Archive for December, 2010


December 20, 2010 1 comment

Well we got to the party in Berkshire…apart from some cousins who were sent on the train we were the only ones who made it. When the going gets tough the tough get to the party! With the cake which I finally sorted early yesterday morning. I was too tired the night before but while waiting for the Christmas cake to finish cooking I laid out everything for this cake which made it possible in the morning. The almonds cover the hole where the gooey bit collaspsed.



December 18, 2010 2 comments

The Gothic way with an igloo.

It snowed yesterday.

This is the proof that we are easily distracted if not barking bonkers mad ( to quote one of the childrens friends). Actually I had a cunning plan to get the boys interested in clearing snow, this snow was sticky and rolled up well into giant snowballs, I thought they might just roll the snow off the footpaths…back to the shovel.

Still we got the other stuff done too even though it entailed the husband writing e-mail instructions for a project in India until gone midnight. I finally baked the Christmas cake which looks OK and I’ve got up early to get the butter icing made for my mother in laws birthday cake also made yesterday.

Butter icing is one of my stong suits, I discovered as a teenager how to make the real deal from the Penguin Cordon Bleu Cookery book which is one of the few cookbooks I use, in fact I am on my second copy the first one fell apart. It offers three ways to make posh butter icing. I use the Italian merigue method which today will involve :

3 egg whites

6oz icing sugar and

 12 oz of unsalted butter.

flavour as required (that’ll be Brandy or Pear brandy today then)

You mix the sifted icing sugar with the egg whites place in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and whisk until the mixture fluffs up and looks just like shaving foam, allow to cool , cream the butter and fold the two together. I have just proved that it is possible to drink tea while whisking the meringue its not that arduous.

Its quite a big cake and we took it out of the oven a bit too soon so theres some  stuff to cover up!

It actually has to be unsalted butter for this, this is not one of those recipes which calls for unsalted butter then adds salt on the next line. My inbred carefullness objects to buying unsalted butter unless it is really neccessary as it generally costs more (except in Lidl) and keeps a lot less well. I think this is a mark of how bound we have become by the way people who cook in restaurants cook.

No2 son had to produce a ‘masterpiece’ for school once in any medium…at short notice of course. We went for a master chocolate cake with this icing and numerous chocolate embellishments dreamed up by No2 which went down well…all the children had a slice but then it was last seen disappearing in the direction of the staff room and was never seen again.  I’d do the same if I was surrounded by kids 4-11 year olds everyday.

I have to add that things were getting a bit fraught towards the end of yesterday and I realised how easy it would be to become dependant on brandy soaked sultanas if they were freely on offer every day.

Yesterday morning the snow was adding an inch per cup of tea as I surfaced. Its a shame in a way its in the Christmas run up there would be more fun to had with it if there weren’t other competing activities. As in shame of shames I havn’t made a pudding yet ( still its the easiest of the lot the pud, I reckon)

Felting and making

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This is my hoard of finished corsages for people at Christmas except there are now two little roses that I finished after the photo was taken. Its a brilliant excuse to get some sofa time in front of the telly although I find that a lot of the programmes I recorded for myself  in frustration as I was getting interupted while trying to watch them have disappeared….funny that as all the episodes of the Simpsons seem to be alright…..

I am woefully behind with most stuff this year and need to make some birthday cake, Christmas cake , pudding and a selection from the traditional list of fourteen that No1 son put on the fridge a few years back. I fancy date slices and the chocolate shortbread stars, I might do the florentines as I have hidden adequate supplies of chocolate in a VERY SECRET PLACE as I am sick of having the cupboards raided. They didn’t dare do that when they were younger, its infuriating now.

Too Big a Tree

December 13, 2010 2 comments


Before the tinsel went on.

As I unpacked the Christmas decorations it felt like less than six months since I packed them away (tradition insists that I pack them away…good sense dictates it too). No2 son said it felt like much more than a year since the last tree went to the great bonfire at the bottom of the garden. He is like me, he loves and remembers the decorations.

They departed to get the tree last weekend, it took so long I began to wonder about trips to Lapland. Before they went a tape measure was brandished in the living room and so I thought, ” You never know they might just bring back a tree that fits, Naaa they won’t ”

It was too big. Of course it was too big. It is always too big.

Here is the photographic proof:

The bottom had to be cut, that’s it on the stove, then it was all dug out again and the pot excavated to get the tree deeper down, and even then:

The tree is scrapping the wretched artex on the ceiling! So the fairy will be looking for a new job this Christmas or getting a severe crick in the neck.

Still at least we havn’t had the usual panic as the tree starts to fall over complete with my lifetimes collection of baubles. Yet.

I could probably bore you with the provenance of everything on the tree…but I won’t- just the little christmas tree at the bottom left above. I bought it to take with me on my first trip to Africa one Christmas. We spent Christmas day at Victoria Falls having cooked the Christmas Pud on an open fire at Sinamatella Ridge in Zimbabwe the night before. So we had the pud, we had the tree and we got turkey at the hotel on Christmas Day; only there was a guard on the terrrace to stop the hippos gatecrashing the party from the lawns where they grazed. When we crossed the Zambezi river that day there was a stream of women walking over the bridge to buy boxes of bread in Zimbabwe to take back to Zambia where often it was unobtainable. My visitors last week told me that these days the same thing is happening only the flow of women and bread goes in the opposite direction as Zambia has supplies and Zimbabwe  frequently does not.

That trip ended memorably at Lusaka airport where a passing businessman overheard the check- in desk being unhelpful. He took up my case vigorously with the woman from the airline and within minutes they were arguing violently, the fight became physical and the man climbed over the check in conveyor belt to further his point as people arrived from all over, it took three people to hold each of them back. By that time my plane had left without me , oh joy. The airline had to admit it was at fault having brought the flight forward two hours without telling me when I confirmed, no not willingly, but they then said there was no accommodation and the restaurant  was on strike and the next flight was four days away….oh extra joy. They did in the end get me onto a BA flight the next day.

A leaf from the Newton Wonder – a painting a day

December 5, 2010 1 comment

 SOLD   size 6 in x 6 in, 15cm x 15cm

The snow which arrived on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday in large quantities has now almost all washed away. My neighbours who moved out while their building work was being done are back finally, they must be so relieved, and it is good to see the lights on at night knowing its inhabited again.

Last week’s combination of gammon on Friday and chicken on Sunday made a wealth of other meals. There was a spicy stir fry with Thai noodles , lots of sandwiches and finally chopped chicken and ham in mayonnaise to go in jacket potatoes. Then there was soup using the stock from the carcase and the gammon rind one cold lunchtime when no-one could get to school or work. The fat which came off was mixed with millet for the birds.

On Friday the school was appealing for volunteers to go and scrape snow off the paths and drives in order to get the place open for Monday….it is a close call- which is most unpleasant: two hours hard labour in the cold or another day with damp fractious boys all over the house?

There was no need to go and scrape snow off the school drive the rain has seen to it. Even the four foot icicle fell down today. I saved a section to show to some South African visitors who are due on Tuesday ( I have  saved it in the freezer).

After my vocal complaints last weekend about lack of help in the kitchen especially on a Sunday I was surprised to find that the promised weekend free of cooking really did happen and we still got a roast!!! We also got more kit made croissants than any of us could face No2 just kept taking trays out of the oven.

I have now run out of all but my last carton of Goats milk( UHT not brill. in tea)…the desperate housewives of the weald had stripped the supermarket of bread, milk, goatsmilk , UHT milk and goats UHT, fruit juice (so essential)  crumpets, teacakes, croissants, brioche and butter as soon as they could get the car back on the road ( I did not check to see if they were out of tins of borlotti beans too I expect they were; we are one of the Home Counties). When we couldn’t drive and the shopping was done by toboggan there was more food to buy. I have had to buy what is a marketing dream…oats milk you could pick it up by mistake glancing at the packet in  hurry. I don’t know if it will be any good, if it is horrid rest assured I will tell you.

The snow melted to show a soggy lawn with lots of soggy leaves, I therefore spent far too long raking them up, I have a small long barrow of apple and oak leaves, some of the apple leaves have lovely coloured stems so I did a quick sketch in watercolour (it was that or continue raking). The leaf is from the Newton Wonder tree which has big round serrated leaves, you are looking at the underside to see the best of the colour.

#160 a painting a day by Alison Warner on her lemon a day art blog

Dried Hydrangea – a painting a day

December 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Sold   size 9 in x 6 in, 24cm x 15cm

The decorating is nearly done; I needed to get the dust off the stairs and in the process nearly pulled the vacuum cleaner on my head. This was dramatic enough to raise a comment from No1 and No2 who being off school with the snow are clamped to the beanbag behind the infernal games machine. A comment only, they didn’t find it dramatic enough to come and see if I was alright. I obviously need drama lessons. No1 did go out tobogganing and No2 is practicing his Christmas song on the guitar,” I believe in Father Christmas” by Greg Lake. It’s quite hard to sing but surprisingly he wants me to struggle with him on this one. I am better with OTT sweeping dramatic tunes but I am doing my best to manage fairly subtle but heartfelt…..

The snow has been the deepest we have ever seen here, actually the deepest we have ever seen in Sussex, just over a foot or thirty centimetres plus. My neighbour who moved here in 1959 said that there were times when the snow was thigh deep on the short slope down to the main road. Tonight has been a strange sequence. First it went very cold and a fog started to form then the fog vanished and the air got warmer now the rain is starting and the sound of a thaw the dripping and the soft thuds of falling snow have taken over from the self-conscious silence of the snowy nights. They say that later the cloud will clear and the temperature will drop again.

The warm roof (insulation between and over the rafters) is brilliant the central heating goes off at 9.30am and with the help of the wood burner I can manage to keep the temperature at around 19C in most of the house. Running the stove everyday and letting it burn slowly overnight is working, there is a residual warmth in the brick chimney which makes a big difference. Some days I have turned the central heating on for an hour after lunch but generally not even when it is 4 below zero outside.

Speaking of the snow and cold, I went to bash the snow off a thick evergreen tree which can break under the weight of the snow one night, I used the broom and cascades of powdery snow crashed to the ground as twenty sparrows burst from the branches fully indignant and no doubt very resentful.

I managed a painting today, it’s one of my favourite mugs with some of the hydrangea which I dried before it went brown and manky outside.

In the interests of fairness No2 son was dispatched on foot to the supermarket to get his chicken.

#159 a painting a day by Alison Warner on her lemon a day art blog