Daily detox soup – pea soup

It’s the time of year when you look at your waist, the empty wrappers of Roses and Quality Street (having wasted an extraordinary amount of time cross-checking colours with reference cards) and the mountains of calories still waiting to be consumed trapped inside chocolate, cake and mince pies in the kitchen. It’s time to take action so I am going on a mini health kick. I’ve decided to have a fruit Smoothie for breakfast, a main course lunch and healthy soup for dinner. No bread and cutting down the sweets (not entirely…..baby steps to start with). I’m not really a soup person so my jelly wobble is to make different soups for my dinner, and I will post one each day.

Today I tried pea soup because all the recipes say it’s easy. Fry some onions, add chicken stock and loads of peas. Easy-pea, er, sy. I thought it wouldn’t be that filling so I decided to throw in a potato to thicken it up. Whizz end it up, added in some crème fraîche when serving and it was lovely. Not sure how filling it’ll be, as it was demolished in seconds!! And I feel righteously healthy. Now to resist the mince pies calling my name from the kitchen…

Do you have a soup recipe you’d like me to try? Tweet me at @jelly_wobbler.

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Tell us what’s in the wrapper Cadbury’s Roses and Nestle’s Quality Street!!

This isn’t so much doing something different for me, but rather a message to Cadbury’s and Nestle to do something different. Or rather a rant.

It’s that time of year when we crack open a tin of Roses and Quality Street, peer inside and see all the wonderful array of colours and shimmering wrappers. They look gorgeous and inviting. There is however a confliction – chocolate heaven balanced with a Russian Roulette of what you’re going to get. The multitudes of flavours jostle with other, each one shouting “pick me”. But with specific likes and dislikes (and a nut allergy) I want to cherry-pick my favourites, and leave the ones that will kill me alone.

And it’s confusing. Does the purple one have nuts? Is the green one fudge? is the orange one the orange crunch or the toffee deluxe? Sure, there’s the little card which is somewhat annoying that you have to keep referring and referencing back to it.  Cadbury’s Roses have started to write on the wrappers the allergy information. Contains Soya, or nuts. Well, here’s an idea:

WRITE WHAT’S IN THE WRAPPER ON THE OUTSIDE!!

How simple would that be? When you pick up a sweet you will know INSTANTLY if it’s coffee or toffee. There would be no more disappointment. We could eat a chocolate without fear of finding a fudge. You’ll save loads of money not having to design, print and pack those losable reference cards. In fact, whilst you’ll at it, can you two big companies speak to each and agree on a colour for each flavour – green = fudge, purple = nuts etc.That would help enormously!

Come on Cadbury’s and Nestle – make our Christmases just a little less stressful. :0)

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Biscuits inside cakes – mint Viscount

The most popular biscuit recommendation by far has been the mint viscount. A stalwart of the biscuit choice – traditional, simple and refreshing – the viscount has it all including foil which, like Elizabeth Shaws, you can play with, fold and mould long after the biscuit settles in your stomach.

Viscount biscuits inside the batter

I was looking forward to having a flash of mint in the cake so soon after the cupcake was out of the oven I couldn’t wait to taste it. The biscuit stood firm and there was still a hard crunch. And the mint was just as powerful as normal. My wife really enjoyed the taste, although said the biscuit made the cake a bit dry. Still, you knew what was in it, so a successful bake!

The Viscount biscuits held firm in the cake

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My trip to Chengdu, China – pandas, rats and duck’s tongue

I was lucky enough to have a business trip to Chengdu in China as part of a contingent of UK tourism suppliers working with VisitBritain. Being half-Chinese (my dad grew up and lived in Hong Kong) it was an opportunity to go to the country that was in half my blood. Would I feel a connection with the culture or people? I’ve had limited exposure to the Chinese culture: Relatives on my dad’s side have flitted in and out of my life, I attended Chinese Sunday school pre-teens (which I hated) and I went to what was called Canton (now Guangzhou) and Hong Kong when I was around 8 or 9. My dad didn’t speak Cantonese to me and there are a few Chinese-inspired pictures around the house. My last name is the only real connection to the Chinese world. I have sometimes thought, with the dilution of the Chinese blood through me, and my two sons, that if they have a further son with a non-oriental person, my grandson could be western in look except for the name – rather like my wife and my mum bearing the married name “Wong”.

If you haven’t heard of the city of Chengdu then you won’t be alone. I’d never heard of it either until this trip came up. Located in south-west China it has a population, depending on where or who you hear from, of anywhere between 8 and 14 million (what’s a difference of 6 million in a country of 1.3 billion?!). It has more people than London. It is in the Provence of Sichuan, which is the native home to the Giant Panda. British Airways has just started a new thrice-weekly service, hence the location of this sales mission.

Bridge over the Jinjiang river, Chengdu

Bridge over the Jinjiang river, Chengdu

I was shocked at how few people were on the flight. Apparently, it takes an airline about 18 months for a new service to break-even. The captain, on his introduction speech said, it may not be profitable but you’ll get excellent service. It was the same in the way back too, with no one in Premium Economy and First (more about that later).

Arriving in Chengdu on Monday morning, we stepped off the plane and on to a waiting bus to take us to the Panda Base – a sanctuary and research centre for the Giant Panda. On the way we passed a humongous building. It was so massive it just didn’t look real. Our guide pointed out that this is the largest single standing building in the World. The Global Center is a shopping mall, hotel and cinema complex that has 5 times more floor space than the Pentagon. It also has an artificial beach and a huge screen which mimics sunrises and sunsets. Unfortunately the schedule didn’t allow a visit inside.

The Panda Base is basically a giant zoo with Giant Pandas and Red Pandas, and bamboo everywhere (which is just for show, rather than food for the inmates). There is an option to cuddle a baby Panda for about £200, however it didn’t feel appropriate in the setting and very touristy (I suppose I was expecting the base to be more intimate and worthy than a big zoo). Anyhow we got to see lots of pandas – adults and babies – in big enclosures and they were all incredibly cute.

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Spot the Giant Panda

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Ahhh… baby pandas

The business side of the trip involved 53 x 20 minute appointments over two days with Chinese travel buyers in a window-less conference room in the basement of a posh hotel. The speed-dating of the travel world where you intensely sell your product in the hope the travel experts add you to their itineraries. Repetition of your spiel is prevalent here and by the end of the first season the translator could pretty much do the job for you. As buyers approached my table for the pre-arranged meeting, each seemed to double-check my face as they were looking for Mr Wong, and the first precious 2 minutes of the conversation (a whopping 10%!) was used up explaining that I really was Chinese in my father’s side. I probably heard from half of 50 buyers “you don’t look Chinese”.

At the end of day two, we were treated to some entertainment following the gala dinner. This comprised of a Chinese dancer who changes his face in a blink of an eye, a magician who’s tricks were exposed due to the position of our table to the side and some very dodgy Scottish dancing. The English contingent suddenly felt very sorry for the Scottish contingent.

At the end of day three (and yet to have been outside the hotel since arriving from the panda base) a few of us ventured into Chengdu. We headed to the touristy area called Wide and Narrow Alleys – a complex of pedestrianised alleyways lined with shops and restaurants. The facades recreate the old China for the tourists. If Disneyland did China this is what it’ll look like. The street restaurants were quite authentic however and we were lucky to have a Chinese speaking companion which helped decipher the menu and strange looking meats. Souvenir shops full of panda merchandise, home-grown tea and ear-cleaning entrepreneurs lined the street.

Starbucks in the Wide and Narrow Streets, Chengdu

Wide and narrow alleys

We then dived in to some local bars. The two things of note here were the disgusting, hole-in-the-ground toilets (which stank and were rank) and the rats crawling about – which didn’t make for comfortable drinking. A quick wipe of the bottle tops to be sure ensured, although it was a vicious circle of the more we drank the more we needed the loo. My drinking buddies were more akin to the strange meats and tried the local delicacies of duck tongue and rabbit’s kidneys from the street sellers. I didn’t have the stomach for them at all.

The toilet in the bars of Chengdu. Not good for women in heels.

The toilet in the bars of Chengdu. Not good for women in heels.

The final day of the trip was a free day and I spent the afternoon strolling along the green Jinjiang river and popping into the Wangjianglou Park – a peaceful, pay-for-entry park with old Chinese boathouses, bamboo and an ancient rollercoaster that had seen better days. Old Chinese people practiced tai-chi on the verandas of the relic houses.

Wangjiang Park, Chengdu

Wangjiang Park, Chengdu

The city itself is a bustling, litter-free place with plenty of dirty-looking street restaurants and stomach-churning meats. Constantly shrouded in mist due to its location in the foothills of the mountains, the air stank of dirt, and the traffic was crazy. Cars have right of way and motorbikes ride silently on the pavement. Horns are a constant noise, and seem to be largely ignored. The tranquility, westernised and nice toilets of my 31st floor room at the Shangri-la hotel I’m afraid to say was a haven.

Keep off the grass, mischief-maker!

Keep off the grass, mischief-maker!

I’m so glad I was lucky enough to visit China and this up-and-coming city on a business-expense trip but it’s not a place I’ll return. I’ve no real desire to visit Beijing or Shanghai or any other superfluous city. On the flight home we travelled with a group of Chinese buyers who were going to England in a familiarisation trip. We were all given a tour of an empty First Class cabin at 40,000 feet which was luxurious, clean and western. This is the world which I aspire to and I have little desire to change that for the Chinese world. Despite my name, I do not look Chinese, and I certainly don’t feel it.

Menu on a Chinese fan

Menu on a Chinese fan

Old guy doing Tai-Chi in Chengdu

Old guy doing Tai-Chi in Chengdu

Categories: chengdu, china, chinese, panda, tourism, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Biscuits inside cakes – chocolate digestives

On a wet and miserable Autumn Saturday, five year old declares he’d like to do some baking. He ponders on the choice between cupcakes and biscuits – “you know, the ones with the jam in the middle”. Well, you know I am susceptible to merging the two so we decide to make cakes with a surprise inside them for when Mum comes home.

As he is mixing the batter, cracking the eggs and picking out the shell, he continues to lobby the idea of putting jam in the middle – a la the biscuits. So after putting a spoonful of batter in the bottom of the case, we add a bit of strawberry jam and then “hide” it by putting more batter on, a big secret from mummy. This creates fits of giggles and his little brain imagines a future of Mum biting into the cake and the surprise of her face as jam squirts out!

I couldn’t help myself and managed to sneak in a McVities Chocolate Digestive into the cake – well, they were winking and whispering to me from an open packet in the cupboard.

Into the batter go the chocolate digestives

Into the batter go the chocolate digestives

Excitement levels at this point were off the scale. A biscuit inside a cake! Jam inside a cake! “Can I eat it now” he moans. “No, they’ve got to go into the oven first!”. So he dives his head into the mixing bowl, licking it clean, and surfacing with batter in his hair. Cooking as a kid doesn’t get better.

The chocolate digestive holds its own inside the cake - handily decorated with  Octonauts on top

The chocolate digestive holds its own inside the cake – handily decorated with Octonauts on top

Mum comes home and it’s a struggle for 5YO to contain his excitement and blurt out the surprise. Instead he decorates all the cakes with Octonauts sugar paper – further hiding the secrets within.

Thumbs up from the 5 year old!

Thumbs up from the 5 year old!

When the time finally came, the secret was out and his concentration was on Cbeebies and the infallible Justin Fletcher. He scoffed the biscuits inside cake cupcakes down in one, hardly noticing the oaty taste of one of the nation’s favourite biscuit.

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Watch a TV channel you’ve never watched before

I’ve been listening to the recent arguments of the payday loans with little interest (excuse the pun). I am in a fortunate position that I don’t need to use them, and I hope I never have to. Naturally I feel for the people that do, and in this world needs must when it comes to finances. And it was these payday loan companies that really stood out for me when my next challenge saw me watch a TV channel I had never seen before. Taking a day annual leave to look after my poorly 9 month old, I switched to Challenge TV – mainly because the game show fronted by Michael BarrymoreStrike it Rich – was on and I used to love it as a kid.

In the adverts were several payday loan companies advertising interest rates of 278% and over 400%. How could they be charging such extortionate rates when the Bank of England base rate is just 0.5%? It really is criminal. And my assumption of the people watching multichannel at this time of day seem to me to be vulnerable, and potentially short-of-cash, individuals who have little other choice. Of course advertising is supposed to put the product in the best light. And happy-go-likely casting models set a very positive scene. I can’t help but feel these people are being exploited in broad daylight.

As for the programme. Such a simple format and Michael Barrymore really is very good in his element. Some of the jokes and assumptions would be risqué nowadays (so are you two married, kids on the way?) and you can tell he is working hard to find the funny in the guests. Exceptionally entertaining – it’s a shame the adverts ruined it.

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Put vegetables inside cakes – pumpkin pie for Halloween

I’ve never really understood why people continue to put vegetables into desserts. Why spoil a cake by putting carrots and raisins in it when there is an abundance of chocolate in the world? I don’t think I’ve ever chosen a dessert that had a vegetable in it, which is why, faced with a soon-to-be-carved pumpkin for Hallowe’en, I thought I’d try something different and make pumpkin pie.

I followed the BBC Good Food recipe and all was well. The sieving of the pumpkin was hard work, and after all the effort I probably had about two tablespoons of orangery gloop, which seemed more effort than it’s worth – I hope that the pie had some pumpkin taste to it.

The taste was quite unexpected. The nutmeg was strong and the texture was mousse-like – not quite firm but nowhere near liquid. I can’t say I’m in love with it, and I always look forward to the pastry. I shall of course be hovering it up – unless my wife gets there first!

In the 40 minutes it takes to bake, I made some pumpkin biscuits to go with them. Round cutters and orange icing that my five year old helped to make and ice. Unfortunately,I hadn’t thought in advance and I couldn’t think of anything suitable to hand to put the cackling features of the pumpkin’s face on. So they are just round biscuits, with orange icing, next to a pumpkin and a pumpkin pie and before you comment we are carving the pumpkin tomorrow – we couldn’t wait to try the pie!).

Pumpkin, pumpkin pie, and halloween biscuits

The Great British Bake Off has nothing to worry about

Enjoy!

Did you do anything different this Halloween? I’d love to hear. Tweet me @jelly_wobbler

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Go without social media for 24 hours

I’m probably like the vast majority of Facebook and Twitter users these days. Constantly checking and reading what other people are doing in the world. Finding cool things to tweet, share, watch and retweet. My wife relies on social media for her work and she is constantly checking and refreshing – to the point of distraction. I keep asking her (nay telling her) to put her phone down when the kids are moaning or wanting her attention. “Can’t you stop looking at it for five minutes?” I say.

Well, that gave me an idea. What would it be like to stop using social media for 24 hours.? So I tried it. And I loved it so much I haven’t checked for 3 days now. I don’t miss it. I did, at the start. Checking becomes a habit. When there was a nano-second lull in life I would swipe my phone and check to see if anything new in the world had happened – adverts, when the next cbeebies show starts, just before bed. Then you’re pulled in and before you know it you’re watching a marching band make the shape of Michael Jackson. I imagine it’s like the lure of a cigarette. Charles Duhigg, in his The Power of Habit book, examines how habits are formed and what you can then do to break those habits. I was very conscious of these “habit loop” markers whenever I had the urge to quickly look. The one I needed to change was “cue”. So when I was with the kids and I felt like I was going to the phone, I would consciously get up and do something – this included going to the kitchen, sitting next to the child, even just getting up and sitting down again.

These actions changed my routine. And instead of swiping, I was doing something different. It made me more attentive to what was happening around me, making me interact more with my surroundings (and my kids) and, as a by-product of wandering around the house, actually made it tidy!

I’m sure I’ll get sucked back in soon enough but for the short time I went without social media, it was like going back 10 years – before it all came along!

Give up social media for a while and, when you log back on, tweet me how you did @jelly_wobbler.

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Do something different – Make origami

I always thought that origami is immensely fiddly. With my patience scale on the lower end of the scale, I couldn’t think of anything worse than trying to fiddle with bits of folding paper to make something that faintly resembles something that looks familiar (the only thing worse on my patience scale is perhaps a round of golf).

So in an effort to try something different and in the spirit of this blog, I had a go at doing some origami.  I had visions of screwing up or tearing up paper in a tantrum on step 139 when the elephant started to resemble a non-rising yorkshire pudding.

I did a quick Google (is Google anything but quick?) and found this site, which looked to make origami simple by having step-by-step instructions. OK, I’ll give the cat a go, it looks quite cute.

Right. Set myself up on the table, got the instructions, lets go. “Origami Cat step 1. Start with a 6 inch x 6 inch square origami paper color side down.” Er, origami paper? What is that? You have to have special paper for origami? Wont printer paper do? Damn it! I imagine it is slightly thicker paper than printer paper. Yikes, need to raid the 5 year old’s arts and crafts drawer. Hold a minute – color side down? Oh jeez. Looking through every single one of his messy drawers, there was not one bit of paper that had different colour paper on either side – except a bit of crumpled wrapping paper and I’m pretty sure the Origami police will crack down on me for using that.

So I looked around the house and managed to find some of my wife’s advertising leaflets. Pink on one side, white on the other. These would have to do. OK, 6 inches by 6 inches. Oh bloody hell. A5 is a few millimeters shy of 6 inches. Have to go metric on this one and go with centimeters – it’ll have to do.

Right, so I was off. Steps 1-7 were easy-peasy. At the end of step 7 I had a good looking cat’s head. The body was slightly trickier, with the instructions not being entirely clear on step 13 and took a few goes at getting it right (looking down at the comments I wasn’t the only one getting stuck on step 13). And voila. A small and perfectly formed cat!

An origami cat with a Facebook logo beauty spot

An origami cat with a Facebook logo beauty spot

It took me 9 minutes to make the cat. It actually took me longer to find the piece of paper than it did to fold the damn thing! The instructions were pretty good, and I actually found it quite therapeutic. Seeing the paper coming together to make a recognisable shape was really satisfying, and I felt quite child-like putting the head on to the body for the finished article. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I made another one!

My origami cat has a multi-cultural friend

My origami cat has a multi-cultural friend

If you have any ideas for me to try something different, tweet me @jelly_wobbler or visit the Facebook page.

Categories: Art, origami | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Biscuits inside cakes – pink wafer

Pink wafers are one of my favourite biscuit snacks. Are they a biscuit? Who cares if they are merely a biscuit substitute. I could eat a whole pack in one go. Someone suggested they go into the “biscuit inside cakes” blog so in they go. I was slightly apprehensive that they would stay in tact, as they are quite flimsy, but if they did they would look fantastic. So, lets try something different and put a pink wafer in a cake!

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Pink wafers in the cake batter

As you can see from the below photo, the wafer stayed in tact and the pink ribbon looks fantastic in the yellow batter. 

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Pink wafer inside a cake – looks good, doesn’t taste good.

Unfortunately the taste wasn’t great. You could tell that their was a pink wafer inside – which is better than some of the other biscuit attempts – but it wasn’t a good texture and felt like it had hardened inside. So it felt a bit like having a soft stone in the middle. Still, it looked impressive, which is half the fun of eating cupcakes!

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