Sunday, 23 August 2009

Chocolate fudge brownie cheesecake

What's this I hear you say, is it possible to improve on cheesecake, or on a chocolate fudge brownie? Yes, you can, you can stick them together...

When marvellous mum and dad were down recently, with Brainy bro and his lovely partner, I felt inspired to bake this wonderful sounding cake. The actual recipe called for another layer on top, or raspberries, creamed with mascarpone and icing sugar I think, but deciding that this might be one layer too much, I decided to retain the sharpness of the raspberries by leaving them as they were (and I didn't have any mascarpone anyway!)

Marvellous mum was my beautiful assistant and as soon as Darling boy was having his nap we got busy in the kitchen and here is what we produced...Very rich, very scrumptious and good with a hot coffee.

In praise of the humble bumble

Bumble bees really are the business, they potter around, defying science with every flight they take from flower to flower. They are such a beautiful sight, but are endangered, the poor poppets.

I found out that in Britain, they were 19 species of native bumble bees, with 6 non native species. Of these, 3 have already become extinct and 8 and in serious decline. I feel a calling to do something about this and will be looking out for those bumble bee houses you can get (much like a bird house) I think they would like it in our garden, the dark green shiny leaved shrub by our backdoor is some kind of beacon for bumble bees, the pollen in the tiny pink buds is truly irrestible to these furry creatures- they absolutely love it. In early summer, they were always hanging around, buzzing away. Darling boy is a big fan and bee is one of his many words he likes to chatter on about each day.

On a recent walk-about on the in-laws farm I saw this lovely fuzzy one, and took a quick snap.

A real pea-souper

Possibly the best fast food for when you are hungry, cold and cant be bothered to cook is pea soup. It couldn't be easier to cook, is seriously good for you (just think of the vitamins!) and is such a gorgeous colour.

You simply boil up a load of peas in some good quality stock, maybe chucking in a parmesan rind for added flavour. Once they are cooked, fish out the parmesan rind, and blend. Add seasoning (and butter and cream, if you are me) and then enjoy. Yum!

The chickens are coming!

Before we moved to Devon, for Handsome husband's birthday, I gave him a egg box, with photos of chickens inside, promising to buy him a hen house and chickens when we were in the countryside. As a surprise for Handsome Husband, I lived up to my promise and recently ordered a hen house from t'internet. A mysterious package arrived last week and Handsome husband was truly surprised and delighted with his present.

He set to with screwdrivers and a set of instructions that even Ikea would have thought baffling. Darling boy was on site to lend a hand and they had the house up in no time. Next up to put together is the run (essential for protecting our birds from the buzzards that soar in air above the valley at the bottom of our garden)

I've got the phone number of the chicken man- a contact from mother in law, and I just need to call him now to see if he has a couple of chickens he wants to sell us, maybe 2 or 3...We have been thinking up good names for chickens and have quite a list, my favourite is either Kiev, or Diana Ross (and the supremes, geddit!?)

Friday, 21 August 2009

The name is plain flour, 00 plain flour; license to float.

Believe it or not, I have only just woken up to 00 flour, milled finer than normal plain flour. It is quite a revelation trust me. Baked treats are lighter, fluffier and have an airy deliciousness that means if you weren’t sitting down to eat your scone, you might float away yourself. Who ever knew that it would make such a difference (apart from hundreds of years of professional bakers of course, pah)

Now, the way this flour is made is very special. A school girl brief awareness of how flour is made is that a grain is ground between two mill stones till it is fine and separated into its separate constituents. Some of those lumps are added back to make wholemeal and the such.

But, with 00 flour, I have done some research and found that instead of two giant heavy stones being used (or whatever the shiny modern version is) the grain firstly is grown on heavenly trampolines, made from cherubian whispers, sewn together. It is harvested by a gentle breeze wafting across the crop, breathing the suggestion that perhaps , maybe if it didn’t mind, it might like to float away from the plant. From this gentle harvesting, it is then transported by angel’s rollers skates to where it is ground by pure white star clouds, a process that takes a thousand years, but since it is happening outside our solar system, time travel being what it is, it actually is over in a jiffy. The finely ground flour then tumbles across the milky way falling through the vast inkiness of space, sifting it and adding more lightness (this is why space is a vacuum, all the air has been sucked up by the 00). From this, tiny magic fingers tickle the 00 and it giggles itself into bags where it it hovers waiting to meet its future best friends, butter and sugar. From here, the flour, so finely ground and so fluffy at heart is floated to earth, blown this way by angel’s trombones. I won’t bore you with the delivery logistics, but will just briefly say it is largely driven by a network of pumpkin carriages drawn by white unicorns .

You may not know this, but 00 was actually called 00 by Parisian bakers in the 18thcentury because it is 00h so light. Now, don’t say I never told you anything and that this blog isn’t factual and educational. Every day is a school day.

The jungle line

The delights of a train journey across the rural heartland of England, through Devon up towards Bristol means we mostly chundle and rumble past farm-land and gardens. Each morning I see different breeds of cows and sheep sleepily grazing and gazing in the early morning weak sunlight. I see horses and ponies and a herd of Shetland ponies too, always making me smile with their portly tummies and stubby legs. Sometimes if I’m luckily I might see a deer startled and either frozen to the spot, or leaping along a field. I sometimes see hares, racing along side in fields, putting me in the mind of that marvellous painting by Turner, hanging in the National Gallery, in praise of the remarkable speed of the train, featuring a tiny hare, just noticeable sprinting ahead of the steaming engine. I always see soft brown rabbits, munching on the school fields by Taunton. Rabbits are the one meat I can’t bring myself to eat- their tiny bodies are meant for playing in the fields, or perhaps it’s too many early screenings of Watership Down? I’m not squeamish or sentimental about any other meat, just our bob-tailed friends.

The most exciting wildlife sighting happened this morning though. As we trundled past an old orchard, I saw a very large black cat, much too large to be a domestic cat- even a very fat and sedentary cat would have looked dwarfed by the size of this beast. It was larged bodied and muscular and jet black, an unmistakable feline shape, with a long tail. It could only have been a puma, or panther. What a thrill. It couldn’t have been anything else, not a dog or a sheep. There have been sighting of this ‘beast’ for years in the local moors but I don’t know if there have been any of these marvellous wild animals seen as high north.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A one way ticket for B-ark?

Whilst on maternity leave and before I went back to work I thought it would be nice to go to an office, were all is calm and I could achieve things in a day that I knew how to do (this was in the early days when Darling boy was tiny and I worried, incessantly, if I was ‘doing it right’) It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be at home with our little one, I did, and I do, I love it. It was just that at the end of a long day with a tiny tyrant, with a patchy night’s sleep ahead of me, the office life of banter about pointless stuff, the politics, the meetings, emails and photocopiers seemed like an entire universe away. It was one that represented calm order and grownup-ness, where during a meeting of colleagues everyone would keep their clothes on, and be able to have a long, uninterrupted conversation that wasn’t about babies. I know I am not alone in this feeling, it is one shared by many of my slummy mummy friends.

However, after a year off from the office job, and now that I am back in the world of grownups twice a week, it occurs to me that perhaps ‘work’ being an oasis and a grownup arena isn’t the case. We just have outgrown toddlers, who wearing shiny suits and talk in acronyms . Demands are made, minds are changed and deadlines slip and slide. But sometimes, when you get it right, and meet your deadline at work, it’s a nice feeling; the ticked box.

Whilst it is good to be something other than a mum for a little bit once a week (that is as well as wife, friend, daughter, daughter-in-law, cook, cleaner, administrator, social planner, etc), I do wonder if this is the ‘other’ that I am destined for. I know the answer to this really, I’m just procrastinating..

I like my job, it is a good job and the people are nice, and I know in these times of economic distress, I am lucky to have a job. If I have to go out to work (and I do) then it’s not such a bad place to go. But during a training course the other day I had a flash vision that reminded me of the management consultants from Golgafrincham in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, destined for the first ‘emergency evacuation’ ship, B-ark, to be fooled off the planet as the useless 1/3 of the population the remaining citizens could quite happily do without. It was all the management speak and dynamic strategic strategising that made me despair. I know there must have been a point to it, somewhere, surely?

How many people stay in a job to tread water whilst they wait till what they really want to do just falls out of the sky into their laps? How many of those people eventually give up treading water and slip into the murky waters of apathy. The repetition, security and comfort of a daily routine tiring their legs and pulling them under. Maybe they like it down there and become the fish they were really destined to be?

But I don’t want to be a fish.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A walk on the wildside

The next day, with our full complement of friends, we dragged everyone out for a walk up hill and down dale. Traversing the muddy hill downwards we called out the easiest path and yelled encouragement to those wavering. Once we were on the flat, it was gossip time and much ground was covered- in chat as well as boot in front of boot. On our way home, going back up the hill with Cute as a button, we happened upon a fairy house, it was very small and as we tried to peer inside to see if anyone was at home, Cute as a button said she couldn’t see inside and couldn’t see their baths. I love kids and at this age they are so magical. Their imagination is definitely something that adults can try to get inside, but it is so wacky and off-beat.

Once back at home, it was home-made pizza and veg patch picked salad for lunch, and then a Devonshire tea for pudding, scones, butter, jam and clotted cream, and a vigorous discussion on the proper order of application. My preferred method is as follows

Split scones (not with knife, but by hand- only a philistine would use a knife)
Apply a large amount of butter
Follow with clotted cream
Blob jam on the top (strawberry is de riguer, but I also like cherry or blackcurrant, a sharper jam)

The importance aspect of the technique to note is to apply the jam last, as it is not possible to apply (enough!) clotted cream to a scone if it already has jam on it as it is an unstable surface! My foundation layer of butter is a controversial one, but I like butter and don’t care who knows it. Another suitable topping is honey, this also works well if there is a jam crisis.

One night as a princess

For my 30th, Handsome husband excelled himself and I was showered with lovely presents and a treat so special and wonderful, I’m looking forward to what he might have planned for my 40th!

I had a lovely lie in and enjoyed opening all my prezzies from friends that had arrived in the post and the weekend before, hand delivered by my dear friends.

Handsome husband gave me my presents from him and our Darling boy, included in which was an original canvass, created by our budding artist, although he is only 14 months, he knows his way around with a pastel crayon. The application of a hint of his favourite breakfast cereal in one corner certainly adds texture.

Written inside my (home-made) card was a surprise I really wasn’t expecting- a dinner for two that night at Gidleigh Park- a 2 michieln star restaurant. Such a treat- I was so excited.

First up was a picnic on Charmouth beach, we stopped by at Hugh Fernley Whittingstalls for our fare. He has a canteen and store in nearby Axminster. We have been there quite a few times and were regulars for quite a while. Bread, cheese and two Chunk pork pies were the order.

We then hoped across the road to the bakery for lardy cake and then headed to the beach.
Handsome husband hunted for dinosaurs and Darling boy and I inspected the stones on the beach for taste and aerodynamics. Although it had been a bleak morning, the sun was shining as we were on the beach and it was a blissful afternoon.

Back at home Daring boy went to grannies and we headed back to shower and change for our posh dinner. Suitably dressed for the occasion in silk dress and golden heels with a tiny turquoise evening bag for me, and a dashing charcoal suit for Handsome husband, we stepped out and were soon whizzing along the Devon countryside in the dusk towards Gidleigh Park, a beautiful old house set near the moors. Aperitifs on arrival heralded an evening of pure indulgence. We opted for the tasting menu and were treated to 10 courses of exceptional food, each more amazing than the last. The staff were excellent, knowledgable and friendly, and had the sort of skill and discretion that when they left the table, they didn’t just walk away, they simply melted into the beautiful decor.

We were there for nearly 5 hours and just when we thought we couldn’t eat another thing, a third desert arrived, accompanied by handmade chocolates and a chocolate plaque iced to say Happy Birthday- it certainly was.

A County fair

The next day, we thought it would be fun to go to the Mid Devon County Show. The kids had a great time, and the grown-ups did too. There is always so much to see at these agricultural shows- from the animals, to the craft and the food on offer. The city folk got a glimpse at rural life they way it is now and the way it has been for ages.

The judging at the livestock events is tight and strict, but not a patch on the judging in the WI tent. Decorated scenes on a theme of ‘An English summer event’ were filled with crafts, embroidery, home-made jam, painted scenery and hand-stitched teddies to name but a few. It was a dazzling and crazy array of craft and very tempting to join in.

On being 30- Hot blue stars 50 times more massive than the sun

I have decided being 30 is the new 21. It's all in the mind- if you think it's fun, then it is.

Actually, turning 30 wasn’t anywhere near as bad as its made out to be. It has a lousy reputation, but actually is just a number and nothing to be scared of.

Luckily, as planned, I had my nearest and dearest with me to acknowledge its ‘ just a number-ness’ with champagne and giggles which was just what is required of a birthday, especially one as (un)important as a 30th.

By the way, the photo comes from the NASA website, with this amazing explanation. Every day is a school day folks...

In the center of 30 Doradus lies a huge cluster of the largest, hottest, most massive stars known. The center of this cluster, known as R136, is boxed in the upper right portion of the above picture. The gas and dust filling the rest of the picture is predominantly ionized hydrogen from the emission nebula 30 Doradus. R136 is composed of thousands of hot blue stars, some about 50 times more massive than our Sun. 30 Doradus and R136 lie in the LMC - a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way Galaxy. Although the ages of stars in R136 cause it to be best described as an open cluster, R136's density will likely make it a low mass globular cluster in a few billion years.

A strange thing

Why is it derelict building make me feel so sad, their roofs caved in, windows broken and shrubs poking out through gaps in the stonework. Like a broken heel on a favourite shoe I suppose abandoned buildings must still chime somehow of the happy times I imagine took place inside.

But as a counterpoint, surely new buildings going up should fill me with hope and excitement of the possibilities they propose. But they don’t, to me it’s just sheets of concrete and steel, not so much a blank canvass, just a blank. Maybe it’s a question of style or maybe I’m old fashioned already?

A contender for Essie’s affections?

I am a nail varnish devotee, believing in groomed nails being an essential, countryside or not, in fact, especially in the countryside. For years I have been devoted to Essie as a brand of polish. The colours and durability outperform any high street tat (not that I am anti –tat, I actually love the cheap and cheerful on occasion, but that’s another story). It is somewhat on the pricey side here in the UK, so bought a batch in a New York drugstore the last time I was there where it is as cheap as chips, and then got sister in law to bring back another booty load when she last went.

However, there is a rival to the throne on the scene in my bag of polishes- that star of many a nail bar, Jessica. It comes in an incredible 200 shades, such choice. I’d never really taken much notice of it till a bottle of it arrived for my birthday from my lovely Aunty on Handsome husbands side. A pot of the sticky wonder potion is the perfect present for a girl and I'm hooked. Great colour, loads of pigment , one coat and instant glamour is all yours. Perfect for the lazy lady in search of a little lift anywhere. My new favourite is called Imperial Rouge and I can pretend I’m a old fashioned Russian princess all I like- bliss.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Fings wot we saw on a nice walk by our gaff

Darling boy and I went for a walk around by our way recently and here is a selection of the lovely things we saw.

Hello birds, hello flowers, etc

Dexters- the munchkin of the cow world

Bunny in the mist

The view from the to of our lane


Dandelion o'clock

Booboo kept us company for much of the walk, hopping alongside through the long grass and mud.