Sunday, 30 June 2013

Quick biscuit recipe

This is a simple, versatile recipe that's very easy to make and also dangerously quick so perfect for those times when an emergency sugar fix is needed! We used to make these biscuits when I was child and I think the original version of the recipe is probably from the ancient Good Housekeeping Cookery Compendium that was my Mum's favourite. She made sure that my sister and both got our own suitably dated copies too although, now I come to think about it, I'm not sure what has happened to Mum's?

6oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
4oz butter
2oz sugar
small handful sultanas or any other dried fruit

Grease a baking tray and preheat the oven to about 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar together either by hand or with an electric mixer. When combined add the flour, baking powder and spice and mix again. When the mixture gets to the sort-of breadcrumb stage, throw in the sultanas and continue mixing. Eventually it will form one large ball and when it does you can stop. If you're mixing by hand, this is great exercise for bingo wings!

Take ping pong ball size pieces of the dough and roll them in your hands to smooth the edges. Flatten them slightly as you put them onto the baking tray. Leave a gap between the dough discs as they will expand a little during cooking.

When all the dough discs are on the baking tray, bake them in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes. I currently have a fan oven which I set to 180C and the biscuits only take 15 mins as we like them quite lightly baked and crumbly. The biscuits are very delicate while hot so be careful transferring them to a wire cooling sheet or they may disintegrate. Also, try not to eat them straight from the oven as the sultanas will blister your mouth!

Enjoy x

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

So I'm probably not taking my purple teapot

my purple teapot
Now that the euphoria of our successful single night in Bailey is wearing off, we’re moving forward and planning the far greater challenge of a Weekend Away! Small steps, people, small steps!

Calculating weight allowances is the most complicated holiday conundrum I think we’ve ever faced and fortunately Dave has the patience to be doing all the working out. Caravans are tricky things if you want to a) be legal and b) not break it. There’s maximum weights for the amount of caravan you can attach to your car, for the amount of stuff you can put in said caravan, and for the amount of additional stuff that you thought would go in the caravan but that it now turns out will need to go in the car. The most irritating aspect of all this though, is the difficulty in finding out exactly what is and is not included in the manufacturers guidelines. Bailey and Citroen both Please Take Note!

Important for caravans we discovered is the Mass In Running Order weight. This is everything you need to run the caravan, but not necessarily to run the holidaymakers. So surely you’d expect essentials like the gas bottles to be included, and the leisure battery, and the spare tyre? Our Bailey has a generous 147kg over the MIRO so we thought we could take loads of additional Stuff. But Dave has now discovered that that the gas (24kg), the battery (20kg) and the spare wheel (19kg) might need to come off that allowance. Might, might not, depends which forums you read. Bailey the manufacturers are resolutely silent on the matter. So possibly only 84kg available.

Same story with the car. Kerb Weight allows for a fairly full tank of diesel and probably a driver. But we can’t find anywhere where Citroen categorically says ‘yes’ for the driver, so we’re having to allow for ‘no’. And drivers are quite heavy – especially this one (not-telling-you kg)! On a positive note, I now have a great incentive to seriously get back into my running. The less I weigh, the more shoes I can take!

Finally in our current considerations, there’s the Nose Weight which is the amount the weight of the caravan pushes down onto the tow bar of the car. It can be adjusted a little by moving stuff around the caravan space, but mostly depends on the amount of tat I’ve stowed. And the nose weight gauge itself uses up 1.5 of our valuable kgs.

So I can take my stripey picnic rucksack because it contains a full set of plastic ‘crockery’: red china dinner plate 700g, red gingham plastic plate 50g. My prized Le Creuset oven dish (1400g) downgrades to an admittedly far more versatile tin pie dish (100g) and it looks like I might even have to cope without my purple pottery teapot (800g).

Monday, 24 June 2013

NoFit State Circus in Bristol

We’ve just spent a lovely weekend visiting family in Bristol which is my favourite of the British cities I’ve seen. If I had to change my small town life for ‘city smoke’, I’d definitely plump for Bristol. Highlights of this weekend were a delicious Moroccan meal at the Assilah Bistro – I had the Alubia and Cannellini Bean Casserole, make sure you leave room for a little Baklava – and a wonderful treat on the Saturday afternoon, a visit to the Circus!

I’ve only been to a circus once before and that was a fairly dowdy affair while on a childhood holiday in the Netherlands. It would have been the mid-1980s, I would have been about ten and still remember being disappointed watching a bored goat biting a Shetland pony as both were dragged around a ring. There were also clowns. I don’t like clowns.

However, the NoFit State Circus we saw this weekend was magical. It’s all people, no animals, and they are very talented acrobats – trapeze artists, rope climbers, wire walkers, jugglers, hoop dancers. They wore striking monochrome steampunk costumes and were accompanied by an excellent live band. As audience, we stood right in among the artistes and were guided around by stewards as the stage set changed to accommodate each performer. This rebuilding alone was an act in its own right and seeing the human counterbalances so close at hand scampering up and down scaffold towers to raise and lower their performers was fascinating. I especially loved the five rope climbers and the juggler, the beautifully controlled artistry of the two people on the square frame, the woman on the high wire IN HEELS!, and the final trapeze act which was simply breath taking. The evening show had already sold out or I think we could have easily turned around and gone back in to watch them again!
Dave checked the NoFit State website when we got home to see if they would be coming to the South East soon. We discovered that they’ve already been and were recently at the Brighton Fringe Festival. Damn! I’ll have to keep an eye on their Facebook page to know in good time for next year …

Sunday, 9 June 2013

First night nerves unfounded and I even towed it

Dave catches some rays by our new caravan
A lot has happened since We're on our way but we're not going far! Firstly, we collected our beautiful new-to-us Bailey Orion 430-4 from John's Cross. Knowing we are novices, they kindly spent over an hour showing us around absolutely every button, dial, tube and cranky bit so we were a lot more confident when we left than when we arrived. Dave even got to try out about twenty yards of reversing. John's Cross also presented me with a lovely bouquet of flowers and some wine for Dave as a thank you for buying from them! Then a short nerve-wracking but happily uneventful drive to Horam later and our caravan was settled in at its new home, Woodland View Touring Park.

And that was that ... until yesterday ...

We spent the morning packing up the few bits we would need for a single night away, and then added lots more things that we think we might want on a longer trip. The idea was to check we could remember how to do everything we'd been taught and also to begin working out the best storage solutions for such essentials as a slow cooker and the toaster. We got to Horam and, under the watchful eye of site owner Sam, managed to extract our Bailey from a scarily tight space. ("Just pull straight forwards, you've got loads of room there!") Hitched up properly and fairly efficiently, the open road beckoned and Dave bravely set out on the long journey to Golden Cross. All seven miles of it! We could have done it in five, but chose the bigger roads.

Setting up Bailey is so much easier than pitching a tent! In the past, we could go from parking up to tent pitched & tea poured in about an hour and a half. In Bailey, an hour and a half included having found homes for all the random tat I'd brought along, fridge working and water running, tin gecko blu-tacked up, tea poured AND a choc chip cookie (bought on way, not baked on site!) All without raising a sweat - far more civilised than struggling with a bedroom pod and a groundsheet. One 'slight hiccup' could have been far worse than it actually was. As we tried to level Bailey front to back, the caravan suddenly pitched forwards and hit the ground. We learnt that it is vitally important to make sure that the clampy bit around the jockey wheel tube is tight. Very tight!

Sticky carpet was another problem. John's Cross (presumably although it could have been the original dealer) had put plastic over the two carpet pieces to protect them. However, because the plastic had been on for too long a time, when we removed it a sticky residue was left which we stuck to with every step. One carpet piece was bad, but the other was fine. Googling when we got home led me to CaravanTalk which suggested the gentle application of white spirit. An hour of this has removed most of the stickiness so a second application and a shampoo should get shot of the rest. I've now joined CaravanTalk - this is me.

Other hiccups were minor:
Reversing is probably never going to be fun.
The heater works better if the power to it is actually turned on.
The pump needs to be well under the water level in the aqua roll.

Old Mill campsite is quiet without much road noise late at night so I slept like a log. The bed is very comfortable and we were both glad we'd gone for the fixed bed option instead of making up a jumble of cushions. A little light comes in under the blind in the morning, but not enough to wake me up, only Dave, so that's OK.

And today I drove back to Horam. Me! And I don't know what I was worrying about. There was one moment where it all went a bit lurchy, but more power smoothed the ride. Dave squeaked on the first corner out of the campsite (bit close to a post!) but the rest went by fine. Braking obviously takes longer and I need to remember to allow several car lengths of space because gunning away from a standstill isn't an option. With practice I'll probably go faster - apologies to the people stuck behind when I was doing 40 through the s-bends on the Horam road but overall, a very positive experience.

We're both very pleased with ourselves and Bailey. I believe we're going to have wonderful times!
Woo hoo!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Quick Potato Salad recipe

Probably everyone has got their own variation on a potato salad recipe already but I thought I'd share this one which I can get from opening the fridge to serving up in about twenty minutes. It's simple to do and only has a few ingredients. The following amounts served two as an accompaniment to our lunch on Sunday. I had a mini Ploughman's Cheddar and Pickle Tartlet and Dave had a slice of Cumberland Sausage and Bramley Apple Pie - and, no, I didn't make either of those two myself! +Sainsbury's delicatessen counter did the honours.

175g new potatoes
pinch of salt
several fresh mint leaves
2 tsp Mayonnaise
squeeze of lemon juice

Put a saucepan of salted water on to boil while you cut the potatoes into roughly inch-cubed pieces. You can peel them if you want. I usually just wash them as I like the skins left on new potatoes. I cut up 4 good-sized potatoes which turned out to be just about 175g.

When the water comes to the boil, put the potato pieces in with a couple of fresh mint leaves. They'll probably only take about 10 minutes to cook so keep an eye on them and don't let them get too soft.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them immediately and rinse them under cold water until they have completely cooled. I always do this even if I'm not moving straight on to the adding mayonnaise stage. Mum always did too. I can't remember why it's important though. Possibly it stops the potatoes continuing to cook? Maybe it stops them changing colour? Answers in the Comments below if you know!

Put the cooled potato into a bowl with 2 tsp of mayonnaise, a good squeeze of lemon juice and 3-4 fairly finely chopped mint leaves. I've already discarded the soggy ones from the saucepan. Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly but not too enthusiastically. You don't want to break up the potato pieces.

Serve cold.

There's lots of different ingredients you can also add to this salad to make it more impressive. it travels quite well for picnics and packed lunches as long as it can be kept cool. Chopped apple works nicely for a sweeter flavour, or chives and spring onions give a savoury crunch. Most green herbs will work whether fresh or dried. We're lucky because Dave grows fresh mint in our garden, but I've tried parsley, dill, coriander or basil instead to ring the changes. If I don't have half a fresh lemon already sat in the fridge, I will make do with a few drops of lemon juice out of a jar of slices instead of cutting into a new one. We are usually part-way through a jar because I use the slices in my Turkey Tagine recipe. I do like to use a good quality mayonnaise though because I find the cheaper ones can taste too acidic.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

I've got to share this brilliant audiobook

I love my audiobooks. They make many an hour of dreary bus commuting into an exciting adventure, particularly over the last week or so when I have been eagerly awaiting the next installment of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Set around the London tube map, Neverwhere is the fantastic story of ordinary Londoner Richard Mayhew. Having stopped to help an injured homeless girl, he finds himself made invisible to the normal London above and sucked into the world of London below. A frightening place of Black Friars and Angels, Ratspeakers and Assassins, the Court of a Medieval Earl and a girl who can open any door with just the power of her mind. Richard must stay alive long enough for Door to find the people behind the murder of her family. Then he might just be able to come home. The story is an amazing feat of imagination with innumerable I-didn't-see-that-coming moments. I found myself missing Richard and Door, Hunter and the Marquis when I wasn't listening to their tale and actually wishing myself back onto a Stagecoach bus so they could continue their journey! Gaiman writes well for realistic female characters and I do appreciate that, in his stories, women are rarely just adornments to male storylines. Indeed, in Neverwhere, the traditional male-female dynamic is almost totally reversed through Door and Richard.

Neverwhere is the fourth Neil Gaiman book I've listened to and he is definitely one of my favourite authors. I also love that he is an excellent narrator. Hearing an author read their own work means you know you're getting exactly the emphasis and tone they meant all the time but, of course, not all authors are good narrators so it doesn't always work out well. My first Gaiman audio was Anansi Boys read by Lenny Henry and I followed this a few months later with Coraline read by Dawn French. Both were entertaining but I don't expect I'll repeat them. I loved Stardust which is a wonderful modern fairytale written in a beautiful old-fashioned style. It is definitely an adult book and I was captivated from start to finish. This is one I will seek out again in a few years when I've forgotten enough of the storyline to make it fresh again. Fortunately, all my audiobooks are kept on Audible so it will just be a question of searching rather than re-purchasing. The Graveyard Book started my 2013. It's fun and I enjoyed it, but as it is aimed at older children, it doesn't get as dark as Stardust or, indeed, Neverwhere. And I do like darkness in a story.

If you're looking for a book to read or hear soon, I highly recommend Neverwhere. I'm rationing my Gaiman listening because I'm sure he can only write at a certain speed. His back catalogue is quite numerous but I'd hate to have heard them all and not have another to be looking forward to. Plus it would be awful to hear too many together and become - dare I say it - bored! So I shall turn to other authors for a few weeks and then perhaps attempt the mammoth 19 hour long American Gods.

I have an Audible membership which, for me, is great value because I normally download at least two audiobooks each month. They often have three-for-two offers and there is a tremendous variety of books now available. is part of . I used to listen from my trusty SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 4GB MP3 Player which I had for about four years. I've finally managed to knacker the spring on the clip though and then the buttons wore out, so when replacing my laptop I took the plunge and bought a basic Kindle Fire HD. I am on my third set of headphones. My first, a pair of Sony Mini/Lightweight Headphones had nice sound but the foam pads wore through quickly and I found I needed to wear them under hats to keep the phones secure while walking around. I then got a pair of £4.99 Karrimor Band Earphones which are bright pink! The sound quality isn't great but they certainly stay put and, for the price, I was very happy with them. I still use them when running but have recently inherited my Mum's Skullcandy Lowrider Headphones for everyday wear. They're gold! Very bling and totally not the sort of thing I would have bought for myself. However, they're comfortable and the sound quality is excellent. Probably compared to properly expensive headphones they wouldn't hold up, but I really like them.

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Books by Neil Gaiman / Fantasy / Books from England