Monday 22 February 2010

a country mouse thinks of spring

I looked up from doing the dishes the other day and saw this. When I last noticed it, half an hour previously, the buds were closed. The only word is WOW. These tiny snowdrops in Granny and Grandado's garden may be at the opposite end of the glamour spectrum from the 3ft amaryllis but they are equally WOW.
More flowers, below, this time embroidered ones rescued from the charity shop. How many tray cloths does one mouse need, I know, I know, but they are so beautiful and so well made that I just have to have them.
I also bought these glass jars from the charity shop. I will think of something pretty to put into the big jars. Sweeties are the obvious choice but they wouldn't last long round here. Maybe some of the many shells we stripped from the beaches of Findhorn in the autumn. And the jam jars will come in useful when we start getting fruit from the garden again. Looking at the garden right now, it's hard to imagine it being anything other than muddy, leaf-strewn and cold out there but the amaryllis and the snowdrops have reminded me that things will soon improve.

Sunday 14 February 2010

a country mouse and a country lion

Country Mouse came over all History Detective the other day. I was reading about a fellow blogger's cycling trip during which she came upon the oldest layering yew in Scotland. Intrigued, I Googled it and found it is called the Craigends Yew, is 600 years old and turns out to be fairly close to the mousehole. Now very interested, I kept on with the Googling and soon found that the yew was named after Craigends, the ancestral home of the Cuninghame family for centuries until the family line and money ran out and the site, covered in acres of very ancient woodland, was sold for housing. My husband recalls playing as a boy in the ruins of what they called The Manor, and it turns out that was Craigends. When the money ran out the contents of the house were sold at auction but the house, grounds and woods were just left standing for years until the developer who bought it removed the house's roof, at which point it quickly fell victim to weathering and vandalism before finally being demolished in 1975. My husband remembers walled gardens and a well, and wine cellars and a tower. At the top of the tower, surveying the surrounding countryside, stood the lion in the photograph above. The lion now stands outside a community centre with absolutely nothing to tell of its provenance. It has a very human look about it. Perhaps it was modelled on someone.
I found out lots on a really good website,, set up by someone who grew up in one of the houses built when Craigends was demolished. That's where I learned about the lion, and also about this plaque, above, which stands in the grounds of the kirkyard beside my GP's surgery. Like the lion, I've seen it a hundred times without knowing anything of its provenance. I happened to be at the GP the other day so decided to bring the camera and take myself and Little R on a little history detective trip. I was rapt. She was unimpressed but stoic. According to, there were several of these plaques built into the walls of the house, along with the family coat of arms, below, which now lies mossy and neglected in a damp corner of the last bit of housing to be built, on the exact spot where the actual house once stood. You can just make out the Y on the coat of arms, the same as that held by the lion. Views on preserving heritage have changed a lot in recent years and it's very sad to think that if the house, grounds and woodlands could just have held on another say 20 years, this would never have been allowed to happen.
This arch, below, used to stand in the woods marking a long overgrown carriage way. It was dismantled and reassembled here in the same patch of housing and just looks incongruous. Like the coat of arms, which you can see on a plinth beyond it, there's nothing to say what it is or where it's from. The little housing estate here is named Cunningham Gardens: even the original spelling of Cuninghame has been changed. Some trees from the original woods survive, like the Craigends Yew, and the odd elderly specimen dotted among the suburban gardens, but basically Craigends has been completely erased. This link shows it really well: and there have been even more changes in recent years.

The website also has some fantastic photographs of the people who lived in the house. It had quite a heyday and there must have been plenty of money sloshing around. There are photos of Victorian ladies at a garden party and some photos of the interior of the house in a magazine which seems to have been the equivalent of Country Living. Latterly it was lived in by two old ladies and there are some good stories from the daughter of their chauffeur. It just utterly amazes me that such a substantial, deep rooted and thriving estate could go so quickly from all that to just nothing. All flesh is grass indeed.
On a less existentialist note, you might like to take a look at my current WiP, a laptop bag from the Cath Kidston book, Sew, and get a peek at my 40th birthday present from Granny and Grandado Mouse, my sewing machine. I have been pining for one for years, fantasising about all the wonderful things I could make if only I had one. Little Granny Mouse says she'll give me some tuition so I must arrange that soon as I'm sure I'm shortening my life expectancy every time I gnash my teeth at it. I think I'm following Cath's instructions to the letter but I have found myself in a situation where in order to insert the inner pocket I would have to be sewing through SIX layers of heavy cotton and that can't be right, can it? And the straps are a story in themselves. I like the fabric but I couldn't stretch to Cath I'm afraid so it's Ikea. I loved the folklory birds and flowers and the stripy lining fabric looked good against it. There's a pouch on the front of the bag and there is meant to be a button hole in it but I know my limits.
I'm in the happy position of having a cake cooling in the kitchen as I type. This is the second time I've made this cake and I really want to pass on the recipe as it is easy and relatively healthy, for a cake. The recipe is from and was created by Soupmaker's mum. You butter and flour a 1lb loaf tin and preheat oven to 180deg. Then put 1/4lb chopped dates, 1tbsp butter and 1 cup boiling water in a bowl and stir to dissolve butter. Add 1 tsp bicarb of soda, one egg, one and half cups of self raising flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and a dash of warm milk. Stir it all up, pour into loaf tin and bake for 40-45mins. It has turned out a bit lopsided again but we won't mind about that.
As you may know, I wasn't blogging at all during January so was unable to acknowledge this lovely giveaway I received from Jackie at Button Tree Crafts It was her bloggy birthday and I was lucky enough to win the above festive parcel containing a Santa dishtowel, a kitchen notepad in a jam jar box and yay! some chocolate snowballs, all wrapped up with some tinkly christmas bells. Thanks, Jackie. Hope you get your house sold soon!

Wednesday 10 February 2010

a country mouse returns

The spring sunlight is showing up the dust, the smell of windowlene is in the air and country mouse is back after a long and unplanned break. Poor Grandado Mouse has been stuck in the Victoria Infirmary, unfondly known as the Vicky, for most of January. Little R and I have been taking Little Granny to visit each afternoon and evening so there has not been time for much else. I have a cousin who is a doctor and knows this place well, and his view is, "If you can walk in, run out." Luckily Grandado Mouse is home again now though and we're all smiling again.

I did hope to keep up with the blogging but found that while I could find time to do some of the things I'd usually blog about if I really made a point of it, I couldn't find time to actually write about them too.
For example, you know when you read a recipe and you think OK, 40 minutes for that bit, 20 minutes for that bit, but you don't take into account all the other blocks of 20 minutes here and there it takes to do things like find that certain pot you need, oh God it's in the garage, re-wash your only decent sharp knife, sterilise the jars...and suddenly it's midnight, you're still stirring and the kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it? I was so determined to use these Seville oranges that I pitched in on my return home from hospital visiting at nine o'clock one night, full of enthusiasm for blogging it all.
It is now referred to as Orange and Ginger Migraine Marmalade in honour of the consequences I suffered the next day. Should you have a bit more time to devote to it than I did, the recipe is here: To make it into ginger marmalade, I bashed up some root ginger inside a muslin bag and tied it to the handle so it hung inside the pot. It tastes good but it left a very sticky cooker.
I can see a theme of MESS emerging here from my "making" activities. Little R was given a paper making kit by her kind aunt, uncle and cousin for Christmas and had been agitating to be allowed to use it. We finally got round to ripping up several sheets of the Racing Post and some egg boxes into tiny bits and left them to soak over night before getting ourselves and the kitchen covered in the resulting pulp the next day.
The kit comes with things I have learned are called deckles to make paper in various shapes so of course we chose the loveheart. The instructions suggested sprinkling on some flower seeds to that the paper could later be planted. We didn't have any so used some of the lavender that's been drying at the kitchen window since summer. Perhaps it would be safe to say it's dry now. My brother, the donor of the paper making kit, was horrified to learn that I got this lavender from Tesco by less than law-abiding means. Every time I went to that awful place during the lavender season I'd bring a pair of scissors and a carrier bag and snip some good handfuls from the miles (and I mean miles - it is one of those massive Tesco Extra places) of lavender planted round the edges of the car park. My conscience is easy on the matter, she said, guiltily. I rarely leave Tesco without having spent in the region of £100 (and still nothing for the dinner), I only took a few sprigs from each plant so there was no damage and anyway they ripped the whole lot out and replaced it with ugly municipal cotoneaster while it was still in full and fragrant bloom.
Here is the result after 24 hours to dry out. It wouldn't stand up to much writing but it would make a nice gift tag or something, and Little R is highly delighted with her work. The stolen lavender smells nice too.
Something else that smells nice is tonight's dinner, simmering away in the slow cooker and allowing me to feel smug and organised. I've been missing doing proper cooking during January as hospital visiting times did not leave much leisure for pottering in the kitchen. We've been eating lots of Marks and Spencer Feel Fuller Longer things as they're quick and easy and had a pound off during January. My goodness, they certainly do what they say on the tin. We would be fuller within 2 minutes of beginning to eat them and be unable to look breakfast in the eye the next day.
This is another made-up sausage casserole thing, this time inspired by The Ample Cook: It's venison sausages for Daddy Mouse and Quorn sausages for me, in a sauce of garlic, tomatoes, red wine, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves and shallots and the plan is to scoff it with mashed potatoes and runner beans later tonight. The chocolate cake below is for pudding and there may even be a slice or two left for Lynn and Annie when they visit tomorrow (if they get here sharp).