Saturday, 28 May 2016

A Little Bird Told Me...

This week has been unbelievably busy - and much of it has been unplanned responses to other people's requests for help. I don't mind - I have had a lot of fun. But the 100 items declutter is rather falling behind [and Kate has got up to nearly 400 items] Emergencies notwithstanding, I hope to spend today adding to my score. 
I was able to get some greetings cards made yesterday - there are a number of important birthdays happening around now [my family and friends, not Her Majesty's Official Event. I don't have the energy to make her a card]

I wanted a very simple bird shape for my die cut machine - and found the exact thing on eBay. Having first checked these Fiskars Fuse ones would work on my Sissix Big Shot [they will] I was able to buy this one at a fraction of the regular price. I like the way they come in a neat carry case too. I have yet to use the letter press facility and ink them up.

I made just a few cards this week. Later I will explain the real purpose of this ornithological purchase

I have used different papers for body and wings, flipped the papers to get mirror images - and on the smaller card, given the bird two wings. These are quite simple. I've decided not to go overboard with embellishments. An M&S Gift card fits inside very neatly!

Friday, 27 May 2016

One Of Those Days...

It is gone 5pm and I have only just sat down to sort out the blog today. I cannot remember when that last happened [and when it did, I received emails from kind and concerned friends who thought I must be ill because they couldn't find my post]
No -  I have just been very busy trying to achieve more than is humanly possible.  But I do need to say happy birthday to my daughter - many happy returns, Liz. May you have a great year ahead of you, and may the new adventure of motherhood bring you as much joy as it has brought me!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cool Tips For Hot Days

It is ages since I did a Top Tips post. But as we recently changed our refrigeration at home, I have been reorganising my chilled and frozen foodstuffs. We've replaced our original fridge [with inbuilt icebox] with a new fridge freezer. The fridge has gone to Liz and Jon's new place, and the old freezer is now in the garage. This gives us more fridge space, and more freezer space. So here are a few ideas 
1; be ruthless about storage containers. I have got rid of any split, lidless and otherwise damaged plastic boxes - including a few Lock'n'lock types which have mysteriously lost one or more tabs. I do like L&L - but they are expensive, and they do not stack well when empty. This range  suits me, it is economical, fits neatly in my freezer drawers and is widely available [The Range is a particularly good source - lots of sizes and best prices]

2; label everything you freeze. I know I keep banging on about leftovers - but if you do chill and freeze a spare portion of something for another day, you may find yourself wondering 'is this pork casserole, or chicken curry?'  as you look at the cold hard contents of the box. That might not be too serious - but confusing gravy and chocolate sauce could cause disasters. I did serve Bob with apple pie once, thinking it was a chicken pie. [he nobly ate his veg and gravy separately - then the pie - then I had to confess I had done baked apples for dessert!] Put the date on too[including the year]

3; repack wisely. I always decant opened packs of frozen peas into 2 or 3 smaller boxes. Much easier to manage, less risk of split packs spilling their contents in the floor [peas on earth] If I do buy a bag of salad leaves [usually when yellow-stickered] I follow Sainsbury's advice - pop a sheet of kitchen towel in the opened bag, then roll the top over loosely and replace in the fridge, This is supposed to absorb moisture and discourage the leaves from going soggy.

4; keep a bottle of water chilling. We went out for a meal recently, and Bob had a bottle of spring water [this stuff - all the way from Norway, as drunk by top golfers at Wentworth this week!] We brought the 800mlbottle home as it fits beautifully in the fridge door. I dropped a few slices of lime and sprigs of mint in to infuse, and it is very refreshing. HFW's Leftovers book suggests strips of cucumber peel make a good addition too.

5; mark the date on dairy pots. So often the use by date is stamped on the foil lid. Fine for individual yogurts, but hopeless for things like cream, fromage frais and large pots of yogurt, where you might only use half of it and put the rest back. The opened foil lids can be messy, so you peel them right off - but then later cannot remember when you got the stuff.
 I mark mine with a Sharpie before I even open them.

6; make some ice cream. I seemed to have a glut of cans of condensed milk in the cupboard - so decided to try out HFW's recipe for 'Granny's Ice Cream' I can report that it was ridiculously easy to make. It only has 4 ingredients and it tastes good. It is rich and creamy - but not soft scoop. you need to get it out 20 minutes before you serve it to allow it to soften slightly.

Ingredients in granny's jam ; cream, condensed milk [milk, sugar] vanilla extract, jam [fruit, sugar, lemon juice], sugar COMPARED TO essentials' raspberry ripple; partially reconstituted skimmed milk concentrate, sugar, raspberry ripple sauce (10%) (sugar, water, wheat glucose syrup, raspberry puree, cornflour, acidity regulators citric acid and trisodium citrate, colour anthocyanins, gelling agent pectin, flavouring), coconut oil, wheat glucose syrup, milk whey powder, emulsifier mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, stabilisers locust bean gum and guar gum, flavouring, colours beta-carotene and beetroot red.

The home-made one is cheaper - and probably better for you. I got a bit carried away - divided my mix between 2 1-litre boxes. The first was swirled with jam [six heaped teaspoonsful swirled in] and the second I used Camp Coffee Essence [about 1½ tablespoons] The narrow handle of my jam spoon made an excellent swirling tool!
And I followed my own advice and labelled carefully

Find some of my older cool tips on this topic here, here and hereWhat are your best fridge and freezer tips? 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Very Peculiar Character

Wandering round Spitalfields last week we saw quite a few blue plaques, including this one. But who was Mark Gertler? Should I have heard of him?  I came home and checked him out.
He hung about with lots of painters at the Slade School Of Fine Art [part if University College London] in the early part if the twentieth century. He had an affair with Dora Carrington, the avant garde female artist who was on the fringe of the Bloomsbury Group.
Through Dora, Mark came into contact with Virginia Woolf and others in the group. VW clearly found the young man quite insufferable. She said What an egoist! We have been talking about Gertler to Gertler for some 30 hours; it is like putting a microscope to your eye. One molehill is wonderfully clear; the surrounding world ceases to exist. But he is a forcible young man; as hard as a cricket ball; and as tightly rounded and stuffed in at the edges. We discussed — well, it always came back to Gertler. “I have a very peculiar character ... I am not like any other artist ... My picture would not have those blank spaces ... I don’t see that, because in my case I have a sense which other people don’t have  ...” and so on. And if you do slip a little away, he ...somehow tricks you back again. He hoards an insatiable vanity... However this is honestly outspoken, he will, one sees, paint good interesting pictures, though some rupture of the brain would have to take place before he could be a painter.”
 D H Lawrence used him as the basis for the artist Loerke, in 'Women in Love'. Aldous Huxley, similarly, in 'Crome Yellow' used him as the model for Gombauld, and Gilbert Cannan's novel 'Mendel' used as its foundation, the relationship between Mark and Dora C.

But what of his pictures? Here is "Gilbert Cannan at his Mill"  - not really my cup of tea. The only thing I found interesting was that J M Barrie used the black and white St Bernard 'Porthos' as the model for Nana in Peter Pan. [Helpful notes from the Ashmolean here]
I did quite like 'Merry Go Round' - I thought it was bright and cheerful. But only on a postcard or teatowel - I couldn't cope with it full size hanging on the living room wall! This is really the only painting he did which became famous. 

Sadly he suffered very poor health, including contracting tuberculosis, forcing him to spend time in a sanatorium. His relationships with women were not lasting - although he did marry and have a son. But depression was a constant problem for him. In 1939, after his wife left him, and Dora had committed suicide, fearful of the imminent outbreak of war, Gertler gassed himself. 14 years ago, a studious biography was written by Sarah McDougall - but as the review in the Observer says - even she struggles to render him a likeable fellow!

Oh well, he did at least get his blue plaque above a tailor's atelier in Spitalfields. And his son Luke became a great collector of cartoons  . I think he enjoyed life more than his father - and I am glad about that.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why Do I Bother Watching?

I suspect I am not alone in watching many TV programmes on 'catch-up' - either I remember to record them, or I rely on the i-player. I have finally managed to see the final episodes of Hinterland, Undercover, and Home Fires. [And I have recently discovered another film channel.] But I am left with a number of unanswered questions about these three series.
Hinterland - the amazingly bi-lingual Welsh police series. Which has three stars - DC Tom Mathias [Richard Harrington] Mared Rhys [Mali Harries] and a red parka. No kidding, her red jacket has a massive following! I read this here and mentioned it to Bob as we watched the last episode together. Then we saw her in the car wearing a red jacket without a furry hood. Is it the same jacket? we wondered. 'Maybe it is like my M&S one, and you can remove the hood and the fur' I suggested. We kept watching and a subsequent shot showed the coat with the hood [and the badge on the left arm proved it was the same coat] But why did the continuity person not notice that in two later scenes, Mared walked out of the door in the coat without the hood- but turned the corner, and there it was again, in all its furry glory. What's with that coat?

I found Undercover enjoyable - and thought some of the characters and relationships were cleverly written. Until the last episode. I can only say that if felt like the ending was just a set-up for a second series. All sorts of unanswered questions and implausible plotlines. I won't give any spoilers here - but this Guardian review [which does give things away] echoes my feelings. How did they get away with those impossible bits - eg a DPP with epilepsy who drives her own car?
Home Fires - ended abruptly, and with altogether too many loose ends- rapidly followed by an announcement from ITV that there will not be any more series. This has greatly angered the WI, who have bombarded the television company with jars of jam in protest! I quite enjoyed this from lots of points of view - watching +actors like Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond who have been around for years, playing more mature roles. And Claire Price [who was the perfect Siobhan to Ken Stott's Rebus] But what did the ITV do with all the jam? [please tell me they passed it on to a Foodbank]
But for sheer nostalgia, and an old film to watch whilst you are tackling the Ironing Mountain, nothing beats Talking Pictures TV [freeview channel 81] These are all films from the 30's through to the 70's - most in black and white. The actors either speak with clipped Terribly British Accents [think Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter]  or they are Cheerful Cockneys [Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady] or suspicious foreigners. Enormous fun - especially as the film finishes, when the continuity announcer always says "Thank you for watching Talking Pictures!"  

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Worthy Effort

I do like Rachel Allen Cookbooks - and often use her 'Bake' one [great sponge recipe here] Recently I picked up three books for a pound in a CS sale and one of them was this
I have borrowed this from the library before. To get a £20- book marked down to £6 - and then finally 33.33 pence seemed a real bargain. As I am still trying to use up leftover resources, and follow HFW's shining example, I decided to make some bread. There was some fancy flour [Matthews Cotswold Crunch] in the Breadmaking Ingredients Bin. It was a bit old
A long way past its 'best before' date, to be quite truthful. Bob bought it, I think, on holiday in Norfolk, some time ago. But he had not done any breadmaking for ages, so I decided I would use it up.

She has a recipe for her Dad's brown bread which I modified

Rachel's Dad's Brown Bread

Sunflower oil, for greasing
12oz plain flour
12oz wholemeal flour
3oz bran
2oz wheat germ
2oz pinhead oatmeal or oats
2oz brown sugar
1½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
1¾ pints buttermilk

* Preheat the oven to 200ºC [180º fan]
* Grease two 2lb loaf tins with sunflower oil or line with parchment or nonstick paper.
* Place the flours, bran, wheat germ, oatmeal, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl.
* Sift in the baking powder and baking soda. Mix thoroughly.
* Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add the buttermilk.
* Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the eggs and buttermilk.
* Using one hand with your fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle, bringing the flour and liquid together. The dough should be soft and sloppy.[oh it definitely was!]
* Divide the dough between the prepared tins and place in the centre of the oven.
* Bake 1 hour, then remove the bread from the tin and place back in the oven without the tins for 10 to 15 minutes until the loaves sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom.

Makes 2 vegetarian loaves.

Modifications; I added up the flours, bran and wheatgerm [29oz] and used 15oz plain flour, 15oz 'fancy' stuff. I did not have any buttermilk, so I used half and half milk and natural yogurt, and added 1tbsp to the milk to increase its acidity, And I sprinkled some porridge oats on top for a rustic appearance. It did rise slightly more than I expected in the tins, but smelt delicious. 
Both loaves refused to come out of the tins- but with the help of my friend Jenny, we got them out - however, the oats on top went all over the kitchen as we struggled! Thanks Jenny for the assistance.  
The first loaf sliced well, and also toasted well - but the second is still in the freezer. I was quite pleased with it - specially as it didn't have a "soda" taste, which often happens with quick breads like this. Bob described it as "worthy". That usually means 'it tastes OK, and I am sure it is doing me good, but I have tasted better in the past' 

35p for a book of great recipes, and using up my stocks ticks all the boxes for me, anyway. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Mother Of Methodism

Having spotted the birthplace of Susanna Wesley on Wednesday, I felt I ought to find out a bit more about this woman, often called 'the Mother of Methodism'. 
Susanna's father, Dr Samuel Annesley, was one of the Anglican priests ejected from the C of E for his nonconformist teachings. The youngest of 25 children [not all survived infancy!] she grew up listening to her father's teachings. In contemporary terms, Susanna would be considered a liberated woman. This mostly because her father gained the freedoms found in Scripture. These not only enlightened Susanna, but these revolutionary ideals eventually became the teachings of her own home.
She married Samuel Wesley - whose father [Rev John Westley-Samuel] had also been thrown out of the Anglican fold. Despite his heritage, Samuel became an Anglican vicar, and they settled in Whitchurch, Dorset [more local history for me to explore!] They had 19 children - ten of whom died in infancy. 
Her husband, bless him, has been described as a 'poor pastor, and worse preacher' [he was no good with family finances either and often fell into debt] They moved to Epworth in Lincolnshire. Susanna was an amazing mother, managing the family [and the parish during her husband's frequent absences] She told her children that she needed to pray regularly - and when she threw her voluminous apron up over her face and head, the family knew she was in prayer, and would be quiet and well behaved until her 'Amen'. I suspect fear of severe punishment rather than deep spirituality was what was keeping the Wesley brood silent.[I never dared try this technique on my girls when they were younger]

In 1709, the Epworth Rectory caught fire - everyone escaped, except young John. Convinced he'd died in the flames, his father started praying for his son's soul- then a cry was heard from an upper window. The boy was rescued, alive and unharmed.
Susanna described him as 'a brand plucked from the burning' and impressed on the child that God had saved him for a great purpose.
John Wesley grew up, and founded Methodism, and his brother Charles wrote thousands of hymns - many of which are still sung every week in churches across the world. Both men spoke often of the profound influence their mother's faith had upon their lives. Susanna Wesley is the forerunner of women preachers in John Wesley’s Methodist movement. At the time of her death, John acknowledged that she was a preacher and a priest in the family. Even to those outside of the immediate family, her preaching was e well known. She was born in 1669 in London - and died there in 1742. She was buried in Bunhill Fields, the great nonconformist burial ground. [Thankyou FreebornG for this interesting link which you sent me on Friday]

Her tombstone reads
In sure and certain hope to rise
And claim her mansion in the skies
A Christian here, her flesh laid down
The cross exchanging for a crown

She had a really difficult life, but her strong faith sustained her, and her influence on her sons helped form their characters. I genuinely believe that because England had John Wesley and Methodism, we did not have the bloody revolutions which were sweeping across Europe. Susanna said - and lived -these words..
There are two things to do about the Gospel
...Believe it and behave it