Sunday, 31 May 2009

From Zero to Hero

It was the best of weekends, it was the worst of weekends....

I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, rearing to go. I had plans you see. Baking plans.

I had this month's Sweet and Simple bake to complete and had seen a gorgeous Strawberry Sponge cake on Rosie's blog that I wanted to make for a bbq we were going to later on in the day.

First up - lemon curd muffins.

"There's something strange about this recipe" I muttered to myself as I started assembling my ingredients. Then it hit me. There's no butter in it! "Muffins without butter" I said to myself (in fact I said everything to myself because the boyfriend was still in bed at this point) "how very strange. And there's oil in them instead?! What strangeness is this?!"

Still I am the novice and ahead I went. Everything went great, they came out of the oven nice and risen and looking good. A little anaemic looking which I'm putting down to the fact that I didn't use golden caster sugar but on the whole it was good. Until I bit in to one.

I don't know what I did wrong! Whether I used the wrong kind of oil or what I don't know but they really did not taste nice. So they had to go in the bin.
Bad start to the day.

Second up - Strawberry Sponge Cake.

I was feeling good about this one. Although I haven't attempted a sponge cake yet I was feeling pretty confident. Putting the disaster of the lemon curd muffins behind me, I set out on a new baking adventure.

I should have just stayed out of the kitchen.

Maybe I had the oven up too high. Maybe the shelf was too high up. Maybe it just wasn't my day. I went to check on them after 20 minutes and they were burnt. "It's ok, maybe I can just cut the nasty bits off." Yes. Maybe I could have but I would have first needed to chisel them out of the sandwich tins they were stuck to. Night. Mare.

I put the blame for this on my boyfriend, he was in charge of greasing the tins.

To be fair when I did plunge my fist in to it and pull some out it tasted really good. I just shouldn't have ignored that voice in my head that was saying "STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN".

That Saturday will now become known as Black Saturday. It was a bad, bad day and I was in no mood for the rest of the weekend.

However Sunday dawned bright and wonderful. It was a new day and everything was going to be ok because I wasn't going to be anywhere near the kitchen as I would be out at Costello Stadium, running in the Race for Life 2009. Me and a group of friends had decided to run it this year and we decided to do it with a twist - we would do it 3-legged.

The idea was borne out of the fact that there were a great mix of us in the group, ranging from people like me, who break out in a rash at the thought of exercise, to someone who does triathlons 'for fun' (no I don't understand it either). We figured that doing it 3-legged would be a bit of a leveller and would keep us all together in a team. Also it would provide us with a good angle to go at when trying to collect sponsorship money. People get these sponsorship forms all the time and I think there's a real danger of 'charity fatigue' so we hoped this might help us a little bit.

It wasn't actually as hard as we thought it was going to be. Once you get in to your stride you're sorted and we even managed to jog a few times. Unfortunately we didn't all stay together as one big group - I guess some people are going to be more interested in winning whatever situation you put them in - but 4 of us stuck together through it and we managed to finish the 5km course in 50 minutes which we didn't think was half bad - the general consensus was that it was going to take us an hour and a half.
All in all a great laugh. And all for a great cause as the 10 of us managed to raise over £700 for cancer research.
Yes, maybe I didn't run it and yes, maybe only doing 5km is not that impressive but it was to me.
And I got a medal.

So though I might have been a disaster in the kitchen this weekend, at least I can say I've achieved something.
...and then I came home and burnt the garlic bread we were going to have for tea. *sigh*

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Bin Wars

If you were to hang around the back of our flat on a Wednesday evening you would notice some strange behaviour going on.

It'll be me. Undercover. Taking part in Operation Wheelie a.k.a Mission Don't-Piss-Me-Off-By-Putting-Your-Bin-Bags-In-My-Bin.

It's pretty much a solo operation, although I sometimes draft in the boyfriend as second in command.

Ok, ok, I know it's a relatively minor offence and I sound like some crazy Middle Englander who sits at the window with binoculars and a notebook, logging the comings and goings of their neighbours.

I have no problem with people putting the odd bin bag in my bin - I'm all cool with that baby. What I do have a problem with is when people don't bother putting their bins out to be emptied and then decide that it's ok to put all their bin liners in our bin so that you can't shut the lid.

Not ok people!

Especially when I've had the cats for 6 days and have cat litter and stinky cat poo in my bin, making the flat smell distinctly like a crazy old lady's maisonette.

Only one thing to do in that situation. Remove the offending articles so that I can put mine in.

Under cover of darkness, I crept out of the back door and scouted the area for enemy approach. All clear. I moved in to extract the foreign objects and neutralise the situation...

I hate myself for doing it and I would have died if anyone had come out and seen me (I'm not really one for confrontation. I'll sound off to my heart's content behind closed doors but my mouth will remainly fimly shut when confronted with a situation).

However there comes a time when a woman has to stand up for what she believes in and today that happens to be my right to keep my bin for my own bin bags.

I need to get out more.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Lemon Loaf thingymajig

I was lucky enough to get an extra holiday on Tuesday, we get a few 'free' holidays each year, usually after a bank holiday, making it a rather glorious 4 days off work.

Unfortunately I had a double session at uni which rudely interrupted my holiday, but I was determined to have an action packed afternoon. I had plans to hoover and change the bedding and wash the kitchen floor and iron and cross stitch...

However none of that seemed to happen. Where does the time go?
I did manage to get the ironing crossed off the list, I did that whilst I watched Diagnosis Murder and got a huge wave of nostalgia of being back at uni when my day wasn't complete without a hit of Dick van Dyke and his murder-solving doctor friends.

Nothing else happened though. For some reason, rather than clean I decided to bake! And really, there wouldn't be much point in me washing the kitchen floor for me then to get flour and eggs and butter all over it (you would not believe the mess I manage to make when I get in the kitchen).

So I turned to a little book I got ages ago, Good Housekeeping's Easy to Make Cakes and Bakes, and had a look to see what I fancied making. I came across these Vanilla Crumble Bars which looked amazing. Only problem was that it required a shallow baking tin and I don't have a massively well-stocked kitchen. I have one loaf tin so that was what I had to use.

I came out with a very nice loaf which wasn't particularly vanilla-y but was very nice and lemon-y. And I obviously didn't have bars so much as...well...a loaf. So I have re-christened it Lemon Loaf Thingamyjig.

250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
125g plain flour, sifted
175g self raising flour
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180c and grease your baking tin.
To make the crumble topping, put 75g of the butter and 75g of the sugar in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the plain flour and blend until you get rough breadcrumbs.

Put the remaining butter and sugar, self-raising flour, lemon zest, eggs and vanilla extract in the food processor and whizz until smooth. (Note to self: Next time you make this remember to put the blade in before you put all the ingredients in so you don't have to make more mess.)

Put the mixture into the tin and sprinkle the crumble topping over the surface and press down to cover.
Bake for 50-60 minutes (mine took a little longer to be honest), covering loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes if the mixture is browning too much. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out on to a wire rack.

Slice away and enjoy!
Okay so this didn't turn out like the picture in the book and I definitely wouldn't have called it a vanilla anything because the lemon is so strong it covers any vanilla flavouring. But what it is is lovely and light and citrusy and the perfect antidote to the depression of being back at work. My work colleagues all agreed as we munched away this afternoon with a good old cup of tea!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Rachel's Baked Cheesecake with Blueberries

The day: Bank Holiday Sunday

The event: Sunday lunch round at the in-laws

The challenge: Make something for dessert that will feed 10 people and will be fairly straightforward to make, given my limited talents in the kitchen.

The saviour: Rachel Allen, Bake

The result: Brownie points from the in-laws who can rest assured that I am looking after their only son very well. And a warm glow hearing people very happily munching away and asking for the recipe.

Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to take a photograph of it when it was whole, my boyfriend's family is not to be messed with when it comes to feeding time at the zoo so I had to grab a picture before the last of it was snaffled!


175g digestive biscuits
75g butter, melted
175g blueberries (plus extra for decorating)
450g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Icing sugar, to dust.
24cm diameter spring-form/loose-bottomed tin

Preheat the over to 180c. Butter the sides and base of the cake tin.

Place the biscuits in the food processor and whizz until quite fine. Mix with the melted butter and press down in to the base of the tin so it's nice and even. Spread the blueberries over the base and whack it in the fridge while you make the topping.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, and eggs together in a large bowl until smooth and creamy. Pour over the top of the blueberries and then bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until it is pale golden and should only wobble very slightly when you gently shake the tin.

Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then run a knife round the edge to loosen it and carefully remove it from the tin. Transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle over a few blueberries and dust with icing sugar.

This could not have been easier to make. In fact it was made so quickly that I found myself reading through the instructions again and again, absolutely sure that I had missed something vital out along the way.

It tasted amazing and will forever now become my go-to dessert when I need to make something that looks much more impressive than it actually is!

This is the 2nd thing I've made from the Bake book so far and I'm loving it. She explains everything in such a straightforward manner and both the Snickerdoodles and this came out perfectly. Can't wait to make the next thing I have bookmarked!

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Visitors (Part 3)

They're baaaa-ck!

Fred and Lily are here for another stay until Thursday whilst my Mum is away visiting my sister.

Highlights of the visit so far include:

- Shredding the part of the bin liner that hangs over the bin so you can't actually take the bin liner out of the bin.

- Waking me up at 6.30am by standing on my face so I will get up and get the food out.
- Stealing the boyfriend's toast and then running all over the flat with it so the jam gets spread all over the light coloured carpet.

- Eating the leaves on my chilli plant.

- Shredding a bag of crisps to have a midnight snack.

- Tipping over their bowl of water all over the kitchen floor, causing me to slip and nearly break my neck.

- Being cute.

Friday, 22 May 2009

The perfect match

Remember this vase I bought the other weekend?

I stuck it in front of the window where it stood looking rather forlorn without any flowers in it.
However when my boyfriend came back home on Sunday he had bought me some apricot roses.

Before you go all schmooshy inside I should tell you that after presenting me with the flowers he then went on to block the toilet and tell me all about the fun they had in a pole dancing club on the Saturday night so I think I deserve them!

I have a glass vase on the dining table but that already had flowers in it (sometimes a girl has to buy them for herself!) so I had to stick them in the green vase.

And they look absolutely perfect.

I'm not really great on my interior design skills or being very inventive with colour schemes so I really didn't know that they would look good. But they do!

And they've been a perfect counterpoint to the very strange weather we've been having lately. Sun one minute, chucking it down the next, blue skies with white fluffy clouds followed by ominous brooding dark greyness. But the roses have looked lovely come rain or shine.

All I need to do now is persuade the boyfriend to keep me in apricot roses!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Green fingers (Part 1)

When we began looking for somewhere to rent, my boyfriend and I had the grand house vs flat debate.
People fell on both sides and the main argument that people cited in favour of renting a house was that there would be a garden. "You can have bbqs" people exclaimed! "You'll have somewhere to sunbathe!" shouted others. "Aah but you will have a mow the lawn" said those on the other side.

In the end we ended up getting a flat, purely because it ticked enough boxes. Yeah a garden would be nice but neither of us are mad about gardening so we weren't too disappointed.

This is a decision that we're probably going to regret when we get our long overdue summer and we have to sit inside, slowly baking.
I overestimated something though and that was my increased interest in growing things. I've never been fussed about horticulture, something I put down to the fact that I'm afflicted with hayfever every summer. The last thing you want to do when you're sneezing your head off and your eyes are so swollen they get glued together, is fiddle about with plants.

Last year though I took a fancy to growing sunflowers. I done this a few years on the trot in my childhood as part of Blue Peter's challenge to grow the tallest sunflower. I never won.

Side note: Blue Peter competitions form most of my memories from my younger years. I tried so hard to win a Blue Peter badge and never got one. I designed a green car (see how far ahead they were on environmental issues!) and a stamp (it had a Golden Eagle on it although I forget why) and....nothing. I should have at least got one for trying!



I picked up the seeds and announced I was going to grow them. "It's too late in the year, they won't grow" Mum said.

That was it. The gaunlet was thrown down. The challenge was extended. I had no choice but to accept.

For the next few months all I talked about was my sunflowers. I nearly injured myself doing a victory dance when I asw my first teeny tiny green shoots.

I also discovered that sunflowers are hardy little critters. There were times when I neglected my babies (to be fair I had just started going out with my boyfriend, my mind was on other things!). I would come back and they'd be all withered and floppy and generally sad looking. However a quick water - sunflowers drink a lot of water by the way - and half an hour later they'd be bouyant and spritely and happy as larry.

They also had to survive the vagaries of a not particularly sunny summer and the fact that they were situated in the windiest place in England - down the side of Mum's house. God knows why it happesn but that place is the ultimate wind tunnel, you practically have to tether yourself to the house before you venture down there. My sunflowers were staked to death - to the fence, to the bin, to eachother if necessary. They showed good fighting spirit though and refused to let the elements beat them.

Maybe they didn't crazily tall and become the size of a house, but some of them did reach the pretty impressive height of over 6 foot which left me very proud.

Now that it's that time of year again I'm missing having a garden - it would have been nice to have tried growing them again but I still have the memories....*sigh*
However, even though I don't have a garden, I've still been able to put my green fingers to practice...

Monday, 18 May 2009

Best holiday ever. A story in photos.

Just over a year ago I went on the best holiday in the world. Ever.

I went to America. Arizona to be precise, to see my best friend who lives over there. She couldn't get any further away from me if she tried but I don't hold it against her, it's not her fault she's American.
Off I went on my grand adventure for two whole weeks and had such a great time that I've never been able to put it into words.
I still can't so I've decided to use the medium of photography to show you some of the highlights....

My first time ever seeing a real life cactus. They are all over the place and some of them are pretty damn huge. This photo was taken from a moving car as we journeyed from Phoenix to Vegas to gamble away our lives (unless you're me and you daren't go on anything other than slot machines). I was also informed that Arizona is the only place these cacti grow, although this is yet to be proved...

The Hoover Dam - also seen on the way to Vegas. It's MASSIVE and when you look over the side you feel quite sick.

VEGAS!! I did want to get a cool photo of the fountains at the Bellagio but my camera failed that night. Instead here is a picture of the beasty lion outside the MGM casino. You have no idea how big those casinos are. You walk in and it. is. loud. Bells ringing, people shouting, lights flashing - it's almost too much to take in and it's way too easy to get lost in them. Plus you lose all sense of what time of day it is - they are busy at 4am as they are at 4pm. It's bizarre.

The Grand Canyon. We visited on the way back from Vegas. It is very grand. And very busy. But I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed. And also quite scared because I'm quite tall and barriers aren't as high as I would like them. I have a photo of me with the Canyon in the background and my knuckles are white from where I was gripping on to the rail. As we were leaving we saw a runaway dog with some people chasing after it and I've always wondered if they caught him...

Chinese takeaway!! In boxes!! (Except in America-land they call it takeOUT) This was on my list of Things-I-Must-Do-In-America. You always see them on Friends and Sex and the City and every other movie, eating their takeaway out of those boxes and it's always been a huge bugbear of mine that we don't have ours like that.

The weather was amazing. Pure blue skies. And palm trees. And orange trees! And I could enjoy them all while I lazed by the pool in my friend's apartment complex. All the Americans thought I was mad because I got in the pool to cool off. It wasn't summer for them yet but I was practically melting.

And finally, I went to a real-life baseball game. It was fun although it took me pretty much the entire innings to figure out what was going on and how it worked. I wanted to buy a cookie off one of the men walking up and down the aisles but I was too scared to shout out.

There are many other photos which are highlights of my holiday over there but they are not necessarily suitable for publishing on the blog! There are also some things that happened that can't be captured by a photograph. Other highlights included...

1. Getting matching manicures and pedicures. My feet have never looked so good.
2. Getting to eat at a Wendys and an IHOP (that's International House of Pancakes for those of you not in the know)
3. Discovering goldfish crackers.
4. Laughing at lorries on the road which are MASSIVE
5. Discovering Target
6. Pole dancing lessons in Vegas
7. Buying Bride hats from Target for a dollar
8. Making friends with an enormous cat who became my pool buddy.
9. Standing on stage on a bar down Mill Ave, singing YMCA with a stars and stripes hat on
10. The exchange rate!! And having to buy another suitcase to fit in all my news clothes to come back home.

Happy times indeed...

Sunday, 17 May 2009


For as long as I can remember, this time every year we would all sit down to do one thing....


Originally started in 1956 as a way of bringing all European nations together under the auspices of a singing competition it has been dogged in recent years by accusations of bloc voting, especially amongst the Soviet satellites who tend to vote for either their neighbours or the mothership, Russia.

Adding in to this was the fact that everywhere in Europe, to put it plainly, didn't like the UK, so we went from placing in a consistently high position to consistently coming right down at the bottom, which is where poor Andy Abrahams found himself last year with a horrifying nul points.

There have been many reasons put forth as to why we were performing so poorly in the competition, I think it has been a combination of a few things...

a) Political voting - this has undoubtedly been a problem for a good few years now, you can predict that without fail Latvia is going to give their 12 points to Lithuania and that Finland, Norway and Sweden tend to award each other top points. The reason this is such an issue is that there are so bloody many of these countries - there are a billion little ex-Soviet Union countries so it stands to reason that it's more likely one of those are going to win.

b) Crap songs - Eurovision is famed for being a bit like spending an evening in a gay nightclub in Spain - trashy, catchy ditties with extra helpings of cheese on the side. It was where pop came to die. We in the UK have always seen Eurovision like this but failed to realise over the years that the crazy little tunes were being replaced by more ballads and, actually pretty reasonable (although you'd never admit it) songs. Yes there are still some countries that will appear on the stage and sing something so bizarre you sit with your mouth open but they're not as regular as they used to be. We kept entering complete dross however, Scooch being a particular low point *shudder*

c) The artist - This was overlooked for many many years. Most of the entrants the countries choose are well-known in, not only their countries, but in other European countries as well. People see an artist they know and like, they're more likely to vote for them. Simples. Instead we have sent novelty pop acts, barely known over here, and X-Factor rejects. We should have been sending Take That - we'd have wiped the floor with them all!!

d) Automatic placing - As one of the main financiers of the contest, we recieve an automatic place each year. Everyone-else has to battle it out in a series of semi-finals to win their place - there's a total of 42 potential entries, only 24 or so will make it. Because we automatically get a place there's less reason to try hard and this leads nicely on to the fifth and final point....

e) The Cardinal Sin - One of the most important reasons for our inability to score highly? We have not been taking the competition seriously. It's still seen as a bit naff and a bit silly. This is not the case in Europe. It's a big deal. A HUGE deal in fact. Why should people vote for us when we so arrogantly treat it with disdain and think it beneath us.

What could be done?! I hear you ask. (No really, I do.)

Point a) was solved by a re-arranging of the voting system. Instead of it being purely down to the public vote, there would a return to the old jury system of voting, where a panel of industry experts vote for their favourite song. Their votes would be combined with the public vote so give an overall score.

How to solve point b)? Enter Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. Who better to write a song for us than the man behind Phantom of the Opera?! It wouldn't be difficult for him to do, (it apparently took him 2 days to write it) and it would go down well with the industry panels of other countries.

Point c) was sorted out by that most favourite of tv shows nowadays - reality talent contest. Fills up some space in the Saturday night schedule, make some money by getting people to vote for their favourite, come out with someone that can a) sing and b) the public like.

Point d)? Let's start taking it seriously people!! People were going mental last year saying "We're paying for the bloody thing" "Waste of licence money" "blah blah blah". Well then! Let's try and make it worth our while. We can't pull out altogether because that would be unsportsmanlike and we British pride ourselves on being jolly good losers. After all it's the taking part that counts. RUBBISH! WE MUST WIN! WE MUST TRY AND WIN!

And most importantly, point e). Sir Webber took his song and his winner and they went on a massive charm offensive around Europe, doing television appearances, getting the song out there and showing the rest of Europe that we were taking part in this competition properly too.

The result?

We came fifth.

You might not think this is good but believe me this is an amazing feat. We haven't done so well in years and years and years and years. We were never going to win (that accolade went to Norway with a stonking 387 points, the most points ever scored in Eurovision history) but we were up there in what was, for the first time since I can remember, a proper song competition.

The new voting system has worked like a dream. Yes there was still bloc voting but it didn't have as much of an effect on the overall scores and was just one of those funny things you can let slide when it isn't making a mockery of the competition.

This year was Eurovision's last chance with me. I remember having a temper tantrum last year, stomping about saying I wasn't watching it any. more. Then I thought I should be fair and give one more go. And I saw this, and you know what? I was a teeny bit proud. (But don't tell anyone). Listen to her voice man!

And I'm back in love.

Next year - Eurovision Party!!

You're all invited.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Rachel's Snickerdoodles

I got the Rachel Allen, Bake, book a while ago. I had a voucher and had seen Maria do a few recipes out of it and they looked right up my street. Of course I got it and then it's sat in my kitchen for god knows how long.
(If I had my way I'd bake something different every night and spend the day eating the fruits of my labours.)

So I pulled it out the other day and had a look at all the pages I so studiously bookmarked the day I got it. The Snickerdoodles won out ecause they looked relatively simple and, well, they're called Snickerdoodles.

And they rule.

They rule the biscuit world.

They are light and fluffy and taste a little bit like Christmas because of the cinnamon and nutmeg.

I seriously might spend all day eating these...
(Rachel reckons this makes 26 but I only got 13 - not sure where I went wrong!)
125g butter, softened
110g caster sugar (plus 1dsp extra for rolling)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
Half tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I used ground because I'm lazy)
Three quarters tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 dsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 180c
2. Cream butter in large bowl. Add 110g caster sugar and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until combined.
3. Sift in flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt and mix together to form a dough.
4. Mix dsp of sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
5. Using hands, roll dough into walnut-sized balls then roll in the sugar and cinnamon mixture and place on baking tray (This could be where I went wrong - maybe I thought walnuts were twice the size they actually are!!)
6. Leave about 3cm between each ball (no need to grease or line the tray) and then flatten down with the palm of your hand.
7. Bake in oven for about 15 mins, or until they feel firm around the edges.

Loving these and will be taking them to my Mum's today because my brother is over with his wife and baby and I'm hoping we can all enjoy them with cups of tea. That is if there's any left before I go over there...

Friday, 15 May 2009

Let's make a date

I realised something the other day. And what I'm going to reveal to you might be quite shocking.

My boyfriend and I moved in together 2 months ago.

And in those two months we haven't gone out together once.

How bad is that?!

Apart from going to various family things we haven't been out, on an evening, just the two of us.

Unless you count trips to Tescos as 'going out'. (You might do, I find supermarket shopping strangely exhilarating. I think it's because there's so many things you can get now. How can you not get excited when you can get strawberries, bleach, clothes and a teapot all under one roof?!)

So we are rectifying matters tonight and we are leaving the flat and venturing out in to the big wide world. Our destination?

A trip to the cinema to see Coraline (which I'm pretty sure is supposed to be a children's film).

Except it's been raining all day and I don't want to go to the cinema, I want to go home and put my pjs on and drink mugs of tea and eat cookies and do my cross stitch and read and watch Family Guy.

BUT I WILL GO! And be a good girlfriend.


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Just for you...

I spoke at the weekend about my wish to be creative. I am pretty sure there's a creative person in here somewhere - Mum used to watercolour, I had a cousin who attended Goldsmiths to study art, on my Dad's side my Aunt can make clothes, handbags, soft furnishings and everything she turns her hand to.
So surely these genes must be residing within me somewhere?

If they are they are yet to surface.
There's nothing worse than wanting to be creative and not being so. It's unfortunately something you've either got or you haven't. There's no courses for teaching creativity. Trust me, I've looked.
How disappointing.

The main reason I want to be creative is so that I can make things for other people. It's nice to feel that someone has made a special effort for you rather than grabbing the nearest thing to them.
Plus it's cheap.
So began my obsession with cross stitch....

Bear with me. I know that this is a past-time for spinster cat ladies but I have decided to stand up and say I'm a cross-stitcher and I'm proud!!

(But in quite a small voice)
It all began with a birth sampler for my friend when she was expecting. I thought it would make a thoughtful gift and show I cared (when really inside I was mad at her for becoming a real-life grown up and leaving me behind).

From there, I moved on to Christmas cards, although not for everyone because the one thing I did discover is that whilst they are lovely, cross-stitched cards take much much longer than just opening a box of cards from WH Smiths and writing in them.

I am currently in the middle of another sampler. Whilst it is nice to do it, it takes...
a) patience
b) time
c) more time
And what I really hate is the backstitch - yes it finishes your design off nicely and defines certain parts of it but it's so anoooooooying.

Luckily for me, this baby is running a little late - 4 days so far - giving me some breathing space. It's almost finished and I thought I would share the work in progress with you....
In the beginning....what the hell is it?!
Is it a bear?..what's that in his hands?..what's all that around him?Aha! It's a bear! With a blue nose! (And he's very blurry)...
...And beginning the back stitch. Grrr. Still almost there....

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Nigella's Chocolate Mint Cookies

The other day I realised I hadn't baked in ages and AGES. Trouble is I have stacked on the weight since moving in with my boyfriend, weight that has been stacked on top of weight that shouldn't have been there anyway.

Baking + diets = MISTAKE
But I wanted to bake (the little child within me is stamping her foot at the moment) so bake I did. I sat for longer than was necessary because I needed to find something that I could make with what I had in the kitchen because I didn't want to go out and buy more ingredients (cue stomping child again)

And I found these Chocolate Mint Cookies in Nigella Express,
Ingredients (this makes 26 but I thought of my flab and halved everything and only came out with about 10 although mine were probably bigger than Nigella intended!)

100g soft butter
150g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
150g flour (annoyingly she doesn't bloody tell you what kind of flour she wants you to use - damn you Nigella!! I closed my eyes and picked whatever came to hand - self-raising come on down!)
35g cocoa powder
Half tsp baking powder
200g dark chocolate chips

For the glaze
75g icing sugar
1 tbsp cocoa, sieved
2 tbsp boiling water
teeny tiny drops of peppermint extract (taste it til it feels right)

1. Preheat oven to 180c
2. Cream butter and brown sugar and then beat in vanilla extract and the egg
3. Mix flour, cocoas and baking powder in a bowl and gradually beat in to creamed mixture (I feel I should add at this point that the mixture goes all weird and sticks to your beaters causing them not to turn round anymore. Cue real-life stomping girl in the kitchen until boyfriend comes in and explains that cookie dough is supposed to look like that)
4. Fold in the chocolate chips
5. Put little balls of cookie dough mixture on a baking sheet, leaving space between each one
6. Bake in oven for 12 minutes - put them on a cooling rack and put newspaper or tin foil underneath to catch the glaze you're about to pour over them (and get all over your work surfaces if you don't put something down)
7. Put glaze ingredients into saucepan and heat until combined
8. DRIZZLE!!!! (using a teaspoon)

They were pretty marvellous actually and better than I thought they were going to be (I was still sulking about the dough mixture).
I then took them in to work and made all my colleagues eat them so that I don't munch them all - I think they might be wondering if I have some kind of over-eater by-proxy syndrome and am trying to fatten them all up to be like me. As if....

Monday, 11 May 2009

Whilst he was away...

Faced with a weekend all alone whilst my boyfriend was away enjoying himself (how very dare he?!) I had to come up with a few things to keep me occupied. I decided that one way of keeping me occupied would be to take photos of all the things I did so I could get a blog post out of it.

So my weekend started with a trip to see Mum. She was made redundant a few weeks ago and although I think she has secretly enjoyed the break, she's hit the boredom threshold now and is finding it hard to fill her days I think. Her and I took a little trip to Matalan where I was looking for some bits for our bedroom.I picked up this cushion and vase for the princely total of £13. Unlucky for some I think not! We can't do an awful lot in terms of decorating because the flat's rented so to paint walls etc would be a waste of money. Luckily everything is magnolia-ed so it's just a case of adding 'accents' I believe they call them in the interior business.

I've decided on green for the bedroom - not a snotty green but a nice light green. Thought it would be nice and calming and spring-like and fresh. Bedding is all sorted so I'm on to the next stages. The cushion is so ace and squidgy, I absolutely love it and the vase was only a fiver so it's gone on the windowsill and I'm going to get some artificial flowers to stick in it.

After that I came back home to watch crappy DVDs and get a little bit crafty. I've got a load of pictures of our old cats that have been kicking around for ages. I've been wanting to put them in an album but wanted to do one that was a little bit different and do it scrapbook style. The trouble with me is that deep down inside me there is a creative person dying to get out but she never quite seems able to. I really want to be creative and I feel that there are ideas inside me somewhere but they never seem to be able to materalise. It's like they're small little eggs that don't seem to hatch into little chicklets.

Still I give it a go and although it's not turning out exactly how I thought it would do. I'm pretty pleased with the results so far. Only trouble is I'm running out of card to do it on - too many cats!! I've heard a saying that goes Every life should have nine cats. So far I'm on numbers 6 and 7 so I've got a fair few more pages to go.

I had a very lovely and relaxing bath complete with candles and rubber ducks. Only bad thing about this is that I used the last of my Lush products. Dum, dum, dummmmmm. I'm a huge Lush fan and seriously have difficulties in walking past the shop on Whitefriargate in Hull without going in and treating myself. I've managed to restrain myself recently but now that I've used them all up I have the perfect excuse to go in there!
Sunday was pretty boring. I had something to do that I've been putting off for far too long. The ironing. Somehow I've managed to avoid it since we moved in which I think is pretty impressive seeing as we've been in here for 2 months now! However it was threatening to topple over me and crush me every time I went in to the spare bedroom (where I've hidden the basket in the hope it will magically do itself) so I figured that whilst I undertook my weekly ritual of Sunday Hollyoaks-watching I would do it at the same time.
I didn't make it all the way through. I did stand there for 2 hours through Hollyoaks and the first part of Shipwrecked but I had to give it up in the end. It's not my fault there's so much of it though. I can place the blame squarely on my boyfriend's shoulders. That ironing is all his shirts!! I had no idea he had so many unless they have bred whilst they lay in the basket. I ironed 8 of the buggers and there's another 7 drying on the airer. Not to mention the god knows how many hanging up in his wardrobe. It's bizarre. Well not so much bizarre and more the result of him going through 1 shirt a day and then putting off the ironing for as long as possible.

And last but not least. One important event of the weekend was the discovery that my Swine Flue leaflet had arrived. Goodness knows how I coped without this font of wisdom. I would never have known that I should use a tissue when I sneeze if it wasn't for this.

Do not get me started on how much NHS money was spent on printing this and delivering it to every house in the UK.

But I thought it would be a funny addition to the other photos...

Friday, 8 May 2009

While the cat's away....

....the mice will play.

Or rather. The mice will clean. And clean. And clean.

It's quite sad really. All day at work I've been thinking about it. Everywhere needs dusting, everywhere needs hoovering, things need disinfecting. I should point out that we really don't live in a hovel and it probably isn't really dirty or messy but to me it is. I can see things. Out of the corner of my eye. Bits of dust and muck in places.

The boyfriend is being taken out to dinner by the partners tonight for being good greedy solicitors and making lots of money so I'm on my own. And how do I celebrate? By cleaning.


But am I? As I sit here now in my beautifully clean flat (not just clean, me clean), I feel calm and relaxed and very very happy. I really need to get up and draw the curtains and switch some lights on but I can't be bothered to move. I'll wait until Corrie's over when I'll get up and stick a DVD in.

And what's even better is that the flat will remain nice and clean because my boyfriend isn't going to be in it! (I remain convinced that it's him that makes it messy although I'm not entirely sure how) He's going away for the weekend early doors tomorrow so it will be mine aaaaaall mine. God knows what I'll be doing in here on my own, I'm guessing I'll be bored within a few hours and wish he was here...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Art of Compromise (Part 3)

Hmmm. I have discovered that in reality, living with someone means that compromise is quite difficult to achieve.

I do however still stand by my previous view that there is no such thing as compromise - merely one person whose will is weaker than the other.

Case in point - this bank holiday weekend.

This holiday coincided with my boyfriend's Mum's 60th birthday. Unfortunately there is a tendency for his family to over-celebrate these happy occasions. They become 'events'.

So this was no ordinary 60th birthday. It became a 3-day 'event' to rival the Queen's Jubilee.

There was a black tie do at their house which was professionally catered. There was a picnic on the Saturday. And when I say picnic I do not mean soggy egg sandwiches. There was a baked cheesecake. There was goat's cheese. There was champagne. Then on the Sunday there was to be a lunch out at a fancy restaurant.

In short. There was too much.

My boyfriend's family are lovely, but there's a limit to what I can take. And all of these events combined would have pushed my way over my pain threshold.

But how to broach this with my boyfriend?

I remained silent on the subject for some time, praying that I wouldn't have to talk about it and mulling over whether or not there is a nice way to say you don't want to spend time with someone's family.

Fortunately for me my prayers were answered. There was divine intervention. Angels flew down and rescued me. Whatever. My salvation came in the form of a text message from a friend organising a girls night out for the Saturday night. Even better it was going to start at the some what riiculous time of 5pm. Perfectamundo - I wouldn't be able to attend the picnic because I would need time to get ready for the night out. (It doesn't matter that 'getting ready' for me consists of a half-hearted slapping on of make-up, the pulling on of some jeans and whatever top is closest to hand.)

I could have pushed my luck and tried the ol' "I'm too hungover to go to lunch on Sunday" but even I'm not that bad.

So not really a case of compromising - face intervened on my behalf. Good job really because I don't think there's any way to compromise over that particular situation, mainly because I know I wouldn't have been the weak-willed one...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Visitors (Part 2)

This Bank Holiday weekend saw the end if another kitty visit - this time we had them for a whole week as Mum was off on holiday.
It is great having them and I love them so much I could squish their faces off.

....they are such minxes!!
Their hunger knows no bounds - we've gone through stages of thinking they have worms, to just blaming it on a growth spurt, to wondering whether it's possible for cats to suffer from Prader Willi Syndrome. The conclusion is that they are just greedy little beasties.
This means they absolutely cannot be left in the kitchen alone. Even if you've put all plates away and wiped down all the surfaces they will find something to get at. Whether this is pulling down the tea towel and chewing on it (Lily's favourite), shredding the bin liner, or eating the washing up sponge (Fred's favourite) - they will be up to something.
For example take these pictures....
"She'll never notice me up here"
"She'll never notice me behind this kettle."

My boyfriend took these when I was making the Vanilla Cupcakes for the Sweet and Simple bake - once you're in the kitchen they're never far away, just on the off-chance you're going to drop something they can eat. Lily is the naughtiest though and pushes the boundaries as far as possible, Fred's content to sit on top of the cookery books, but Lily will creep as close as possible, hence the hiding behind the kettle.

The most commonly used phrase when Fred and Lily are out of sight is "What are they up to?" This is usually preceded with a groan and usually ends with a 'now'

They also believe that 5.30am is an appropriate time to wake up and be fed. They will not sit quietly until wake up though. They will climb all over the bedside table, knock over everything on your dressing table, charge about chasing each other, pounce on you if you dare to move your feed under the quilt so much as an inch or just yowl in your ear. It got so bad that I gave up making them wait until I was rady to get up and feed them and just got up, fed them and went back to bed again. Luckily I find it pretty easy to fall asleep again after getting up.

I know you could just shut them out of the bedroom but they make so much noise if you do that and we're not supposed to have any animals in the flat so I don't want anyone hearing them crying.

Plus how can you refuse their little faces?!

The flat does feel much emptier without them now and it's no fun when there's no furry people coming to greet you at the front door but I'm not going to miss the extreme coating of fur which is lying over everything at the moment and it's going to be nice to be able to eat a bag of crisps without being harrassed and having sneaky paws come from nowhere to try and snatch them out of your mouth...

I absolutely love this last photo though. I took this the morning before we took them back to Mum's. They'd gone absolutely mental running about the place playing with their little mice and scratching post and then they just flaked out in the sun on the floor. How could you not love them?!