Thursday, 17 March 2011

Time to get fresh

As much as I may love staying in, I finally embraced the importance of getting out into the great outdoors. Feeling a gentle breeze on my face, breathing in the invigorating fresh air, striding out as far as my stumpers will allow, helps blow away the mind cobwebs that choke my lil brain.
I'm lucky enough to live in a town that's surrounded by glorious Kentish countryside (not that the nearby Sussex countryside is too shabby either.) and really don't get out into it enough, though I'm trying to redress the balance. And now is a fab time to go because spring is on the verge...

Donning my 15 year old Docs and an outfit that potentially would trigger vivid memories for a Crimewatch reconstruction (please tell me that I'm not the only one who considers these things.... O_O), off I went.

I liked the green 'flowers' in the grass (though not enough to tiptoe daintily through them, thus avoiding their imminent squishage. Seriously, you try tiptoeing daintily in Docs - it can't be done.)

I love how this fallen, ivy-choked tree just refuses to die. I'll take another pic when it's in full leaf.

To fully appreciate this view, you should be playing this on your internal jukebox (or iPod if you want to be boring and unimaginative)

I love how the other geese are looking up at those two: "Bloody Dave and Keith - they've never been the same since watching 'Top Gun'"

A beckoning bridge, wearing this season's moss adornment. It's so now...
...and comes in mustard too.

I thought these buds were like nature's own fairy lights (and no, I wasn't smoking anything...)

New buds emerging from aged, knackered wise old branches, like the first chin hair on a post-menopausal woman

Blossoming barbed wire. Feel free to make your own trite metaphorical observations etc

Fer-luffy catkins

...and catkins masquerading as either pom-poms or fireworks

I stomped for a good hour, possibly more, going down paths I'd never even noticed before let alone walked along. I love finding new things in places you feel you already know, seeing things from a different perspective and feeling just a little lost. On my travels I also saw a bumble bee big enough to put a saddle on, two magpies (joy!) and heard, but did not see, a woodpecker, presumably sending out the latest news to the woodland via morse code, or spreading delicious gossip to a nosy mob. At the end of all this, I yearned for strong fresh coffee and pancakes.

This recipe comes from Sophie Dahl's wonderful 'Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights' of which I have made mention before. It manages to straddle the twin channels of food memoir and recipe book but is warm and wise rather than condescending and pushy. A delightful book to dip into when you're feeling a bit ugly and hopeless. Oh and hungry, of course.
These pancakes are a little different as they use spelt flour and ricotta cheese, resulting in a satisfying yet light texture. I ate them plain, but Miss D recommends drizzling with agave or maple syrup and serving with raspberries. I had an apple later: that'll do. As I didn't have any agave (how remiss of me...) and had not managed to secure a mortgage with which to purchase maple syrup, I commonly threw in  a dessertspoonful of caster sugar: yeh, not even soft brown, or muscovado: maverick baking! Grrrr! I also made bigger pancakes than she suggested as I thought one's the 'size of a large chocolate coin' were a tad pointless, so went with tablespoon dollops instead, thus making 6 cakes 'o' pan. Plus, last change: I used a few drops of lemon extract in place of lemon rind. How very reckless of me.

Miss Dahl(ish)'s Lemon and Ricotta Pancakes
110g ricotta cheese
70ml semi-skimmed milk
1 large egg, separated
1 teaspoon lemon zest (or a few drops of lemon extract)
1 dessertspoon caster sugar (or agave or maple syrup if you're posh)
30g stoneground spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

sunflower oil for the pan

  • In a large bowl, mix together the cheese, milk and egg yolk with a good sturdy whisk (don't use a machine: this doesn't take long at all)
  • Add the lemon zest / extract and the sugar and mix in well
  • Stir in the flour and baking powder
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the lonely egg white until it turns into white foam (but not into the peaks that one is usually required to whip an egg into)
  • Using a metal spoon, gently fold in the foamy white until thoroughly combined
  • Heat a dollop of oil in a small frying pan on a highish heat, pouring out the excess into a cup when it is hot (just before the oil gets 'ripply')
  • Dollop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for a minute or two until they start to bubble
  • Carefully turn them over using a fishslice and cook for another minute
  • Pop onto a plate and cover with a clean towel to keep them warm and moist
  • Devour in the style of your choosing
These ones are ready to be flipped over (Sorry, but the pic I took once they'd been made looked awful, but trust me: they are delicious.)

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

For the love of a hot muffin

Just a quick post to get us all back into the swing of things: how the hell have you been?! Have you lost weight?
I notice that we are down in number by 2, but at least there are still enough of us to play 20-aside football or to create a respectable flashmob or look daunting to small children if we bunch together at a local park by the swings (nonchalant sneering optional). It's far too many to play sardines in my house at least, unless we play in shifts.
I had a moment of domestic goddess madness last week where I fancied something a tad more interesting than Crunchy Nut for brekkers, and so turned to one of my favourite cookbooks, 'Spooning with Rosie' by Rosie Lovell. It's a wonderful book, celebrating the joy of sharing food and life in good company. The recipes are simple and delicious so that, should hungry chums suddenly appear on your doorstep, you'll be able to feed them well and in a relatively stress-free way. She owns Rosie's Cafe in Brixton, and a number of the recipes have been been tested on an appreciative audience. One day, I shall haul my buxom ass over there.
Anyhoots, I sleepily whipped up a batch of her marmalade muffins to a highly appreciative audience. Muffins are the perfect thing to make when you are still asleep and unable to focus as, for them to rise properly, they need to be mixed roughly, with bits still unmixed, quite slapdash and without grace. Warm, filling and luxurious thanks to the melted butter, they more than satisfied the jaded weekend palate, filling the house with comforting scents. The recipe inspired me to have a bash at creating an even more breakfasty muffin featuring a plethora of wholesome gubbins to keep the morning ticking along, and it is this creation I lay at your feet now.
Unless you have friends coming over, or a huge family, allow any spares to cool completely then freeze them. This means you can have delicious warm muffins over a number of mornings: hurrah! Feel free to use nuts and seeds to suit your own particular whimsy. Oh and by the way, the bizarre mixture of semi-skimmed milk and double cream was due to not having full fat milk: that's what I had in and I thought it would substitute well, which it did. Oh yes. Likewise using orange essential oil instead of orange zest: it's what I had in.

Luxurious but darn simple Breakfasty Muffins

Dry stuff :
300g self raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
125g  unsalted butter, at room temp and cubed
150g soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
20g oats
50g chopped walnuts
50g mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower and hemp seeds)
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

Wet stuff:
125ml full fat milk (or 100ml semi-skimmed + 25ml double cream)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 drops of sweet orange essential oil (or grated zest of 1 orange)
2 tbsps thick cut marmalade

  • Preheat the oven to 160oC and adorn a muffin pan with muffin cases
  • In a large bowl, rub the cubes of butter into the flour and baking powder so as to create a breadcrumby-like happening
  • Add all the other dry bits to the happening and mix together, with a spoon or a clean hand (yours or someone uncontagious) until it is evenly blended and brings to mind masonry pebbledash, albeit with seeds
  • Now it's time to get moist: in a separate bowl or jug, mix together all the wet ingredients until they are thoroughly combined, save for the bits of chunky preserved pith
  • Pour the liquidy melange into the pebbledash and using purpose, a firm resolve and a spoon, roughly combine the juxtaposing elements until just combined but not smooth. Lumps are essential in muffins as they hold the key to their defining texture
  • Pour, or dollop, the mixture evenly into the awaiting cases and bake for 20-25 mins until golden brown. Check with a skewer at 20 mins: if the skewer comes out clean, they're ready
  • Allow to cool very slightly before chowing down smugly whilst still in your pjs.
These are suitable for freezing: allow them to cool completely before freezing. If you like them warm, don't bother to defrost them but simply pop in the oven at 175oC for 10-15 mins. Wrap it in foil if you want the muffin to stay soft or leave it naked for a crisper top.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Coffee break

Best mates can be ace but just as they enlighten you with joy and understanding, they can also ruin everything. Well, perhaps not everything, but certainly coffee. The simple, if overpriced, act of going out for a delicious latte has been ruined because, to be honest with you, lattes are a bit shit, although I only realised this when NZ-living KT dragged me* to Flat White on Soho's Berwick Street and made me sup on an actual flat white. With one taste, coffee imbibing would never be the same again, and I would like to thank our antipodean cousins for caring enough about the bean to conjure such delicious alchemy as to reveal Starbucks to be peddlers of coffee-esque cordial.
Not long after this epiphany, I discovered Monmouth Coffee, the beautiful purveyor of delicious coffee in both Covent Garden and in the heart of London's food mecca, Borough Market,

order drinks here

It's where the beautiful and caffeine-bereft go to redress the balance, 
 The beautiful people at breakfast share stylish thoughts and titter knowingly at hidden meanings in highbrow text.

attention and neglect
But luckily, they let plebs like me in too.

Sadly, I thought that a decent coffee was the preserve of the black-lunged folk of our capital city, but the good word seems to have infiltrated the shires too and the God of Coffee has bestowed His Magical Elixir a little closer to my home, at least. Behold - The Black Dog Cafe:

Apologies for the rubbish pics: I was using my new phone and hadn't quite got to grips with it. However, what I can say is that the coffee was delicious: they use Monmouth beans so it's a quality cup of deliciousness. The staff are uber friendly and if you're feeeling peckish, they have a good selection of fodder (menus available on their website.)

Ok, so they haven't embraced latte art, but the taste is delicious, wholesome and invigorating. It's a small independent cafe in an area of Tunbridge Wells that is stoically independent, slightly bohemian and without the cloud of snobbery that hampers so much of what is wonderful in that town, so I urge you to go to keep that spirit alive. The coffee is wonderful: why would you not go?!

Can I just state that my coffee snobbery hasn't extended to home...yet, although I do prefer a freshly brewed cuppa as opposed to instant...
cworfeee (d2d, day 2)

However, I certainly wouldn't judge a friend who gave me a cup of instant unfavourably: drinking at home and drinking out are different experiences. Granted, they don't need to be, thanks to readily-available coffee machines, mail-order beans and youtube instructionals. But coffee in a friend's kitchen, good banter and a welcoming face can elevate even the shoddiest instant cuppa into something celebratory, the oil to grease the wheels of conversation if it should be needed. As long as there are cookies or cake, you can give me any old sluice. Which leads me neatly to...

This recipe is a bastardization of one from The Borough Market Book, which is in turn a version of a recipe by Sara-Jayne Stanes, author of the promising-sounding 'Chocolate: the Definitive Guide'. Now, this tart is everything a chocolate tart should be, although those attributes may seem contradictory: crisp, smooth, sweet and sharp. Use as strong a chocolate as you prefer, but not milk chocolate. I admit that, despite my earlier witterings, I did use instant coffee just because I couldn't be bothered to brew some espresso, but as long as you have a couple of tablespoons of strong black coffee, it doesn't really matter which type it is: it's just there to give the chocolate a bit of balls (technical term).

Wooahhh Mama! Chocolate Tart 'o' Joy!
90g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
80g unsalted butter
30g ground almonds
60g golden caster sugar
1 large egg (free-range, natch, yet beaten)

240g plain chocolate (I used 70% cocoa)
60g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separarted
90g golden caster sugar
6 tablespoons double cream
2 desertspoons strong coffee

  • butter and flour a suitable ovenproof dish: mine was a shallow ceramic one, measuring 7.5"x11", though my book specifies a 9" round flan tin
  • first, make the pastry: in a large bowl, sieve together the flour and cocoa powder
  • add the sugar, ground almonds and stir together
  • cube the butter, add to the powdery mixture and rub together with fingertips only to create a chocolatey crumble
  • add the beaten egg to bind it all together in a ball of doughy promise, wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes (or 24 hrs and 30 mins in my case as I forgot I was going out...)
  • on a lightly floured surface, attempt to roll out thinly to a size suitable for your dish
  • attempt to hoist the rolled dough into the greased receptacle, tutting as random shapes drip off your rolling pin Dali-style before exclaiming 'Oh fuck this' and popping pieces of rolled dough into the dish, squidging the seams together until it is fully lined and respectable looking
  • pop the mangled case into the fridge for another 30 mins
  • preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / Gas 6
  • line the case with foil, cover with baking beans or dried beans (that you are not hoping to cook later) and bake blind for 15 minutes
  • remove the beans and foil and bake again for another 15 mins
  • now make the filling: melt the chocolate and butter together and allow to cool
  • whisk the egg whites to form soft glacial peaks
  • in another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until frothy
  • add the double cream and coffee to the bubblesome yolks and stir gently and respectfully
  • pour in the buttery chocolate and using your respectful spoon, marry it all together
  • fold in the egg whites with reverance...oh  and a big metal spoon
  • pour into the tart case, even out and bake for 20-25 mins 
  • allow to cool and serve with cream, ice cream or a good mate and weak-ass coffee (though delicious coffee of groovy brewing would be better)
 Such was the potency of its' deliciousness, I completely forgot to take a photo of it, so you'll have to make do with this sadly executed digital scribble which, however, is a pretty accurate representation:

*dragged me, my arse: we skipped as if we were on the yellow brick road.  

For further caffeine inspiration, why not follow The Guardian's helpful trail, or perhaps plough your way through Time Out's comprehensive list. The fabulous Cosy Coffee Shops blog produced a top 10 in January of the UK's best coffee shops, which, Hurrah!, also includes places outside of the London sprawl. It also includes some fabulous coffee shops from around the world as they are currently 'on tour'.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Treasure hunting for adults

My name is yump and I am addicted to charity shopping...

I like to think of it as 'Treasure Hunting for Grown Ups', although I may be kidding myself because I am actually just a tight wad thriftily minded. There is just something about finding something wonderful, that fits, is keenly priced and is no longer wanted, needed or badly fitting to someone else. In fact, the majority of my wardrobe is now cobbled together from the excessive mores of other people's fashion whims, or the remnants of a bored housewives' desparate attempt to achieve some semblance of peace & purpose via the extensive flexing of an ill-advised credit card. And God bless every last one of them!

Now this is a charity shop that I had been in countless times without realising that there was a whole world of wonder upstairs. It reminds me of the charity and retro shops I used to visit as a student in Nottingham in the early 90's and has therefore become one of my favourite charity shops. Venture up a snug little staircase to find small themed rooms (apologies for the pics: I'm just getting the hang of my new phone..)

everything you need for a shimmery shiny, sequin-tastic night out, or just to make that Friday night takeaway curry a little more special

everything for the bride on a budget with a lust for meringues and sexual amnesia

'Rehab'? More 'Retox'

...a welcome for 'groovy chicks'...

Just behind me in the mirror, you can just see one of three rails, packed with every shade of man-made fibre ever knitted. I think my camera couldn't cope anymore and just said 'Enough now'. I'll get a pic when it's calmed down a bit

But don't forget that charity shops are a fantastic source for wonderful books, tossed out by ingrates, gawd bless 'em.  Here are some I picked up recently:

from top: Dan Rhodes is a wonderful author, who lulls you into a cosy world of calm and warmth before kicking your much-loved cat down the stairs, although you do feel better for him doing so nonetheless. This book, however, stays warm and buys you a pint. Read him.

middle: the late Elspeth Thompson wrote the fabulous 'The Wonderful Weekend Book', an inspiring read to really help you make the most of your weekend. I bought it when I left my own weekend job and aim to gradually work through the suggestions.

bottom: I love Gisele Scanlon's energetic and informative 'Goddess' books, and 'The Goddess Experience' is just beautiful and addictive: I can't help but dip in and read about a life so remote from my own, although it contains enough attainable morsels for me not to feel depressed or inadequate. Sheathed in a perfectly functional and pretty white jacket, look what's underneath...

mmmm; pretty! is the back is the inside

Another useful resource is Green Metropolis: make a wish list, let it fester for a few months and feel like Xmas when one of the titles becomes available (I only ever seem to want books that no one sells on there.) I once bought a perfect copy of Andy Goldsworthy's 'Wood'...for £3.75! Wonderful! (actually, I think with postage it touched 5 whole pounds...)

Here are some handy rules to follow in order to get the most from your charity patronage-ing:
  • Give clothes a good sniff: if it smells of wet dog / death, put it back. In my extensive experience, no amount of washing or fragrance dousing / pickling will get rid of that smell. You will think you've managed it until it meets the rain; that moistness will awaken the sodden-hound odour. Save your energies for something worthwhile, like knitting or tree hugging.
  • Unless you really like 'upcycling' clothes and can do it competently without friends patting you on the head, saying 'Lovely dear' whilst slipping Prozac into your tea, do not buy anything that 'just' needs its sleeves shortening / waist nipping in / collar re-shaped etc. Know your limits and step away: let some other fool seamstress tackle it (or you could get a professional to do it, if you really think it'll be worth it)
  • Ponder what an 'upcycle' looks like and whether or not they are easy to ride
  • Only buy something that really grabs you: if you think 'It'll do', put it back and move on. Drag some weak-ass understanding of karma into your brain, determining that if it doesn't leap out at you with joy, it is not meant to be and the universe will shun you and that feck-awful drop waisted devore sack you are tempted to buy just because, compared to the racks of beige polyester surrounding it, it looks 'interesting'
  • Take your own carrier bags: it's one way to avoid the pinched-lip tut of the volunteers on the tills (carrier bags are like gold, though not as precious as The Decent Coat Hangers)
  • Don't laugh and point at something on the rail, screaming 'My feckin eyes!!! What is it?!' I guarantee the person behind you was about to buy it and will now be left to shuffle solemnly out of the shop to re-evaluate not just their taste but whether it is connected to their inherent loneliness within
  • Be careful not to buy back your own stuff, unless of course you are doing it for altruistic reasons, or because your minamalist spouse finally cracked and 'donated' it all
  • When buying books, check that all the pages are there and in the right order. Then check the blurb to see if it's something you will actually read
  • If you are a serial horder, consider the 'one in: one out' rule. The stuff we surround ourselves with should make us smile, not like we're trapped in a never ending ball pit of shoddy crockery, stained paisley and shit
  • Do not argue / physically assault fellow treasure hunters over an item, unless the item in question is a brand new pair of Toast trousers, in your size(ish) for, no really, £2, in which case use every ounce of cunning and muscle tissue to get them
  • Do not buy something that is not your size (especially important for teacups): you're just setting yourself up for a fall. Buy clothes once you've lost the weight: in the meantime, utilise belts and braces with quiet smugness
  • Don't haggle! It's a charity shop for feck's sake! Unless your need for a Karen Millen (one button missing) jacket is more important than the cure for cancer, pay the price on the tag, you selfish idiot.
Happy shopping!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Yay! September!

Right: ambassadorial things first -

The autumn issue is out now - go lookie! (and this isn't shameless self-promotion: I didn't contribute to this one.)

I love September: perhaps it's those years in education that always make it feel like the true start of the year. Usually, it's still warm but there's that crispness in the air, that freshness, the lazy low-slung sun casting long shadows through the stained glass leaves, the promise of woodsmoke and the need for cardigans. 

It's also the time for cobweb bling...(sorry; this pic doesn't show it's full majesty thanks to the exuberant glare of the 7am sun, but you get the gist.) 
This does also herald the migration of the spiders into the house, but all four of us are trained in the use of cup and postcard (or flattened cereal packet for the really big muthas) so it's not really a problem.

I've finally started on the task of sorting our house out, starting with the books. The issue of how I sort my books (and cd's, before we sent them on a sabbatical in the loft) has been a source of much amusement, wonder and fear to Mr Yump. I sorted them all into genres: all the fiction together (then alphabetised), all the art books together (ditto), all his animator-nerd books together, music, health, witchcraft etc etc. (ahhh bite me: I work in a bookshop- at least I didn't have face outs...or shelf talkers...or pyramid the books in the bathroom) Still, despite my sad efforts, only I could ever find anything. This time, however, after seeing these in the May 2010 edition of Livingetc

...and then reading about it on Huma Qureshi's blog, I thought I just had to give it a go:

(and, yes: I have put similarly coloured fripperies on each shelf)

The greens and blacks are on a freestanding Ikea Billy shelf (picture to follow), but the bigger black books are on the other side of the chimney breast:
You might also notice the brown and 'natural' coloured books plonked next to the ILM bibles: I guess I should have put the books in the traditional Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain order, but once I'd thwacked up the whites, I could not be arsed doing it again. I'm sad, but not that sad. They looked rather fab, waiting on the floor;

I have, however, refrained from colour-coding the dvds and games, much to the relief of Hubs. As a system, you may think it makes finding the right book tricky: not at all, as long as you remember what that book looked like! Sprogling #1, famous for not being able to find things gaffa taped to her nose, actually found the book she needed. Result!

Such is the need for colour order that I have matched my glasses to my current read thus:

I love this story: O'Brien paints a picture of rural Ireland that is simultaneously grim and beautiful, brutal yet warm. It is hopeless and optimistic and rather wonderful. It is also, I have decided, the perfect size for a work of fiction: you can take it anywhere without it impinging your slacks (slacks are best unpinged) I was surprised, and worried, because the delicious Bloomsbury Classic editions are still at large in the 2nd hand ether. (well, Amazon) Look at all the gorgeous covers!

What do you do when you have fruit that's a tad unappealling? Thwack it into Google and see what turns up! I found this delicious recipe on a wonderful blog called 'Reluctant Gourmet'. I have doctored it a tad: a little less sugar, using apples I happened to have (probably Braeburn) and used self raising flour with a touch of baking powder as I was bereft of plain. I also baked it for 15 mins less.  However, it created a delicious cake: firm vanilla with soft, cinnamon-soused fruit. It's as if I've baked autumn. As are all my favourite recipes, it's stupid-easy: do it!

Baked Autumn
Cakey Bit:
250ml sunflower (or veg) oil
4 eggs (free range and large)
260g golden caster sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
460g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
100ml orange juice
Fruity Bit:
2 pears
2 eating apples
4 tablespoons soft brown sugar (or caster)
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF / Gas 4
  • Grease and line a large tin (mine has a 9.5" diameter)
  • In a large bowl, beat together the oil, eggs, sugar and vanilla until blended and a festival of creamy beige
  • Bless the beigeness with a flurry of sieved flour, baking powder and salt and mix well until you are unaware where the dry stops and the moist begins
  • Add the ornage juice into this confused state and mix gently together
  • Now prepare for the fruity bit: in another bowl, mix together the sugar and cinnamon
  • Peel, core and slice the fruit and pop into the spicy sugar: stir it gently so that every piece is coated
  • Pour (or spoon, as you may find the cake mix has turned quite gelatinous) about a third of the mix into your prepared tin
  • Top with half of the fruit in an even fashion
  • Pop a third of the mix onto the fruity layer like a cakey duvet
  • Pop the remaining fruit onto the duvet like scatter cushions
  • Deciding that it looks like a cold night ahead, pop a final duvet layer of cake mix onto the sleeping cushions
  • Bake for 1-1hr 15mins until it's firm, golden brown and produces a clean skewer when stabbed in the traditional baking fashion (rather than the rather strenuous 'Psycho' motion: unless you need to slice it quickly for a party or such is like.)
  • Allow to cool for about 10 or so minutes before popping onto a cooling rack.
 Laters x

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

And so it begins...again...

Ok, let's get you up to speed...
  • yumptatious, the shop, is no more. This isn't really surprising as I hadn't made any new stock for well over a year, let alone embraced the all-consuming art of marketing. Perhaps I will resurrect it in the future, perhaps I won't. So, in the meantime, if anyone has any idea with what I can do with about 500 yumptatious/etsy Moo cards, do let me know.
  • despite not being at the coalface of the crafting community, I am still involved via those lovely fellas at UK Handmade. In the past, I have written craft book reviews for the magazine (though not for the upcoming autumn edition) and used to write the Sunday 'Lifestyle' page on their blog on my ownsome until I cried out for help, in the style of Ron Burgundy of course, and am now part of a 'Lifestyle' team: Adele does all things gardening, Gilly is our herbal and ointment Queen and I'm still the flippant gobshite with the cake. Go and have a look! Plus, I have been drafted in to support our wonderful UKH mag editor, Anna, so will be deputy ed for the winter issue: no pressure there then...
  • I am no longer a school governor which means: a) I get my life back and b) I have no excuse for not doing the things I want / ought to be doing. I have handed over five bin bags of shredded documents to our bin men recently. Being a governor completely took over my life but it was worth it and the experience challenged me in a whole heap of original and unexpected ways.
 So...what's the blog for, if not to promote my fabulous wares?! Well, let's be honest, I deviated from that premise a long time ago, so expect more of the same, just with no tenuous links to my shop...although, should I resurrect my shop, my links will have no tenuous-ness about them, of course..ahem.

I'm off to the coast, but let's catch up when I get back. I'll be in a chattier mood as we'll be entering my favourite season...autumn!

See you soon x

    Friday, 9 April 2010

    No...sleep...til hometime!

    So, after my initial encouraging noises to Mr Yump's suggestion of a couple of night's away with the family, camping in a highly rated campsite, I was suddenly silenced as the waves of reality crashed into my mind:
    a) this is England and
    b) this is Easter
    However, as half the cost had to be paid upfront, it was too late to stop it: I am not in the habit of wasting money (unless it is over exuberant shoes...or cd's where only one song is listenable...or craft books) so off we went to the wilds of Sussex, a whole hour away.

    Blackberry Wood is something magical, a relaxed wooded haven, away from the self-perpetuated stresses of our modern electronic lives: it provides the luxury of having one's own wooded space, a glade of one's own. Not only that, it is one of the very few campsites that allows campfires. Each pitch has its own fire pit, with logs, kindling and a very marvellous coal available on site. Cars are kept in the car park, which at first is annoying when setting up and pulling down camp, but is actually a fabulous idea: no cars coming and going at stupid times of the day. Therefore, a more rustic method is used to transport the wealth of camping ephemera:

    We stayed in Bramble Hide, a clearing encased in a canopy of branches heavy with fresh buds.We strung up the obligatory bunting and regretted not shoe-horning in a crate of tealight lanterns that would have turned our little patch of woodland into nature's own Vegas. Mother Nature, however, likes a decorative flourish and threw enough stars into the Eostre sky to render Ikea's candle-housing obsolete.

    The pitches are remote enough to be private yet close enough not to feel isolated. Indeed it was lovely to look around at night and see the welcoming glow of our neighbours' fires.

    The facilities are extremely basic but clean and functional. There is a shower, which costs 20p, and doesn't have a roof. However, one of the benefits of camping before the hot weather starts is that you are unlikely to be working up a sweat (well, I suppose it depends on your camping companion and your reason for being there in the first place) and  a swift going over with a cold flannel (or an organic wet wipe) each morning should suffice.

    There is hot water to clean those fire-burnished pans but it comes in the form of an electric shower unit dispersing hot, but fluffy water with which to tickle the dirt away. (do take your own scouring pads)
    The toilet does flush and had an abundant supply of soft toilet roll.

    The site specifies that no music is allowed other than nature's own radio and it is a 24 hour station, at it's liveliest at dawn. I hadn't realised that it is like chinese whispers: one bird sings a tune which is repeated by another, who adds his own flourish. Bird #1 then comes up with another song which is again repeated, and embellished, by bird #2, and so it continues. Then the other birds do their own versions of this very polite and civilised morning greeting, until the air is full of birdsong, each one fighting for attention through the engulfing fractured chorus. It's all very beautiful and stirring but quite frankly unneccesary at 4.30 in the morning. Throughout the day, those glorified chickens, pheasants, strut through the woodland with purpose and authority, the females following meekily. They holler, they fight like Colin Firth and Hugh Grant but, at the end of the day, it's refreshing to see them alive and vain rather than squished on the roadside on a many-bended country lane.

    I like the basic aspect of camping: it all goes quite 'early man', when all that matters is keeping the fire going, finding something to eat (though not neccesarily hunting and killing it), cooking it and staying warm. (picking nits out of each others hair is optional: depends just how neanderthal you wish to get.) To live a life based around eating, drinking and stoking fires is luxury indeed and surely something to aspire to. Without meaning to sound like a complete hippy (and it might help to bear in  mind that I am typing this on a laptop with the sound of trains coming into the station and the continual thrum of the nearest A-road in the background) but we need to stop once in a while and soak up the outdoors, release ourselves from the shackles of routine (albeit by setting up a new one) and pay attention to the wind running through the branches, the industrious tapping of the woodpecker, the hooting of a hungry owl, the drooling of a rabid beast intent on feasting on human flesh. It is certainly a place that draws you in and asks you to investigate:

    over the bridge

    via the tyre swing

    past the swooning trunk

    tiptoeing past the sleepy campers

    ...and stomping past the not-so-sleepy campers

    snarling at the gnarly tree

    ...and back to put the kettle on.

    The trip was seemingly sponsored by marshmallows, in particular marshmallows on skewers aflame, eaten whilst warm with a burnished crust (tasting of candyfloss) which we lovingly named 'Flaming Death' in honour of PT Flea's ill-advised circus finale, or squished, straight from the fire, betwixt two chocolate digestives. Luckily we packed our toothbrushes. In fact, we skewered many things, including hot cross buns (success) and grapes (unsuccessful) We also cooked popcorn in tinfoil which was going well in smaller batches before we set a larger batch on fire accidentally, thus making more charcoal.

    Look how it burns!

    Many lessons were learnt:
    • a Sat Nav will take you the route the crow flies when what you actually need is the route the crow would take were it on crutches
    • marshmallows have three purposes: the first is for the playing of Chubby Bunny, the second is to be offered up as sacrifices to The God of The Flame in order to create Flaming Death and the third is for lazy Smores
    • wet wipes aren't just for babies: they're for life
    • you can't beat a real fire, but you can successfully  fan it's flames with a dustpan
    • kids should climb trees, fall over and get dirty more often than they do
    • sleeping bags are evil, like a Snorkel Parka / babygrow hybrid. 
    Whilst I would love to embrace the whole sheepskin rugs and duvet glamping approach, pod-size and car logisitcs dictates that we must use sleeping bags. I have added them to my list of things I would like to torch when my hormones finally get the better of me.
    • you can never have enough blankets
    • only Ray Mears can set up a camp with a backpack full of essentials: you are not Ray Mears, you are not fighting for your survival but have gone away to relax and recharge. You will be shocked by the amount of crap you deem essential for your basic comfort. Remember that you are not alone in this and that there will always be someone with more camping crap than you. As long as you clear it all up afterwards, it doesn't matter
    • in reference to the above: you will never have a car big enough for all your camping gear. If you should succumb to 'glamping', you will need a tour bus (or just a bus)
    • wellies are your friends and they love you. All other shoes should be ashamed of their uselessness and hide their embarrassment by staying in the car
    • camping is essential for those that live in teeny houses: the feeling of space on your return is immeasurable

    Now go hug a tree...or have a snoozle against one