Thursday, 15 February 2018

Snowdrops and mist

Thank you for all of your recipe ideas re feeding a French teenager, I am suitably reassured. I have also embraced paprika in all its forms, and now have hot and smoked which do have a bit more going on. The smoked reminds me of lapsang souchong. I bought some of that the other day too, it took me straight back to years ago, Before Children, when I used to get home from work, make a mug of it and sit and write. Days of disposable income and free time, happy nostalgic sigh. It's amazing how a scent can instantly evoke a memory isn't it.

I am currently wrestling with website construction for two writing websites. There are moments of deep black despair peppered with the occasional dazzling triumph of something actually working. Technology is a real roller coaster of emotion, fury and elation in very short succession. It feels unhealthy.

On the subject of which I have given up cheese for Lent. I was a vegan for 25 years, but lately I seem to be eating ALL the cheese. Blue cheese, crumbly cheese, hard cheese covered in rind, creamy cheese, Cheddar cheese and a personal favourite, the sort of Lancashire cheese that isn't white a crumbly but is just DELICIOUS. I think we're on day 2 of Lent. Don't worry, I will have calmed down by next week and won't feel the need to name all the cheese and talk about it.

Last year I gave up puddings and sweet things. I felt so much better for not eating sugar that I continued it all year, except for the odd slice of birthday cake. It was the middle boy's birthday the other day and I made him Nigella's ice-cream cake. There are no words for how sweet that tastes if you haven't eaten sugar for a year. I had to have a lie down with a damp flannel over my face afterwards.

We've been keeping busy here. That's dog bed stuffing in case you were wondering.

But hearing tales of other puppies, we are happy in the knowledge that it could be worse. Dear little dogs, they do keep us on our toes.

Hope all is well out there. Hang on all, spring is but a breath away.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Send help

Reading and knitting, it must be winter. I do so love winter. Alicia put it well when she said, 'Nothing out there needs me.' I rewound my yarn which the puppy had messed up and I've started knitting again late at night when my brain is good for little else. Before, I was trying to knit with two great messy piles of wool and it put me off, having to do battle with it every time I did a couple of rows. Order is been restored now though and I'm away.

I'm reading Into The Water by Paula Hawkins. Not sure if I like it. I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't always concentrate enough when I read and I lose track of who all the people are and what they've done. I could do with a list of them at the front of the book for reference. I've also been reading Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, about productivity. I often find myself gazing out the window thinking about productivity. I am hoping Brian will help me with the whole concentrating and focusing thing.

I happened to be passing the churchyard today and I remembered to take some photos of the snowdrops. The winter sky looked lovely above the castle, all birds in bare trees and bunches of mistletoe.

There's an overgrown corner of the graveyard and every year it's covered in snowdrops. I just had the little camera with me, but you get the idea.

One last month of winter to enjoy before the things out there start needing me.

On another note, does anyone understand what the deal with paprika is? The biggest boy needed some for school cookery. It really tastes rather blah to me. Am I missing something? Do I not have the requisite taste buds? Fancy chefs are always waxing lyrical about smoked paprika and spiciness and warmth and on and on. I'm just not getting anything. It's a mystery. I don't understand parsley either. Coriander yes, delicious. Parsley, not feeling it. I have a feeling it's all too subtle for me. I need something unambiguous like a bit hit of lemon or a thuggish dried tomato.

We have a French student coming to stay later in the year. I fear I will have to up my game. Oven chips and baked beans will not cut the mustard. He has already written to say that in France the plates are very good. We have taken it to mean the food on the plates, although of course they may have very fine china as well.

I am in dire need of impressive yet simple recipes to appeal to the sophisticated French palate. Send help. But nothing tricky that will tip me over the edge (remembering of course that I permanently inhabit a place very near the edge as it is). I have paprika, if that helps.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Savoy dreams

And just like that he was turned from hairy beast into smart dog.

The littlest boy has memorised the passage in Plumdog where Plum goes to the hairdressers. She says, I felt like a filmstar. Bert does too.

Do you need a reminder of the Before look?

Oh he was wild and woolly. Now he is like a whole dog made of velvet. And he can see out!

We can't stop looking at him. And he is faster too. No longer at the park does he canter a feeble six feet after a ball before giving up and letting the big dogs get it. He's in the game, sprinting after it like Usain Bolt.

I made omelette Arnold Bennett for tea for the non-vegetarians (ie. all of the people except me). Well, not quite, it was actually an ordinary omelette with smoked haddock in it. The real thing is a bit fancier with all sorts of fluffy sauce and grated Gruyere, but being short on time etc. etc.

I looked up the recipe first and discovered that it was created for AB while he was living at the Savoy. Can you imagine it? Honestly, there would be absolutely nothing to do ever in the way of chores. Not a single dish to be washed or a shelf to be dusted or carpet to be vacuumed. Imagine all the time! I too could write a novel in such circumstances, I am certain of it. Especially if I was being fed dishes especially created for me by top chefs. Nut Roast Above The River perhaps, or Noodles CJ. I am very fond of noodles.

Oh, but they would never manage without me. Who would get cross about the mud and operate the washing machine and the vacuum? No-one else knows how to do it. No, I fear I am utterly indispensable. The Savoy will have to wait. I will make do with a cheese omelette made by myself and the odd half hour of writing time at the dining table. I hear that the Savoy omelette-fuelled novel wasn't his best work any way. A little suffering is a good thing no?

Friday, 26 January 2018

Plumdog and bear dog

There's a lot going on here, and none of it is photogenic. In fact some of it is downright ugly. My latest technological difficulties for example. A whole email disaster that has taken hours of red level fury and hammering away at the laptop and more fury at the wasted hours and the impossibility of it all. It always amazes me how technology can push me to the absolute edge.

I had the luxury of a whole mud-free day on Sunday. I was the teeniest bit tired of trudging around the locale with the dog and looking at endless brown. Which is unusual for me, I do love the winter, I'm not sure why it happened. Anyway, I went to (indoor) cricket training in the morning (littlest boy, not me) and then I took him to the mall in the afternoon to buy a copy of the Beano and to have a drink and a piece of cake. It's not something we do often, but I thought it would be a nice non-mud treat; he's been very good with the winter dog walking. Anyway, I'm happy to report that a couple of hours of looking at the bright plastic things from China and the endless rubbish for sale I was completely cured of mud ennui. My settings were reset. The next day the walk by the stream was quite blissful.

The biggest boy has just finished a week of exams. He was walking to school one morning and a bird pooped all down his coat. He asked me if I could clean it. 'It's alright though, I got most of it off. I used a revision worksheet.'  He said it was okay, he knew most of it already. So long as he's taking it all properly seriously.

In other news, I found someone had got the nailbrush out in the bathroom the other day and used it without being asked. For one heady moment I thought, my work here is done.

The littlest boy, and the others and me as well in fact, have all been enjoying Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark. It was a gift from Father Christmas and is absolutely brilliant. Our very own Plumdog is off to the dog barber on Monday for a deep trim. I have tried to capture his very hairiness for posterity in the meantime. He is scruffy little hippy at the moment. People often tell me he looks like a bear. From Monday he will be more rat than bear I fear.

At least he'll be able to see where he's going though.

Wishing all a good weekend. I have no end of mud lined up and I am very happy about it, as is the little brown dog. I shall be back anon with before and after photos. Brace yourselves.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Conquering the world next week

Messing about by the river. Don't be fooled by the sun, it was absolutely arctic out there, with a wind blowing straight in from Siberia. The littlest boy and I blasted along to the end and got blown all the way back again. Then it was home, sofa, hot water bottle. Utter bliss.

I've had a sort of flu thing for around 10 days now, and I can't seem to shake it. Nothing dramatic, just a complete lack of energy. Temperatures, headaches, that sort of thing. The boys had it over the Christmas holidays too. I've not really accomplished anything since, which is disappointing because this was the year I was going to conquer the world. I shall start next week instead, surely I'll be back at full strength by then. In the meantime I shall be sat at my laptop, clutching a hot water bottle with my head on a cushion on the table. It's a kind of 'just about to start work' position, where I'm best placed in case I suddenly feel able to string together some words.

Who still has mince pies left? We do. Plus a jar of last year's mincemeat, which I should have used first but which has inexplicably been left until last. Also one or two dark chocolate covered stollen (oh my) and some lebkuchen. Other than that we're back on ordinary fare. The biggest boy made fishcakes at school today, but only one small one made it home, so tea was a last-minute affair with eggs instead. I remember being constantly hungry at that age although I don't think I'd have dared to eat the things I made in cookery before I got them home.

The dog had a sticky eye last week. I took him to the vets' where they gave him a tube of ointment. It's almost impossible to get ointment into a dog's eye. On a par with giving antibiotics to a guinea pig I'd say. But his eye cleared up almost immediately anyway. And I am 51 of your English pounds worse off. FIFTY-ONE POUNDS! Next time I shall slather it in manuka honey first. Even at twenty-odd pounds a jar we'd be quids in. And I could eat the rest and regain my strength ready to conquer the world etc.

I hope everyone else is having a more full-on start to the year. If not, manuka honey. You read it here first.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Sleeping with one eye open

All the usual December things done. Country walks, windows and wreaths admired, mince pies eaten, holes dug, beaches galloped along at sunset. On Boxing Day we went to look at the hunt, which always likes to trot three times around the town before cantering off across country not hunting foxes, at least that's the theory.

We felt a bit like serfs going to look at the rich posh people having fun. I was impressed with the lady riding side saddle though. She'd obviously taken trouble over her appearance and sidesaddle is a tricky thing.

I bought a dog bag just before Christmas. The theory is that you zip your wet, muddy dog into it and some time later he emerges, dry and completely clean. I am a great fan of a little magic. I know you'll want to see it in action.

You will note how I've flapped his ear up, all the better to air it out nicely. We rather spoilt it all for him today I fear. His magnificent fringe has pretty much covered up his eyes although I've tried to trim it several times with the special Facial Hair Dog Trimming Scissors. He always sees me coming, but it was getting ridiculous (no clear line of sight!) so today the biggest boy and I slid in while he was dozing a got in one half snip before he clocked us.

Zipped into his bag he wasn't in the best position to escape. I put the tiny little pile of hair next to him in the hopes of getting in for another go (I had missed most of the bit actually blocking his sight). He laid there, staring in disbelief at it. You could almost hear him thinking, What in the name of dog has the bally woman done to me??? There is a piece of me over there on the carpet  and it isn't attached to me any more. Oh, his face. He just laid there staring at it for at least two minutes until I gave up hope of any more trimming and took it away.

Since then he has been trying very hard not to fall asleep. We get up, he gets up. The biggest boy says he's saying, Look out, they're coming, they're going to cut me, they're going to cut me. He may never trust us again. And we haven't even given him back his sight. I fear it may be a job for professionals.

I hope all have had a good start to the New Year. I'm wishing everyone much happiness, peace, love and contentment for 2018. CJ xx

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Above the city

I made mince pies. I haven't baked in ages and comments were being made about the lack of them. So I dug out the star cookie cutter and got stuck in. I put orange zest and a little icing sugar in the pastry and made it with orange juice, as suggested by Nigella, who always makes Christmas look so effortless. I topped some of them with a little crumble topping that I happened to have left over, and they were delicious.

After lunch we took the dog for a walk. We went to a park in the city this time. In the distance we could see Ashton Gate stadium, scene of Bristol City's recent victory over Manchester United, oh yes they did. (See how smoothly I dropped that into the conversation there?) City scored the winning goal in the 93rd minute. Jose Mourinho shot off at top speed, gave his interview to only one reporter, called Bristol City lucky several times and was gone. Very special indeed Mr Mourinho. Shall I translate for my overseas friends? Manchester United - huge football team. Bristol City, not so huge. Different league, literally. 93rd minute = the very last minute of the game. Jose Mourinho - Manchester Utd's manager, nickname, The Special One.

Apparently there was some travel snafu on the Manchester team's journey home and they had to go on a coach instead of a flight. They didn't get to Manchester until 5am. I am imagining The Special One was particularly special by that time.

Okay, I shall stop enjoying it now, I know it is not becoming. I am off to prepare myself for the day now. Plans include the supermarket (I know, I know, but we're out of cream and the biggest boy and I cannot possibly face Christmas without cream on everything.) Make the nut roast. And I know they have a bad rap, but I really like them and I make one every year. And then of course walk the dog. There's a lovely village we like to go to where we look at all the lights and wreaths on the door and the pretty rooms all decorated for Christmas. You will recall of course that looking in through windows is completely legitimate at this time of year. And at any other time of year if people put the lights on and don't draw the curtains.

I am wishing all a fantastic festive few days filled with peace, love and contentment. See you on the other side. And remember, BRISTOL CITY 2 - Manchester United 1. CJ xx  PS  Ellen, they're against Man City next time...