Thursday, 27 October 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

“You must never leave meat on your plate, however full you are, because that's the most expensive part of the meal” - I was brought up with this doctrine and seem to have subconsciously applied it to all aspects of life. I find it very hard to “waste” anything. For days on end I'll consume the same unopened food if it is soon about to pass its use-by-date. I actually lived off the same bland soup for three days for lunch and dinner purely because I didn't want to waste the enormous bumper batch. Throwing out cardboard is also recently a problem – after all we may need it for painting on. So you can imagine properly moving into the flat and down-sizing my belongings was a real problem and a massive job.

It's only now, over a year since we got the flat and three months after I've properly moved in on a permanent basis that things are starting to look more homely. I still have belongings that have been in storage in Kent since going travelling and I'm well aware they'll need a home somewhere one day. In order to make enough space and physically fit my clothes into the flat, we've had to buy an expensive beast-sized Ikea wardrobe and I've had to get rid.

Simply chucking out bags of clothes didn't seem right so we hit the summer boot sale circuit first, discovering there's actually a community of folk who travel round boot sales every weekend – regulars both selling and looking. Since I last did a boot sale to raise festival ticket money at the age of sixteen, they've got somewhat more expensive to take part in – many charge an entrance fee for those looking around and the cost of a pitch seems to have gone up from £5-£12, although charity boot sales based at fire stations remain reasonable.

We managed to part with a sizable quantity of our unwanted belongings at these sales but made little money for the time we spent sitting under-cover in the rain of our glorious British summer. Stacks of boxes continued to litter our spare room and something had to be done. My next step was to invite round any friends to have a good rummage. Although some came and took, the end result was virtually unnoticeable so it was time to try out a friend's recommendation:

Remade in Leeds occurs once a month and for each event allows you to bring up to twenty unwanted items in good condition with you. These items appear on a membership card as credit. You pay a £2 entrance fee and can then browse the rails of clothes others have donated. Whatever you take goes off your credit and any remaining credit can be used at the next event. I've been twice now and have picked up a few items each time so have a huge credit rating remaining to use over the coming year.

Of course the forty items I took to Remade in Leeds didn't do much to clear out the spare room so it was again time for action. As dubious as it sounds I decided to give CashForClothing a call:

The first time I waited in all day, no-one called round but the second time I was pleasantly surprised by my “earnings”. All clothes and shoes were bagged up ready for one of their collectors to come round to weigh them. I got rid of a load of in-the-way-unwanteds and in the meantime got paid for it and know all items are recycled.

Beyond clothing, we still had the odd bits of furniture to get rid of and a large amount of books. Some had to go to the skip, others to charity shops but some pieces ventured onto Freecycle and soon found new homes. Sites like Freegle and Freecycle are great helping folk to furnish new homes and get bits and bobs you'd rather not pay for. I undertook a slightly pointless trip to Horsforth to pick up coat hangers, feeling like they weren't the kind of thing you actually buy. I'm sure we spent more money in petrol getting there than the hangers would have cost new but for bigger items, collection is probably well worth it.

The books are the last remaining unwanted space-taker we have. I've discovered a monthly book exchange called The Travelling Suitcase so plan to replenish organiser, Jess Haigh's, stocks and perhaps get a few good reads at the same time at her next Cafe 164 meet. And if there's anything left, there will be a final trip to the charity shop.

They say “waste not, want not” and right now this certainly seems to ring true- having gone through this whole rigmarole to rehouse old belongings, I'm not sure I want to restock and prompt a repeat of the whole process.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Butchering The “Prada Of Pigs”

I can barely cut bread straight without making enormous door stop slices or shearing off ugly looking butchered pieces. Tonight I'm publicly attempting to calve jamon in front of a group of strangers. Recently refurbished, La Tasca is launching a new menu and to help spread the word a group of Leeds-based bloggers have been assembled at the Greek Street branch.

We're first fooled into believing it's actually still summer by generously replenished glasses of both traditional and La Tasca's own special Cava Sangria. Originating from the Spanish word for blood and once known as “Red Cup Punch”, Sangria is traditionally made from a brandy base. La Tasca's “traditional” mix shuns this ingredient, instead using a mixture of vodka, Bacardi and orange cointreau pre-made. Of course the normal red wine, lemonade and fruits are then added.

Our barman for the night, Tom, quickly rustles up a Sangria, reminding us pre-made supermarket mixes are readily available and that sugar is a vital ingredient to take-away the bitterness of red Bordeaux wines. He uses the standard 25ml measures but encourages us to up the value once at home.

The Cava version is advertised as using La Tasca's own secret spirit mix but watching Tom's expert cocktail skills, I now know to combine the Cava and lemonade with peach schnapps and blackcurrant liquor. To finish up cranberries are added – unable to soak up alcohol, they attractively float on top, ensuring you get one of your five a day.

Two of the group try their hand at making both Sangria versions before an authentic Spaniard educates us about traditional jamon. Sergio explains Western Spain is best for jamon, siting Extremadura and Salemanca as typical areas where jamon can be found in its natural form, running around free-range munching on a type of acorn. For those of us having trouble deciphering Sergio's accent, Tom clarifies this is not Akon but the kind that grows on trees.

Dubiously but impressively dubbed the “Prada of Pigs”, this jamon leg is hung for 18 months and cured in the normal way, costing a staggering £650 for the leg. Its foot is black, indicating top range meat and “Cerdos Felices” (happy pigs). Bizarrely, we're told the fat is healthy and warned that once we taste it, we'll never eat parma ham again.

Wrapping it around plain tasting crunchy picos bread sticks, we're all in agreement it has a slightly cheesy flavour and it prompts my stomach to growl. Thankfully, we're soon ushered downstairs and treated to a feast of tapas dishes, ranging from the conventional expected chorizo, meatballs and Patatas Bravas to more unusual dishes like pork belly with rosemary infused beans and paprika and garlic chicken wings. Unsure what anything is, I even enjoy sampling fishy dishes, taking on a Montadito de Gambas (toasted ciabatta with smoked pancetta and prawns) and a Pescado Blanco Frito (deep fried white fish in batter with paprika, roasted garlic and lemon mayonnaise).

We're all encouraged to give Come Dine With Me style ratings. Our average is 7.5 so La Tasca must be doing something right. I may not be dumping the parma ham quite yet but I may well return to La Tasca.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Perfect Ponderous Present

As the festive season draws nearer, we'll all be contemplating presents we'd like to receive and possible gifts for others. Winter is always busy for Birthdays too and as University days have well gone and many of us are pretty skint at the moment, the days of giving and receiving presents to and from friends seem to have passed.

With this in mind, I offer you the perfect economical gift. I found this little beauty in a small Asian newsagents in Leeds down the road from Kirkgate Market. I was instantly taken by its obscurity and preoccupied in guessing its purpose. With this in mind, it seemed like the ideal entertaining but useful present.

I've since given this to four unsuspecting folk and every time it has gone down a treat. The ladies seem to be more accurate judges than the gents and guesses have thus far ranged from a cancerous lung to a bib. What it actually is I 'm not going to reveal. The whole point of this gift is the fun you have guessing and the bizarre conversations it seems to prompt...

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Drowning In Life's Dramas

Everyone has bad days when everything seems to go wrong and it's impossible to shake that sluggish feeling. Today has been one of those days so somewhat distracted and unfocused, I decide to treat myself to the end of season three of the excellent United States Of Tara.

I find it hard regularly keeping up with TV shows and continuing to have a life away from the box so often watch programmes in large chunks once a season or series has ended. As usual, I've finished season three of Tara months after the last episode was televised.

It's common knowledge that the appeal of magazines with real life and “true” stories lie in our own failing self-esteem. People generally read these stories in the hope that the subject has a sorrier life than theirs, to make themselves feel better and less freakish. Watching Tara was supposed to have a similar effect.

For anyone who doesn't know the show, get watching! It's a comedy-drama, created by Diablo Cody (Juno, Jennifer's Body) with Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer about a suburban mum (Toni Collette) coping with dissociative identity disorder:

Collette unsurprisingly picked up two awards for her outstanding performance as the titular character.

More surprising, was the news I read after watching season three's final episode. Rather than providing me with the warm cheesy glow I craved, the final episode left me feeling drained and of course, wanting more. A quick google search and I discover the show has been cancelled, despite one website's dubious advertisement for DVDs of season four! Why Tara is no more remains a mystery – the first season had ridiculously high ratings and after just a few episodes of season two, the third was announced.

Discovering a favourite show is ending is always a hollow blow, especially when you've invested so much time with the characters and feel almost part of their lives. Studio bosses never consider the viewer when axing shows with unresolved plots. I just hope, like Prison Break, a TV movie is made to tie-up the many loose ends and in the meantime, may even join the Tara facebook campaign for its return.