Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Tasteless Retail Frenzy

I know it seems a bit tasteless to hit the shops in the current doom and gloom but the British love the sales too much. Sadly, the reaction to old and much loved shops like Woolworths closing seems to be a moments regret followed by charging out to a closing down sale. I hate closing down sales, morbid and depressing, especially of old department stores which I really love.

Anyway I went to the normal sales and bought in Monsoon, John Lewis and Waterstones (as usual really). Mega bargains were a book of German fashion photography (Regina Relang) reduced from £40 to £4.99 and a turqoise linen dress reduced from £85 to £25.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The odd project

Weird one for Xmas cooking experiment...Turkish Delight! The amount of sugar and (cow hoof...)gelatine is off putting but it's great as it sets in the tray. Sadly it is brown rather than pink, should have used white sugar not fairtrade golden granular I think. Also made choc truffles which are deformed blobs but taste great. Chocolate, cream, rum. What's not to like as they say.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Icing Infinity

I honestly believe my Xmas cake icing could spread itself in an atom thick layer across most of the known world at this rate. This year I got the ready mix, last year the roll out. Making the cake is.....er.....a piece of cake but confectionery stuff is v tricky. Hopefully the Santa, Holly, Robin, Penguins, Polar Bears, Teddies and Xmas Trees on it will conceal most of the icing......

Last year I did a marzipan replica of Castle Fraser, where I work, on the cake but all the towers were too big for the tin. So this year a North Pole theme for the cold winter.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Asthma Island

Do try and catch this programme on Iplayer.
It sounds obscure and depressing but is a fascinating and uplifting story of the inhabitants of the world's most isolated British island Tristan de Cunha. People have only lived there since 1803 and all 300 inhabitants are descended from seven settlers and two victims of shipwreck, half of whom, bizarrely, were asthma sufferers.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Xmas Booze

Around the season our thoughts turn lightly to the joy of booze. A warming, tasty drink on a dark, cold night. My Xmas favourites are....red wine, port, sherry (has to be Manzanilla the lethally dry one). And all those untrendy drinks like Madeira (really nice) Ginger Wine (yummy and spicy) Pudding Wines (WHY do people drink normal wine with puddings...mostly it's disgusting....) Tokay (very odd almost hallucinogenically weird wine made in Hungary from aged and mouldered grapes, try it). My friend Barbara is almost a paid up member of the champagne marketing board so I'd better mention that too......I am also strangely attracted by a recipe for Wassail Bowl, a spicy beer punch with apples which seems wonderfully medieval.

Monday, 1 December 2008

December Already!

December today! And I don't have an Advent Calendar even. I like the ones with just pictures, not the chocolates ones and certainly not the Hannah Montana ones I saw today. Ugh. Also my mum in law already has all her Xmas food in her freezer and I don't even know what I want to have.......there is always that Turkey v Pheasant thing going on. Or goose if you want to get old school, or what's wrong with a really nice free range chicken even? Turkey is a bit of a non-event for two.....

Monday, 24 November 2008

Baking for Sanity

I wouldn't say I was one of these Domestic Goddess types. Nor would anyone who's seen my house! But when life is weird/ out of control/maddening I like to bake things. If I'm mildly annoyed I make muffins or cookies, stressy I make banana or fruit bread and plain crazy I make real cakes with icing. No icing today you'll be glad to hear. Making things makes me feel in control and concentrating on things takes my stress away. Try baking for sanity. I may have to bring out a line of aprons, tea towels etc with Baking for Sanity written on them...or start a club. You all make stuff and then you eat it and then you feel better. Aaaaah.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Wealth of History

There seem to be loads of excellent historical dramas and programmes on TV at the moment. Apart from the deservedly lauded 'Little Dorrit', a new one starts this evening on C4, 'The Devil's Whore' set in Civil War England. (Or The Devil's W***e as they put it very coyly on my HDD listing). I'm also really enjoying the High Society series on C4, the last programme 'Prince John', about George V's youngest son who suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties, was really moving. Although I was gutted that we don't get 'Sharpe' in Scotland due to the curse of regional programming. Still it is on DVD soon.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Retro Cookbooks

Poking about in the castle's cafe (formerly Victorian Kitchen) the other day I found a stash of 1950s/60s paperback penguin cookbooks. I took some home to experiment with.......and am converted to the joy and simplicity of Elizabeth David. From Italian Cooking I made pasta shells with marscapone and walnuts (fantastic and easy) and peaches topped with macaroons. I used tinned peaches but it was still nice. Although I thought you'd get more peaches in a tin than that. The French Provincial Cooking looks good but all French cooking seems to involve wine and I can't get that from the supermarket on Sunday mornings due to licencing. I may have to find some of the other books too such as the immortal Cooking in a Bedsitter.........

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Straight Bananas

In a rare triumph of sense over bureaucracy, the EU law dictating the shapes of fruit and vegetables is to be repealed!
Does this remind anyone else of Yes Minister?
I always feel sorry for weird fruit and veg which are mostly only found in small grocers now, although I also get excited by unusual variants. On holiday you see millions of different coloured veg etc, I remember in St Louis the 'heirloom' tomatoes, which even came in purple! In fact, I've also had purple spuds.
I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the odd veg in my supermarket, to supplement the already excellent small/variedly sized veg which are more interesting than the giant supermodelesque specimens sold more expensively.


Sunday, 9 November 2008

Text adventures

Does anyone else fondly remember those gripping yet maddening computer games...the text adventure? Back in my youth before graphics were invented. In fact, you don't always need graphics, the simplicity of the games always sparked my imagination. There's a great one on this site...'The Mansion'.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Obama win

Now, this isn't really a political blog, but I just wanted to say what an amazing and historic day this is and to celebrate the arrival of Barack Obama as America's first black president. Not only that but a leader of what is popularly known as 'the free world'. Here's to Mr Obama's uplifting message of hope, inclusion and progress so needed right now. I was actually crying watching the news this morning.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Escape the Madness

Where do you go when you need to get away from it all and chill out?
We went to Johnston Gardens today and it was so lovely. It is a small valley with beautiful trees and plants, a pond with a Chinese bridge and a classical summerhouse. At the moment there are red leaved acers too and exotic Mandarin ducks.
Other favourite escapes include Duthie Park Winter Gardens (where we got married btw) Central Library, the Art Gallery (the upstairs historic art section is peaceful with comfy seats) and John Lewis, always an oasis of civilisation.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Pirate gloves

Another knitting project finally complete.
Blue striped 'pirate' fingerless gloves for the freezing winter at the castle. Woolly for cold and fingerless for artefact handling. Stripes don't match tho, I haven't done stripes before.
Cheat's glove method...forget that annoying knitting in the round etc. Knit flat in 2x2 rib for wrist then stocking stitch then 2x2 rib for finger hole end cast off in stretch cast off. Knit thumb separately in rib and sew the hand and thumb together after.
Next project: a woolly headband with odd knitted flowers, for ear warming.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Paris eating

Sweet Things to eat in Paris....
I always try to eat food from the country where I'm staying and try different things. I'm not the most adventurous but these are some of the puddings I really enjoyed.....

Teeny chewy Macaroons (come in about a billion flavours)
Floating Islands (wierd yet addictive dessert of big ball of soft meringue floating on custard)
Caramel Brioche (brioche bread and butter pudding with fudgy caramel sauce, stodgetastic)
Rum Baba (actually just a bready cake absolutely swimming in dark rum)

Feel that sugar rush. Life is good.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Paris 1

Warning...unreasonable amount of Paris related blogging about to appear. First, I thought I'd share some of my favourite Paris places to see/shop/eat from this trip.

We stayed at the Aviatic Hotel near Montparnasse, a small traditional B&B (depuis 1856) with a Charming Hotel Award 2008. All fab apart from the noisy plumbing (also I suspect depuis 1856).

Fave Museums include the Musee Cluny (medieval art in an amazing medieval/Roman townhouse) Musee Guimet (Oriental collections including statues from Angkor Wat) Musee Carnavalet (history of Paris and pretty period rooms in a historic townhouse in the Marais).

Fave Parks are Jardin de Luxembourg (tree lined avenues around a luxurious palace and not too many tourists) Place des Vosges (small park in lovely 1600s square).

Nice shopping at Shakespeare and Co (classic English language bookshop opposite Notre Dame) Le Bon Marche (classy department store on left bank) Monuments of Paris Bookshop (in Hotel Sully, wonderful art, architecture, design, food books sadly French language only, in rooms with original painted ceilings).

Enjoyed eating at Hippopotamous (Steak'n'Frites chain but great food quite cheaply) Relais d'le Entrecote (famous steak house with no menu choice but amazing steak and wines) Montparnasse 1900 (classic restaurant with lovely Belle Epoque decor, traditional food and a very kind Japanese waiter) Le Pre Verre (fusion food in a traditional bistro).

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Brief Technical Interlude

I'm known and reviled by many people I know as a complete Luddite. Until now I had moved no nearer the white heat of recording technology than the video recorder......discount section of Asda Ashton-under-Lyne circa year 2003.
However, I would like to say how fantastic my new HDD Hard drive recorder/DVD player is. So easy, with menus like on a computer, no 24 hour clock or channel selection doofers. It's like an Ipod for your TV.
I suppose the companies love it cos you can't share the recordings, but DVDs are very cheap these days and there's Iplayer.
Now I need to buy all my favourite obscure films on DVD though......I suspect no joy with Fantasia or Scaramouche. Maybe I'm getting old or cynical but technology seems to be accelerating madly now which is A) scary B) brilliant C) expensive....!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Secret Ingredients.....

Every cook has a secret ingredient, which you can add to fairly bog standard things to make them more interesting/tasty......

Mine is:

"Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup. This rich mushroom ketchup was the secret of success of many Victorian cooks in making steak and kidney pies and puddings, roast meats, sauces, and soups. Try it on traditional cuisine or as a new flavor to modern cooking. (This is not a ketchup as Americans think of it, but closer to the ketchups which were used in the 1800's. Its consistency is more like a sauce.) "

Great in stews, chillis etc for a meaty flavour. I originally bought it because it has fantastic retro packaging.

Also Alistair's favourite...Tabasco Sauce.

Highly Recommended: OXO cubes, Ketjap Manis (Indonesian soy sauce...it's sweeter) a pinch of sugar (good with winey/beery stews) Mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine).

Monday, 29 September 2008

Strange Bread

A top tip:

Do not, as often advocated, try to 'relax' by making bread. I thought my arm would die from the kneading...so I don't think I did it long enough...so my bread was strangely lumpy and dense.

Also I was distracted by How we Built Britain (the C20th the South) with the Hindu Temple in Neasden and the Amazing Granada Cinema Tooting! Must visit..........

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Steel Romeos

Suitably fortified after a hairy but ultimately triumphant day of work by...
M&S Beef Wellington
Clos de Riviere 2004
Homemade Tart Mamy

Strongly recommend a brilliant BBC4 programme The Shock of the New.
With sinister black leather clad presenter.
It was one of those progs where you feel brainier after you've seen it.....
Anyway reference technology, war, the new, art, consciousness.
Exhilaratingly intelligent and witty.

If you like this try the fantastic Kenneth Clarke Civilisation
and the Angela Carter book The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman.

The Steel Romeos are in the painting The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors Even which is both suggestive and sinister......

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Cool Places to Shop in Aberdeen - honestly!

Some of my fave shops in Aberdeen

CocoViolet (retro style dresses, shoes, accessories) The Green
also online http://www.cocoviolet.com/shop/index.php?app=gbu0&ns=display&ref=splash
Retrospect (funky 60s/70s/80s vintage) St Andrew St Vintage Phoenix ( posher vintage, customised and handmade items) Chattan Place
Oxfam (specialist shop for books) just off Union St by churchyard
Barnardos (possibly) anyway on your way down George St on right from rear of John Lewis
(for books, records and 70s vintage)
Lush (amazing bath stuff, toiletries etc and the staff are Lovely) Union St
Plan 9 (comics, games, goth stuff, jewellery) Rosemount Viaduct

Anchovy of death

Apparently the humble, pizza loving anchovy is now an endangered species. Reminds me of that Futurama episode.......
Anyway this one obviously knew it as it stuck a fishbone right in my gum off my tasty pizza last night. 'Agent X gave his life to save us all. That's one anchovy murderer down, only 30,000 to go.....'

Went shopping today intending to splurge on autumn fashions. Worryingly, I actually bought three curved upholstery needles, a thermos flask, a body scrub and a sandalwood room oil. Fashion You Have Failed Me!

The bread was a great success although my flatbreads were more fatbreads.

Tonight is an experimental dinner of vietnamese chicken salad with cold soba noodles.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Sundays for Usefulness

Sundays are for usefullness.

We made two more flat pack bookshelves, slightly denting the titanic overspill of books around us. At the risk of inducing a catastrophic incident, I think we are getting the hang of them, having now built eight of them. And yes, we live in a pretty small flat.

Sundays are also for comforting stodge. Alistair is doing his famous macaroni cheese, the secrets to great macaroni cheese are mustard and extra strong cheddar. French crunchy dijon is nicest as it gives you a bit of texture.
I am going for attempt Breadmaking for the first time with a garlic flatbread. There are some areas of cooking that give me the fear. Yeast cooking, pastry, sauces, roasts. I have cracked cakes lately though.....although they sometimes sink in the middle if you put enough icing on it fills the hole! Yay!

Friday, 19 September 2008

Feministy Rant

It's probably really bad to post twice in one day.
But I was watching this programme 'Dawn gets Naked' on Iplayer. It's about women's embarrassment about their bodies. I was a cripplingly shy teenager but following a sojourn in art college involving a combination of life drawing (big up to my friend and my Dad's ex girlfriend Christine the model, a larger lady) outrageous clothes and bad karaoke sessions I am now fairly confident actually.

Did you know that ALL those beautiful women in magazines are retouched using computers, that NEARLY ALL models have eating disorders and that we spend A FORTUNE on beauty stuff? Get real ladies! We're all lovely and should love ourselves. And if anyone doesn't like that they can get stuffed!

And yes, I'm enjoying a nice glass of wine as I rant here (French Colombard Chardonnay.)

Wierd cat sculptures.

I was in the castle giftshop today. After an initially quiet start I was gobsmacked when at 4.30pm a lady came in and asked to buy our wierd cat sculpture. This is the one we thought we'd never sell as it is both vile and £350. I almost died. Apparently she collects garden sculptures and her garden already boasts a gypsy caravan.......

I am now having a gin and tonic to recover from this adrenaline (sic...) inducing moment!

Dinner tonight (when Alistair returns from his endlessly demanding clients) Chinese Chicken stirfry with mango puree. I was amazed to find the puree which struck me as mega obscure. Reminded me of this fab Asian supermarket I used to go to in Ashton, Manchester. It stocked Everything but none of it was labelled in English.....

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Mud, cows and nettlerash.

Another castle exploring day today. My husband asked in bemusement 'and this is what you do on your days off?' No wimpy places with cafes and shops, no, the castles we favour are ruined, unsigned, often unmapped, past 'No Entry' signs and swamped in nettles and ivy. But also peaceful, romantic and undiscovered.
My friend and I were, however, repeatedly lost, wet, muddy, stung, exhausted and chased by a herd of cows. Maybe next time go for the cafe option. Although my skills with an OS map are improving......
I suspect Aberdeenshire may have more castles than anywhere else in the world possibly. It's hard to find any road where a ruin does not stand gaunt on a hill or turrets point from thick woods.

A much needed dinner tonight consisted of the highly recommended (although other supermarkets are available) Sainsbury's Chipotle Chili Burgers, oven chips and a beer.

Last might in a mega knitting marathon while hubster was playing World of Warcraft I finished the baby cardi for expecting friends. Despite it being lime green and slightly malformed, I hope they like it. Big knitting up to my friend's mum for her fab 'Housekeeping Mouse' all in knit, even a duster!

First day of blog!

This is my first day of my first ever blog! I can feel writers block coming on already.....

Today I was at work at Castle Fraser. It was one of those wonderful sunny, frosty autumn days which are my favourite kind. I pootled about happily with my big box of housekeeping equipment (fluffy brushes for dusting, static cloths for woodwork, metal polish and silver cloths.)
The sun shone in over the old and slightly threadbare carpets and the faded wallpapers.
I was late home cos I sat in the courtyard for far too long, unable to face the long walk up the drive to the carpark.

Tonight I cooked pork chops fried with a sauce of anchovies, capers, garlic and lemon juice, served with gnocchi. I like gnocchi cos of the way they float to the top of the pan when they're done.

Later I'll have a cup of tea with this weeks cake (carrot, orange and pistachio).