Monday, 31 January 2011

Cheerful Monday

Obedient, me.

Jane says "Show your flowers on Monday! That's an order!"

So I do. I wish I had a branch of her blooming quince, but this assortment will have to do.

Roses and alstromeria from Aristotle's mum, just going over now.

Little tete-a-tetes by the sink, getting ready to burst.

And on the kitchen table, untouched so far by Scooter....

Or the mantelpiece, ditto....

I love love love daffodil time. Once they're over, I probably won't have yellow flowers again for a while.

It's Monday. Go on, show your flowers! That's an order a polite request.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Light show

When I ordered the giant cat tray (highly successful, may I say; lots of room for cats who like to dig - mine have started that escape tunnel at last), I received a couple of free gifts.

One was a fluffy thing on a stick, a great pleasure to Hamish, but a bit too scary for Scooter, who fled from it at once. (How would those two little scaredy-cats have survived in the woods where they were found, I often wonder?)

And the other was a laser pointer, cunningly disguised as a mouse. With whiskers. Someone designs these things, imagine that - as a job! I could have done that! And been happy at my work, too.

The laser pointer has been a great success; I am now a prisoner in my own home, unable to go out to night classes to learn Esperanto, or Irish dancing, or racing bike maintenance. No, instead, I'm bullied by cats into providing free entertainment for them each night, all because of the opposable thumb thing.

Hamish is the lead bully; he sits and stares at me, and at the mouse, until I give in.

I've seen more of Hamish since the laser mouse arrived than in the past year. He waits patiently if it's switched off for a few seconds, and is the only one who has made a connection between the light and the mouse itself. Not as dim as he makes out, it seems.

Everyone loves it, except for Tosca, who isn't interested. Lottie, ever dignified, as befits being the household's Queen Victoria her superior status, is merely intrigued.

But not given to leaping about after it. Unlike a certain portly someone, who gets quite carried away.

And brings in his friend.

Millie loses interest quickly; she likes furry things to chase, preferably live furry things.

Esperanto for Beginners might not be so amusing, I guess....

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Three years

Yep. That's how long it's been since I started this blog. Three years ago to the day.

It's so nice to have readers now, and people who have become friends through this strange and compelling medium.

I'm always pleased when mountainear leaves a comment; she was my first real regular commenter, and how confidence-boosting her fidelity was!

Looking back at that first post, I can see that while I haven't really done very much in the intervening years, a lot has happened, although it doesn't seem to have made much difference. I seem to have achieved horribly-easily the omni-present track suit trousers, slippers and ever-spreading bottom, though not the lying on the sofa, reading, covered in cats.... These cats aren't lap-sitters; I don't read much at the moment, although heaven knows why not, and the sofa isn't long enough to lie on comfortably anyway.

I'm a little surprised by how very domestically-rooted my blog is; I had thought freedom would entail travel, and new pursuits. I really haven't travelled much, although when I did (Australia 2008) only friends were reading, intermittently (although most don't bother now), and since then, I seem to have done little but say goodbye to old and beloved 4-legged companions and amass new ones.


Oh, and try to sell my house so that I can become domestically-rooted elsewhere. But mostly, I seem to be at home, teetering on the verge of pet-hair-induced despair, and wishing I was somewhere greener and warmer.

The next three years will, I hope, be rather more varied, with holidays and more exciting activity that doesn't just involve housework and dog walking, and I hope that people will still feel interested enough to stop by and read my blog.

And for those of you who weren't around when I found this in my friend's Canberra garden, and to demonstrate my deep affection for you all, here's a treat  (trumpet fanfare) for today's anniversary - the 2008 bagworm :

Nicer than seeing me in my blogging slippers.....

Here's to the next year of posts, comments and all our blogs!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Heart of Darkness

That's what this gingerbread was called in the days when I baked it for the busy local sandwich shop.... For those who asked for the recipe, here it is. I'm afraid I found it on the 'net years ago, and didn't think to make a note of whose recipe it was, but someone had posted it as her mum's. Sorry, that daughter and mum.

Somebody's Mum's Gingerbread

110g butter 
175g black treacle
50g golden syrup
120ml (8 tablespoons) milk
2 large eggs, beaten
225g plain flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger (increase if you like; I add another couple)
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g caster sugar

A 2lb. loaf tin, greased and lined, or 2 x 1 lb.

Note: I rub the container of the scales very lightly with oil before weighing sticky syrup and treacle - that way it glides off into the pan. Getting it tidily from the tin into the scales is another matter entirely.

Melt butter, black treacle and golden syrup together gently. Allow to cool a little, before stirring in beaten egg and milk.

Sift flour, bicarb. and spices into a bowl. Stir in the sugar, and pour in the butter/milk/egg mixture.

Mix thoroughly. It will be sloppy. Pour into tin(s).

Sprinkle with chopped pieces of ginger (stem or crystallised) for added zing. 

Bake for about an hour (for 2 lb. loaf; less if using 1 lb. tins) in a pre-heated moderate oven (Gas Mark 3/160C/325F) testing with a skewer at 50-minute stage.

Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out of tin. Leave for a day or two, to allow flavour to develop. Spend some time wiping black treacle and golden syrup off yourself and the most unlikely places in your kitchen.

And the cookies? They came from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book, 'Everyday' with the addition of 50g ground almonds instead of vanilla extract. (I hate vanilla.) As described, 10-minute cookies, irresistible!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Wet feather cookies

There are days when sugary, buttery baking is the only thing to do.

Today, having finished (at last!) the painting of the shower room, I was about to take the dogs out. But it was raining, and as Tosca and I dislike walking in the rain, I delayed a little, and baked a couple of dark, treacley, gingerbread loaves instead. They will take a day or two to mature and develop their depth of flavour; one is destined for a friend later in the week. (I noticed that for such a tried and true recipe, they were a little overdone - I'm beginning to ask questions these days about my oven...)

Leaving them to cool, the house spicily fragrant and cosy, and the rain having stopped, off we went. Flossie bounced and whirled, practically on springs after enduring the torments of the delay; it took several attempts and an exasperatedly raised voice to get her to sit still enough to clip her lead onto her collar and to save Tosca from being trampled into a doormat.

Twenty yards down the road, a fine drizzle began. Tosca rolled her eyes meaningfully at me; Flossie galumphed joyfully onwards. We pressed on. We're British; we can withstand drizzle. You're a Yorkshire Terrier, for goodness' sake, Tosca - you should understand rain! I didn't go back to change my down-filled coat for a waterproof one. Big mistake.

By the time we reached the park, the drizzle had turned to serious, driving rain, with one especially heavy downpour driving us to shelter under a tree for a few minutes. Tosca huddled with me, looking like a drowned rat; Flossie bounced about, wondering why we had paused, taking the opportunity to dash back to one of her favourite muddy pools for a good slosh about. I could feel water seeping through the shoulders of my down coat. Cold wet feathers - not insulating!

By the time we reached home, a bedraggled Tosca having kept up an unusually-smart trot throughout, I was soaked to my underwear. Flossie remained oblivious to all and any weather.

Once restored to warmth and shelter, me in dry clothes and the girls fortified with a brisk towelling and a chew with which to settle into their baskets, I thought "Where's my fortifying chew?"

So I baked some. Chocolate chunk almond cookies. Very nice too.

Eating several with a cup of tea is mandatory when you have been very cold and your feathers are wet. You knew that, didn't you?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Jesmond Dene the mud-free way

How to give a friend a birthday present, and overdose on coffee, in the nicest way.

Drive to very lovely hotel just at the end of the walk through Jesmond Dene that I often make with the dogs. (But driving means no mud-encrusted shoes.)

Feel guilty about not taking the dogs with me. (But leaving them at home means no mud encrustation anywhere at all.)

Meet very lovely friends, who have just ordered coffee for three.

Hand over presents, except for the one I bought before Christmas and put away in a safe place. Forget the hours of turning the house upside down trying to find it, and how I had to order something else instead, as a matter of some urgency.

Sit back, sip coffee, and watch as friend and husband browse.

Success! Happy 54th Birthday, A!

Drive home, change clothes and shoes, and go out to get very muddy with dogs in the Dene.

(And if you really want to know, they're looking at Molly Wizenberg's 'A Homemade Life' and Ros Byam Shaw's 'Perfect English Cottage'.)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

How to boil an egg

It's not that I can't cook - I can and do if I must - it's more that I can't stay on task. Today's whim,  2 hard-boiled eggs for lunch, followed my increasingly-common cooking method of 'start, drift, and scuttle'.

The Incompetent's Way:

Start by putting 2 eggs in a pan, cover with cold water, and light the gas. Don't bother with timer.

Drift away and become immersed in something else upstairs. Forget immediately about the eggs. Email a friend. Read a blog. Check your bank balance. Gaze out of the window at the grey, lowering sky. Sigh a little. Time passes very nicely this way.

When the house starts to smell disturbingly eggy, leap up from the computer, and in a state of some agitation, scuttle downstairs, muttering oaths, arms held in front of face as if expecting an explosion.

Rescue eggs just in time, as the last teaspoonful of water begins to evaporate. The kitchen windows will be completely steamed up.

Plunge eggs in cold water and remove what little shell they haven't managed to ease themselves out of in their desperate attempt to escape.

On a cheery note: the smell of hard-boiled eggs throughout the house is infinitely preferable to that of exploded eggs and blackened pan. I know this to be true.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Aristotelian postscript

Aristotle's mum came round this evening, bearing thank-you gifts.

The old philosopher is fine, having settled back at home as though nothing had happened.

All right for him, sez I, but I rather enjoyed the flurry of activity and forward thinking he brought with him last Monday. I had started planning changes to my house layout to accommodate the addition of a sightless cat, and considering counselling support for Scooter and Millie.

Ah, well. I suppose that four cats are enough.....

Wrong? Right? Which?

Mr Trendy Specs the estate agent called round yesterday to take a picture of the shower room, in order to update the details concerning my house. He began by stating "So you've lost a bedroom!" in a somewhat critical tone, but after he saw the new room, and heard how almost every viewer last year had asked if there was just the one bathroom in the house, he changed his tune.

He thinks that the house sale can only be enhanced by this new addition, despite the loss of a bedroom, and that the price should remain as it was. Jolly good! I'd had no idea which way this would go, and had worried a little about having made a mistake.

He was optimistic that a sale would happen this year - well, he has to sound optimistic, doesn't he - and took my slightly critical feedback about last year's service on the chin. We agreed that a new stair carpet would also help - recent months of heavy traffic hasn't helped the old one, and I swear that it's now more cat hair than carpet fibre, despite the strenuous effort that Margery puts in every week with the hoover. Lottie is a one-cat resistance movement.

So that's the next job for me - finding a carpet that will take the daily wear and tear, cat and dog trampling, claw-sharpening, hair-shedding, and look good for at least the time it takes to sell. I shall have to take the old carpet up myself - a chore to be feared, given what I know will be revealed: the 'understains' as the old detergent ads used to call them, in this case years of little donations from a series of ancient or protesting cats. I couldn't inflict this job on anyone else.

My house: The Never-Ending Story.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Passing it on

Among my Christmas presents was this little sweetie, from my friend Annie.

Locally made, too.

And oh, that Spring garland of lambs! But no... I'm shedding stuff, not accumulating it. Baaaaaaa..........

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Drat! Missed!

When I first began this blog (almost 3 years ago - how time flies when you're droning on....) I went through a long period of having no readers or commenters, let alone Followers. Then slowly slowly, it began to happen, and how thrilling that was to a novice blogger who could quite happily have carried on burbling away to herself for years. It was a sort of validation - I'm not sure of what - and a hint that perhaps not everything I blogged was mindless drivel - after all, those commenters and Followers wouldn't have stayed if it had been, would they (you)?

I can remember being thrilled to discover that some people actually came back, posting comments quite regularly, and how exciting it was to reach the grand total of 10 Followers. Your numbers have increased in the past year.

And then I stuck at 99 Followers, and I began to watch that immobile total with interest. When would it change to 100? Should I mark the occasion, perhaps with a giveaway to the lucky 100th? What on earth would I give away, though? I'm so hopeless at making things to the superb standard I have come to expect, awe-struck, from fellow bloggers; I have no bright ideas for an interesting package of assorted treats. But I felt I should do something. However, 99 it stayed, for ages.

And then paint tins and scrawny old cats intervened, and when I returned to my self-obsessed Followers watching, the total had jumped to 103! What a shame; missed No. 100 - and there will be no giveaway for you, friend Shelagh, aka No. 103, you who have taken three years to learn how to do that Following thing! (Although I would know what to send you - a large box of Bassett's Jelly Babies.... Fancy Canada not having those gruesome little delights!)

But I'm not complaining; having 103 Followers feels like a privilege to me. I want to say thank you to all who have clicked on that Follow button, and to those people who take the time to come back, to post comments, send emails, read the mindless drivel erratic scribblings snippets of my life. I would probably still blog without you, but it wouldn't be half so much fun.

And I haven't finished, so don't go away, will you.
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