I know that it is about time that I get back into blogging again. The nights are drawing in, and I feel a little more alive. Silly season is almost over at work too, so a good time to start concentrating more!
I have been reading like a lunatic – many books that I want to share too, so I may go back and retrospectively add them.
I’ve also seen some fantastic stuff at the theatre etc – my pile of programmes is starting to look rather precarious!
However, what is bothering me most at the moment is that I haven’t dyed my hair for about a year now, and I need to make a decision whether I let the white bits stay. Every woman must get to that stage at some point where they think “It’s simply not worth fighting it any more!”
I got my first grey hair at 21, so it’s been a long time coming. It all seems to be concentrated behind my ears at the moment – you know, in the classic ‘nit area’.
The question is, am I really not that vain any more?
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – I never really have. However, after a year of life kind of getting away from me, I have decided that I want to resurrect this blog as I’ve really missed it. Even just firing off quick book reviews focuses my mind a little, and I’ve definitely been lacking focus!
So, I have updated my Goodreads challenge for the year (85 books – I managed to read 92 last year) and I also had the list below brought to my attention, so I will be attempting to give that a go too. I also went to a lot of theatre & comedy last year which I intend to continue this year – and (hopefully) review too!
Of course, it is only January 2nd, and my good intentions may go out of the window pretty quickly. Now – how do I update the look of this blog??? Hmmm….maybe a step too far!
It was my birthday last weekend, and as a treat, my lovely HUSBAND (I still can’t get used to calling him that – either lovely OR husband to be quite honest), decided to book up a hotel that I had found while searching online a few years ago, but had never got around to going to.
The original reason for the search was “I want to go on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway! I haven’t been on it for years! Where could we stay if we went down that way?” And one of the most aesthetically striking images was that of the Romney Bay House Hotel. How dramatic does it look?
So hubby decided to treat me. Having your birthday at this time of the year, you have to get used to the fact that the weather isn’t going to be great if you go away to celebrate it anywhere in the UK! We were actually quite lucky – it was bright when we arrived, although the potholed road leading to the hotel was peppered with pond-sized puddles. Soon after our arrival, the rain came crashing down again – and unfortunately there was scaffolding up as they had lost roof tiles in a mini-tornado the week before!
Owners Lisa & Clinton couldn’t have been more warm and friendly. You really felt that you were a welcome guest in their home – and what a home. A rambling maze of corridors and nooks and crannies – full of old fashioned character. I was surprised when we opened the door to our room and the sunshine streamed into a beautiful large space, including a wonderful large bathroom with a claw-footed free standing tub and separate shower cubicle.
Everything was clean and bright and well-thought out. The bed was extremely comfortable (I’m quite the insomniac, but I actually slept really well), and our view out over the sea was fabulous. Ive never been one for hangign around in hotel lounges, but there was a gorgeous cosy first floor guest lounge overlooking the sea and I’d spied a ginger cat resting in there, so popped in for a tickle. Everything felt right and homey. Lisa didn’t even give us a key for our room (the front door is locked and you have to ring to get in), she showed us where they were kept, and it was up to us if we felt we needed it. There was also a fully-stocked honesty bar downstairs, where you just noted your room number and what you’d helped yourself to (although we’d packed a bottle of Prosecco!)
We had read great things about the restaurant, and had eagerly booked ourselves in for dinner. There is no menu, and no choice of dining time. We were told what the menu was when we turned up, so I guess if we’d had any dietary requirements, we could have said then! Diners are expected to come down to the ground floor lounge (in front of the roaring open fire) for 7.30pm to be served drinks and nibbles, beofre being shown into the conservatory for dinner at 8pm. With the whole place feeling so homey, I did wonder whether Lisa would shout up the stairs for us to come down for dinner if we were late!
There are only 10 rooms at the hotel, and the restaurant reflects this – there were only 8 other diners on the night that we were there. The conservatory is a lovely space – and I can imagine it would be absolutely wonderful in the summer on a bright clear evening.
We were served by Lisa and two young waiters who couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and accommodating. Clinton in the kitchen served up a fantastic meal! I couldn’t have ‘chosen’ better.
The first course was a kind of thin poatato rosti topped with smoked haddock and spinach, topped with a perfectly poached egg with a very light cheese sauce. I’ve only been ‘coming back’ to fish over the past couple of years, and as I can’t stand smoked salmon, I was a bit dubious of what smoked haddock would be like, and was fully expecting to just grin and bear it. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the haddock had been smoked on the premises I believe and was absolutely delicious – exactly the right amount of smoke! The whole dish was delicate but full of flavour.
Next was honey glazed duck breat with fondant potato and vegetables. The duck was pink, tender and juicy, the potato buttery and soft, the roast parsnip sweet and the vegetables beautifully turned, fresh and crunchy! Perfect!
Dessert was a spiced bramley apple souffle, cinnamon cream with red berries and sugar lattice. this had a thin, light sponge base, the souffle was a really light whipped mousse and the cream had just the right amount of cinnamon. The crisp satisfying crack of the sugar-work with it’s very slightly burnt caramel taste was a brilliant contrast. Absolutely wonderful!
I could have ended there – but there were cheese and biscuits (and port) to be had. I’m not a massive cheese and biscuit with dinner kind of a girl, so I left most of that to him. However, I did eat most of the gorgeous little petit fours!
We wandered back up to our lovely room full (but not too stuffed) and happy and, looked out over the calm sea and even though it wasn’t my plan, fell asleep almost immediately!
Breakfast the next morning (you write down what time and style you want the night before on a pad next to the decent WiFi’s password) was the usual combination of buffet-style cereal, fruit etc, and we had both ordered the full english. We had our choice of eggs (me scrambled, him poached) – everything was tasty and well cooked – especially the sausages. But the absolute star of breakfast (at which there were far more people) was the seemingly endless supply of toast to be smeared with their homemade orange marmalade. As each table tried it, you could hear the wave of the same question over and over “What’s in the marmalade?” The answer was that Clinton’s marmalade had cinnamon, vanilla, bay leaf and (the flavour that made it so special) anise. They had some jars for sale at the honesty bar where you checked out, and we bought a couple – one for my parents and one for us. Lisa mentioned that this left just one jar from the batch and they’d have to make some more. I’d happily pay to buy some and have it posted to us!
So, that brought us to the last part of our trip – a quick return chug on the gorgeous Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway – a not-too-mini version of a ‘real’ steam railway. My parents had taken me on it as a kid, and I’d been again when I lived in Kent – but I hadn’t been for about 20 years.
There’s something exciting about steam trains – the smell of the coke hanging in the air and the sound of the steam escaping from the funnel evoking all kinds of base emotions!
It may be small, but it’s perfectly formed, and proper grown-ups can still sit in the enclused carriages very comfortably. There is even a licenced buffet car. It was a perfect day – bright and brisk with hardly any clouds in the sky. We took the hour long round trip to Hythe and back to New Romney, puffing through the marshy countryside, baaing at sheep on the way – and checking out the few sights. It was exhilirating but relaxing and I loved every second of it. I plan to go on the Watercress Line soon as I’ve never been on it – or perhaps a return to the Bluebell Railway.
I even had the added pleasant surprise that the RHDR official guidebook that I bought contains a foreward by Ben Goldacre! Which seemed rather random.
When I was little, my mum taught me how to cook. She taught me all sorts of things – not content with just the basics, she also used to do things like, “This is how XX is made properly” and then a month or so later it would be “And this is how you cheat at making XX”.
A chunk of my learning was in conjunction with my mum’s cookbook, Marguerite Patten’s Stey by Step Cookery.
This was large, hardbacked and heavy. It did used to have a dust-cover but it was binned at some stage – and I don’t really remember it at all. Now that all cookbooks have fantastic glossy, colour photos, it’s a bit odd going back and looking through a book that has insipid-looking photos, dodgy black and white ones and most of the time no photo at all, so you have to gues swhat it’s supposed to look like!
As you can see, this was a reprint in 1977 with the book originally published in 1963 – so it was probably outdated even then, let alone around 1980 when I first started taking looking at it.
I saw a photo of an old cookbook on the net yesterday, and remembered that I still had this knocking about – and thought I’d share some of my favourite outdated recipes / pages!
Look what you should be keeping in your store cupboard – in case you need to make emergency hors-d’oeuvres. Rollmops? Tinned lobster? Tinned anchovies? Russian Salad? Yummy. I think that would stop people dropping in unexpectedly next time!
Move over ham in coke, meet gammon nicoise – did you know that you could transform a couple of thick gammon steaks with a packet of sage and onion stuffing – topped with those pesky anchovies yet again!
I think brawn is actually making a comeback – so this rather (un)appetising looking dish may be right bang on food trend!
As for the bacon and nut ring – it looks and sounds like it would be incredibly stodgy, heavy and dry. But don’t worry – to counter that, you fill the dimple with peas and gravy. Sorted!
And if that’s not enough odd meatiness for you, how about calf’s head? Calf’s head not weird enough for you? How about calf’s head with brain sauce – that should put hairs on your chest. Luckily, this is one of those recipes with no accompanying photo, so you’ll just have to imagine how glorious that would look.
If calf’s head is a little too much for you, why not go down the other end of the normality scale? You can’t go wrong with sausages, can you? In fact, sausages can only be improved if you add lard and a foreign-sounding name, can’t they?
I love the fact that this is one of the few recipes that they feel need a step by step photo guide. Because everyone knows how to prepare calf’s head or pig trotter aspic, but frying sausages is far too technical!
Now how about that for an insipid, uninspiring, unappetising waste of a colour page?! Lamb is my favourite meat, but even I wouldn’t touch that with someone else’s barge pole. Cold lamb and peas? In jelly? With hard boiled eggs? I feel ill!
OK, lets get back to the simple. Did you know that a suggested accompaniment to game is crisps? But you don’t have to make them yourself – a normal pack of potato crisps is perfectly ‘satisfactory’ with your pheasant or quail or whatever! Handy knowledge – I bet none of your guests would pass coment.
Or how about these tomatoes, stuffed with tinned peas and corn, diced carrots, peppers and cooked meat? Good job there’s a recipe for that!
And I just love that a simple chocolate mousse (just chocolate and eggs – I remember making this one a few times) comes with a wonderful step by step guide again. This time it also shows you all the different ways you can serve chocolate mousse. And look at that dress – it feels you with confidence that you can trust what she’s showing you! SHE knows what she’s doing.
The book is full of cakes and desserts, as you would expect, but there seems to be a rather large section dedicated to different ways of serving apples. Including this odd one of meringue, apple and chocolate – does that work?
Of course, it’s not all terrible, it has the cheese straws recipe that we’ve used in our family for years, and there are loads of basic recipes that you can’t go wrong with – there are even some that I would consider giving a go. And there’s the wonderful retro crockery featured in every photo.
I want to make this chocolate swiss roll again (I remember doing it when I was about 15) – but I want the crockery at the back to set it off with. *sigh* Happy memories!
I have been with The Man for nearly 10 years. He has been threatening to marry me for many of those years. However, having been married three times already between us, it’s never been a priority. The fact that he has out-lasted both my previous marraiges put together has also lessened the need.
But about six weeks ago, I realised that my driving license had expired (check yours guys – I had no idea!), and it was in my previous married name. So, I was going to have to change my name on it.
I made the comment that “I wasn’t going to chnage my name on it now, just to change it again in a coouple of years time”, and with that, we went to the registry office and booked “The first Saturday available”. Which was last Saturday.
The Girl has been obsessed with us getting married eventually, and has mentioned it at least three times a week – even more so after her dad remarried. So, we obviously wanted her there, but apart from that, I’m not particularly into weddings, and I don’t like dressing up, and everything just seemed like too much fuss and bother. However, I LOVE a party! I was in a quandry as to what to do.
So, I asked a wonderfully skilled friend if he would make our rings, to make it more personal and unique. Him and his partner were the first outside our family to know. Then, we finally relented and said family and closest friends could come along. However, in ordeer to keep the amount of wedding chat to a minimum, I only told the girl 6 days beforehand when I had to take her out to get a dress!
I booked the ‘wedding breakfast’ in the back room at the Village Kitchen – Hanna and the team couldn’t have been more accommodating, and we gave the kitchen a resounding round of applause on the day. Do check it out some time guys if you haven’t already – we had nothing but great comments from people.
The party had to be over the Rose & Crown, and I decided to get a karaoke and a photo booth. The wonderful people of Open Booths were amazing, and it really was a highlight of the evening – I highly recommend getting a photo booth for some brilliant memorable pics of your loved ones, and the Open Booth gives you so much more scope for merriment.
But then the other highlight was our cake.
After seeing a Wizard of Oz cake that he’d made for his neice, I asked my lovely friend Darren if he would be interested in making me an anti-wedding cake that was Walthamstow themed. He jumped at the chance and the conspiring began. Originally, I had asked for me & The Man sitting on top of a pile of abandoned mattri (Walthamstow is famous for its abandoned mattresses, don’t ya know?) but it became so much more than that. It features our favourite places, our cats, The Girl, Warren Sreet station where we met (even though it’s obviously not Walthamstow where we were both living at the time), panda bowl man, pigeons. It was an absolute work of art. A showstopper – made clear by the amount of time people took taking photos of it when we brought it out. I can’t thank Darren enough!
All in all, given the amount of time I had to do it in, I think it was a bloody good day, and I am so grateful to every single person who came and shared our day. I wouldn’t have had it any other way – certainly not with months of stress and planning!
Mentos are holding a competition to find the ‘freshest’ summer photo.
I have entered a picture that I took of The Girl on the Southbank a couple of months ago. I think it meets the brief!
The photo winning at the moment only has 89 votes, which I thought was very low. I have managed to get 19 so far and have promised The Girl that she can have the tablet or phone if we win it. So now, I am trying not to have a disappointed child on my hands!
If you have a Facebook account, please do vote for my pic – I knwo you have to ‘Like’ the page, but you CAN ‘Unlike’ it afterwards and the vote still counts (we checked).
Click here or on the photo below to vote. And…thanks…you have the opportunity to make a teenager happy – and THAT doesn’t happen very often 😉
My daughter seems to be going through a completely skanky stage at the moment. Her room is the grossest thing I have ever seen. She seems to be allergic to washing and brushing her teeth and tried to ‘con’ me into believing that she has done these things.
I have been completely worried about it, although I do vaguely remember a similar period in my childhood, but after speaking to friends whose girls are more than a couple of years older than her, and it seems that there definitely seems to be this kind of period that girls go through, at the time when they most shouldn’t!
Anyway, that was a little background to my exchange with her this morning, where my pride kind of broke through my general disgust of her lately.
Me: “You’re wearing that jumper again! Three days I’ve pointed out to you that it’s got dirt down it, and you’ve put it on yet again! You’ve got clean jumpers in your room!”
Girl: “Nobody notices Mum.”
Me: “*I* notice. YOU should notice! How do you know NOBODY notices?”
Girl: “Nobody’s said anything about it.”
Me: “Not to your face maybe!”
Girl: “And why should I care what they say behind my back?”
Me: *dumbstruck* *slight awe* *love*
Girl: “See ya!”
Like most people in the UK, I was absolutely shocked on Sunday by the photos that appear to depict Charles Saatchi with his hands around his wife’s throat.
I phrase it that the photos of him and Nigella Lawson ‘appear to depict’ because we all know just how deceptive photos can be – but it certainly looks pretty damning.
I asked the question (again, probably like many others), why the hell was someone just photographing it, and why doesn’t it look like anyone at all (including the photographer) tried to intervene.
I saw many utterances on the subject saying “Don’t blame the people who didn’t help, blame Charles Saatchi for being a wife-beater” etc etc but bollocks! I am also looking at those people (or at least ONE person) who witnessed this despicable act and apparently did nothing!
This brought home to me a rather harrowing moment when I was stood on the tarmac at Faro airport with the man that I had been uncontrollably in love with for many years and he put his hands around my neck and squeezed.
I have no idea at all what would have happened if two men hadn’t stepped in and dragged him off of me. Well, actually, I do know what probably would have happened, but I don’t really want to think about it. It DIDN’T happen.
Now, like Nigella, I am not exactly ‘a delicate little flower’ incapable of holding my own, but this man was the most powerful guy I have ever known (one of the reasons I was attracted to him in the first place I will admit). I was also shocked, dazed, embarrassed, heartbroken and absolutely livid.
Of course, there is a hell of a lot more to my story, and I could bore people to death with it, but my point is PEOPLE STEPPED IN. They saw what was happening and they did something about it. I can honestly say that I am eternally grateful for that. Especially the poor guy who took a punch for his troubles.
But surely that’s human nature, isn’t it? I’d like to think so.
So, yes, if what appeared to happen in those photos did actually happen, then Charles Saatchi is an evil, despicable, power-hungry man who deserves his dick cut off – but I would also quite happily lightly maim the photographer and any other witnesses who just sat and watched and did nothing to help or comfort a violated woman – no matter who she was.
I loved my uncle so much, but he was a bit of an odd one occasionally, and only got worse as he got older (which is understandable). We found all sorts of meticulous notes in the battery compartment in remotes (to say when they were last changed) or in the clocks (to say when they were last serviced) etc etc.
Anyway, along with Gemma, a battered old leather-effect pouffe, a crystal sweet bowl, a chest of drawers and a mantel clock I seemed to ‘inherit’ about 10 bars of Simple soap, 5 jars of Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and a vacuum cleaner.
Today, I opened up one of the packs of replacement bags for the vacuum cleaner…and found codes written on each one meticulously by my uncle in his neat script.