So you know the rules, then… every birthday person at English Towers gets to choose their own birthday cake. This time, however, we were going to dinner at Glam C’s and I needed something that would work well feeding a crowd too so the Hubster let me choose, bless him.
I looked through my recipe books and found a ‘Congo Brownie’ recipe by Flo Braker and this is an adaptation of that recipe. As far as I can work out, the Congo bar part of it is the white layer – often called blondies and made with nuts, but if any of you can shed light on the name, I’d be delighted to know more!
I’ve split the ingredients and methods up. If you want to have a go at just making the Congo bars, I’d suggest doubling up the quantities and baking for 30 mins in total.
For the Congo bar layer:
85g butter – I use salted with chocolate
225g golden caster sugar
2 free range eggs (1 whole egg, 1 white – save the yolk and bung it in with the brownie)
1 tsp vanilla
175g self raising flour
For the chocolate brownie layer:
200g dark chocolate
170g butter (again, add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)
3 free range eggs
200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)
110g plain flour
So preheat your oven to gas 4/180 and butter a square tin/lasagne dish/whatever you have.
Melt the butter gently in a pan and set aside to cool. Whisk together the sugar, egg, egg white and vanilla then stir in the cooled butter. Sift in the flour, stir gently and spread evenly in the bottom of the baking tin.
Pop it in the oven for a scant 15 minutes so that it’s just set.
Meanwhile make the chocolate brownie layer:
Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water). Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined. Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together (plop in the extra yolk here) until pale, light and frothy. There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.
Pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well. Lastly, add in the flour and stir briefly until the flour disappears.
Now pour the brownie mixture over the Congo layer. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny. The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.
Finally, I melted a small bar of milk chocolate and spread it over the top of the cake.
Sadly, there were no number 8 candles left, so for the purposes of this dinner party, Hubby had to be 49. He didn’t mind. Especially when Glam C served up the most amazing chilli and the most delicious creamy raspberry cheesecake you’ve ever seen:
One thing about being back in the same country together after our long period of job-enforced separation is that we can now go shopping together.
I’d kind of forgotten about this. I’d happily tootled around shops in Ireland (just happy to be there, frankly, after the epic journeys that necessitated getting to any decent shops), picking out just what I wanted and never thinking twice about it. Now there are several things about co-shopping that drive me insane:
Before we’ve even got into the shop, we’ve started. I like a big trolley and I like to push it. I also like to bring my own bags (they’re bigger and stronger and yes, more environmentally friendly). He favours trying to cram everything into one of those small granny trolleys and has no truck with bags hanging on the front (‘they give you bags at the checkout, FFS’), so I have to hold them. And apparently (bag-free) trolley pushing is the man’s job. Sexism: alive and well and living in Hertfordshire.
I know what I like. And I know what I don’t like. I don’t like shopping a deux and wish to be finished as soon as possible. Therefore I don’t want to stand around and look at all the cheeses in the deli (we always buy Cheddar – what’s the point?). Neither do I want to discuss the merits of wild vs farmed salmon at the fish counter (he doesn’t like salmon so it’s kind of pointless). The only time I like to dither is when I’m shopping alone in Waitrose – then I could spend hours. Fickle? Moi? I also like to tut loudly at those silly arses that stand in the middle of the aisle and chat, whilst blocking everything up with their trolleys. Want to chat? Sod off outside. Shops are for shopping. I’m thinking of writing to the supermarket bosses and suggesting a special ‘dithering/gossiping’ aisle, so the rest of us can bloody get on with it.
I will only buy free-range chicken. As the awesome Jimmy Doherty says in his book, A Taste of the Country, ‘if the chicken you buy in your supermarket is not labelled free-range, I’m afraid you are responsible for terrible cruelty’. I can’t have this on my conscience. The husband, however, cannot see the point in picking up a pack of two chicken breasts for £5, when there is a pack of four just below them for same price.
The chicken, being relatively near the front of the shop, causes us to bicker all the way round the store. We’ve kept chickens, I argue, and you know what intelligent and freedom-loving little chaps they are. He knows, he says, but somehow his wallet rules his brain…
Hence, every time he picks up biscuits (we don’t need them – I can make my own), chooses Perroni over Budweiser, or adds ridiculous items such as Rice Krispie bars to the trolley, he is reminded that he’ll spend money on that, but not on the welfare of a poor little innocent chook. It’s all wrong. In return, of course, I get told off for buying fresh herbs ‘in bags! Pointless‘ and arborio rice.
We’re just speaking by the time we get to the dairy aisle, then it all goes pear shaped again. It has to be Yeo Valley. I’m sorry, but I can’t be doing with that watery shite and I’ve a special affinity with the Valley of Yeo, seeing as I’ve visited a couple of times. The husband picks up Mullers. I put them back. Then we spot the big pots of Yeo Valley lemon curd and grab several. Marital bliss is resumed.
After relenting to his requests for the small trolley AND his insistence on being the one to push it, he then proceeds to do the worst stacking job in history… milk is rested on top of eggs and salad is squashed with beer. I tut and move things. He tuts about pickiness. There’s a lot of tutting.
So by the time we’ve bickered all the way round, him dithering to look at things, me charging ahead tutting at the gossipers, got to the checkout where he’s flirted outrageously with the woman behind the till (he’s never that nice to me), and we’ve huffed out to the car with my ‘ridiculous’ bags… we end up driving home in silence.
So I’m afraid I’ve asked for a trial separation. Oh not permanently, just every time we need some shopping.
I just need to be on my own… to find out who I really am.
I hope you understand, Hubby, it’s not you, it’s me. I hope we can still be friends…
So my hubby’s quite a private person. I think in all the years I’ve written this blog, he’s had no more than a few passing mentions, and never really wants his photo on here.
He works hard, and often comes into contact with famous people. He’s the consummate professional (yes, I know he’s a silly bugger, but he’s dead serious at work).
But this time, I’m afraid, he was overruled. He rang me on Sunday. The conversation went something like this:
Hubby: ‘Guess who I’m flying tomorrow?’
Hubby: ‘Gary Barlow’
Me: ‘Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit! Gary Sodding Barlow! *insert girly screaming here* I LOVE HIM!’
Now Hubster, being aware that I’m somewhat of a fan, did something really, really lovely. Something that he would never, ever normally do. I never ask him to get autographs and stuff, because I know it’s not professional, so I hadn’t even asked (well okay, that’s a total lie, I did ask but I thought he’d say no), so imagine my surprise when this landed in my inbox:
And for the record, he says that the lads are really, really lovely, totally unstarry, that Gary ‘Goose’ Barlow likes to sit up front next to the pilot, and that they’re a great craic too. You can see Mark Owen in the background too – I might faint!!!
Special thanks must go, obviously to Gary, I bloody love you! xxx
PS: What also really makes me laugh is Hubby’s silly face at the end. You can see ‘yes! brownie points!’ written all over it
I love the NHS. Yup, really. You won’t hear a bad word said about it in our house. After four years in Ireland spent wondering whether each ailment was worth the fifty quid to see the doctor, I am ridiculously grateful. Add that to several mad dashes to A&E at £100 a pop and you can imagine I’m a big fan.
Not only that, but the kids had a recent eye test (you guess it, on the NHS), and we discovered that not only did #1 need new glasses, but #2 needs them now for reading and close-up work. He was not impressed.
He was more impressed, however, when it turned out that he could have funky Quiksilver ones (to go with his recent purchase of skinny Quiksilver jeans from T K Maxx, and enormous DC skate trainers that, combined, make him look oddly like Mickey Mouse’s slimmer brother).
I also had to have a new pair. I’d had my old ones since 1994, it turned out, so it was probably time. Later,#2 was on the phone to his Dad:
#2: I’ve got this new pair of glasses – I’ve got to wear them for reading and stuff – they’re wicked! They’ve got Quiksilver on the side! And #1 got some new ones too – his are Red or Dead.
Hubby: And what about Mummy, what are hers like?
#2: They’re okay. They’re kinda brown and they say ‘fercuck’ on the side.
My husband, bless his cotton ones, doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of chap, and his politics are, as my Disreputable Dad would say, slightly left of Attila the Hun.
I admire this quality enormously. Especially as I’m the kind of person who apologises when someone treads on my toe. Take his blender, for instance. It’s not a real blender, it’s kind of a standing joke in our house: a human-sized blender reserved for the total and utter tossers in this life – you know the ones, the real wastes of skin we come across all the time.
Recently, we were discussing the two awful brothers who attacked the two little boys in Edlington. Some bobbly-jumpered ‘expert’ with huge bottle-bottomed glasses was busy on Sky News telling us how it might even be possible for them to be rehabilitated enough that they could slot back into normal life.
‘Pah’, said Hubby. ‘They should get the blender’
And the more we think about it, the more people there are that we’d toss in to join them: how about the little buggers’ parents for instance? Then there’s any number of arrogant ‘me me me’ celebs… those drunken dickheads hurling haywain punches outside any high street pub on any given Sunday morning. Oh, and the adorable Nick Griffin – I’d love to give him a whizz on high speed. Oh god and then there’s Katie bloody Price. Wouldn’t we all love to whip up a quick Jordan smoothie? I know I would.
And imagine the money we’d save on prisons: Terrorists? Blend ‘em. Murderers? Chuck ‘em in too. I reckon we’re on to something – maybe I should write a letter to Number Ten?
Over to you then. You’ve got one person to hurl into the blender. Who’s it to be?
Oh lord. Oh lordy lord.
I’ll warn you now, this is going to be one of those ‘too much information’ posts to which I am especially prone. But I need advice, so I’m going to have to overshare. Brace yourself.
Last night, the husband and I retired to our ‘boudoir’ (yes, the £99 Ebay bed is holding up, thank you for asking) and erm… well… y’know, we… erm… had a ‘special cuddle’ (this is the name I used when my children enquired about what Mummies and Daddies do to make babies.
Later, I popped to the bathroom (I know, I know – oversharing again). As I was sitting on the throne with the door open (listen, we’ve been married 15 years – there are no secrets), I noticed something. Reader, I went cold.
#1′s bedroom light was on.
Oh good grief.
As I sat, horror-struck, debating whether I should pop my head round the door and enquire if he’d heard his parents engaging in a little bedroom gymnastics if everything was okay, the light suddenly went off again.
Well. I scurried back to bed and whispered urgently that we might have been rumbled. Sadly, all I got in response was a little snuffly snore-like sound. Damn. I slept fitfully. My dreams invaded by pictures of small boys holding up little signs with scores on them: 5.5, 5.9, 5.4…
And then this morning, in response to my breezy ‘good morning!’, I swear I detected a hint of embarrassment amongst the usual looming clouds of deodorant and teenage mutterings that accompany a 7am start.
Oh god. Did he hear? Should I enquire? HOW does one enquire? ‘Darling? Anything keep you awake last night particularly?’, or maybe ‘sweetheart, you know that chat we had when you were in junior school about the facts of life…’
I put a quick text in to the other half: ‘oh god, I think he heard us. Kill me now’.
But it was the reply that really killed me:
‘Just hope he didn’t record us and isn’t currently entertaining his mates with his new ringtone’.
So that’s it, then. Packing has commenced, the chickens have been collected in a trailer and carted off to their new home, and in a very short time we shall land back on terra firma in the good old Kingdom of United.
I have mixed feelings, frankly. When we first moved to Dublin I was miserable. I missed my friends, my family, the familiarity of having lived in a place your whole life; bumping into people you know in Tesco (frankly, being able to even go to Tesco without an hour’s round trip). It was rotten. The children hated their new school (#1 was the only native English speaker in his class), everything was alien, everything shut for lunch, or on a Monday, or on a Wednesday or had to be requested in writing, and I lasted about 6 weeks before I fled home, leaving poor Hubby blinking in a bewildered fashion in a big empty Irish house.
Still, we made it back. And with a new school for the boys, a new dog (the wonderful and much missed Becks), a new friend in Jenny and a new blog to take up my time (EnglishMuminIreland.blogs.ie – where it all began), I started to settle in. The Irish are a wonderful breed: open, friendly, always up for a laugh, never too busy to help… With Hubby’s new job we found ourselves here in Cavan and from the moment we walked over the threshold of English Towers, we felt at home. With the lovely C next door already terminally ill when we arrived, a sad by-product of being able to help in small ways like minding children or fetching medicine from the chemist was that we (selfishly) felt needed and wanted very quickly. We made friends with The Lovelies, the Galway Cs and Poppy’s Mum and her family (if you’re new here, check out ‘All about me’ at the top of the screen for more info), all via D, who was unceasingly generous with both his time and his friends, and have felt happily and contendedly as though we were home for the past two years. D now has a new, lovely lady in his life. The children are delighted and so are we. We wish them all the love and happiness that they so deserve.
But things change. The Recession came and bit us on the bum and it’s time to move on again. I’ll miss the beautiful countryside, the wonderful people and the laid back lifestyle, but the hustle and bustle of town life is calling me back too. Living in this huge house with the dog and the chickens and the lovely garden has been a massive adventure for us all. The children have made lifelong friends, received a fantastic education and enjoyed some amazing life experiences. They have benefitted immeasurably from their time here, as have the Hubby and I. We’ve been lucky enough to share this fantastic place with our friends and family when they came over for our wedding blessing and have even been welcomed into the new community of the church by the kind and gentle Revd Craig - something I never would have imagined in a million years. I know we’ll return so much more open to new experiences, and with a fresh appreciation for all the people and places that we’ve missed over the last four years.
Onwards and upwards, then. Pass the bubble wrap. Goodbye Emerald Isle. It’s been a blast.
So here, finally, is the review of The Forge Restaurant where we celebrated English Grandma’s 70th. We went with open minds because (let’s face it, like most restaurants) some of our friends had had fabulous experiences, and others not so good - we’d also heard tales of being rushed through desserts to free up tables, but when I phoned I spoke to a very friendly waitress who assured me that we could take as long as we needed.
First things first, then, it’s in an absolutely beautiful spot. Nestled in quite a rural location, but only about 5 minutes off the N3 (the main road between Kells and Cavan) and just 4 miles north of Kells. I’d guestimate that it’s probably just over an hour’s drive from Dublin. It’s a beautiful old stone building with plenty of parking, and we were given a very warm welcome by owner Irene, who was reassuringly present in the restaurant all evening, and the lovely smiley waitresses.
Obviously the first thing we did was order some wine and we weren’t disappointed with our South African Lookout Ridge Chenin Blanc ’08, which was fresh and zingy. The dinner menu (we booked at 7pm) is small but lovingly chosen, and Irene was more than happy to chat about the decisions behind the menu, their suppliers, where their seafood comes from, etc.
We got an amazing platter of warm home made bread while we were waiting, with some lovely spicy fruity walnut bread being my particular favourite. The fellas all chose a mussel casserole as a starter. The mussels were small and deliciously sweet, swimming in a generous broth of cream, white wine and onion (which was a bit too creamy for their tastes, but I thought was lovely – maybe in need of a bit more reduction, although I’m no expert):
Grandma and I both chose the smoked haddock fishcakes, which were exactly as promised: with chunks of soft smokey fish and a lovely crisp coating:
Everything was beautifully presented and absolutely scrummy.
For mains, Hubby and I both chose salmon with a crab Creole sauce, #2 went for a rib eye steak and #1 chose a rack of lamb. I can’t remember what Grandma chose (I blame the Chenin Blanc). Again, every meal was painstakingly decorated and lovingly presented: the lamb expertly cooked and just pink in the middle:
… the salmon moist and delicate (what? I stole some chips, okay?), nestled on the Creole crab which was amazingly sweet and warmly spiced:
… and the steak (what was left of it by the time we got a photo) huge, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked:
The side orders were beautiful, and generous: big fat chips, lovely creamy dauphinoise potatoes and fresh crisp vegetables. Most importantly, they were included in the price of the meal – it really annoys me when restaurants charge you 6 quid for a teeny plate of veg.
On to desserts, then. And although we were all feeling a bit like overstuffed cushions, the menu was so tempting that we had to go for it. Hubby and I shared a Baileys and mixed nut parfait in a hazelnut tuille with fruits of the forest coulis, which was first class. The parfait had an amazing texture and creamy flavour, and the tuille was light and crisp. Yum:
#2 naturally went for a big slab of squidgy chocolate roulade, complemented by a lovely sorbet (can’t remember what flavour but it was zingy and fruity and fabulously countered the richness of the chocolate roulade):
…and even the birthday girl managed to squeeze in a bit of sorbet:
All in all we were delighted. It’s not a cheap meal, but the care and attention taken with the sourcing, cooking and decorating of each plate of food means that you feel that you get proper value for money. The staff and owners are friendly and welcoming (even to little English boys with very loud, squeaky voices) and passionate about their product, the setting is divine and the restaurant is homely, warm and inviting. If you live in Ireland, do try and make the effort to head north and try out this absolute gem of a place, and if not, then next time you’re in Ireland, you must visit. In fact, you can pop in to English Towers and say hi at the same time.
The Forge Restaurant
Tel: 046 924 5003
Fax: 046 924 5917
I am baking (I know, what a shocker). Well Hubby is away and I’m missing him badly (I have nobody to annoy, and it’s really depressing to talk during a television programme and not be told to shush), so it’s either brownies or vodka, and it’s 4pm, so brownies it is. #2 is doing his homework at the kitchen table. The conversation goes something like this:
Me: ‘What are you doing?’
#2: ‘I’m writing a recipe for witch’s brew. It’s really cool. I’m doing it in my best writing ‘cos it’s going up on the wall’
Me: ‘Excellent! What have you got so far?’
He starts to read out his recipe. It contains the usual suspects: ‘one newt’s eye, one lizard’s tongue, one tarantula, one disabled person…’
Me: ‘WHOAH! One what?!’
#2: ‘one disabled person’
Me: ‘Erm sweetheart, you can’t say that, it’s horrible’
#2: ‘It’s meant to be horrible, it’s witch’s brew’
Me: ‘No, I mean you really can’t say that. You’ll get into trouble. That’s terrible. You can’t.’
#2: ‘Why? It’s funny. Sean’s putting “one bulimic” in his’ *
Holy f*cking poo.
Me: ‘That is SO not funny. It’s not kind to make jokes about disabled people.’
#2: ‘I’m not making jokes about disabled people. I’m just putting one in a stew’
Somebody kill me. Please.
So we have the big long conversation about political correctness, about how somebody disabled would feel if they read it, how he would feel if somebody made fun of him or one of his disabled friends or family. It was a long, excruciating conversation, but I think he got the point.
I mean, how bloody hard is parenthood? When you’re wallowing like a whale in your parenting classes, chewing on your 7th marmite and peanut butter sandwich, nobody ever mentions that you’re going to have to explain what tampons are to a four year old who has fished one out of your bag and is now waving it in a restaurant shouting ‘can I have one of these sweeties?’, or why pointing out in a really loud voice that you’ve ‘got a stiffy’ in the middle of Tesco’s isn’t a good idea. Ohhhh no, it’s all cuteness and changing mats and baby powder and solids and all that. But disabled people in soup? Nope, not even a mention.
Have you ever thought about how you’d explain it, for goodness’ sake.
Me (in self important tone): So now do you see how important it is to be sensitive to other people’s feelings? Disability is no joke.’
#2 (muttered): But you laugh at Andy in Little Britain.
And in the spirit of even more political correctness, I’d like everybody to pop over to Belgian Waffle and read her Eat Your Words post. It’s quite the funniest thing I’ve ever read in my life. Ever.
Y’know, when we started this whole chicken thing, waaaaay back when the wondrous Hugh was starting his Chicken Out campaign, lots of people said to us how they have their own little personalities and you get quite attached to them. At the time we just laughed and thought ‘yeh, right, isn’t it funny how people always want to give dumb animals a personality’. But, dearest reader, it’s really true. Take Minnie the crap Rhode Island Red (they’re supposed to be dark red, but she’s a kind of pale ginger), for example. Her perpetual escapology drove me mental at first. Whatever kind of fencing I put up, however much I clipped her wings (they were practically stumps at one stage) I couldn’t keep her contained, but now I’m actually quite happy that she just wanders around. I love looking out of the window when I’m at the kitchen sink and seeing her bimbling round the garden with her best mate Chilli the Black Rock:
She’s also completely and utterly in love with Hubby, which we all find absolutely hysterical. I think it started when she first followed him as he mowed the lawn and uncovered all sorts of tasty goodies. Now, within two seconds of the garage door clanging, you’ll see Hubby pushing the lawn mower round the garden, followed by a hopelessly infatuated Minnie in hot pursuit, doing that ridiculously comical ’Lee Evans’ fast walk that chickens do so well. He had to take a strimmer to the garden heart today, and ended up having to put her inside the coop lest he gave her an unintentional haircut (see, he loves her really – he only swears at her when he thinks anybody’s listening):
I’m pretty convinced that she actually sees herself as a human, following me back into the kitchen after I’ve hung out the washing, and pootling happily around, pecking at crumbs on the floor whilst keeping up a perpetual little burble of contented clucking.
This evening she spent the entire time perched on the handlebar of #2′s bike. Eventually it got so dark that we had to gently lift her off and pop her into the coop.
Tomorrow I’ll have a chat with her and remind her she’s a chicken. After we’ve had our Cheerios together, obviously.
I was interested to read (on Twitter, via my friend Laura) that the legendary blogger, Petite Anglaise, was hanging up her keyboard once and for all. And although our thoughts turned first to the fact that it will leave a space in the #1 slot of the Top 100 British Mummy Bloggers chart (elbows out, girls!…hey, hang on, I’m down 9 places to #15 – the shame!), her reasons for ‘turning the page’ on blogging were very interesting.
It seems that personal blogging, the very thing that earned her the lucrative book deal and led to a career as a writer, had started to leave an unpleasant taste in her mouth. If you don’t know the story, she famously got fired by her boss, about whom she was distinctly unpleasant, when her anonymous blog came to light (she did subsequently win damages against him in court, though). The story made her quite famous, but once the anonymity had been removed, there was the constant worry that somebody would be upset or offended with what she might say, and with that new-found worry came the inevitable dearth of subject matter. Interesting, also, that it was THIS INTERVIEW with Liz Jones, a weirdly neurotic, no-holds-barred journo who has managed to alienate half her family and her entire village (including my friend and fellow Disney 7er Exmoor Jane) with her bare-all style of writing, that finally tipped her over the edge. But in short, she just stopped enjoying it.
I sympathise, I really do. When I started my blog, way back when we first moved to Ireland, I was obsessive about anonymity and never posted pictures of anyone I knew. Slowly, I’ve relaxed this rule. I still try not to post full-face photos of the children, or anyone whose permission I haven’t sought (Mad Uncle Alg is fair game, obviously), and don’t mention people’s full names. But now we’re settled here, it’s natural that more and more people get to know me, start to read the blog, and my cover has been, I suppose, somewhat blown. In fact, I’ve even been caught out giving my rather frank views by someone that turned out to be a reader. Yup, that was awkward. I’d hate to think I’d ever hurt anyone by what I’d written and I’ll always check first with, say, D-next-door before I mention C, or the kids.
With all this in mind, I’ve had a long hard think about this blog and did decide to go back and remove certain pictures and videos, including our wedding vid. You can still email me for a link, but I wondered if I was going too far towards making my family live a life online, so I took a step back.
Add this to the fact that I now write for other websites, such as the fabulous HaveALovelyTime.com and you’ll probably find my first name dotted about, if you really look hard. Funnily enough, when I, and my fellow Disney adventurers travelled to Walt Disney World and met up with our American alter-egos, the ‘Mommy Bloggers’, they were completely dumbfounded by our wish to remain anonymous. Most published their full names, pictures of themselves and their families and couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t wish to do the same:
‘What, you don’t WANT to be famous?’
‘Erm, no, actually, I don’t’.
Englishmum.com is a, I suppose, a bit of an eccentric mix. There’s family stuff, yes, but the foodie/garden stuff tends to take precendence. And if I’m honest, I suppose that as the children get older, it’s harder to write honestly without risking embarrassing them in front of their school mates (#1′s been known to comment whilst in his IT lesson). My readership has risen steadily (thank you!) and though I’m sure I’ve lost and gained different readers as my content has meandered, I am lucky to be blessed with friendly and loyal readers and commenters. I regard my blog as a little piece of me. It’s stuffed full of things that I love and I’m always happy that people pop in and enjoy reading my waffle.
And this, I suppose, brings me neatly on to the fact that after much soul-searching, we’ve decided to have Bert rehomed. This is a HUGE decision for us, but basically he’s been showing some signs of aggression for a while and obviously our children have to be our main priority. There’s a load of history behind this that I won’t bore you with, but my lovely mate Jen is still in touch with a lot of people in greyhound rescue, and is going to make sure he goes to a good home somewhere with people that know his history and will really love and care for him well. I’m sad, but I think it’s the right thing to do.
So for now, I’ll crack on (800 posts, 8553 comments and counting…), I’ll continue to be anonymous-ish, and there’ll be the same old stuff – maybe a bit more food and a bit less about the fellas, and obviously no more Bert, but don’t worry, if anyone humiliates themselves in any way, you’ll be the first to know.
Oh and here’s my rather pathetic review on Mmmmmmcake. ‘It was nice’? C minus for effort there.
Okay, so obviously as usual I have to maintain the mystique which means you don’t get to see ALL the shots (email me if you want any more), but I’ve picked out the best moments of our day for you to see. From the top, then:
Mable the Merc gets a pink moustache (thanks Moon!):
The boogie down the aisle (thanks to my adorable niece Lu for these pics). For some reason I seem to have ‘the claw’ with me again. And corr I could seriously ‘out’ some anonymous bloggers with these photos… you know who you are!!!:
The beautiful cake, forever to be known as the ’6am cake’, as that’s the time she finished making it on the day. ‘One day, the full story of that bloody cake will come out’, said Jen’s other half. Oh, do tell! But seriously, how gorgeous is it? God job, Jen, good job (and there’s that claw again):
Our first dance:
And here I am wearing my wedding present from Disney. I couldn’t persuade Hubby to wear his top hat mickey ears, sadly:
Well, it wouldn’t have been the perfect day without a little Disney magic, now would it:
So finally, the weekend of our wedding arrived. Through the last year of planning and plotting, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect time. We’ve mulled and reminisced and remembered and honestly, there wasn’t a single thing that didn’t go perfectly.
Here, then, for your viewing pleasure, are my top ten moments from the weekend:
There’s so many people to thank I don’t even know where to start, but I’ll have a go:
To our wonderful, generous neighbours, for being open minded and accepting of our slighly left-of-centre church service, and for welcoming our family and friends in your inimitable fashion.
To our beautiful bridesmaids, for looking so gorgeous and doing us proud with the dancing thing!
To our Mums, I think every time I turned round my Mum was cleaning up again.
To my Disreputable Dad (who kept his speech clean as promised). Well done, Dad!
To the Lovelies, Clare and Rebecca and D-next-door for being the bestest friends ever, we love you x
To Moon, who took on about ten roles and performed them all with a stream of dry one-liners that had us all in stitches. You’re the best x
To Jenny my hairdresser for our fabulous ‘up-dos’ and Mary the superflorist for listening to all my demands and providing exactly what we wanted.
To Jen for our amazing cake (Mad Uncle A completely fell in love with her too – he emailed me earlier and asked if I thought she might marry him. I think C might possibly have a few words to say about that)
To Laura at the Oldcastle House Hotel (thanks for the Moet too!) and Christopher the chef, plus their amazing team
To Craig, our Rambling Rural Rector, the kindest, gentlest, most generous man, for accepting us as we are and making our celebration so special. No words will ever be enough to let you know just how grateful we are for making our day so perfect and for opening up your heart (and your church!), for suggesting the big entrance and ‘going with the flow’! x
.. and finally to my beautiful boys who looked so handsome, were such amazing hosts and behaved so amazingly well the whole day and to my wonderful Husband. I’d do it all again tomorrow. I love you guys xx
There are more photos to come, but for now I’ll leave you with this. I love this pic. The beautiful Little Lovely when she finally collapsed, bolt upright, in a chair. Isn’t she gorgeous?
So it’s bank hols here in the Republic and yesterday dawned the most beautiful, hot sunny day. There’s nothing quite like a sunny day in Ireland. Not only is it very unusual and therefore all the more welcome, but the whole greenness of the place gives it an almost luminous, lime green glow. The kids started off mucking about spraying each other with water guns, then hubby disappeared to the shop and came back with industrial strength rolls of bin bags to create the garden waterslide from hell. Here’s Hubby, #1, #2 and Little C (Lou was far too dainty for hurling herself downhill on a bit of plastic) having fun. Apologies for the hideous cackling, but what you couldn’t see, just out of shot, was that they all crashed into the side of the garage at the end of the trip (oh and check Hubby’s ‘argh! incoming!’). Oh and sorry about shooting directly into the sun. I don’t think I’ll be entering it at Cannes this year. Enjoy though.
We had lamb-burgers for lunch, made with minced lamb, breadcrumbs, crushed garlic, cumin, mustard seed, salt and pepper, with a lovely salsa that hubby made out of the lovely frondy fennel in the garden, plus chilli, pineapple, tomato, greek basil and spring onion. Summer on a plate:
Bert enjoyed the bank holiday too. Hubby has mowed another beautiful heart in one of the front lawns for me which is now full of wild flowers:
and happens to make a rather nice sunbathing spot too:
Mind you, when you have a comfy child to lean on, you can sunbathe just about anywhere:
We rounded the day off with hotdogs and a bonfire, with a bit of guitar playing and a sing song. Ah, I hope the summer lasts.
Following on nicely, then, from all our chat about self sufficiency/knitting your own yoghurt/composting toilets, etc, I think I’ve mentioned before that here at English Towers we’re a teeny, tiny bit eco-friendly. Firstly we’ve got those very thick, specially insulated walls that mean you can forget trying to hang a picture, because one tap with the hammer sees you elbow deep in your plasterboard, however it does make it incredibly warm upstairs, which flows nicely downstairs and saves on the costs of the heating system, which, coincidentally, runs separately upstairs to down. Good eh?
Secondly, and yes, I’m getting to the point now, we have one of those ‘bio-flow’ systems for our..er…waste. Here’s the rub, as understood by my peanut-sized brain, and with no technical terms thrown in: the toilets and sinks are linked up to a drainage system which take all our household ick to a big green tank which is buried in the garden. Here, a small constantly running motor injects a supply of air into the ick which bubbles through, aerates the ick and encourages bacteria to break it down to a liquid which is then fed into the garden by a system of tentacles planted all under the lawn, where it harmlessly, odourlessly seeps away. This system doesn’t create any harmful gases (apparently – they haven’t met my children) and leaves a very small amount of ‘sludge’ which collects in the bottom and only needs ‘de-sludging’ (I know, it’s a fantastic phrase) every 5 years. Here it is with the lid off (and yes, I took the photo from inside – it was very bloody smelly):
Trouble is, ours broke. We noticed first of all that weird things were happening: if you flushed a toilet, water bubbled up in the shower. We got worried. And then we looked outside in the drains and we were even more worried:
Hubby: ‘oh look, there’s one of yours’
Me: ‘I think you’ll find that’s not mine’
Hubby: ‘oh right of course not, yours don’t smell, do they’
Me: ‘nope. And mine are pink and sparkly’
Cue several days’ worth of quality poo jokes and lots of worried conversations with the water treatment company. Turns out, when we finally got the bloody lid off, that the air hose had popped off and had been happily aerating half of Cavan instead of our poo for the last goodness knows how long. One look into the main tank and we knew we had one giant, stinky problem. The system had completely broken down and we needed help fast.
Long story short, then, we had to had to be ‘de-sludged’ and have our pipes cleaned before the whole process was ever going to start working again. To add insult to injury it turns out that our gates aren’t wide enough to allow one man, his tractor and his de-sludging equipment through, so we had to do a bit of long-distance desludging, which doesn’t exactly help matters.
The whole thing cost a packet and was extremely stinky. See what happens when you try and go eco-friendly? Next up is a visit from the bio-flow company who are, unfortunately, based in Cork.
And no, sadly, this was no April Fool’s joke. Still, as I pointed out to Hubby, we may be cash poor, but we’re poo rich.
A veritable bouquet of photies for you this morning, then. Firstly, I captured the sight of my inaugural washing line use of the year – a pinky wash, naturally – and the English Mum shirt was just a happy coincidence, not clever photoshopping (I can’t photoshop: my brain is too full of chocolate, sparkly things, red wine and double cream). Don’t you just love hanging out the washing on the first bright, shiny day of the year? Maybe Spring is er… sprunging at last:
Second, because it’s the Friday photo and Jennifer will moan otherwise, is a snap of Bert, relaxing with a nice glass of red (well, Hubby’s nice glass of red) the other night, in front of Bones. Needless to say, he didn’t pay much attention to the plot. Note to self: when I win the lottery I must buy a bigger sofa:
And lastly, a cheeky little taster of what’s to come. I’m rather proud of this photo – my new camera is certainly improving my ham-fisted attempts at food photography. I’m a testin’ and they’re a comin’:
I’d forgotten about this until recently, but when we were all staggering down the boat road one afternoon over Christmas, stuffed to the gunnels with ridiculously rich food, we started talking about eating teeny, tiny amounts of really, really nice food. So, you’re on death’s door, and you can only ingest one more spoonful before you die (okay, so I’m rubbish at scenarios – invent your own), your absolute favouritest, yummiest thing in the whole world – what would it be?
Me: golden syrup. Is there anything nicer? It smells absolutely delicious too. I think someone should invent a perfume with eau de golden syrup tones in it. Fahbilis.
Hubby: the middle of a Cadbury’s Creme Egg. (I agree with this too – probably my second choice)
#1: Nutella (correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the same stuff that’s in the middle of those Ferrero Rocher chocolates?)
#2: peanut butter (well thought out, it would last for ages seeing as most of it would end up on the roof of your mouth)
Over to you, then. Your last, precious spoonful on this earth. What’s it to be?
Every year, Hubby gets all demanding about mince pies, requiring a constant supply, especially of these little beauties which are an adaptation of his favourite childhood treat, his Ma’s Pastry Jammy Cakey Things. Obviously because these ones contain mincemeat rather than jam they had to be renamed, but still, I think it’s quite a catchy title don’t you? Now I know I’ve done these before, but I’ve twiddled the recipe (as usual) and I thought I’d do you a little festive step by step. On your marks, then:
First, for the pastry. I’m always messing with my pastry recipe, but I really think this one is the best so far, and the Mince Pie Monster agrees, so it must be okay.
200g plain flour
150g cold butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
About 2 tbsp cold water
So pop the pinch of salt into the flour, then cut the butter into teeny squares, and gently rub the butter into the flour until it’s breadcrumby. Stir in the sugar, then add in the cold water until it just comes together. Hubby’s Ma taught me that the best way with pastry is to keep it as dry as humanly possible. You’ll think it’s too dry, but actually when you squish it, it’ll stay together. Preheat your oven to 180/gas 4 while you remember.
Roll it out and cut out 12 circles with a pastry cutter. Gently pop the circles into the bottoms of 12 muffin cases:
Next blob a teaspoon or so of mincemeat into each little pastry case:
Leave them somewhere cool while you whip up a quick sponge mix (if you’re making lots, make it 170g/3 eggs):
115g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
1tsp vanilla extract
Cream the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy, then add in the vanilla extract, then the eggs, beating after each one. Now gently fold in the flour. If the mixture’s a bit stiff (this’ll depend on the size of your eggs), add a splash or two of milk. So now blob a spoonful of your cake mix on top of each mince pie:
Mix a teaspoon of sugar with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle a little pinch on each cake, for added festiveness, and to fill your house with the gorgeous seasonal scent of cinnamon. Then just whack them in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes and you’ll be delighted to discover a light muffin with a pastry base and a little mincemeat surprise in the middle.
Nice one, Nanny.
Righty ho, then. Here we go with the promised Limoncello recipe. Firstly a little note about the alcohol. Seeing as we’re cheating (see title), there are no rules. I know that some people make this Limoncello with Grappa, or Schnapps, or one of those colourless fruity brandy-type drinks called Eau de Vie. Any of these is fine.
Anyhoo, it’s dead easy. I’ve even enlisted José Mourinho Hubby to photograph a little step by step guide (note how much better the photos are than my usual ham-fisted efforts). Firstly, you’ll need:
6 beautiful, fat fresh lemons, unwaxed or scrubbed in hot soapy water then rinsed well
200g caster sugar
70cl bottle of Vodka or your alcohol of choice
Some sort of glass container with lid (I used one of those Kilner jars)
Step 1: peel the zest off the lemons with a peeler. Try not to push the peeler too hard otherwise you’ll get too much of the bitter pith with your peel.
Step 2: juice them all, and set aside with the zest.
Step 3: put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then bubble away for a few minutes until it looks thicker and a bit syrupy. Notice that I cleaned my hob especially for you. Flattered?
Step 4: bung in the juice and zest, give it a stir, then slosh in the entire bottle of Vodka.
Step 5: pour the whole shooting match into some kind of bottle or even jars, as long as they’re sterilised, put on the lid and leave somewhere cool and dark until Chrimbo, when all you have to do is strain it, put it into a bottle and shove it in the freezer ready to play ‘Truth or Dare’ or some other juvenile party game that involves the winner taking a shot. All photographic evidence gratefully received. Erm… or you could be all civilised and Italianish Italianate Italiany Italianesque do like Italians do, and drink it with biscotti – the recipe for which I shall produce for you, as if by magic, shortly.
So I’m not arty at all. In the lottery that is our family’s gene pool, I struck it big with The Disreputable One’s ability to fire off a really angry letter, me Ma’s filthy laugh and my Grandma Maudie’s penchant for a nice glass of Bailey’s, but sadly didn’t inherit any artistic ability at all. Still, one can dream, and I was rather pleased when my eagerly awaited cake decorating kit arrived from Ebay.
As you know, it was Hubby’s birthday this weekend. On Sunday, we had a big, heowge massive roast beef dinner with Yorkshire puddings and, as usual here at English Towers, The Birthday Person got to choose his birthday cake. He wanted something really darkly chocolatey and fudgey. And I may not be the Ace of Cakes, but I can certainly knock up a mean chocky cake. Read it and put on weight:
150g dark chocolate
170g soft dark brown sugar
145g self raising flour
25g cocoa powder
Pot of double cream
100g dark chocolate
So preheat your oven to 180 degrees/gas 4, and grease and line a couple of cake tins. Melt the 150g chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs one at a time (remember if it curdles just bung in a spoonful of the flour). Next, sieve the flour and cocoa and stir gently into the mix, then add the cooled, melted chocolate. Divide the mix between the two tins and bake for around 15-20 minutes until they’re just firm – watch them carefully, you want soft, moist cake, not a couple of Frisbees.
Now comes the fun bit. I whipped half the cream and filled the cake with it, then stirred the other half into some melted chocolate to make a ganache to pour over the top, but hell, it’s your cake – fill your boots. Finally, I mixed the last spoonful of melted chocolate into a teeny bit of whipped cream and piped a completely wobbly ‘44’ on it that looked as though it had been done by a four year old. It just goes to show how bloody nice I am that I’m opening myself up for total humiliation by actually showing you a picture. Ah well. Hubby liked it and if you’re even vaguely less cack-handed than I am it’s worth a go as it’s really good fun.
Give me time, and a bit of practice, and I’ll be icing cupcakes like a pro. No, really.
By the way, if this picture ends up on Cake Wrecks I shall personally hunt the perpetrator down and pull out their eyelashes one by one with my kitchen tongs. Be afraid.
So the lovely Kate, over at iRamble has tagged me with a weird challenge. I’ve got to share seven facts about myself: some random and some weird. I did something similar to this back in April, but I’m naturally extremely weird, so finding seven more is easy peasy:
So come on, then: random facts, quirks and general weirdness. Let’s hear them.
Firstly can I just say that I hate Ryanair? Hate, hate, hate Ryanair. I know, I know, it’s dirt cheap and all that, but when you’ve walked miles, queued for hours and then find you can’t sit anywhere near your children in a hot, sweaty cabin and there’s no room in the overheads for your hand luggage? Grrr, I could kill that feckin’ Michael O’Leary.
Awwww, we had such a lovely time. We went out for dinner with the Disreputable One when we arrived on the Friday night (after he picked us up from the airport in his swanky new 4×4 – thanks Dad!), then stayed at me Ma’s for the weekend. Arriving in the pub before the wedding was fantastic, seeing all my friends and family, my much-missed sisters in law, my lubly brothers, my beautiful nieces and big strapping nephew was just amazing. The church service was surprisingly emotional although I have to say that it was the adults that did the naughty giggling – the kids all stood together and shot us withering glances as we misbehaved – it was Hubby’s fault, he did silly singing, and then some little teeny girl went ‘I WANT A WEE!’ in a really loud voice which set us all off again. All went swimmingly apart from some rather bizarre parental goings on (note to my parents: I love you both madly but jaysus, go out for a coffee together and sort yourselves out already).
Mrs M looked absolutely stunning in a slinky green silk fishtail dress – I don’t care what anyone says there wasn’t a single pair of eyes that weren’t glued to her fantastically peachy bottom as she walked down the aisle.
The evening bash was full of fun and laughter. We had a total riot and the boys had loads of fun with their cousins. Mad Uncle A behaved himself (almost) – actually, Sensible Uncle I was just as naughty – and Mrs Sensible was challenging Hubby to down shots of Mrs M’s traditional 80% proof fire-water. Wow, it took your taste buds clean off.
Moon gave the longest, most boring speech I’ve ever heard (nah, not really – he made me cry twice which is probably a record) and then we all clinked glasses and shouted ‘Nastrovya!’ and downed the traditional Slovakian shot things (wow!) before stuffing our faces at the buffet, then dancing the night away. The Slovakian contingent held their own admirably in both the drinking and the falling over on the dance floor, but in true English fashion, it was all wrapping up by midnight – in Ireland we’d only just be getting started!
We rounded off a manic but happy weekend with one of my Ma’s epic Sunday lunches and then it was back to the airport with our Disreputable Chauffeur for another wrestle with our hand luggage. We arrived home, tired but elated, to find an ecstatic Bert who sang us a little whiny song, he was so happy to see us.
Highlights of the weekend, then:
So there you have it. A lovely weekend, a perfect wedding, and a very deserving couple. Here’s to you, Moon and Mrs M: wishing you a long, happy and very giggly life together. Mwah!
Okay, so I apologise for the really long, tenuously linked title, but you just won’t believe this. No, you really won’t. So we’re tootling down the boat road with Bert yesterday and a splash of white on the grass verge catches my eye. ‘Oh look’, says I, ‘there’s a huge mushroom over there’. ‘Ooh’, says Hubby, I’m having that for my breakfast tomorrow’.
Well, dearest reader. You could have knocked me down with the downdraft from one of those little whirly seed things that fall off trees.
Me: ‘You’re going to eat something that grows on the same grass verge where Bertie pees?’
Himself: ‘Too right I am – look at it, it’s gorgeous’
Me: ‘Are you even sure it’s an edible mushroom?;
Himself: ‘Meh, course it is, it’s growing in a field isn’t it? It’s a field mushroom, obviously’
Me: ‘You are aware that we’re travelling to the United Kingdom tomorrow in order to attend my cousin’s wedding, and for you to die in between times would be of enormous inconvenience?’
Hubby: *sigh*. ‘It’s just a bloody mushroom.’
So I gave up. Hubby picked the mushroom and we walked home with me muttering ominously about food poisoning, weird hallucinatory trips, certain death and other such mushroom-induced phenomenon.
Anyhoo, this morning he cooked and ate the bloody thing. AND he fed it to the bottomless pit that is our oldest child (he didn’t tell me that bit – I was in the shower). In my defence, I did forcibly march him to the computer and make him google pictures and descriptions of edible mushrooms, and what to look out for in order to avoid killing oneself with dodgy self-harvested fungi.
And they’re both still alive. Fancy that, eh? Oh and don’t worry, I checked our life cover.
So our anniversary, then. I knew something was afoot as I told you yesterday when the boys were making vague mutterings about Daddy’s present being so much better than mine. And yes, okay, he won.
For this to make any sense to you, you’ll need a bit of background information. When Hubby and I got together, I’d already been married (a short-lived thing in my teens). My poor parents paid an extortionate amount of money for my first wedding, a fairytale church affair - we’re talking Laura Ashley wedding and bridesmaid dresses (well, it was the 80s – we had white stilettos too har de har!), a fantastic reception, the whole works – only to see it crash and burn in an embarrassingly short amount of time. With this fact still very much in mind, and being a teensy bit aware of the fact that I was already pregnant with #1, Hubby and I decided to just sneak off quietly to the registry office and do the deed. No parents, no friends, no beautiful wedding dress, no cake, no reception, and, frankly, no money. I had a ring, but it cost us £40 and was so thin it wore down to evil sharpness over the years and I’d stopped wearing it.
Over the years we’ve talked about it and really can’t work out why we didn’t at least have a party, and have often thought that we might like to do it all over again, but properly this time. Imagine my surprise, then, when after I’d handed over the obligatory bottle of aftershave, Hubby produced a teeny (the best kind), gold-wrapped box and I unwapped it to discover a brand new, beautifully chunky wedding ring. The conversation goes a little like this (tissues out, people):
Me: Wow! A new wedding ring. Thanks, I love it!
Hubby then takes my hand and grows suspiciously serious. #2, who is STILL not back at school, is suddenly very interested in the conversation:
Hubby: Would you marry me again properly?
Hubby: Well? Is that yes or no?
Me: Oh sorry I thought you were joking.
Hubby: Well, no actually. Let’s get married. This time next year, on our fifteenth anniversary. Properly. A blessing, a reception, a party… the works.
Me: Yay! Partay! Oops, I mean, yes of course
[Insert big hug here]
So there you have it. Blimey, we’re getting married.
So you might remember Gorgeous G, my rather lubly hairdresser. Truly scrumptious, very talented and – gasp! – not gay. After my foray into brown-ness, I toyed with a bit of ‘caramel’, a bit of ‘copper’ and even (big mistake) some reddish low-lights. I’m still feeling a bit brown and dull and I’m looking a bit, well, straggly. I just tie it up every day. This calls for a visit to G. We talk about his big day (he got to bed at 4.30am, that’s my kind of wedding) and he looks at my hair:
G: What you need is a beautiful, sleek blonde bob. It would look fabulous on you, I promise.
Me: Erm…I won’t look like a boy will I?
G: No, and what’s more, [teasingly] if you cut some of the ends off, it’ll be much healthier and you can have more highlights.
Me: Do it. Do it now.
So that’s how I come to have a rather sleek, terrifically shiny blonde bob, which I flick around in the rear view mirror all the way home, feeling rather sexy and come-hither. I flutter my eyelashes in the mirror too, until the man in the white van behind me starts laughing. Then I stop. I text Jen while I’m stuck in traffic. She approves. We have a nice texty conversation about how cool bobs are and how we’ve both wanted one for ages. I check the mirror again. Ooh, swingy. Then I get home and it all goes downhill:
Me: Ta da!
Hubby’s subconscious: Jesus she looks like a boy. Quick, say something nice.
Hubby: Erm…. Oh.
Hubby’s subconscious: Pathetic. Is that the best you can do?
Me: Well, what do you think?
Hubby’s subconscious: Don’t worry, it’ll grow, you’ll just have to fantasise a bit more about Jennifer Love-Hewitt when you’re getting it on, that’s all…
Hubby: Erm, it’s very nice…
Me: Oh. Don’t you like it?
Hubby’s subconscious: For God’s sake try to look enthusiastic, you’re giving us away.
Hubby: No, no, I do like it. It’s just a bit of a shock, that’s all.
Me (feeling suddenly less sexy and swingy): You don’t like it do you.
Hubbys subconscious: Now you’ve done it. You’ll have to lie. And quick.
Hubby: Yes, erm…. it’s lovely. I wonder what it’ll look like in the morning though…
Hubby’s subconscious: Doh!
Hubby: Well, you might not be able to get it as good as he did it.
Me (grabbing bottle of Merlot): You hate it don’t you. Why can’t you just tell the truth?
Hubby’s subconscious: Tsk. Pour the Merlot. It’s the least you can do now you’ve hurt her feelings.
So anyway, I’ve got a bob. And I like it. It’ll look lovely for Moon’s wedding – I’ve got a feather fascinator to put in it and everything. And Hubby? Well, I suppose it’ll grow on him eventually. Until then, there’s always Jennifer.