Bargain! BARGAIN!! – Or is it?

BOOK BARGAINThis special offer (absolutely genuine by the way – my photo taken on actual book cover) is not a bargain – obviously. However, not all fake  ‘bargains’ are as easy to spot. Many do not even scream ‘bargain’ at you. They just offer themselves in a way that we have been trained to assume is a ‘bargain’. Even this blatantly wrong bargain sticker would still draw the customer to look at the goods

Come on woman! I hear you say – what are you getting at?

Well, I am an inveterate checker of  ‘price per 100g / kilo’ at the supermarket, if I weren’t I would have frequently paid over the odds per weight by going automatically for the ‘multi-pack’ or the larger size – but it isn’t always the cheapest option! [And getting duped into paying more than I need, annoys me!]

‘Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’

Recently I have noticed ‘Family Value packs of Carrots’ at 6p/kg over loose carrots. Large packs of mushrooms marked ‘special’ at 15p /kg over loose mushrooms and broccoli (or calabrese) vacuum-sealed in plastic, also at a reduced price, that was still more than the loose per kg.

Away from the fresh produce and onto the packed goods: Multi-packs of fruit-juice, that you might reach for, suddenly 80p over the price of the individual ones – when they have a special on singles but not the multi-packs. Specials on small boxes of cereal / tea that make them cheaper per 100grams than the large boxes of the same, again, by having reductions on one size only. If the goods inside the package are being reduced – then be honest with it and reduce them across the range!

I have no problem with the supermarkets putting down the prices of the smaller packs – indeed I often feel that those who have to buy small-and-often due to finances or usage or space difficulties ought not be over-penalised for their need to buy smaller. (Whilst taking into account that packaging for small quantities probably costs almost as much as packaging for large – yet is frequently disproportionally charged for)

The question is – who is it that are being targeted by the supermarkets when they flag-up these ‘spurious’ special offers?

OK, so you might say it is those with an eye to a bargain, but you can look at  it another way, they may be someone who needs to watch their pennies.

However, if you combine that with someone who lacks the time, or the peace and quiet, to read the price per 100g / kg and compare – the ‘special price!!’Family value!!‘multi-pack!!‘ ‘larger box!!‘ – is mainly going to catch the harassed shopper for the family.

Someone squeezing in the shopping after work and before getting an evening meal together. Someone with children in tow. Someone who cannot spend too much time shopping as they have dependants to care for. Someone who has to get the shopping and be back to the bus-stop before the bus leaves*. (*Rural readers will understand this more than urban)

 ‘Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish’

There are other costs to consider when you head off  to shop at the supermarket too. Unless you are highly organised, or live within walking distance of the big supermarket, the trip to get something you need, but forgot, can cost you dear. Unless your one trip into town makes sure you really have everything –  when you nip back a couple of days later for the item you forgot you will  be paying well over the odds – fuel prices being what they are!

How useful, how nice if you could just pop along to the corner / village shop and pick it up there?  Well, you can if the little shop is still open, and to keep the little shop open we all need to make sure we do SOME of our weekly shop there, every week.  They can’t be expected to stock the esoteric and exotic (as everything has a use-by date now-a-days) but they usually have all the basics and staples that most of us buy on a regular basis anyway, and can supply other things if there are regular firm orders for them.

Do you know where my best bargains were to be found last week? In my local post-office stores! There, two of the items I buy every week were on special offer. Real special offers. Orange juice at two boxes for £2 (where they are usually £1.19  each) and sliced pineapple (to go with the delicious Cornish Bacon Company gammon I buy there too) at 2 cans for £1 instead of 62p each, plus I didn’t have to drive into town and back to get them (average fuel cost: 6miles = £1.00) and shopping locally helps to keep our local shop going and our village community alive – making it worthwhile even if I hadn’t saved extra. Win – Win! Much better than just doing the supermarkets!

Well, what do you think?

Where do you live? Do you have a local shop?

Do you love or loathe the supermarket ‘bargains’?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you :)

P.S.  It is one of our WI campaigns too – shop local!


January Magic – inedible to delicious

What fruit can you only buy in and around January? What? You want another clue. What fruit tastes bitter and inedible but makes a delicious breakfast accompaniment when turned into a preserve? Ah Yes! I’m sure you have got it!

In this day and age you seem to be able to buy any fruit at any time of the year, providing it has been shipped far enough, however, miss the Seville orange season and you are stuck! Unless, of course, you have some in the freezer. Which is what happened this week. OK, so I know it is January, but the husband pointed out a couple of weeks ago that he was opening the last jar of marmalade. Unbelieving, I looked. He ( for once) was right. Now I knew I had some Seville oranges in the freezer and, being a good girl and rotating the freezer stock, I decided to make the marmalade with these and then buy more to put in the freezer for when this batch of marmalade ran out.

To my surprise I hadn’t got my marmalade recipe on this blog yet.DSCF0109 Well, this may be because it isn’t, strictly, my recipe. It is, in fact, the traditionally-made recipe from a good friend, that I adapted to make in my microwave. However, unlike so many of the other recipes, I cannot make this into short-time short-cut recipe in the microwave as the fact is the segments of orange have to boil in sufficient water to cover them and then this must be reduced with a good rolling boil after the sugar is added.

However, there are the usual benefits of no sticking to the pan or constantly stirring a steaming pot. So here goes.

Ann & Fiona’s Microwave Marmalade recipe

For 5 one pound jars of the golden stuff  DSCF0096

2lb of  Seville oranges and 1 lemon
1.5 lb jam sugar
2lb granulated sugar
walnut-sized nub of butter
1 litre water

1.   Wash the fruit in very hot water to remove wax and dirt.
2,   Quarter the oranges, cutting down and then across
3,   Cut the lemon in to 8 pieces
4,   Place in very large pyrex or similar heat-proof glass dish (3litre size)
5,   Pour over 1 litre of water boiled in kettle.
6,   Heat on full power in MW until boiling. (About 10 mins)DSCF0102
7,   Simmer for another 10 mins – or until the inner peel looks translucentDSCF0105
8,   Strain through a colander saving all the liquid, squish all juice from fruit, then allow peel to cool.
9,   Using a knife skim-slice off the membranes and pith from the outer peel of the orange segments
10, Place the orange segments into a food-processor, add about a tea-cup-full of the juice and chop until the peel is of the desired fineness (if you want very little peel or thin strands of peel omit this stage, just select the nicest peels and slice very thinly with a sharp knife)
11, Place cut peel and all the juice back into the large glass heatproof dish and add the sugar – stirring well. DSCF0106
12, Heat on full power until bubbling – about 10 – 15 mins – stir well then add the nub of butter (this helps prevent ‘foaming’ and makes a clearer marmalade)
13, Heat on full power for 5 mins then for 5 at medium (half power) to prevent boiling over DSCF0112
14, Test for set (see here), teaspoon of marmalade onto a cold dish, put back into the fridge. Continue to simmer the marmalade while this cools.
15, If set is achieved (test portion  ‘wrinkles when pushed with finger and is sticky’) then prepare jars. If not – continue simmer until set achieved – test every 5 mins.
16, Prepare jars for potting up (see here) and fill. Cover with a jam-pot cover and elastic band. Label when cool and ENJOY!

I’ve now been out and bought enough Seville oranges, with accompanying lemons, for three more batches and dropped them into the freezer, each bag containing 2lbs of oranges and one lemon.

There’s no mass-produced alternative to beat home-made marmalade!

Do you make your own?

Do you have a favourite recipe – there are so many – some without Seville oranges at all!

Do share, you know I love to hear from you


Why a dishwasher could be the healthy option

HOORAY for the dishwasher! I know not all of us can afford one, or feel we need one as there are not so many dishes to do, but I, for one, would miss my dishwasher more than my washing machine. DSCF0094 crop

Now this isn’t just because I am lazy (moi?) or that I think there are better things to do with my time than wash and and dry dishes, but because I am convinced that dishwasher use is better for the health of the family as a whole.

I remember a time before I had one, and talking to a friend who’d had one for over a year. She said she was sure her family, including two children, had had fewer infections of any kind, including colds, since she’d been using the dishwasher. It sounded almost silly. I mean.. you catch a cold by air-transported viruses, don’t you?

After we got ours, which with 8 people in the house was an absolute godsend, I was minded to agree. Those childhood tummy bugs that children pick up in school (you know the ones that are ‘going round’, if one boy came down with it… that seemed to be it. Just the one boy… we didn’t all follow on.

You may recall my plea in a previous (very popular) blog for understanding about the importance of putting the LID of the toilet seat down before flushing (click here to read if you missed it). (No, not the old chestnut of male versus female, SEAT up or down.. but the scientifically backed need to put the LID DOWN to prevent an aerosol of faecal-carrying moisture being puffed up into the bathroom) When following up on the research on that I came across the evidence for the most germ-laden part of the home … and thought that one day I’d blog this too. Today is the day.

The kitchen sink / work-surfaces / chopping boards /cloths and sponges ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS GERM-RIDDEN PLACES IN YOUR HOME.

Why? Because we bring dangerous bacteria into our home and usually work on it in our Kitchens.  We ought to be aware of the dangers of raw meat by now – we are told often enough. Only this past summer there was a campaign telling us NOT to wash our chicken as it could ‘splash’ the salmonella all around the kitchen sink and surrounds. (having told us that most chicken meat was contaminated with salmonella but was fine to eat as long as it was cooked properly)

We also bring vegetables into our homes. The danger here lies in the fact that these have been GROWN .. in SOIL.  It is the bacteria clinging to them from the soil that provides the danger here, and, of course, we have to wash our vegetables.

All in all this means that our kitchen sink areas are not clean areas in terms of bacteria, in fact research shows they are probably worse that the lid of the toilet! And you wouldn’t clean your cups and plates and leave them to dry there  … would you?

So is the kitchen sink the best place to wash up your dishes? Is the sink-drainer the best place to stand them to dry?

Add to that the fact that to kill bacteria the washing-up water has to be hotter than  your hands can stand and you can see that a dishwasher has certain advantages. Washed in very hot water then heat dried – dealing with those pathogenic bacteria – especially on the hotter cycles. This goes not just for your crockery but also for your chopping-boards – harbourers of lots of bacteria according to the studies. It seems most people just do not have a different board for each use (colour coded) .. or clean them properly. I find it best to have a number of the plastic ones, using them for the different things, then just put them all in the dishwasher for a proper clean when I wash the dishes from the meal they were used to prepare.

Talking about drying-up… one of my pet shudders – the use of a tea-towel as a hand-drying cloth and a dish-drying cloth! A good way to spread bacteria around. There should always be a dedicated hand-drying towel, distinct from the dish-drying cloth, so that the dish-drying cloth is only used to dry clean dishes (Nor should either  be used as a serving cloth to hold plates of food). Research shows drying-up with a tea-towel to be the worst option – better to let them stand and air dry (as long as what you are standing them on is bacterially clean!)

Cloths and sponges are used to wipe up spills and splashes – that is their job, and as they also usually reside in or near the sink also pick up these bacteria.. and a damp, warmish environment, with ‘food’ from the spills, those ‘few ‘ bacteria will multiply into a veritable smorgasbord of bacteria that we then spread all over out work-surfaces when we wipe them down. The manufactures of bactericidal wipes would have you snatching these out and using them at every turn.  This is all good for their sales, but not necessary. Traditional cloths, a fresh one daily, the previous day’s dropped into a solution such as Milton sterilizer, until you have sufficient for a hot wash, will do just as well.

I’m not a great believer is banishing all bacteria from the home environment. I do believe that we need to meet these to keep our immune system in condition, but simple ways to prevent some of the nastiest bugs getting a grip on us is sensible. So I say. HURRAY for my Dishwasher … and, like my friend before me, I do think it helped keep the bugs from spreading within the household.

Do you have a dishwasher? What are your observations?

Do you have an un-sung household appliance that you’d like to praise?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you!

 

 


A Taxing Matter for the New Year

fireworks Cole Vassiliou

Image courtesy of Cole Vassiliou

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  

Here we are and here is the first blog of the new year … and I have to bring up the spectre of  TAX.

Do you think Amazon* should pay their taxes? Of course you do! Well, the EU have closed a loophole that Amazon and others were using to undercharge, and so underpay, the VAT on some goods – ebooks in particular. As from January 1st Amazon must charge the VAT rate for ebooks in the member state the ebook is bought in.

Let me explain… Amazon has its EU servers in Luxembourg – and has been charging the customer only 3% VAT on ebooks as this is the ebook VAT rate in Luxembourg. *(As do Apple, Google and Nook so this applies to them too)  They reasoned that they were charging the VAT rate where the commodity (ebook) was Sold –  ie by Amazon/Apple/Nook etc  in Luxembourg.

Now that it has been ‘clarified’ Amazon has added on the VAT rate applied in each of the member states to the price of the ebooks as listed.

OK? Umm?

Well, this means that all the ebooks on Amazon sold in the UK will now have 17% added to them to bring them up to OUR 20% VAT rate for ebooks. (I presume this is happening on Nook and Apple too but do not have the personal evidence to draw on)  Now this does not only apply to Amazon, so prices will have risen across the board and even if it is sold by a non-VAT registered outfit (earning too little to deal with VAT) it will still have to be price-matched with Amazon if they want their books to be available there as well.  So it will mean a price increase, unless the author/publisher can absorb the increase.

If you are like many of the large publishing houses who have set their ebook price as almost as high as their paperback price – perhaps you could. However, if you are like most individual Authors, or are published by a small publisher (an Indie Publisher), then you have usually set your ebook at a reasonable level, much lower than the paper-back price, that gives you a reasonable return and the customer a great deal.  So the individuals and the Indie publishers won’t be able to absorb the VAT increase and as we are all used to ebook prices being very reasonable, this may hurt a bit!

skos front for ppI just  wonder why ebooks aren’t rated the same as paper-books. Consider this – books - paper-books – are zero rated in the UK. Why do you think that is? Think of the other things that are zero rated. Food (excluding sweets, cakes etc) Water, Children’s Clothes and Footwear,  certain Safety Equipment, Power, Ship-building, Helicopter and Aircraft making ….  all thing important to the health, well-being education or protection of the people.red one

However, it transpires, that ebooks are designated as a ‘supply of a service’ not as a book.  This seems very odd to me, the CONTENT of an ebook is the same as the content of the paper-book. Perhaps it is because if you buy an ebook from Amazon they have the ability to ‘take it back’ if need be – and this makes it a ‘supply’ rather than an ‘item’. Even if this is so then not every country sees it this way.

It seems that it is only Germany and the UK that treat ebooks to the full VAT rate. In Luxembourg it is 3% , France it is currently 5.5% , Italy is reducing their ebooks from the standard rate down to 4% and Malta likewise but down to 5% – the latter two to match their paper-book rate.

InAngel Bug Cover Ultimate the UK they say they have no intention of lowering the ebook VAT rate and warn that ‘harmonisation’ may end up with printed books having to pay the lower rate too (instead of zero) A warning that has upset the publishing houses and one that would also upset readers.

There doesn’t seem to have been much about this in the general press which is why I’ve chosen to write it in this blog. At least now, if you go to buy an ebook in a series and the price has ‘jumped up’ from the last one you bought, you’ll know why – and it will probably be by 17%.

Now, we only have to hope that Amazon/ Apple/ Nook PAY those taxes :)

Had you heard about this change in VAT rates for ebooks?

Do you think all books (electronic or paper) should be zero rated as being ‘good for us’?

Do let me know what you think – you know I love to hear from you


Happy Christmas to All my Readers

DSCF0088Happy Christmas everybody! By the time you get this your Christmas day will be either half over or well over (depends if you decide to have a ban on looking at the computer on Christmas Day or not ;)

Regardless of the time, I’d like to send you all best wishes for the season… and hope you have all you need to make this a happy time.

Here we have family visiting  (#2 son. #3 son and his lovely wife) and will have aunts, uncles and neighbours in for Christmas day, making us twelve.

The Christmas tree is looking it usual crazy self (no restricted colour themes or fashion-following for me)

IMG_1648 cropThe cake is a riot of the holly leaves I blogged about making last week

and, as I write, the veg (including a single 3lb plus stripy beetroot from the garden) has been peeled and chopped by my lovely team of youngsters. DSCF0090

 

 

 

So all that is left to do is wish you all the best and thank you all for following the blog and commenting on the pieces, I really do appreciate hearing from you. Thank you too if you are one of the many people who have read my novels over the past year, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Hope you have a lovely time – Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a peaceful and joyful New Year


Too Late to Decorate a Christmas Cake??

No, it’s not too late to decorate your Christmas cake AND make it look special … let’s be honest here… I haven’t decorated mine yet. But, here’s one I did earlier.  As in; I decorated the Christmas cake for our WI party.. and posted the result on Facebook.. and have had more than a few queries about how it was done.  Well, it was fairly simple and really didn’t take very long – though some drying time is needed between stages .. and luckily I had taken a few photos as I went (not really enough but I hope it will give you what you need) DSCF0063

BASICS:

Not wanting to teach my grandmother to suck eggs… but I am often amazed how many people do not start themselves off with a nice flat cake, trusting to luck that the top of the cake will be flat enough. You may skip this paragraph if you are a grandmother experienced in sucking eggs. ;)  If you are doing a quintessential snow-scene the rough or rounded top really doesn’t matter. For almost anything else cut the top off the cake to level it up. Turn it upside down and set on the cake board: the base is now the top and will be lovely and flat!  This can be stuck in place with a blob of royal icing or jam  (though the latter not so firm)  Hint: measure up the sides to the point where the rounding starts. At the same level on 4 sides (or corners if you are doing a square cake), slice into the cake. then, keeping the blade level with the table top work round to the next cut… thus joining the cuts up, all at the proper level, when all the side/s have been cut into then slice through the centre. You should now have a cut ‘top’ surface but a level cake – then you turn it over.

ROLL-OUT

I like fondant icing and, though I did once make it, I usually just buy Regal Ice.  I prefer this one for flavour and texture – but you can use the others if you prefer. If you like marzipan, by all means give your cake a layer of that. Certainly at this late stage it is not necessary to prevent colour ‘bleed’ from the cake coming through, so if you do not like marzipan ( as I do not) you do not have to use it!  The following  instructions would apply to marzipan as well as fondant.

Heat a tablespoon of apricot jam in a small container (Microwave until just bubbling would be fine) Brush the warm jam all over the cake top and sides.

On a worktop dusted liberally with CORNFLOUR (not icing sugar) roll out a kilo of fondant icing. I usually thump it about a bit first to make it square rather than rectangular and it also seems to soften it a bit before rolling.

Roll to a minimum thickness of 5mm – 7mm is preferable – thicker than 7 and it’s just too much icing, thinner than 5 gets tricky to lift and smooth.  Keep turning or moving the icing to make sure it isn’t sticking to the worktop at all.

When it is at least 2 inches (5cm) larger than your cake surface-area, lift, using a rolling pin to support the icing , and drape over the cake centrally.

If it is a square cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down over the corners first. This will leave ‘baggy’ bits along the sides, but with gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away along the sides until they, and the corners, are all smooth.

If it is a round cake: gently, with cornflour dusted hands, ease and smooth the icing down evenly, so the baggy areas are evenly spread. With gentle easing this bagging can been smoothed away leaving the icing even all around the sides. DSCF0049 edge crop

Make sure your hands are well cornflour dusted and ‘polish’ the top and sides with light circular movements. Press down around the base towards the cake-board.

The icing lapping onto the board can be dealt with in a number of ways. It can be trimmed tight to the cake, which leaves an edge that calls out for a piped trim. You can make sure it covers all the board, and smooth it down right out to the edge and trim level with the edge of the board, or you can cut it into shapes, a wavy line is easy, or use a cutter to give a trimmed pattern. On the cake I made for WI I used a small circular cutter* to make lots of small spikes. *flat-ended apple-corer – but I could also have used a icing nozzle – same size)

Take the excess icing and roll it up together again. If you have some gum tragacanth powder then blend in about quarter of a level teaspoon by kneading it well – this will make the icing harden much better.

Making the DECORATIONS {Note: if you are running VERY close to the date, cut off about a quarter of the kilo of icing and make the decorations first .. then cover the cake when they are dry and ready. Keep the rest of the roll-out well wrapped in cling-film and sealed in an airtight bag}

Roll out icing.. thinner than before. You can use a holly cutter (or two) as I did… but if you haven’t got holly cutters you can use a fluted (sweet) pastry cutter (most of us have those – right?)  See HERE for pictures how to make this type of holly leaves in a previous blog. I then like to mark these with a knife – to show centre line and veins – just a few marks – not necessary — but … DSCF0047DSCF0048

Prepare a A4+ piece if card by folding it into a zigzag and cover it with foil or cling-film. I always  have an odd cereal packet folded up in my cupboard :) (hangover from having children – great source of scrap card) .

As you finish each holly leaf drape it over this zigzag – so each one will have a different curved shape when they dry.

Take remaining fondant and colour it red. Roll it out and cut out letters to spell Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…. if you have letter cutters (A really great item to have in your cake decorating armoury!) – if not then  roll into long thin sausages, shape the letters to spell Happy DSCF0052Christmas, leave to dry on a tray which has been covered with cling-film and dusted with cornflour. (my photo shows silver words — but let’s keep this simple eh?)

To make holly berries roll out a long  thin sausage and cut small even sized pieces and roll to make berries – leave to dry on something they won’t roll off of!!!

 

ASSEMBLY

Make up 1 egg-white’s worth of royal icing (1 egg white beaten with about 200g/8oz sieved icing sugar until thick and glossy)  (or use ready to mix royal icing – about 100g / 4oz) DSCF0051

If you want a candle as I have in the centre wrap its base in a piece of foil.

Put a large blob of icing in the middle of the cake, carefully site the candle in the centre – do not worry if it wobbles at this stage. Add the dried holly leaves starting with smaller ones round the base and culminating with four large ones at the top. This will all help stabilise the candle. Drop some berries onto the wet icing amongst the holly leaves.  Carefully remove the actual candle and leave this arrangement to set.

DSCF0060Mix a little of the icing with a drop of hot water to make a slightly runnier ‘glue’, using a small brush paste the back of the letters and carefully position on the sides of the cake – hold each one a moment to make sure it is holding on. Using the same technique place a holly berry at each spike round the base, then distribute the rest at random but evenly over the remaining space on the top.DSCF0057

Allow all to set then keep covered until the day :) DSCF0066Replace the candle and it is ready to show off.

By the way.. this is not turning into a cooking blog – promise – but if I left this one until next week it might be too late to decorate your cake!

 

Confession – I have been known to decorate my Christmas cake on Christmas eve :)

Have you decorated your cake yet? Come on – confess!

Do you have a tradition of a specific design year after year or do you vary them?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you!


My Meringue-Snowmen army rides again …

DSCF0041It was our Festivities committee’s BIG EVENT this weekend – it is the one this group was ‘invented’ for … to bring a bit of community spirit and festivity to the heart of the village.. thus a HUGE Christmas tree bedecked with light and a community ‘tree-lighting ceremony’. This is a village event that has grown over the six years it has been running and includes now a ‘lighting’ of the small (planted) tree behind the post-office parking area, the church bells ringing, then the walk to the Hall singing Christmassy songs, where the Hand-bell ringers play and then we have singing of Carols – this year led by the primary school’s brilliant choir. Finally we all get into the warmth of the hall for free mince pies, sausage rolls, juice or mulled cider (wassail) and good fun is had by all……

What has this to do with snowmen … meringue or otherwise?? …. well the mince pies are all home-made and supplied by lots of lovely people including us on the festivities committee. Now I always make my rich shortcrust with egg yolks. Cue meringue –  what else do you use the whites for? However this time I decided to make some mini-mini-pavlova bases as I know I have an event I need to take finger-food along to, and they will do very nicely. I had piped out as many of these as I wanted and still had plenty of meringue mix left and I was suddenly reminded of the mini-snowmen I used to make for the boys to take to their primary school class  party when they were in the infants. (Yes – I know I am mad – as if I didn’t have enough to do :) ) …so I decided to make some of these for the children at the lighting-up event.

However, it was a busy week that also saw me at an event all day Saturday with my books, so I didn’t get them finished in time. After the lighting-up evening I decided to finish them to add to this blog in-case someone out there might  fancy making them too.

Stage one: Make up the meringue mixture as per MY pavlova recipe ( so – 4 egg white – whipped, plus 8 oz of sieved icing sugar – click link for full details – it is an easy and reliable recipe – this would make you two dozen mini-mini-pavlovas and two dozen snowmen)

Stage two: Put in piping bag with large nozzle – I used a very open rose. Grease flat baking trays well. DSCF0004DSCF0003

Stage three: Pipe bodies: Two good squeezes to give a bit of shape. ON a different tray – Pipe heads – one squeeze

DSCF0008

size comparison with a 5p piece

Stage four: Cook – 140 oC  or 120 oC  fan oven best for these very tiny items. About half an hour. Check, should have firm base if picked up. turn oven off and allow to cool in oven. Remove (you can store in an air-tight box until you are ready to use them)

Stage five: Make up 1 egg-white’s worth of Royal Icing (or if you have it – mix some instant Royal Icing) (1 egg white = 6-8 oz sieved icing sugar) beat well until smooth and glossy)DSCF0012

Stage six: divide into 5 portions. Leave one white – colour the others blue, red, black and orange (deep yellow)

Stage seven: Make up 4 small greaseproof icing bags. Follow link (or look under Recipes top-bar drop-down) for instructions.

 

Stage eight: Snip off end of black (little)  and dot in all the buttons ….. then all the eyes.DSCF0026DSCF0029

Stage nine: Snip off end of Orange (little) – add ‘carrot’ noses.DSCF0032

Stage ten: snip off the ends of red and blue – and more from end of Orange. Create scarves on all the bodies.DSCF0031

 

Stage eleven: using a paint brush or a cocktail stick add smiles – red or black – as you think fit – I can never make up my mind about this bit!DSCF0034

Stage twelve: Using the back of a teaspoon add a little blob of white icing to the base of the head … and stick the head on the body of each snowman.

Stage thirteen: If you have enough icing left give the snowmen a contrasting bobble hat.

DSCF0038

meet the motley meringue-snowmen crew

Ah! Memories … the meringue-snowman army on the move …. now I only need to find some small children to eat them :)

Hope you’ve enjoyed seeing these little fellas come to ‘life’ …

Do any of you make special sweet-treats for your family  at Christmas?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you


Incy-wincy and the silver fish who cannot swim

It must be a sign of the unseasonable warm weather we’ve been having in the UK, it’s nearly December and only now are the spiders making their annual autumn invasion of the house. Now you have to understand that our house is a spider’s heaven, having been built in stages from the 1500s onward to the late 1600s it has lots of beams, to make webs between and the ceiling, hundreds of nooks and crannies, nice places to sneak away into to hide, and a housekeeper (me) who, 1, quite likes spiders and doesn’t want to harm them and 2, likes important things to be clean (kitchen, bathroom) but is not overly anxious about a few cobwebs here and there – especially there.

Now when I say I like spiders I have to qualify that with I like some spiders more than others. I am not fond of the very dark short-legged varieties and on the infrequent occasions when they do arrive I arrange their safe and harmless transition to the great outdoors (clear plastic cup and sheet of paper work best for me)

Spiders (arachnophobes look away now – pictures coming up)

tegenaria from the workshop

tegenaria from the workshop

My favourite house spider is the Tegenaria gigantea . (It maybe that the ones in my house are actually Tegenaria saeva which is very similar and found more often here in the SW of England) These are the large beasties with equally large legs and beautifully chevron marked abdomens. If it sat in a dessert-spoon its legs would reach or overlap the edges. It is often spotted as it makes a mad dash across the room, pauses, then runs on! The females are quite long lived and can live a number of years as adults and, as is usual in the spider-world are larger than the males. They make quite small webs (so not too much of a nuisance) We used to have one that lived behind a large larder cupboard, where the cupboard didn’t quite fit tight against the wall (not one of the walls in our house is straight). She would come out in the evenings, sitting boldly at the edge of her small web. The boys used to drop flies they’d swatted into this web during the day for her to find later. After about two years she just disappeared.

The one pictured is fairly small, as they go, and lives in the workshop, high up above the racks that hold the tools etc, for size reference the base of the jar she is sitting in is a good 3″ or 7cm across.

The next and the most prevalent spider in this house is a thin cylindrical bodied, long thin legged variety that I call the cobweb trembler. It makes annoying strandy cobwebs all over the place and hangs in this mess waiting, so while I tolerate these I am not keen on them. If you disturb the cobwebs it trembles violently shaking back and forth over as much as ten centimetres, so that it is hard to catch (if I were a bird or something) If you touch the spider itself it drops, suddenly, to the ground…. and scurries off inefficiently on its spindly legs. DSCF3998

These belong to the Pholcidae and are probably phalangioides but I am not sure. They manage to raise armies of young and so each year, twice a year, I brace myself and armed with the vacuum cleaner, try to remove as many as I can from the building. I often wonder if they survive the vacuum treatment, I hope they do and immediately go and empty the cleaner out on the compost heap (it doesn’t have a bag so the dust and stuff doesn’t get compacted at all) – in the hope that if they have survived the suction and having landed in the body of the cleaner they have curled up and waited until release.

Along with many others I find beauty in the cobweb made by the orb spider and many orb spiders are beautiful in themselves with interesting colours (saw a bright lime green one this past Summer) and patterns. When these decide to make a web across an open window it is with great regret that I destroy the web just to close the window (making sure the spider is safely outside before closing) I really don’t like the thought of hurting them.. maybe growing up with the ‘If you wish to live and thrive, let the spider run alive’ rhyme?

Spiders aren’t the only creepy crawlies that I have a soft spot for. Many, many years ago when at teacher training college I did my biology thesis on Lepisma saccharina (the small primitive insect known as the silverfish) silverfish

A harmless creature (except if they get into old libraries in numbers – they eat the sizing and glues on books) I had always seen them around but could find very little out about them. After eighteen months keeping them, studying their life cycle, behaviour patterns, preferences for diet, humidity, light, temperature conditions and nearly four hundred pages later, which included sheet after sheet of hand-drawn and coloured graphs (pre-computers!), I think I knew more about them that most entomologists back then, but not now . I was particularly curious as to what the ones that live in the bathroom ate, (as the only information available at the time suggested they ate carbohydrates and sugars – not often found in bathrooms) and discovered that among other things, they eat up all the shed scales of skin we leave behind as we dress and undress – so they are actually doing a good job there :) . In fact, if they did not get certain levels of protein from this or moulds then they lost their shine. I was awarded a high grade for my research and hence, in this house, these creatures are always rescued from the bath.

Enough of creepy crawlies for now….. I think these have to go under ‘Other passions’.

Anyone else like spiders and other creepy crawlies?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you

 


Anyone For Cake? How to….

Well! What a weekend. The first Looe Literary Festival was a tremendous success! Plenty of people turned out and took themselves down to this pretty Cornish town on the sea. PLUS it was extra interesting being ‘out of season’. There was a different vibe – and this weekend it was definitely a Literary vibe!

I was delighted to have my very own one hour Author Event slot arranged for me in The Old Boathouse Cafe, on the quay-side facing the river just before it emerges into the sea. My audience had a few extras, a small free draw AND CAKE. DSCF7593

I propped the cake up on my book stand – and, to my surprise, it wasn’t until I went to cut it that some people realised it was a cake!

So I’m going to give you a ‘how I made it’ here :)  and I hope you like it as much as others enjoyed eating it!

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cooked cake

First I printed off a large picture of the book cover and used this as my template, it meant I needed to cook a cake 12″ by (about) 8″. I happen to have a nice cake tin that allows you to vary its size by inserting two interlocking dividers, with the largest at 12″ x 12″ reducing in size down to 1″ x 1″ (Though you’d probably not use it for that!) You can also make 4 cakes at once, each 6″ square. Anyway – I created the right size cake tin size and made a Victoria sandwich mix that I had calculated would fill it. (in this case cracked the 7 eggs into a jug and weighed the total, then used the exact same weight for the flour, sugar and butter) I dolloped about half of this mixture into the tin, then added 250g melted plain chocolate beating well as it was added to the other half of the mixture, then dolloped this in between the  plain mix, finishing it with a swirling motion to smooth it out then baked it at 180 degrees until cooked (about 35 mins) I wrapped it well and froze the cake.

Now to the decorations. First I mixed about half a teaspoon of gum-tragacanth into about 150g ready-made roll-out icing (Regal-Ice) This means the paste will harden. I rolled it out and carefully cut the rectangle out – placing it on a tray covered with a sheet of cling-film dusted with cornflour, covered lightly, to prevent dust, with greaseproof paper.

I re-rolled the remainder and by resting the paper sheet on top and using a cocktail stick to press on the line, marked out the shapes of all the dark rocks in the picture. DSCF7566DSCF7568

I removed the paper and using the cocktail stick drew lines on the rocks to give them texture. I also cut a long narrow rectangle to put the author name on later. All these I also placed on a tray as before and set them all to dry in a warm place.

When these were all dry I mixed food colouring to make the colours I expected to need. I marked out with a pale food-colour pen, the lines for the layers of cliffs in the distance, the sand and the sea. Then I painted these in with the food colours giving the larger areas a water wash before applying the colour as you do for water colours, but otherwise it was a bit like painting by numbers ;) DSCF7583DSCF7586

 

The rocks were given a dark wash so that the textures still showed through; all this was left to dry. When the ‘paint’ was dry I assembled the pieces and hand-painted the title with a red food colour.

I cut the top of the defrosted cake and trimmed it to the perfect size then turned it upside down onto a cake-board with a little icing spread on it to prevent it slipping. I rolled out another 200g of Regal Ice and cut 4 pieces long enough to cover all the edges then rolled the rest very thinly and covered the top and sides with this thin layer, held in place by a brushing of heated-up jam. DSCF7585

Three out of the four strips were textured to look like pages, the fourth I hand painted to look like the spine of the book.

NOW! The assembly, The cover was stuck on with icing, as were all the edges… and lo! the book should have been finished. Unfortunately I forgot the extra thickness of the cover when I cut the spine…. and had to add a bit to fill in the gap!! So now you know what to look out for if you do the same .. and I will know for next time too :) DSCF7594 Crop

All in all it may have made my author slot a little different … if you were there – do tell… if you were unable to come .. well I hope to get out and about more next year – maybe to a festival near you! DSCF7604 crop

As always I love to hear your thoughts – do leave a comment :)

 

 


Radio, Newspaper, Lit Fest – it’s a Thriller!

I’ve had a busy week in the run-up to the new LOOE LITERARY FESTIVAL (13-16th Nov)  with both a piece in the newspaper and a live interview on BBC Radio Cornwall with Tiffany Truscott

When I read about the prospect of a NEW literary festival to be set up in Looe, back in April, I was delighted … as ‘Nothing Ever Happens Here’ is set in Looe, Cornwall AND it had just come out in Paperback. NEHH_Design_Light

This book is set in the early 1990s, and I have put it in the ‘thriller’ genre. Now you may be aware that I find writing to fit one genre very tricky. You see my muse doesn’t like to be formulaic in any way. My muse likes to take something that looks very much like real life and put a twist into it.

Before I realised that this novel was a light thriller (and I’ll come back to the ‘light’ bit) I never knew whether to call it a Romance .. or a Crime novel. Let me explain.

I always thought of it as a bit of a romance novel as we have three romantic threads going on throughout most of the book. Some of these are more intense than others, some of them are teenagers, some are in their thirties, some forties. So you can see that I would think this was a Romance. However, I am assured, that it is a book that men like to read as much as women, that it is not the sort of ‘romance’ that puts certain people off.. that the ‘romance’ seems to be just part of the life of these characters.

Then again, I thought, perhaps it was a Crime novel. It starts off with crimes, and follows a Detective Inspector as he transfers out of the Met down to Plymouth. It follows some of his cases, needless to say, involving Crime. Put this together with the criminal events that affect the other main characters and we have what I thought of as a Crime novel. Yet, if you were a die-hard Crime reader perhaps you would find too much real life getting in the way of first-and-foremost crime and detection.

Now I can tell you it is a Thriller (with Romance and Crime involved)…. And it is a ‘light’ thiller because it does not fit well with the ‘shoot-em-up, improbably car-chase, blood-n-gore, stop the end of the world’ … type of thriller that I think of as ‘American-style’ thrillers.

One of my reviewers put is this way. ‘Love a good ‘English’ thriller’. Now, I thought, that really sums it up. I love a good English Thriller too (Think Robert Goddard) … but if you live in Cornwall .. and write a book set in Cornwall … best not call it ‘English’ ;)   … So ‘light’ Thriller it is.

Here’s my chat with Tiffany Truscott on BBC Radio Cornwall a few days ago – in case you missed it…   (if you are looking at this on the email – click into the title at the top and this will take you to the blog and then you’ll be able to listen in – it’s on youtube and the link doesn’t show up on the email)

If you are local do come to the NEW LIT FEST in LOOE, there is plenty going on both paid for and for free – I’ll be part of the Liskeard Poets – reading in the Poetry Invaders event 11am on Saturday which is a free event.

Then I’d love to meet you at my Author Event on Saturday 15th, 1.30pm in The Old Boathouse Café. I’ll be reading a few excerpts, answering questions about the novels, writing or whatever you ask and doing a book-signing. This is a free event too and there will also be a free draw …. Oh! … and there will be cake ! See you there