Monday, 27 June 2011

Ice cream for dinner

On the menu this evening:

It wasn't dessert, it was my actual dinner.  What a pikey!  Who cares; I ate salad for lunch (WeightWatchers - yawn) just so that I could have this (please note that this is not sound nutritional advice).  Creamy vanilla ice cream with my special Vahiné caramel sauce.  

If you ever see this stuff in the shops, grab a bottle.  It is delicious with ice cream, pancakes and fresh fruit.  I also like to sauté a couple of chopped pears (or apples) in a smidge of butter and drizzle a little of this over them. I know it's easy enough to make your own caramel sauce but, really, sometimes you need a quick fix.  (It occurred to me today that I could have used it to flavour the buttercream for the caramel cupcakes at the weekend rather than faffing around making my own caramel, too.)  

As I ate it, the dog was watching my every move.  I thought she wanted the dregs of ice cream from the bottom of the tub, but no:
She just had the urge to accessorise.  Ha!  I like her style.



PS I just wrote a whole paragraph about my bee saga and deleted it.   It makes me want to cry and this is a cheerful post.  So yes, the saga continues and whether the bees live or die it is going to cost
 us a few hundred pounds to have scaffolding to get into the chimney to sort it out.  

Pass the sherry, please.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cakes, crochet, laughter and big fat fibs

Remember me?!   I've been a rubbish blogger lately, I know.  Something that I have been worried about for a while has recently come to a head.  Now that the issue has been resolved and that particularly worrying time has passed, I find that I am exhausted.  Crazily bone tired.  My mind is finally relaxing, I suppose, and catching up on itself.

I've also decided that I'm going to crack on and do stuff.  Make things happen rather than just thinking about doing them and worrying about finding the time.  So I've been busy - really busy - and having a thoroughly lovely time.  I finally got round to making the salted caramel cupcakes in the July issue of Country Living:

They are a bit too sweet for me but the husband and J quite like them.  (I didn't let the caramel bubble for long enough, that's why they are quite pale.)

I've also been working on the scarf that I've taken from Emily's blog 'Unravelled'.  I loved the scarf that Emily made and fancied having a go myself.  I'm an absolute beginner at crochet and thought it would be a simple project for me to 'cut my teeth on'.  It really is!  Thank you, Emily, for uploading the pattern.  Here's a sneaky peek at my progress so far...

This is my favourite crochet project to date.  I love the yarn.  It's soft and warm, I love the muted colours and I ♥♥ love love love ♥♥ crocheting something as a whole, that drapes into my lap as it grows.  And this yarn drapes beautifully.  I have adapted the pattern slightly so there's more of the browny/grey colour  than pink (simply because I have three balls of it and only two balls of the pink).  I have also made the stripes marginally bigger because I enjoy not having to join a new colour in quite so often.  This is just mindless crochet with instant gratification for me and I am in ♥♥♥ crochet heaven! ♥♥♥  Ha! Emily, I'll be round at yours in a few days begging assistance with the edging if that's ok...! ;0)

On Monday I took the afternoon off to take my Mum to the hospital.  It was just a consultation but she looks after my niece on Mondays and needed a hand.  I had the best time.  My niece is now two and a half years old and changing all the time.  She is such a chatterbox and says the funniest things - she makes me roar with laughter.  I love this age; I love her.
So that's my week in a nutshell.  Oh, the Calor gas man arrived to replace the empty bottle for the oven [which stopped working pre-party].  Turns out that we hadn't run out of gas, the tap had just been turned right down.  Grrr.  Felt such an idiot - it didn't help that he turned up super early in the morning so I had mad lady hair, panda eyes and was wearing crocs and socks with my pyjamas: glam. Not.

We also had some furniture delivered. Lush furniture.  But it was one of those squirmily (word?!) embarrassing situations.  I'll tell you about it... A while ago we had a slight drama with the furniture company because I was returning a set of tables and when the man came to collect them he told me I hadn't packaged them up properly.  I didn't know I had to but I didn't want him to go away without my tables.  So I put on a cockney accent (I have no idea why) and pretended to be the cleaner (I don't have a cleaner).  Basically I said 'I dunno mate, I'm just the cleaner... the owners have gone away on holiday, you can't leave me here with her tables, she'll go mad..' blah blah blagging blah...

I could tell at the time he didn't believe me even though I was wearing rubber gloves (I, on the other hand, felt like a genius for creating such a plausible story at short notice - ha!).  Anyway, thankfully they took the tables and all was well.   Until the same man arrived with my delivery this week.  The very first thing he asked was whether I was the owner, to which I replied yes.  Then it dawned on me.... this was the man I'd lied to... [eek].  He laughingly told me that I'd told him 'porky pies' last time he saw me and asked if I'd got a cleaner...

Me: 'Yes!' [no]
Him: 'Oh, perhaps you weren't lying then.  Is she blonde?'
Me: 'Yes' [kill me now]
Him: 'Oh, I think you were on holiday when we picked your tables up...'
Me: 'Oh yes we were, she told me there was a problem with the tables.  Thanks for taking them.' [??]
Him: 'No problem, she looks a lot like you, your cleaner....'
Me: 'Well yes I suppose she does.  But she's a lot younger than me...' [what? I'm just elaborating for no reason now...]
Him:  'Well, er, yes, I wasn't going to say that...'... Cheeky devil!

I am never ever lying about anything like that again.  I laughed out loud, all by myself afterwards.  What a complete wally.  Why didn't I just giggle and tell him I was fibbing the first time, he wouldn't care?!



PS The dove has left our chimney and been replaced by a swarm of honey bees:  joy.  
We have had three fires blazing today to try and coax them out:  no joy.  
Pest control man is coming on Tuesday: boo.

Sunday, 19 June 2011


High fives all round please; I have survived my first ever teen party.

J asked, some time ago, if he could have his 13th birthday party at our house.  I was quietly chuffed - I have only known him since he was 9 years old and for him to choose to spend his birthday at our house is a huge thing for me.  It helps that he adores his dad but, you know what, he kinda loves me too.  He tells me everything (even phones to chat on a regular basis), laughs at all my gags (!) and appreciates my baking.  It could have been a very different story and I am grateful that he is such a sweetie.

The party went very well - the kids were polite and surprisingly chatty.  They disappeared off to the park together and came back for pizza, ice cream and pink lemonade.  I was not a bit perturbed by the fact that my oven ran out of gas just two hours before they all arrived and scuppered my plans to rustle up some delicious food and cakes (argggh).  We just got takeout pizza from Pizza Hut:  minor crisis averted.

OK so I may have been checking my watch every five minutes.  I might have been hovering by the dining room like an over-attentive butler.  When they disappeared into J's room for the last half an hour to [their words] bitch and gossip, I don't mind admitting that if we'd had a trampoline I probably would have dragged it underneath the bedroom window so that I could bounce up and peer in every now and then.  (Nonchalantly, of course, perhaps with a cloth in my hand.)  I had nothing to worry about and J was slightly breathless with excitement when the last of his friends had gone home and he announced that it had been really cool and would it be OK to have his party at our house next year.  I told him that of course it was OK!  Anyone got a trampoline for sale?

The oven breaking down wasn't the only minor crisis chez nous this week:  a baby dove fell down the bedroom chimney on Friday lunchtime.  I was working from home when I heard an almighty clatter from the bedroom.  I was half-expecting to see a dazed pigeon on the grate but thankfully there is plate-thingy that has been put into the gap to stop (I guess) drafts and unwanted objects falling into the fireplace.  The bird was sitting on said plate, literally a foot from the grate.  When I laid on the floor and peered into the chimney breast it just blinked at me quite serenely.

Husband was at work and wouldn't be home for hours.  There was no way in the world I was rescuing the bird.  So I improvised and got back to work.

A picnic blanket over the fireplace held down by candles and my shoes meant that if the plate did become loose the bird would be in a confined space.  The dog kept watch.

When Andrew came home he was able to slip underneath the makeshift curtain and perform the rescue mission with minimal disruption.

(In retrospect, I realise that it wasn't ever so helpful of me to hang around taking photos but Andrew didn't complain.)  The bird is slightly scuffed and spent the night in a box in the shed to get over the shock.  It has flown away now but popped back over the weekend for its dins and to say hi.

It has been a week of minor dramas really what with one thing and another.  I think I have had a troubled mind and I've been more high maintenance than usual, I know.  I have had three very vivid nightmares this week and I always feel really shaken the following day.  I woke up this morning just as I was about to cry in my dream; I actually woke up with that crumpled 'I'm-about-to-wail' face on.  I don't feel at all rested, poor me.

I need to lie in a dark room with a cold flannel on my forehead.

Before I go I must just say hello to my new followers: hi!  I do hope that I haven't put you off with today's offering.

New followers always mean interesting new blogs for me to read so I'm thrilled to meet you.  I am loving this blogworld I've been welcomed into, everyone is so friendly, helpful and funny.  It cheers me right up on a bad day and makes a good day even better.

Love and all that soppy stuff.



Thursday, 16 June 2011

I'm a bag lady

I am an accessories girl, it has to be said.  Handbags, and shoes, are my favourite things to spend money on.  I think I have only got nine or ten handbags (which seems a lot to me, I can never choose which one to use, but I know that true handbag-lovers own tens of them) but they are all really good quality.  Mulberry is my very favourite brand - I love their simple, understated designs and the leather is always gorgeous.  But I dig this bag out of the cupboard on a regular basis:

I used it for Paris a couple of weeks ago and haven't transferred my things out of it yet so I've been using it for everything.  It is brilliant for travel because it is huge and zips up neatly (the top of the bag opens wide too so it's easy to find things in).   It looks smart with my work suits and goes well with my casual clothes.  It's a gorgeous tan leather and a bit of a classic in my book.  The hardware and the canvas strap keep it looking modern.  I can wear it cross-body, over the shoulder or in the crook of my arm.  It carries an enormous amount of stuff and has TONS of pockets inside (and two useful little external pockets on each side).

It's a baby changing bag.   As well as the hundreds of pockets inside, it came complete with changing mat, bottle warmer and an extra little zip up bag.

I don't have a baby, I just ♥ the bag.  

Yes, it carries all of the baby paraphernalia you can think of.  But it also does a fabulous job of housing all of my superficial rubbish :0)

It rules. I can definitely recommend, baby or no.



Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Unattractively Smug

Today has been a great day.  I used to keep a diary when I was younger* and would rate each day on how good it had been. I am fairy sure I pinched the idea from a Judy Blume book.  Today has definitely been an A grade day.

A rowdy gang of crows has woken us super early every day this week.  Husband had an important day at work today so I got up with him at 5:30am and got a loaf of bread on the go:
I rarely buy sliced bread at the shops any more.  I only really buy part-baked rolls, tortilla wraps and bagels (for picnic lunches or pack-ups).  I have two methods of making bread which are both easy peasy.  The one I made today (and in the pic above) was made in our Kenwood breadmaker, which is obviously the easiest way.  (OMG, when I created that link to the John Lewis website I noticed that you can buy a round pan for the machine.  Guess where my next web-stop's going to be.).  It is so clean and simple to use and you can make a wide variety of loaves (including seeded loaves, pastries and doughs).  We haven't had a bad loaf from it yet and it makes the house smell amazing.  It also looks OK on my kitchen worktop so is always to hand:
I also make bread from this book.  It was recommended to me by a lovely woman whose attitude to food and cooking I really admire; she sometimes has the misfortune of finding me in her kitchen at lunchtime and always (at a moment's notice) produces something homemade (and delicious) that she makes seem super easy.  I will do a post about this method the next time I make a loaf because it makes proper rustic bread, more dense and chewy than the breadmaker loaf.  If you don't like gadgets but would like to easily, with minimal fuss, have a loaf of fresh bread every single day, this is the book for you! 

So having set the bread machine off, I had a leisurely coffee and finished a few granny squares.

I am now edging each of my granny squares with red yarn (you may remember from this post) so that I can join them more easily.  (I was going to try the 'join as you go' method but I can't get my head round it - I'm blonde - so I've decided to slip stitch this time. Anyway.)  I am LOVING adding this extra row of trebles.  The squares seem to sit nicely with an extra row and I can imagine how my blanket is going to drape.  I am getting very excited about finishing it.  Not long now, hopefully.  It will be so exciting to do my first 'ta dah'!

Had a very productive day at work and feel quite pleased with self.  It's hectic at the moment because I'm covering for someone on annual leave but I actually prefer being this busy.  
Do you like my Mario mouse mat?  My mouse won't work on any
other mouse mat, seriously, only on copier paper and that's not decorative enough for me.
I always like to finish the day by tidying up my desk and writing a nice fresh list of things to do the following day.  It helps me to switch off.

A cup of tea and a (lemon and white chocolate) cookie provided the afternoon's refreshment.  Do you like my new little cake plate?  I bought it this afternoon at a gorgeous kitchen shop down the road.  I could only afford two today but I'm totally going back next week (when I've been paid) to buy a couple more.  
♥♥♥ Love love love them ♥♥♥

And now I'm going to sort out my baking equipment storage issues.  Here is the storage trunk that we picked up last weekend:

I love it, it's exactly what I was looking for and the price was reduced by more than 50%!  I am a really keen baker and novice cake decorator.  I also have zero willpower in pretty kitchen shops (see above) which means that I have a huge stash of cake pans, cutters, mats, food colourings, glitter, piping bags and other cakey bakey paraphernalia.  At the moment it is kept in two enormous laundry bags in our little outbuilding so I have to rummage around in the cold creepy little barn whenever I want to bake.  Not ideal.  Not any more though!  I am going to have a sort through and transfer it all to this storage chest in the conservatory.  Cutters will be kept in pretty little boxes within the trunk and everything will be neatly stacked.  I'm stupidly excited.  I love reorganising my cupboards.  How sad am I?!



*  My Mum found my diary when I was about 13 and read it aloud with my sister.  It happened to be the day's entry where I was worrying whether Dominic might try to snog me at the next under-18s discos.  I'd never been snogged before and it was a HUGE worry for me!  Mum and sis thought it was hilarious but I was mortified and stopped writing then and there.  I gave my diaries to my best friend to keep but we lost touch when she went to the local college and I stayed on at school.  Wonder if she still has them?  I know that my Mum occasionally reads my blog and I hope that she is reading this and squirming.  Ha ha!  Love you, Mum, you're still the best. xx

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Baking is my antidote to a rainy day.

Rich Almond Cake
I have made two of these old-fashioned little cakes this weekend.  The first I made on Friday lunchtime.  I knew that when J arrived after school he'd be starving.  He loves anything almond flavoured, I had some ground almonds to use up and it was such a miserable day I felt like baking something.  It also had to be quick and easy because I was on a tight timescale.  It's a really plain cake, nothing to look at (as you can see!) but it is rich and moist with a good texture and delicate flavour.  It smelled like heaven when it was baking and with Friday being so chilly and rainy I knew it would be a welcoming smell (and sight) when my best boys arrived home.  They made a beeline for the cake plate as they came through the door and cut huge chunks.  I was still working and when I joined them in the kitchen an hour later the whole cake had gone!  Slightly miffed because I fancied a bit myself but also thrilled that this easy little ordinary cake was so massively appreciated.

So I made another this evening.  The house smells gorgeous again, I have used up my leftover ingredients and there is still some cake left for tomorrow's elevensies.  It is perfect on its own with a cup of tea but with a generous blob of whipped cream and some morello cherry conserve it would make a delicious pudding.

I've enjoyed the rain today.  We didn't get to the car boot sale because of the weather but had brunch out and spent the rest of the day in conservatory, chatting, watching the rain and playing Wii Sports.  We've got a little portable gas fire in our conservatory (which we had to use, it was so cold!) so it was really cosy.

I nipped into town to fetch a couple of magazines.  The English Home is one of my favourite home magazines.  The homes featured in it are always gorgeous and the articles are interesting too (really liked the article this month on choosing and displaying wall art).  I picked up Country Living at the same time - there are some great cake recipes in this month's issue and I am already craving the broad bean and pea soup that it also gives the recipe for. Yum.

These pretty Dahlias I brought home from the garden centre yesterday have been providing a bit of sunshine in the kitchen:
 I plan to plant them in the garden but for now they're cheering me whilst I do the washing up.
Film night with the husband tonight and I'm finally getting him to watch Withnail & I.  I have spent the last three years quoting this film to my husband but he hasn't seen it and never has any idea what I am on about ('Oh god, I don't feel good... Look, my thumbs have gone weird! etc).  I hope he likes it, I find it really disappointing when I share something I love and the other person hates it (or worse, is indifferent to it!).



Saturday, 11 June 2011

Where's my 'me' time?!

It has been such a busy week but I still can't believe I've left it almost a week since my last post.  Work has been hectic and I've been pottering around the house a lot this week too.  We had new curtains fitted in the living room mid-week, which I've been waiting ages for.  We also bought a couple of storage trunks last weekend so I've been enjoying myself reorganising my cupboards in the evenings.  Rock and roll!  

The curtains are beauties, I am really pleased with them.  They have an extra (thermal) layer before the lining because it is freezing in our little living room (we still have to light a fire in there at night even now, in June).  I had a little pair made for each of the two windows and a big one for the door.

We never use this door, we use the back door, but the wind whistles through the gaps in wood in the winter.  I had the curtain made double width plus an extra half so when closed it is really thick and full.  So happy with them.  I took this photo as soon as the lady had 'dressed' the curtain.  It was a bit too neat looking for me with all the perfect folds so as soon as she left I mussed it up and it looks gorgeous now.  (The woman who fitted them absolutely could not cope with my house.  She constantly complained about the uneven walls and the fact that the windows weren't exactly level.  I felt like saying 'it was built in the 17th Century, love, I don't think they had spirit levels then.'  Silly woman.)  I do that when I've had my hair done too, the second I get out of the salon I mess it up.  I like to see tidy mess.  Ha! 

I was going to show you my storage boxes but my step son is badgering me to use my laptop.  I came into the conservatory and left them in the living room playing xbox about an hour ago.  Figured I'd have a bit of quiet crochet time to myself.  Within minutes:
J appears with his new Marvel comic.
 Shortly followed by:
Husband and pooch, he with library book

The dog is waiting for her evening walk.  When I got back from the garden centre just now, she was looking hopefully at me through the gate.

So much for my 'me' time.  I can feel a bit of a tantrum coming on. 

We're off to a car boot sale in the morning - my second ever.  We are mostly looking for vintage Marvel and DC superhero comics.  I have been bribed with brunch at an American diner although am secretly looking forward - I picked up a sweet little window vase at the last car boot sale for a pound.   I'll show it to you tomorrow.
Have a fun weekend!



Monday, 6 June 2011

Mild Crochet Dilemma

I'm in the midst of my first crochet drama.  There's something I never imagined I would say.

I'm making my first ever granny square blanket using Lucy's tutorial (at Attic24) for the Summer Garden Granny.  (Edit:  Turns out that my copy image from the Easter post didn't work so here's a slightly different pic.)

 The squares have slowly but surely grown in number since then and I now have nearly 100. But I'm in a slight panic about joining them together.  None of them have the same colour in the outer row (as you can see, some are green, some are pink, some are blue etc) and I have been wondering all weekend how I'm going to stitch them together without the joining yarn being visible (I'm going to crochet rather than sew them together).  Am slightly cross with myself for not considering this when I started out.  I've been merrily crocheting squares without a minute's thought for how they will fit together as a whole.  Learning curve, fo sho.

So I've been pondering my little dilemma all weekend.  I actually stopped work on it altogether to have a proper think (cannot believe I'm taking this all so seriously, it's just a blankie for gawd's sake).  I have decided to put an extra row, of the same colour, on each square.  I've gone for red.  Don't tell me you think it will be awful, I've just ordered the yarn.  I bought six 100g balls - hope it will be enough.  Talk about taking on a project blind; I should have planned and prepped more.

I had itchy fingers last night though and started a small bunting project.  Another WIP to hang around the house but I ought to have this finished by the weekend, the triangles are very quick and easy.

Husband is very excited to see the end result.  He thinks it's a bikini.



Saturday, 4 June 2011

Paris ♥ (avec trop de photos)

I love France and the French.  I like the culture, the food and wine, their style and their general way of life.  I especially love the language.  I studied French at A-Level and had to complete two weeks of work experience in France.  I had the best time, stayed with the most lovely family and by the end of the fortnight I was thinking and dreaming in French.  I had considered a French degree but a boy got in the way and I gave it all up.  My only regret and it's a huge one.

I first went to Paris about ten years ago and go back whenever I can get away with it.  Andrew proposed to me there.  Whilst on our little engagement honeymoon we vowed to celebrate our engagement anniversary in Paris every year.  So that's where we've been this week - c'était parfait!

We always stay right in the heart of Le Marais at the Hotel Bourg Tibourg.

It's on a narrow road (the Rue du Bourg Tibourg) lined with gorgeous shops, cafes, restaurants and apartments.  Just at the bottom of the road (by the tree) is a pretty little square with a few good cafe bars and an amazing boulangerie.

It's a beaut of a hotel, sister to the fab (pricier) Hotel Costes in the swankier part of town.  It's teensy tiny, dark and smells like heaven everywhere - Hotel Costes candles are burned all around the hotel and I am sure the fragrance is piped via the air conditioning.  It's a heady, musky, sensual scent and totally adds to the ambience of the hotel.

There is no restaurant but you can have drinks in the lounge:

Or in the tiny courtyard garden (there is only one small wrought iron bench and table so you'd better be quick!..).

Breakfast is served here:

Or, more lazily, here:

Everything about this hotel makes me feel totally chilled and relaxed.  I love the decor, the ironwork and the low lighting (gorgeous fringed lampshades):

The service is impeccable, the receptionists are coolly beautiful, the fragrance of the place is divine and the music is fab.  (Listen here to a track from one of the Hotel Costes albums - I have them all.  Bar chill seems to suit all of my moods.)

And, of course, the location is fantastic.  We mostly skipped the tourist attractions this time and stayed within a half hour walk of the hotel (although I did insist on walking past Notre Dame which always takes my breath away).  Just strolling, eating, drinking and shopping.

Loved up.  And beardy (him) so I know he's taking real time out! 

I bought a few bits and bobs.  I came back with too much stuff from L'Occitane (absolutely not cheaper there, nor exclusive to France but this shop is one of my all-time faves and I simply cannot resist).  I picked up a lovely old milk bottle from the kitchen antiques shop (I am developing a bit of a thing for old-fashioned glass) and some wonderful tea from Mariage Frères.

I bought some Earl Grey French Blue loose leaf tea and a box of Earl Grey teabags (gorgeous little muslin bags with the most beautifully fragrant tea).  LOVE.  I've discovered I can buy it online too.  LOVE MORE.  It's quite a funny little shop, very old-fashioned, and the men behind the counters wear white coats.  They all wore little trendy black framed specs too, although hopefully this is just coincidence and not part of the uniform.  The tea is in rows and rows of big black urns behind the counters but you're not allowed to take photos indoors (boo).  So here's a photo of the miniature tin that I came home with.

We ate at lunchtime, which is unusual for us, so in the evenings we just had a light snack and a bottle of wine in one of the pavement cafes.  Le Marais, as you probably know, is kind of the gay capital of Paris.  It was full of very cool gay men and very chic skinny girls.  The nightlife was positively buzzing.  We were there on just a Tuesday and Wednesday night but it was like a Friday or Saturday night in London!  Cox, I believe, is the hottest gay spot in town.  By 7pm at night it was ram a jam and it seems that people are perfectly happy to have their tipple on the street outside (you can see it's roped off).  [edit:  I have just been advised that this bar is probably the one in town which has 'men in showers' for the entertainment instead of the - obv passé - dancing boys/girls.  That would explain the queues.] 

I have to say that my favourite bar was the next one up the street.  Not so popular, but drinks are served by a topless man in a blue sequin bow tie and there was an old fella in hot pants, vest and boxing boots having a little dancing party for one.  Wish I'd got a photo.

We got back late on Thursday night and I'm back on the diet and getting ready for work on Monday morning.  Completely blitzed the house today so we're sparkling clean, windows have been flung open and I'm hoping for a spot of hooky tomorrow (in the garden if the weather is good enough).

Sorry for the enormous post, but y'know, I'm still on a high after my trip.