Practically Perfect in Every Way

A simple, domestic day today.

One of those other days that don’t make good blog fodder. A day in which your life gets on with itself, and you show up and do what you’re supposed to do, and things fall into place nicely.

They’re pretty rare if I’m honest.

Worth noting then.

Another alarmless lie in. Nobody could have predicted how much I treasure these moments, fleeting though they are. There is a visceral pleasure in waking to your own rhythms, and indeed, falling back to sleep by design should you will it.

A colder day than yesterday, but still sunny. A day when we could keep the French windows open, even though it meant putting on a jumper as the day progressed and the shadows lengthened.

Homework got finished this morning, sitting around the kitchen table in companionable heaps. Me overseeing things whilst doing a bit of knitting. Tilly revising for four hours of pre mock , GCSE mock maths’ papers she has to sit tomorrow, poor soul. Tallulah catching up on some reading. Scrabbling together enough money for tomorrow’s domestic science lesson which will improbably pair hair nets with cous cous salad.

Mmmmm.

Our adopted son, Lee popping by mid morning, sitting with Jason in the garden, catching up with the things men who like dressing up as goblins catch up on, eating biscuits, drinking tea, smoking naughtily.

Lee pointing out that my blog posts are much less stabby now that my husband is back from the wars. Could the two things be related?

Probably.

Sharing lunch together. Proper Autumn grub. Beef stew, cooked long and slow in the slow cooker, buttery mash, and heaps of veg.

More tea.

A trip out in the car in the late afternoon, just for something to do. Aimless, nowhere in mind, we explore a bit. We find an interesting looking cemetery. We like a good cemetery. We crunch round the paths, scrumpling leaves. We spot many Ethels. Clearly once a hugely fashionable name. Now largely shunned. We find a Hepzhibah. We like this. We find an Alonzo. We believe Alonzo may have been a circus performer. His sensible gravestone gives nothing away.

Not even a twinkle.

We take a picture of Oscar, reading, propped up on a grave stone.

His class are having a competition to see who can be photographed reading in the most unusual place.

We think he might have it in the bag.

We drive on in the late afternoon sunshine. We decide, on a whim to go to Peatling Magna and Peatling Parva. We decide we will compare them to see if they deserve their ‘Magna’, ‘Parva’, status.

Parva wins hands down. We feel it probably should have been given the ‘Magna’ status. It woz robbed.

We discuss zombies as we eat up the miles of country lanes.

We always discuss zombies in the end.

We go back and visit a house we once lived in, as we are passing by. We discuss whether we miss it. Oscar says he does, but fails to recognise the house, or indeed, once the house has been identified, which window was his bedroom window. The girls say they do. Jason and I resolutely don’t.

We go further, to a hill where we used to take the kids to roll, sledge, bike down. It looks weeny, teeny, like a new born chick. None of us can now imagine getting excited by rolling down there.

We go the long way home, stopping for junk food and very bad for you milkshakes, which we devour with unashamed gluttony when we get home.

Jason and the children pyjama up and settle down to watch Shaun of the Dead.

I’m filing it away as a pretty perfect Sunday.

Niceness

We have had a lovely day.

It never makes for particularly thrilling blog material, a lovely day – but these are the days that are worth remembering amongst the angst and drama of the rest of life, so it gets catalogued anyway.

I slept in. I woke with no alarm clock reminding me of forty thousand things that must be done far too early in the day.

Everyone helped with chores, which meant that they were much less irksome than chores usually are.

The sun shone. It smelled autumnal. This made me happy.

We visited friends who we haven’t seen properly for weeks. We ate their biscuits, we drank their tea, we caught up on all their news and admired all their new home improvements. It was absolutely lovely to see them.

We went for a late lunch at a local pub (The Dog and Hedgehog in Dadlington). The food was fantastic. The service was excellent. Nothing was too much bother. We were not made to feel that we had to rush, even though we got there ten minutes before the kitchen stopped serving. The owner was delightful to the children and to us. It was splendid. We will be back.

We did our errands with minimal fuss and bother. This is always worth noting. If an errand needs to be done, best to get it out of the way quickly.

We went to visit granny and grandad and Uncle Robber. We drank all their tea, and ate all their biscuits and caught up on all their news.

We did homework. Again with minimal fuss and bother. Hoorah, huzzah and huppah.

We watched Dr. Who. It was good this week. The first week, in fact, that I have actually enjoyed watching the new Dr. and not just tolerated it and prayed that things would improve.

I did some knitting. I did some crochet practice. I did not get cross and want to lob the crochet out the window, or stab anyone. I think this is called progress. I still prefer knitting, it has to be said, but crochet is less angry. This is good.

I am about to drink tea, and go to bed with my book.

Niceness. Ahhh.

Home, home on the range

My husband is home, home from the wars!

I can now finish weaving that bloody tapestry, wait for him to slay all my other suitors (ha!) and get back to living on this blasted rock, enjoying the domestic bliss of picking up his stiff socks and hearing him shout at me for not packing the dish washer the right way round.

I am truly thrilled.

No. Really.

He is having a few weeks off, apparently, before embarking on his next contract, so we shall make the most of it.

You would think, this morning, that we would despatch the children to school, get dressed up in our glad rags and head for the hills in a decadent display of hedonistic pleasure.

Instead we have donned our pyjamas and boiled the kettle ninety six times.

It works for us.

I am pleased that he is back because I miss him when he is away. I am pleased that he is back because he hated it out there for many reasons, none of which are suitable for blog consumption. I am pleased that he is back because we might be able to fit in an actual date in the next week or two, and those are few and far between in a house with three children, a maundering cat and a demented, suicidal tortoise.

I am pleased that he is back because there are domestic issues which I can tackle on my own, but which are infinitely easier with two.

For instance:

Derek needs to go to the V E T for her annual prodding and stabbing. This is never a solo operation, and since February I have had to co-opt friends, family, strangers in the street to help me juggle felines, baskets, parking, administering meds etc. It makes me all sweaty just thinking about it. So now, one of our hot dates will be to the Oadby Veterinary Centre.

Steady.

Lightbulbs need changing. I know. I know. It is easy. But I hate doing it. I am always convinced, even though I have checked eleventytrillion times that the switch is off, that I will put the bulb in and blow myself to smithereens and the children will come running in to the smell of charred pork, and find me laid out on the floor looking like Thing One.

My car is due for an MOT. I HATE doing this with a passion that remains undimmed over the years. I never know where my paperwork is. I always find myself carless at a time when a child explodes, or I suddenly have to be in Manchester or someone wants to bequeath me an unwieldy piece of furniture. It sucks. Jason is supremely organised about these things, and then there is the fact that we have his car to transport the whatnot in, or drive to Abergavenny. Huzzah.

I am going to the theatre next week. I usually start getting nervous about now, desperately trying to sort out baby sitting and fretting because it is inevitable that on the days I am going to the theatre, no matter how far in advance I pre-book them, everyone I know and trust with children will also be pre-booked. This time I can just leave them in his capable hands.

It feels like freedom to me.

The Great British Bake Off 2014 – Season 5 – Episode 6: European Cakes Week

I have been to crochet class. I did not stab anyone, or indeed, want to stab anyone. A distinct improvement.

Also, there was cake – real, not crocheted, made by one of the class. It was a nice cake, and she is a whizz at crochet. I did not feel bitter about this, because I cannot feel bitterly towards anyone who offers me cake. It is impossible.

Consequently I returned home for The Great British Bake Off feeling rather more sanguine about things, and ready to embrace European Cake Week, and indeed Europe in a gesture of open armed affection, ending with me clasping it to my peculiarly British bosom, or just my peculiar bosom that happens to live in Britain.  

I am not insular when it comes to cake consumption, despite being offered various evil fruit based products in my limited time living in Germany, and fearing anything that comes out of Italy that isn’t a panettone.

It is interesting that European cake week focussed very much on the more Germanic/Scandinavian parts of Europe, rather than France. It may be that the French and their Frenchified ways tend to infiltrate most areas of baking regardless, so they were disqualified from taking part this week due to being too ruddy good at things. It may be down to our long standing animosity to the so called ‘cheese eating surrender monkeys’.  Never cross the cake/fromage streams and all that.

It may be that the success of The Killing and the Bridge and our national joy at being able to shout ‘Tak’ and ‘Compewdah’ and erroneously feel that we have mastered an entire language skewed things towards the North. Who knows? I was just disappointed that neither Mary nor Paul decided to don interesting knitwear this week. If there had ever been a week to grasp the nettle with regard to jumpers, this was it. Although I am quite pleased that Paul didn’t turn up in a ribbed turtle neck in festive colours adorned with snowflakes. 

For the sake of my poor eyes.

Having said that I’d like to see Mary eating eclairs in a snood. And not getting cream down the neck hole.

Just for the hell of it.

Let us get down to discussing the baking. If you missed the episode you can catch up here.

The signature challenge this week was to create a cake inspired by the great cakes of Europe, cakes which must also be leavened with yeast.

According to Paul and Mary, the key to a successful yeast based cake is timing. It is all about the rise, as with bread. It transpires that yeast is a temperamental little bugger, and requires coaxing and gentle prodding and it does not like it when you add ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ that might inhibit it from being its true, yeasty self. These ‘stuff’ and ‘things’ turned out to be anything. Anything at all that you might want to put in a cake and basically stop your cake actually being a bread roll with icing and a cherry on top.

According to me, it seems that there are two, crucial elements to a yeast leavened cake. Firstly you must have some kind of ridiculous tin to bake it in. Circular, domed, tiered, in an old sand castle bucket, the armpit of your Scandinavian sweater – that sort of thing. Something odd that you are really going to struggle to get the cake out of in one piece. Something that makes you sweat and long to be making a Victoria sponge in a loose bottomed 7 inch, non stick tin.

Secondly it must have a name which has the suffix ‘hupf’, ‘hopf’, ‘hoeuf’, or ‘gluph’, or things will go badly awry for you.

Or you can just throw caution to the winds and make a savarin. Which is a bit like a trained killer for hire. But a cake.

Martha really wasn’t with it this week, ricocheting between worrying about Bake Off and worrying about impending exams, and experiencing half term melt down meant that she hadn’t practised her cake or revised. Winging it completely in this round she managed to produce a triumphant hoooflehupf entirely by accident. Poor Richard, whose magic pencil bobbed up and down like a demented woodpecker, produced an average heuvenhoeuf with disappointing glaze, AND got into trouble because he admitted to winging it. It hardly seemed fair. Although, them’s the bakes.

Luis produced a smerffengluph of architectural splendour to great acclaim. This week he was the Isembard Kingdom Brunel of the cake world. Chetna meanwhile, produced a soggy savarin which tasted like the best soggiest savarin in the world and which made Paul hum with contentment. He likes Chetna’s flavours.

I just think it’s unfair that I don’t get to try them too. I know I’d like them.

Nancy channelled Brendan from two series ago with a Seventies, kitsch inspired savarin, sprouting pink flamingoes and glitter. All that was missing was an ice bucket in the shape of a pineapple, Bruce Forsyth dancing a samba and some coconut matting and we could have had a party. Kate’s was my favourite this week, sounding lush, as she made Bubka with dark chocolate and cherries. Sadly she made the fatal mistake of making something reasonably pronounceable which did not end in ‘hupf’, which was her downfall.

The technical challenge this week was to produce a frankly bonkers cake from Denmark called a Prinsestarta. It translates as a Princess cake.

It turns out that the Danes are totally insane when it comes to cake. They do not produce cakes with less than thirty ingredients in. They do not do ‘one’ cake for tea. They do not even do tea. They just do banqueting tables laden with cakes, where the hostess of the cakequet politely forces you to eat slices of every one of the ninety cakes she has prepared earlier for your delectation and delight. You are allowed to wash this down with flagons of strong coffee, and be carried home hyperventilating, on a stretcher.

I knew I didn’t just love the Danes for their liberal politics, hairy jumpers and excessive fondness for macabre violence. Everything I learn about them makes me yearn to chain myself to the Little Mermaid and stay for a thousand years.

As far as prinsestarta goes, I know for a solid gold fact that these exist, ludicrously excessive though they sound, made with forty million layers of creme patissiere, whipped cream, jam, sponge, marzipan, icing, chocolate, bananas, bunches of keys and side boards, because I’ve seen them in the restaurant at Ikea. 

Ikea – not just for furniture. Also –  get your improbable cakes here. Form a line.

In Ikea they call them Steg, and you have to assemble them yourself with two flimsy allan keys and a diagram drawn by a monkey wearing a tea cosy as a hat – over its eyes.

This is not true.

Would that it were.

I have never tried a prinsestarta because I do not like marzipan. However, now that I know what lurks under the marzipan lid, I will be first in the queue at my next outing to Ikea with my allan keys drumming on the table, shouting ‘Moar! Moar!’

For the bakers it was a nightmare of juggling layers and cooling things so that there were no leaks or collapses, or a lack of structural integrity. Much like, in fact, trying to build Billy book case in an hour with the help of your children and possibly soon to be ex husband/wife.

Kate lost the plot entirely. Her sponges went wrong. Her filling collapsed, and her marzipan was a patchwork of hope over experience. It lost her the technical, as she came resoundingly bottom of the pack. Richard trailed closely behind. Nancy won this week’s challenge with a perfect dome, and despite calling Paul, ‘The Male Judge’ in a fit of pique.

You can’t argue with a perfect dome. Not even if you are ‘The Male Judge.’

Chetna pulled it out the bag, despite having the world’s flattest sponge and having to make another one, and produced something else which made everyone go ‘mmmm’. 

This was a mere warm up for the show stopper round in which she triumphed to become a well deserved star baker this week. 

In order to do this she had to, along with everyone else, create a version of the traditional Hungarian dobos torte, with added caramel. Caramel indeed, should be added at every conceivable moment, before, during and after the bake. 

I do not have a problem with this, despite never having heard of a dobos torte before today. It is another one of those cakes where I feel it may well be fictional and only exist on telly. Having said that, given that it is a huge cake, consisting of layers and layers of sponge, sandwiched with some kind of ridiculously rich caramel/chocolate/whipped stuff filling, iced with ganache type stuff and slathered with chocolate and caramel, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, and room in my capacious pudding pouch.

The cake had to be many, many layered, and indeed many tiered. I lost count of the number of sponge layers people were baking, forty, fifty, eleventy, twelveteen, o’clock. It was all counting, and layering, and stacking and slathering and a frenzy of construction.

Luis embraced his crazy and his OCD, and created a piece of architecture rendered in cake and spun sugar in homage to a monument near his home. I’m glad nobody left in the Bake Off lives near here. I cannot imagine the Clock Tower, which smells always of wee and chip wrappings, and is festooned with born again Christians shouting into microphones, being recreated via the medium of cake. 

Probably easier to go for the car park where Richard III was dug up. Even I could make caramel tarmac at a push.

Martha made a chess cake which went distinctly awry and was rather frilly at the edges. Mary disapproved of the fact that she hadn’t sculpted her chess pieces by hand. Yeah! What a lightweight, right? Whenever I make a three dimensional cake chess board and all the pieces, I always use weeny chisels and hammers to make my pawns. Tsk. That Martha…What a slacker.

Nancy got the hang of crisp lines, smart layers and hiding her grainy chocolate work, unlike Richard.

Richard’s cake construction left a lot to be desired this week, with wonky grouting, slap dash, plastering and issues with his structure. His magic pencil really let him down this week. It was all a bit bish, bash, bosh at the end of the day. Which will never do. Kate also had a disastrous round in which she ran out of time to do her caramel work and ended up glueing forty seven and a half caramel dipped nuts onto the outside of her cake before having to throw in the towel. 

And there we left Paul and Mary slugging it out over whether Richard or Kate messed up badly enough to go home this week. Apparently they came to blows and filming had to be halted while Paul’s fat lip went down and Mary got some raw steak for her black eye. In the end, fearing paring knives at dawn, it was decided that both Richard and Kate would live to fight another day and nobody would be evicted this week. 

I, for one, was very happy about this, although not as happy as Kate and Richard I’m sure.

They get to slog it out all over again next week when we move on to complex pastries.

The horror.

 

 

 

 

I am all about the turbans

Yesterday I finally finished knitting my difficult, difficult lemon difficult hat.

If I could have been bothered to make some, it would have been a hanging out the bunting sort of day. 

I wrestled with that hat. It has taken weeks.

To be fair, many of those weeks involved sulking profoundly with said hat, and ignoring it altogether until I could pluck up sufficient courage to approach it again. Some people do not really approve of sulking. I have complex rules about it. For instance; I totally disapprove of sulking in a fight situation. I am a bit of a shrieky, shrieky, pot smashing sort of woman when it comes to fighting. After which I feel much better and all is forgiven and forgotten. The thought of bearing a grudge and crashing around the house for a fortnight wallowing in it is totally alien to me. On the other hand I completely embrace it as an integral part of any learning/creative process I may be going through. I am fine to sulk with a) myself, b) my muse (ha) and c) whatever it is I am trying to make/do.

I know it doesn’t make sense.

I don’t make the rules.

Well, except in this case where I clearly do. But I like to think of this part of my unconscious as a sort of separate, Dolores Umbridge type woman.

Horrid.

There were issues with the hat. 

Firstly I had taken the pattern from a very glamorous book I found in the library. I found the pressure of working from a library book rather stressful as I had to keep taking the bloody thing back to renew it, thus reminding myself that I had failed to knit the hat. Not clever.

Secondly the book was so glamorous that even though everything in it was lovely, it was really for people who actually knew what they were doing. In fact, the first hat I picked to knit out of it was so complicated, even the lovely Fiona at Knit One, who is brilliant at encouraging you beyond your abilities to stretch you, and indeed reframing every mistake you woefully turn up at the door with as a new and exciting learning opportunity, shook her head.

This hat was the easiest of the bunch, and in retrospect, now that I know exactly what to do, it wasn’t particularly hard, except that as I was going along I didn’t know what to do, so it was very hard.

Thirdly, I cannot read good pattern. The language of knitting is profoundly algebraic in nature and involves all sorts of brackets and letter combinations. I do not do algebra, and it is one thing I am reconciled to never being good at and feel no desire to go back to school to learn.

Fourthly, there is a massive difference between UK patterns/knittese and US patterns/knittese, and I had picked an American book, so I had to learn English knittese and then learn US knittese and try to work from there. Which made my head spin around rather.

Fifthly, there were sums. Enough said.

So it is a wonder the hat got made at all, and indeed, on the final push this week I have haunted the wool shop. I am thinking of asking for an internship I spend so much time there, what with that and the crochet of doom.

Still, it is made, and actually I rather love it.

Regard:

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I appreciate that it looks a bit like a scary Tunnocks tea cake here, but it also looks like a knitted Tunnocks tea cake, so more power to my elbow and all that.

Here it is, in situ:

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Which is much more the thing, I think you will agree. Apologies for the strange angle. I needed to show you the plaity bit and hence the selfie of oddness.

My friend Claire said it looks rather Mrs. Overallish, and I agree that there is a faint whiff of diva turban there, but I embrace that.

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As you can see here, where I am modelling a Missoni Mrs. Overall turban in Liberty of London, which was a very reasonable £200 or so.

It is my destiny to embrace the turban.

 

 

Booicus Domesticus

None of us can quite believe we are into the second week of term. There is, it seems, still that residual, sneaky feeling that a week should surely be enough of anyone’s time spent in school. Anything more than that is really pushing it.

Oscar was reluctant to go this morning, complaining of tummy ache, and not even a glorious Autumn morning, and swishing through leaves on his scooter cheered him up. As has been the case every day, however, he had a splendid day and got his first party invitation. He is most pleased with himself.

Tallulah is exhausted. She is still enjoying school, although PE is her bete noire and she loathes it with a passion undimmed. This is not helped by having two old school style PE teachers who give out detentions for things like not having the right coloured socks. I foresee that I may be having to don the old ‘Outraged of Knighton’ cloak and going down there to do battle in future. I refuse to believe Mo Farah became a world champion solely because he insisted on having white ankle socks for all sporting activities, and nothing anyone  can say, short of a signed affidavit from Mr Farah himself is going to sway me on this.

Tilly had lots of double lessons today, which is never her favourite. Relief came when the fire drill broke up the monotony of double business studies. Huzzah!

Good things that the girls report include a new teacher who is apparently ‘very cool’. He has been christened Satan Jesus for some indeterminate reason. He is known to steal crisps from pupils, and according to Tallulah he walks rather like Mick Jagger. I am agog. Sadly neither of the girls have lessons with him, so it is not worth going to parents evening AGAIN. Rubbish.

The last time I voluntarily went to a parent’s evening was to go to see a teacher improbably named Mr. Barnacle.

I am ‘that’ sort of parent.

On the domestic front, I have buckled down to domestic servitude today. It had to happen. I realised the last time I seriously cleaned the house was before we went to London. I revolted even myself.

The house is now sparkling. Even Tiberius has been given clean sand in her tortoise table. 

I am still battling the crochet. I nearly broke my crochet hook I am crocheting that fiercely. So when I went to the wool shop for advice on my difficult, difficult, lemon difficult hat that I am knitting, I bought a spare crochet hook just in case. I am better at crochet than I was. I say this like it was difficult. A Pobble who has no toes was better at crochet than me five days ago. I have now managed to crochet things.

When I say things, that is the best description I can come up with, and I have quite a wide vocabulary. Usually I like to make things with all my practice pieces of craft, but imagination fails me when I look at the sad and sorry scraps I have accumulated. It will probably be some kind of installation which I will call; ‘Sweat and Despair.’

 

 

Anniversary Docs

Jason and I celebrated our seven year wedding anniversary on Thursday. We have, we worked out on a piece of paper with a much chewed pencil, actually been together for ten years, but experiencing wedded bliss for seven of them. Before that it was just bliss.

Or something.

We managed to celebrate for about an hour before we both fell asleep after what had turned out to be a fairly gruelling day for both of us.

This weekend we were able to celebrate in a more relaxed and awake fashion, albeit with Oscar in tow so no grand, romantic gestures for us.

We don’t abide by the whole traditions thing. You know; paper one year, string the next, ear wax and beetles the next, etc.

Mostly we just get each other some stuff, and eat a lot. It works for us.

Jason got a huge stack of books, and the first season of Orange is the New Black on DVD. I got the promise of a trip to the Doc Shop – which was fulfilled on Saturday.

Last year he bought me a pair of purple Docs, based on a Triumph motorbike boot for my anniversary present. It seems like the giving of Docs could become a tradition in this household. One I’m keen to encourage.

The Doc Shop is something that has only recently showed up on my radar. Andrea mentioned something about it in the summer, and then Oscar’s teacher, who is a bit of a Dr Marten lover, recommended it to me this week as a very exciting place to go if you are excited by clompy boots.

I am. So we went.

It is in a tiny Northamptonshire village called Wollaston, about forty five minutes drive from us and we arrived just after it opened. It opens every day from 10.00 a.m. until 5.00 p.m. There is a large car park attached to the store, and next door to the shop is a strange little courtyard with a tea room and organic supermarket etc if you want to browse for more than shoes. 

My word it was wonderful. All shoes are £25, all boots £35, except for the classic 1460, 8 hole Doc which you can get in every conceivable colour and which are £70 per pair. They also have a few examples of new stock which go for RRP. You can get every size from the dinkiest baby size up to a mahoosive size 14. If you are not average sized, like me (size 5) you will do much better, as there is a great deal more choice in the less popular sizes.

Despite this I managed to come away with three pairs. I got some green, black and white tartan brogues, a pair of low, square heeled black patent boots, and a pair of brown Harris tweed boots. I couldn’t have been more delighted. Jason got a pair of fantastic black boots which are a cross between a Chelsea boot and a brogue, and a pair of chestnut brown brogues where the holed patterns on them look like constellations.

Poor Oscar didn’t do so well. They had nothing in his size, sadly, but we did get him some jazzy laces for the vintage Docs he already owns, and he was most pleased with those, and I have assured him that we will go again, and again, and again. I am hoping that one day they will have the limited edition Beano boots in stock and then all will be well, and all manner of things will be well, because who wouldn’t want a pair of boots with Dennis the Menace on them?

We celebrated our purchase by having lunch in a pub called The Old Red Lion at Welham, which is a place Jason took me to when we were first going out, and which we happened to pass the turning for quite by accident on our travels yesterday. I devoured a rare, Porterhouse steak with perfectly cooked, crisp and fluffy chips, and all together it was very splendid.

We spent the evening snuggled up on the sofa reading our books and eating toast, and a finer way to spend an anniversary I don’t think you’ll find, frankly.