Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy, Jolly, Splendid

Just to say I hope the coming year brings you many little joys, and at least one strength increasing challenge, so that at the end of it you can look back and think "I did good!"  XXXXXXXXX

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


I came across this quotation from Morton Feldman (who I meant to google, knowing nothing of him, but forgot) somewhere on the internet.

So I stamped it in my journal (with Christmas gift stamping kit!) and pondered.

I don't need to pursue anxiety, it follows me around like a starving dog. So, I'm lucky, I have plenty of material for my art. I just need to stroke it, and maybe give it a sausage, and then get to work.

I'm thinking of advertising my services as a cleaning lady as I need to earn money but want to keep my mind free to work on the second draft of my novel. New Year's Resolution #1: get the bloody book back on track.

I need to get my second book properly underway, too, so that's NYR #2, and learn Latin. I have a teach yourself book somewhere, NYR #3: locate it and spend half an hour a day on it. I wonder if half an hour's enough?

Stevie doesn't think I'll make it as a cleaner because my marketing skills are impossibly bad. But I'm not sure much more than a card in the newsagent's window is required. Of course, that might be because my marketing skills are impossibly bad.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Fairy Lights

Today in this the northern hemisphere is the shortest day, in terms of light. The darkest day of the year. Tomorrow will be lighter, and it will, daily, continue to get lighter and lighter, warmer and warmer, for six whole months. At first it won't feel any ligher, and it may be even colder tomorrow, but we will have the sun for a little longer. And so it will go. By February it will be noticeable, and I'll start saying things like: "blimey, it's still light and it's six o'clock!" I love February for that.

One of the benefits of being this age is experience: I know the light will return because it has done so for all of my (fifty) years. Dark may insinuate it's way into my life until it becomes a wall I can't get through or over, but all I need do is look back at all the other walls I have made it past, and not lose hope. It's not always easy to hang on to hope – I often need to manufacture it, and I guess that's one of the reasons we have Christmas: it gives us something to look forward to in the gloom – but it is possible, with a little help. I've just read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and it was exactly the illumination I needed.

I have never experienced anything as cold and dark as the inhabitants of Guernsey did during WW2. I've never suffered long term starvation, or feared for my life, once, let alone daily for five years. And I never had to make a decision about whether to send my child away for his own safety, and then having decided to do so (wisely in hindsight) lost contact with him (and the whole of the outside world) for five years. How must it have felt to not know how one's child is faring, if s/he is alive or dead, healthy or sick? Every day must have felt interminable and barely tenable. My reading was halted at that part by, not just tears, convulsions. I had to take several deep breaths before I could continue. Yet those people, mothers, fathers, grandparents, kept going and, mostly, survived; their children came home, and light returned. I felt much better after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.


We have reached the bottom of the wintry abyss and all we have to do is hang on to hope in order to rise back up to the top. For this I think I'm going to need a lot of books, so if anyone has any light infusing recommendations I'd be very grateful.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Something for the Armoire

As I said two posts ago, the room in my head so recently vacated by two of my teaching jobs is large and echoey, and not unlike this:

Source: http://fibreciment.deviantart.com/art/LALM-09-124470018?q=gallery%3Afibreciment&qo=161

As you can see, other members of the dispossessed have been in and sprayed the walls with their secret messages. A stray dog wanders in from time to time, but never stays. A tramp poked his head in the door the other day and asked me if I needed anything. He could spare some change, he said, for a cup of tea. I said, thank you, but once I get the stove

Source: http://thecroft.wordpress.com/2007/01/

lit I'd make some. He was welcome to stay and have a cup, I told him, but he snorted and left. Maybe he was a Twinings man.

Anyway, I'm beginning to feel more at home here, I dragged an armoire off a skip, gave it a lick of paint, and already the echoes have quietened.

Last night, whilst dozily blog browsing I popped into Monica's , briefly joined in the chat about what to do with ideas, and happily left with something (to flog the metaphor to death) to place on a shelf in the armoire. I think it might be fine French linen.

Regular readers of this blog will know I  keep a journal, I've banged on about it on several occasions, it's mostly filled with whinings of the "I'm not writing..." sort. Monica doesn't keep a journal, but she does keep a notebook specially for ideas. This keeps them safe for possible future realization. Mmm...

I tend to scribble ideas on my wall, along with lesson plans, to-dos, and all number of other things. But they get wiped off before I ever get a chance to realise them, to make room, often enough, for new ideas. I could single out one of the huge number of note books that lurk, dustily, around this room and use it for the job, but I know myself well enough to know I won't use it regularly. My ideas usually resemble fleshless pinkie bones when they first appear, not really worth writing down on paper.

As I was leaving a comment on Monica's post it suddenly struck me: all I need do to safeguard ideas that may in the future be useful (fleshable), not to mention to-dos that have yet to be done, is take a snap of the wall before each wiping. Or, better still, every morning. This means when I get a new idea and need to jot it down before it evaporates I'll be able to clear a space for it without having to stop and find my camera. Which, lets face it, I'm unlikely to be bothered to do. So that's that then: every morning when I sit down with a cup of tea at my desk I will pick up my camera and take a shot of my wall. Here's the first one (be prepared to get very tired of this):

As you can see there's bugger all on it. And some of it's been there a while. I hope this will change as I retake possession of my head-space. 

I wonder if I'll be able to bring myself to wipe these names off now I know they'll be safely stored in a snap-shot? They were the first things I scrawled all those years ago because I was writing a lot of short stories (for my degree), and I kept calling all my characters Lucy. 

I don't write short stories any more, so I don't really need them, but, I don't know, there's something of the cenotaph about them which attracts me. 

So, recap, a little corner of my head-space is now cosy with the idea to take a photo of my wall every morning, and then wipe it clean. Or, should I wipe it? That could make me anxious to fill it just for the next shot, which isn't really the point.  

Sunday, 11 December 2011


I hadn't been to the cinema for ages, and I love films. But not having a tv or radio I rather relied on Bob (womb fruit) to keep me informed of what was on. Now he's gone off to become himself without parental interference I have no clue. However, when I logged on to Twitter for the Foyles Friday book game my eyes fell on a tweet from TED about Hugo. I can't remember what it said but whatever it was diverted my attention from the game and sent me off to find out more. And yesterday we went to see it.

God it was good. It's about secrets, and purpose; losing, finding, hiding, revealing. It's beautifully realised: the colours, the sounds, even the way the characters move contribute to the story.  As I sat and watched I was a child again, transported to a more colourful world for a couple of hours. I cried, I laughed, I gasped.

Set in 1930s Paris it's about an orphaned boy (Hugo) whose guardian – uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) – a station clock setter has disappeared. Hugo lives in the station and tends to the clocks while he waits for his uncle to return. While he waits he attempts to continue a task his father had begun before his death: fix an old, rusted automaton and find the key to make it work once more. He feeds himself by snaffling croissants, and does his best to avoid the station inspector (played brilliantly by Sasha Baron Cohen) who has a passion for sending stray children to the orphanage. Then one day he is caught trying to steal a clockwork mouse by the toy booth owner, Papa Georges... Hugo, I'd say, is about as perfect a Christmas film as I've seen in years, and it has set a seasonal tone to the weekend which I hope to eek out a little longer.

As luck would have it today is the last farmers' market before Christmas, thankfully it's neither raining, snowing, or blowing. So I'm off to see if Alison has any chutneys that might spruce up cold goose; what chocolate confections Dennis has to give as gifts, and if that nice smoked trout man has anything left (he tends to sell out early) to brighten the between Christmas and New Year table. I'm hoping the cheese lady is there too, and the man who makes delicious coconut fudge, not his only flavour but my current favourite. While I'm there I'll see if I can uncover a story or two.  

Monday, 5 December 2011

Industrial space

A friend told me recently that she had started her bucket list, I had to ask what that was. I think I will start one too, there are so many things about which I used to say "one day...", but I am beginning to feel that I have been flung past that day. If I don't make some plans, and implementation intentions, I'll find myself on my deathbed thinking "bugger!"

How cheery of me, first post in a month and I'm writing about death. Do apologise.

I seem to have been caught up in a whorl of work: teaching two community writing classes, and a textual analysis class to first year undergraduates at the local university campus. I love teaching but it takes up all the space in my head, so I get on with the rest of life rather like an ant. Now, though, two of the classes have finished and I should be back to normal, but that space, vacated, resembles a derelict warehouse. There's mould on the walls, a few broken panes, and a twisted tree growing in a corner. It needs a lick of paint, a few pictures on the wall, some heating. It's terribly echoey, and I've been wandering around it for the last week afraid to speak because my voice bounces back to me at an unholy volume. It needs furniture and rugs for absorption. I need to write again.

So, back to blogging: the cognitive equivalent of a huge armoire.

That's all I can think of to say for now, so here's a photo taken this morning from my bedroom window.

Tomorrow I'll see if I can find a little something to put in the armoire, even if it's only a stained tea towel.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

First light

I have essays to mark. So, naturally, this seems like the perfect time to show you the newest addition to our family: a stove for burning wood (and coal). Installed in my work-room due to the prohibitive cost of mainstream fuel (gas, electricity) and my tendency to shut down when the temperature drops below 30º. Not only does it keep me more than warm enough (woollens have had to be removed!), its surface is hot enough to activate an espresso pot and heat milk to frothing temperature. No more electric kettle for me, not more gas ring, no more microwave: my staple latte can now be made without using any extra energy. I feel so green. Later in the week I hope to make a casserole on it.
Some photos (in the wrong order, really):
First cup of stove coffee.

This morning's coffee brewing (Stevie bought me the pot yesterday).

First fire, made by Derek (who installed it) to show me how to light and 'cure' it. 
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Monday, 24 October 2011

As Promised

Today I made our Christmas cake, and as I was doing so remembered I'd promised to post the recipe for the chocolate yogurt cake of a couple of posts ago. So here it is now.

This recipe stands on the shoulders of Nigella Lawson's 'Buttermilk Birthday Cake' though it can't be said to be it. 

250g plain flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarb
¼ teaspoon salt
50g cocoa powder (dark, unsweetened, the real deal)
100g dark chocolate (70%, or near as damn it, cocoa solids) melted
200g Greek yogurt (this needs to be the authentic, thick strained stuff)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
125g unsalted butter (very soft)
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs.
2 x sandwich tins, lined and buttered
Icing and filling.
300g dark chocolate (70% see above) broken into pieces 
250ml double cream
5 tablespoons greek yogurt

Preheat oven to gas 4 (180ºC).

Mix together, in a bowl, the flour, cocoa powder bicarb, baking powder and salt. Stir the vanilla extract into the yogurt.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each (the last one may make the mixture curdle, but don't worry too much about that, it happens, the cake still rises). Stir in the melted chocolate until the whole is a dark chocolatey brown. Add about a third of the flour mix, stir in vigourously. Add about a third of the yogurt, combine. Continue in this way: flour, beat; yogurt, beat, until everything’s in. If it seems a bit solid add a little milk to loosen it. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for about 35 minutes. It’s done when it’s begun to shrink away from the sides of the tins, and/or a cake tester comes out clean.
Put the tins on a cooling rack until they are cool enough to handle without oven gloves, then turn the cakes out of the tins and onto the rack.
Once good and cold you can ice them. To make the icing, put the chocolate and cream in a saucepan, place on medium heat, and whisk – at times idly at others vigorously – with a hand-whisk until the chocolate has melted and combined with the cream. Leave it to cool a little (if you can stick your finger in and leave it there comfortably it’s cool enough). Take about a quarter of the icing from the pan and put it in a bowl. To this add the yogurt, this is your filling. 
Put one of the cakes on the plate or stand you plan to serve the it on. Spread with filling. Place the other on top, and cover with the icing. 

This is one of those cakes you can't really go wrong with. I've baked it in a saucepan before and it's still come out perfectly, and I have messed about with the yogurt quantities too, depending on how much I had. As with all recipes read it over a few times so you can get the shape of it in your head. Then get everything ready before you begin. This will allow you to go about calmly and make the whole thing fun rather than frustrating. 

Note on sweetness: I love cake but am not a huge fan of sugar, if you prefer a sweeter filling and/or icing just add some powdered sugar to taste.

Let me know if you make it and how you get on.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The bathroom is nearly finished. It's taking so long because we have more time than money, and we have very little time. We also lack skill.

There was a problem with the ceiling: old paper and gloss paint patches we couldn't shift. So we bought some lining paper and attempted to apply it. Stevie on a step ladder at one end, me on a cupboard at the other, long stick in hand, as you can imagine it didn't work. I had to rethink. I didn't want to emulsion over the glossy patches because I worried it wouldn't take, and I didn't want to faff about with oil based paint: too stinky. So we just left it the way it was thinking, all the while, that we would have to employ someone to do it for us when we could afford it. Then I saw a picture of an artist's house on Pinterest: she had wallpapered a room in scraps. I didn't like her choice of paper but I liked the idea, thus Stevie went hunting for odd roll ends. He came back with a huge bag load, but they were all a bit shiny and I'm not a huge fan of shine. Silverware, yes, eyes, absolutely, but not wallpaper. I was after more of an old quilt aesthetic.

I mentioned this to my WOW* ladies one Wednesday as we were chatting after a lesson (they are really coming on, by the way, some of their stories are wonderful) and one of them said she had had some old wallpaper sample books for a project, but they'd disappeared: "Go and ask round the design shops and see if they are throwing any away," she said.

So I did.

I was given six books by a very kind young woman in home-ware shop in Gretna. I only needed a few squares so the rest are going to WOW for an art project.

The blind was another problem. The old one was manky: little black dots had eked their way across the surface, and i couldn't get them off. It had been up there for ten years, and had only cost three quid at Ikea, I figured we were due a new one. So, off we went to  get a replacement; they had roller blinds, and slatted blinds, and all sorts of other blinds, but no roman blinds. And it was a roman blind I wanted.  I looked online, there were loads, but none were the width of our windows. I could get 90cm, 120 cm, or 60cm; all of which were far enough from the 100cm I needed they might as well have been ten metres. So I checked the cost of getting one made, and found we could go on holiday for that much, and we haven't had a holiday since we went to Cornwall for a week in 2007.

Meanwhile, I kept seeing things made of old burlap sacks (again on Pinterest): cushions, chair-covers, table runners. They all looked jolly nice but I had no idea what burlap was or where it could be purchased. So I googled and found out it was hessian, and after a few clicks of my mouse I found a website that specialises in upholstery material. They sold hessian by the metre, not only that they had some that was exactly the width of the window, and it was only £1.62 a metre. I ordered four metres.

One day one of us will remove the masking tape.

Today I took the old blind apart with the idea of using the bits of string etc to make a roman blind out of the hessian. I cut the required length and attempted to hem, remembered I couldn't sew a straight line and, thus, there was no way I'd be able to make those neat little rod pockets. And, what's more just trying would make the whole enterprise hateful. So I improvised.

Detail: I'm particularly thrilled with the purple dotted line, it reminds me of postmen.  
Once the wooden batten was in place – shove, shove– and the little eyelets were screwed into it, I threaded them with the string. Then with a big needle, just caught bits of the fabric with the string where I supposed the rods would be if someone else had made it. It's not perfect, and it probably won't last, but I for now I'm happy with it.

I still have a bit of grouting to do, but can't find the squeezy thing for getting it deep in the crevasses. I need to work out what to do with the bath's side panels (marine ply, not pretty), and order the flooring. So, I'm waiting for more inspiration and pay day.

Now I'm off in search of a musician, so I'll come visiting tomorrow.

*Women of the World: a local charity that helps women who find themselves living here far, far from home.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

What is it to be?

It's been almost a month since my last post. And I've been wondering if it's time to let go of blogging. I started as a way of practising writing, almost five years ago, and I do that by just writing now. I teach writing, and I write. So I don't feel the same compulsion to write a blog anymore.

Most of the friends I've made here I see on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, so I don't need it to keep in touch. And I just don't have time to read and leave meaningful comments on other blogs anymore. I have three jobs, a novel to redraft, and my house is falling down.

And yet...

I had some yogurt to use up, and wanted to practise shooting chocolate cake. So I invented chocolate yogurt cake.

I do have a new thing to practise. I am besotted with my camera (remember, Bob, my son, gave it to me for my birthday?). When I'm not doing work/writing related things, or trying to shore up the pantry walls, I most often have my camera at my face, usually aimed at something edible. I cook, I shoot, I eat. Cooking and baking have always been the way I recalibrate, and now the camera adds an extra dimension. It's turned kitchen activity into more of a challenge, and thus more fun, more rewarding.

Panzanella, perfect when you have a tomato and stale bread glut

But I'm not a brilliant photographer. Not appalling either, just not practised – I haven't put in my ten thousand hours yet – but I'm improving and recently a local restaurant to let me pay in photographs for a couple of meals, rather than the more usual money. I had loads of shots of their food because I like it so much I spend a lot of time there. They wanted to get a website up, and they needed pictures for it, so we did a spot of bartering.*

I don't suppose Nigella Lawson will be calling me to snap the pies for her next book. But as I don't need another damn job (at the moment. I can hear my husband muttering about economic realities) it will be quite nice to keep this as play. You learn more by playing, once something becomes work you stop exploring,  I do anyway. Work seems to create stresses which change the whole dynamic. I start focussing on time, and 'product'. And the product never seems to be able to be made good enough in the allocated time.

So, perhaps this blog will morph into a place for me to practise my photography. Scary enough to make me really consider what I'm doing before I share, but not stifling like work can be. Play, but public.

P.S. Blogger has completely changed since I last visited, and I seem to have inadvertently done something that's changed everything!

*Most, but not all the photographs on the site were taken by me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


this will explain why I'm so silent:

I taste plaster dust at all times. I can feel it coating the inside of my ears. Blinking only seems to smooth it over my eyes, like a tablecloth. But the job should be complete by the beginning of next week. Meanwhile I wake in the night to make revisions to tile colour choice. First thing this morning I was messing with felt tip pens and coloured pencils. I want one neutral and three accents. It's two of the accent colours I've been having trouble with, but I think I have it now. If not I'll have to live with a bad decision for a long time, as they are ordered and we need to get at least one wall of them up before Saturday when the bath et al go in. The fun will start there because I have only a vague vision of random colour bars dotted over the walls. How I will actually achieve that vision I have yet to discover.

The lenghts I am going to to, apparently, avoid even sniffing my manuscript.
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Monday, 15 August 2011

The Great Clean

Bollocks. I keep beginning to write a post, get distracted, and lose my thread.

I've been, since my return from the south a week or so ago, trying to remove the stale smell of thousands of layers of our, and probably other creatures, excretions from the house. Shampooing the upholstery and carpets, vacuuming and washing down the walls, scrubbing the paintwork, bicarb sprinkling and turning the mattresses, beating the rugs...

On and on it goes. Today I tried to lift a carton of yogurt from a shelf in the fridge and it was so glued with spilt-goodnessknowswhat that it burst all over my fingers. And I realised I had only cleaned the fridge once this year. What sort of woman am I?

From now on I will keep an eye on spillage and take a damp cloth to the fridge, amongst other things, weekly. And wipe down the open shelves in the kitchen more often too, yikes they were sticky.

Maybe if I get myself a proper routine I'll transform into the type of woman who can keep chickens. Super fresh eggs would be marvellous.

But the thing that would be the most marvellous would be having no excuse whatsoever to not get on with my manuscript, which is probably what this is all about. I pick it up, read, flinch, scratch out whole lines and ponder replacements. And then I begin to notice the dust on my desk, or a leaf on the floor trampled in from a fag break in the garden. Or I feel suddenly hungry and go to the fridge.

Perhaps I'm not ready for the rewrite, the greatest of great cleans.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Roundup and offski

This is what I like about cities: a wall just round the corner from Bob's new flat.

Had a rather odd week. The police were involved, scary.

Yesterday we went to Edinburgh to see Bob's new place, it's better appointed than this house! And in a much more interesting place: he has a theatre, art school, cinema, and some fantastic food shops right on his doorstep. Not to mention the river with it's big old warehouses. We lunched in a Turkish café, then stocked up on Japanese mayonnaise (recommended by Parsnip herself!), mirin, Korean hot pepper paste, and sugared cuttlefish at an Asian supermarket, and went to the lovely Cameo cinema to see Tree of Life.

I will have to see that again before I make any judgement, but I found it irritatingly lacking in story. This may well be because I'm not intellectual enough to leap the gaps and make the connections necessary to get what a sharper mind would. It was very pretty, I'll say that, but a bit earnest for my taste.

So, tomorrow morning I set off to visit an aunt in the south for a week, followed by a stay at my sister's, also in the south (of England, I should say). So I won't be around again until mid August. When I get back I plan to do my laundry and dash up to stay in Edinburgh with Bob before the weather turns cold(er), but I'll pop in and say hello while my smalls are being spun.

Bedtime now. See you in a couple of weeks, X

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Art of Change

In a recent post, writer Sarah Duncan wrote about change in fiction: people want to read about it, she argued. Why? Because they "want to know how a character reacts to that moment of change." We have to deal with it in life, and having read about how others do so helps us recalibrate when that happens. We are constantly having to rewrite the ending to our personal story so having lots of examples to draw upon helps us see how to proceed.

On Friday our son, Bob, left home with only the barest notice. I actually didn't know what to do with myself. Usually when something discombobulating happens I phone all my friends and by the time I've told the story a number of times, and been given lots of sympathy, I can at least get on. But, if I'm honest, I felt a bit pathetic this time: Bob's twenty five, he's left home before, we, I, knew he wouldn't be here forever; would anyone see his leaving home as a hitch? So I just posted something about it on my Facebook page and left it at that. This did get me lots of sympathy, and also a couple of emails. One from by best friend in New Zealand, Mark, and the other from my sister, both asking for the details. This allowed me to verbalise and thus get some purchase on the scene; just like writing a story. Here are the edited highlights of my replies, they were almost identical:
here's the story:
On Thursday at supper Stevie said he has to go to Edinburgh next week to see a client, and asked if we wanted to go for the ride.
"Okay." I said.
"I'm going to Edinburgh tomorrow." Bob said.
"Oh are you, any particular reason?" Asked Stevie.
Bob has been going to Edinburgh a fair bit to get a kilt sorted for the wedding of one of his friends.
"Well," he began, and told us about Joe's friend, Chris. He works for a letting agency, and a really nice flat had come up for an unusually reasonable monthly rent.
"So I'm going to look at it." He said.
"With a view to taking it?"
"Well, yeah."
So off he went the next morning and when he came back he dangled a bunch of keys in front of me and smiled.
"Ooh, you took it then?" I said.
"When are you moving in?"
"Now." Big grin. He'd already been out and bought towels and stuff!

Once he'd had a spot of lunch and packed, off he went. Stevie arrived just in time to see him go, though I'm supposing Bob would have hung about for a while had he not.

I cried. Stevie wandered around like a benevolent poltergeist. We went out for supper.

Stevie's fish.

On Saturday I went to clean the attic rooms Bob has been occupying, and found an infestation of moths had eaten my antique kilims. We went to Glasgow to stock up on a few necessaries.

Obviously we stopped for lunch, can you tell what we had?

Yesterday I walked into my workroom and could stand the colour of the mahogany table by the window no longer: a dark reddish brown, like a cancerous stool, it sucks the light out of the place. So I painted it. Farrow and Ball Parma Grey, it's the colour of Kentish skies now.

I realise this is mostly a picture of a melon, but you can get an idea of the paint job.

Bob's like me, we both take a long time to turn things over in our minds, assess all options, process, incubate, whatever you want to call it, but once the period of gestation comes to an end we have to act. We can sit still no longer. He'd been back here for just over a year. I knew he'd be leaving, at some point in the near future, I'd sensed a pattern change. I just wasn't quite ready for the action.

But, thanks to the variety of fictitious scenarios I've read, and seen in plays and films, I had lots of vicarious experience of dealing with change, so haven't chewed off my own limbs in despair. In fact, now the shock has dissipated I'm happier than ever: my son is off on a new adventure (and only an hour's drive away), and I have a table that doesn't piss me off every time I walk in the room. Sarah Duncan, I agree.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

More tests, and some bread

There's something compelling about sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe it's the fact they have the word 'sun' in their name, but they always make me think of lush Italian gardens and loggias with tables large enough to seat a huge, ebullient family as they help themselves to the colourful, fragrant and carefully prepared contents of beautiful pottery bowls; eating, talking and laughing all at once. So, finding some in the local deli I couldn't help buying a pack.

They sat around for a while, peeking redly from their cellophane like a bag of scabs. Then one day I thought to make bread to go with supper and spotting the tomatoes on a shelf decided to add them. I've had bread with sun-dried tomatoes in posh bistros and always enjoyed it.

I didn't have a recipe so I augmented Nigella Lawson's plain white loaf. First I chopped the tomatoes into little slivers, and added them to the water to reconstitute for ten minutes. Then, once the water had been added to the flour/yeast/salt (I use instant bread-maker yeast, it's great you just chuck it in!) I drizzled in three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. And then proceeded as usual

And here it is, a little dark on top, but none the worse for that, and wonderfully crisp of crust.

Inside it was soft and fluffy with a very slight cakey texture. The flavour of the tomatoes really did permeate the whole loaf, which, we thought, was a good thing.

I served it with cold meats, cheese, and salad.

I'm still not getting this picture thing right, but it's better. Alesa very kindly told me how to isolate each photograph with a bit of HTML code. That seems to have worked, but getting the text under, rather than to the right of, the shots is a real palaver, and so the whole thing seems no speedier than the way I was doing it before.
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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Some things I've been eating lately, and a self portrait – another test of the new photo uploading process

Linguine with bacon, garlic oil and parsley. Recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson.

Wasabi peas.

Chocolate brownie at Harvey Nichols, Edinburgh (it looks prettier than it tasted: not chocolatey enough and fork bendingly hard).

Falafel, yet to be cooked.

Strawberry shortbread cake, Brodies: a fab new eatie place in my own town, and my new favourite place. I've been a few times now and haven't eaten anything that wasn't wonderful. Eggs Benedict and a Bloody Mary at Brodies is what I now call Sunday.

More Brodies: canapés at a recent Moffat Book Events get together.

Melon and pineapple one recent lunch: an attempt to offset the extra calories Brodies is bringing to my flanks.

Every year in Moffat there is an old car thing: hundreds of people come along to show off their ancient motors. So this year I went along for a look, it really is fascinating, cars that came off the production line well before I was born gleam like tart's lips. Here is the tail fin of a Buik.

Trying to do this straight from Picasa, which is a much faster, smoother way of uploading the photos, but I can't seem to make the text work. It's fine in the editing box but all over the place in preview. So all I can do is hit publish and see how it looks on the blog. If anyone has any tips, or knows of a better way to upload photos to the blog, do share.

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Monday, 4 July 2011


Trying out a new (to me) way of posting photos to the blog, do bear with me...

So, I found this dead bird by the bins and brought it to my garden. I don't suppose anyone knows what sort it is...?

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Monday, 20 June 2011


I'm feeling a bit of a rotter. I've had trouble commenting and it doesn't take much for me to think: "fuck it..." and go off and do something else. Also, last Friday was Stevie's birthday so that took me away from my desk for a bit: there were gifts to buy and wrap, and a cake to make for starters. Then, on Saturday, we went to Kent (370 odd miles away) for my niece's eighteenth birthday party. We drove down on the day, just arriving in time – bloody roadworks all the way from Bedford to Dartford – and drove back yesterday, so spent most of the weekend in the car. I didn't get to bed till 4am yesterday morning and was awake again at eight-thirty. Now I'm knackered. It was worth it, though, I hadn't seen my niece for two years and she is such a lovely girl. And it's fair to say that her mother (my sister) is one of my favourite people in the whole world: I always feel better for talking to her, so I'm really glad we made the effort. But I feel like I'm neglecting my friends which I hate to do, so here are a few gardening tips I picked up yesterday afternoon in Rochester:

Hopefully when I try tomorrow Google will be able to detect the necessary data and allow me to publish my comments.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Of Mud and Interesting Attire

Family went to the Eden Festival yesterday (Bob was working there but he killed a few hours with his aged Pees before his shift). In the fine tradition of music festivals the weather was unpredictable: the sun almost shone but it rained most of the time, and there was a lot of mud.

I haven't been to a festival since about 1977 and was rather comforted to find the dress code hadn't changed. I felt quite out of place in my jeans and black waxed jacket.

There was fabulous food: Tibetan, Seychellian, Indian, and more.

Here are a few photos, snatched while the rain was off:

Best Van.

Kilted Terminator.

A rather Shakespearean procession.

The Fairy King.

This is one of those looks I've always wanted to emulate but never been able to.

Best hair.

Best trousers.

A dude.

I tried on a hat I thought might make me fit in, but it was too big.

Not quite sure what this is all about.

Goat skull with flower eyes.