Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gorgeous Sunrises

Winter means really short days, and I mean really short. Right around the Winter Solstice the sun wasn't rising until nearly 9am and it was setting just after 3:30 in the afternoon. Not a whole lot of daylight! However, it does make the chances of catching a spectacular sunrise much better, because, well basically there is a better chance of me being awake at the butt crack of dawn if it doesn't show itself until 9 am! It is getting earlier and earlier every day now and its rising at about 8am which is perfect for me to get some great shots on my morning walks with Max before I head over to the radio station.

Here are a few of the January sunrises I have been awake for! You can click on the images to see them larger.

The marine birds use the beach as a sanctuary from the snow

A very bright and very snowy early January morning

A glimmer of pink reminds us that there is a sun under all those grey clouds!

Max plays on the beach in mid-January as the sun rises

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My First Curry

It certainly wasn't the first curry I have had, but it was the first curry I have made myself and not from a jar. I have really challenged myself to eliminate as many prepared foods from my diet as possible and curry is a favorite violation so last night I figured now was as good a time as any to start practicing my curry skills with my favorite- Chicken Korma.

I decided to whip out my Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food cookbook. Its a cookbook geared toward beginners but there are a few great recipes in there I use quite often. For this undertaking I was really happy to have a cookbook for beginners to guide me through my first journey with curry.

I skipped a few steps just to get the hang of it. For instance I didn't have whole cumin and coriander seeds so I wasn't able to roast them for my curry paste as Jamie instructed. Also I forgot to buy groundnut oil and used vegetable oil instead. I definitely noticed that my end product lacked a little bit of depth because of this, but for my first trial run just getting down the basic steps and doing it once it worked out fine.

The first step was to make a curry paste, this was packed with lots of ginger, garlic, green chilis, cilantro, coconut, almonds and spices. I was surprised by how green this curry paste was, every jarred curry paste I have ever seen has been a brilliant red but because this was so fresh and had no added colors, it was flecked throughout with green cilantro and chilis. Luckily it looked a lot like Jamie's photos in the cookbook so I didn't let the color throw me.

Then I sauteed some thinly sliced onions with fresh ginger and something I had never cooked with before- cilantro stalks. That is coriander stalks if you are European, yes folks it is the same plant! In the US we call the plant cilantro and the seeds coriander, but here on this side of the Atlantic the whole plant is called coriander. I have always used the leaves and either blended the stalks together with the cilantro or else discarded them completely, but this recipe called for finely chopped coriander stalks, leaving the leaves aside (although there were plenty in the curry paste).

After this I added the curry paste I had prepared earlier, coconut milk, ground almonds, creamed coconut, chickpeas and some water and then I simmered it for awhile.

This is another place where I deviated from Jamie's recipe a bit. Jamie's book is aimed a lot at parents cooking for a family, so this recipe made enough curry to feed a family of 5 and I didn't have enough chicken breast for such a big recipe. Instead of adding the chicken breast at this step, I just made the curry sauce so I could split it in half reserving some to make a biryani which is kind of like a casserole you can make from leftover curry and rice. I simmered the curry sauce for about 15 minutes before splitting it in half and putting one portion away, then I added cubed chicken to the curry and cooked it for another 30 minutes while I boiled the rice. This alone was enough for dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow for me and then I can get another couple meals out of the other half.

I also noticed that I just happened to have all the necessary ingredients to make a mango lassi, which is basically just a mango milkshake made with fresh mango, milk and plain yogurt. Its a perfect compliment to any Indian meal because it is fresh and creamy and cuts any heat. Chicken korma is the mildest of all the curries, but even mine was a bit tangier than most because I was using fresh green chiles so the mango lassi went well with the meal.

This is the final product, although I cheated on the rice and used boil-in-the-bag stuff instead of steaming the rice like I usually like to but I had enough going on I wasn't going to split hairs over rice. I also didn't make the mini naan breads, I have tried to make them before but I really don't think they work unless you have a tandoori to cook them in, which I clearly do not. As I said earlier in the post, it lacked the depth that some other curries I have enjoyed seem to have but what it lacked in depth it more than made up for in freshness. It was the perfect amount of sweet and coconutty without being sickly or too rich and I really loved how good the freshly prepared curry paste tasted in this dish.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Well its not a job, but its the next best thing...

My life feels like its getting back to normal now. Last week was kind of a wash, its never taken me so long to get adjusted back, but then again this is my first time going West and then coming back East to my life and routine. Its much easier going the other way.

After a rough first week of 2010, I jumped in right away this week with getting myself geared up for the next few months. After of a year of trying to get hooked up with some volunteer opportunities through the local volunteer placement agency I kind of took matters into my own hands. Long story short, starting today I will be volunteering every weekday at the local radio station, Radio Hartlepool.

I think I have a lot to offer a radio station, I'm good with words and what is radio after all but spoken words? I am really excited about the opportunity to become more connected to my community, and that is what Radio Hartlepool is about. Radio Hartlepool is a non-profit organization which started as an exclusively volunteer venture and still runs mostly on the blood, sweat and tears of volunteers.

So what will I be doing you might ask? Mostly I will be filling receptionist type duties, answering phones, greeting guests, making tea, and other admin stuff. On top of that I will also be learning a lot about how a radio station works, what goes into running a full time radio broadcast and dipping my toes into all aspects of station operations. It will be a chance for me to feel things out and see if maybe radio is a good career turn for me.

Maybe radio will be the thing for me, maybe it won't, but through helping out the station I gain so much needed local experience and references. It seems to be one of the major problems I have faced in my job search, no "local experience" or "local knowledge". Hopefully my time volunteering at Radio Hartlepool will broaden my local experience and knowledge and open doors for me.

I will be volunteering at the station weekdays from 9 until early afternoon, so it will at least feel like a part time job- just without a paycheck, but at least a sense of purpose and fulfillment should follow. I think it will do me a world of good both emotionally and mentally to have quite literally a reason to get out of bed in the morning, put on something other than pajamas and leave the house. I have gotten pretty comfortable in my home-based routine, but I am hoping this will be a good transitional period between not doing much of anything and gainful employment.