my target audience and half my target audience is on that side of the pond. Lesson learned - don't buy the domain name until you've tested the market first! So Eggplants and Aubergines will never come to be. I'll get over the heartbreak in time.
It's back to the drawing board I go. The trouble is that the market is saturated and everything I come up with is taken. I want something clever and classy. I do not want to call it something using words like YUMMY or EATS I want to make it slightly more sophisticated. I love words like crave, scrumptious, delectable and luscious (although I've been told it sounds too sexual - leave it to me). Every name I come up with has been  taken and probably was from the word go. I am at a total loss and it's driving me crazy.  If I don't come up with a name soon, I won't be able to start.  Luckily, I have to finish a couple of more projects before I can get stuck in so I have some more time, but I'll need a good idea soon.

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Playing with my new lens...

I got a new camera lens for my birthday last week.  I don't have a lot of time to play with it, but this is one of the first shots I took...

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A Plastic Plant

Monday, January 6, 2014
I was talking to a close friend the other day about this blog.  I told her if this blog was a plant that needed my time and attention, it would have shriveled up and died a long time ago.  I told her that maybe it's time I shut it down and say good-bye to Pond Hopper.  She said, 'So it's a plastic plant. It doesn't need your time or attention.  All it needs to do is sit there until you need it.  Your blog has helped other people in the same situation feel less alone.  Your blog has helped you through the rough times.  It's your connection to the rest of the world when you feel you don't have one.  It's given you your voice'
She is a good friend.  Everything she said was true, but here is my real problem I've had in recent years with this blog - Too many people know about it.  I know, that's what most people want out of a blog right?  That was never my intention though.  I know it may not seem it because I don't have tons of comments on my posts, but I get a lot of emails from not only readers, but requests to review products or to back the latest travel or expat website, service or even the occasional TV show.  I never wanted to make money from this blog.  It was exactly what my friend said it was - my connection to the rest of the world when I didn't feel I had one.  It's not the strangers I mind seeing it though.  The people I know that are the real problem.  When I started out, nobody knew about this site.  I didn't tell my family about it (and still haven't) and told only my closest friends.  I did that because I wanted to tell the truth without worrying about what anyone else thought about it, but through the years people have stumbled across it (some welcome and some not so welcome).  It has come up in conversation with people I've known here in the UK.  "Passerbyers" is how I refer to most people I've known here.  People who stay around for a little while and in time, pass me by (Sometimes quietly and seamlessly and sometimes not).  No one stays for very long and when they move on knowing about this blog, I wish I never let them know about it.  People I don't care to share my life with can just pop on here and catch up or have an insight I wouldn't give them other wise.  There are others that know about this blog that haven't passed by as of yet, but will in time.  They would find offense in my saying certain things because in some strange way, they believe they aren't like the rest and that I should see them in a different light, so I can't tell the truth and in turn, I say nothing.
Case in point: I recently vented on Facebook about something that happened at my son's school that upset me (without mentioning the school's name or anyone in particular). A few days later, I was confronted by the assistant head for having a 'rant' on Facebook because one of the Moms I'm Facebook friends with, went to the school and told them about.  Now don't get me wrong, 99% of the people I'm FB friends with don't know about this blog, but it just goes to show that people can't be trusted with even the smallest of things.  They will spread it like wildfire and before you know it, you are fighting a battle, you don't need and never asked for.
Does what I am saying make any sense?  If we've never met and you follow this blog, don't get me wrong - the posts are more for you than anyone (with the exception of a select few important people I've shared this blog with that know me personally).  It's the passerbyers from my real life that I wish I could stop from seeing it so I can go back to speaking my mind and telling the truth.
So what do I do?  Do I close down my beloved Pond Hopper and start fresh on a new unknown site? Do I add a user name and password function to view this site?  Do I leave it up for prosperity and start keeping a personal journal instead?  I don't know, but please feel free to give your opinion because now is the time.

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Thank Goodness!

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Let me start by saying all of my tests of come back and I have been given the all clear from the doctors! Phew!  I can't say how stressed I was over the whole thing!
I actually got word last week, but I am only just coming out of a 10 day viral haze.  I haven't been so sick in ages!  I didn't move off the couch the whole time.  The stress probably wore me down.  Either that or I picked something up on one of the many doctor/hospital visits I've had lately.  What ever I picked up was nasty!  I had some sort of virus that caused a throat infection with painful ulcers.  I wasn't able to eat much more than jell-o for the best part of a week!  The upside is I lost a good amount of weight and hey, it's not fatal so I can't complain can I?
I've been catching up on Christmas preparations (and every day life), but wanted to make sure I gave an update!  Thank you so much for all the well wishes!

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Scary stuff

Wednesday, November 27, 2013
A few weeks ago, I found a lump in my breast.  I was in the shower.  I thought I felt something, but my first reaction was to not let my mind go there so I quickly moved on.  A few minutes later, I checked again and confirmed it was indeed a lump.  I finished my shower (and my day) trying not to think too much about it.  That night I asked my husband to see what he thought.  We went to the doctor the very next morning.
In short, the doctor referred me to a specialist and told me I'd get an appointment in the mail.  About a week later, I saw the specialist who referred me for more tests.  I had a mammogram on Monday and today I have an ultrasound.  Scary stuff right?
Because we never know when the appointments are going to be, my husband can't plan for it and arrange to be with me.  I've had to see the specialist and have the tests on my own.  This is one of the worst things about living in a foreign country - when my husband can't be there, I am left with no-one else to step up and hold my hand through the scary stuff.  I've been on my own for a lot in the last ten years and although I have my husband at the end of the day, it sure would be nice to have a loved one to go with me and sit in the waiting room and give support.  Instead, I have to take a taxi and go it alone (pretending not to be scared out of my mind).
My grandmother had breast cancer when she wasn't much older than I am now.  All those years ago, she survived with a partial mastectomy which is a comfort, but terrifying all at the same time.  I know it could be nothing. I know it could be just a scare, but I've still had to go through the motions for weeks at a time wondering if it's nothing or if my life is about to be turned upside-down.  After my appointment today, I'll have to wait for the results.  Will they call me back in for even more tests or will I get the all clear?  Will it be days - a week?  I just don't know.  In the meantime, I will plan my American Thanksgiving here in England with my in-laws and try not to worry too much as I secretly wish I could be at home celebrating with my family...

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Zaggora Hot Pants - 2 Week Challenge Results...

Saturday, October 5, 2013
I weighed and measured myself at the end of the two weeks. I have lost 6 lbs and have lost 1.5 inches in my hips and waist, and an inch in my chest and both my thighs.  I almost didn't post the results because I'm unsure how accurate they are.  As a part of my medical issues, I tend to experience swelling and water retention in warmer weather.  Last week, it got quite warm out of the blue and I know there is swelling.  I have medication to resolve it, but want to give it a chance to get better on it's own.  By the end of next week, I should have a better idea, but for now, I can't say I'm unhappy with the outcome thus far. Did I go down two jeans sizes?  No, but my jeans are big on me and I'm close to fitting comfortably into the jeans I wore last year. Do I think it's a result of the hot pants and not the fact that I have been working out 5-6 days a week along with dieting?  I'm unconvinced.  The only way to know for sure would be to stop wearing them for two weeks and see how the measurements compare.  I'm not prepared to do that right now though.  I have a wedding I'm attending at the end of the month and I'm hoping to be able to wear the dress I wore to my sister's wedding last summer (without having to put on a pair of Spanx).  It's a long shot, but every little bit helps.
What I will say about the hot pants is that it really does raise your body temperature.  Some days after a workout, it took hours to cool down (hence my standing in the rain the other day). One day this week, I wore a sweater because it was a cool day and can't say how sorry I was.  I was uncomfortable for the rest of the day and because I was on a school trip with my son, couldn't do a thing about it.  By the time I got home, I felt sick.  Drinking lots of water is a must and dressing in layers is recommended.
I'll re-measure and weigh myself at the end of this week to confirm the results are accurate.

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Feeling the rain

Thursday, October 3, 2013

After I worked out today, I went into the kitchen for a bottle of water and saw the pouring rain out my patio door.  There are few times I can think of wanting to feel the rain more. Without a thought, I went out and stood in the rain.  English rain is cold, but today it felt incredible.  I live in a very public place, but in that kind of weather there was wasn't a soul in sight.  I thought about twirling, but the grown up in me squashed the notion. What I did do though was close my eyes and raise my chin toward the sky to let the rain fall on my face.  In my mind I slowed it all down and took it in.  I swear in those few moments I felt every drop.
I've always loved the rain.  I  love the sound of it and like to open the windows and listen to it while drifting off to sleep on stormy nights.  Even as a child I would love to go out and play in. When I got older, I found it sensual and and dreamed of romantic moments that would play out under dark clouds, surrounded by grey tones.  I loved the thought of the emotion of the moment adding color to the experience.  Eyes would seem brighter, lips redder... These moments would be moments frozen in time to never be forgotten.
English rain ruined it for me when I moved here.  It all too often comes down sideways and an umbrella holds no shelter or escape.  It's cold and the sort of rain the stings on impact.  More times, than not, there is no joy in English rain showers, but today for a few moments, I remembered why I've always loved the rain.

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Zaggora Hot Pants

Thursday, September 26, 2013
As I mentioned the other day, I have put on about 25 lbs in the last year. Every year I have a flare up of my arthritis that keeps me from working out and every year I gain anywhere from 10 - 25 lbs (depending how long I'm out of commission). I am miserable when I'm over weight and have been working hard to get it off. I've tried various diets with no results.
When school started, I went back on Slimmimg World (the diet plan I lost my baby weight on - a whopping 50 lbs) and started physical therapy along with doing the '30 Day Shred' Program that I got into really good shape with last year.
A couple of weeks ago I heard from a company called, Zaggora who make a product called 'Hot Pants'. The ad said 'LOOK GOOD NAKED' and I thought, yes, please! The hot pants are supposed to make you sweat more and burn more calories. After reading more about it and going over some reviews, I decided to take their two week challenge.
 The two week challenge is simple. You wear the hot pants for 30 minutes a day while active. You measure yourself before and after the two weeks and report the results to them on their website. They claim that you can lose up to two jeans sizes in two weeks. I have just finished week one of the two week challenge and this is what I can tell you so far...
The hot pants are made of a wet suit type of material. When I opened them, they looked tiny and with a bum shoulder, I worried I'd have trouble getting them on, but they went on easily. I almost immediately felt the perspiration and even though I didn't feel like working out that day, it inspired me to do it anyway. They do make an awful lot of noise when you move which is a little off putting, but I'm not wearing them out of the house.  If I went to the gym to workout, I might have thought twice about it.
They were quite stiff during the first few workouts which bothered me because I'm stiff enough with my arthritis, but after a few days they started to give little by little. You do sweat a lot and I have to say when you take them off, you definitely notice. I haven't measured myself this week (I'm waiting until the end of the two weeks), but I did lose four pounds this week. Is it water weight from all the sweating? I don't know and to be honest, I don't care. Seeing the scale go down is giving me the drive to keep going.
I weigh in and measure myself next Thursday and I'll be sure to report the results.  In the meantime, you can check them out on Amazon...

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Fight Club for Five Year Olds - Part 2

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
The other mother and I went into the school to meet with the teacher and the assistant head.  We both let them know how upset we were that we were not informed that our children were sent to the office and how much we were against the children being allowed to play fighting games on the playground.  I told them I wouldn't allow it at home and I'm really unhappy that it's being allowed at school.  They admitted it was a problem and explained that they are planning to introduce a a scheme to teach the children to play in a safe way.  They will be calling it 'Super Hero Training'.  They plan to give out capes & masks out to children who behave well as rewards at playtime.  They will have assemblies where they will teach the children to play fighting games without making contact.  I find this to be absurd.  The problem has gone on to long and I doubt they will be able to teach little children to change their games when they have sixty other children to look after on the playground.  I let them know I didn't see it as a viable solution.
I also talked to them about the child who was being permitted to be the leader of these games. I said They should be taught to play together as equals.  Their response was that there will always be leaders in life and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
I agreed and told them and said, 'Yes, there will always be leaders in life, but let that happen naturally outside of school.  It should not be tolerated on the playground.  This boy is persuading the other boys to break the rules so they could be included and if they don't, they are left out.  My son comes home upset because he's not being allowed to play with his friends. His friends are pressured to go along with what ever this boys says and it's just not right at such a young age.  At what point does this child go from being a 'leader' to just being a bully?  He is five years old and should not be permitted to have such power.'
The teacher turned to me and said,  'Your son is an emotional boy because he has an emotional mother.'
I shot her a look and it took every amount of self control I had to not tell her to screw off (and that's putting it mildly).
I took a deep breath and said, ' Listen, you've been doing this job a long time so let me try to remind you how hard it is as parents to hand our kids over to you every day and have them parented in a way that is totally different than we would at home.  You spend more time them than we do and for some of us, it's a hard pill to swallow.'
The assistant head turned to me and said, 'I appreciate that, but you have to learn to trust us to do right by your child.'
And that's when I cried because at the end of the day, I don't trust them.
By the end of the meeting, I realized I was being handled.  The assistant head is well trained to tell parents what they want to hear and get them out the door.  She handled me so well that by the time I left, I walked out saying, 'What just happened?'
After that, I decided to step back and see how it played out.  I talked to my son about playing rough and that I didn't want him to do things at school that he knew he wasn't allowed to do at home, but the very next day I was called into the office with my son to meet with the assistant head.  She told me he was in trouble again for rough play on the playground.  As punishment, I took his favorite toy away and told him he would get it back when I got a good report from his teacher.
I told his teacher what the arrangement was and told her that when she gave my son a sticker for making good choices all day, he would earn his toy back.  At pick-up time, I asked how he was.  She smiled and said he was good.  He came out with a grave look on his face and told me he didn't get a sticker.  She just looked at me and walked away with no explanation.  I wanted to smack her, but explained to my son that if he didn't get a sticker, there must have been a good reason for it and stuck to my guns.
The following day she said he was really good.
'Did you give him a sticker?'
She huffed, 'Okay, I'll give him a sticker.'
Again, I wanted to smack her.  It was like pulling teeth with this woman!
I laid low for the following week.  On Friday, I got a message from the school that  my son had hit his face, a cold compress was applied and he was okay.  When I went to pick him up, his cheek was clearly swollen.
'Wow, you really did hit your face,' I said
The teacher saw me touch his cheek.
'Oh no, he didn't hit it there it was his lip,' She said.
My son pulled his bottom lip down and showed me where he cut it.  As he did so, I noticed dried blood on his nose.
'You had a bloody nose as well?'
The teacher said, 'No his nose was fine.'
My son then walked out of the class toward the parking lot and I was forced to follow rather than continue the conversation.  When we got to the car, I got a good look at my son.  He had a swollen cheek & lip, dried blood on his nose and a big scratch on his chest.  I took him by the hand and walked him to the assistant head's office to show her.
'Look at him!'  I said.  'What is going on with the teachers that they didn't notice the state of him?  He looks like he's been in a fight!'
The assistant head apologized to me and asked my son what happened to him.  He told her his face got hurt when another boy hit him in with a bat on the playground, but he could not account for the scratch or bloody nose.  I just looked at her.  She told me we'd get to the bottom of it.
'You're damned right we'll get to the bottom of it,'  I told her 'but what the hell is going on that he's so used to being hurt that he can't tell us where he got the other injuries? This is absurd!'
She scrambled for answers questioning the teachers and assistants.  The head came out to talk me down, but there was no talking me down.  What answers could they give me?
Is this just part of sending your kids to school?  Do you relinquish control and just hope for the best??  or do you keep fighting?  I have become 'that mother'  the mother that is in the office three times in the first three weeks of school raising hell and I hate it.  I don't know what to do.  Is this my problem?  Am I just too much of a worrier?  Or is this whole thing as bad as I think it is?

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