Monday, 19 December 2011

I've had my Christmas dinner!

My lovely daughter rang a few days ago and invited herself and my son-in-law up for a long weekend.  I'm so glad that she did:)

I hadn't been feeling particularly full of festive spirit, indeed, the Christmas shopping isn't done, but the cards are written and posted.

So, yesterday, I made some small veggie loafs with a central layer of cranberries for our Christmas dinner, along with jacket baked potatoes (I don't do roast potatoes), button sprouts and carrots.  They all ate small Yorkshire puddings, too, but since I've never really been a devotee of the things, despite coming from the right side of the Pennines, I didn't feel deprived!

We finished with mince pies and Christmas pudding with custard - we're not white sauce fans!

We all agreed that we felt much more Christmassy after that:)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Christmas is coming!

No, I'm not going to ask you if you've done your Christmas shopping, or boast that I've done mine - I haven't!

I mentioned that I had an interview the other day, and I'm delighted to say that I've been accepted to work for an MPhil/PhD commencing in January, and my subject is essentially woman's role in Christmas over the last two centuries in texts.

So, rejoice with me, Christmas is coming - and it's going to stay for three whole years!  It's going to be really hard work, and I'm planning on enjoying the journey.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Waiting never gets easier!

I've just returned home from my interview to be admitted on to the MPhil/PhD research programme at UCLAN.  

I feel like I've been put through an old fashioned mangle, and must now "wait and see".

All the positive thoughts you send in the direction of UCLAN will not be wasted - send away!!!!

Just as a by the by - bizarrely, despite having graduated from there 18 months ago, I was obliged to take in my physical copy of my BA degree certificate and my transcripts for them to photocopy; the admin office clearly doesn't appreciate that this is the C21 and that their own computers have all the documentation relating to my BA.  Not only that, but on the bottom of the documents it clearly states that on request, the university will verify my grades - all they had to do was ask themselves the question!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

I did it!

I did it :)

Back on the first of November I foolishly embarked on my second NANOWRIMO attempt, with a plot in mind about mob violence.

And that's what I started to write about - honest! But then I noticed that the writing was drifting away to a village setting, not quite the London riots I was envisaging.  Not only was it becoming a rural tale, there was a death - and no murderer caught.

So, Mob Mentality became Forgive Me Father over the course of the month - that's just the way it goes, and I believe it's best to go with the flow.

Now comes the really hard work, that of pruning and shaping, because I certainly wouldn't want anyone to read her as she is at the moment - she's an incoherent babble currently, and needs taking in hand.

But hey, be pleased with me - I wrote over 50,000 words in the last twenty nine days - whoo hoo!

Friday, 4 November 2011


I've managed to pick up some bug or other, and have a sore throat and hacking cough.  Undeterred, I have made three pints of lemon barley water to soothe my throat, and having a cough doesn't stop the creative juices from flowing - fortunately.

So, now my fingers are tired.  I've been slaving away over a hot laptop for what seems like hours, and have clocked up just over 8000 words.  Actually, it doesn't seem like hours at all, it never does when you're into a plot, but my back is ready for a different chair, and my characters are very patient, and will wait for me to rejoin them either later this evening, or tomorrow.

Here's a tiny chunk, just to prove I really am writing, not just pretending!

“Nothing new on the menu, is there?  I think I’ll have a burger and some chips.”

“Ashley Brown you’ll look like a burger before you leave this school!  I don’t know how you stay so slim.”  Hannah looked enviously at her friend’s slender figure.

“It’s in the genes, my girl, you know that, we did it in biology.”

“I’m going to have the carrot and coriander soup, and a bread roll.  I like the way they put coriander in the rolls, too.  I wish Mum would bake more bread at home, but she says she doesn’t have time any more.”

“Did your mum get that Christmas job, then?”

Jen nodded, “Yup, Father Christmas will visit the Jennings household this year, after all.  Tom and me, we were getting a bit worried about it – you know, not asking for too much on our Christmas lists, but not making it look as if we were cutting back on what we wanted, so Mum wouldn’t feel bad.”

“Yeh, must have been hard.  I’m glad she’s got a job; I bet she’s happier now, even if she doesn’t have time to bake any more.  Where’s she working?  Does she get a good staff discount?”  Sara liked to save money wherever she could.

“There’s a table over there, I’ll go and bag it for us.”  Hannah left the others chatting, and made her way over to an empty table and put her lunch box down.  The dining hall was very noisy; the clattering of plastic trays, the rattle of cutlery, not to mention the non-stop babble of hundreds of girls who’d had to be relatively quiet for the last hour in their classrooms.

Soon the friends were tucking into their various lunches.  Hannah tasted Jen’s soup, and pronounced it almost as good as her mother’s – praise indeed.  But peanut butter and marmite sandwiches – well, that’s just an unbeatable combination of saltiness and sweetness and savouriness!  She was soon crunching on her Egremont Russet apple to finish off her lunch.

“I’ve got to go to the library – anyone fancy coming with me?”  Jen asked.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Callous youth

As we were walking to the shop a couple of days ago, we passed an elderly car at the side of the road, with the door open, which was what caught our attention, and then we noticed glass on the pavement.

We assumed that someone had broken into the car to steal something from the inside.  Since it was parked outside some houses, we assumed that it would have been noticed, and was being dealt with.

We walked  on.  Ahead of us a couple of young men were wheeling a motor bike into the garden of a house across the road.  A few yards further along we came to a road junction, and were approached by an old lady who asked if we had a mobile phone.  She had just been in a motor accident and wanted to phone the police.

It was her car we had just passed, and the motor bike we watched being wheeled into a garden was the one that had overtaken her and smashed into the side of her car, shattering the windows and denting the door.  The young driver told her that he wasn't hurt, so there was nothing more to do, and walked off!

I dialled 999 and explained what had happened.  As we waited, the young men walked past us who had parked up their motor bike.  A police car was soon on the scene.  Since we hadn't witnessed the accident we left once the policeman was talking to the poor lady, after pointing out the house where we'd seen the bike being left.

It's hard to believe that those youths could be so callous as to simply walk away from an old lady, who was clearly somewhat shaken by her ordeal at their hands.  Thankfully the police arrived promptly, and would be able to track them down with the registration number of the bike.  I hope they are suitably punished for their terrible attitude.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Nanowrimo looms large

It's nearly November, therefore it's nearly time to write a novel in a month - yes,  you read it right - a novel in a month!

Not the finished product, but the basic, un-tweaked embrionic novel that might, one day, become a finished masterpiece.

I managed to achieve my target of 50,000 words last year - but will I be able to do the same this year?  Who knows - that's the exciting thing - there's no knowing who'll plod along to the end, and who'll fall by the wayside.

Wish me luck:)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Crocheted flowers

My friend has been making crochet flower brooches ready for the church sale.  Hers are big and blousey affairs, very dramatic and lovely.  I was inspired by her efforts, so I decided to make some a little smaller and more delicate, and came up with the following four after a little playing around.

I could only find a couple of balls of yarn, having given most of mine away to the charity shops when I moved house - I shall have to buy some more, because, whilst winter white is fine for practising and creating designs, it's just a little boring for selling!

Now I need to do a little more thinking and practising, it's a long time since I did any crocheting, but now I remember what fun it is:)

Monday, 17 October 2011

Rocket - easy to grow, delicious to eat

The warm, slightly peppery taste of rocket, or arugula, enhances salads.  It doesn't add crunch, like a crisp cos lettuce leaf, nor bright colour, like tomatoes or radishes, but it makes its presence felt in that subtle flavour and delightful heat that is quite unique.

The good news is that it's very easy to grow - it doesn't need especially good soil, nor even full sun.  And once you've grown it once, you should never need to buy seeds again, because it's so easy to save your own:)

Allow one plant to flower, the white, star like flowers aren't particularly stunning, but they aren't unpleasing either.  As the flowers die back, you'll see tiny green pods developing.  By all means snip a few off and add to your salad plate - they also have that delicious warmth of the rocket leaves.

The pods will grow to about an inch or so in length, and as the summer progresses, they will turn brown and dry.  This is when you go out with your paper bag, and harvest the crisp seed pods.

Bring them indoors and carefully split the pods.  I say carefully because if you're rough with them the seeds will catapault all over the floor - such a waste!  I put a sheet of paper down and collect them on that, then pour them into an envelope to store them.

You'll see that some of the pods develop speckly black marks, this doesn't affect the seeds, don't worry.  You'll get more than enough seeds from one plant to see you through next year - unless you've a large family, in which case, allow a couple of plants, or even more, to set seed - keep picking the leaves on the others so that they'll continue to grow.

Successional sowing, every few weeks, will ensure that you have young, vigorous plants to enjoy.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Great Expectations

I got married over three decades ago; in those days you saved up to buy most things - credit wasn't handed out like sweeties, and you didn't undertake it lightly.  In common with most newly-weds, the only debt we had was the mortgage - and even that was restricted to a proportion of the couple's income.

We were given a second-hand fridge with a dodgy seal, and were grateful for it.  It worked.  A second-hand twin tub washing machine served us well for quite some time.  We bought the contents of the house, so we sat on second-hand chairs, at a second-hand table, with a second-hand dresser housing our china, such as it was!

We did, however, splash out a new mattress, but couldn't afford a base as well, so it laid on the floor for a couple of years until we could.  We were comfortable, and certainly didn't consider it a hardship to sleep on the floor  - it was our floor, in our house.

The only heating in the house was a gas fire in the living room, on the lower ground floor, it was a three storey terrace house.  We couldn't afford central heating for about four years!  I remember making us both a dressing gown from a thick, lightweight blankets, and we would scurry downstairs in those, put the fire on, then dress later, when the room had lost its chill.

To the younger generations, this would seem like truly Spartan conditions - and perhaps it was.  But we were just starting out on our lives together, the house needed renovating from top to bottom, rewiring etc, and we knew it would cost quite a bit of money, even though we did 95% of the work ourselves.  

We couldn't afford fripperies, but enjoyed the odd meal out, and a drink with friends.  We had no TV, and played board games or cards in the evenings, or read books.  Friends came round to visit, and we visited them.  We were happy.

Nowadays the aspirations of youngsters starting out in their first homes seems to be to start at the level at which they lived at home with their parents.  Why?  How?  Their parents have doubtless worked hard for years to achieve the standard of living they now enjoy, how can children expect to start out at that same level?

But so many of them do.  Consequently they furnish their homes with new furniture bought on credit, watch a rented TV - plasma screen, of course, and enjoy all the channels their monthly subscriptions provide.  The car on the drive is probably bought on credit, too, and the holiday paid for on the credit card.

I had friends, years ago, who lived like this - and the spectre that haunted them was that one of them might lose their job, and the repayments would be too much.  Not quite the happy carefree life that they presented to the world.

... and the reason that I've thought of this?  I belong to one of those local sites that tries to avoid landfill, by offering a place where the members can offer their unwanted items free to others, or can request items.  Somebody asked for a 3' divan bed frame for their daughter, as she is currently sleeping on a mattress on the floor of their new home.  Poor child.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Grow your own garlic - it's easy:)

I love garlic.  Those lovely bulbs of fantastic flavour which enhance so many dishes.  I eat garlic raw in dips, chew a whole raw clove if I'm getting a cold (and not planning to visit anyone!), I love to roast a whole head of garlic, then squidge out the soft, rich clove centres, and, of course, it adds so much to curries, casseroles, soups, scones (biscuits) etc.

So ... last year I planted some cloves which had started to sprout, and this autumn I harvested the results.

They're drying off in the greenhouse, but I'm really pleased with the result.

Apparently I did it all wrong, though!  I'd assumed that the bulbs should be planted their own depth down, sort of like flowering bulbs often are.  However, I've just been looking into it, ready to plant some more this year, and apparently they only need to be just below the surface of the soil, like onion sets.  Which makes sense, I suppose.  It will certainly make them easier to dig up, these were quite reluctant to leave the soil!!!!!

However, I got a harvest, and they taste good, so it was a worthwhile experiment.  And, as a bonus, I had lovely globe flowers during the summer, too.

So, if you fancy growing your own garlic, now is the time to plant out your cloves, just a few inches apart, and just below the soil's surface.  Then forget about them until they've flowered next summer, and the stems have started to go brown.  Then dig them up, dry them off and store them ready for use.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Seeing Red

I had a friend, years ago, who hated Autumn - it made him feel depressed.  All he could see was everything dying, and the promise of colder weather ahead.

I have always loved Autumn - the crispness in the air, the smell of woodsmoke, the settling down to sleep before the re-awakening in Spring, and the glorious warmth of the colours.

So I thought I'd graciously share some of the red around in my garden this October, so that you can enjoy it too:)

The berries on the hollies are spectacular.

The berberis is its usual mass of red and greenness.

The buds on the skimmia look lovely

I don’t know the name of this small tree!  But it’s lovelyJ

The peony leaves have turned a lovely red.

Probably my final strawberry of the yearL

The rub chard just glows!

The slugs and snails also enjoy the red cabbage!

The apples on my neighbour's tree still hang like Christmas decorations.

The acer palmatum is still beautiful.

How is autumn cold and boring?  How????

Saturday, 1 October 2011

did you know that October is the Vegan Month of Food 2011?  No, neither did I, but apparently it is, in the US at any rate.  So, why not be adventurous and eat a few vegan meals?  There are plenty of excellent recipes out there in blog land, not to mention cookery books, both real and virtual, nowadays!

Take a look at to see what's going on!  

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Apple lemon mincemeat update

Hurray!  I was right, the raisins did absorb the juice from the apples, and now it's a lovely moist mincemeat with a refreshing lemony, cinnamon flavour which I love raw.   I'll have to get baking some mince pies soon, just for your sakes, of course, not because I'll enjoy them, oh no, not me.

Here's what it looks like now.  I wish you could smell it, too:)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Mushroom, pepper and broccoli stir fry

I made this quick, tasty stir fry for lunch - the recipe is over on  

I hope you'll enjoy trying it:)

Size Matters!

It's true what "they" say - size does matter!

It especially matters when it comes to yummy, tasty, fresh young vegetables - which is why I was so cross when I found these hanging on the runner bean plants!

Just over 14" long - maybe that would be good if I was entering a competition for the longest runner bean, but seriously not good for eating:(

It's my own fault - the rain kept me indoors for a couple of days, and the beans loved the extra moisture and kept on growing.

I simply took the beans out of the pods and ate those, the pods would have been too stringy for my taste.  Must try harder to harvest every day, rain or shine!!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Make a lightbulb from a plastic soda bottle!

I happened across this video clip and felt I had to share it - no more dark, gloomy sheds or outhouses during daylight hours - the sun will provide an average of 50watts light per bottle - take a look, be amazed!

when I make my new garden shed, I shall incorporate these if it's possible:)

Friday, 23 September 2011

Free Fireworks Display in Blackpool

I love fireworks.  I used to go around collecting up old rockets when I was a child, and people simply bought fireworks and let them off in their gardens, or around a large, communal bonfire.  

My mother would make Yorkshire Parkin, a delicious,  moist ginger cake, and toffee apples for Plot Night, which is what we, in Yorkshire, called November 5th.  Sometimes we got "plot toffee" too, very dark and rich, made with molasses, or black treacle.  I'll try and remember to post the recipes in November.

I remember wandering along one evening, collecting up used fireworks in one hand, and holding on to my toffee apple with the other.  I absent mindedly took a bite out of my toffee apple only to be horrified at the taste in my mouth - I'd forgotten that I'd swapped the hands I was using to hold my goodies, and taken a bite out of a spent rocket - yuck!  The point is, is didn't put me off fireworks:)

So, if you enjoy fireworks displays set to music, you might like to visit Blackpool on Friday nights, when the international fireworks competitions are taking place at 8.30.  The Illuminations are also currently on.  The event is free - and rain doesn't stop play.

See you there!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Birthday card

I was flicking through a magazine the other day, I think it was one of those advertising efforts that appear from time to time through the letter box, when I came across a full page advertisement.  I can't remember what the advert was for, so it clearly wasn't an effective one in my case, but ... the page was largely filled with words describing various types of drink, in shades of yellows and oranges.

Very striking, I thought, and cut it out.

Don't you find that men can be very difficult to make birthday cards for?  I do, so this week I took it to the local craft and chat with a view to making a birthday card for my partner from it.  I also took plain white card, some brown ribbon, and some toning yellow card.

This is what I  made:

I made a simple tri-fold card from the white card.  A strip of brown ribbon down the left hand side neatens that edge.  I cut a strip of yellow card to run alongside it, and wrote "Have a Drink on Me!" vertically in black ink (the printer is kaput, or I would have printed it!)  I chose the yellow card to highlight the name of one of his favourite drinks:)

I mounted the trimmed advertisement onto brown, then onto a dull, autumnal orange card to complement the shades in the advertisement, and matted the completed topper on to the main section of the card.

Here's a better shot of the ad and the colour scheme:

I stuck a simple velum greeting inside, and it's surprisingly effective.

And there's enough of the ad left for three more cards:)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Christmas is coming ... time to make the mincemeat!

This is a copy of my blog for Apple Lemon Mincemeat at  which I thought you might enjoy:)

It will soon be time to start baking for Christmas - indeed the local supermarkets have just stocked the shelves with the first of this year's mince pies - so I thought that making the mincemeat to fill the mince pies should perhaps be my first priority.

I shall make my usual batch later, but wanted to be slightly adventurous first, so dredged up my Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management and came across her Lemon Apple Mincemeat, and thought I'd give that a whirl.

The original recipe requires 2 large lemons, 6 large apples, half a pound each of suet and sugar and 1lb of currants, 2 oz candied lemon peel, 1oz citron, plus mixed spice to taste.

I've metricated that to 250g sugar and suet, and 500g raisins, plus 75g candied lemon peel.  Here's what I used:

 As you can see, I've made use of apples which are damaged in some way, and therefore won't store over winter, I've used one large and 2 medium sized lemons, I had some root ginger in the fridge, so decided to use some of that for flavouring, and I've used raisins, not currants.  My suet is vegan, naturally, not the beef suet she would have used.

First, I zested the lemons and grated the ginger.

I put the zest and ginger into a microwaveable bowl with 1 table spoon of water and cooked on high for 3 minutes until soft.  Whilst it was cooking I peeled and cored the apples.

 This is the cooked zest and ginger mix.

This is the worm's share of the apples.  I decided to add an extra apple to the mix as I'd had to cut out quite a lot, as you can see!  So I've ended up with about 6 large apples, as required.

The recipe states to mince the apples, but I don't possess a mincer, so grated them coarsely, then added the other ingredients and blitzed everything with my Bamix.  I used 75g of candied lemon peel as I don't have citron.  I stirred in 3 tsps each of ground coriander (lovely orangey flavour) and 3 tsps of ground cinnamon to go alongside the ginger.  I stirred in the juice of the 3 lemons.

I put the finished golden hued mixture into a couple of plastic storage containers with good seals, and popped them in the fridge.  Now the wait begins - the original says it should be ready in a week or ten days - how exciting:)  I just need to remember to stir it "occasionally".

The mixture looks a little wet, but I expect the raisins will absorb much of the juice from the apples and lemons.  Watch this space, and we'll see what happens to it!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

My camera's "un-birthday" present

I don't know how old my camera is.  It's not very exciting or spectacular.  It doesn't make me a cup of tea if I whistle, for instance. Nor does it do the housework.  But it reliably takes photographs which suit me - they serve as an aid to memory, and that's what they're for.

I made a simple quilted cotton slip cover for it to protect it when it was new, nothing special, just simple protection.  But it was a bit of a nuisance taking it out and replacing it.

Whilst we were away last week, we popped into a camera shop to try to find a card adapter to save me having to connect cables between camera and laptop - my shiny new laptop has a little adaptor slot, which seems like such a good idea.

The camera shop didn't have what I was looking for, but I did spot this:

it doesn't look much, does it?  It's a camera protector made of neoprene like fabric, called "Always on", because you attach it to your camera by means of a small screw which fits in where a tripod would go, and this holds it in place so that it's always on your camera.  So, although not prone to impulse buying in general, I instantly splashed out £4.99 for an un-birthday present for my camera.

When you're ready to take a photo, you unfasten the hook and loop fastener, and it simply hangs down from your camera, you take your photo, and fold it back around again when you've finished.  Simple - and very effective.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Today I harvested tomatoes and aubergines

Check out this plate of beautiful fruits!

There are eight, yes, eight varieties of tomato on that there plate, all from my greenhouse - yay:)

The aubergines are on the slim side, but never mind, they taste great.  I've harvested all of them today because with this chilly weather, I really don't think they're going to make any further progress in the greenhouse.  The ones I grew in the conservatory last year were larger, but they were in individual pots, rather than growbags, maybe that's the vital difference?

If you're growing fruit and veg this year, I hope you've done well, too.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Rani - a Vegetarian Indian restaurant in London

We're back home, having spent a week away. The weather was kind to us, we even enjoyed some sunshine.  And we ate well:)

We stumbled upon this vegetarian Indian Restaurant purely by chance - I'd searched for restaurants on-line before we left, but didn't see this one there for some reason.  However, the website is,  and I think the fact that we ate there twice in three days says much for it.  The address is 7 Long Lane, Finchley N3 2PR.

It was clean, and not cramped as so many restaurants can be.  The manager was incredibly helpful, going to the kitchen to check on the suitability of the dishes on the buffet that evening for me, once I'd explained that I was both vegan and wheat intolerant.

The buffet was organised into cold starters

of which there were four, Aloo Dhai Poori, Bjel Poori, cold sliced Idli, and some "Semolina sandwiches", plus some delicious mini poppudoms.

A huge array of chutneys was available, with useful recommendations as to which chutney would best suit a main dish.

then there were four hot starters, the usual Onion Bhajias, Fried Mogo, Potato Bhajias, and some tapioca patties.

then there were a couple of rice dishes, one plain plus a cashew and vegetable pilau, and four curry dishes.  There was a Paneer curry, though not for me, obviously, Chola (black beans, very gingery and warming), Aubergine and Potato, and a carrot and cabbage dish.

There were also slice dosa, and a Gujerati Dal soup.  Puris were available for those who could eat wheat.

I was brought a specially made bread made from millet and cornmeal, which was substantial and tasty.  I was also brought my own small plate of cold starters without dairy.  So well cared for.

As a matter of course the restaurant has codes on the title cards of the foods indicating the content of such things as wheat, nuts, dairy, onions etc, so they really care about their customers' health and well being, which is so good to see:)

I was even allowed into the kitchen to take photos - how many restaurants would permit that?

On our second visit, there was one different cold starter, deep fried aubergines replaced the tapioca patties on the hot starters, and a Banana Methi replaced the cabbage and carrot, and a delicious Lilotri Sak (aubergines and broad beans) was on offer.  When I expressed the fact that I was unable to eat bananas, the manager arranged for a portion of Chana to be delivered to me.  He also brought over to me a portion of Akhaa Murcha, a vegetable stuffed chilli - one of the most delicious foods I've ever eaten!

So, if you're around London and fancy a great meal, I can heartily recommend Rani.  Our meal cost around £22 as we were "early birds", eating before 9.30pm, so qualifying for the discount on the £15 a head buffet.  Wonderful.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

My friend makes candles ...

My friend makes candles - not as you or I might make them, in the kitchen, as a craft or hobby, but professionally.  Whenever we meet up she is always besprinkled with glitter.  Her face, hands, hair, clothes - you name it, it's glittery.

She invited me down to her lair some time ago, and the other day I finally got down to see her workshop, having dressed in old clothing just to be on the safe side.

Behind the striking red door, reminiscent of a fire station, lies a muddle of machinery, wax, paper and other paraphenalia.

The wax is melted in this vat, about two feet in diameter and waist height.  Quite a lot of wax!

Melted wax is poured into moulds of various shapes and sizes and allowed to set.

No, not a modern sculpture - this is a pile of wax encrusted pencils used to secure the wicks in the moulds - just like you would if you were making candles in your kitchen!

you can see the rough edges on these floating candles - and here's the high tech tool used to make them smooth enough to sell ...

Yep - a craft knife just like you'd use at home!  You can see where the glitter comes from, can't you?  I arrived back home glinting in a subtle fashion, very glad I'd worn old clothes:)

She's a clever lady, and I had no idea how hands on it was.  I had imagined machines doing all the work, not an upscaled version of when I'd made candles from a craft kit years ago.  Fascinating.