Sunday, 27 December 2009

Jamie in MY home

Santa Cooke has been really kind this year - I must have been a very good girl. I have an iTunes card so I can purchase some more audio books to put on my iPod (I have my eye on an autobiography by Julie Walters and one from Clive James), and two Magnolia rubber stamps, which as you can see from the sample pictures can be made up to look very appealing. They are called Baking Tilda and Cupcake Tilda. Why the little girl character is called Tilda I know not, but I'm sure you will agree when coloured and made into cards they are very pleasing to the eye. I will make good use of them when I make my chutneys and jams later on in 2010. I can decorate the packaging with them.

Santa Cooke also brought the biggest smile to my face with complete series one and two of Jamie at Home. I am a huge fan of the way Jamie presents this particular series with such passion. Not only is it split into programmes based on ways of cooking different 'grow your own' produce (ideal for us allotmenteers) but it gives basic planting information and tips that are not rocket science.

Before I go I just wanted to share the magnificence of my home-made mincey pies and my cranberry and apple chutney. Its the first time I have made the pies with a sweet pastry (thank you Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall) and from a £2 bag of cranberries I got 3 small jars of chutney. The chutney was used on Christmas dinner with gammon and the pies have passed the 'mother-in-law' test. It was a real honour to get a lovely compliment of Colin's mum about my pies. Her's are pretty hard to beat.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Blink and you'll miss it!

Where has December gone? Come to think of it where has the year gone? It came in a flash of light yesterday that it is only 4 months now until I become Mrs Cooke. At first I smiled to myself, then I got butterflies. They might even be nervous knots, though why I should be nervous I dont know.
I haven't blogged for a while. There is no excuse really - working full time, cooking, cleaning, crafting !! We did, however, find time to have a day away from the miserable weather in Stoke on Trent and go to sunny York. It was so beautiful, although there were signs that a few days before, the city's river (the Ouse) had flooded. There were tide marks along the buildings and large branches strewn across the pathways.

This being our second time in Eboracum we said we wouldn't do the normal touristy things and go to the Minster and the Jorvik centre. We went to the National Railway Museum instead - and I am so glad we did. Unusual for a woman I know, but I am a huge fan of our engineering history. The industrial revolution, that period between the 18th and 19th century, saw major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining and transport in this country, and British engineers were the masters. Something we should be very proud of.
Anyway - enough of the anorak stuff ! The museum was fantastic. There are over 100 locomotives including the Mallard, famous for recording the speed of 126mph in 1938. Apparently only for one second, but it did hit that speed. And if you have tiddly peeps there is plenty for them to do. I had a 33 year old tiddly peep who wowed at just seeing the Mallard. It's free entry, so if you do make a visit make sure you donate generously.

I'm going to be busy today making shortbread and oatmeal biscuits to give to friends and colleagues for Christmas. Lakeland do some fantastic bags to present them in (50 for £2.79), so tied up with ribbon, a bell and a candy cane they should look the bee's knee's. The recipe for the shortbread is the one previously posted on my blog. I haven't tried the recipe for the oatmeal ones yet, so if they are successful I will post that recipe too - if not then you wont hear another thing about them. I'll be using my Christmas cutters, and in tribute to the late Keith Floyd, I may have a bottle of something on the go. It would be rude not to!

Friday, 20 November 2009

I was honoured to go to London last Tuesday on behalf of where I work (the Family Information Service) to the Daycare Trust conference. This was looking at the quality and cost of childcare over the country. It was held at One Great George Street, about 200 yards from Westminster itself. This building is the headquarters of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and I was in my element, surrounded by paintings the most famous engineers of all - Watt, Arkwright, Darby. All from the era of canals, steam railways and cotton mills.

After the conference I decided to walk back to the train station. Its a direct route through Whitehall, Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road to Euston Station. It's a fair walk but the weather was fine and I was on my own, so could enjoy what I wanted to do.
I did feel very humble when walking up Whitehall. Its home to the Ministry of Defence, Downing Street and Horseguards Parade, but most famous of all for the Cenotaph where our Queen lays her poppy wreath each 11th November. And as you can see from the picture, I have never seen so many wreaths anywhere.Makes you realise how many people do remember the people who fought and died for our country, whether you agree with war or not.

On a brighter note, I passed Shaftsbury Avenue - the heart of West End theatre. Home to Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and Patricia Queen of the Desert. If you dont go to see the show, you can marvel at the stunning stilletto outside. Wow !!!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Tired but happy

The rent is spent and my legs are tired but I am a happier person from going to the Hobbycrafts show at the NEC. I curbed my spending more than usual - I went purely for ideas and inspiration, but as usual I had to visit Jaonna Sheen's stall and purchase a DVD from my list. Whenever I get some spare cash I like to get one of Joanna's DVD's. Looking through the designs on them is like looking through a good craft magazine, and for ideas there are gallery's on her website. I have met Joanna a few times at the Hobbycrafts show and she is always delightful - agreeing this time for me to have a photo taken with her and put it onto my blog. Thanks Joanna - you are a wonderful lady and an inspirational fellow crafter.

My most favourite purchase of the day was a rubber stamp with the name of Blueberry Tilda. It is from a range called Magnolia and are some of the sweetest characters I have seen. I don't usually go for cuttie stuff. It was from Sir Stampalot (cheaper than from the Magnolia stall too!) and they had fabulous samples of how the stamps can be used. I thought I could use it to promote my chutneys when I sell them next year. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you - I am going to study for my food hygiene certificate and do some farmers markets next year, as well as getting married!
Andy and the beanstalk.

Last night I felt really humbled by just the smallest gathering of friends for just a few fireworks. Fellow 'allotmenteer', Andy, was kind enough to ask us to join him and his family on the allotment to set off some fireworks. Keith, Alison and Alfie came too, so along with Lindsay, Conner, Reese and Ruby we had a good gathering. The highlight of my evening though, were the children's faces when Keith told them that the purple runner beans on Andy's allotment were magic beans (see the picture). They got so excited by this - it was lovely. In fact to see all the children just sitting there enjoying fireworks and cakes was great - no television or computer games to be seen. Just well behaved kids in chunky jumpers and wellies. Colin did have the last word with the biggest firework I have ever seen. Called something like 'The Mega Thunder 25' it was something of a marvel. I thought it would never stop!

Colin and I are off to the NEC in Birmingham today for the Hobbycrafts 'Crafts for Christmas' event. It is more enjoyable now than it used to be - the constant barrage of ladies of a certain age, with their blue rinses and their pink totes (the craft word for a shopping trolley). We enjoy having a mooch for bargains, which sometimes can be few and far between, but generally we come home with a bagful of items to inspire and create. The craft goddess, Joanna Sheen, will also be there today. A lovely lady with an eye for beautiful things, Joanna collects vintage pictures, recent sketches and most recently a back catalogue of pictures from the Royal Horticultural Society, and creates to most wonderful CD packages to make cards with. You can see her website at . Look out for the next thrilling episode when you will find out how much money Alison and Colin can spend at one show !!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

What a difference some digging makes !!

There are two people in my life who I totally tip my hat to. My lovely fiance, Colin, and my learned colleague Dave Allen (he's in the blue t-shirt). The allotment looks so different, thanks to them, and I am less likely to say 'that's it, i've had enough!'

Both worked very hard clearing ground ready for pea and bean beds. I carried on with the border unaware of the work going on behind me, then WOW! They had cleared at least 8m x 3m. Thanks guys - you have made this little woman very happy.
We also said goodbye to most of the sprouts. For some reason the actual fruit looked like they had exploded, and were not the nice tight sprouts they should have been. The trusty allotment sage, John Harrison on, has given me the reason why - "Blown Sprouts, this is caused by not enough nutrients in the soil." Its as simple as that. I know we didn't prepare the soil - we just planted them and hoped for the best. Sprouts need nitrogen, found in manure, fish blood and bone mix, or green manure like clover or lupins. I will take this on board for next year to make the perfect bed for my cabbages and brocolli.

My pumpkin, Stan, is still growing - he has doubled in size since last I spoke about him. It will be time to eat Stan soon to give the others a fighting chance. At the moment he is soaking up all the water and nutrients.

I also took this fabulous picture of sprout leaves with rain water on them. Nature is so beautiful, don't you think?

Friday, 30 October 2009

The working week ends in fun

Friends, let me take you on a journey through the world of the early years department that I work for. All week we deal with calls from day nurseries who have applied for capital grant money, parents in despair, and the odd wrong number asking for Norwich Union - then on a Friday we have just about had enough, when Ian Barber suggests a "two at 3". To explain - two at 3 is the need for a sugar rush, and you shove two sugary products in your mouth at 3 o'oclock. Today's prey was the humble mini muffin, and taking part was myself, Hazel, Mark, Dave, Ian and Tim. As you can see from the photo, some of us looked less atractive on shoving in the fodder. Thanks to our lovely mum to be Marysia for taking the photo. She did comment on feeling physically sick afterwards, not from eating the muffins but from watching us.

The best part of my day though, was getting home, knowing the weekend is going to be full of homely things. Our friend, Dave, has kindly agreed to help with the allotment tomorrow, giving a hand digging the ground for a pea and bean bed. I dont know what we would do without our friends sometimes. I also had chance to carve out our pumpkin (from Arthur at the allotment site) ready for tomorrow when the area's munchkins bang on the door asking for sweets (they really want money for the latest High School Musical gear but dont dare to be cheeky).

Me and Col put the pumpkin in the window, which hopefully indicates that we welcome munchkins - after all I have spent my pennies on the best Haribo jelly sweets. And please dont think that the pumpkin flesh has been wasted. I have a recipe for pumpkin cake - a little like carrot cake with the same frosting on the top. Time for another two at 3 on Monday then Ian!!