Tuesday, 24 November 2009

a country mouse cocoons

The weather here has been atrocious over the last few days so we've been cocooning as much as possible except for the mad dashes to nursery through pouring rain. Little R goes into nursery dressed in waterproofs from head to toe and I am wearing the gear I used to wear to struggle over windswept heaths and hills in a previous job. Work paid for it so I bought the best and it's being severely tested at the moment. At least it dries quickly. All this cocooning is giving me a chance to catch up with the housework and also to do wee extras like hanging these Christmassy Ikea wooden birds and paper stars on the triffid (above). Mistletoe and wine...
We had a friend and her two daughters over to play this afternoon so Little R and I got out the baking book and had a go at Date and Ginger Slice. It was really easy to make, was baked for the time stated in the recipe, unlike my last cake, and tasted delicious. If only it was healthy too. You need: 125g block margarine, 125g light soft brown sugar, 125g black treacle, 175g packet of dates finely chopped, 150ml water, 225g plain white flour sifted, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 medium egg beaten, 1 heaped tsp finely chopped preserved ginger and half a tsp ground ginger.
In traditional country mouse style, I made a mistake with the recipe. How I will ever return to the world of work I do not know, when I can't even follow a recipe for ginger cake. It was supposed to be one heaped tsp of finely chopped preserved ginger but I just took one piece of ginger from the jar, chopped it up and put it in. That was quite a lot of ginger. Luckily I noticed in time and didn't add the ground ginger. I'm planning to use the rest of the preserved ginger for a Fay Ripley sticky ginger chicken recipe and will blog that when I do it. Anyway, you gently melt the margarine, sugar, treacle, dates and water in a large pot. Stir in the sifted flour, bicarb of soda, egg, preserved ginger and ground ginger. Mix well and spoon into a 28x18cm greased and lined swiss roll tin and bake at 180deg fan for 30-35 mins. Let it cool in the tin for 15 mins then put on a wire rack and peel off the baking paper. Serve on pretty china plates while the rain lashes against the window.
Another good thing about cocooning is that with the housework done, a state of affairs which lasts an hour max, I can pick up a needle with a fairly clear conscience. The tapestry above has been gathering dust for a good while and it only took an hour to finish it off before the house began to resemble a war zone again, so that was fine. Having meticulously stitched the border, I took it to a craft night a few months ago to work on the leaves and really messed them up because I was too busy chatting. It's meant to be oak leaves and acorns, believe it or not. Never mind. I will frame it and hang it in a dark corner and just not look at it too closely.
And this is my latest project, a garland of gingerbread men, from the Tone Finnanger Christmas book (see Shelfari bookcase on right hand margin of blog, below blogroll). The half-stitched gingerbread man in the photo above looks a bit wonky but that's because the page it's on is curved. I felt like Noel Edmonds the other day with his "ask the universe and the universe will provide" patter. I was searching online for brown linen and cream linen, as per the illustration in the book, but was having no luck, so posted a message on Facebook to my craft group friends to ask if anyone knew somewhere to try. I then popped into the charity shop on my way to pick up Little R from nursery and what should I see but a big basket of fabric, including brown and cream linen. Thanks, universe. Let me leave you with this happy thought - Moet £14 at Morrisons: http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/cheap-champagne-sparkling-wine.

Monday, 16 November 2009

a country mouse burns a cake

This is the farmers' market I go to every couple of weeks with a German friend. She is a very careful shopper and makes sure she always gets the best quality food to feed her family. She's a great example to country mouse, who is getting lazy and has been spending a bit too much time and money in Marks and Spencers recently. As you can see from the photo above, however, we are not spoiled for choice in terms of fruit and vegetables. Cabbages, turnips, parsnips, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and some hard pears, and that's yer lot, missis. Quite a contrast to the amazing markets on Lucy's Kitchen Notebook which I like to imagine myself wandering through in the French sunshine, wicker basket in hand. A farmers' market on a Scottish November morning is rather a bracing place to be and you certainly feel you've earned your dinner. On this particular windswept morning I felt like the hunter home from the hill. I bought half a dozen medium eggs from the stall below (love that tablecloth) with the intention of using them with the hard pears to make Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's pear and almond cake.
It's a variation on the apple cake that I made so many of during the late summer/early autumn when I was getting bags full of apples from Grandado and Little Granny's trees. The recipe looked very easy, and having seen the man himself making it on TV the other night, I felt fully equipped to give it a go. Apparently it doesn't matter that that the pears are hard as the heat from the caramelising process makes them soft and juicy.
You need 3 conference pears, 25g unsalted butter and 1tbsp granulated sugar to make the caramelised pears for the top of the cake. You melt the butter at a high heat then add the pears, peeled, cored and quartered, and cook gently until they begin to colour. Then add the tbsp of granulated sugar and shake the pan till the pears are coated. While Hugh did all of the above he was busy beating the butter and sugar for the next stage, but I know my limitations so did the pears first then tackled the beating bit. You use electric beaters, unless you are very strong, to beat 300g of softened unsalted butter until soft and pale. Add 250g caster sugar then beat in 4 medium eggs (above), one at a time, thoroughly combining each one before you add the next. Then fold in 150g wholemeal self raising flour, 150g ground almonds and a pinch of cinnamon and turn the mixture into a greased and lined 23cm springform cake tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour over the caramelised butter/pear juice from the pan.
Bake, says Hugh, for 35 mins at 170degC. Well, after 35 minutes my cake was wobbling in the tin when I pulled out the tray to check it. 10 minutes after that there was no perceptible change and a skewer came out slathered in cake mixture. I covered it with foil (top getting dangerously dark), turned it up to 180deg and gave it another 10. Then another 10. After baking the damn thing for more than an hour I lost patience and took it out. Here's the result:
It didn't look too good, but it tasted fine once we'd scraped off the burnt bits. I would bake it again, but perhaps at 180deg from the start and I would caramelise the pears for longer so there was less buttery juice soaking into the mixture. Cake is cake, after all, and country mouse has never met a cake she didn't love.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

a country mouse buys some books

Remember Bunty? Remember the Four Marys? "Mary Simpson, Mary Field, Mary Radleigh and Mary Cotter were all in the Third Form at St Elmo's School for Girls. They were great friends, and shared a study in St Bee's House." And were candidates for an Anti Social Behaviour Order. Take a look at this.
One morning, the Headmistress, Miss Creef, had an announcement to make. The girls were to help move the books from the library and stack them in the gym so the library could be re-decorated. Mabel's response, which I will have to type out because my photography is so rubbish, is, "Why should we do this kind of work, anyway? We should protest, Veronica!" The Four Marys' response is VIOLENCE. Likewise when Mabel and Veronica (with matching bad-girl hair dos) refuse to take part in a fire drill organised by the safety-conscious Marys. Again with the brute force.
The final scene is a fire drill in which Mabel and Veronica think there really is a fire and get stuck on a ledge outside their bedroom window. The Marys lay mattresses on the ground then gather 20 girls to hold a tarpaulin over it. I cannot bear to put the ensuing illustration on my blog. Raddy to Mabel and Veronica, "Stop moaning, you're down safely." Cotty to Simpy, "Simpy, I think they should be taught another lesson. Give them a few tosses!" And they do so, with vim and vigour. The last word goes to Dr Gull as the assault on Veronica and Mabel continues in the background, "Well, Miss Creef, thanks to the Marys we're now prepared for any emergency we may have at St Elmo's. Their safety campaign has been a big success!" Mabel and Veronica's mater and pater may be considering legal action.

On a very much less aggressive note, you might like to see my other purchase, this little Ladybird book, entitled "Learnabout...Cooking." Both of these books were charity shop buys, by the way, and were 20p each, so I'm not busting the budget. Recipes include Banana Snow, Scotch Eggs, a Cheese and Pineapple Hedgehog and, below, Vanilla Ice Cream, featuring Bird's Dream Topping as an ingredient.
And here is the very party I have striven each birthday for 4 years to achieve for Little R. I had not realised I had been striving for this until I saw this picture, but now that I do see it, there's just no denying it. Orange and Lemon Fizz all round. Cheers!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

a country mouse finally blocks that blooming scarf

Little R, Daddy Mouse and I went to the local bonfire night on Friday and came home absolutely clarted in mud. Today I was forced to accept that I now have no sartorial standards whatsoever when Little R pointed out to me (in the middle of Marks and Spencers food hall) that I had mud all over the front of my jacket. So I did, great big dauds of it, from her muddy boots when she was sitting on my shoulders at the fireworks. Is this old age? When I am old I shall wear purple? Or maybe I should start looking in a mirror occasionally. Or (much more country mouse's style) just get a scarf and cover it up.
And squeaking of scarves, here is the pile of raggy old flowers I crocheted for my sister's scarf a VERY long time ago. It sat reproachfully in my crochet bag waiting for the ends to be sewn in until yesterday afternoon, when I could stand it no longer and finally picked up the needle. Wait till you see the miracle worked by blocking.
You plunge your precious handiwork into a basin of cool water with a little bit of very mild detergent, such as a baby soap powder, then squish and soak it until every fibre has been thoroughly wetted. Then remove, carefully wring out and rinse twice in clear cool water. Squeeze out the excess water then lay on a folded towel and push and pull it into the exact shape you want it to dry into. You can pin it if you want to be extra precise. Leave it for a day or two until it is completely dry, then, ta da. Despite having done this before and witnessed the miracle of blocking, I must admit I was quailing a bit as the flowers looked so very twisted and scrappy when they were wet, but look, it turned out fine after all:
The flowers look a bit crumpled here but that's only because of the way they are draped around Scotland's Next Top Model. I will wrap it up in some pretty paper and give it to my poor wee sister before she freezes on these cold winter mornings.
And finally, here is an oil painting I bought this afternoon in the charity shop for the rather hefty sum (on my charity shopping scale) of £7. I felt able to splurge because my kind sister and brother and their families gave me a very generous amount of money for my 40th to be spent on a painting. There's even a couple of bob left. In this photo you can see the lovely carpet we've got in the study at the moment. Yes, that's right - 22mm chipboard, neatly edged in gripper rod. The aquarium leaked all over the carpet a couple of months ago while we were out and both the aquarium and the carpet had to go to the dump. One of these days we will get a replacement I suppose but there are so many things I'd rather spend money on and then there are all the things I have to spend money on such as car tax and car servicing and other dull things like that. I tell you, this stay at home mum bit is not so much fun when it comes to being utterly skint. I am fed up being skint. I want to go somewhere posh and SPEND LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY!!!!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

a country mouse and a christmas robin

Little R and I are back on our feet at last after a horrible week-long virus which kept us both in bed with our eyes shut tight. Now that it is over it is hard to remember just how bad it was but truly, it was bad. It is never easy to be ill when looking after a little one but when you are both ill at the same time it really is hard going. It has certainly been a reminder to look after our health and to appreciate it. We wrapped up warm and ventured out to the shops for supplies this morning and came back with this little chap, the first Christmas decoration of the season and it's not even fireworks night yet. I'd like to claim it is me being organised but of course it's just that I can never resist a robin.
The worst of being ill was that Little R and I missed her aunty's wedding. Little R was to have been a flower girl. We were so sad to miss it but unfortunately there was just no way either of us could have managed it as we were basically unconscious. Daddy Mouse walked his big sister down the aisle and by all accounts (well, his account!) gave a wonderful after-dinner speech, then brought us back some wedding cake the next day and this beautiful posy which Little R was to have carried on a ribbon. She would have looked so sweet and it is such a shame that she missed seeing all her relatives, and seeing her aunty as a beautiful bride.Before I succumbed to the mystery illness I was working on some wrist warmers like, it would seem, everyone else in blogland. Unlike everyone else though, I messed up the pattern! You will no doubt recognise the wrist warmer notion from Lucy's Attic 24 blog. Lucy chained 35 on a 3.5mm hook. Well, I was too lazy to go and look for my 3.5mm hook so chained 35 on a 4mm hook and ended up with rather large wrist warmers. I decided to turn them on end as a way of narrowing them a bit so now have vertical instead of horizontal stripes. This affects the way they sit on my wrist so instead of wrinkling down nicely in concertina folds they are a bit like armoured gauntlets, but never mind, they will do the job on cold winter mornings and they used up all the odd bits of Debbie Bliss wool I had left over from my sister and sister in law's scarves. One of these days I will sew in all the ends of my sister's scarf that I photographed in a very early blog post and then block it and photograph the blocking process like I promised. I just absolutely HATE sewing in ends! As an experiment, I crocheted in the ends on the first gauntlet and left them loose on the second to see which was easier. Crocheting them in was easier, and now I have another load of ends to sew in. Grrr!
But I will smile and make the best of it because.....
...it seems I've been nominated for a Lemonade Award for "seeing blessings where they're not obvious and making lemonade instead of complaining about sour lemons." The award is being given by Beth at The Linen Cat Blog and I've been nominated by Anne at Andamento, my own absolute favourite blog, so it is a real thrill. Apparently I have to write down some things I am grateful for and then nominate some other lemonade-making bloggers. OK, here goes:

1. I am profoundly grateful for my amazing daughter and my happy-natured husband, and for my loving parents, wise brother and sparkling sister, and their families too.
2. I am lucky enough to have some really good friends - strong, unique women who enrich my life.
3. I am grateful for my good health and for that of my family and friends.
4. I am incredibly lucky to be what I want to be in life - a mum who is here at home with my little girl. It's not for everyone but for me it is the most precious dream of my heart and I treasure every moment of it.

I have some lovely blogs to nominate. Unfortunately I am so rubbish at computery stuff that I am not able to write them as links in the text and so have to put their full addresses:




And the link to the beautiful and inspiring blog which nominated me, Andamento, is http://andamentoblog.blogspot.com/

I dread the day I go back to work and have to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of computers. When I started work in the civil service, many moons ago, we used fountain pens and wrote on foolscap. Sounds like something out of Dickens now, but that's the way it was, and that's what I'm comfortable with, dammit! Oops, I may have just blown my chances of the lemonade award.