Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mincemeat Muffins

This post is for Fran at Being Me as she asked what they were.
Mincemeat Muffins have become a bit of a staple in our house: they taste of Christmas but involve none of the bother of making mince pies. The recipe came from a Sainsbury's Magazine. (And we've eaten them all so no photo!)

295g plain flour
75g dark brown sugar
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
284ml buttermilk
4 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
75ml whole milk
1 large egg
250g mincemeat

Preheat oven to Gas 6, 200°C
Sift together the dry ingredients and stir to mix evenly.
Mix wet ingredients (except mincemeat) together.
Add the liquid mix to the dry and mix lightly.
Add the mincemeat and stir. Don’t aim for a smooth blend, it should be blobby!
Line a muffin tin with muffin papers – it will make 12-15 muffins
Fill the muffin papers ¾ full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

These are best eaten on the day you make them, and we like them warm - but you can gently reheat them which cheers them up - I give them a few seconds in my microwave.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Don't seem to have photographed this year's Christmas card designs so this is one of last year's... never mind, the sentiment is the same!
No doubt you too are not lurking on the interweb but doing useful organising, planning, cherishing, catering and caring or possibly icing, decorating, wrapping and panicking, depending how your arrangements for the festive season are going.
We are largely sorted. Sufficiently so that we are off to the pictures tonight. If the lovely weather continues we will be mulling wine on our patio tomorrow night as proposed, and attending an 11pm 'midnight' Mass on Saturday evening. Just us on the day itself: lovely!
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, 16 December 2011

A Tale of Two Cakes

Last weekend Youngest was spoilt lovingly by her grand and godparents. Today she’s being indulged by us and, once she’s been to school and taken a Physics test (“How unfair is that?”) , we will have a giggle of teenage girls to pizza and a movie at our house. She is 15 today.

Sunday’s cake was a large version of Delia’s Lemon Curd cake: melting, lemony and tasteful.

Tonight’s is Barbie dressed in a coffee flavoured confection and dripping in Smarties. I haven’t made a Barbie cake since they were small, and never before for Youngest – a fact which she clearly felt I should put right! She’s not seen it yet. Barbie is hiding in the (cold) spare room. I think she will go down well - despite Eldest helpfully remarking that "She looks like a pineapple".

Friday, 9 December 2011


I’m sure I’m not the only one who resorts to displacement activities: today, instead of tidying and cleaning the house, making a food plan for Sunday's birthday lunch (or, more specifically, a Pavlova for Sunday’s pudding and a birthday cake for Sunday tea) wrapping the Christmas presents I’ve bought so far, getting on with making the Christmas cards, or even writing one or two, I have been making Apple Chutney.

It's a lovely sunny day so I've taken a couple of shots to update the building work that's now complete in the garden  - though not yet the planting, it'll have to wait for the spring. I can't help thinking an 'apre ski' style party on the patio might be fun. Hmm!

And for my next distraction I’ve updated my blog! Oh well: there’s always tomorrow…

Thursday, 1 December 2011

End of term report

Upholstery classes ended today.
We all worked much harder than usual trying to get help on the bits we don’t understand before being on our own until late January. I have some homework that I may know how to do… And we enjoyed a shared lunch to kick off the festive season – though I must say it seemed far too early to be wishing people a Happy Christmas!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not natural

There has been a lot of talk on the radio this week about the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines regarding caesarian sections. Apparently the number of instances of women having this major abdominal surgery continues to rise. There was discussion about emergency operations, but it was those opting for elective surgery that was causing the most debate. It would appear that much focus is on whether the guidelines will change anything or whether, actually, this is what happens any way: if you have been given the facts about both forms of delivery, and still ask for a Caesar, you will be given one – even if it is not thought you need one for a medical reason and despite the fact that they are more expensive than a vaginal delivery. Much comment included the view that such surgery might be ‘easier’.

This is the moment to declare an interest: Eldest’s birth was a complete nightmare resulting in me, no longer compos mentis, being knocked out and cut open to get out the baby who was also in difficulty. The doctors never did seem to know why it hadn’t happened naturally, and it frightened the life out of me. When Youngest was due I went into panic mode and the kind doctors said I should have a planned C-section. I felt less of a drama queen when they announced that if Eldest had been in the same place as Youngest there was no way she was ever going to be born without interference. Since I didn’t actually give birth naturally I don’t really know what my recovery would have been like, but it didn't feel 'easy'. I can only add that a planned Caesar is a great deal better than an emergency!

When news of yet another celebrity birth was announced followed by pictures of the slender after-baby figure out shopping I got to wondering about caesarians in a different way… It had never even crossed my mind that ‘too posh to push’ wasn’t really about not pushing, it was about having a tummy tuck without having to admit you’d had surgery.
At no point did anyone mention giving my stomach a helping hand in recovering by nipping out a bit of the excess. I’m assuming it’s not something you could have done on the NHS. I’ve always presumed it was just my complete failure to do any sufficient exercise that means there is a roll of stomach that never flattens out even when lying down. I’m working on forgiving myself for failure in this area as a result of this new insight.

I have never yet discussed birth with another woman without a frank exchange of experiences. So, at the risk of inviting a deluge, how was it for you?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Not quite Christmas

I went to Manchester on Wednesday for reasons explained further down the page. Despite decorations and signs to the contrary it turned out they weren't quite ready for Christmas!

Youngest, as predicted, had a ball in Spain last week.
She’s been taken all over Madrid, but also to Toledo and Segovia and indulged with a variety of gifts – from a calendar of teenage fairies through a variety of sweet treats to a copy of Don Quixote (in English) and a Peanuts sweatshirt. She was exhausted when collected on Friday at midnight but also too excited to go to bed until we’d been told more news than we could be expected to absorb. We didn’t see her ‘til lunchtime on Saturday. The gifts we sent went down well. The flapjack was a particular success: they want the recipe! We'll teach Spanishgirl to make it when she visits in March.

Eldest received a conditional offer from Nottingham and an invitation to Manchester for an interview last week. I was requested to accompany her (joy!) and Wednesday was the day we went up. We left the house at 7.25am and parked at the station in time for the train to Cheltenham Spa. There we waited for 40 minutes before getting on a train to Manchester arriving at midday. A hasty 20 minute walk across town took us to the Alan Turing Building for a buffet lunch (pastries with a variety of fillings, rather dry) where we were invited to listen to a lecture on the delights of studying Maths at said university plus a taster lecture. This was to be followed by a tour where parents would be taken off separately. We agreed I didn’t need to hear the lecture and had pretty much had a tour marching through from the station so I decanted at that point for a little retail therapy. Eldest, meanwhile, got on with the programme.
She and Husband had visited earlier in the year. The lecture was the same as the one she’d heard, though the taster was interesting (but perhaps not useful?). The tour was also the same and, as last time, failed to show them any accommodation: apparently you have to come on a different day for that… Her interview lasted little more than ten minutes and, apart from a Maths problem, consisted of a chap asking questions whose answers could have been found on her UCAS form. I hope she made a better impression on her interviewer than he did on her!
We met up again at 3.30 and pottered around the town centre before heading for the station and some supper. I reduced the cost of the day by booking a 7pm train home so we had a certain amount of hanging about to do. The same route back brought us to our front door just after 11pm. I had good company for my outing, we enjoyed the occasion, but I’m not at all convinced it was worth the cost or the time! When I described the day to Husband he declared me 'Mrs. Grumpy', I dispute this: the day was a novelty and the only other time I went to Manchester I saw no more than the station the inside of a taxi and a meeting room, so I enjoyed my exploration… but I do think the university got the plan wrong, and I am cross about the £130.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


I love to read, and what I love to read is fairly eclectic. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy reminded me that I used to read a lot of what might loosely be called ‘boy’s’ fiction. I started with Ian Fleming falling in love with everything Bond. I moved on through Alistair MacLean, Geoffrey Jenkins, Clive Cussler and Leslie Thomas to John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. When I find a ‘new’ author I look out for them at the library and work my way through their oeuvre. But tastes and interests sometimes move on before this has happened. So, while I think I’ve read every James Bond book, as well as the Charlie Higson Young Bond stories, for instance, I find on looking back that my Le Carré reading has been patchy. I have started again at the beginning! His first book, Call for the Dead, introduces us to George Smiley. I plan to work my way through the Smiley stories.

Another knock on my door came in the form of the schedule for BBC Radio 4 Extra. They are rebroadcasting Len Deighton’s Bomber on Friday. This was a heart wrenching but fictional account of a bombing raid on Germany on 31st June 1943, a day that has never happened in that or any other year, and told from every angle and in minute detail. So we hear the aircrew being briefed about their task, meet the civilian population in a small town in Germany, follow the flight, watch the bombs fall, are bombed on the ground, shot at in the sky and hope to get out of the book alive. It is a standout novel. But so is the BBC production: it is striped over the day’s drama slots in ‘real’ time. It will be a poignant listen for Remembrance Day.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Relief not panic

Youngest will go to Madrid, Spain this afternoon. It’s an exchange through school: we will have a Spanish girl to stay in March. There ought to be worry and perhaps panic; instead there is only relief!

We had an active half-term and did nothing you could call useful: a blustery walk to Old Harry’s Rocks, a trip to see a ridiculous film (The Three Musketeers, at which Youngest cheered and the rest of us laughed derisively), trawled the charity shops for items to be turned into three costumes for the school play, read the newspaper, fought over the puzzles, tidied the garden after the builders and before the greenhouse turns up…
And this week has been busy: school, tidying for Swedish visitors, altering aforementioned garments to make a day dress, beachwear and an evening gown that look vaguely 1920s, a coffee morning spent filling Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, upholstery (still taking out staples!), and finding suitably British presents to send to Spain. Not to mention that ballet is back of course and Youngest has been out babysitting two nights, had two after school rehearsals for said school play (The Boyfriend) and been to Rangers – a bonfire party last night.

Let’s face it: the family has been through two French Exchanges, went to Madrid earlier this year and Youngest went to Switzerland in the summer. Sending Youngest to Spain to an unknown family in somewhat of a rush is just a relief all round that she’s off! Except that this is Youngest: when we got in the car to go to school this morning she burst into tears, and again when I left her there. She managed some watery laughter in between, and she will be fine, she will love the experience and get on with the Spanish family regardless. She is good at making friends.

When she went to France Husband had to actually go to put her on the bus (as opposed to them leaving from school). Stood waiting to wave her off the mummies around him were discussing the poor girl in bits on the coach and how they wouldn’t be sending her, they’d be whisking her home at once, it was just too cruel… I told her this story on the way this morning, it made her laugh because she’d had a wonderful time. She’ll be fine, and she’s back in a week, hardly worth tidying her room!

Monday, 31 October 2011


Unable to stick to one subject having too much to say, I decided on one of Youngest's photos rather than a post today... and I've got to make appropriate biscuits for when they all get back from the first day of the new term, not mess about on the interthingy!

Friday, 21 October 2011

A Sorry Tale

Granny's workbox chair

My childproof chair

The no-longer-storage space
I took these photos to show you my next project. The armchair is petite and delighted me as a child because it contained a work 'basket' once filled with my grandmother’s knitting.

Yesterday I took my chair to class to start stripping off the work I’d paid for about 15 years ago. I had never been entirely happy with it, the storage space beneath the lift up seat was filled in and I just made an ordinary loose cover to give the chair protection from little girls. Now I plan to reinstate the storage and upholster the outside.
I left said girls asleep in bed. I wasn’t late for my class but I wasn’t there in time to help set up: I hadn’t allowed for defrosting the car (the first frost of the season), nor the pheasants debating which way to cross the road, nor the lorry I got stuck behind.
Our lovely teacher is of the old school, teaching us traditional methods. The girl who did the work before me has done a modern job: there are staples every centimetre, modern fillings of nylon and foam, and more staples. We use horsehair, coconut fibre and woollen wadding and put in tacks every inch or so. These you take out with a ripping chisel… Staples need a littler, rather less efficient chisel (perhaps just in my hands, but you have to lift two sharp points each time instead of one) and there are just so many!!
You’d think my morning couldn’t get worse, but, in a moment of hammering I sent my chair flying off the trestle and a back leg snapped right off. The leg had woodworm it turns out; hence it was too weak to stand such treatment, but really!

So I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon visiting the recommended craftsman who has mended the leg. Assuming I ever get the staples out and the chair reupholstered it won’t show. In the meantime, I have not had a happy day.

Friday, 14 October 2011

What are you up to?

I have no time for posting so I don’t know what I think I’m doing here!

The builders have been in making alterations to our garden. The plan was pretty much made when we moved in, but it has only just reached the top of the list of ‘things to do when we’ve saved some cash’. They started two weeks ago and have now done their bit of it though we await the delivery of some iron railings to replace the wall, and a greenhouse, which Husband is going to put up… I am thinking of, but not rushing into, planting plans. Part of me thinks it would be nice to have a flat piece of grass: the whole garden slopes down to the house; it’s not a major slope as we had in a quarter once, but nevertheless it presents challenges. There’ll be plants to move and places to beautify even if we do go for lawn.

And look what I’ve made!

Very pleased with this revived chair: it is functional rather than beautiful, but always useful to have an extra chair to hand and it will sit happily in our bedroom draped with clothes in the meantime.
I hosted the village coffee morning on Wednesday (mentioned last week). It provides a vital push to make me clean and tidy the house (or at least the bits that show) and we’ve got visitors for Sunday lunch too so it needed doing.
Produce from the plot is slowing down, but the apples on our tree are still coming down faster than we can pick them, never mind use them: I really must make some chutney!
And half-term starts tonight for the girls; Husband has to wait another week.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Burning the candles at both ends

Husband was away this weekend. He went to Dorset with two of his brothers to do maintenance tasks.
Since we didn’t need to watch the rugby, we girls spent Saturday afternoon and early evening in front of the TV. We watched An American in Paris and the dancing was sublime. Rather less so in Strictly: we cringed and cheered. And we relished Dr. Who’s ‘season finale’; we’ve got to wait until Christmas for more! According to Youngest watching TV together counts as quality time and she didn’t think I should do the gardening instead.
Eldest went to an 18th birthday party that night (she took this cake*, which she made, to school to give to her friend on Friday), and Youngest went to The Big Gig, a Guide event, at Wembley Arena early Sunday morning. Despite the need to wake early (for a Sunday) I said I’d collect Eldest, and she didn’t demur so I think she was pleased not offended.
Did you see how I breezed over Eldest’s evening entertainment? Aren’t I the cool calm mother taking her Eldest’s trip to a party in a friend’s car so lightly even if I did chicken out of letting her come home the same way?

I went to boarding school. When I was at home I rarely went to anything that didn’t involve the whole family. At school I am afraid I was just as unlikely to be invited anywhere. But my first teenage party happened when I was 16. (As far as I know it was the only occasion on which I was offered drugs, but I was so dim I thought they were cigarettes and I was far too good to smoke!) I moved from my all girls’ school to do sixth form at a co-ed, and there we had regular school discos. So, at Eldest’s age I may not have been cool, but I had managed a bit of partying and a boyfriend or two (OK, one boyfriend). Not so my big girl. Since she stopped being of an age to have a children’s party, she has refused to hold her own parties and she has ceased to be invited anywhere.
I’m sure you will understand that this is a mixed blessing. As a general rule I do not need to worry about what she and her friends might be getting up to, nor have to plan and host suitable parties that won’t let her down. On the other hand: what’s wrong with her?! She’s pretty enough, dresses well, has a wonderfully cynical sense of humour… aah! And is clever! Does she put the boys off asking? Or maybe she really is just not bothered? She once said it was more interesting sorting out other people’s love lives than getting involved herself. I do hope she really believes that – this unkissed 16 year old was mortified!

“I’ve been to a proper big girl’s party, Mummy!” she said in very pleased tones.

*I don't know why the photo won't be the right way up and I've got bored with trying to sort it out - sorry!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Lucky me

My week started as usual with Pilates and helping in school. My boy has been reading during the holidays for the first time and as a result has not forgotten everything he learnt last year. We have been able to whiz through his reading and spelling and then share a chapter of Horrid Henry (which he loves, so I tolerate). My girl has not apparently done any 'work' at home so, as ever, we seem to be back at square one and she doesn’t really want to spend time with me. Persuading her to stay on task is fraught.
At upholstery I have now managed to get three more dining chairs redone; only two more to complete the set and I can play with something more interesting. I’ve got several pieces needing work...

I’ve been for a soul walk (rather than a dog walk you understand) around the village this morning, but not along the permissive footpath as the route was padlocked and the field full of horses doing trials. I don’t know anything about horses - or trials - but as we have new horsier neighbours at the farm I guess we’ll see more of this.
One night (Husband did the ballet run) I went to a Jamie (Oliver) at Home party in the village - in the olden days it would have been Tupperware. I went with Coffeeneighbour and we were the oldest people present, something we demonstrated by being the first to leave (and by knowing about Tupperware I expect). There was wine and beautiful nibbles, a DVD of Jamie welcoming us and thanking our lovely hostess, a quiz about Jamie and food (in which I did badly), and lots of chat. It was all very jolly. (I am a little cynical about this enterprise, but Jamie, like Delia and Nigella is, of course, a saint.)
I've also been to a Coffee Morning hosted by Gardeningneighbour. They are a circulating, weekly event which started life as a mothers' and toddlers' group, but is now firmly retired ladies of a certain age: there, I am young! It is not a club, you do not have to go, but it is a chatty, supportive forum. I was taken by Gardeningneighbour on only my third day in the village – the alternative, on a dark January day, was cleaning my cold, and, as yet unfurnished house. The ladies were extremely welcoming and full of useful information about the area. I met Brown Owl, the Gardening Club Chair, and the leader of the WI, found out whom to ask for an allotment, and what they thought about all matters village. It is not competitive coffee, the hostess supplies bought biscuits and instant coffee and we all contribute to a fund. This week however we were raising money for Macmillan so there was an exchange of cake. (Obviously I only ate some to show my support.)
Both outings were social occasions: with one group I am about 10 years too old, with the other 10 years too young… I suspect this means I should be doing something else at my stage of life, but, do you know, I like it just as it is!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Back to normal - please

My regular readers (Hello!) will remember that I started an exercise diary on the grounds that if I told everyone all about it I wouldn’t be able to stop. Sadly the fact that you haven’t heard anything recently isn’t because I thought the whole thing pretty uninteresting to write about (though it was), but because I have singularly failed to keep it up. I am still going to Pilates once a week (except when I, or my teacher, am on holiday), but I have failed to keep up the swimming, and the walking on holiday doesn’t count because, when the family is with me, I eat at least 3 meals a day, and often 4 (5 if there's elevenses and tea!), instead of the term time 2. Needless to say my waistline is looking tubby, even when I breathe in, and I’ve put on a couple more pounds over the summer.

I am trying to return to getting more exercise and eating more fruit and less alcohol now that everyone’s back at school. The fact that the routine is back will help I'm sure: lots of taxiing, helping in school, Pilates and Upholstery mean more rushing about and less time at home looking in the fridge, but in the meantime I’m holding my stomach in and sitting up straight in an effort to disguise the problem.

I am not thinking about middle aged spread. I’m not!

I think one of the problems with 'idling at home' is that formal clothing is rarely required, and jeans and a T-shirt hide a multitude of sins... I like wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but on the occasional day when a skirt is appropriate I find my waist is no longer present. Perhaps I should buy some low rise skirts to complement my low rise jeans? And, if I offload all my old suits from my long ago life, I won't know I can't get into them: perfect!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Jane Eyre

I’m re-reading Jane Eyre.

The girls and I went to see the new film with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender last weekend. We had all seen a repeat run of the most recent TV serial with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson - both too good looking really. I’ve also watched versions starring Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles, Sorcha Cusack/David Jayston and Samantha Morton/Ciarán Hinds at the very least! Eldest had devoured the book on the promise of the trip to the pictures. I think it was too close together: she seemed bored by a film that Youngest and I thoroughly enjoyed. It was atmospheric, gothic, got the story about right, had outstanding costumes and had appropriate actors. Eldest's chief complaint was that St. John wasn’t a looker, though she thought Jane and Rochester suitably plain – helped by their unattractive hair cuts!
I read the book in English lessons in 1973 according to my reading list. For me that’s damming: if I liked a book I read it in advance of reading in class as I generally found the round the room method put me off completely. I know Youngest feels the same – though she’s been told off for reading ahead! (What do you think of that, Fran?)
Because I know the story I found myself paying great attention to the awfulness of Victorian style, even the pretty women looked faintly ridiculous in their dolly styling. If you saw Young Victoria you will recognise the fashions, though what looked sumptuous and appropriate on Victoria and Albert was less stylish on the ordinary folk – perhaps that’s always true about those of us copying the fashion setters?!

I read somewhere that Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (which I haven’t read) are best appreciated read pre 14; read later you are liable to find the characters a bit silly… Dear Reader, for me this seems to be true. How about you?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Does it matter if girls like pink? Are they programmed to love pink or do they learn from everyone around them that pink is for girls and blue is for boys? Kat Arney in her programme on Radio 4 last week talked about pinkification, nature and nurture. You can read her article here or listen to the programme here, but I’m afraid the bit that I latched on to was that apparently you can buy a Snow White pink vacuum cleaner that sings ‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’ as you play – is he going to free you from chores or keep you doing it I wonder?!

When my girls were little it was certainly possible to buy them pink clothes and toys, but there were plenty of ‘unisex’ items: their ride on car was yellow and red as I recall, but now you can buy the same car in the ‘right’ colour for your child.
I didn’t know what Eldest would be, but blue is my favourite colour so I bought blue baby clothes. I was regularly asked what he was called. I knew Youngest was a girl, but I still bought her a Peter Rabbit babygrow and recycled Eldest’s outgrown blue clothing. Oh they’ve both been through their ‘pink’ phase and were indulged (within reason) at the time, but they also both grew out of it! Both still have the odd pink item in their wardrobes, generally ‘hot’ not pastel. And they both had dolls, but also a Duplo train set and Harry Potter Lego. My girls are definitely girls. Since I only have girls I don't know if I have treated them differently to how I might have treated boys. I guess I would have looked for a football club instead of a ballet school, but only if he'd expressed a preference as Eldest did. Youngest did ballet too for a while: she thought it was what big girls did, and I couldn't face pursuing a different after school club. (To be fair they both did swimming largely because Youngest wanted to.)
When they were very small they had lots of dresses but more often wore dungarees. From about 3-8 they demanded pink dresses, fairy costumes, Barbie dolls and pink bedclothes. Now they mostly wear jeans, many of the dressing-up clothes have been passed down to younger cousins, the Barbies live in a box waiting for small visitors and only Youngest still has pink bedding - her room is black, white and pink when you get under the rubble.
I am glad that I offered them cars, trains and Lego, I am glad I dressed them in blue. I'd rather see little girls go through a pink phase that probably won't last than see them dressed as 'adults' in much of the 'tarty' clothing now available! At the end of the day they are children and I'd rather see pink frills than padded bras and mini skirts. How about you?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Too much of a good thing

It is harvest time. Yes, I know it’s traditional and lovely, but why is it that when the allotment delivers it does it all at once? No, no! I’m not complaining: I’m remembering how lucky I am as I wash yet another 3 lettuces and wonder when exactly we’re going to eat them. Youngest, of course, doesn’t eat vegetables and Eldest seems to have decided that home grown items aren’t up to supermarket cleanliness… I’ve tried explaining about washing in chemicals or washing the stuff herself, but she prefers to go without.

The potatoes are mud caked, but will probably wait to be cleaned when we want to eat them, and store reasonably in the garage. The issue is with the ones now living in a trug in the kitchen ‘because they need eating soon’… this because more than one something has had a go at eating them already…
Then there’s the courgettes arriving at roughly two a day. Three of us eat those, but I can’t keep up as we won’t eat them daily. We’ve had them steamed, marinated, roasted, chopped into casseroles, mince and quiches, at the moment we have a chocolate courgette cake sandwiched with raspberries and cream – two harvested foods in one!
The raspberries come at a rate of a 2L ice-cream tub every day or so. I love them, and they freeze really well, so we don’t have to eat them after every meal.

We can’t anyway because we’re getting an equal quantity of blackberries (they freeze: yay!) and the apples are beginning to mount up… I am pleased to report that I’ve already picked the Conference pears which are in the fridge. Eldest eats most of those as she takes them to school to eat for lunch.
Luckily Sadly there are no beans this year as Husband had no luck with them. They did germinate – twice – but were then eaten by something, rabbits or deer he thinks. They would have provided a welcome change and there’ll be no green bean chutney… Still, there’s chard to offer variety; I’m becoming adept at substituting it whenever the recipe calls for spinach, and it does disappear to a pleasingly small helping even when you’ve picked a huge quantity.
The onions are lifted and drying all over the house because the forecast is for more rain. Again there is a box of ‘dodgy’ ones that ‘need eating’ in the kitchen.
I'm planning to try beetroot muffins next: there's only so much purple lovliness two of us can eat, particularly when they're the size of a football. There are only four ice-cream tubs of roasted beetroot in the freezer so far so I'm sure there's room for more, and I've found a recipe for beetroot chutney that needs apples!

I have ordered vinegar and sugar and Sainsburys will deliver them tomorrow. If you need me I might be making jam or chutney…

Friday, 2 September 2011

May I recommend?

I choose a book to read for all sorts of reasons. Usually a title or an author catches my eye on the library shelves. Sometimes I listen to a recommendation. The one I’m reading presently was in a box I sorted left over from the Church Fête – A Shield of Coolest Air by Marion Molteno. It is unusual, a first novel from 1992, by an unknown (to me) author so I’ve no idea what to expect, but it gripped me from the first sentence so I shall continue – I rarely fail to finish something I start, if only because I record the books I’ve read in an exercise book and hate to feel I’ve wasted my time*. And sometimes I enjoy a TV or radio version so much I am inspired to get hold of the original book.
Such was the case with Lionel Shriver whose novel We Need to Talk About Kevin I first heard on Woman’s Hour. I found this black comedy unputdownable. However uncomfortable the story, I had to know what happened next and was genuinely surprised on several occasions (yes, despite having heard the serialisation). Last week I read So Much For That (also heard on the radio) and it too was brilliant. Very black, and only occasionally laugh out loud funny, but humorous just the same. It doesn’t sound amusing I grant you. It is about the American health system and, to illustrate her point, several of the main characters have medical problems: terminal cancer, a terminal degenerative disease and some elective surgery. Well I said it didn’t sound fun! It was not only funny, but true. If someone you know has had any sort of illness you will find scenarios that have the ring of truth. For instance, how many times do you need to remind yourself to ring a sick friend before you actually do it? And when you’re not comfortable about what you might say, or how they might react, how much more likely are you to put it off? But because it’s always on your mind, and on your to do list, you don’t realise how long it is since you called… I loved the commentary on modern life, the arc of the story, and (should I mention?) the happy ending (you probably need to know!). Even for the characters for whom life ended there was a satisfactory conclusion. I loved this!
If nothing else, if you’re a Brit reader, you will thank God for the NHS!

*I recently stopped reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty; I really wasn’t enjoying the sex or the self harm. I am also struggling to get through A Dance to the Music of Time. I loved the TV series and was leant the novels by a neighbour… I have reached book five of twelve but am losing the will to live… Should I strive to complete either task?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Mud, mud, glorious mud

Who knew? I have a Geography O Level, and did poorly at an A Level. I remember drawing lots of pictures of geographical features, but no one ever showed me pictures or, better still, took me to see any of them. I will admit to a complete failure to understand scale!

We’ve just come back from Dorset where the coastline is brimming with examples of exciting rock formations – yes, I know, I didn’t expect to write that phrase either. We had a wonderful clamber over the pavements at Kimmeridge where you can look at the folded layers of oil shale and limestone, eyes peeled for fossils when you’re not looking in the rock pools. It’s fascinating! (And I vividly remember going to Lulworth for the first time and being completely blown away by the reality of my teenage diagrams.) It may be that I just wasn’t very interested in Geography, but I think it more likely that it didn’t seem real, it didn’t grip me. (I recently saw a baobab tree on TV and it looked exactly like the drawing I’d done as a fourth former; I’d never seen a real one - not even a photograph – so, as with the rock, didn’t really understand what they were.)

On another trek, on a very drizzly morning, we walked out to the coast from Kingston, around the headland and down to Chapman’s Pool. The last part was off our usual route but Husband and Youngest decided we needed to get to the sea. There are steps cut into the Houns Tout cliff, but the next bit was just cliff. Eldest decided, about half way down, to wait for our return. Foolishly, I followed the other two. This was not the family’s usual ‘bear hunt’: this was hippo country! I have never seen so much clay outside of a pottery! It was extremely slippery underfoot and this Hausfrau got very grumpy indeed! I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the beach either, despite mocking from Husband: I couldn’t see how I was going to get back up without getting filthy and I’d been promised a pub lunch! There were people swimming. I can’t even begin to explain why they were in the sea…

Friday, 26 August 2011

Half way there

The kid done good. Four AS levels (sort of half an A level) and a thing called Science in Society: As the lot. Clever girl! Made us proud and all that.
She was expecting to do well apparently: it was made clear that we should have a bottle of champagne to hand ready to put in the fridge as soon as we got back from Dorset and checked the post. This from the girl who, along with her two 17 year old friends, whom we had taken to stay at the cottage for a few days before the family, said “No thank-you” when asked if they’d like to keep the half bottle of wine and the cans of lager not yet cleared out of the fridge by our friends who had been visiting. (Gosh that sounds complicated! Our friends borrowed the cottage for a few days; we took Eldest down to take over from them and joined them for lunch; they took their stuff, but offered to leave food if the girls wanted it.)

I don’t suppose a taste for champagne will do her any harm: she only had a glass so sadly we had to have the rest.
You may be amused to hear the girls had eaten well, watched lots of DVDs on a laptop, played cards and Monopoly, walked all of a hundred yards to the farm to feed the ducks and buy ice-creams and had had one decent walk over the hill to the pub for supper. One of the three, we were informed, “doesn’t do walks”.

Note: the background is Wiltshire not Dorset, but the girl is mine.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


So, all sorts of news:

Both the doll and the devil won first prize, and the doll’s outfit won best in show and, thus, a cup!
Do not get excited! Each entry cost 30p, that’s an outlay of £1.20. There were lots of liqueurs and mine got nowt. Two first prizes netted 60p each… So I broke even… Except that I am requested to get the cup engraved with my name… Cost unknown…

It rained rather in Dorset, but there was more fine weather than wet, and just the change of scene, and reduction in the scale of the housewife’s chores made for a welcome holiday. We walked quite a bit, ate well, played Scrabble and Cluedo, fought over who got to do the puzzles in The Times and stayed in bed ‘til the end of the Today programme. Lovely! (The photo is a view taken in Arne.)

I have thought of several things to tell you about: AS levels, Geography, Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, Glorious Mud, Church Fetes, and, probably more, but I think smaller helpings would help the digestion - and I need to catch up on what everyone else has to say!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Show time

It is holiday time and we’re off to Dorset in stages (Eldest goes with friends tomorrow, Youngest returns to the UK on Friday and we go Sunday), but before that I wanted to show you Eldest’s cake for her father’s birthday:

3, not 53, clearly

And my entries for the village show:
A dressed doll or bear: (the poor girl is over 40 but seemed pleased with her new outfit) dressed for a British summer!
Possibly a little over the top?

A crocheted item: a little devil who's a little underwhelming?

And two entries for the liqueur class: Sloe Gin and Apple Vodka…

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Let them eat cake

Eldest was seventeen last Wednesday. It seems unbelievable: time has whizzed by. She is (of course) talented, intelligent, witty and attractive and takes after her mother… actually she has her father’s memory for detail and tuneless singing voice, and her grandmother’s sense of rhythm and dancing feet. And she’s taller than me. And her life is ruined because she's never had a fairy castle birthday cake... Well  I shall know what to make for her 18th: that'll teach her to mock her mother.

She has been working all week helping her ballet teacher run a summer school at the end of which they put on a show. She’s loved the experience and even been amused by the little kids – “They’re so cute!”
So we've had a stream of grandparents and godparents to entertain. It’s been fun, but as of today they have all departed and our next task is to get Youngest onto a bus bound for Heathrow and on to Switzerland. She has been earning money for the trip all year, and received a couple of welcome grants from the Guide ‘pot’, but I am just beginning to loose my patience with requests for yet more kit that someone somewhere has told her is essential: apart from anything else it is not all going to fit in her rucksack! So I need to go and look at a weather forecast for Adelboden to try and calm her requests for shorts, factor 50 and sunglasses, and waterproof trousers and jacket, and layers for snow… Twelve of them, including 3 Young Leaders, are camping and self-catering at the Guide centre for 8 days. I’m sure they will have the time of their lives, and the enormity of the adventure will dawn on me eventually, but for the moment I’m just harrassed!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Just idle

It is my last day at home alone until September and I have failed to decide what to do with it.
There are, of course, many useful chores I could do around the house and garden but that seems rather a waste of the day. I could tidy up, but since they'll all be on holiday from the end of today the house will no doubt be a mess again by bedtime. I could do the laundry, but that multiplies daily, so tomorrow would do. The front patio needs weeding, it's pots dead-heading and the pyracantha pruning, but I could do that over the weekend when I need to escape the house. There's work to do in the back garden too, but I probably won't get to it today. My list of rooms that need decorating hasn't got shorter this (academic) year, so there's no point starting that now. And my re-upholstering of the dining-room chairs has come to a halt for no reason other than that I'm being lazy. A nice man cleaned my windows yesterday (at vast expense) so it would be sensible to do the insides, but I'm rubbish at windows... The trouble with hausfrau tasks is that they rarely have a permanent solution: they always need doing again!
Husband still has a piece of written work to complete before Bath University can sign him off as a newly qualified teacher, and Eldest is helping run a summer school at her ballet school all next week, so Youngest and I will be able to have some time together shopping for the other twos' birthdays. So no need to shop today.
I may just idle around the blogosphere, listening to Radio 4... I'll need another coffee, and I expect there's a chocolate chip muffin somewhere.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A love affair confessed!

We can’t get to the film until next Saturday. We are not happy, but it is the first date when we can all go.

We saw the first film in November 2001 and again in February. That next year we saw film 2 when it came out, and again in 2003.In 2004 film 3, 2005: film 4. And so to 2007 and film 5, then August 2009 brought us film 6, and last November we went to film 7 on the opening weekend. The need to go as it opens has increased as the girls have got older. But we’ve agreed to wait and see it together. When we got the latest DVD we had a marathon screening of the whole story so we’re bang up to date with the film franchise and raring to go!
Our love affair with the J.K.Rowling chronicles began in 2000. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first novel I read that year, aloud to Eldest, but also to myself as I couldn’t wait! In fact, my exercise book records that I read her the first four books aloud that year, (and also read them to myself). When she wanted me to start again at the beginning I encouraged her to try for herself. She was six. She hasn’t stopped reading since.
As she read more books to herself, Stephen Fry took over reading Harry Potter aloud; the cassette tapes got so worn that CDs replaced them – they remain a popular listen for us all on long car journeys. Youngest has never actually read the novels as she knows them by heart. (She’s trying the first one in Spanish!)
By the time Order of the Phoenix came out in 2003 Eldest had first dibs on reading it and Husband and I had to wait our turn. It arrived in the post on Saturday morning, absorbed her for the day and was finished by bed time. Half Blood Prince went the same way in 2005 and Deathly Hallows in 2007 – in under 4 hours as I recall.
It was a shock to come to the end of the saga, but we’d still got the films to look forward to… Perhaps putting off going to see the last one will be a good thing, and there’ll still be the DVD – presumably in time for Christmas?!

Friday, 8 July 2011

a mixed report

It’s been an odd week.

Monday is my visiting school day, but this week was sports day so I didn’t have to listen to my children, just cheer for them.
Youngest is singing in the choir at her school’s musical Prom. They are celebrating 40 years on the site and so were performing songs and themes from those decades. On Wednesday evening we were treated to some terrific talents; an outstanding singer and a brilliant violin player shone, but the whole cast performing Stairway to Heaven was staggeringly good.
Eldest meanwhile is doing the rounds of the universities she is considering, and this week it was my turn to take her. We went yesterday and only just made it home in time to wave Youngest off to her prom and drink a cup of tea before rushing out again to Eldest’s tap lesson. A very full (but exciting) day.
When I considered my options for further education I was at boarding school, my parents were not to hand, and my school didn’t know what to suggest if you weren’t going to university to take up a profession. My plan to ‘save British industry’ resulted in the eventual discovery of The Clothing Institute and its course in Clothing Management at Manchester Poly or The London College of Fashion. I only visited LCF for my interview, choosing to remain in the south east to be near my parents – I had been away from home enough not to have that need to escape. So I can’t expect to have much influence on Eldest’s decision, can I? And, anyway, I don’t wish her choices to be my fault! But I can’t stop myself from minding what she chooses. We are trying to remain calm and helpful and to let her make her own decision.
To-day Husband has gone off to the New Forest for a Silver DofE weekend. The forecast is rain. Tonight is the 'last night of the proms' and the usual ballet lesson, but luckily they don’t clash, so my taxi isn’t double booked. Eldest and I will also hope to grace the neighbouring village fete with our presence this evening, but it may all be too much of a rush, and the forecast is rain. I’ve had a post-our-church-fete meeting this morning which was full of fascinating insight into the characters that make up our community… Much of it will have to remain strictly between four walls as it may be libelous; suffice it to say that we had a full vent of pent up emotion and all feel sure we can do better without the assistance of one or two of the more difficult helpers!
I feel a rather lazy girlie weekend coming on spent largely in bed with a book or in front of the telly, the forecast is rain after all, though we might just manage a trip to the pictures to look at something Husband would hate!

Friday, 1 July 2011

At last!

I finished my sofa yesterday and made a cushion before bedtime. It is in position at the foot of our bed, ready to be put in the sitting-room when we have need of extra seating.
It has taken 87 hours of work, £199.50 of tuition and approximately £150 of materials.
I had to bring it home at the end of term unfinished, and I'm not at all sure that my stitching and base lining are up to scratch, but I am thrilled to have finally completed the work and Husband has been very enthusiastic about my skills.. and I don't have to take it back and show the class do I?

I thought of reminding you of the original but decided anyone who wanted to look at all the photos could always hit the upholstery tag (I think that's how they work!). Less is more.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Murder on the Balcony!

They were almost ready to leave home. The family had been trying to encourage them to move out.
And then the door to their home seemed to have been widened despite working so hard to reduce it when they’d all returned in the spring… and two little bodies were huddled together on the balcony, dead, and we wondered what could have happened.

The following evening, watching from the front door, the adults had at last returned home and were watching from their doorway. The next moment in swoops a noisy neighbour who grabs an adult by the scruff of the neck and throws it out! It would seem the culprit had been found and there was rivalry and murder on our balcony!

We don’t know whether the swallows will start another brood, but they have set to work on a new nest a couple of feet from the old one. And I don’t think the house sparrows will ever be cute again!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Rain altered plans

I’ve little to report from my corner of Wiltshire, busy but not blog-inspiring.

The village fete was a great fundraiser but not quite the party it usually is – apparently the first time it had rained on the night in 30 years! Since then I’ve been sorting leftovers and thanking helpers and trying to make headway in the house- and garden-tidying stakes: both somewhat neglected in favour of fete business, and I had friends coming to supper on the patio on Saturday evening.
I like planning ‘proper’ food. It’s not that I don’t make from scratch for the family, it’s that they all have their own particular likes and dislikes so that the variety of cooking required (or that I can be bothered with) is dull… I like thinking about what’s in season, what I can serve for free from the allotment, and what will go together nicely without anyone feeling hungry or over-stuffed at the end of the evening. Cooking for the family is also seasonal, but by the time Youngest's objected to vegetables, Husband to lack of joined up meat and Eldest to sauce that isn't ketchup....
We went with Plan B since, as last weekend, it rained. We ate indoors surrounded by still dripping flowers retrieved from the garden. It was fun!

So, in the absence of words I bring you highlights from My Garden:

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Visit London!

Now what shall we tell I’m Crayon to do in London when she’s only over for a week?
She’s staying in Grosvenor Square, which sounds pretty posh to me, and on the doorstep of everything. (She’s already in the country so it may well be too late, but she may check in!)

If you can run to a show of some sort I’m sure you ought to see something. I don’t think it matters whether it’s theatre, ballet, opera or a concert, but see something you should! London will offer you food from pretty much anywhere in the world so you must make sure to eat something specifically local even if it’s only a full English breakfast; or perhaps a cream tea, given the time of year.
And walk the streets! Take a tube certainly, because they’re unique, but just connecting places and people-watching on foot is fun. (And you probably need a ride in a black cab just so you can say you have been in one.) At least one of the parks: Regent’s to see roses or the zoo – or the open air theatre is a great outing if there’s something on when you visit. Or Hampstead Heath perhaps; it’s further out but the views from the top of Parliament Hill are terrific and it’s lovely to wander around. You could combine it with a trip to Camden Lock to look at the market which I wrote about in an earlier post.
I always love Covent Garden: heaving with tourists, but buzzing with interesting shops, street entertainers and eateries.
At least one art gallery too. Depends whether you like art as to which one! I prefer a museum myself: the Victoria and Albert, as it happens, because I love the costumes. When I was a student I spent hours wandering around looking at the furniture and judging everything on whether or not I’d give it houseroom. But the National Gallery can be ticked off at the same time as Trafalgar Square, Horse Guard’s, Parliament, Admiralty Arch, Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard. I think they’re essential and traditional! (I'm rather hoping you may have managed the Trooping of the Colour today.) You’ll be exhausted, but you can walk between all of those easily.

I love London. I lived in Woolwich for a couple of years (twice) with my parents, and then in Highbury, Islington, as a student at the London College of Fashion. My parents now live in their own home in south east London (they might tell you it used to be Kent). They reckoned it was a good place to settle as we’d always want to visit Town: they were right! I still get a buzz from central London despite my love of my present, rural life.

It may well be too late for I’m Crayon, but I rather enjoyed thinking about what to tell her. Hope she had fun!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Half-term treats

Deepest Dorset

Flowery garden, Dorset

 Flowery garden, by my pond


And it’s still not finished!
But the classes have, so I'm on my own until September...