Cake anyone?

A birthday weekend is always an excuse to bake a cake.  Will it be vanilla with cream cheese icing, or cream and jam, all over frosting or a light dusting of icing sugar? Or a squidgy carrot cake, coffee and walnut or chocolate fudge?

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Whatever the choice the gathering together of utensils and ingredients is a pleasure rather than a chore.  Softening the butter and mixing with sugar until fluffy, adding the eggs and folding in the dried ingredients a simple and well practiced routine.  I always know when a cake’s done because you can smell it. OK, I admit it, the washing up and putting away is a bit of a bore but there’s time to do it while the cake cooks.  Someone gets to lick the spoon and everyone is happy.  Anyone can make a cake, and I mean anyone.

There are other cooking tasks I really enjoy because of the gathering together of genuinely good things.  If there’s a glut of courgettes in the garden I make a bucket of ratatouille for the freezer.  A big pile of onions and peppers cut into small dice and the chunky discs of courgette fried off in a slug of olive oil, a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes, and some tomato puree, and a bit of fresh basil, if I’ve got any drooping on the window sill, simmered ’til its thick and fudgy.  A glug of red wine adds a bit of body.

Then there’s chutney of any type to use up anyone’s spare produce.  Gooseberry with its tartness, and apple and ginger with its spicy tang.  The piles of chopped ingredients waiting to go into the pan and the smell when the vinegar and sugar combine is joy, not forgetting the satisfying glop sound as it reduces down to a pot-able mass.

Jam is a bit of a tricky exercise.  Having always sworn by a jam thermometer and often ended up with ‘very well set’ jam indeed.  Spoon bendingly set.  I’ve resorted now to the old fashioned wrinkle test on a cold saucer.  Which if you’ve never done it sounds bizarre but trust me it works. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s friend Pam the Jam has all the answers to pots and pickles (although she uses a jam thermometer).  I don’t think there’s a fruit or veg that Pam hasn’t preserved in one way or another.

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A friend let me sample her Sloe Conserve at Christmas.  It was divine.  She patiently waits gets her sloes from the same bush every year, and its location is well known so there’s a bit of a competition to who can get there first when harvest time comes.  I’m going to track down my own source and try to make it myself this year, if she’ll share her recipe.

Ooh then there’s the blackcurrant vodka, using up the huge quantity of blackcurrants we get and have nothing to do with.  That’s vodka, blackcurrants, sugar, a bottle and a dark cupboard. With a ribbon round it – that’s a present right there.  Happy Days.

I know its not just me who enjoys these simple things, and makes time to do one or two of them when they can.  A freezer with something “ready” or the kitchen cupboard with jars waiting to be cracked open is a bonus.  My sister makes a mean chilli jam and delicious mango chutney so there’s exchanging to be done, and if someone gives me fruit they get jam or a cake in exchange.

Before I get completely carried away with Nigella Lawson aspirations I’ll mention the last birthday cake I made.  A chocolate chip one was requested and following an American recipe with cup measures I served up a confection that frankly would have been better at home filling gaps in a dry stone wall.  Success is not always guaranteed.

So the birthday girl this weekend will have Chocolate Courgette Cake (and believe me you wouldn’t know it has courgettes in it).  Hopefully it will be moist, chocolatey and delicious and we’ll sing, and she’ll make a wish and there will be happy faces.  Simple.  Cake anyone?

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If you’d like the recipe, send me a message 🙂

What a Champion looks like.

I was thinking today about what it takes to be a people’s champion, and my thoughts took me to Betty Jeffery a feisty 76 year old in a wheelchair, who does small bore rifle shooting as a hobby.  When a woman attempted to steal her handbag in the street Betty administered a sharp right hook and saw off her attacker.  She looks like a champion when up against it.di87Gk4ieThe parents of two year old Faye Burdett who lost their little girl to Meningococcal b, and who chose to release a picture of the effects of this awful disease to raise awareness of a campaign for vaccination of all children.  They looked like champions in the face of awful sadness.

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The five women who chose to stand up and fight against the escalation of the State Pension Age to bring it in line with that of men, are they champions?  I have to express a self interest here because I am one of the women born in the 1950’s who had their pension age  raised from 60 to 65, and then increased a second time to 66, without adequate notification or proper consideration of the effect it would have.

The WASPI women started a crowd funding page to seek legal advice, and then set up an online petition which as I write has 154,000 signatures on it. Many women of our generation gave up work to look after elderly relatives or partners and now find it increasingly difficult to find work to finance these extra years.  They are a generation who had little or no work place pensions, or pension rights for that matter, and who were historically paid less than their male counterparts, lost their jobs when having children and have provided the majority of the care in the ‘Caring Community’ we live in.

Many had physically tiring jobs in hospitals, schools and factories and are now struggling with ill health, caring responsibilities and/or child care of grandchildren.  Hundreds of thousands of them have decades of National Insurance Contributions behind them and are being asked now to work on and wait up to six extra years in order to qualify.  The speed of change and lack of notice has left them unprepared or with insufficient time to make any further pension preparations.  WASPI argue that while equalising the pension age of men and women is desirable the means to achieve this has been mishandled and merely creates a second inequality.

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Needless to say the fallout from this argument has been immense.  The WASPI founders have, with little or no funding steered a disparate group of women (and some supportive men) through Facebook rage, Twitter backlash other online hostilities. The Government has told us to claim benefits, get jobs.  In the various bays of calm shelter there’s been enormous support from MPs on all sides, commentators, journalists and bloggers,  as well as the 50’s women around the country, which brings them and us to a third debate being held tomorrow in the House of Commons followed by a vote. It’ll be lively.  I wish them well.

So a champion doesn’t look like anything in particular, but in their heart they have a burning sense of doing what’s right and not considering personal pain.  I hope I have that should I be called on.

 

Good Old Muffin

Looking out of the window in my godson’s house I was amazed to see an almost life-sized Muffin the Mule staring back at me from the rear balcony of a London pub.  An incongruous sight, but it filled me with joy and reminiscence.  Alex was singularly unimpressed.  He didn’t even know who Muffin the Mule was, or that he ever played the fool.  To my surprise yesterday I read he is to be reinvented for a new generation.

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Those of us who do remember probably remember him fondly as being one of the earliest children’s TV ‘characters’ which we grew to love in the black and white days before Wimbledon in COLOUR.  Listen with Mother, The Woodentops, Bill and Ben are engraved on my memory.  We had no merchandise, no pyjamas or toothbrushes, or DVD’s.  Just the occasional treat on a grainy television. I wonder if today’s characters will be…

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It’s all about the MONEY,Money,money

We were taught to save for a rainy day.  Half crowns, sixpences and the extra special ten shilling note or even a crisp green pound seemed unimaginable riches. So they didn’t burn a hole in my pocket they were squirrelled away into The Post Office.  At a brown wooden counter rubbed smooth with use, the pen attached to a metal bobble rope (often missing), the grille behind which a lady in a twin set had a severe rubber stamp and one of those finger things that give you grip when counting the notes. She took my money, wrote by hand in my precious book and banged the stamp with all the force required to make it ‘official’.

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And to reinforce the message of thrift and saving another well meaning lady (probably in a stout overcoat and hat) used to come to school once a month and sell us National Savings Stamps.  The pleasure of queuing up to pay for the stamp and stick in in the book was simple, but real.nat saving stamps.jpg On the way out she may have passed the Man from Dr. Barnado who came once a year to give us the talk about finding orphan boys sleeping on the rooftops of London and dispensing the paper mache money boxes to take our coppers.

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Anyway, I digress.  I’ve always saved a bit ever since.  My grandmother, a loving but severe woman who’d had a very hard life, but managed to run an engineering business making die castings for industry, in spite of having an alcoholic for a husband always impressed on us to “keep a little for a rainy day”  So I did, and I think I even have a couple of National Saving Certificates squirrelled away to this day.

We saved, got a mortgage, saved a bit and now my husband has retired and some of those savings are coming in handy.  Times have changed in personal finance.  You worked, paid National Insurance and then you got a State Pension.  I’ve found that nothing in life is certain, and the lesson I’ve recently learned is the benefit and now necessity of having an occupational pension, and not relying on the Government.  The law can change and your entitlement change with it, and there’s a new movement to call the State Pension ‘a Benefit’.  This implies that you only get it if you deserve it, or are means tested, and serves to unsettle those approaching retirement age.

I’ve learned how important it is to encourage our children to save and set up a pension.  Its a minefield, and something to talk about another day.  Simon Read the Personal Finance Editor of the Independent wrote about this just yesterday.  Keep on saving.

Good Old Muffin

Looking out of the window in my godson’s house I was amazed to see an almost life-sized Muffin the Mule staring back at me from the rear balcony of a London pub.  An incongruous sight, but it filled me with joy and reminiscence.  Alex was singularly unimpressed.  He didn’t even know who Muffin the Mule was, or that he ever played the fool.  To my surprise yesterday I read he is to be reinvented for a new generation.

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Those of us who do remember probably remember him fondly as being one of the earliest children’s TV ‘characters’ which we grew to love in the black and white days before Wimbledon in COLOUR.  Listen with Mother, The Woodentops, Bill and Ben are engraved on my memory.  We had no merchandise, no pyjamas or toothbrushes, or DVD’s.  Just the occasional treat on a grainy television. I wonder if today’s characters will be remembered with such fondness. Will a plastic Octonaut or an Iggle Piggle have the same resonance with little ones today. I suppose they will…

It made me think about how long it takes for something you remember so vividly from your childhood to come back, revived, renewed or remade? Weren’t Loom Bands just French Skipping in another guise? Pop pom makers demonstrated by Kirsty Alsopp replaced two circles of cardboard with a hole in the middle and dear old Noddy was Computer Generated Imagery-ied to within an inch of his little bumpers for a new age group.

There’s such a trade now in vintage toys and the more perfect the condition the better. I own up to having a few unopened treasures in the loft waiting for them to become collectable, and more Beanie Babies than you can shake a stick at.

I’m not waiting with bated breath for tank tops, loon pants or shiny platform boots no matter how much David Bowie is missed. However, it would be fun to relive the launch of Biba make up, enjoy the sense of freedom from a pair of tights again, and feel decadent drinking a Cinzano and Lemonade. The joy and excitement of the first time you experience something is never to be repeated.

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Love in all its forms

Today may not be the highlight of your romantic calendar, or you may be bathing in asses milk and drinking champagne.  Either way its a perfect day just to remember the ones we love, and have loved.  Its an excuse to bake a cake or make a card.  We’ve never been ones for shop bought valentine cards and I’m usually hastily putting something together the day before, hunting for red card and a big marker pen.

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This however this is just plain fun ….  (click on the blue words)

Download the app, ‘photograph’ your index finger, fill in the details and e mail the sound of your heartbeat to someone you love.  How Cool IS That??

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Whatever you do today, remember to love yourself .

We’re the Computer Generation

Can there have been a more life changing invention in my lifetime than THE INTERNET?  Well, apart from the microwave oven, oh and micro surgery, clingfilm and the mobile phone, but you get my drift.

It affects every aspect of our everyday lives. How we shop, how we communicate, how we learn.

Our generation have been the ones to benefit from it first. From the tentative first volley on TV Tennis and shuffle about on Pacman, to the endless possibilities of launching a music career, teaching someone to crochet or editing your own photographs the world has been opened up thanks to electronics.

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There are fond memories of the first BBC computer I ever saw. The little blinking cursor and a whole lot of jumbled coding messages were incomprehensible to me. There was the overriding fear that I might ‘break it’. We didn’t need to worry, it was so inevitable that Alan Sugar was on it like a rash with Amstrad, and Clive Sinclair with the ZX.  Then Stephen Jobs and Apple made it beautiful and the rest as they say is history.

Today we don’t need to even think about how the programmes work they just do. Although the mysteries of Windows 10 may never be understood, it’s a universal truth that lots of things are sorted out by “switching it off and switching it back on again”.

In Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects the final choice from all the rare and precious items was a simple solar panel and charger.  It moved me that giving a little light in the darkest corners of the world was regarded as having made such a major contribution to society.  Harnessing free solar energy to light rudimentary homes, work machinery and power cheap and robust laptops so a child can study, and be in contact with the rest of the world changes people’s lives immeasurably.

Communication has undergone a complete revolution. A letter, once the highlight of someones day, or the only means of communicating news of any sort, is almost extinct. Its been contracted into an e mail, a text or even a tweet. Twitter is an online social networking service which enables you to make your point or communicate your message in 140 characters but no mor…..so if you like to talk, its not for you.

Once upon a time we sent a postcard from our trips, today Astronaut Tim Peake can send an internet message to say he’s passing over Norwich and we can go outside and wave. There’s Skype and FaceTime where we all wish we’d brushed our hair, and weren’t standing by the ironing pile when we answered the call. Its instant and easy.

Decades ago a set of The Encyclopaedia Britannica would have been a prized possession in any home. Now, if I want to know the name of the giant satellite dish at Goonhilly Downs or what a manatee eats for breakfast the information is only a click away. (Arthur and submerged vegetation in case you’re interested).

Its sad in a way that there are women and men of my age who aren’t connected to the world wide web because its a hindrance not to be. How else would you be able to check the rules of entry to the Dickinson’s Real Deal competition? So if there are people in your family who don’t know who the Kardashian’s are or how to prune gooseberry bushes…or even more important things than that –  spare the time to help them find out.