Saturday 31 October 2009

Not moaning

Just saying.

I was woken at 3.15 a.m. this morning by the sound of someone repeatedly moving crates of bottles (well, that's what it sounded like) in their back yard. Clink. Thump. Bang. Clink. Rattle. Clink. For at least five minutes, in a systematic way, loud enough and for long enough to make sure the neighbours were fully awake. Silly questions like "WTF? Why?" came to mind.

The only lights on
were at that house (the one where Millie was exposed to some choice language not long ago) across and up from the back of my house - the back being where I choose to sleep, instead of in my beloved white attic at the front, because it's quieter there than facing the street, where shouting and roaring happens at any time throughout the night as drink-fuelled students roll home, their volume levels set to Raucous. Not that I'm moaning about that either, you understand.

After a while the mysterious bottle-bank racket stopped, but I was beyond sleep by now, so I got up and made a cup of tea. I sat at the kitchen table and read for a while, gradually joined by bemused little creatures who know it isn't really getting-up time, but hope that it might be breakfast or catflap-unlocking time, and eventually went back to bed at 7 for an hour. (I would tell you what highly entertaining book I was reading, but it's someone's Christmas present, and I don't want to spoil the surprise. I can read books so carefully that they remain pristine, so long as I can stop cats from clambering over them to get onto my knee.)

The bemused little creatures came with me, but two of them couldn't sleep either, and leap-frogged enthusiastically over and onto my head until it was time for us all to get up for the second time
. I'm seriously underslept today. But I shan't moan. A Zen-like calm acceptance suffuses my very being.

Yesterday my phone had
worked only intermittently. Today it doesn't work at all. Virgin Media, whose services have been decidedly poor for most of October, and whose accessibility to customers is even poorer, tell me that a technician will call out next Thursday. It's only Saturday today.

I'm not complaining though. I am not ranting. I am not encouraging my blood pressure or my voice to rise further. I am breathing deeply, trying not to clench my jaw, or think murderous thoughts. I am staying caaaaaalm.

But I am plotting my escape, to somewhere that is definitely not a university town, and where sorting the recycling might be seen as a daytime occupation. Efficient telephony, however, may be a wish too far. The little creatures and I are off for an early night now, to try to cram a few hours of sleep before the Hallowe'en parties rev up.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Operation? What operation?

I'm busy. These mice need to be well hidden in the dog's basket.

Wednesday 28 October 2009


I'm home. Not sure what all that was about.

I'm not quite awake or with it. I wobble a bit. Someone's bitten some fur off my front leg.

Something strange has happened behind me too. I'm not showing you though!

I'll investigate later.

I really need to sleep, but I'm starving!

Oh, this is more like it. A bit of chicken, a little pool of special cat milk.

And a few biscuits to finish. That's better. Now I can sleep. Ni-night!

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Listening in

I've heard my name a few times lately in a soppy sympathetic tone, along with another word that sounds like it. "Scooter...." And "Nooter....", something like that. And "Scooter.... Vet....".

"Wednesday" is also mentioned. What's a Wednesday? Or a Nooter? Or a Vet?

I don't know. Nothing to do with me, probably.

So I won't worry about it.

Monday 26 October 2009

Multi-skilled Millie

The glazier had a new and very attentive student today.

She seems very suited to home maintenance. I wonder if I should enrol her in one of those modern
apprenticeship schemes?

Sunday 25 October 2009

The anti-pumpkin recipe

It's the turn of the humble pumpkin for this week's Dim Sum Sunday at The Karmic Kitchen. Having arrived too late to enter anything for the apple theme the previous week, despite the apple pie rapture I've been experiencing this week, I'm searching for something interesting to submit this Sunday.

Hmmm... roasted, spiced, baked, pureed, in soup, risotto, pies, er... curries... crepes... cupcakes,
candlelit on doorsteps, smuggled into the dog's dinner - no, that's just silly - nope, nothing interesting comes to mind. Pumpkins just don't inspire me much as food, lovely though they may look, and I use butternut squash instead, in a fairly unthrilling and familiar range of soups and roasts.

However, I did grow pumpkins. And this is what I did with my last batch of home grown beauties, seen here two years ago with the beloved and much-missed Harry.

  • 4 pumpkins (no, size doesn't matter).
  • Haul heavy, muddy pumpkins up steep hill from allotment. Groan loudly en route, to encourage yourself.
  • Wash pumpkins thoroughly; dry. Stand back and admire their sheen and colour. Take photos for posterity. Leave in kitchen for a while to allow cats and visitors to admire.
  • Look at pumpkins every day and think about what to do with them. Acknowledge that you may have met your match: single woman versus four pumpkins = un-level playing field.
  • Give three pumpkins to unwary visitors who may have admired too enthusiastically. Smile brightly, accept no protestations.
  • Look at remaining pumpkin every day. Notice that the part of your brain that devises meals goes blank within a nano-second of doing this. Live on toast and Marmite.
  • After some weeks, Google websites specialising in 'How to Freeze Pumpkin'. Set mouth in grim expression, don pinny, take sharp knife, seize pumpkin and chop it up. Notice that it appears to have filled two sinks and three large mixing bowls.
  • Stay focused. These are dark, dangerous moments, and it is important not to lose one's nerve.
  • In batches, roast pumpkin till soft and kitchen is all steamed up. Remove skin. Allow to cool thoroughly.
  • Find largest freezer bags and boxes, pack them with cooled pumpkin, label and freeze.
  • Two years later, remove pumpkin from freezer containers and place reverently in dustbin, humming cheerful little ditty about freezer burn as the guiding demon who rescues the wasteful. Tell no one.
  • Sigh with relief. Ponder on the versatility of millions of North American cooks who deal with trillions of pumpkins each autumn, and decide that pumpkins will not be grown on the allotment next year.


Saturday 24 October 2009


Well, that was easy: that glorious Algonquin apple pie recipe wasn't in Bee Drunken's blog as I'd first thought (and I searched and searched!) but in her other food-collaborative blog: Domestic Sensualist. That I'd just read a couple of days earlier.... I have the memory of a hen....

Anyway, go and have a look, and have a go - it's well worth it.
Thank you, Bee.

PS Want to know how I found out in the end? So simple! I copied a couple of sentences from the saved draft of the recipe (the one where I'd managed to cut out all the clues to authorship) and put them in the Google searchbox with quotation marks at each end. And up she popped. Maybe everyone knew all this already, but if you didn't, it's the quotation marks that get you there.

Off now to make a large Victoria sponge (with whipped cream) as requested by her Four Doors Down, who has a houseful of guests who will need something reviving later on, after spending the day Going Ape in Northumberland. It involves swinging through trees on ropes, apparently. And it's raining today. Generous application of cake will be essential.

Friday 23 October 2009

Was it you?

I've never had a good hand with pastry. Home made or shop bought, it would refuse to roll out evenly, or break, or shrink away from the dish; the contents would leak, and the result was always amateurish and sometimes downright nasty. Until today! I'm squeaky with excitement about this apple pie, made from scratch this afternoon.

Somebody posted a recipe on their blog for the Algonquin's famous apple pie, perhaps even tasted by Dorothy Parker and amusing chums, and in a fit of fancying myself, I copied out the recipe and tried it. I actually made the pastry! Me, myself! Squeak!

And now I'm horrified to find that I can't remember who that sainted blogger was, and until they show their shining face to me, can't bow down before them, awe-struck and tearful with gratitude, and tell her (I can recall that it was a Her) "You Have Changed My Life!". Or post a link to the recipe on her blog so that you can all join in the beatification of the author.

If it was you, please tell me, and I'll insert a link; this recipe is too good not to be shared with the pie-eating world. Come on, step forward for your standing ovation!

No shrinking, leaking, overdone bits surrounding raw bits, this light, flaky pastry was so forgiving, even to a heavy-handed patcher-upper of pastry like me, and tasted just divine. I know this without cutting into the prize exhibit above because there was enough left over to make a smaller pie, now devoured by two timely visitors (they do have a nose for tea and treats in this street!) and me. With double cream. I'm not cutting into this one till tomorrow, when I'm taking a wedge of it to friends.

I'll certainly make it again - and possibly again and again, till I am so huge I have to be winched out of my house by firemen and heavy lifting gear - but I'll tinker with the filling. Cox's Orange Pippins make a fine pie, but I do prefer the tang of a Bramley, and a clove or two. I'm not sure that the freckled result of the final butter-dotting is attractive either, but really, who cares? Let's cut another wedge, pour that second cup of tea, and tuck in.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Scooter's Standards

Remember these mucky feet, just a month ago? I was only a baby then, and didn't know much about washing.

But I do now. I use the British Army Spit and Polish System. Works a treat on boots and feet.

Other people aren't so particular, so I have to help them out.

Sometimes I have to put a bit more effort into helping. Hold still; these ears are a disgrace.

Don't know how she managed before I came along....

Wednesday 21 October 2009

But on the other hand....

I thought I'd try another new recipe on the willing testers who were gathering at my house last night. This is from Martha Hay's 'Baking', and would have deserved its place in the low fat section if I'd actually had low fat, rather than calorie-laden who-cares cream cheese for the filling. I also had to substitute Bailey's for the Tia Maria (from one of those teeny little bottles airlines give you) and as ever, demonstrated a somewhat cavalier approach to the icing. No points for presentation: wonky slicing, uneven spreading, no piped decoration. Finesse isn't my strong point.

But no one fussed; they fell on it like wolves, albeit polite wolves who could murmur unconvincingly "Oh, I really shouldn't....but...." before sinking bared fangs into the coffee icing.

And this is all that was left. Just enough for me this morning! (Sorry, Shelagh.)

Better not

old recipe

My mother had an expression: 'Better is the enemy of good' that she used when an attempt to improve something that had been fine in the first place ended up in disappointment, failure, ruin, even, or simply more work than it was worth.

So it was with my dropscones recipe. For years I have thrown together a batch of dropscones at a moment's notice, using my trusty old griddle with its patina of age that ensured even cooking, a good colour, and no sticking, and they've been perfectly acceptable, good with butter and jam, and even less effort to make than a batch of plain scones. But I was given a new recipe the other day, using cream of tartar and bicarb instead of baking powder, more eggs, and a measured amount of milk, usually judged by eye and texture than by fluid ounces. It sounded richer and possibly producing more depth of flavour.

I tried it out, and the result was horrid: thick-textured, rubbery, and tasting of bicarbonate of soda. See? Don't they look like they'd bounce if thrown? Well, they were thrown, after this picture was taken: they went into the little wooded area where local foxes clear up any non-compostable treats we care to leave for them (we're a bit silly like that round here).

new recipe

Hardly a national disaster, of course; after all, a dropscone is a dropscone is a ...vehicle for lots of melting butter. Back to the old tried and true recipe.

(And see the uneven colouring? Well, that poor old griddle is on the slow road to recovery after its patina had to be thoroughly scoured off following the Lovely Son's criminal decision to cook black pudding on it.... Black pudding! On a baking griddle! I will say no more. My lips are pursed too tightly for that.)

Saturday 17 October 2009

Down memory lane with whizz, bang and crackle


Tonight, a friend and I were wondering about the sound of fireworks going off, and later she rang me to say that, seeing her neighbours celebrating, she had realised that it was Diwali., the Hindu Festival of Lights.

And that took me back.....
In 1991, she and I and two others had spent a month travelling in India, mostly to spend a week at a friend's wedding. We had also travelled north, getting as far as Manali, in the foothills of the Himalayas, but unable to travel further with our limited clothing, as snow was threatening to close the roads. Such trips had not been part of our original plan, but some of our intended destinations had proved to be too difficult (conflict in Kashmir, shootings in Varanasi), and we had to rethink, fast. This northern excursion to the hills remains for me one of the most enjoyable experiences of the whole month, and one of the most challenging.


We had prided ourselves on travelling as authentically as possible - we laugh at our earnest past selves now - and that meant local transport and hotels, unshielded by the comfortable cushion of organised tourist trips. That meant we were fully exposed, as we booked trains and hotels, to the legacy of Victorian colonial bureaucracy and the sometimes astonishing efficiency that was camouflaged by apparent and overwhelming chaos. We also acquired a degree of fatalism that we were to need each time we braved the mountainous northern roads in rickety buses, and a respect for our bodies' ability to withstand physical discomfort and to sleep sitting up, whilst being thrown violently in all directions.

Before Manali, we had spent a few days in Shimla, after a long, jolting, nightmarish journey from Delhi in a particularly decrepit bus, and we returned there to recover from a rigorous few days, unspeakable bedding, and streaming colds. Whilst in Shimla, with stunning views from our hotel room, we found that it was Diwali. We wandered Shimla's steeply winding streets, enjoying the festive atmosphere, the excited children, the hundreds of tiny lights set out everywhere, and later we lay in bed listening to fireworks resounding fiercely, echoing across the valley like artillery fire.

We returned to Delhi by train, first taking the Shimla-Kalka narrow-gauge train, greatly relieved not to be careering down steep crumbling roads by car, horn blaring, all of us sweaty-palmed with fright and thankful that we had written our wills before we left home. Instead, we were able to sit in the carriage doorways as the little blue and cream train chugged along, our feet dangling out, marvelling at the views, the wondrous feat of engineering, the zig-zagging line, which meant that at times we could see parallel to us, and just feet away, the next stretch of track we would be on in a few moments.

On slower sections, passengers hopped on and off, clinging precariously to the outside of the carriage, and presumably omitting to pay a fare.

And there were familiar sights: cows and cricketers, rail tracks posing no impediment.

The final stage of our return journey to Delhi was by express train, a soulless experience after the charm and beauty of the little narrow-gauge. We were to go on to Agra, then to Lucknow for the wedding, and later to tour Rajasthan by car, all vivid and unforgettable experiences, but Diwali in Shimla forms part of the most memorable section of our journey. Our local fireworks tonight are tame affairs, pale and uninteresting in comparison to the thrilling crackle and whizzing of those in a small hill town thousands of miles away, where every day was an adventure.

Dinner time

Zzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz.......

Can't you see we're sleeping?

Look, eyes in sleeping position.

What was that? Dinner, you say?

Ok, maybe. Yawn to one side...

then to the other....

Not sure I'm ready for dinner. What is it?

Oh, prawns! Why didn't you say so sooner?

Thursday 15 October 2009

Wednesday 14 October 2009

All quiet on the western front?

After all the agonising, have I let the idea of a move South lapse? Not at all. The next chapter of the Grand Plan to move to Devon or Dorset is being sketched out: in late November, a friend and I are flying down to Exeter to explore the area and test whether or not it appeals to me as a future location. No house hunting as such, just motoring around, rubber-necking and prioritising, staying in a lovely cottage in Budleigh Salterton, and hoping that the area isn't entirely filled with holiday lets and nursing homes, as the websites might lead one to believe.

November isn't the most brilliant month to be looking round any county famed for its natural beauty, but it's a good time to gain a realistic idea of what it looks like when the roses-round-the-door image is hibernating. And to assess if I am sufficiently 'retired' to fit in with the 30% of the population who are of pensionable age. That should make a nice change from feeling very, very old, intolerant and bad-tempered about the student demographic round here.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

gloominess reigns, but only if you let it

Everyone seems so grumpy today, shouty and harrassed and out of sorts, complaining loudly about everything, kids, computers, workload. Even the gentle dog whose owner has had to go away for a few days, and that I went to collect for his afternoon walk, was miserable and mopey, missing his owner and reluctant to go out. And during our walk I noticed how many front paths of once-presentable Jesmond houses, now the dreaded HMOs (houses of multiple occupation: government euphemism for student lets) seemed to be more than usually knee high in litter, mostly evidence of cheap alcohol, takeaway food and discarded junk mail.

I came home feeling ready to cut my throat, and thought about how very 'catching' other people's emotions can be.
And it's grey and cloudy outside, with a low headache-inducing sky. Yet I'd started out cheerful and positive, ready to enjoy a brisk walk with a non-limping dog, but seem to have collected a bucketful of misery just by talking to other people (and the dog).

In the days when I lived with an inhuman level of stress, I would sometimes make time to come home at lunchtime, even for ten minutes, to ground myself and be reminded of who I really was. So today I took my camera and had a little stroll round my house, taking pictures of things that I liked, or that make me smile. I was struck by how many grey tones resulted, partly because my home is deliberately as neutral and calming as I can make it, but there were occasional lively flashes of colour too.

I read somewhere once that Prince Charles collects Wemyss ware. How peculiar. I don't suppose his collection has anything as shabby and chipped as my little rose-patterned dish.

Or that he keeps his sulphur-crested cockatoo in it as a reminder of Australia.

And the front door is rather jolly, with the fall wreath that Shelagh sent me from Canada.

Although everyone asks if I'm not a bit early for Christmas? Harrumph; silly people.

Anyway, I feel a bit more grounded and settled now. Almost cheerful, in fact!

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