Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Christmas presents past

You have to love the Pickle - she does things her way. Her christmas list is always worthy of note. She really became aware of Christmas aged three and her greatest wish was for a bunny costume and a book about bunnies (okay, she found the book 'How much do I love you?' rather mawkish and it has seldom been read). The following year she asked for a pair of new wellies and a pair of scissors (no connection).

Last year her taste rather plummeted. I gave her a 'Letterbox' catalogue to flick through for inspiration, as most of their toys are fun and generally either wooden, costumes or crafty. She managed to fall in love with a 'Princess Coralie' make up head. The make up head has somewhat redeemed itself in my eyes, as one morning I came down to see her engrossed with her Aunty Bat; seeing my voluptuous, gothic, rockabilly, burlesque friend doing play hair and make up was priceless.

So far this year either she wants a retractable glove to pick blackberries at the top of bushes or a flying machine. Easy...maybe.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Autumn Colours

This post is a bit experimental - but I am trying to stay as close to the aim of @Older_Mum's #oneweek project as possible. These pictures are not aiming to be Ansel Adams, but they do show the colours of Autumn unfolding over the space of 10 days (a little cheat there, I started a few days early). You can see nature working up to a crescendo then the life starting to ebb away.

Here is the badge so you can check out some more visions of Autumn. one week

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Autumn changes

Year on year Autumn unfolds, joyous, predictable and ultimately giving way for renewal in Spring. This year Autumn will change Chaos Cottage in a way not seen since we got an inside loo.
When the cottage was built three hundred years ago it was a functional shepherds dwelling, surrounded by fields. during the war it was at the edge of a large airfield, but still amidst cornfields. Twenty years ago Reading came up to the back door, with just a track and a belt of trees to secure our solitude.

My morning ritual was watching the mists retreat back to the river Loddon across the fields in front of my bedroom window. After years of fighting I have to accept the change is coming.

As I came back from my walk this morning I saw the sight of cones. The track leading home is about to be widened, a roundabout built ready for the hundreds of houses that block my view of the river.
Before it was just us and nature, then sounds of trees and birds. Okay, apologies to the houses adjacent when the band at our birthday party was heard a mile away, or when we had delusions of Elvis at 3am when we balanced on surf boards in the garden escaping sharks; we were so used to being on a limb we forgot how close to reality we were. As the last leaves drop, so does our isolation.
this blog was inspired by Autumn changes with Older Mum.
one week

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Autumn part 2 and 2 cakes

This year I have made huge steps towards Stepford-ism: my house retains its bohemian appeal (it could do with a spring clean) but I have discovered baking. You can blame it on Dan, I have mentioned him before: Saint Dan, Patron Saint of Elasticated Waists. So for the first time I decided to bake a Christmas cake, the only problem was which one. Naturally, the answer was to cook two!

Beware, mind, the ingredients are not cheap - my halo is shining bright as I got mine from Truefood Coop, made more affordable with my active member vouchers, natch. Incidentally I was chatting to a customer at Truefood and she smugly said that as the dried fruit was so sweet she did not add any sugar, I nodded saying that it can be sweet so I am not planning to ice mine just home made marzipan and a riotous display of colourful dried fruit and nuts (and some marzipan holly) and she looked at me her halo ebbing away saying that she had to double ice hers.

Cake 1: Caramel Christmas Cake

200g caster sugar
50ml water
150ml double cream
50g both honey and black treacle
Grated zest of an orange and a lemon
4 teaspoons of mixed spice (I bodged by using a random combination of ginger, clover, nutmeg, cinnamon and little all spice)
100g butter
3 medium eggs (or any your chickens lay :)
250g strong white flour
1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
250g each currants, raisins and chopped prunes or figs (I used prunes)
400g natural glacé cherries (not the lurid red ones - but I only had 150g so I made up to a similar weight using some dried sour cherries and candied ginger)
200g walnut halves (or chopped walnuts as they are cheaper, but I still almost forgot them)
Boil up the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan until a rich, dark, reddish caramel - it should take 5-6 mins; I did something wrong and it kept on going granular so I had to add more water, but it came good in the end. When is goes a brown as you dare (it will burn if you let it go too far) add the cream, taking care as it spits like a camel. Stir in the cream then add the honey, treacle and spice. Next add the butter and beat it in cruelly until it melts.
Turn on the oven to 170'C/150' Fan and line the bar and sides of a round tin 18cm diameter (I only had a 20cm) with a few layers of non-stick baking paper.
transfer to a mixing bowl (unless you are a domestic slut like me) and beat in the eggs one by one, stir in the flour and bicarb until smooth. Add the fruit and nuts and spoon / pour into the lined tin and pop into the oven. The overall mixture was quite stiff so I could make it slightly lower in the middle so that one it rose it was fairly flat and ready to decorate.
Bake for two hours or until a skewer only collects a few crumbs when stuck in.

Cake 2: Black Christmas Cake

375g mixed dried fruit
150g quartered prunes
1teaspoon orange extract - I substituted orange zest, a little vanilla and some pomegranate molasses that I use in stews.
200g chopped ginger glacé
500ml stout
200g butter
1 teaspoon of each cinnamon, mace, ground cloves, nutmeg
200g muscovado sugar (mine was a random mix of brown sugars from dark muscovado to my newly discovered rapadura sugar and reduced the quantity overall quantity to around 180g)
175g black treacle
3 medium eggs
250g spelt or whole meal flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
Add the first batch of dried ingredients and extract (or alternative) to a bowl. Meanwhile go through the faff of reducing the stout down to about 100ml, it should take 15min simmering if you don't boil it over or loose the will to live. Add the butter to melt then stir in the spices (you should wait until it cools, but by now I am aware that DB will awake at around 4.30am and want some sleep first).
Line your 20cm cake tin (I have the right size this time) with non-stick baking paper and heat the oven to 170'c /150' C fan.
Beat the eggs (and your dish washer - how many pans and bowls I wonder?) then stir in. Sift the flour and baking powder together, adding back the health bits of the flour that stay in the sieve and beat this into the mixture with the fruit.
Transfer the mixture to your lovingly lined tin and cook for 2 1/2 hours until it passes the skewer test and the top of the cake feels firm.

Can you see the lengths that I go to in order to advise you on your cake? Well neither require the fruit to be soaked unusually. Cake number 2 is cakier, with more crumb and the first cake is more loaded with fruit. I find cake 2 more of a fiddle (could you tell?) and the taste of the black treacle a little overpowering. the Hubster said that it tasted of Christmas, so he is sold on it.

Now can I hear the entrance of the Queen of Sheba, angelic trumpets? No, the baby monitor is on and the Hubster is snoring. I think it is late, so I shall press publish before I see too many typos or grammatical howlers.
Goodnight xx

one week

Sunday, 11 November 2012

autumn part one

Have you noticed that increased use of the great C word? what were you thinking? not that! C-h-r-i-s-t-m-a-s. All I can say is thank goodness for Hallowe'en otherwise we may have had snow and baubles going up before the hot cross buns had gone stale.

Well Pickle is six and DB is one, so before cynicism and materialism takes control I will... err...cynically grab the mail order catalogues. NO scrub that! Every post more catalogues arrive, my inbox is overrun with Christmas sales. I am fighting back with pins and prunes - don't worry, I am sane and will explain later!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Introduction to planet Sarah

Out there in the darkness orbiting planet earth is a satellite. It is nearly vintage - *whispers 1970*. It is a basic model, some more advanced versions are fitted with both the convention and common sense operating systems but this one manages without convention.

As it is the centre of my universe I have imbued it with unwarranted status and call it Planet Sarah. It used to be docked onto earth, when London based it sent out an expeditionary force most nights to investigate the twin phenomena of alcohol and fun.

Since the operating system was updated to include motherhood and life in the 'burbs it has turned into a satellite in random orbit. Lines of communication have been opened through this blog log. Great satisfaction had been discovered. It is still trying to navigate netiquette and how to join the great debate, but Planet Sarah is a benevolent place so efforts will continue.

One great issue with the operating system is the twin issues of lack of the convention protocol and early years of indoctrination in Yorkshire. Surprise has been expressed on many occasion at the nature of the happiness filter, negativity rarely infiltrates. The over all package can seem perplexing to the newcomer.

A commitment has been made to dock onto the great mother ship of Mumsnet - tomorrow we (who am I kidding, I) will be attending blogfest. however, there are a few outstanding issues, this may open up the system to viruses - the Mumsnet Initiation (being called a C U next Tuesday for etiquette transgression?) and a session about Dealing with detractors and tackling trolls.

I guess the thing is, I am quaking in my boots (Ethletic fairtrade ones if you are asking) but I am preparing to enter your orbit. It will all be fine, as on Planet Sarah we live the Pretty Good Life.

P.s. You may recognise me from this flattering pic, in the morning I will be hiding behind a coffee and by afternoon I often resemble Cousin It.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

I missed this link up last week - which is strange as it is an absolute highlight reading all the posts, but less strange when considering what I was up to. I was on the best holiday! Just me and my little family: The Hubster, Pickle and DB were living it up in Cornwall.
We had such fun! I felt that it was a sigh of relieve as we all rebounded. The first years of a baby's life is so intense for a Mum that they inevitably set the agenda. On holiday we were a team, except we split along gender lines. he Hubster and DB bonded while the Pickle and I rediscovered each other. we had no obligations, no deadlines and no stress. It was bliss!
I had hoped that we would get to the Eden project but with little people sometimes the happiest times are when you listen to them rather than frog march them off, nominally in the name of fun. having said that we were busy! I had already written about the National Maritime Museum and alluded to the Eden project when we celebrated Hallowe'en, and we also made it to the amazing Aquarium in Plymouth, swam every day and even went skating.
The best things in life are free, so my reasons to be cheerful are the TIME we spent together as a family. Not forgetting the very special highlight: DB said his first joined up words 'Daddy Go'. Big smiles for my clever boy!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Autumn makes itself felt, it attacks our senses: the smell of damp leaves, the piecing cold wind, leaves underfoot either crisp with frost of squelching when damp. It heralds a new season of celebrations. This year we were in Cornwall for half term so were lucky enough to herald the new season at the Little Monster's Ball at the Eden Project. Here is my little monster, hoody over her witches costume. I think the body language says it all - splat!

 As this is the Gallery I feel obliged to add a photo of a tree as it seems to be a shared preoccupation. I love the contrast between the leaves as they change colour with the proud bows of the oak and the vibrant sky.

I am trying to keep my powder dry, as I am looking forward to Older Mums's One week project next week. 

one week

I love her badge, I hope my posts can do it justice.

In the meantime, pop over to the gallery to see more posts on Autumn - it is one of my weekly highlights. :)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

National Maritime Museum

We love Museums and something that we find, time after time, is that it is people that make museums for children. Little ones are clever, with minds open to new information, but you just need to present the information in the right way.

The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth seems to have it all. Great exhibits updated regularly, displays to inspire awe (think a flotilla of flying boats), an observation tower facing out across the harbour, interactive explanations, boats to play on - it even has a good cafe. Best of all it has people.

Can you imagine a better way to be introduced to a museum that by Mr Dapper weaving his storytelling magic? We wove our way around the museum, following poetic clues - stopping occasionally for stories. He called them stories, a boring teacher would call them lessons. With a grandmother from the Isle of Wight I have often attempted explain how it became an island, with little success; armed with an air bed, a picture of the moon and a magnet it all became clear in the hands of the Magical Mr Dapper. As his tour came to an end he promised real pirate treasure and in this, as with all else, he surprised and surpassed expectations - rather than plastic or chocolate coins - he produced real doubloons from a privateer ship for the children to handle.

Earlier he had noticed that we had a pushchair so he confined it to the ground floor, a classic example of the thoughtfulness shown throughout the museum. He had recommended we visit the tidal zone where we could go under the sea to see the harbour's fish and examine the height at which low and high tide appear on the big glass windows. Above in the lookout a volunteer could point out all the points of local interest and the histories of the boats below. Next we dashed over to learning zone to make paper plate fish and 3-d models of turtles - in a frenzy of glue, glitter and tissue paper - observed and assisted by the ever present helpers and guides.

We were there for about four hours but we barely as we had touched the surface, as we left I was using severe distraction techniques so that they did not see what we had failed to explore. I am searching to think of sage advise as to what to avoid or things that I could do differently - but alas my only advice would just be to go!

Thursday, 1 November 2012


I thought long and hard about this one. It could have been the Pickle dressed up for the Little Monsters Ball, it could have been the sight of me first thing in the morning - but no it is something that is far, far more dangerous.

Absinth, the very name sends shivers down my spine. The only ever time I drunk it was at, until that point, a very civilised dinner party. one moment we were around a dinner table then the Absinth struck and we were all skinny dipping. apparently the next morning they had to polish the dining room window to remove the imprint left by my brother in laws gonads. It is all a bit hazy and I had my eyes shut - seriously - I believe that it is good to have some secrets within families! Now, please, I must change the subject.