Recipe #4: Baked eggs with chorizo and tomato ragout

Oooh, we love baked eggs in our house. And the idea of adding chorizo made my youngest child actually rub his hands together in anticipation.

I appreciate a recipe that suggests steps that can be done in advance. So I did indeed make the tomato ragout earlier in the day and that made dinner preparation quite quick. The ragout itself is a filling, savoury topping so next time, I might double this and save some for another dish. I had run out of saffron sadly, so had to leave this out. I’m sure it would have added depth to the flavour, but the strong chorizo was very tasty anyway.

Individual ovenproof dishes worked well for combining the portions of ragout and eggs. Baking time was a bit long for my oven making the yolks less runny than I would have liked, so I’ll adapt that next time. I had sour cream in the fridge so I used that instead of Greek yogurt as it achieved the same contrast to the rich chorizo.

I didn’t snap a photo of our baked eggs because they disappeared so quickly! In fact, even though the recipe states that it serves four, I’ll need to make more in the future as the children requested seconds. This recipe certainly gets to stay in my kitchen as part of The Hungry Games. Give it a try!

Baked eggs and chorizo with tomato ragout

Recipe #3: Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice

After quite a long summer hiatus, The Hungry Games are back! I’ve held out and not purchased any new cookbooks as I’m trying to get through my pile of clipped recipes first. But Christmas is coming and I know I’ll want to put some cookbooks on my list for Santa … So I’ve been using my clipped recipes a lot in an effort to clear out some of the mess. Now it’s time to share the verdicts on whether these recipes will stay in my kitchen or be sent to the recycle bin.

Starting with Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice –

This recipe looked colourful and I’m always eager to try meat-free meals as healthy alternatives. The idea of cooking everything in one dish also appealed to me to shorten cleaning time after dinner.

Ingredients for this dish were straightforward and easily found in the grocery store. I didn’t, however, read the rice item closely enough. The recipe actually calls for pre-cooked rice and quinoa but I don’t usually use this, so I had to quickly steam some rice and boil some quinoa before adding to the dish. Other than that, I enjoyed roasting the vegetables and did some of this in advance. After that, combining and cooking the rest of the dish took very little time. I kept the dressing on the side to suit my little one’s palate.

The prawns became a bit dry but the combination of roasted vegetables, onions, coriander and chilli made the dish robust and flavoursome. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay!

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns COOKED

Presentation tips that work for writing too

Recently, I attended a lunchtime training session on Effective Presentations at the fabulous Olympic Studios in Barnes. While jotting down the helpful tips the speakers provided, I was reminded that some of the same advice applies to developing a persuasive piece of writing. Logical, I suppose, as developing content to be delivered to an audience whether verbally or in writing requires some thoughtful preparation. So, here are some presentation tips that work for writing too -

Know your audience

Peter Mather of BP Europe spoke about preparing content for a presentation and Amanda Cropper from the Polka Theatre offered practical tips for powerful delivery of a presentation. Peter’s first tip was to know your audience. So, for a live presentation, he recommended researching how many people will be at your event, who will be in your audience and why they’re attending. Knowing your audience is equally important when writing marketing materials. Researching your target’s environment and motivations will make all the difference in persuading them to read your messages.

Tell a story

Another tip Peter gave was to tell a story. In a live presentation, this means building a structure around the beginning, middle and end of your talk and focusing on just three or four points for your audience to remember. Peter also recommended illustrating your points with personal stories.  Similarly, when writing a marketing piece, it’s helpful to deliver only two to three key points. Including your personality in a letter or email will help your audience connect with you when you’re not there in person.

Stick to the point

When delivering a presentation, Peter reminded us to stick to the point. Eliminate extraneous facts or arguments to reduce the chances of distracting your audience. This reminder is helpful for writing marketing materials as well because readers need to be captured in the first few sentences or else they will move on to reading something else.

Enjoy

Lastly, Peter encouraged presenters to try to enjoy the experience. If you’re authentic and show that you believe in what you’re saying, your audience will be engaged in your talk. Enjoy yourself and your audience will be more likely to enjoy themselves. Similarly when writing, it’s effective to demonstrate enthusiasm for what you’re announcing. If you truly believe that what you’re selling will benefit your audience, this message will come through.

Bring the right person into the room

Amanda focused very much on the physical preparations for speaking to a live audience. She suggested ways to relax and anchor yourself to the ground when standing in front of an audience. Practicing deep breathing is another way to deliver a powerful speech and Amanda spoke about rehearsing to reduce any nervousness. But the advice that Amanda gave that resonated most with me as far as writing was to ‘bring the right person into the room.’ She recommended deciding in advance who you want to be during the presentation, how you want to portray yourself. I think this applies to writing a marketing piece even more because you need to represent yourself through words only, without any visual cues to demonstrate your professionalism or other benefits of your business.  So I’d recommend as well deciding who you want to be before you start writing about yourself and your company.

Fundraising for a good cause

Many thanks to both speakers for this valuable session. The training was organized as a fundraiser for the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, offering world-class theatre for children. Check out their performances and creative, community programmes.  It was especially nice to help a worthy cause while gaining valuable business skills!

??????????????????

Marketing: A dark art?

Recently, I heard marketing described as ‘a dark art.’ What a shame that our profession is so misunderstood and maligned. This reputation for trickery and obfuscation is undeserved. My guess is that people who feel this way have experienced unsuccessful marketing campaigns and are fearful of sorting out the reasons why the programmes failed.

Professional marketeers and communicators bring ethics and transparency to their work. We aren’t misleading or mysterious and our intention is not to dupe people into doing things they shouldn’t. Certainly in the health care field, there are numerous regulations to stop dishonest sales techniques. But the communicators I admire avoid deception because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of industry rules.

We are paid to develop persuasive messages and make sure the right audiences see them at the right time to encourage action. Yes, we research audiences and identify their motivations to sell products and services, but there is no hidden agenda. The last thing we want is for audiences to feel bullied or tricked into making decisions, then regretful afterwards. The ideal result is for an audience to clearly understand and buy into our marketing messages so they are happy with the intended action and even recommend it to others.

All this pushes consumers to be more savvy, which is no bad thing. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if people carefully analysed their purchase options and made educated choices? The more shrewd audiences become, the more honest marketing campaigns need to be. One could suggest this creates a virtuous circle between communicators and their audiences.

Despite comments about marketing as a dark art, I will continue aiming for transparency and honesty in my communications programmes. It makes good business sense because this is what clients want. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) published a report demonstrating that the top three attributes clients look for in consultants are creativity, honesty and trust. So let’s continue being genuine and transparent and carry on the professional reputation of the marketing field.

 

Book group – Travels with Charley

John Steinbeck has been my favorite author for a long time so I’m not sure why it has taken me until now to read this gem. Especially as an American living abroad, I was moved by Steinbeck’s impressions of my country as he encountered people from all walks of life. I can’t say that he paints a flattering picture, but his honest reflections remind us about the issues the nation struggles with even now.

  1. What role did Charley play in Steinbeck’s travels and the stories he told? How would the memoir have been different if Steinbeck had traveled alone or had not written about his canine companion?
  2. What were the most memorable scenes in the journey for you? Mine was the depiction of Wisconsin, the dairy state. Steinbeck’s recollection that ‘Cheese was everywhere’ rang very true.
  3. Did Steinbeck show us aspects of America’s regions and people in ways we might miss if we visited? How did he elicit so much from each person he spoke with on his journey?
  4. Steinbeck states a few times in the book that he started the journey the find out about America. Do you think he went on the trip with pre-conceived attitudes and opinions about the nation and its people? Was he trying to prove or disprove any particular theories?
  5. What identifying characteristics of Americans did Steinbeck encounter across the regions he visited? Do you agree that Americans display these traits wherever they live, even outside of America?
  6. This memoir of Steinbeck’s journey around America focuses more on the Northeast, Midwest and West. Toward the end of his trip, he writes only a little about the South. What impression does this leave with the reader about this region?
  7. Have you ever thought about or felt a desire to travel the way Steinbeck does across a country? I admired his self-contained vehicle, Rocinante, but wondered if I would miss room service!
  8. Much has been written about Steinbeck as an author and, in particular, about this book. Did ‘Travels with Charley’ make you want to read more of his work, or read more about his travels?

Travels with Charley

Book group – In the Heart of the Sea

This book was recommended by a friend with excellent taste in books so I knew it would be good. Several of Nathaniel Philbrick’s books are about the sea and he persuades us to jump aboard the whaleship Essex with authority and charm. I loved the historical accuracy of the true story that inspired Moby Dick and the ‘Ideas, interviews & features’ at the back of the book provides even more learning resources.

  1. What did you learn about Nantucket and New England that you didn’t know before?
  2. How does Philbrick explain the characters’ backgrounds and motivations in a way that’s relevant to us today?
  3. Did you feel any sympathy for the whalers even though they were engaged in a grisly industry? Is it possible to respect them for their knowledge and skill despite how they used their talents?
  4. As tensions rise on the Essex, much drama unfolds among the crew. Is there an equivalent to this type of group dynamic on shore? Do people still display the fear, greed, panic and heroism shown by some of the crew?
  5. What type of person would have been drawn to the whaling trade? Do other hunters need that level of bravery in the face of such ferocious and gigantic prey?
  6. What do you think led to the sperm whale attack of 1820 described in the book? Do you think Philbrick asserts a particular reasoning? What are the other potential outcomes?
  7. What lessons did whalers learn from the string of disasters that happened on Essex?
  8. How would modern explorers respond in a similar situation?
  9. Which scenes were the most difficult to read? Did you finish the book feeling grateful for the solid ground under your feet?
  10. Why are we compelled to read about disasters such as this dramatic sea story? What do we learn about human behaviour from the crew of the Essex?

In the Heart of the Sea

Book group – The Boys in the Boat

Who would have thought that a group of women in Chiswick would have chosen a sports memoir for book group and loved it so much? Well, some in the group are actually quite sporty and into rowing themselves. But it came as a surprise to me. I was drawn in by the extraordinary perseverance of the young rowers. So much that I recall having to tell my children to make their own dinner because I was in the middle of a dramatic and suspenseful race scene. Well done to Daniel James Brown for weaving a compelling sports drama through the Depression and Hitler’s Germany.

  1. How did the author evoke time and place throughout the book, particularly the desperately poor conditions of Joe’s childhood?
  2. How did Joe’s experiences exploring forests and working with lumber add to his respect for the shells used for rowing?
  3. How did the depiction of Nazi Germany just before the war add to your knowledge of that period in history? Did you think more could have been done by the International Olympic Committee to uncover the discrimination and corruption?
  4. How would Joe and his crewmates have been different people if they had not grown up during the Depression? What impact did the crushing economic downturn have on their determination to win?
  5. What did George Pocock’s quotes at the beginning of each chapter add to the book?
  6. What role do university sports programmes play in building young students into men and women?
  7. Do we have a modern-day equivalent to the 1936 US Olympic rowing crew? Could we ever?
  8. As the story was told mostly from Joe’s perspective, was there a voice you missed? Another character whose perspective would have added to the descriptions of events?
  9. What do you think motivated Judy, Joe’s daughter, to tell this story through the author?
  10. What makes ‘underdog’ stories so compelling? Why do we root for the plucky team coming up from the back and why are we so thrilled to see them overcome adversity?

Boys in the Boat

Book group – The Beginner’s Goodbye

Anne Tyler’s writing is so accessible and this story is no exception. We’re asked to believe, or at least observe, the protagonist’s visions of his recently departed wife.  Following the trail of the characters’ courtship and marriage lets us wonder why we fall in love and what happens if the loved one disappears.

  1. Did you have a particular reaction to the story because it was told from a man’s perspective? Did the internal dialogue ring true? How might it have been different from a woman’s point of view?
  2. Where did your sympathies lie, with Aaron or Dorothy? Did you recognise their feelings?
  3. Could you believe that Aaron really saw and spoke to Dorothy after she died? What did you feel toward Aaron when he reported these sightings?
  4. What would have motivated Dorothy to come back and visit Aaron after her death? As Aaron suggests, did one of them or both have ‘unfinished business?’
  5. Why do you think the author chose the title, ‘The Beginner’s Goodbye?’ Did you think Aaron was consciously saying goodbye to Dorothy through the story?
  6. Why did the author include Nandina’s story line? How was her life juxtaposed against Aaron’s? Was it important for Aaron to see his sister in a relationship/moving on after Dorothy’s death?
  7. What impression did you have of Aaron regarding his desire not to be ‘mothered’ or comforted by the women in his life? Was this pretence or a genuine need? How was his life built around this need?
  8. What role did Aaron’s work colleagues play in the story? How did each of them help him move through his grief?
  9. What did you think of Aaron’s male friends who offered support? How did Gil, Luke and Nate help Aaron?
  10. How did you feel about Aaron and Peggy at the end of the story? What purpose did it serve to describe Aaron in a parental role? How had the characters changed over time?

beginners goodbye

Recipe #2: Sardines on toast

What makes a good recipe? We probably all have different answers to this, depending on whether we are cooking or just eating. For me, a good recipe should have:

-          Clear, sensible language

-          A short list of ingredients, all of which can be easily purchased

-          Realistic time estimates

-          A lovely photo

These criteria are strictly based on my own cooking style and limitations. My end results need to be within a rather narrow range of flavors to please two small children and a non-adventurous husband. I seem to like having an image of the dish to aim for, so I can see if I’ve ‘done it right’ at the end. At other points in my life, I may have added criteria such as ‘beautiful presentation’ but it’s not as important now. And I’m clearly not going to shop for exotic ingredients at specialist markets either. I predict that The Hungry Games will turn up some quite simple recipes because if they looked too complicated, I probably wouldn’t have clipped them in the first place.

So, here is a very straightforward lunch recipe for sardines on toast.

Because I work from a home office, I have the opportunity to make fresh lunches for myself. This one looked tasty, healthy and relatively easy. I omitted the red chillies because I’m a wimp when it comes to spice. But otherwise, my end result looked pleasingly similar to the recipe photo. The sardines added a hearty flavour that wasn’t too overpowering, as anchovies might have been. But I think that I should have added at least a bit of chili or another spice because my version lacked a fun kick without it.

Overall though, this recipe was a tiny treat that provided me with a quick but wholesome lunch. The Hungry Games verdict: it can stay in my kitchen!

Sardines on toast recipe

 

Sardines on toast finished

Recipe #1: Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables

I received a tagine as a Christmas gift and was excited to try it. It’s a beautiful object, which somehow made me optimistic that the food it cooked would be beautiful too.

The instruction booklet from Emile Henry included a few recipes so I thought it would be safe to start with one of those. The ingredients were straightforward and I used preserved lemon for the first time.

The cooking process started similarly to other stew recipes. I fried onions, garlic and the chicken right in the tagine on the stove top. Then I tried to bring the chicken pieces into a pyramid as instructed – harder than it sounds. The vegetables were then squeezed around the outside of the sagging pyramid. Much less liquid was added than when making a stew in a casserole dish with a lid.

Then the tagine went in the oven. That was it, pretty simple. Not far into the cooking time, I realized that I should have placed a baking sheet under the tagine because a lot of the liquid was bubbling up around the edges of the lid and dripping on to the bottom of the oven. About an hour and a half later, we sat down with the beautiful tagine in the centre of the table. Taking the lid off was quite dramatic as a plume of steam puffed out.

I’m disappointed to report an anti-climactic ending to this recipe. The chicken was very bland and my children asked if we could please try a different recipe next time – at least they were diplomatic! The turmeric in the sauce stained our tablecloth. I’ll beware of that hazard next time I use that spice. So between the burnt-smelling oven, the stained tablecloth and the unsatisfied family, The Hungry Games verdict is that this recipe will be going to the recycling bin.

I’m not giving up on the tagine, though. Another family member with a tagine has recommended a cookbook called Easy Tagine by Ghillie Basan. Maybe I’ll give that a go next time.

tagine

 

Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables