Friday 15 October 2010

a country mouse goes to York

We're just back from enjoying the hospitality of my brother and his family in Hull for the October week. Little R and I went off on a day trip to York to celebrate my 41st birthday. We had to visit Betty's, of course. Little R had hot chocolate and a butter bear biscuit and I had a fat rascal (a Betty's speciality) and a big silver pot of coffee. We know how to look after ourselves when we travel.
York is one of my favourite cities. In a previous job I went on several week-long building conservation training courses at King's Manor, below. Although it's a university building the public can use the cafeteria so I was able to bring Little R in to explore the courtyards. When I was on the courses (one per year: stone, timber and lead) we were given access to some truly amazing parts of medieval York, such as closed parts of the Minster, its stoneyards where the modern masons work and parts of Barley Hall that were being uncovered for the first time in hundreds of years. Now Barley Hall is a tourist attraction with lots of interactive stuff but when I was there it was a darkened time capsule, full of the dust and filth of the newly revealed ancient lath and plaster. I did realise though that I might have been overdoing the building talk with Little R when she casually ran her hand over an ashlar wall and commented, "Dressed stone." She's 5. I told my sister in law about this and she asked Little R what dressed stone meant. I was such a proud mummy when she gave a comprehensive explanation!
Before we left for Hull my good friend Anne gave me a really special present:

What a beautiful little book. She knows I love robins. It was published in 1953. So special to think that it has lasted all this time. I am really looking forward to reading it and using the handmade bookmark.

And have you noticed the background? Yes, it's the Attic 24 granny stripe blanket, finished at long last. I will try to get a photo of it spread out properly on a sunny day. It's 240 stitches wide and 110 rows long. Each row took me about 20 minutes to crochet (they were trebles) so that blooming blanket represents a sizeable chunk of my time. It is probably not a good idea to total it up. I do love it though and life's not all about efficiency after all.
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I bought these red patent boots (Fly London) using birthday money from kind Granny Mouse. I have been wearing them all day and they are as soft as slippers plus they give me a much needed bit of extra height. I had bought a pair of browny/purpley patent ones in John Lewis and when I got home I checked Amazon and found the exact same ones in red for exactly half the price so needless to say I'll be returning the brown ones.

I also bought just one or two tiny things in the Cath Kidston shop in York. I was very restrained considering the level of happiness these purchases brought me. I bought a gadget case for my new camera and a magnetic memo board to display (certainly never actually use) on my fridge. I also bought a Cath Kidston bag for Little R. She carries it and I have the enjoyment of looking at her wearing it.

At last I have got round to posting a photo of the bloggy giveaway I won a few weeks ago from Andamento. I had taken photos of it at the time but had used my old camera which then got broken with the photos inside it. The giveaway was a notebook, pen, cute birdie post-its which I have already used all of, and a pencil tin. The pencil tin was packed full of the most delicious home made tablet - soft and fudgy, mmmm. I received another parcel recently from a fellow blogger, this time from Vintage Squirrel (below). I had used some more birthday money to buy one of her beautiful brooches.

Katie felts the wool by hand and she sent me some samples of wool colours and ribbons so I could choose exactly what I wanted. I'm really delighted with it. I won't be missed wearing this and my red patent boots. I've run out of birthday money now so it's back to frugality. I noticed a postcard in a book shop in Edinburgh last week which I was too cheap to buy. It was a 1940s style photo of an elegant woman's face smiling benignly with the caption, "Frugal is such an ugly word."

Sunday 10 October 2010

a country mouse goes to Edinburgh

Another year, another birthday, another trip to Edinburgh!!!! Lynn and I had a great day out. It's a real adventure for me these days to go somewhere like Edinburgh and it's an odd experience for both of us to walk at an adult pace without stopping every few steps to be shown sticks and stones and getting our pockets stuffed with conkers and worse. We had lunch in a very strange little place, Forest Cafe, with a hairdresser next door called Snip and Sip (sip vodka, that is). We resisted the temptation for a quick shampoo and set and headed off down Victoria Street instead. Quite a dark photo, but it is quite a dark little street and the nights are fair drawin' in.
And what should we come upon, half way down this picturesque street, but K1 Knitting Yarns, a beautiful little knitting shop. I took this photo in landscape and rotated it in Picasa to portrait, hence the Diagon Alley quality which does actually suit Victoria Street. I was all set to go in but had to remind myself that my budget did not permit a wool spree, and certainly not at tourist prices rather than charity shop prices, so I reluctantly walked on after pressing my nose to the glass like a starving Victorian orphan at a baker's shop. We both had to be home for a reasonable hour (we're old) so after packing Lynn off back to the farm I wandered down to the train station to catch the six thirty back to Glasgow Queen Street. I've had several very special birthday presents already so my next post will be a big thank you to my kind, thoughtful and generous friends. Goodbye Edinburgh; see you again next year.

Monday 27 September 2010

a country mouse is out to lunch

It's the September weekend here, so Little R and Daddy Mouse are off school and work for Friday and Monday. Every day is a holiday for Countrymouse, of course, according to them. The skies are blue so we head off for a wander round the village. This is "our" chestnut tree, which we visit on every village walk. Behind it is what Little R calls Lion Hill for no reason I can discern. Maybe it's lie-on hill? She does like to lie on it and also for all of us to roll down it. Yes, we are completely under her thumb.

I have my new camera! Thank you everyone who left comments. Two of you suggested the latest Fujifilm Finepix and that's what I went for. I'm really pleased with it. It really is a point and click as it makes all the adjustments automatically. We went for a posh lunch at our local (amazing) restaurant midway through our walk and I did some surreptitious snapping of what we ate. This is a salad of organic Arran beets and leaves with poached egg. The beets were so delicious it was almost like eating a peach.

Then I had roast hake, ratte potatoes, baby gem and mangetout with a brown butter emulsion.
Followed by coffee and petit fours. So calorific but so totally worth it. We called it my birthday lunch, to go with my birthday camera, even though my birthday isn't for another couple of weeks. I can't believe it is a year since I posted about our birthday girls' night on Sauchiehall Street when we were singing Abba songs and eating chocolate cakes at 1am. What is that old saying about if you change nothing you will still be doing next year what you are doing this year? Pithier than that, I'm sure, but it's ringing in my ears nonetheless. I am very happy and I love what I'm doing, but there are definitely changes I'd like to make, along the lines of doing what I love more efficiently and effectively. That's the former civil servant speaking there.

As we waddled further on our walk this far-off fisherman gave me an excuse to use the 5x optical zoom on my new camera. There are salmon and trout in this river and we saw some breaking the surface as we walked along the banks. There's also a heron who lives there, and Little R likes to say hello to it as we go past on the school run. I never see it because it's usually at a stretch of river where the road bends and the bridge narrows so I have to keep my full attention on the oncoming traffic. The pros and cons of country living!

I was lucky enough to win a giveaway prize on one of my favourite blogs, Andamento. Unfortunately I photographed it all as I unwrapped it using my old camera, which was subsequently broken by Little R pressing too hard on the screen with her thumb (trying to hold it tight as silly mummy was instructing her to do). I will take some more pictures of the lovely notebook, post-it notes and pen but there is nothing now to show of the unbelievably delicious tablet other than the extra inch on my hips.

I'm still working away on the Attic 24 Granny Stripe blanket and am thinking of stopping now at a size which would fit a single bed lengthwise rather than keeping going and doing a full length one for a double bed. It's really enormous. That would mean I could be inspired (again) by Andamento and could use the rest of my wool to do the African Flowers pattern she's using for that beautiful blanket. I would limit myself to a cushion though. I'm a bit blanketed out and I'm not getting any younger you know.

Sunday 19 September 2010

a country mouse needs a new camera

No photos at all today because Little R has broken my camera. Can any of you suggest a good replacement? It's my birthday next month so I'm allowed to call it an early birthday present. I can spend up to £100 and maybe a bit more if it is really worth it. I want one that I can pretty much just point and click if such a thing exists. What do you use?
love, countrymouse xx

Sunday 5 September 2010

a country mouse hits the beach

Little R starts full time at school tomorrow. I am going to miss her so much. We went straight from school to Lunderston Bay, our closest bit of sandy beach, one afternoon last week for a picnic and a last burst of paddling before autumn closes in.
On the way back we stopped at the Esplanade for a quick cycle and Little R took this picture of our shadows on the water. All very poignant for me and just an average day full of fun, adventure and ice cream for her. I was feeling very despondent until a friend pointed out to me that I can still go to the beach on my own, with a book, whereupon I brightened up considerably.
We also stopped at Gourock on the way back and visited a wool shop I've been meaning to check out for some time, called Once A Sheep. I was very restrained and only bought some ladybird buttons and an ergonomic crochet hook (the Attic 24 granny stripe is quite RSI-inducing) but was impressed by the lovely yarns and all the gadgety knitting accoutrements. Almost next door was the most amazing vintage clothes shop, called Parma Vintage. It really stopped me in my tracks. It was like the best charity shop you have ever been in, times a hundred, full of print dresses, vanity cases, handbags, hats...Definitely one for a child-free return visit.
Have you any idea why a car would be covered in post-it notes? Nor have I but I had to get a photo of it.
It was my turn to host the craft night this week so I had lots of fun getting out the charity shop embroidered tray cloths and baking chocolate chip cookies and caramel shortcake. Feeling all domestic goddessy, I even copied this month's Country Homes and Interiors suggestion for making a vase from a squash. I am aware that I need to get a life.
This was the first time I've ever made caramel shortcake and it will be the last. The recipe said to mix flour, coconut and melted butter for the base and to "press firmly" when pouring it into the baking tray, so I did. I added the caramel and chocolate with a generous hand to make up for it.
Finally, I'm still avidly watching The Great British Bake Off and still backing Miranda, although the smart money is on the skinny guy who lost ten stones. Really though, I'm lost in admiration for all of them. I wouldn't like to hear Mary's opinion of my efforts.

Thursday 19 August 2010

a country mouse hides her husband

No photos this week. Instead, I'm venturing into new realms of modern technology with internet links.

I've been watching this every day this week:

Now, here's the story behind it. This young guy, Antoine Dodson, heard his sister scream in the next room and found her being attacked by someone who had climbed in her window. He bravely fought the attacker off and raged at him via the TV cameras (the family had called the news media when they felt the police were not doing anything to catch the attacker). AutoTune the News, 2 brothers who can do computer-y music-y stuff, put his interview to music and posted it on You Tube. Keep watching for the orchestra bit. You can also see the original interview, before it was edited into the song: Loads of people have since posted their own cover versions of the Bed Intruder song on YouTube, and it's making some money for Antoine and his sister on iTunes.
I think it is wonderful. Antoine is so cool, the song is just brilliant and the family were so right to take matters into their own hands. I bet any money the would-be rapist will be caught rather soon as a result.
My second obsession this week is The Great British Bake Off. OMG it's almost too much to ask from a TV programme - it's on for ages, it's on BBC so no adverts, it has lots and lots of unbelievably delicious cake in it AND IT HAS LADY MARY BERRY. Here is the link to watch episode 1 again on BBC iPlayer:
My favourite is Miranda, for her triple layer brownie and meringue cake with raspberry cream. She's terribly terribly posh but wow can she bake a cake. They are in Scotland for the next episode. Run n tell that, countrymouse.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

a country mouse is nesting

This is the carrot harvest, nurtured and frequently spot-tested by Little R. We had to think of a suitably wonderful use for these very special carrots so we made them into muffins, using a recipe from a book introduced to me by my sister-in-law the cupcake queen: Baking Magic by Kate Shirazi. It's the best baking book I've found, with lots of recipes for muffins and also good basic advice. These were carrot, orange, walnut and cinnamon muffins, minus the cinnamon because I couldn't find it.

We are just back from visiting my brother, sister in law and their little girl in Hull. We had a great time there, hitting the beach at Hornsea, seeing sharks at The Deep and having too many late nights drinking wine as if we did not have to get up the next morning with small children.
I've noticed in recent years that when I get back home after a period away I want to do some intensive nesting, cooking homemade food and ironing everything in sight. It's a reaction to too much eating out when we're away, really, and too much living out of a suitcase. I overdid it a bit yesterday though with the carrot muffins (much washing, chopping and grating), then making blackcurrant jam with the blackcurrants (above) gathered by Little R and Daddy Mouse from the garden, plus chicken pie (below). The overexposed white shape on the bottom right is half an onion. It was a nice easy pie to make - poach the chicken with parsley stalks, carrots (yes, from garden), onion, a bay leaf (from brother's garden) and peppercorns then make a roux and gradually add the reserved stock to make the white sauce. Ready made pastry, of course, then straight into the oven.
And here is my haul from Hull. They have a great Waitrose down there and I know it's tragic, but it's something I really look forward to when I visit. My brother bought these for me, kind boy. I especially love the sunshine yellow mugs. The blue silicone spoon has been in use already, making the blackcurrant jam. That would turn a wooden spoon purple but the silicone one is as good as new. Welcome to the space age, country mouse.

Monday 26 July 2010

a country mouse gets hooky in attic 24

I've been a follower of the famous Attic 24 blog for some time now and have finally given in to my wish to crochet a granny stripe blanket. I've been wanting to make a really big blanket for ages now, ever since Grandado Mouse swiped the one I made on holiday in Findhorn last year, and have just been waiting to find the right wool. This wool is Lucy's recommendation: Stylecraft Special DK. I'm on row 48 at the moment and am finding it hard to put it down. The colours are so vibrant and the pace at which it grows is very satisfying. It doesn't take much concentration so it's possible to watch lots of Sky Plus-ed Project Runways at the same time. Simple things make me happy!
I'm also being made very happy just now by these beautiful gerberas, brought by a thoughtful friend when she and her wee girl came over recently for a playdate. She also brought some caramel shortcake. I like visitors like that.
I have not yet posted about Little R's 5th birthday, which took place during my prolonged blogging dry spell. She had asked me to make a very particular cake and told me exactly what it should be like - a triple layer cake, lots of cream, one layer with blueberries, one layer with cherries and raspberries, thick chocolate icing and a princess on the top. And five candles. Under the thumb as I am, I duly delivered the goods, and here is the photographic evidence.
Now that my baby is 5 she will be going to primary school in August. I am putting a brave face on it but I know I am going to feel like my right arm has been cut off. I will miss her so much. I'm very glad now that I did blog some of the things we did together during those short pre-school years. The first hurdle is going to be dressing her in BROWN school uniform. I have bought most of it now and my goodness it has not been cheap. While stocking up on little blue polo shirts in Marks and Spencer this afternoon I comforted myself with the purchase of a measuring tape with roses on it and a Mrs Beeton book about making jam. Both were in the sale and so fell within my charity shop levels of price sensitivity. We have a lot of blackcurrants in the garden at the moment and my next project will be to make them into something yummy so I can feel smug when I look at jars of glowing jet black blackcurrant jelly instead of defeated, as I feel when I catch sight of the jars of gooseberry sludge. Maybe I should hide them behind the gerberas.

Friday 23 July 2010

a country mouse gets sticky

Some friends came round last night for cake, chat and crochet. We get together every couple of weeks to do this and having eaten some superlative cakes at other girls' houses I felt obliged to rustle something up for my turn at being the hostess. It was a great excuse to get out the charity shop embroidered linen and play tea parties, too. I made sticky toffee cake and here, as promised to the girls last night, is the recipe:
Oven 180deg, grease and line an 8" square cake tin. Chop 6oz stoned dates and gently heat in small pan with 6 floz boiling water and half tsp bicarb soda for about 5 mins, without boiling, until the dates are soft. Cream 3oz butter and 5oz caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in one beaten egg, half tsp vanilla essence and the date mixture. Fold in 6oz self raising flour using a metal spoon, mixing evenly. Pour into prepared tin and bake for 40-45 mins. Then make the best bit - toffee sauce. Heat 3oz light muscovado sugar, one and a half oz butter and 2tbsp single cream or milk in a saucepan and simmer gently, stirring, for about 2 mins. Remove cake from oven and prick all over with fork then pour hot toffee sauce evenly over the surface to sink in. Leave to cool then cut into squares. I'd say be generous with the toffee sauce quantities as the more the better, really.

The previous day, Little Granny, Little R and I visited Greenbank Gardens, using my newly acquired National Trust for Scotland membership. It's £5 a month and easily pays for itself with just one visit somewhere. We had a really lovely afternoon, kicking off with coffee and cake (of course) in the converted stone barn tea room then setting off for a wander round the grounds. We came upon this fountain, above, inside the walled gardens. The statue is called Foam. Fortunately for Foam, the sun soon came out. Little R had a rare tear, dipping her toes in the water, running in circles round the edge, crouching down and guddling for terrified goldfish and taking photos of the flowers with her all time favourite toy, her birthday present Kidizoom camera. All of this was done with Little Granny's hand firmly clamped on her arm lest she join Foam in the pool. I had a nice relaxing time sitting on a bench observing the fun from a safe distance.
We started with a forest walk around the grounds, led by Little R ("I'm an expert on nature, follow me"). Lots of amazingly tall trees and unusual specimens. We then spotted the walled garden but could not figure out how to get into it.
And then we found the way in - GASP. It was a physical shock to the senses to go from the forest to the manicured straight lines and curves of this garden. It looks a bit wonky in this photo, and I can see some bald patches on the lawn in this view, but once inside it was absolute perfection. Not normally my sort of thing in a garden, and certainly not in my own, but the grass was so lush and velvety that I took off my shoes for the sheer joy of walking on it. It was a memorable day, having gone from a rainy morning to a glorious afternoon and from a shadowed forest to a secret garden. Well worth the direct debit.
Finally, here is my attempt at gooseberry jam using the gooseberries from our garden. Having spent a hot afternoon topping and tailing 3kg of gooseberries I came out with 5 jars of gooseberry sauce. I didn't have any preserving sugar and thought that as gooseberries were high in pectin it would be ok to use ordinary sugar, but it wasn't. Oh well, we'll just have to eat it with ice cream instead. It's a hard life.

Monday 12 July 2010

a country mouse goes to the farm

Little R and I are just back from a lovely weekend at our friends Lynn and Annie's farm. We had an empty as their menfolk were in Norway, throwing snowballs in the blazing sunshine. It was so good to have lots of time simply to be together and talk properly, rather than the rushed catch-ups we usually make do with. We also managed a trip to Portobello beach where, hardy sons of Scotia that we are, we were thoroughly exfoliated by the wind-whipped sand as we ate our picnic. We then retired to the Beach House cafe, above, to eat cake.
Like many farmers, our friends are diversifying. Their latest venture may be to cold press, bottle and sell oil seed rape oil using the crop in the field above. Apparently cold pressed oil seed rape oil is incredibly high in omega oils 3,6 and 9 and, unlike extra virgin olive oil and other cold pressed oils, can actually be used for cooking as well as salads without losing its omega properties. I think I've got that right. Anyway, it sounds like pretty amazing stuff and I applaud their entrepreneurship. The photo below shows the farmhouse nestled amongst the fields and trees. It's such a peaceful place. If they could bottle the atmosphere they would make a million.
And here are their hens, who gave Little R and I a parting gift of six freshly laid eggs. Buck buck.
Some horsey people stable their horses on the farm and we were thrilled to meet this handsome specimen below. As we approached he lifted first one front knee and then the other. Sadly I didn't have so much as a polo mint for him. His grumpy old face says it all.
We also got to pet and feed carrots to Jimmy, a miniature shetland pony the size of a labrador, and a year-old pony. Hens, horses, dogs, cake, beaches. We did not want to leave.

It has been a very long time since I posted on this blog (life has been busy and complicated) and I hope not to leave such a long gap in the future. Apologies to anyone who has been checking for updates, and thank you for your patience.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

a country mouse has a big day out

It has been ages since I've found the time to update this blog so I've given myself a big kick up the bottom and am now going to tell you all about my lovely day out this weekend. I had not seen my dearest friend of 20 years' standing since October, yes October, so we organised that she'd leave her little ones with her mum and come over to the mouse hole for a sleepover. We parked at Shields Road Underground station and headed for the West End.
At this point I will confess that the first time I went on the London Underground I thought it would be just like the Glasgow clockwork orange, so called because it's orange and goes round and round a small circuit, and that if I just got on the first train that came I would eventually end up at Embankment. I really shouldn't be let out unsupervised.It became clear to my friend that I do not get out enough, supervised or otherwise, when I took a photograph of the wallpaper in our lunch venue, The Bothy in Ruthven Lane. That settled, we began easing ourselves into a zinfandel state of mind.
Ambling (shambling?) along Byres Road afterwards we came upon this fantastic shop, above, called Demijohn. They sell spirits and liqueurs and various exotic olive oils which are decanted into very covetable apothecary type bottles. We had a wee sample of black cherry liqueur (friend) and elderflower vodka (mouse) and I can tell you I won't be wasting my elderflowers on champagne this summer.
Tanks topped up, we continued our wanderings, heading up Great Western Road and along Otago Street then down this secret little lane to my favourite book shop, Voltaire and Rousseau. The yellow door opens into a different world.
This is what's inside. It's a secondhand bookshop and the grumpy, be-cardiganed owner just keeps buying up books and chucking them into ceiling-high piles. You can barely fit between them and it's been like this since I first came across the place at least 25 years ago. Also, there are several reeking calor gas fires and a big fat cat whose litter tray is kept right beside the desk where you pay. I spent £4.80 on The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel to add to my already overloaded bookcases. All I need to recreate the Voltaire and Rousseau ambiance in the mouse hole is a cardigan and a fag.
Then off we went again, further down the secret lane and round the corner to Tchai Ovna for a reviving cup of tea and a cake. My friend had carrot cake (she reckons it's healthy as it contains a vegetable) and I had a warm chocolate brownie and a tea named Mary Poppins, which was just as soothing as it sounds. My friend fell so in love with the cup and saucer her tea was served in that I bought it for her for a birthday present.
We went out for dinner that night too, to a fantastic restaurant in country mouse village. We both had the most outstanding galette with caramelised onions, loads of wild mushrooms and some goats cheese on top and then a kind of deconstructed rhubarb crumble with custard tart, served on a square slate. The restaurant building was a school for orphans in Victorian days. I wonder what they'd have made of us, sitting where their desks were and eating our puddings from the things they used to write on. Perhaps a hundred years from now the race of giant cockroaches which will inherit the earth post-apocalypse will wonder what we would think could we see them dining on rhubarb (it will certainly survive) from chi-chi i-Pads. Hmm, too much zinfandel?
The next day my well-watered friend set off to retrieve her children via the Balamory boat. We promised not to leave it EIGHT MONTHS before we get together again. All together now, Ba La Mo Ree...

Friday 26 March 2010

a country mouse tries to be good

I do try to be good, but I've always loved the thrill of skipping something that I should really be doing. I'm always looking for a partner in crime too and now I've found one: my daughter. She was only too happy to skip nursery on the first sunny day after the snow to head for the beach at Lunderston Bay. We giggled and guddled and just generally had a ball, then went to the cafe for juice and a biscuit. A golden day.Tea this evening was Sophie Dahl's chicken stew with fennel and green olives, which I have made many times before and written about on this blog. I made it in a spirit of solidarity with poor Sophie, who is being pilloried at the moment for daring to have a cooking show. I haven't actually seen the programme yet but I'm a big fan of her cookery book, Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights. The gripe seems to be oh she's a "big" model, she's not a chef, what does she know about food except for how to eat lots of it, and other such nastiness. Well, anyone who can dream up that chicken stew is a cook as far as I'm concerned. We had it with the homemade bread, below, inspired by the bread baking feature in Country Living this month.
Still on the subject of eating, the photo below shows the wonderful spread of homebaking made by my friend Sally to raise money for Shelter. The event was called Cake Time so there was a good turnout of cake-loving mums eager to do our bit for a good cause by scoffing everything on this table.
I was in the mood for more worthy charity-related deeds when I came across Kiva ( What an amazing idea. You and other charitably inclined people lend a sum of money, at least $25 to "the working poor" of various struggling countries and they use it to fund the set up or expansion of their businesses. They pay it back every month and then once you have your money back (default rate is something unbelievably tiny) you can either have it paid back to your bank account or re-lend it to another entrepreneur. You choose your entrepreneur from a really detailed list so you can choose something that is meaningful for you and that you would particularly like to support.

Country Mouse is now an international financier, having lent to a group of women with a sewing business and a timber selling business. This link tells you a bit about the women and what they do: Humbling stuff.

I promise to stop being worthy now, right after I've reminded you about the WWF Earth Hour on Saturday 27 March, when we switch off our lights for an hour. Sign up at

Is that enough compensating for my Ferris Bueller day at the beach? Back to being a naughty little mouse again tomorrow.