Monday, 26 March 2012

Contains nuts

We're in the middle of a spell of glorious Spring weather here, sunshine, clear blue skies, chilly evenings which make the warm day feel even better.  Marvellous.  It's lovely to sit in the garden with a cup of tea, watching the bees and butterflies doing their thing in among the flowers.

hello tree. hello sky. hello clouds.  all are full of joy in the springtime.

This is my little herb garden where I sit in the afternoons and drink tea.  It's very pretty, in a "things in pots" kind of way, I think.  The sad squished looking things in the smallest pot are oriental poppies which I am trying to grow from seeds which I saved from the one that flowers in the garden already.  They don't seem very happy.

This weekend we planted more stuff - I know, I know - including some sage plants, half a dozen sweet pea plants, a new climbing rose bush and a dozen little lavender plants.  I have decided that I will try to do more rose and lavender flower-drying this summer, weather permitting.

Also at the weekend, it was the grand Cake and Craft and All Kinds of Other Stuff Event in the village hall.  There were a few of us there with stalls, ready to sell our various wares to the clamouring public. There was a HUGE cake sale, with dozens of different cakes available, as well as cakes you could buy just a slice of to have with a cup of tea and a chat with your neighbours.  I'd like to point out that my coffee and walnut sponge cake went very quickly.  Yes, it was THAT popular.

Unlike my Clementine and almond cupcakes which paled into insignificance next to the gorgeously glittery decorated cupcake offerings of the village yummy mummies.

The event was very successful.  Dozens and dozens of people came along, everyone seemed to be either eating cake or carrying round cakes to eat later, and we raised a good chunk of money for Sport Relief, which was the aim of the exercise after all.

The village hall looked very cheerful and festive with all the bunting.  I took this before the start, hence the lack of people.

And, best of all (for me, anyway) I sold a few things from my little craft stall.  I chatted to people, I saw neighbours I haven't seen in ages, and I picked up one or two commissions for later on in the Spring, so a good afternoon all round.

Mr WithaY and I celebrated that evening by buying a Chinese takeaway with my profits.  We'll never be rich, but we will be full of Chinese food.

Oh, and I won the raffle.  Twice!  I have been taken to task* for accepting two raffle prizes, but my reasoning is that if I have bought 25 tickets, statistically I am likely to win more than once.  I therefore feel justified in accepting two prizes.

Had I won a third time, I would have been gracious and said "No, no, no, please...put my ticket in the bin and let someone else have a turn."  But two prizes? All mine.


Anyway, one of the prizes was a big box of chocolates.  Like I'd have abandoned that.

Is there a formal laid-down raffle prize etiquette anywhere?

One of the other raffle prizes was this:

A Gruffalo cake!  Brilliant.

In other news, at the garden centre where I bought my new climbing rose and the lavender plants, they had some slightly mental moss rabbits for sale.

Look at the eyes of the one on the right!  He's clearly crazed and dangerous.  He'd be carving his way out of the garden with a trowel before you knew what had hit you, I reckon.  Brrr.

I do like the garden centre.  You can get pretty much anything you want, as long as what you want is deranged.

A giant metal cockerel, standing 6 feet high?  Check.

Paving slabs with artistic interpretations of fish embedded within them? Check.

A statue of Atlas, supporting the world on his mighty stone shoulders?  Check.

Frantic whirling plastic solar-driven butterflies, to strike terror into the heart of any pet? Check.

A solemn Aslan-type stone lion, looking mournfully at you from across the yard?  Check.

Dozens of ornaments made from cutlery?  Check.

Plus they have an aquatic centre where you can buy tropical fish, or marine fish, or snakes, or this...a rain forest in a box.

There's a tiny pond at the base with fish swimming, and then above that there's steamy, foggy mini-jungle with little frogs in.  Brilliant.

In other, other news, I had a go at making peanut butter last week. Why, dear readers, did I decide to do that?  Fucked if I know.

For some reason it seemed like a good idea, and we all know how those ideas generally work out, don't we?  I bought several pounds of shelled (but not skinned, crucially) peanuts and searched out some recipes on the Internet, which, as we also know, never lies.

I roasted the peanuts, and then realised with a cold horror that I had to get all the red skin off them.  Fuck.  That took three hours, and left me with blisters on my thumbs.  Then it was time to put the shelled and skinned peanuts into the food processor.  Well, in fact, as I discovered when I re-checked the recipe, you are supposed to put them into the blender.  I, however, failed to clarify this small but telling detail, and spent 45 minutes watching a pale yellow concrete-like substance forming with painful slowness.

I added peanut oil, as some of the recipes suggested, which didn't seem to help.  I re-checked the original recipe I had used and realised I ought to be using the blender.

Coaxing the thick, gritty, warm peanut-crete out of the food processor and into the blender with a flexible spatula is a memory which will stay with me a while.

Once I started it blending, however, the texture changed quickly to something almost peanut-buttery, and I was greatly cheered.  I tested it, added a dash of salt and a spoonful of honey, an then whizzed it for a bit longer.  It was clumping together around the blades at the bottom of the goblet, so I poked it with my spatula and then turned the blender all the way up to eleven.

Readers, it did its best.  It tried.  It really did.

There was a sudden strong smell of burning, then smoke poured out of the motor.  I turned it off at the wall socket and removed the blender goblet.  Mr WithaY (who had been popping into the kitchen at hourly intervals to ask "how's it going?" before laughing uproariously at my crap peanut butter-making) manfully carried it out into the garden in case it went up in flames.

We left it out there for an hour to think about what it had done.

I decanted the peanut butter into jars.  It's paler than the shop-bought stuff but actually tastes rather good.

I won't be making it again, I think, though.

*Hello Laurie!

Friday, 23 March 2012


It's been a busy day here.  In preparation for the Grand Cake Etcetera Sale tomorrow I have been baking.  I made a shitload of clementine and chocolate cupcakes (yes, that is the correct unit of measurement, ask a baker) and a coffee and walnut sandwich sponge which looks rather good.

I have also been finishing off the bits and pieces I will be offering for sale to a discerning public.


They are (pics from top to bottom)
1) Small, medium and large hearts filled with dried rose petals that I harvested from the garden and dried last summer.
2) Cushions. 2 matching, one individual.
3) Bunting.  Bloody yards of it.
4) More fabric hearts, these ones stuffed with, well, stuffing.

I have also made some pretty mini memo boards, along the lines of the ones I made earlier, but much smaller, designed to stand on a mantelpiece or shelf.

Oh, and some bookmarks, which I really like.

In other news, I looked out of the window into the back garden this afternoon and this is the sight that greeted me:

Our apple tree, festooned in hessian sacks.

I looked at it for a while, my jaw sagging open unappealing, then went to find Mr WithaY.

The scene:  A domestic garage, lit by bright afternoon sunshine.

Me:  Just.....why?

Mr WithaY: (without even looking up from his manly garage-sorting task) To dry them out.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Put out more flags

You could grate cheese on my rough scaly gardener's hands; it must be Spring.  There are other clues, of course.  The birds are yipping and chaffing in the early mornings, the sun is shining more often than not in the afternoons, there are bees and bugs in the garden, and even some butterflies.

By which I mean that my hands are rough, not that you should grab the very nice chap who comes in now and again to help us manage our acreage, and forcibly try to grate Parmesan on his hands.  That would just be weird.

Anyhoo.  Mr WithaY and I had a spot of financial good fortune - we won the Lottery!  Yes, £51, aaaaaaaall ours.  We won't let it change our lives though.  There had already been a conversation about what to do with the garden, so we decided to spend that nice little windfall on some fruit bushes.

The Great Planting was as follows:

10 strawberry plants, 5 each in a large tub on the back patio.

2 redcurrant bushes, planted at the side of the house where the cold frame now sits, and the lavender bushes we put in last year are flourishing.

2 Ceanothus bushes, which we hope will attract butterflies and bees.  They've been planted in the front garden, where we'll be able to see them from the sitting room.  I also put some Oriental poppy seedlings under them, which had seeded themselves from the gorgeous pink one in the front garden.

2 parsley plants, one flat-leaf and one curly-leaf, both added to the herb garden in the back garden.

1 woad plant, in a tub, all on its own in a state of high honour.  I am slightly anxious that Mr WithaY will nurture it, tend it, coax it into flower, and then make a shitload of dye to paint himself blue and run around the woods naked like an Ancient Briton.

I moved the blueberry bushes from the fruit bed in the back garden, and put them in their very own bed   on the other side of the garden.  Hopefully they'll have better luck without being stifled by the giant raspberry bushes, which seem to be intent on taking over the entire garden.

Mr WithaY planted carrots, radishes, pumpkins, aubergines, several varieties of courgette and sage seeds, some in the vegetable bed, some in pots in the greenhouse.  We moved the greenhouse to a different spot in the garden where it can be accessed without having to cross any wet muddy patches, thus making watering things easier.  Hopefully it means things won't just DIE like they did last year.

Oh, and Mr WithaY mowed the lawn, without losing any fingers.  Hurrah.

In other news, I am busily preparing for the cakes and crafts sale this Saturday in the village hall. I have promised to make some cake, and am also having a stall of my homemade crafty stuff to sell.  It will be interesting to see if anyone buys anything.  I hope they do, or I am giving all my friends the same things for Christmas and birthdays for the next 10 years.

Today I am making bunting.  Yards and yards and bloody yards of it.  It's strangely therapeutic.  And it will come in handy for the Jubilee/Olympics/summer barbecue parties I hope we will be having over the summer.

Oh yes. At the risk of sounding like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, what the fuck  has happened to the quality of writing at the Daily Telegraph?  Eh?

Check this out for quality highbrow journalism, found on their on-line site yesterday:

"The court was told that the man Laura Johnson, 20, was seeing had jumped into her car and forced her with his two pals into driving them as they stole a haul of electrical goods, fags and booze. "

Putting to one side the inevitable Name, Age thing that all newspapers seem to need to do, since when were "fags and booze" the terms of choice in this context?  And "pals" too.  Sort it out, you lazy, tabloid-esque skivers.  Oh, and I have not altered the punctuation either.  Yes, it really is that bad.  It's barely comprehensible.

Gah.  And pah.

I know it's easy to criticise and that anyone who spends any time reading stuff I write will undoubtedly find plenty of semantic and grammatic errors, but hey, I don't get paid for writing, and I assume that most Telegraph journalists do.


Friday, 16 March 2012

Variety meats

Mr WithaY and I were at the butchers yesterday.  We are fortunate to have two good local butchers in town, and I try to buy my meat from them as often as possible.  They do these great deals where you can buy a sack o' meat for about 12 quid, and every time I've done it, the meat's been top quality and made some great meals.

As the butcher was wrapping up the purchases, we got chatting.

Butcher:  There's your mince.

Me:  Oh lovely, thank you.

Butcher:  I'll wrap all these other meats up individually so you can see what's what when you get home.

Me:  Thanks...otherwise it could be interesting when dinner time arrives.

Mr WithaY:  Ah yes, mystery meat casserole, my favourite.

Butcher:  You have to be careful.  We sell pet mince (Note: Pet mince is made of minced meat, but also minced offal like lungs, hearts, livers etcetera that customers are less inclined to buy nowadays.) here, and a chap came in one day and told us that his wife had cooked it and he'd eaten it by accident.  He said it was tasty, but chewy.

I was planning a review of the local paper as well, but this week it's been all about the recent loss of life overseas, so I thought I wouldn't.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Cheep and nasty

Activities in my life since my last post can be summarised thus:

Sewing, fitfully and without enthusiasm, with a growing sense of panic about deadlines.  Self-imposed deadlines, mind, not anything that I have been ordered to make.  There's a cake sale and sort-of craft sale in a couple of weeks in the village, and in a fit of enthusiasm I agreed to have a stall there.  So of course, I need some stuff to sell.  It's very strange making things that other people will  look at and then decide if they want them enough to give me money in exchange. Previously when I have made things for people it has either been as a gift, when they respond politely, or on commission, when I know that what I am making is what they want.

Knitting, whilst watching TV and complaining about the programme I happen to be watching.  I'm about halfway through Mrs Jones' scarf, and I am pleased with how it looks so far.  I've never tried making anything that involved short rows before, and I shall definitely be using them again.  Perhaps for a charming hat.

Watching TV, usually criticising whatever is on loudly, whilst looking stuff up on IMDB to validate my assertions.  Unless it's MasterChef, in which case I just shout at Gregg Wallace and his odd shiny head.   Oh, and make monstrous "gnnaaaaaaaaarghkkkk!" noises whenever he opens his cavernous maw to devour a huge forkful of whatever the sweating terrified contestants have produced.

Cleaning the house.  The place looks like some sort of bizarre show-home, one occupied by wild animals and someone with a baking fetish.  And Davy Crockett. And a Medieval robber baron.  And a Victorian seamstress who likes cushions.

Grocery shopping.  The high spot of that particular achievement was getting a discount on diesel because I spent more than £60.  Which meant when I filled my car up, I saved almost £7.  It all adds up.  I did go to the Frome Farmers Market yesterday, though.  I bought mild goat's cheese from a tousled and attractive young man, and a horseshoe-shaped load of olive bread which is delicious

Dicking about on the Internet.  Obviously.  I've been trying to get my head round Twitter again, giving it a rather longer period to win me over than I did last time. I think I gave it about 48 hours last time, and then gave up on it, deciding it was a sack of arse.  Oh, and playing World of Warcraft with a friend in America, which has been terrific fun. Yes, I know.  I can't get my head round Skyrim, I find the look of the game rather depressing, and that limits my desire to play it.

So yes, I've been reacquainting myself with Twitter.  It's a process of trial and error.  It's been great for finding some interesting new blogs to read but I get very bored with my feed when it's full of the same two or three people saying much the same thing over and over again.  There are a few very funny people out there, and I am enjoying their input, but I'm afraid anyone who just constantly pushes their website, or re-tweets stuff I'm not interested in gets removed from my feed.

One gem I found, and which has been making me cry with laughter, is the Star Trek - The Next Generation Series 8 feed - @TNG_S8 if you're inclined to take a look.   It runs as-yet unfilmed plots for the 8th series of TNG, and whoever is writing it is inspired.


A transporter error quickly fills the ship with hundreds of excited dogs. Worf calls them "fools" and "disgusting". 

A world with a terminal plague tries to attract the Borg as a cure. Geordi's visor falls off into the toilet for the millionth time.

Alien minstrels trap Riker in a 90's dreamscape, only Picard can swashbuckle him free. Data and Geordie tie the hula hoop competition again.

If you're not a Star Trek nerd, I daresay you will merely sigh and move on, but if you are (like me) you will love it. Take a look.  

Cooking.  Actually, the last entry on the list of non-achievement reminds me that we had some friends over for dinner last weekend. More or less on a whim, which is something that I like very much, and I spent much of Saturday making a variety of Indian dishes.  Nom nom nom.  I even made coriander flatbread - from scratch - which worked reasonably well.  I made (brace yourselves):

  • Lamb and aubergine curry, with a home-made spice mix, which was fab, though I say so myself
  • Tandoori chicken, basically chicken pieces marinaded in yoghurt and spices, then baked till tender
  • A red lentil daal, with loads of ginger and black pepper.  It tasted lovely but looked like workhouse gruel.
  • Sag aloo, with potato, spinach and spices, very nice
  • Plus the afore-mentioned flatbread and rice, and some little samosas which I bought from the supermarket and which we had as an appetiser.

My excellent mate* brought a pudding.  I love living in a village.

There were a couple of pieces of sad news, unfortunately.  One of them involves our mates with the mad spaniels.  They had to have one of them taken to the vet for the last time as she was - in addition to being a venerable old spaniel lady - quite poorly.  I remember when she was a teeny tiny puppy, I spent an evening in the pub with her flopped bonelessly over my shoulder like a rag doll, completely comfortable, sleeping.  She was a sweet-natured character and will be missed.  On the plus side, she probably had about the best life a dog could ever wish for, and it was a long one too.   And she got to be a bridesmaid a few months ago.

*Hello Jo!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Knee deep

Is it March already?  Blimey.  I always feel a bit shortchanged by February somehow.  But then, as if by magic, overnight it turns into March, and Spring is here, and things seem so much better after all.

Mr WithaY went for a long walk yesterday afternoon around the lakes between here and Salisbury - he has to plan, undertake and document three different long walks with reams of wildlife data for three different terrains as homework for his bushcraft course - and while he was out he saw three kingfishers.  One on its own and a pair flying together.  I've seen kingfishers once or twice on the river through the village, but never more than one at a time.  I love them, they are incredibly colourful and vibrant, like humming birds.

I didn't go with him on his walk because I have been limping around with a massively damaged knee this week.  It was sore - well, they both were - after our sterling decorating efforts on Monday. I'm too old and creaky to spend long periods of time kneeling on the floor, it seems,  but by the time I woke up on Tuesday morning it was a bit sore.  And, alarmingly, my foot and lower leg were feeling weird too. More stiff than painful, really, but overnight it got worse.  

I woke up in the middle of Tuesday night aware that my right knee was really hurting, and moving it made it worse.  Fuck. I limped into the bathroom and found some painkillers which allowed me to go back to sleep, albeit grumpily.

Clearly all the kneeling had caused something to swell up inside the knee joint which had impacted on the nerves or tendons or whatever the hell was twinging all the way to my big toe every time I moved my foot.  I spent much of Wednesday sitting on the sofa whining for ibuprofen and tea, doing bits of hand-sewing and knitting, in between getting up and walking around and swearing about my much my leg was hurting.

Fortunately by Thursday things seemed to have begun to resolve themselves, at least in part, as my knee was still making horrific graunching cracking noises when I moved it, but my foot and lower leg were back to normal.

Today, you'll be thrilled to know, I am sporting a sexy neoprene knee brace which Mr WithaY found in the back of a cupboard, and am not swearing quite so much.  We will see how things go.

I hate being old and crap.