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Monthly Archives: May 2013

5-4-3-2-1: Where Did It Go?

I really showed my age the other day when overhearing my colleague singing 5-4-3-2-1, the infectious Manfred Mann hit. The locked door to the lost memory vault in my brain suddenly burst open.

“Hang on,” I said, “wasn’t that the name of a chocolate bar?” I even had a vague recollection of the advert.

“Yes it was,” replied my colleague, ” are you trying to tell us that you’re older than you look?”

Sadly yes.

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But back to the choccy bar, 5-4-3-2-1 was a blink-and-damn-you-missed it chocolate bar that was around for an ever so brief time in the 1980s before finally being discontinued in 1989. I remember the television advert featured the Manfred Mann classic and that the wrapper was in primary colours with 5-4-3-2-1 emblazoned across it in bold, yellow digits. However, I couldn’t quite remember what the chocolate bar contained but after interrogating everyone I knew who was around then, I understand that a 5-4-3-2-1 bar consisted of wafer; fondant; crisped rice, and caramel covered with thick milk chocolate. It sounds delicious but the fact that people barely remember it (I think I must have scoffed these only a handful of times myself) means it couldn’t have been around for very long before it’s makers pulled the plug on it. I do wish they’d bring it back though – I’d love to try them again.

And you have to check out the advert. It even features Ted Rogers!

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Bloggers Rock Too!

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A comment that was made on morning television really annoyed me this week. A guest on a talk show – who I shall not name as I don’t want to give her any publicity on my blog – declared how she was a real writer and that that was what she was paid to do, while there are people out there who call themselves writers but really ‘they just have a blog’. I’m so incensed by this comment that I don’t know where to start!

Amy Adams plays writer Julie Powell in Julie and Julia

Amy Adams plays writer Julie Powell in Julie and Julia

Everyone writes blogs for different reasons and true there are some who start blogs and add a couple of posts before realising that they are just not dedicated enough to maintain their blog so simply abandon the idea. For the rest of us however, it’s the chance for us to write about something we’re passionate about; share our views, knowledge and ideas with the world, and exercise our writing muscle! Of course most bloggers would be lying if they said that they didn’t wish for their blog to lead to bigger things (paid writing jobs for a start!) and I for one must admit that the film Julie and Julia was more than a little inspirational for me ( incidentally the nostalgia theme runs deep throughout this fantastic film.) However if we’re not fortunate enough to go on to even greater things, we’ll be thrilled just writing for our blogs and keeping our readers happy.

The real Julie Powell, writer and blogger

The real Julie Powell, writer and blogger

Since childhood, it was obvious to my family that I would go on to achieve a career that involved writing as I was always writing stories and poems during my years at primary school before composing songs when I hit my teens. And when I wasn’t writing, I had my head stuck in a book, completely oblivious to what was going on around me. Sadly, after completing my MA degree, I saw just how thin on the ground writing jobs were. Actually that’s not totally true. writing jobs were abundant – if you were prepared to work for nothing at all! And in the early days, desperate to develop my portfolio, I did. I landed some great unpaid writing gigs from editors who claimed to really like my style of writing but unfortunately these obviously did not pay the bills. After being messed about by an editor, I reached the end of my tether and decided to pull the plug on the ‘working for free’ business and get a job where I would get paid for my efforts. So I now teach English which I absolutely love. And even though the pay isn’t great – the important thing is that there is a wage slip every month!

So true!

So true!

Have I given up on my dream of writing and having more than ‘just a blog’. Of course not but I’ve made a promise to myself not to work for absolutely nothing ever again. After all, a hairdresser, architect or accountant won’t work on an unpaid basis so why should I? And even though my blog is still in it’s infancy stage, I love writing for Nostalgia Pie. I’ve already had some great comments which is lovely to hear. I figured that if I have to write for free then I would do so on my own terms and most importantly for myself – not people who wish to gain from my efforts and not give anything back. Which is why, Ms. Snooty Writer, I ‘just have a blog.’ Though I’d like to think it’s a great one.

And to all my fellow bloggers out there, keep up the great work! I love reading your work.

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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in I Don't Believe It!

 

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Comfort Food #3: Sponge Pudding

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Nothing screams comfort food quite like a lovely hot dessert – and when it’s a sponge pudding smothered in custard, so much the better!

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A steamed or baked dome shaped sponge pudding served with custard, cream, or crème Anglaise is an unbeatable classic. Even the most health conscious among us would find it hard to resist. In our house, when we were growing up there was no such thing as resistance to a fluffy sponge pudding as it was very much a firm favourite with our family. It didn’t matter if it was shop bought or one of Mum’s lovely homemade ones; we couldn’t wait to dig in. We knew that Dad would always ask for seconds and that no amount of custard would ever be enough for him!

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One of the great things about the sponge pudding is that with so many variations of it, you can have a sponge pudding every day of the week and still never get bored. You can try making them using different flavoured sponges topped with fruity jams; rich chocolate or toffee sauces; thick golden syrup or yummy fruit (if you want to feel as though you’re being super healthy!) You can even add fresh or dried fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips to the sponge mix to add texture and make it even more delicious. The only limit is your imagination.

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I’m so glad I grew up in England where I was brought up on such fare. During my time in the States I was disappointed that no one seemed to understand what I meant by a sponge pudding as ‘pudding’ in America is something very similar to Angel Delight – and as delicious as that is, that’s not quite what I wanted! Now I’m back in England, I can pig out to my heart’s content. My absolute favourite? Eve’s Pudding. Gorgeous!

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Here’s a recipe for a classic jam sponge pudding by Janet Smith. Enjoy!

SteamedPud-u

If you haven’t got a steamer, improvise with a large pan filled with about 5cm of water. Put a sturdy upturned saucer in the bottom of the pan to keep the sponge away from direct heat.

Ingredients

• 2tbsp jam plus a little extra
• 125g butter
• 125g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• vanilla extract
• 175g self-raising flour
• milk

Directions

1) Generously butter a 900ml pudding basin and spoon the jam into the bottom.
2) Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3) Break the eggs into a separate bowl and add them to the mixture a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
4) Add a few drops of vanilla extract, then fold in the flour, followed by enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency.
5) Spoon the cake mixture on top of the jam and level out.
6) Lay a large piece of foil on your worksurface and cover with a piece of greaseproof paper. Butter the greaseproof paper, then fold it and foil to make a pleat in the centre. Place this on top of the pudding, buttered side down, and secure with string.
7) Steam the pudding for 11/4 to 11/2 hours. The sponge is ready when it is well risen and springy in the centre.
8) Turn out onto a serving plate and let the jam dribble down the sides of the pudding. Add a little more warmed jam if you like. Serve with custard or single cream.
9) To turn this into a chocolate pudding, replace about a quarter of the flour with cocoa powder.

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Literally The Coolest Lip Balms Ever!

Being a typically girly girl, I am so excited about the new range of lip balms based on Wall’s ice-cream classics. Whoever came up with this idea is a legend in the making!

The new range of lip balms

The new range of lip balms

The new range comes in four fantastic flavours: Feast, Strawberry Split, Twister and Mini Milk. These old school classics definitely take me back to my childhood: a time of ice-cream vans; walks in the park; summers spent hanging out with our little friends, and not being able to walk past a newsagent’s without dragging Granddad in to buy us all ice-lollies.

Feast

Feast

Mini Milk

Mini Milk

Twister

Twister

I honestly can’t decide which was my favourite out of the four as I’m sure I scoffed them all in equal measure. However, Feast may have had the edge simply for being super chocolatey! It’s just too bad that the ever fabulous Fab isn’t part of the line up as I loved those as well but sadly it was unlikely to be included as Fab is not a Wall’s ice cream. Oh well!

Strawberry Split

Strawberry Split

Anyway, I cannot wait to get my hands – or lips – on all four great flavours. Proof that a moment on the lips doesn’t necessarily have to mean a lifetime on the hips!

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Old School Stuff

 

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The Terrorvision Song Contest

My lovely hubby who hails from the good old U.S of A has just experienced his first ever Eurovision Song Contest. He laughed at the tactical voting; thought the entertainment during the interval was cheesy; cringed at some of the ridiculous acts; questioned whether or not some of the countries were technically part of Europe; wondered what the hell the wardrobe department were thinking; expressed surprise at the low placing of the United Kingdom and marvelled at how next year’s show would coincidentally be held in the country of the winning entry. Er…

Welcome to the wonderful, weird and wacky world of Eurovision!

The Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest

Even though I now think that Eurovision is a bit old hat and only tune in to watch the voting – if at all – I didn’t always feel like that. Eurovision was a big deal in our house every year as my mum’s enthusiasm would rub off on all of us. Dinner would be out of the way and we would all be huddled on the sofa as we prepared for three hours of what our unsophisticated young minds considered to be great family entertainment. Snacks would have been bought at least a week in advance and we would all chomp our way through the United Kingdom’s latest disaster; Ireland’s new victory and yet another nil points for Luxembourg.

The Godfather of Eurovision, Terry Wogan

The Godfather of Eurovision, Terry Wogan

However, there were some highlights and I’m glad that I was able to witness some classic moments. I loved Michael Ball’s cheesy dancing; Frances Ruffelle’s suggestive moves; Sonia’s vibrant performance; enjoyed seeing the first ever entry by a transsexual artist; seeing the same artist take the most amusing tumble on stage a year later; listening to the powerful vocals of Niamh Kavanagh and ‘Mr. Eurovision’ himself, Johnny Logan; watching the United Kingdom bring it home with Katrina and the Waves in 1997… and lose it abysmally in 2003 by getting their first ever nil points courtesy of Jemini. And who could forget the dulcet tones of one Terry Wogan who provided the witty commentary every year until 2008? Wogan was to Eurovision what Noel Edmonds is to Christmas.

Johnny Logan: Am I the only one who thinks that he looked like Patrick Swayze?

Johnny Logan: Am I the only one who thinks that he looked like Patrick Swayze?

One of my favourite entries was back in 1988 when Scott Fitzgerald represented the UK with the tear jerking ballad Go. I may have been very young at the time but even I couldn’t mistake the power, emotion and meaning in the song. Anyone who watched Eurovision that year will also remember how fierce the voting was and the nail biting race to the finish line as it looked as though a well deserved victory for the United kingdom was imminent. Sadly victory belonged to Switzerland that year as we were beaten by one measly point. The singer who secured Switzerland’s win was a Canadian girl with bad teeth, a dodgy perm and we all believed that once the fuss died down, she’d just fade into obscurity.

Scott Fitzgerald

Scott Fitzgerald

However the singer, Celine Dion, had other ideas…

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Old School Stuff

 

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Comfort Food #2: Magical Baked Alaska

To say that I have a bit of a sweet tooth is like saying Mary Berry does a bit of baking! And one thing that I’m a huge fan of is that logic defying dessert – Baked Alaska. I love the layered combination of cake, ice-cream and (occasionally) fruit all topped with meringue of the soft, fluffy, marshmallowy variety.

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Baked Alaska is a retro classic and was a big hit when I was growing up in the 1980s – though I believe it first became popular a decade earlier. Cooking shows I used to watch with Mum would show viewers how to create a Baked Alaska; women’s magazines my aunts used to buy would always contain recipes for the dessert and I loved seeing the different variations. I may have only been a kid but even I knew that no dinner party was complete without this sweet finale.

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From a child’s point of view, there was something extremely magical about this dessert. Whoever heard of an ice-cream that could be baked in the oven and come out intact and not as ice-cream soup? It was only when I was at secondary school and began home economics classes that I understood why the ice-cream didn’t melt (OK – here comes the science bit!): the meringue acted as an effective insulator, and the short cooking time (just long enough to bake the meringue) prevents the heat from getting through to the ice cream.

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But from being everywhere, it’s now seldom heard of. It’s very rarely served up at dinner parties; I don’t hear about anyone tucking into a Baked Alaska anymore and it doesn’t appear on restaurant menus. In fact, the last time I heard of anyone serving up a Baked Alaska was at the wedding of a family friend – and she got married back in 1990!

However that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly ceased to be delicious so it’s about time that this unique and long forgotten dessert made a comeback.

Here’s a very delightful sounding recipe that I found from Mark Sargeant for a modern take on an old favourite. Baked Alaska has never sounded so good and I for one cannot wait to try it!

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Ingredients

For the sponge
5 free-range eggs
150 g caster sugar
110 g plain flour
40 g cocoa powder
25 g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing

For the ice cream
250 g plain chocolate
100 g unsalted butter
150 g caster sugar
150 ml water
4 large eggs, yolks only
500 ml double cream

For the meringue
100 ml water
400 g sugar
2 tbsp liquid glucose, (optional)
6 egg whites
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

For the cherry sauce
300 g cherries, stones removed, halved, plus 12 extra whole with stalks for decoration
2 tbsp caster sugar
A cordial of cherries
A splash of kirsch

To serve
kirsch, for drizzling and flambéing
½ shell of eggs, washed and dried

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Grease and line a 24x20cm/9.5x8in lipped baking tray.

2. For the sponge: cream the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl for 4-5 minutes until pale and fluffy.

3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into the egg and sugar mixture and fold until combined, then stir in the melted butter. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tray and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the cake is risen and is springy to the touch.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool briefly in the tray before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

5. For the ice cream: place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just-simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). Stir continuously, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and glossy. Set aside.

6. Place the sugar and water into a small saucepan set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil, cooking for a few minutes until the mixture thickens to a syrup consistency. Set aside to cool for one minute.

7. Place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of just-simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). While whisking continuously, slowly trickle in the hot sugar syrup. When all of the sugar syrup has been incorporated and the mixture has thickened, whisk in the double cream and the melted chocolate mixture until smooth.

8. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Scoop the churned ice cream into a rectangular container, smoothing the top, and place into the freezer. Remove from the freezer 5-10 minutes before serving.

9. For the meringue: place the water, sugar and glucose (if using) into a heavy-based saucepan. Place over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to the boil. Increase the heat to high and boil until the mixture reaches 121C (check using a sugar thermometer), then quickly remove from the heat.

10. Beat the egg whites and vanilla seeds in a stand mixer, then carefully pour the sugar syrup onto the beaten egg whites in a thin stream, taking care not to let the syrup run onto the whisks or the edge of the bowl. Continue to beat at a low speed until the mixture is almost completely cold – this will take about 10 minutes. Spoon the meringue into a piping bag and set aside.

11. For the cherry sauce: place all of the cherry sauce ingredients into a pan and cook over a medium heat until the cherries are tender (add a splash of water if the mixture looks too dry). Transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend to a smooth puree. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve.

12. To assemble the baked Alaska, cut two equal-sized rectangles from the sponge. Cut the ice cream into a brick shape the same length and width as the sponge.

13. Place one sponge rectangle onto a serving plate and drizzle with kirsch, then smooth over some of the cherry sauce. Top with the ice cream, then the other sponge to make a ‘sandwich’. Pipe the meringue all over the ‘sandwich’ to cover, making sure it is completely covered.

14. Using a mini blowtorch, brown the meringue all over. Place the whole cherries around the base of the meringue to decorate. Pour some kirsch into the egg shell and press into the top of the meringue. Carefully ignite the kirsch just before serving.

 

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Mobile Phonies

I’m not in an altogether nostalgic mood right now. In fact I’m in rant mode and to say that I’m furious is an understatement.

A certain phone company who I would love to name and shame has been stealing from me. That’s right STEALING! There is no other word to describe it. I’ve been fobbed off with a whole bunch of pathetic reasons, excuses and justifications and I’m ashamed to say I even doubted myself. However, the latest bill is so unbelievably shocking that there is no way some smooth talking customer service representative (also known as liar. Service? What an insult to the word!) can convince me that I must have made more calls than I’ve realised. With the hours I work it’s virtually impossible; Most days, I don’t even have the energy to talk to my husband let alone anyone else!

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Having spoken to various people, I now understand that this problem is more common than most of us realise. Even the solicitor from whom I sought legal advice and the bank cashier I spoke to have all had the same problem. I’ve been advised to cancel the direct debit and make bill payments instead. I will also be taking this matter further as I refuse to let a bunch of crooks masquerading as a legitimate business help themselves to my hard earned money. I’ve been told that this was typical of phone companies and a friend who has worked for a major phone store admitted that there are all sorts of underhand tactics that those working in the phone industry employ. So why are they being allowed to get away with it? They do so because a) no one kicks up much of a fuss and b) phones are virtually a necessity these days so we are all easy targets for phone companies or scammers as I should say, who want to make money literally at the expense of their unsuspecting (or suspecting but helpless) customers.

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The sensible thing to do would be to wash my hands of anything that even slightly resembles a mobile. But is that so easy to do? I went to school in the 1990s when mobile phones were becoming more accessible for everyone so I grew up with the concept that a phone is vital. Then there are practical reasons; I might need it for an emergency; someone may urgently need to contact me and as a freelancer, I need a phone for work. Also do I really want to be the only one in the village without a phone? Probably not!

However, peer pressure isn’t a good enough reason to keep shelling out for extortionate phone bills. I still remember life back in the 1980s when the only people who had mobile phones were the young, upwardly mobile crowd – and those were not phones you wanted to be seen with in public (not so much bricks as breeze blocks!) Those of us who didn’t have them certainly didn’t feel as though we were missing out. In fact, my parents take pride in being the only people in the world (I’m sure) who don’t own mobile phones. They don’t give two hoots about the ridicule and when challenged about their lack of a phone, Mum replies that she has no desire to make phone companies richer than they already are; “And years ago people didn’t have mobile phones. How did we get by? We just did!”

80s icon Delboy showed us how 'cushty' life was with a mobile phone

80s icon Delboy showed us how ‘cushty’ life was with a mobile phone

An older gentleman with whom I went to drama school explained how he liked to live simply: “I don’t have a mobile or a computer… I don’t even have an email address. I prefer to live simply.” Maybe he had the right idea but is such a concept compatible with modern day living? I’m not sure I’m brave enough to find out but that doesn’t mean I want to be held to ransom just because I choose to have things which aid my everyday living. After all, these gadgets, gizmos and latest technological advances to which we so greatly adhere were meant to make life easier and more comfortable and the cheap deals that came with them meant that they were affordable and accessible to all. Instead it’s made us a society of stressed out and overanxious individuals who work harder than we should just to pay the (phone) bills.

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Posted by on May 8, 2013 in I Don't Believe It!

 

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