Tuesday, 26 March 2013


My day is defined by walks. Up in time to walk to school, then straight off to walk the Mr.Woof. The day starts the slow wind down with the school collection, with promises of cuddles, food and eventually bed time. Throughout these long walks I love seeing the year evolve at first hand.

Hands are very important. Recently the icy wind has been biting, I feel as if I am trotting along without jeans as their weave is no match for the elements. Poor DB struggles, as for longer walks I incarcerate him in the push chair, and it is his hands that suffer most.

Now, when his hand starts to get cold up it goes. His hand declares a halt! It is time to rub those little fingers and lavish with hot potatoes. Normally we end it with a kiss on the nose, accompanied by endless giggles.

We have beaten Jack Frost - walks are fun again. Hurrah! Now hurry up spring, the seedlings need you now.

Shakespeare for beginners

Conflicting emotions started long before the action. I love Shakespeare but was the Pickle too young? I love the Globe but was the building just too historic to be comfortable for a six year old? the production was aimed at school children but would it be dumbed down?

We did our home work, and read an excellent introduction to the play. Pickle got to know the story and we could chat about the language, the themes and 'thees and thous' and generally we started to get excited. Then the snow started to fall!

From underneath a hat, coat and blanket a little nose and two twinkling eyes were ready. I confess to welling up as I saw her face in awe of the action. The troupe burst onto the stage from all angles dancing and playing a thunderous chorus on trumpets from that point on the Pickle was hooked.

The production part of the 'Playing Shakespeare' initiative, promoting the Bard to school children, and so ran the risk of alienating both children and aficionados alike. Glyndebourne's attempt at pop opera that they marketed at the Brighton's Universities was a classic example of how to get it hideously wrong; Tangier Tattoo was an 'operatic thriller' and had all the elements - guns, drugs, sex and torsos - that you would think could appeal to a student, if you had never taken the time to talk to one. Ultimately it was let down as the music was not very good. Even the marketing had failed as most of the audience looked as if last saw the inside of a classroom when they dropped off their heirs at Eton. It would be tragic if this was the fate of all accessible productions.

Daunted at the prospect of seeing the Bard mangled I almost winced as the first words were spoken. Would it be Shakespeare reinterpreted in modern speech, a limp 'West End Story', or would they be brave? I opened my eyes to the first impassioned rhyming couplet and glanced at the Pickle - she got it. Within her cocoon her eyes were like lasers, focused and enjoying, really enjoying.

At a running time of an hour and three quarters the play had been cut, but I had seen more blatant text savagery in so called adult theatre (Michael Gambon trying hard to carry off Alan Ayckbourn's Othello springs painfully to mind). They could have taken more liberties with the text, but with a production of this calibre it was not necessary. With the snow swirling and the mercury diving attention were still focused on the stage; it was not just the Pickle, a little girl behind us kept a stage whisper going demanding Daddy description, but interpretation given she still seemed rapt. The elements could not detract from real performance.

There were some highlights, Richard James Neale excelled as Mercutio but ultimately it was an ensemble piece from the musicians to the confetti's star turn. There is often a week link and Tom Whitelock's Paris was a tad limpid but in other less impressive settings his performance would not have seemed below parr.

I am not trying to rear a genius, and promote Shakespeare for educational oneupmanship. I took the Pickle as I wanted to share something that could be fun. I have a parenting bucket list - to introduce the Pickle to the broadest variety of experiences, skills and foods, so that once she leaves home she is not daunted by anything new. The Globe's Romeo and Juliet was just that, we laughed, gasped and I cried - the Pickle is already requesting a return visit.

Pickle's short review relates 'it was good...it was funny and sad in a few places. go and see it as it quite tricky to describe'.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Red could be the Pickle's uniform, but that had featured once or twice, or it could be a fire engine. (Is there a specific medical complaint brought on by the sounds from the great plastic idols?)

But, a red fire engine is the theme of my life not a story. So instead I must tell a red yarn.

I like to know how things work, I need to know how to things are made. Recently I have had a craving to make a crochet flower, so armed with no prior knowledge, a hook and YouTube I was ready for the challenge.

A few deflating knots later I realised I had to start with basics, I should focus first on discovering my single and double crochets, as well as the chains that had come so naturally.

Notice the difference between attempt one and attempt two? From there it was not too big a step via Mom of 5 Daughters to make my long awaited flower.

What do you think? Pickle now wants me to make us matching crochet hats. I imagine that it will be an addiction for the next month or so (just like spinning wool, lace making and millinery before it) but for now crochet rocks! Any ideas for what to do next, or should I capitulate to Pickle's dubious and taste defying demands?

Monday, 18 March 2013


The Light Show at the Hayward Gallery

The doors closed behind us and a waterfall of tiny lights greeted us. 'Home,' I thought, 'I am home again.' No, I had not been overdoing the interior decor, I had come back to the Hayward Gallery after far too long. I had brought the children to see the Light exhibition.

Pickle gets straight to the point 'is this art?'. Like a pro I swat aside this comment and tell her it is called art, then get her to tell me what she sees, what she likes and what she thinks. Suddenly there are more important questions than whether light installations were art and we were away.

Pickle dictated that pace, spoke her mind and we listened and followed. Picasso said 'Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.' Watching her face was as instructive as any exhibition catalogue.

Looking at her in Anthony McCall's light installation was a revelation; pure wonder as she walked through smokey beams of light. Even DB was in on the act, just getting used to the galley: watching, enjoying and just being.

The Carlos Cruz-Dies' rooms were unashamed grandstanding. Pristine white rooms lit by a series of coloured lights, where colour dictates our perception subtlety as we went from red to green to blue. Even the catalogue picture (copied above) shows children revelling in the aura. We had flickers of recognition that it could have been about more than rolling around on the flour as we compared how we looked in the different rooms, but no searching questions.

Pieces by Conrad Shawcross and Olafur Eliasson grabbed our attention and sparked the imagination; Shawcross's soaring arc of shadows and Eliasson's disconcerting freeze frame flicker across moving water forced us to look hard and doubt our senses. Ivan Navarro tardis of light and mirrors was just plain fun to experience with a cheeky six year old.

Sadly there are limitations on visiting galleries with little people, and I had to sacrifice a close viewing of both Dan Flavin and Jennie Holtzer's works. Dan Flavin's piece in particular was far too subtle to merit more than a cursory glance as we almost finished our tour - which was is particularly sad given his international standing.

The trip was a huge success, it was fun, it was revealing and it another step in making gallery visits part of my children's vernacular. Forget these highfalutin ideals, if you get half a chance, book those tickets and go, Go, GO! You won't regret it and you will be talking about it for days.

The Woman in White at the Theatre Royal Windsor and on Tour.

It was one of those shows, you know the ones where you have to get the programme to work out who they are, you know those actors off the telly. It had all the elements designed to make it a crowd pleaser, an engaging plot from a well know Victorian writer, period costumes and a handful of famous actors. With a cast of around twelve touring to mid scale theatres it needed to get bums on seats.

It was all highly professional, some of the acting was highly impressive. Some of it was just lightly smoked ham - not the melodrama expected by a Victorian audience, just an escalated posturing with no scope for crescendo.

The show was entertaining but then when we are bombarded with content across so many different media I find it hard to see the role of theatre as bland entertainment. Sure the blue rinse brigade my dust down their tweeds and be reassured that the country it not going to wrack and ruin as you can still see theatre with good old fashioned values. For me? I need more, much more; with well scripted, challenging television on offer for those who track it down why bother leaving the house for the bland.

Congratulations to the Ambassadors Theatre group for keeping regional theatres going, it my be a great training ground for those that really want to go on and create worthwhile. For me, count me out; I don't need to go out of my way to find inoffensive bland and alas, had I to sum up this production in a word that would be it: bland.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Super ....Hedgehog

Pickle has always done things her way and has been marginally obsessed with hedgehogs for a while so I was not surprised when she wanted to be Super Hedgehog for Comic Relef. True she was the only person in her school to go off piste, but that was not her concern.

With costumes traditionally I go over the top, way over the top, but this time I scaled it right back. After a week of bugs and illnesses and very little sleep I had one evening to make the costume and the carrot cake so simplicity had to be my ally.

Armed with a glue gun and three shades of felt I set to work. Ears and two rows of spikes on a plastic hair band and a simple mask made from felt with another two layers of spikes glued onto that. Easy!

I quickly made a cloak, as my printer is on the blink I had to forego my standard 'professional' printing and paint a simple badge for the back. Am idlers costume that made one little Pickle very happy!

It won't go down in history like my Death Star or the Clangers costumes, but it is not bad.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

C is for ....Carrot Cake

It is Comic Relief time and the school's densely packed missives have turned into a flurry of directives. Today is the cake stall, change pile, Glee club(?) to mention but a few. Pickle is ill but I am not sure of that qualifies as a legitimate excuse, so I reached for Saint Dan, patron saint of Elasticated waists.

Carrot cake

(I will do my bit, but school can not be trusted with one of my vintage tins so they get Tupperware. )

100g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour (this is as I have to leave out the nuts for school and this gives the recipe a bit more bite - I thought I may need to add a little orange juice to compensate but in the end it was fine)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
100g light soft brown sugar
75g rapadura sugar (again this is my amendment, the recipe requires just 200g light soft brown and none of my new found poncey stuff)
150ml sunflower oil
3 medium eggs
150-200g grated carrots (3 smallish ones)
If not for school - 75g chopped walnuts or pecans

200g full fat cream cheese
100g butter, soft
Zest of an orange
A teaspoon of lemon or orange juice

Heat oven to 180'c and grease and line two 20 cm round tins.

You can adjust for whatever tin / tins you have) I did a double batch and did one as directed and a single 27 cm tin too which took about 40 mins to cook in a separate oven. Generally the thinner the layer of mix (I.e larger tin) the shorter the cooking time, and where I doubled the mix in a larger tin it took longer to cook.

Sift the flour and spices together. In a large bowl mix the sugar and oil then beat in the eggs until smooth. Stir in the carrots then fold in the for mixture. divide between the two tins, or pour into whatever tin arrangements you have. Bake for about 25mins until springy to touch and an inserted skewer comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

Beat the icing sugar and butter together with a little cream cheese until smooth, then add the rest of the icing ingredients. Use the icing to sandwich the two layers and on top.

Enjoy - or hope some lucky person pays loads of money for it. :)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Fair trade week

(Sorry, can't find the credit for this photo:()

There is a book titled something along the lines of 50 reasons to buy Fair
Trade, and it perplexes me. There only needs to be one, big fat reason, by buying fair trade you are not shafting someone but paying a living wage to your producers.

Ten years ago the majority of chocolate in this country had been produced by child labour in West Africa , kids who work with wearing sores from there they had sliced their limbs with machetes as they worked. Is there a 5 second rule for child labour? If only one bite of your chocolate bar has passed through the hands of slave does it still count? does it still taste as good?

Fair trade has been really successful in raising the profile of ethically produced goods, and with it came the backlash. Some of it based on somebody having tasted something five years ago and never touching anything from the movement again. Some claim that the movement is over bureaucratic and so only open to large organisations. Also Fair trade can be used as a corporate green wash.

You know what I agree with some of these comments. If I want really want good chocolate I don't necessarily go for fair trade, and I definitely won't go for the Fair Trade Kit Kat - it breaks my heart (the kitKat bit) but this blog remains a resolutely Nestlé free zone!

A heartening story is about our local Mortimer Chocolate Company which currently is not Fair Trade but I will eat their chocolate found with ethical relish as find out more about it and it comes with its own very shiny halo.

Like all the best people Fair Trade is flawed in some respects, but it is still vitally important to bring attention to the political power in our wallets. It is not just about chocolate, tea and bananas. It also must be about quality (People Tree are you listening?) and not necessarily looking or smelling like a paid up member of the rafia mafia. Lets think about trade not aid, locally and internationally - and whether we decide to buy Fair Trade or start a more I depth quest to live ethically let's make a few more steps this week. In the meantime would you like another scoop from this delicious fondu?

Monday, 4 March 2013

A week of problem vegetables!

It is coming to the end of the winter and I am starting to get bored of winter veg. The first of the green house tomatoes are coming in, but as yet they are not really up to much, and to be honest I feel a little fraudulent eating tomatoes in February.

I was faced with a week that, thanks to the fine Mr Able, must include swede and parsnip. Somehow that enthusiasm that I greeted them with in the Autumn had waned and I was down right uninspired.

Then inspiration struck. I knew I had cracked it when the Pickle squeaked that she hated Swede then had thirds of what I dreamt up. I hope you are inspired. (There is a wild card on Friday night, decidedly not my style of cooking but even more rewarding for that).

Monday - laksa (I wrote about that last week)

Tuesday - potato and parsnip rosti with poached eggs
Normally I use floury potato for my rosti, as per most recipes, but with the parsnips I think a waxy potato (Charlotte or other salad type potato) would work much better given the choice just to give the rosti a little bite as the parsnips go a little soggy when parboiled.

Wednesday - spiced swede fritters with Penang bites (lite) and mango chutney
I wimped out of serving the little ones just the fritters at the last minute, so made some Penang bites by cooking some chicken chunks in a mixture of soy and sweet soy sauce.
I spiced the fritters up a little more between child and adult suppers.

Thursday - salmon and broccoli risotto

Friday - club sandwich incorporating loads of salad

Saturday - freezer chili with rice
A bit of a pyjama day as DB was under the weather - so I kept with the cuddles and did little cooking!

Sunday - slow roast lamb with potato boulangere and piles of veg followed by fake blood orange panna cotta.
I made a blogged version of a Jamie Oliver slow roast lamb. I reduced the garlic to four fat cloves and simplified the sauce: I just added a little flour and blackberry vinegar (my new fave ingredient, thanks River Cottage) to the cooking juices and mashed garlic and let it bubble a few mins to cook the flour.
It was delicious and the time it took to cook the lamb meant that I could cook the potato Boulanger to perfection.

I cooked the pud just to use up loose ends as I had some blood oranges and milk. I was not convinced it would work, but it was surprisingly delicious!

fake blood orange panna cotta
(I love that name, I just made it up as it is not a proper panna cotta but implies....okay I am running out of enthusiasm for the name already).

Heat a couple of tablespoons of rapadura sugar in a saucepan until it melts. The reason I recommend rapadura as it was a revelation how easy it was compared to normal sugar that can take for ages to melt and the burns before you realise. As soon as it has melted add some water - and mind as it spits rudely. Then pour this liquid caramel into the base of smallish over dish.

Start soaking 3 leaves of gelatine in about 1/2 cup of milk
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup yoghurt
Gently warm the milk and yoghurt together, and mix in about 3 tablespoons of rapadura sugar and some vanilla bean extract to taste. Add in the gelatine leaves when soft and floppy and the milk. Stir in until the gelatine dissolves totally. Carefully add in the juice of two blood oranges. (I did this very gingerly as I was convinced it would curdle but it didn't). Take it off the heat and stir sporadically to make sure it cools evenly. when the mixture is getting gloppy - about half an hour later - pour it carefully into the dish into which you have added the caramel.
Pop into the fridge for a few hours for it to turn into a wonderful wobbling mass of sweet calories.

Friday, 1 March 2013

#one week - the finale

Now for a cheeky additional post for #oneweek. The photos that got away!

And finally thanks to @enhance_me

one week