Monday 26 October 2009

a country mouse visits a big city

Country Mouse is still recovering from a big trip to Edinburgh the other day. An old friend and I went to a few of what used to be our favourite haunts when we both lived there. Susie's Wholefood Diner (below) sounds rather worthy but is a fantastic place to eat and the scene of many good times. In the olden days it was called Seeds and had rough plaster walls painted a warm golden colour and huge handpainted pictures of vegetables. Seeds is gone but Susie's is licensed so hey ho. It still has the rickety wooden tables and the same dodgy chairs and the menu hasn't changed in 20 years. If you ever visit Edinburgh and are feeling vegetarianly inclined, it's on West Nicolson Street.
Also on West Nicolson Street is one of the best pubs in Edinburgh, the Pear Tree. It has the most beautiful garden with a canopy of fairy lights in the trees. The house was built by a merchant in 1749 or something and is full of old books, paintings and big squashy couches. Unfortunately we had to give it a body swerve as there was an - eek- TV, showing - eek eeek eeeek - football.And below is a photo of one of the gates into the dark and gothic Greyfriars Churchyard. I couldn't get a decent picture as there was a City of Edinburgh wheelie bin jammed up against it. As a child I was very interested in the story of the loyal little dog, Greyfriars Bobby, who never left his master's grave. How did he eat? How long did he last with no food? Where was he buried? I can see where Little R gets this question, question thing from. If you feel like a good greet, have a read at this: and as a bonus you will find out how he ate and where he was buried, just like I just did when I read it two minutes ago after 35 years of wondering. Not constantly.
After our delicious lunch my long-legged and super-fit friend marched me at speed to Maxie's wine bar on Victoria Street. There is a roof terrace which must be amazing in the summer but as it was a bit cold for us oldies we went inside.
This is Victoria Street at 5pm on the day the clocks went back, so 6pm really. That's the Grassmarket running along the bottom of the street. You can just see in my bad photo a brightly spotlit stone plinth just where Victoria Street meets the Grassmarket. That's where the hangings used to take place. There are eyewitness accounts which tell of Victoria Street being solid with people and the windows and roofs all completely full as everyone jostled for a good spot from which to watch the executions, and the householders used to charge big money. That's Edinburghers for you.
We were good girls, and instead of phoning our husbands and saying we were having such a good time that we were going to stay out for longer, my friend put me on the 6pm train as arranged and DH and Little R picked me up in Glasgow, very happy to be back home after my wonderful adventure in the big city.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

a country mouse has a happy halloween

Little R just discovered that her aunt's wedding, at which she will be a flower girl, is taking place on Halloween and so she will not be going out guising. Cue shrieks and gnashing of teeth. I love Halloween too so we're having it early in this house. I have happy memories of a Halloween in Nova Scotia, where these things are done in style. So far we have a paper lantern pumpkin garland up in the hall, a witch-on-a-broomstick-shaped helium balloon and orange halloween straws with pumpkins and bats on them. The witch balloon is giving me the creeps. It drifts around of its own accord from room to room and it can be rather disconcerting to find it in the bedroom when two minutes ago it was downstairs getting in my way in the kitchen.
Below is a close up what Little R calls her Mildred Hubble dress, which is proving to be a great bargain in terms of price per wear as the fashion magazines say when persuading you to buy Agnes B instead of Dotty P.
The last few days have been busy and not particularly photogenic but I did manage to pick up a couple of bargains along the way. The Nigella jar above was from Cancer Research and cost £1. It needed a good scrub in - yay! - fairy liquid, but that was no hardship for country mouse. The wee book was 10p in another charity shop and the oven gloves were £4 in Matalan, reduced from £8. They are really good ones - long and heavily padded - and they have flowers and cupcakes on them. They are from Anthea Turner's range at Matalan, and I am now going to expose myself to great scorn by saying that I REALLY LIKE ANTHEA TURNER. No one else seems to. I say hooray for anyone who likes washing up as much as I do, and folding towels just the right way and using lavender water when ironing. And eating Flakes.
Here is the final version of the Findhorn blanket. I would have done a few more rows but my dad snaffled it to wrap up in against the cold winter breezes in his and mum's house. Mum is a fresh air fiend and does not agree with cosseting people with luxuries like central heating. I remember trying to study in that house when I was at uni and not being able to hold the pen properly because I had to wear gloves. Yes, they breed 'em tough in Scotland.
And finally, birthday cake no.4. Jelly Tots and everything. See, there are some good things about being 40.

Saturday 17 October 2009

a country mouse crochets up a storm

Country Mouse's crochet hook was smokin' last night. The postie finally brought my wool and I was able to crack on with this baby bottle holder for my nephew's birthday. I had to get it done as I'm seeing him today, so I went like the clappers and finished it at five past midnight this morning. Hook, hook, hook, sizzle, hiss.Here's the final result. The book is I Love Crochet by Rachel Henderson and Sarah Hazell. It has lots of easy projects but I can't share them with you yet as I have very ambitious plans to make some as Christmas presents and some of the recipients read this blog. The wool came from and arrived in a very exciting parcel, in which each ball of wool was individually wrapped in pink tissue paper. An absolute joy to receive. I would not like DH to know quite how much I spent though.
I also made my nephew a fleece hat from a pattern in another great book, Crafty Mama, by Abby Pecoriello. I highly recommend this book for quick presents as none of the projects require needle and thread, just a hot glue gun and some decent scissors. The wee red baby-wipe box below is an idea adapted from Crafty Mama. There is a pattern in the book for a baby-wipe box covered in funky fabric, which looked great but was footery to make and wasn't terribly durable. This version, with puffy stickers, might last a bit longer and will look cool in his nappy bag.
And since it is our anniversary today I made DH the sort of boy food he likes for dinner last night: chicken and ham pie and apple and blackberry crumble with ice cream. Good old Fay had a recipe for both. I padded the chicken pie out with extra leeks because I use organic/free range chicken, which costs a bomb for not very much.
I use ready made pastry for everything and wouldn't know where to start to make my own. So, for my version of Fay's recipe, you need a pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 leeks finely chopped, 2 organic chicken breasts chopped to bite size pieces, 1 organic chicken stock cube, slices of prosciutto ham torn into strips, handful of shredded basil leaves, 8 tbsps double cream, 1 beaten egg. Oven 200deg (fan). Sweat leeks for 5 mins in oil, add chicken and brown for further 5 mins then pour into oven dish. Add the ham, basil and pepper then pour over the cream plus 4 tbsps of the stock. Pop on the pastry lid, brush with egg then bake at 200deg for 20 mins then turn down to 180 next 20 mins. Fay's version involved a loose bottomed cake tin and a pastry base as well as a pastry top but that looked like a lot of faff for a country mouse.

The crumble recipe turned out great and this time I even remembered to add the sugar to the crumble mixture. I used 6 small gala apples and 2 punnets of blackberries. Peel, core and slice the apples and put with washed blackberries into pan with lid along with a splash of water and cook gently for about 5 mins till softened. Pour into dish and put crumble mixture on top. Fay's crumble mixture is 120g wholemeal or spelt flour, 40g light brown sugar, 30g ground almonds and 100g butter, cubed. Bake for 40 mins at 180deg (fan). She suggests only scattering extra sugar on one half of the crumble topping so any children who eat it don't suffer too much in the way of dental trauma but Little R would never stand for that. She scoffed every scrap and says she wants it for dinner - not pudding - every night from now on.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

a country mouse confesses

OK, OK, the landmark birthday was my 40th. So far it's not been too bad: 3 birthday cakes and counting. We're having a big family get-together at my parents' house this weekend and I have high hopes of getting cake no.4.
My husband writes me a little poem every year for my birthday. That is not as revolting as it sounds as they are always very cheeky and insulting. This year's effort:
The big forty comes the big forty goes
Aches and pains will follow.
Your mind says you can
But your body knows best
Better rest for a while
Between dishes.
He pointed out that as we met when I was 21, I have now known him almost as long as I haven't known him. Aaaaaaargh.
While I still can, before my elderly body quits on me altogether, myself and a friend plus our little ones went for a little walk in the woods the other day. I was busy taking photos of the trees overhead when a very large dog rushed up to the girls, barking and slavering right at them while they screamed in fear. No owner to be seen. Country mouse was over there in one mighty bound, adrenalin pumping and ready to boot that dog to kingdom come if need be, when the owner appeared, without a lead, failed to recapture her pet, and proceeded to give the girls a bossy lecture on how not to behave when a dog is barking at them. And then my friend stepped in dog poo when strapping her son into his car seat. Apart from that, we had a lovely time and the girls played at being ducks, laying eggs (stones) in nests, and dogs, trotting along beside me on leads made from corn stalks and twigs. My daughter was Lucy the Dog and my friend's daughter was Woof Woof Ziggy the Dog. Lucy and Woof Woof Ziggy set a good example to other dogs by enjoying their walk without terrorising small children or doing their business in the car park.

Above, The New Shoes. Oh, I love them. It's a struggle to get Little R to wear anything at all on her feet, and she considers either bare feet or bare feet in wellies to be suitable for every occasion. But she is happy to wear these amazing shoes which have little lights on the heels which flicker as she walks, and she will even wear socks in them too. I just realised my impulse there was to type Flickr. I am also finding myself reluctant to take photos if they are not going to end up on my blog. I think perhaps I need to get some perspective.
I bought 2 of these bowls and plates the other day in the charity shop for £2, with their appearance on this blog entirely in mind. They are made to look like canteloupe melons and have a glowing golden colour inside which is not showing up too well in this photo. Goodness knows when I will ever use them but I just loved the autumnal orange so am keeping them out on the worktop for ease of admiration. Another glorious orange glow emanates from this capsicum plant which is, so far, doing well on the kitchen windowsill. A country mouse's mind turns to thoughts of butternut squash soup...and how photogenic it might be.

Sunday 11 October 2009

a country mouse feels the beat from the tambourine

"You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen, doo doo doo doo doo doo..." I regret to report that country mouse was singing those very words, at top volume, at one o'clock this morning in a chinese restaurant karaoke room.
It was a, shall we say landmark, birthday for myself and 3 others so we got our mummy friends together and hit Sauchiehall Street to sing, dance and eat noodles. The karaoke DVDs caused much hilarity. They were obviously too cheap to pay broadcast fees for the proper videos for the songs so we got completely random footage instead. Girls looking thoughtful while wandering around wearing bikinis featured heavily, as did shots of, of all things, Georgian terraces in Bath, Sydney harbour and, best of all, Bavarian folk dancers slapping their thighs and giving it laldy to I'm A Believer. Everyone was up singing and dancing and many unfortunate cats were strangled.
Above is a photograph of the birthday cake our friends presented us with - mmm, chocolate sponge AND chocolate icing. We also each recieved a helium balloon with a big number on it, which we had to carry through all the YOUNG revellers on the way to our cars. Thanks for that, girls.
And on the subject of chocolate (one of my favourite subjects, after all), here are the chocolate chip cookies Little R and I made the other day. We got the recipe from Andamento's 7 Oct post. Or you can click to enlarge the photo below and try to decipher my scribbled version.
Unfortunately we had no chocolate chips, so Little R had lots of fun bashing a chocolate bar to bits using her own little rolling pin. She was lethal.
The result is shown below. They are a bit chunkier than Andamento's version so next time I will squash them down a bit flatter before baking, but they tasted delicious and didn't hang about for long.I am going to lay off the biccies for a while though, now that I'm not as young as I used to be. Have to do a lot of booty-shaking to work off that lot. You can dance, you can jive....

Wednesday 7 October 2009

a country mouse takes a shortcut

It pains me to look at this project. These are little bootees, knitted with silk wool, which I started just after my sister had her second son, a year ago. The pain is from the RSI which I get every time I pick up the 2mm bamboo needles. It's like knitting with cocktail sticks. If I ever get these finished I will sew some satin ribbons or buttons on them and put them in one of the Ikea shadow frames for his bedroom wall. The baby whose tiny feet would have fitted these bootees is now walking and wearing big boy shoes, and at the rate I'm going the picture will be up for about a week before being replaced with pop star posters and lists of football fixtures.

And now for the shortcut. After an anguished phone call yesterday, when I moaned that I can never get everything done, the mess is never ending and no one appreciates anything I do in this house, my organised mother (with remarkably little schadenfreude) gave me some advice: GO TO MARKS AND SPENCERS. And so I did, and I found this:
Yes, one pot sausage casserole. All you need is one sharp knife (to puncture the plastic), one casserole dish and one oven. Result:

And best of all, when DH ate it, thinking I'd made it, he said, "That was nice but not as good as the one you did the other night."
With no mess to clear up and with Little R sound asleep at a reasonable hour, I poured a glass of good red and settled down to read Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser. Country mice love a good military memoir.

Sunday 4 October 2009

a country mouse goes for an unexpected bike ride

Another harvest of apples from Grandado and Little Granny's tree. I was just contemplating making apple chutney when my friend rang and invited me to join her on a bike ride. She had already been out and about for hours, making an epic journey uphill and down dale, and suggested I come along for the nice easy section along the cycle path, via a car boot sale. Bargains ahoy. I strapped on my helmet and wobbled off in first gear.This is the bike post-car boot sale. Predictably, when I got home DH was wondering how it was possible to go out on a bike ride and still spend money. The orange bag contains a fish tank which cost £2 (despite already owning a hamster, named Beautiful Rose, Little R longs for a goldfish) and the other bag contains a jar of elderberry and apple jelly (£1).

My friend and I parted company a mile or two after the car boot sale and I went back the way I'd come, puffing and still wobbling but very pleased with my expedition. I think I went about 7 miles in all, which is not bad for a lazy little kitchen mouse such as myself. This is a photo of a view from one of my many stops to admire the scenery (ahem).

This, below, is the view from the cycle path as it reaches the village. Home at last, rather redder than when I set off.

And these are my purchases. Little R and I filled the tank and switched on the pump to get the water ready for when Mrs Goldie joins the family. That's a wee friend for Mrs Goldie, patiently awaiting her arrival.

After lunch, Little R and I headed off for Tesco (how I hate that place), leaving happy DH to watch the football in peace. We took the scenic route and paused to take a photo.
It was country mouse's made up sausage and bean stew for dinner tonight. A birra this, a birra that, bish bash bosh. I fried the sausages then set aside, then softened finely chopped onion, carrot and leeks plus some whole shallots and some mushrooms, then poured in flageolet beans, tomatoes and vegetable stock before adding the sausages back to pan, covering and simmering for about 40 mins. We had it with mashed potatoes with some of the cream left over from Sophie Dahl's baked onions.
I made loads so that will be tomorrow night's dinner too. Phew, a night off from cooking!

Friday 2 October 2009

a country mouse gets messy

It was another rainy day today, despite the forecast of sun, so Little R and I spent some time in the kitchen, drawing, making things and cooking. I love rainy afternoons at home. This is the little bead heart she made with ikea's version of hama beads (thanks, andamento, for that tip The heart is on top of country mouse's recent favourite items, two thick knitted pot holders, also from ikea, and fortuitously reduced to 99p.

This next photo is Little R making a shell jar. Having stripped the Morayshire beaches of shells we now feel obliged to do something useful with them. We used some of the Early Learning Centre air-drying clay to cover an empty jam jar then pushed some of the shells into the clay. Very Blue Peter. If all goes well we will varnish it tomorrow.

Tonight's tea was quite successful, and seasonal. It was a Sophie Dahl recipe from Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights (p.65) called Grilled Salmon With Baked Onions. I baked the salmon in foil at the same time as the onions were baking in an effort to simplify things and it worked fine.

I had some lovely salmon fillets ( from the farmers' market so used that, along with 10 large shallots, about 150ml light single cream and 50g grated parmesan, plus some lemon juice and butter for baking the salmon. You peel the onions then boil them whole for 20 mins (I found 10mins was enough really) then drain, put into a small ovenproof dish, pour over the cream, scatter with parmesan and bake for about half an hour. The salmon goes in about 15 mins before the end. I can see that it would have looked prettier and probably tasted better too had the salmon been grilled and crispy but convenience wins over prettiness for country mouse, and it did look a lot better than would appear from the unappetising photo of burnt yellow slop below, which I publish in a spirit of blogging integrity while resolving to learn to work my camera a bit better.
I didn't try to persuade Little R that baked onions would be delicious and instead gave her pizza and sprouts. She was very pleased to find that is it sprout season again as they are her favourite vegetable. I have a photo somewhere of her standing holding a huge stem of sprouts, almost as tall as her little self, looking like she'd like to eat them raw.
The previous night's dinner was also a success. After the fish-in-conflakes debacle I thought I'd have a go at homemade chicken nuggets and chips instead. I used the Netmums cookery book, Feeding Kids: 120 Foolproof Recipes. I have had this book for ages but have not really used it as I still feel that Little R should eat the same things we do within reason, just chopped up a bit smaller, and so I don't usually give her "kid food."

Anyway, I embarked on the recipe for chicken nuggets (p. 49) thinking it would be easy. Well, it wasn't technically hard, but boy did it make a mess and by the time I'd finished I'd used every pot in the place. Should you not mind mess and have lots of cooking equipment, then I recommend it as it was a big hit with Little R and DH.
You need 2 large chicken breasts, 2-3 slices stale or lightly toasted white or brown bread, 3 tbsps (I had used at least 8tbsp by the end) plain flour, 1 medium egg, beaten and thinned with a little milk, and a little olive oil. You first have to make the bread into breadcrumbs. This would be literally a whizz in a food processor but poor old country mouse doesn't have one so had to grate the bread by hand. What a drag that was. Then you put all the breadcrumbs into a big food bag, put all the flour into another and put the beaten egg into a bowl. Then cut the chicken into bite sized chunks and prepare for things to get very sticky as you shake the chicken pieces in the bag of flour, then dip individually (the only way it will work) into the egg then shake in the bag of breadcrumbs then place on oiled baking sheet and press more breadcrumbs on top with your egg-and-breadcrumb encrusted fingers. Pray the phone doesn't ring in the middle of this. That's them uncooked, below.

Brush with olive oil then bake for 15-20 mins at 180deg, turning half way. So far, then, I had used a sharp knife, a chopping board, a grater and a baking tray (actually a Pampered Chef pizza stone - cost so much I have to use it at every opportunity), so the washing up was under control; after my neurotic sterilising of every surface touched by raw chicken, that is. But while I was doing the chicken nuggets I was multi tasking, always a mistake, by making homemade chips as well. This involved a pot, another sharp knife, another chopping board and another baking tray, and so the pile of washing up grows.
The chips are a Lorraine Kelly recipe, from Lorraine Kelly's Junk Free Children's Eating Plan This is another book I've had for a while and plan to make more use of. It is really good for planning what to eat for the week as it suggests recipes for chicken/turkey days, fish days, bean days, vegetarian days, "you choose" days plus recipes for weekends, lunches and puddings.
Anyway, the recipe for chips is on p.141. You scrub some baking potatoes then cut into wedges and boil for ten minutes before chilling them again in cold water. You then use your fingers to toss them in a big bowl with a little olive oil (that's another bowl for the washing up right there, plus the pot for the 3 min boil) and bake for 25 mins at, she says, 220deg but I just put them in at the same time as the chicken and they were ready. Turn them a couple of times during cooking and the final result of all this palaver is shown below.
Can you imagine the state of the kitchen by the time this little lot was dished up? Adding on the 2 pots for the peas and sweetcorn, all I can say is thank goodness I've got a dishwasher, and thank goodness I don't have a full time job. There is absolutely no way anyone could cook this for their kids' dinner after a day at work. The hunt for EASY good dinners continues.
PS my dishcloth and fairy liquid fetish continues to flourish and I was able to console myself with a good bubbly session of worktop washing afterwards.

Thursday 1 October 2009

a country mouse has some visitors

We were greeted yesterday morning by two curly-horned sheep making themselves at home on the lawn. Little R was delighted, "They must have knowed I always wanted pet sheep!" The sheep spent most of the day there and on our neighbours' lawns before being recaptured by the farmer so Little R was able to keep up a running commentary on their activities, like a mini David Attenborough. "Now a magpie has landed. Now they are looking at the magpie. Now one of them has done a sheep's dropping!"

Having seen off the sheep, Little R made a treasure hunt for me to follow. The treasure map (below) depicts me at various stages of the hunt and shows my newly short hair, which Little R says makes me look like Mowgli.

The hunt involved following a line of toys, cardboard boxes and dolls house furniture leading through the TV room, upstairs and into the upstairs hall. Each item had a little plastic farm animal underneath or inside it and each animal had to be found then listened to while it told me a clue (usually, "Keep going.").

I was thoroughly charmed, lavishing praise and taking photographs, until I came to the treasure. It was a tube of smarties I'd already told her that day she couldn't have. Out-smartied once again.
This sunflower was planted by Little R with her now retired nursery teacher whom she adored and whose word was quoted as law, Mrs Borland. It's now 7 foot tall and flourishing in the biting autumn weather.

Above and below are photos of some lovely hand-embroidered table linen I bought in the charity shops of Forres and Elgin. I have no idea what I'm going to do with my rapidly growing pile of this sort of thing but feel compelled to rescue it given how much effort has gone into creating it. Perhaps one day I will lead the kind of life in which beautiful table linen has a role.

And this, below, is a status report on my Findhorn blanket. I posted a photo earlier of me on Findhorn beach having a go at the early stages. I did a good chunk last night at the little craft night I do with some friends. It's an ideal project for the craft night as it doesn't take any brain power at all and so doesn't interfere with the important business of chatting and eating home baking. I have messed up two tapestries and some silk bootees in the past through doing too much of the chatting and eating and not enough of the concentrating. Come to think of it, that is the story of my life.

As you can see, it has gone a bit wonky at the edges already but in country mouse's opinion that's all part of the charm. I will keep going until the variegated wool from the time-warp wool shop runs out and then cosy up in it with a nice bit of cheese, oops I mean cup of tea and a biscuit.

Squeak to you soon. Love, Country Mouse xx