Saturday 25 February 2017

A Quiet Weekend

After the madness that was the past couple of weeks I've tried to take it a little easier this week... and typically have gone down with a virus. Nothing more than an annoying cough and feeling a little under the weather, but irritating nevertheless. And I'm still feeling exhausted after a couple of days of work. Being on my feet all day is really tiring, which I don't seem to notice when I'm busy working but it hits me when I stop. However, we've been back on track with our healthy eating.. same old common sense really, lots of healthy fruit and veg, meals cooked from scratch, not too much bread and pasta... and absolutely no guilt whatsoever when we decided to go out for a pizza and bottle of wine last night!

But I'm quite determined to have a restful weekend not doing very much other than potter about and catch up with some reading. No matter how busy I get I always find time to read a little each day... although I realise I haven't always found time to write about what I've read... not since December in fact!

We've had a couple of bookclub meetings since December and our book for January was "Sightlines" by Kathleen Jamie. This book really divided our bookclub like no other. It is a series of essays about fairly unrelated subjects (Gannets, Northern Lights, cancer cells, whalebones...). Described by some as nature writing, it has received critical acclaim and loads of accolades. In fact some of our book club members were totally bowled over by the beautiful prose (Jamie is a poet) but there were three of us, including yours truly who just didn't get it. I found it boring, rather indulgent and when she described various beautiful remote places the result was to totally put me off ever going there. The fictional Lewis trilogy made me want to visit the Outer Hebrides more than Kathleen Jamie! I though maybe I was being a bit dense and just didn't understand the beauty of the writing so it was a relief to find two others in the group who felt exactly like me!

Our February book was The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, an entertaining enough read, with likeable characters set in Victorian London and the Essex village of Aldwinter. It's a bit of a gothic tale of a mythical beast woven around an unlikely love story... several love stories actually. I felt it was a little unresolved but then maybe that is how good stories should be. I don't know what anyone else thought as the meeting coincided with our dress rehearsal.

Apart from bookclub reading I've got through two of my Christmas presents.  A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is as you might imagine about the life of a man called Ove. At first I thought it was going to be really repetitive and tedious but as the kind character of Ove starts to come through and we learn more about his life and what makes him tick, I found myself totally engrossed in this tender tale that made me both laugh out loud and even shed a tear. 
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain a debut novel by Barney Norris is five separate but intertwined stories centered around a road accident that occurs in Salisbury. Each of the five individuals concerned tell their own narrative. It is both clever and entertaining, if somewhat unbelievable at times, but I was disappointed by the last story and felt it rather weak, letting down the rest of the book.

Currently I'm dipping into and enjoying The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs by Tristan Gooley while I do some indoor planning of walks to come. But the book that is keeping me reading until late at night is The Muse by Jessie Burton. I'm about half way through and totally gripped!

And I've just got a few more to keep me going over the coming months! A diverse selection to say the least!

Now if you excuse me I'm feeling a little sleepy...

So I might just have to join this gorgeous little man. How can he be over two months old already!

I hope you have a quiet and restful weekend too!

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Not a Victoria Sponge

Blog posts from me are a bit like buses... nothing for over a week and then two on consecutive days! But being the 21st of the month it is time to join in with the Cake Slice Bakers again (I'm actually a day late) where we choose a bake from a choice of four from our current book World Class Cakes by Roger Pizey. This month we had a choice  of a Red Velvet Cake... it looks pretty but I just don't like the thought of such a huge amount of food colouring, a Chocolate Cheesecake which was tempting as a dessert for our after show party on Saturday... but I was already making Brownies and mini chocolate Pavlovas and thought it better not to have three chocolate desserts (I know, silly me!), a Classic Victoria Sponge... not really much of a challenge as I make a lot of sponge cakes, and finally an Almond Tart with Honey, which sounded like a lovely dessert for the party. Before I go any further... you might now be wondering why my almond tart looks suspiciously like a Victoria Sponge. It doesn't, but I thought you might like to see a nice picture of a cake I once made before you see the tart...

I  was doing all the food for the party, so having been at work all day Thursday and Friday it meant cooking the party food on Saturday... after I'd been shopping for it! I was tired before I even started. Fortunately the Brownies were made first thing, as were the Pavlovas. I then I did some savoury dishes and bread before starting on my almond tart. The sweet pastry turned out really well and the frangipane filling looked delicious and golden when it was baked. The almond and honey topping was then made from honey, sugar, almonds and cream, boiled up together and spread on the tart before sticking it under the grill to brown. It was all going so well... then in my tired fug, as I pulled the tart from the grill... this happened...

Yes, there were tears, tantrums and possibly a swear word or two... in fact I had a melt down and looked something a bit like my crumpled almond tart. But I soon saw the funny side, took a photo and realised that at the end of the day it didn't really matter. And as we are still eating the Brownies there was obviously plenty of dessert for the party. And the moral of this story is I am not some sort of superwoman as is occasionally suggested, I need to sleep as much as the rest of you, I don't have any extra hours in my day... and when I mess up I do it big time! And just in case you were wondering... this is what it should have looked like!

So I may not have made a successful cake this month but you can at least see what the others have made:



Monday 20 February 2017

What a Week!

I somehow feel as though I have lost a week. I'm exhausted and running on auto pilot after a whole week of rehersals and then a three night run of Charley's Aunt.

I have wanted to direct Charley's Aunt for ages after having seen a wonderful outdoor production of it many years ago. I finally got to realise this ambition last week with our local amateur dramatics society.

It has been a long time in the planning... starting with me attending a committee meeting last April to present my idea and breaking my ankle on the way home! The broken ankle was just the first of many set backs. I had a cast member drop out after just a week into rehearsals but that turned out to our advantage as we found someone new who turned out to be excellent. Then another cast member went down with pnuemonia after Christmas and it was touch and go whether he would make the performances... but he rallied round and we all gave a sigh of relief. There are no under studies in am dram!

But despite these problems on the way, it has been a fabulous production and we have laughed so much as well making new friends. Although it has been a lot of hard work, it has also been an awful lot of fun. We played to a full house every night and the audiences seemed to enjoy it as much as we did. I had an amazing cast to thank.

Meanwhile I've also had my second week at work... which has left me tired beyond belief, and that's before having to go out every night. Long hours on my feet all day are really taking their toll, but that's a whole other story.

And then as if I wasn't doing enough we hosted the after show party on Saturday evening... but again more fun and a chance to unwind with all the lovely people we'd been working with for weeks.

Needless to say it's been a struggle to stick to our healthy eating regime... and by the weekend we fell off our healthy eating wagon with a bang! I think I had some left over crisps, a slice of toast, a brownie, and some chocolate buttons for lunch on Sunday... Oh.. and a pear too, in an attempt to be healthy! I was too tired to think of anything else. 

One of our cast members celebrated their birthday on Friday so I managed to make a cake... hence the left over chocolate buttons! When she is not making her debut as an actress, Jenny is known as the owl lady in our local schools when she brings her owl in to visit.

Would I do it all again... yes, I would because it has been a brilliant week working with a lovely group of people. It's like being part of a fabulous close knit family.

But I do wish I could have a week's holiday now! Fat chance!

Friday 10 February 2017

And Breathe...

Well I did say I had lots planned for this week and I have managed to do another couple of things from my sixty by sixty list. The first was a birthday present for both of us from Stewart's son and his wife. James and Elizabeth have taken up my sixty by sixty project with great enthusiasm and they thought I might like to add indoor skydiving to my list... They were not wrong!

On Wednesday we took ourselves off to Milton Keynes where we experienced the thrill of free fall skydiving... but inside a big wind tunnel. . You have to let yourself fall into the chamber where a 120 mile an hour wind lifts you up in the air for 60 seconds... which believe me is quite long enough! It was totally exhilirating. Everyone in our small group then got a second turn and if we were relaxed enough, the instructor spun us around and lifted us right up high inside the tunnel. As we left, Stewart said "That was amazing but I would never jump out of a plane"... and my reaction was "That was amazing, I'd love to do it out of a plane!" Not sure I ever would though!

Thursday was my first day in my new job. I'd had a couple of hours there last week, supposedly to learn all about the job... and in particular the "oven", but I left feeling I'd made a huge mistake. The training I was meant to receive on the state of the art "Self Cooking Centre" (actually nothing like any oven I've ever encountered) was non existant. Frankly the thing terrifies me... the idea of jumping out of that plane seems preferable to cooking with this! No one seems to know what I'm supposed to be cooking and it all feels rather chaotic... added to which, the other cook who was doing the days I'm not there, has left. However they are lovely people who run the shop and not wanting to give up before I've even given it a try I spent all day yesterday, from 8 am until 4.30 pm on my feet trying to bake scones in this machine. They were okay and people paid to eat them but I wasn't happy with the results... not up to my usual standard having to work with inaccurate scales, no measuring jug and an oven where you can't set your own temperature! The rest of the day was spent rinsing dishes and loading and unloading the dishwasher... very glam! I came home totally exhausted and with an awful headache so not sure how I will cope with two consecutive days next week.

At least I slept well last night, which was just as well as we had bought ourselves a morning at a Bird of Prey Centre for an African Bird Experience today.

We got to handle and fly all sorts of amazing birds. This was an Eagle Owl which was really beautiful, but we also got to fly a small African Barn Owl, a Harris Hawk and a large Fish Eagle with a 5 foot wing span... I certainly knew about it when he landed on my arm!

We saw so many beautiful birds I can't remember what this one (possibly a Bateleur Eagle) was but he was a real character... we were having a bit of a chat here! It was so cold that I think my nose almost matches his for colour! And the one below is a magnificent Bald Eagle called Lincoln... she was very heavy! She is still young so doesn't have her adult plummage yet. Just look at that beak and talons!

So there we are... that was my busy week. I'd like to tell you next week will be calmer but probably not! I am directing "Charley's Aunt", something I have wanted to do for a number of years ever since seeing a fabulous outdoor performance of it. So that will be another thing off my list no doubt. It could be a while before I have time to post again and I don't seem to be having time to read your posts either, so have fun meanwhile... and I'll be back soon.

Friday 3 February 2017

Rags to Riches

My sixty by sixty project, which was going so well before Christmas, seems to have reached somewhat of a hiatus over the last month. Sometimes there is just too much going on in day to day life without adding new experiences. But something I've always wanted to do is to make a rag rug and after enjoying making my rag rug door wreath in December I've been prompted to make a start.

I wanted something that looks quite contemporary so have opted for a design of squares and rectangles based on one by Kaffe Fasset in his book "Glorious Interiors". Whether this gets finished or not before my birthday in July is another matter but it will be ongoing... a bit like the 1000 piece jigsaw! It will get added to my list once it is complete.

Secretly I would have liked to make one with fabulous flowers, like the one on the cover of the book but have reined myself in and decided for a first attempt I need to learn to walk before I run... most unlike me.

Next week I hope to actually be adding another two more experiences to my sixty by sixty list, but you'll have to wait until I've done them before you hear about all it! I've also got the first day in my new job next week (that is becoming quite a saga... I'll save that for another time!) and it is the final week of rehearsals for a play I'm directing... I haven't told you about that either, have I? And there's a rather long walk that I need to start training for... You'll just have to come back again I'm afraid.
Whatever you are doing, have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday 1 February 2017

A Little of What you Fancy!

In my last post I promised you cake but it almost never happened. You might recall, although more likely not, that when I last baked with The Cake Slice Bakers one of the choices for January was a blood orange and vanilla cake. As there were blood oranges in the veg box last week and I was due to bring a pudding for a lovely gathering of friends at a Burn's supper last Saturday it seemed an ideal opportunity to bake this cake.

All went well with the slicing, mixing and stirring etc although I was a little concerned that the instructions for making caramel said to stir the sugar until it melted into a dark caramel. Everything I have ever read or seen about making caramel is quite definite that stirring should not be part of the process, causing the sugar to crystalise... which it did! I did manage to rescue it but it was very thick and my instinct would have been to have started with a little water mixed with the sugar. After a longer than specified cooking time the cake was finally baked but when I turned it out upside down, most of the thick caramel hadn't even begun to melt into the cake and was stuck solid on the tin, so I would definitely make caramel my way next time!

I didn't think it looked too great, not the least shiny and glossy like the photo in the book and I almost didn't bring it along but in fact it tasted much better than it looked... so although it wasn't very photogenic, it turned out okay. It was a real treat to go out to supper and have pudding, not something that has really been a feature of our healthy eating plan over the past few weeks.

Apple , raisin and cinnamon porridge.

Since the weekend we are back on track with tasty breakfasts and delicious soups, and loads of wonderful vegetables and it really doesn't feel like a hardship. We are eating regular meals, cooked from scratch and are enjoying every one.

Leek, bean and spinach soup

I've also been reading this book which gives loads of sensible advice for healthy eating for life. Lots of ideas for tweaking ones diet to make lasting healthy changes, without having to give up the occasional treat.

It focuses far more on the pleasure that should be had from all our food and it's definitely not about denial or giving things up. There is no doubt that cake should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of our diets, but when we have it, it should be enjoyed for the treat that it is, not be something we feel guilty about, which I guess is good news for someone like me who loves to bake so much!

I'll finish with one of the best quotes I've read lately "We shouldn't feel guilty about eating a slice of cake... it's not naughty, it's not a sin... sleeping with your best friend's husband is a sin. Cake is just cake, get over it"

I promise no more evangelical food posts... it's just we both feel so good plus we are both half a stone lighter since the beginning of January so it's hard not to want to shout about it!