Tuesday 29 September 2009

a country mouse makes fish popcorn (really) and gets a gadget

This was not country mouse's finest hour. Perhaps the clue was in the name: fish popcorn. Henceforth I will speak of it in the tones used by Peter Kay's father upon learning there was such a thing as garlic bread. Little R chose it from the recipe book, encouraged by the photo of a small girl in pink holding a paper cone of popcorn (below), and I, being so desperate to find dinners she will eat these days, agreed to have a go. It's a Fay Ripley recipe (p.176).

Things were going great, with Little R whisking the eggs and having a fine old time dipping the fish chunks into the plain flour, then into the beaten eggs then rolling them in crushed cornflakes and laying them out on the baking tray. It made a hell of a mess of the place but hey, it was all in a good cause so I wasn't getting (too) stressed.

We even put them in a paper cone (baking paper) just like the girl in the photo.

And then we tasted them. YUCK. They tasted exactly as you would expect haddock in cornflakes to taste. Fay, how could you.
Last night's dinner was more of a success. I made a sausage stew with pork sausages, quorn sausages, carrots, onions, leeks, flageolet beans, tinned tomatoes and vegetable stock and served it with mashed potatoes and broccoli. This was country mouse's own made-up recipe, concocted out of what the local co-op could provide at short notice, but it was tasty and it all got eaten.
I used a new gadget I'd bought a while ago in the charity shop for £1. It's a brabantia chopper-thingy. I remember that the Pampered Chef party I went to was selling one for some crazy sum like £20 so I was certainly willing to part with a quid to try this one.

I thought at first that it was going to be no good for carrots (see first attempt, above) but soon worked out that cutting the carrots into smaller pieces first and banging harder on the gadget would do the trick, and it did. The same applied to onions (below). If you keep bashing away the bits just get smaller and smaller so it is probably easier than grating carrots but it's not easier than chopping onions as you still have to cut the onions into pieces before putting them into the contraption so you don't even avoid the onion tears. And all the bashing is a lot noisier, if quite cathartic. Verdict: worth £1 plus perhaps a wee bit more for therapeutic value.

Sunday 27 September 2009

a country mouse is home again

Oh, it's good to be back! We had a wonderful holiday but east west hame's best, especially for a country mouse.

There aren't too many photos to post here however as I was in town mouse mode when I packed the laptop, thinking there would be lots of wifi so I could download lots of photos and even update this blog. Not so. I had to take my camera card to Tesco (and I had promised myself to avoid that evil place on holiday) and get the photos printed before I could delete them and take more.

Here are a few though. This is Little R on Findhorn beach, heading for the sea at top speed and whooping with joy. The two headlands across the water are the Cromarty Sutors, which stand at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. The folklore is that they were two giant shoemakers (sutors) who used to toss their tools to each other across the firth. Obv.

Findhorn beach is just wonderful. When the tide is out it goes out for miles, with endless stretches of sand with pretty shells like tellins. It's great for flying kites. We brought several with us and when Granny and Grandado came to visit for a few days they had a good time trying them all out. When the tide is in there are ramparts of big white and grey cobbles and beautiful white sands. We also saw seals very close to the shore when the tide was in, about 3 waves out from us, popping their heads up to get a good look. We spent hours and hours on the beach every day, just pottering, paddling and building sandcastle cities.

Below is a photo of DH's and my one night out. The yucky ashtray in the shot is not ours, I hasten to add. When Granny and Grandado came they took us out for an Italian meal then bravely offered to put Little R to bed while we went on for a drink. We strolled round to the Kimberley Inn, a Findhorn institution with fantastic seafood, and watched the sun go down over the bay with a very exotic pear cider on ice. We lasted one hour before the plunging temperature chased us back to the cottage and the roaring log fire. The days were warm (18-20deg) but the nights were not.

During the first week of the holidays we drove up to Sutherland to visit Dunrobin Castle, one of my favourite castles. http://www.dunrobincastle.co.uk/ It's a fair old drive so we stopped at Golspie beach on the way and had a great time gathering white and gold periwinkles. Dunrobin is an incredibly grand fairytale castle right in the middle of some pretty desolate landscape, with sweeping grey seas right at the edge of the manicured formal gardens. It's a physical shock to the senses to see the contrasts. I first saw it when flying from Inverness to Shetland when I used to work up there. The pilot pointed it out between the clouds and suddenly there was this silver brightness on the edge of the winter sea in the midst of unbroken acres of heather and hills. There is a bloody history of course (the Clearances being the least of it) and country mouse has to suspend her revolutionary tendencies when visiting.
We also visited Fort George http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/nairn/fortgeorge/ where I used to work, to say hello to some old friends. It's a very odd place; still threatening and yet useless. It was built at huge expense, going wildly over budget, after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden and is heavily fortified with cannon pointing in all directions. It's on a promontary sticking out into the Moray Firth and so there is usually a howling gale waiting for you round every corner. It's still an active army barracks, at the moment for the Black Watch regiment, so the inhabitants are squaddies, historic building conservationists and herring gulls. It's a good place to see the dolphins from though and at around 3pm on sunny days I would sometimes climb up the gun embrasures with my binoculars to watch them leaping.
Speaking of dolphins, we did the tourist bit and went out on the dolphin cruise. We didn't see a single dolphin but had a great time sailing out into the Moray Firth then turning and sailing right under the Kessock Bridge (see photo) to see if any could be found in the Beauly Firth. Amongst other things, we learned from the captain that Margo from The Good Life lives in Fortrose. Country Mouse was thrilled!
We also visited Brodie Castle, a National Trust property not far from Findhorn. It's a sweet little castle which has a relatively happy history other than one very tragic story, which the tour guide told with detail and relish and a complete lack of sensitivity to the presence of horrified Little R. It's the story of Lady Margaret Duff (link to her portrait:
http://www.scran.ac.uk/database/record.php?usi=000-000-520-612-C) who married the laird and had 5 children before dying in a fire around 1800. Apparently she dismissed her servant and settled down in bed with a book, unaware that a burning peat had tumbled from the fire and was smoking on the carpet. She fell unconscious from the smoke and awoke to find that her bed, nightclothes and hair were alight. She ran round the room in panic, of course setting fire to everything she touched on the way, and when her husband (devoted, great love story of defiance of parents to marry, etc) rushed in he had to run through a wall of flames to drag her out. She died 3 hours later of smoke inhalation and shock. A truly horrific story, and told to us as we stood in the very room. Little R has asked me many times since to tell her "about the lady who died in the fire." I have sugar coated it as much as possible but she heard the original M Night Shyamalan version so there's not really much I can do in mitigation.
There were a few more places we visited. Cawdor Castle was a good day out (http://www.cawdorcastle.com/). It's still a family home, lived in by the fabulously named Dowager Angelika. When my sister was about 20 she saw a poster with the Dowager's title on it when visiting the castle and asked us who is The Doh-Wagger. We haven't let her forget it. The grounds are amazing. Little R, whispering to us,"I'm being an adult in disguise," boldly asked the lady at the ticket desk if bare feet were allowed then gleefully raced round the gardens for over an hour with no shoes on, hunting (large) frogs and eating wild plums and wild strawberries, and had to be bribed with promises of cake if she would put her shoes on and come inside.
We went to Pluscarden twice (http://www.pluscardenabbey.org/home.asp). It's very quiet, and DH loves it so much that I think he dreams of joining them one day. It says something on the website about feeling the peaceful atmosphere from the hundreds of years of devotion, and actually you really can feel something special there.
Getting thoroughly secular again, we visited Landmark theme park in Carrbridge on the way home (http://www.landmarkpark.co.uk/wild-water-coaster/). That girl of ours is BRAVE. She went on the wild water coaster five times, three times with daddy and twice with me. I was absolutely quaking but did not want her to see that. It was an utterly sickening feeling to whizz down an enclosed, pitch-dark tube in a yellow rubber raft, whooshing uncontrollably from side to side and speeding up and speeding up and speeding up. Little R was cool as a cucumber when the boat came to a stop and I had to sit down for five minutes because I was trembling so much.
Yes, home is safest for country mouse.
And finally, the obligatory blogger's holiday snap of self on beach with crochet:
I have great plans for this becoming a blanket. It took me ten attempts before I could figure out the granny square instructions in my Happy Hooker book. I am a bit dim. The first three rounds are the tricky bit and now it is completely mindless, which I love. The wool is from a lovely old fashioned wool shop in Forres that looks like it hasn't changed since the 50s. In a parallel universe, that is my shop and I stock really great books too, plus coffee and home baking. Since the contents of the piggy bank did not allow me to buy the actual shop I settled for this quick knit arran stuff in various unusual colour combinations which are so ugly they are almost beautiful. Threedoublesasingle, threedoublesasingle.....

Saturday 12 September 2009

a country mouse goes to the seaside

We're off to the seaside now for 2 weeks. Normal blogging service will resume on 27 Sept or thereabouts. Hooray!
love, Country Mouse xx

Thursday 10 September 2009

a country mouse gets sudsy

We have quite a colony of big furry butterflies at the moment, despite the frequent heavy rain, and often have 10 or 12 crashing around on the buddleia bush outside the kitchen window all at the one time. If they weren't so beautiful I'd call it an infestation. I just googled to find out the correct term for a group of butterflies and, euphonically enough, it is a rabble of butterflies.

And inside the kitchen window is the sink. Below are some pictures of my number one obsession: dishwashing. I cannot get enough of soap suds (has to be Fairy Liquid), sponges, knitted dishcloths and wooden dish brushes. I have to actively force myself to put things into the dishwasher sometimes instead of filling up a nice deep basin and plunging in up to the elbows.Most of the cloths in the basket above are from Ikea (should you be inspired to stock up) and those below are from Aldi. They come in packs of 3 and are really cheap. I love the luxury of using one once then tossing it into the laundry. They are so thick and soft, and just get better and better the more they are washed. They're also good for washing the worktops as their texture means they scrub as they go along but they are soft enough not to leave any marks. I love to fill up a big basin of really hot soapy water and wash the worktops and the sink. Hmm, am I revealing too much here? Is this actually a little beyond an obsession?
I had the perfect excuse for a thorough dishwashing session today though as I bought the little coffee cups and saucers below in the charity shop this morning for £3. They are bone china, and really unusual. Also completely intact, if a little dusty.
Straight into the hot water with them, and now here is the squeaky clean result:

Oops, a bit blurry again, but you get the general idea. I have promised myself I will not leave them to gather dust in a cupboard but will use them regularly and enjoy them. I had been pining for a cute little plate I'd seen in Country Living but could not justify the expense and am so glad now that I didn't succumb. Here is the link so you can have a little drool:
http://www.johnlewis.com/230545979/Product.aspx It is sweet, but stay-at-home Country Mice can't be choosers and I am very happy with my pre-loved coffee cups instead.
Time for a coffee and perhaps a bit more apple cake and then - hooray! - there'll be a cup and a plate to wash up. Splish splash splosh.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

a country mouse and friends

Country Mouse and Little R had an absolutely lovely afternoon today. Poor Daddy Mouse is at work all day and misses all the fun. He gets to read about it later on the blog though, and eat the leftover cake, so that's ok isn't it?

We started the afternoon by baking an apple cake with the last of the apples we got from Granny and Grandado's tree. Country Mouse has made this cake before and will be doing so again as it is very easy and seems to turn out well. Surprise, surprise, it's a Fay Ripley recipe. You cream 150g of butter with 150g golden caster sugar. Whisk 3 large eggs and 1 tsp vanilla essence and add gradually to the butter/sugar until absorbed. Separately measure out 120g plain flour, 1 and a half tsp baking powder and 80g ground almonds then gradually combine that into the butter/sugar/egg mixture without over-stirring. Slice apples and arrange on top. Bake fan 160deg for about 45mins.

Below, one of the Pampered Chef gadgets I bought at the Pampered Chef/Jamie Oliver party a couple of weeks ago. It is very very very very sharp. These Granny and Grandado apples go a beautiful rosy pink when peeled but here I think they are bleeding.
The leftover apples worked in perfectly, with the very last slice of the last apple (after Little R and I had scoffed a few) fitting in just right.
45 minutes later it looked like this. Perhaps 40 minutes would have been sufficient.

When our friends arrived we went for a walk and a toddle round the village and to the new swing park. Little R and her friend had lots of fun climbing, running, throwing sticks in the river and putting stones up their jumpers and saying they were their babies. Country Mouse and her friend had a relaxing time talking about our current obsessions, which are charity shop bargains, blogging, baking and our babies. Some might say we need to get a life but hey, we're happy. Below, a pawfull of conkers.

The clouds have cleared at last after weeks of constant rain and a few days of absolute deluge, so it was especially nice to get out and about without being soaked. Below is a blurry photo of a freshly hatched conker beside a daisy. This was an attempt so show summer ending and autumn beginning in one neat little image but I think I need to look out the instruction book for my camera.

Below, a tree that fairies live in, according to Little R and her friend:

Below, a picturesque nibbled and faded mushroom photographed by my clever friend, who then gave me a quick and much-needed photography lesson. Fiddlesticks, it was me and not the camera all along.And on the way home, some beautifully rusty wrought iron. The roundels look like wee shortbread biscuits. Or perhaps they are basketballs about to be bounced behind the backs of a pair of slightly aggressive fish.

Then time for the apple cake, served on the 89p plates.

The leftover cake was too big for the tupperware storage box so Country Mouse and her friend had to have another slice to make it fit. We're very good that way.

Monday 7 September 2009

a country mouse has lots of apples

Above, what's left of Little R's plum chutney and plum jam, having distributed a few jars amongst carefully selected recipients (the kind ones, who will say nice things about it).

We were given a big bag of delicious apples yesterday from the tree in Little R's Granny and Grandado's garden, so made a fruit crumble with the remainder of the plums added in to make things more interesting.

Added oats to the crumble mixture to kid ourselves on it was healthy (fruit plus oats, after all). Then made it even more healthy by inadvertently leaving out the sugar that should have been added to the crumble before pouring it over the fruit. Oops. After a week of recipes you might think Country Mouse would have learned to read them properly, or even to check as she goes along, but no.

Still, the fruit underneath was lovely even if the crumble was not. The plums were definitely a good addition and Country Mouse was VERY glad when she finished de-stoning the last of them.

Above, a wee charity shop find when we were at the museum the other day. I spotted them in the window as we walked by and darted in to buy them as I thought the price tickets said 39p each. When I got into the shop I found they were actually 89p each and the price gun just had a faint 8. I paid up. It's for charidee.

Friday 4 September 2009

a country mouse goes to town

Country Mouse, Little R, Country Mouse's friend and her 2 small boys all went to town today on the bus. We left the car at our friend's house and caught the local bus: a new experience for Little R. There are no, or very few, buses where we live so she has only known the car, with all the CDs, toys and books necessary to aid Madam's travelling comfort.The purpose of our visit was a visit to a child-friendly exhibition at the museum plus lunch. We had a lovely time at the museum and the children were very well behaved. The exhibition was about a baby bee's travels and travails and there were lots of things for the children to touch, look at, lift up, climb over, switch on, etc. A big success.
Little R was particularly taken by the tame pigeons in the pedestrian precinct (above) and Country Mouse got a new pair of shoes for her weary paws in the M&S sale for £13 (below). After a busy day, it will be M&S pizza for tea this evening. Country Mouse will resume normal service as soon as she's had a bit of a sit down and a nice cup of tea.

Thursday 3 September 2009

a country mouse ODs on plums

This (rainy) afternoon, along with the apple cake, country mouse made plum chutney from the leftover plums. The recipe was from a lovely blog: http://www.cottagesmallholder.com/. The blog did warn that the chutney took 5 hours to cook but country mouse felt equal to that at lunchtime today. By 10.45pm when the chutney was finally bottled she felt rather less relaxed and now never wants to see a plum again.

The ingredients are all wonderful though and the kitchen smelled delicious all day. You de-stone and slice 3lbs of plums (this is no small matter) and put in your biggest pot (I needed the stockpot for this one) along with: 1lb of apples, 1lb of onions, 300g dried apricots chopped into 8s, 200g dried raisins, 1/2lb soft brown sugar, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2tsp cayenne pepper, 2tsp salt, 1tsp allspice powder, 1tsp cinnamon powder,, 1tsp ground ginger, 1 and a half pints of white wine vinegar, 1 hot chilli, 2tbsp balsamic vinegar, 5 juniper berries and 10 black peppercorns. Chop all the choppable things finely and bring slowly to a gentle boil then simmer very gently for at least five hours. Stir when you remember and enjoy feeling a bit like Harry Potter as you do so.
Bubbling merrily (above). Reduced by about half and ready to be bottled (below). Recipients of this chutney will be glad to learn that I first removed the burnt bits from the middle. I had to turn off the gas and put the lid on while I put Little R to bed then simmered it a bit hard on my return to make up for the lost time. This was a mistake and resulted in a darker sticky layer on the bottom of the pan but I think it will still be fine as I tried not to disturb it after that first vigorous stir.

The finished result (below), finally bottled at ten thirty this evening and now being blogged at 10.45pm. How's that for hot off the press. You could almost call it a news FLASH.

Making apple cake and plum chutney on the same day however meant that I was rather countrymoused-out by dinner time and by the time DH arrived home, post Little R's bathtime, Country Mouse was feeling rather frazzled and heard herself squeaking, "DINNER? You want DINNER?" Plum chutney is definitely not conducive to an organised life.

a country mouse bakes apple cake

I'm getting good value for money out of my £5 Fay Ripley cookery book. Little R and I made Fay's Good Afternoon Apple Cake (p.237) today and had a very good afternoon doing so.

Little R enjoyed licking the bowl and spoon while I had fun arranging apple slices on top of the cake.

Slightly burnt maybe but still tasted good. I had THREE slices and then had to call it my dinner. I had been so busy making apple cake and plum chutney (see next post for the full plum chutney experience) that by 5pm I could not face producing a country mousey dinner so Little R got a poached egg, broccoli and bread and butter, which was fine by her. Below, Little R's pudding.Three little bone china cups from the charity shop (50p each) which are currently brightening up the kitchen windowsill. They matched my cagoule, and few things do.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

a country mouse makes sausage rolls

I've overdosed on being in the kitchen recently so we had a lazy dinner tonight of vegetarian sausage rolls with beans. Little R wolfed them so they definitely count as a success for country mouse. This was another Fay Ripley recipe (p.52). Fay calls them Sausage Rolls on the Run, as if you are only stopping by your kitchen for just long enough to make them in between exciting adventures.

You unroll some shop-bought puff pastry, cut it into 6 squares, brush one edge of each with beaten egg yolk and milk then roll up and squash the ends together. Fay scattered sesame seeds on top but I didn't have any. I baked them for 15 mins at fan 180deg and that was enough. Fay said 200degC for 20-25 mins. Perhaps that would be necessary for meat sausages but I used Quorn ones. Next time I will use more interesting veggie sausages rather than just the plain Quorn bangers, but they were good and, most importantly, well received.

a country mouse cycles

Today was the first sunny afternoon in ages, so Little R and I went for a cycle along the local cycle path. This was Little R's first time on the cycle path with her big girl bike so she was learning the etiquette of being passed by other cyclists and dog walkers ("Aaaah, mum, mum!"). I was so pleased with her determination. She wobbled off the path twice and landed in the bushes but even though she was howling and tears were streaming down her face she would not hear of going back to the car but got back on her bike and kept right on pedalling. She doesn't get it from me.
We stopped for a breather and Little R picked this flower for my handlebars (above). I can't believe how far she managed to go and we will definitely be doing this again if the weather permits.
The photo above of the 2 bikes is a homage to a photo on my favourite blog, which has inspired me to get on my bike in more ways than one:http://andamentoblog.blogspot.com/

Tuesday 1 September 2009

a country mouse makes spagbol in the oven

Tonight's tea was a rip roaring success. It is another Fay Ripley recipe (p.56) and is called Dan's bung-it-in-the-oven bolognese. I feel its name should be written in lights never mind bold. Little R and I ate every scrap and it was even easy enough for me to face cooking it after an afternoon of making jam and scrubbing the hob. That's a nutmeg balancing on top of the parmesan in the photo below, by the way.

This is a vegetarian version of Fay Ripley's recipe. I caved in and used Quorn mince after my brush with pork sausages the other day. I guess I'm just not ready yet to eat something dead minced up for my dinner. I also did not add 4 tablespoons of milk before serving as Fay suggested as it did not seem to me that this would make mince taste any nicer.
The recipe was the easiest thing I have made in a while. I'll give you my veggie version with the altered quantities and timings for Quorn.
You soften a carrot, a celery stick and an onion (finely chopped for disguise) in olive oil, then add 300g Quorn mince and stir around till the mince is coated in the mixture. Then add 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (my favourite San Marzanos again - 79p a tin not 75p as I mistakenly reported the last time I used them but still worth every penny), 2 tbsps tomato puree (Fay says 200g but that is an awful lot), 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and a great big pinch of grated nutmeg. Note, no garlic and no mushrooms. Transfer from big silver saucepan (like country mouse, it has worked hard today) into oven proof casserole dish with lid and bake at 160deg (fan) for 1 hour. Then prepare to scrub your casserole dish (see below).
Serve in bowls with spaghetti, basil and lots of grana padano parmesan (nothing but the best for country mouse's cooking).