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The All-Inclusive Breakfast

Ok. So it might be already paid for, I might be on holiday, but that does NOT mean that I have to behave like I haven’t seen food for months.  I am on a diet.  I am used to a banana and a cup of green tea when at home.  I can do this.

I’ll just have some herbal tea and some fruit.  That coffee smells good. I’ll have that instead of the tea as I need to be awake for some sightseeing later, so it’s medicinal really.

I’ll just have some coffee and some fruit.  And a slice of that holey cheese.

I’ll just have some coffee, some fruit and a slice of cheese…or two.

I’ll just have some coffee and some fruit and a few slices of different types of cheese…and some bread to go with it…and maybe a little tiny, tiny slither of butter because we never have the real stuff at home.

I’ll just have some coffee and some fruit and a few slices of different types of cheese, half a baguette and an ounce of butter.

I’ll just have some sliced cheeses, a baguette, lashings of butter and some slices of melon and pineapple…oh dear, the pineapple juice is making the bread soggy – I’d best get another small plate to put that on.

I’ll just have some sliced cheeses, a baguette, lashings of butter and I’ve got enough room left on the plate for a croissant…maybe two.  On the side plate I have some lovely healthy fruit.  I can make a start on that while I wait my turn to pick up some grilled tomato for the added vitamins.

I’ll just have some sliced cheeses, a baguette, lashings of butter, two croissants and a pain au chocolate. The second plate is now empty so I have plenty of room for some grilled tomato.  And maybe a nice healthy poached egg.

I’ll just have some sliced cheeses, a baguette, lashings of butter, two croissants, a pain au chocolate and a small blob of marmalade.  And one of jam.  On the second plate I’ll just have some grilled tomato, a poached egg…and maybe some scrambled egg in case the poached egg is too runny, or too hard.  Ooh look, maple syrup.

I’ll just have some sliced cheeses, a baguette, lashings of butter, two croissants, a pain au chocolate, marmalade, jam and Nutella.  (Gosh, these plates are small – I almost lost a croissant there!)  Then I’ll just have a little bit of grilled tomato, a poached egg, scrambled egg and maple syrup.  I’ve already had some fruit so that’s me being all nice and healthy.

I’ll just put these down on the table so I can go back and get some coffee.  And maybe a biscuit for afters.

Thank goodness I can exercise self-control.breakfast

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Let Them Eat Cake

Cake.  There really is something about cake.  Cake for happy days and sad days.  There’s a cake for every occasion.  We spent our childhood yearning after cakes in the shape or princesses or horses or castles.  We spend adulthood trying to make the aforementioned cakes…oh the memories of ice cream cones and half a ton of fondant icing being manipulated into a fairy castle…but I digress.

My stepmommy is fantastic at making cakes.  My stepmommy is really lovely and I am so very glad that she and my dad got together – he absolutely worships her and she is so very good for him.  Something I am grateful for every day.  But that’s another story – and not really mine to tell.  So anyway, my stepmommy makes great cakes.  When she knows we are visiting she always makes a gluten free cake for my awkward gluten-intolerant OH.  And they always rise! And never taste like dust!  (anyone who has eaten GF cake can understand what I am saying).

So the other day it was her birthday.  And I decided that for once she would not have to make the cake and that I would make one for her.  Had I set myself too great a task?  Was it a little like the “oh gosh, of course I can learn to play the saxophone in 2 months”?  Were my culinary skills about to be pushed to their extreme limits?  Well let’s see…

At the moment we are at our lodge in Wales so I don’t have access to my usual array of culinary gadgets. Or shops.  Well, of course there is a supermarket…but it is a one hour round trip away so this means that there is little opportunity for mishaps.  I do have to mention here that buying a gluten free cake, and icing it under the guise that it was made by my own fair hand, did indeed cross my mind.

So I have some class of an electric whisk like thing at the lodge.  I eschewed the old-fashioned wooden spoon.  I knew that GF cakes take a lot of beating or they would resemble thick pancakes.  Butter in.  Castor sugar in.  Whisk on.

Hmm….. buttery sugary mixture all up the walls.  So that wasn’t very successful then was it?  It appears that the whisk-like thingy is so long and floppy that it creates an immense amount of splatter.  I tried short bursts.  I tried longer bursts.  Neither seemed to work.  I had to settle for a pulse-like approach.  I’m sure the wooden spoon would have been quicker.

Eggs were beaten.  Flour was folded.  Lavender was added (don’t knock it till you have tried it – just make sure it is food grade).  I poured it lovingly into the cake tin.  Oh.  So that wasn’t very much then.  It kind of sat there in a measly half inch worth of cake batter.  I think the tin was a bit big.  I just knew the snidey-looking woman in the cake decorating shop had known I would come unstuck – I bet she knew this was some class of a tardis cake tin that would need super volumes of cake mix.  I bet she sniggered all the way home.  Could I face a one hour round trip to purchase a smaller tin?  Nope.  I could not.  I decided I would just bung it in the oven and hope for the best.

Despite my fears, the cake did rise.  But not enough to fill the tin.  So yup, I had to repeat all of the above and make another one (I had only bought one tin).  After almost 2 hours in the kitchen I had managed to make 2 one inch deep cakes.  However luscious they smelled, they were doing very little to emulate the deep and spongy loveliness of my stepmommy’s cakes.

Well, these little beauties got sandwiched together with some rather lovely jam.  Then I had the amazing idea that I would frost the cake.  With vanilla frosting.  Did I mention that I was utterly rubbish at plastering?  Well I am.  I tried though.  Thirty minutes later I was still trying to get to grips with how the spatula both put it on AND managed to take the icing off 2 seconds later!  I don’t think a cake has ever been sworn at so much!

To finish, I carefully placed an iced (and bought) “Happy Birthday” message on the top.  But I wanted more (mainly to cover up the dodgy plastering).  My beady eyes alighted on a pack of sugar stars. But how to get them onto the sides of the cake?  It perilously slid as I began to tip the plate.  Nope, another plan was needed.  So instead I hurled these little stars sideways at the cake – like a Ninja warrior frenziedly throwing shurikens at an unseen enemy.  They stuck into the icing.  I was happy.

So the end result is not the most amazingly pretty cake ever made.  It may not be six inches deep.  It may have used up every last egg known to mankind (or at least to my kitchen) It may have taken an hour to clean off cake mixture from the walls, floors and myself.  But you know what…?  It tasted pretty good.  Happy birthday Stepmommy xxx

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April Fool

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April 1st – April Fools’ Day. Also known as All Fools Day
Where did all that come from then eh? Apparently it was first recorded in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I don’t remember that part when I studied Chaucer as part of my A Level Literature….I do remember there being lots of rude bits that used to make us giggle and guffaw while the teacher spluttered and reddened at the front of the class. Well, it was…well, a fair few years ago…so teachers weren’t used to talking about bodily functions and sex. Even a mere mention of Juliet’s bosoms heaving atop the balcony whilst she looked about for the lusty Romeo was almost enough to bring the class to near-riot mode. I think hormones must have been stronger then…something to do with us not getting them until later I think.
Back in those days we weren’t allowed to go past Go, collect £200 and pick up hormones until a lot later…I think it was almost synonymous with O’ Levels (for those under a certain age, those were the olden day version of GCSEs…but much, much harder of course).
Nowadays young people (cue squeaky Cockney pronunciation of ‘young’) seem to get their hormones almost as soon as their age hits double figures. So the teachers have to wise up a little. I’m sure the sixth formers today have far more answers than questions when they’re studying Chaucer. I’m sure they wouldn’t be all giggly and restrained when discussing what it is that women really want. (You’ll need to read the book for yourself if you want the answer to THAT question).
So back to April Fools’ Day.
There were a few spoof news articles…although nothing to compare to the ‘Spaghetti Trees’ of my childhood. A few social media statuses that seemed to provoke more arguments than laughter.
A few news articles that the pre-election population of Britain hoped were spoofs…but unfortunately weren’t.
And that was about it really. No one to play tricks…no trickers, no trickees. It’s just not the same being off work for April Fools’s Day. It’s not the same when I don’t have a classroom full of students who don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I tell them they have a 2hour test (Oh yes I can be THAT mean).
The dogs weren’t up for a bit of foolery. I tried putting their food bowls upside down in the feeder…and they just looked at me and whined. I hid behind the door when they came in from outside and then jumped out at them shouting “boo!” …and they just jumped up me with muddy paws (nothing new there). I put on my OH’s Cowboy-stylee fishing hat and did a little dance around the kitchen…they just barked at me.
No fooling going on there then.
So I gave up. I did the usual day one of the Easter holidays type of stuff. I did 3 loads of clothes washing. I tidied up and put the paper in the recycling. I cleaned out the turtle’s tank (a vile and smelly job that paints a picture of that hard-shelled green Pasty that is totally at odds with a poem that formed a previous blogpost).
I had a shower. And looked in the mirror. Oh great, thanks, a single ‘old lady’ hair had sprung itself on my chin. I guess this heralds the start of the downward spiral into cat-lady territory. A bit of a slap in the face, that. Welcome to Spring…oh by the way, you’re getting old.
And there was me thinking I could defy age…April Fool.

Ladies that amble…

 

I’ve joined the SAS. Yes, honestly.

Now before you get all worked up about me ziplining my way into guerilla hideouts I think I had better clarify:

SAS stands for Saturday Amblers Society. It is a walking group for a group of *ahem* young ladies…well okay, Women of a Certain Age, who walk. Not hiking, no that would be altogether rather too strenuous – that entails measuring distance in terms of miles rather than kilometres. We decided that we needed a form of gentle exercise and that walking would be it. It would also involve the countryside and getting back to nature.

Oh who am I kidding? It really involves a ramble around some fields, woodlands or lanes and lo and behold there’s a pub and we might as well stop for a spot of lunch. Well it would be rude not to. It is also an excuse to go into Blacks and other such outdoorsy types of shops and purchase walking paraphanalia (just what does one do with a ‘gaiter’?)

So the SAS involves some work colleagues and assorted friends. The idea is that once a month, on a Saturday, we go for a nice slow amble and a nice leisurely lunch.

Assorted walking footwear has been purchased, a small rucksack has been tried on for size (keys, phone, lipgloss and bottle of water all neatly fit inside – it is very small), nordic poles (purple) ordered. So everything’s ready for the first mission.

Just call me Wainwright.

Team photo

No plug in, baby

wet dog

I bought a new air freshener the other day. This warm and oh so often wet weather just serves to intensify that well-known aroma of wet dog that fogs the utility room and seems to permeate every corner of the house thus necessitating the need for a fresh floral façade.

I don’t have those plastic-vented stick-em-on-the-table air fresheners. Oh no, those are far too low tech and 70s vintage era for me. “Ah…the plug in…?” I hear you surmise. Well, no. I’m afraid I’ve read too many of those ‘The air freshener burned my house down’ kind of stories to risk using one of those. Nope. Not going to jeopardise my life with one of those lily of the valley Molotov cocktails, no way.

No. I have one of those huge contraptions that sit on the coffee table like an ancient monolith. Pffshhing out bursts of eye watering perfumery at regular intervals and requiring new batteries every three days and refills every five. You know the ones – running costs on a par with your monthly gas bill.

Anyway, there I was standing in the supermarket gazing at a vast array of refills.

Ever done that? It’s incredible. It’s mind-boggling. Whatever happened to names like ‘lemon zest’ or ‘vanilla’ or ‘grass cuttings’? We recognised those – we all knew what those were going to smell like. But now none of those simple names are good enough and the manufacturers appear to have employed graduates of poetry rather than chemistry in the production rooms.

Now they are called things like ‘Spring Meadow’ (does it smell like sheep poop?), ‘Frosty Mornings’ (eau de de-icer?) and ‘Oriental Magic’ (waft of a Geisha’s G-string?). Too confusing by far. Supermarkets don’t appreciate you spraying them all in the aisle first so these confusing names leave consumers having to pick something vaguely familiar in a colour that they like.

So. I purchased one called ‘Brecon Beacons’ based on the premise that I spend a lot of time in Wales. I have been to the Brecon Beacons.

 It did not

Smell

Like that.

I was expecting something that resembled spring rain on abundant wild flowers. What I got was shepherd’s armpit with undertones of hiker’s sock.

So this is a plea really. To all manufacturers of air fresheners: please, please call your products something that is easy to understand. Something that resembles the smell.

In the meantime I will just tell any visitors to my house that they are experiencing the very height of vogue in the perfume world – Eau de Wet Dog.   That aint no plug in, baby.               

 air freshener paw

Ascending Scales

New Year. 1st January 2014.
My bathroom scales have just looked reproachfully at me from the corner of the bathroom. I glared back at them and continued to fold my warm, bath-softened body into a large towel. A very large towel.
Who exactly do they think they are? What business of theirs is it how many juicy mince pies I have eaten over the festive season? (About 20)…how many bottles of wine I have glugged down my parched throat? (About the same)
Surely I have the right to comfort eat in my own home…well, in anybody’s home actually…? It is WINTER for God’s sake! Does anyone sit and judge the amount of pre-winter stocking up done by other creatures? Squirrels, for example? No. I thought not.
So why then the annual guilt? Just how many people will spend today joining gyms, eating salad, pushing the kids out of the way to commandeer the games console for the latest iFit programme, wobbling about on bikes (yes, it is possible to forget how to ride one) and generally dusting off the old Nikes?
I am NOT going to join in!
I cast a scathing look at my bathroom scales. I ‘accidentally’ dropped a towel over its smug face. Weigh that you pious bastard.
I flounced into the bedroom. Well…flapped would be a better word..
I slunk back in. I triple-locked the bathroom door. I closed the bathroom window. I uncovered mine enemy, Removing the towel from its knowing eyes. I removed my own towel (don’t worry, I won’t describe that bit – it is before the watershed).
I stepped carefully on, pretending that I really don’t care.
The scales let out an audible expulsion of air….more of a harrumph than a sigh.
I won’t tell you the number they showed me. Well my hair was still a bit damp so I can take half a stone off for that, oh and I still have false nails on so that’s another 4 or 5 pounds.
Anyway, I don’t have time to waste here…I’ve got to go and find my trainers out from the back of the shed…

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Photo © David Vale

Arrival

The clack of heels moved further away from me. Leaving me alone. Listening to the sound do my own breathing. It sounded ragged and loud to my ears.

I slowed my step. Longer pauses between the almost-complaining squeak of my shoes. Stopped. Looked up just in time to see the last flash of a couple as the rounded the corner and were soon out of sight. Silence. The cold corridor stretched ahead of me. Seeming to get longer the longer I looked. An elastic walkway.

I hitched the heavy bag further onto my shoulder and began to walk forwards again: the effort of moving one foot on front of the other drawing me down like leaden boots. I wanted to turn around: knew then my feet would find the impetus to carry me swiftly out of that place. Instead they dragged slowly, taking a lifetime to move forward. I didn’t want to face the horror that would await me at the end of that slow walk. The start of a new school year was always frightening. I knew how the kids felt.