Monday, 20 October 2014

Vicar's Kitchen: My Love Affair with a Slow Cooker

I've fallen in love. It started as a mere flirtation. I perused the Argos catalogue (or the Laminated Book of Dreams for Bill Bailey fans..) and wondered. A Slow intriguing...could this be the compromise I am looking for between two of my strongest yet competing personality traits – sheer laziness and a great love of food? Before I knew it I was online browsing forums about Slow Cooker capacity and by the afternoon I was in town cradling my shiny white beauty in my arms.

To begin with, as in all relationships, we needed to build up some trust. I couldn’t believe that my slow cooker would lovingly cook my dinner for ten hours without it being burnt to a crisp on the bottom. I entrusted it with the ingredients for a mountain of sweet and sour chicken and waited managing to only occasionally rattle the lit to see what on earth was going on in there.

A few hours later some wonderful smells began to emerge. My infatuation deepened. It only became full blown when, at seven o'clock that evening, I lifted the lid to be greeted with tender, juicy sweet and sour chicken ready to eat right there and then without me lifting a single pan onto the stove. There were no burned bits. No sad uncooked bits. It was piping hot chicken-y goodness. My, oh my.

Since then our relationship has been going from strength to strength. This weekend my trusted Slow Cooker, my faithful partner in life, made me a beef bourginon while I spent the day playing with my one year old niece. It has braised me red cabbage. It has spiced up my life with a glorious tagine. Reader, it has made me glad.

It might be retro, it might be so unbelievable effective that it almost makes you believe in magic but trust me this is your new best friend. If I've convinced you then here are the top slow cooker tips from the Vicarage Kitchen.

  • Trying to decide what capacity to go for leads you into a world of confusion. We got a 3.5 litre and it makes four portions and we are pretty piggy individuals.
  • Slow Cookers release very little moisture so you will need to adapt recipes so they have the right amount of liquid to cook but so they aren't too liquidy when you eat them.
  • If in doubt I got this awesome Slow Cooker cookbook. Well worth it.
  • Always put hot liquid into the Slow Cooker and if preparing ingredients ahead don't put the ceramic basin of the Slow Cooker into the fridge with the ingredients in it. When it hits the heat of the cooker chaos will ensue (or the basin will crack if you want to be less dramatic!)
  • Cooking any meat in the Slow Cooker makes it stupendously tender and yummy. Think stews, tagines etc. Wintery goodness, my friends.
  • If you do buy a Slow Cooker you might need an appropriate outlet for you evangelical enthusiasm on its wonders and benefits. I suggest started a blog and sharing your enthusiasm with the world at large. 'Slow Cooker and Me', 'Desperately Seeking Slow Cooker', 'P.S I Love You (Slow Cooker)'?!
I may have just transformed your life. You're welcome.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Vicar's Sofa: If you only had one hour left to live, how would you spend it?

'Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence, neither speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish, it is an imponderably valuable gift' - Maya Angelou*

As I've entered my thirties I have become more conscious of time. Perhaps this is because I have reached the age where my teenage self thought I would have 'made it'. I was convinced that for sure I would have the career thing all sown up, I'd definitely be married and probably have at least one mischievous yet quietly intelligent little rug rat crawling around in a house that I, of course, owned. Fast forward to actually being thirty and besides a wedding ring on my finger I have none of those things and now, it turns out, I'm not even sure I want them at all.

As I child I remember always wanting to be older than I was. Excited to be ten, to finally hit double figures. Excited to be a teenager and get my ears pierced. Excited to be old enough to get into pubs, legally at last! Excited to leave home, to rent my own flat, to do all those grown up things that I'd watched everyone else do, that I'd played make-believe at and impatiently wanted for myself. Time never seemed to go fast enough. Each birthday crept around at the speed of a limping tortoise. The question of precious time never popped up, it was never an issue when I was galloping off into the future as fast as my legs would take me!

But now, not so much. Now I am very much aware that I am making choices in my life that I cannot go back on. That time is moving on and that it is more hare than tortoise. How would I spend my last hour? It's almost impossible to fathom. I already struggle to think how I will fit everything I want to do into this one lifetime I have and that is on the assumption that I will live to be very, very old indeed. Nothing exemplifies this more that my 'To Read' pile which, thanks to many hours browsing in second hand bookshops and a time spent working in one, is bordering on the absurd. If I can't even get through all the books I want to read how can I possibly decide the best way to spend these precious hours of my days?

And yet there are some things that come to mind for that last hour and that remind me how I want to live life now. Things that I do that make my insides do a little dance with how perfect the moment is, how valuable beyond anything I can measure or put into words. Like laying on the living room floor and pulling funny faces at my laughing niece, like sinking down onto my knees to pray and feeling an indescribable peace, like eating a huge piece of cake or hearing the first glug of wine into the glass and raising a toast to my best friends.

I'd probably spend the hour hugging this one, it's the little things!
So I guess I'd like to do something like that with my last hour. To remind myself that though I may never 'make it' in the way my teenage self expected that life is full of such wonder, such unexpected joy, such love. I'd want to remember that and to celebrate my part in it. To celebrate and give thanks for this 'imponderably valuable gift' that is each hour of this crazy little life.

So that's me. How about you? If you had one hour left to live, how would you spend it?

*Quote and question from the book Soul Pancake - Chew on Life's Big Questions by Rainn Wilson. A fantastic book, hugely recommended!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Welcome to Vicar's Tea Party!

I first had the idea for Vicar's Tea Party when I was sitting in a café in Oxford confronted with a truly monumental stack of cakes and the world's most enormous pot of tea. I was in good company and we talked about all sorts of things. How life was going, funny things that has happened that week, significant things that had happened and all manner of things that had made us think. As I munched through my fifth, albeit relatively bite size, cakey morsel I thought, 'what a great way to reflect on life. Cake, tea, conversation. Bliss.'

Being a self confessed blog-a-holic my thoughts immediately turned to how this might work in an online format. Because it is true, I believe, that we are spiritual beings who need time out to think and reflect and wonder about things but it is also true that we are physical beings who love a good slice of cake and to go shopping for vintage shizzle for our houses. Both of these things, the spiritual and the physical, make us who we are and need a little indulging in the company of a good cuppa and good friends.

And so the Vicar's Tea Party was born. I think of it a little like this. My experience of Vicarages are usually that you wander in, sink down onto a slightly battered sofa and get brought cup of tea after cup of tea after cup of tea. It's not 'More Tea Vicar?' for nothing. Interesting people often pop round. In the best cases there is a relaxed vibe. An open house. A place to sit and be and discuss questions that you would rarely raise in any other company. The Vicar is pretty hard to shock, they have pretty much heard it all before. They are professional thinkers and ponderers who face life and death and everything in between on a near daily basis.
And so that is what I want this little online space to be. A place to meet. A place to think. A place to get ideas for revamping that old bedside table your Granny left you – because that is important to. A place to be fed and a place to meet new friends (yes, online ones count too!). I don't claim to have all the answers (I'm a trainee Vicar for one!) but I do have a comfy virtual couch, a lot of chat, an eye for a bargain and a big ol' listening ear.

So welcome, pop by any time. I hope you like it here.