Wednesday, August 31, 2011

all pencils sharpened

During the summer, Blue Daughter attained the rank of Station Officer in her imaginary fire station and is eager to meet fellow (but subordinate) firefighters in Junior Infants. Pink Daughter mastered skipping, crochet, cycling and rock & roll.   The merry old round of early mornings, packed lunches and hustling people about resumes tomorrow.  Now that I make my own yogurt my nerves will surely be up to it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dear Meredith

Dear Meredith,

Does this small display of coloured glass on my kitchen shelf constitute a vignette, or not?

I worry that a selection of similar items may not suffice as a vignette, and that the whole could be considered more of an honorary objet, if that.   Should I add a heap of vintage cookbooks or perhaps an orange? I am fearful of going overboard and turning it into a shelfscape, so the whole situation is fraught with tension.  I bow to your expertise in these matters.  Please advise.

Your blogging comrade,


Friday, August 26, 2011

Queen of Fudge speaks

I've received more emails in response to my salted fudge recipe than most other posts: people very sensibly want clarification on how they will know when it is boiled enough, and how they will know when they have beaten it enough.

[make vanilla and chocolate fudge in one batch by adding the vanilla first, beating it and pouring half the mixture out, then quickly adding a few squares of dark chocolate before you pour the rest]


  • it will be sufficiently boiled when the bubbles subside such that the level of liquid retreats back to where you started, and, more precisely, when it is at the 'soft ball' stage, i.e. when a spoonful of the hot mixture dropped into a glass of cold water forms a lump of soft caramel. This caramel is very tasty, so you may wish to try more than once to be extra sure.
  • it will be sufficiently beaten when the colour changes quite suddenly - it will become opaque and have a grainier texture. At the very point when you start wondering whether you have beaten it so much that you'll have difficulty pouring it out before it sets, then it's time to stop. Your arm will be tired by then anyhow.

[is this enough fudge?]

And another tip: always use a round plate or dish in which to leave the fudge to set. This will conveniently leave lots of non-square bits round the edge which pride would prevent you from serving to visitors.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

the last hydrangeas

It's always a bit sad when the last bunch of hydrangeas of the year comes in from the garden. Another summer nearly over, and the Blogtopian autumn rolling in as the late light retreats.

Not a grave sorrow, such as would be caused by losing a giveaway or not being nominated in someone's list of Breeziest Blogging Buddies, but just a still, small tristesse that brings on a mental flash of an emergency bar of chocolate.

They say these are the best years of my life, and they surely are that, adorned by the best hydrangeas.

Friday, August 19, 2011

all the cushions in my house, every single one

OK comrades, we're back to the important stuff again: cushions. These are all the specimens in my house, exhaustively catalogued (Dewey class 749).

"never knowingly undercushioned" - Faux Fuchsia

Now, fair's fair: when may we see all the cushions in your house?

Monday, August 15, 2011

that's all I ever wanted: a ceramic birdbath

We're having an old-fashioned summer. There will be time enough for drama camps and treks to ruined empires and visits to friends to compare tiaras when the daughters are older; this is a year for a timeless two months about the garden and beach, making huts and secret paths, singlehandedly running a large imaginary fire-station, assembling collections of significant leaves under the pillows...

... and not heeding the world outside until it is time to send them off to school in their new shoes, clutching the usual kind but stern notes for their teachers stating our wish that Blue Daughter and Pink Daughter should receive no religious instruction. Should this wish not be adequately heeded, it'll be closely followed by another note mentioning in a heightened font that the school cardigans are Not Very Comfortable.  O time ward off those bustling clangorous days and leave us here on the sun-strewn stone with a glass of golden Sancerre and our ceramic birdbath full of flower-petal soup.

Which is all very well until the old-fashioned rain falls on our old-fashioned idyll. When the poet spoke of "an arrow-shower sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain," that somewhere was right here, plink-plonk into the ceramic birdbath and its environs in the wettest summer for years.

Reader, if you are the sales representative of a wallpaper manufacturer who sells a design incorporating pictorial suggestions for things that children can do when it rains, fax me now. Keep faxing every five minutes until your sample roll reaches me and you have signed me up as your showhouse customer in Blogtopia.  Our fancy rose-scented wallpaper paste is at the ready.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Useful or Beautiful

I've been pottering through Useful or Beautiful over the past few weeks, enjoying its temperate pace and gentle Englishness as an antidote to the immediacy of everything. It's engagingly written by Lucille (House Captain), who has nothing to sell and whose special subject is the way the light falls. She is looking after important Japanese visitors just now.

[my wildflower plates]

I think I've had these lovely wildflower plates for over six months now without showing them to you; I'm sorry about that. And that's not all. Once the rain stops, I can show you my new ceramic birdbath, or, if you wish, talk about it on the radio.

Monday, August 8, 2011

making yogurt in secret

Speccy and Jane must never know that I'm still making yogurt. Jane says it's one thing that's not meant to be homemade, while Speccy says I'm ruining good jam by adding it to something healthy. They must surely be right, being wise and wonderful women both, but what about my fragile self-confidence? What about that? Besides, if the Railway Children have to make do with butter or jam, but not both, while their father is in prison, accused of a crime he didn't commit, the least I can do in sympathy is to be frugal. Who is with me on this?

[secret homemade yogurt]

My first attempt was in my mother's 1970's electric yogurt maker. It's the perfect electrical appliance, utterly simple, has no controls and does not threaten to download iYogurt apps. The yogurt turned out beautifully, creamy and with a natural tinge of fresh sourness.

So then I tried to make yogurt on the range, the old-fashioned way. You can do it too! Here's how:
Heat some milk until it is starting to simmer.Let it cool down, pour it into a glass jar along with a tablespoon of powdered milk and a tablespoon of your favourite natural yogurt. Sit the jar on a corner of the range overnight. By morning, it has become yogurt. Cool it in the fridge, add some jam or fruit and sugar, and serve.

[wonderful Scottish Husband has bought a copper saucepan so that I may heat milk in great dignity]

I like my homemade yogurt a lot. Shop-bought yogurt can be a bit unctuous and samey; this tastes more natural and always turns out differently. Once the initial excitement has worn off, I'd better not make it too frequently in case medical science later finds that overconsumption causes complacency.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Permanent Magenta

Casapinka crossed the ocean bearing gifts from Permanent Magenta, who is certainly as kind as her paintings are beautiful and vivid. The bird, now known as Bird Bird, looks very happy hanging in our kitchen...

... and the charming little dress sits on the shelf.

Her blog of daily paintings is here if you would like a regular uplifting dose of colour.

The incongruous pot of HOMEMADE YOGURT (with raspberry compote jam) is ostensibly intended to show scale, but in fact it really serves to draw your attention to my recent mastery of yogurt-making.  Engaging in lifestyle blogging for over two years without making my own yogurt has felt like Living a Lie, and now at last I can shake off the guilt and have a sign made up: 'Pretty Far West, featuring HOMEMADE YOGURT, depuis 2009.'
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