Monday, 24 October 2016

Thanksgiving (early)

My goodness, at the risk of boring you: look, it's me. AGAIN! I was thinking about Ann Voskamp the other day. It probably began with the thought of all the Christian books I never finish, hers included. This is not a criticism of the book, quite the opposite. I'll start a really good Christian book, get to the end of the first chapter and worthily think that I need to put what I've read into practice before I can read on. And that's it for another dusty addition to the unread pile.

Talking of dusty unread piles of books, I am worryingly behind on my Alphabet of Authors with an exciting dash to come before this year's end! I have, however, read some fabulous things. I digress.

Ann Voskamp. I loved reading her blog. It was one of the first blogs I followed. And for a while I did try to post on Mondays a list of things for which I was grateful that week and generally. I have just checked. I got to 834 out of the target 1000 on 1st July 2013. That's more than three years ago. I wonder can I get through 166 before this year's end...

835 Three years and three days ago I went back to work five days a week for the first time in six years. Working as a classroom assistant was supposed to be an experiment in getting back to full-time work, but 836 it has been an easy and very family-friendly post and I am still there.

837 Despite the stormy seas, or should I say skies, of Alan's aerospace company, he is also still there, and for that we are all most thankful.

838 In the last three years both boys have moved from Primary to Secondary school, the same one- for which I am very thankful! Not sure how much Jo likes being accosted all the time with people asking if he is Mattman's brother...

839 Mattman has had a difficult time with bullies, but continues to grow in resilience and confidence. We have recently been praying out of Daniel 3 that there will be no smell of smoke on him, no scars seen or unseen.

840 My parents have moved from their top of the hill, snowed in twice a winter house to a seaside apartment at the bottom of the hill. 841 My mother continues to cope brilliantly and stoically with the aftermath of a severe stroke, and 842 my father is still well enough to ensure that they can continue living independantly.

843 My brother is an absolute star; without each other's support the care of our parents would be a more stressful thing.

844 We moved back to a Presbyterian church around three years ago after six years of Prince Charming leading worship in a local Anglican-Methodist united congregation. We have been welcomed and loved and gathered into a wonderful circle of friends and fellowship.

845 Jo has lots of his research done for his Albert Einstein presentation, and 846 we are getting to the end of a fortnight of horrendously hard homework deadlines. But now he needs the computer. 154 to go. Might need some of 2017 too!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Secret Irish Scones Challenge

 Every year we have open house Mince Pies and Mulled Stuff on a Sunday afternoon, which is really our way of not sending Christmas cards. The larger than life Martin Edwards (not the crime writer) always brought Christmas scones, but would never tell us the recipe. Goodness, these scones were amazing. Dried fruit steeped in Christmas spirit and added to his scone mixture. Finally two of us wore him down and he relented. Anne has been making them ever since- the cinnamon ones too. I finally got around to it on Friday night, inspired by Simone's Friday Cake Bake which is back and which is one of my (many) favourite things in Blogtopia.
Now, in celebration of two posts in one month, I am going to share the secret Irish scone recipe with you, but keep it under your hand-crocheted hat. The hard thing about these scones, and believe me, this is hard, is that you have to work fast. Jo and I were ready. We had absolutely everything all lined up and ready to go. He even had a stopwatch to time the tricky part. So, here it is- word for word as I wrote it down that day on the first scrap of paper that came hastily to hand.

 In a "dry" bowl you need 2 lbs of soda bread flour and then an extra 1/4 lb. (These are Irish scones and I don't know how you're going to get soda bread flour.) This bowl also has 4 oz of sugar and an extra oz. In a "wet" bowl you have 3 eggs, beaten, and a pint of buttermilk. (These are Irish scones and I don't know how you are going to get buttermilk.)
 THIS IS THE HARD BIT: you quickly dump the wet bowl into the dry and from this point on you have three minutes to get the scones in the oven- which has been pre-heated to 220 degrees C. My fan oven needs slightly more than 20 lower than that.
 Fold the wet mixture in to the dry mixture and stir in 4 oz melted margarine. Quick, quick, quick.
 At this point you will be confidently putting the scone mixture on to your floured surface. At this point, I realized that because I had halved the mixture, having used some of the buttermilk last week, something in my calculations had gone unfortunately awry.
 So handful after handful of flour was thrown and whipped into my mixture until it resembled anything capable of being dolloped on to the floured surface instead of drooling all over the floor. Jo is jumping up and down in time-keeping panic behind the camera.
 So, as I said, put the scone mixture on to your floured surface and sprinkle flour on top. If this extra flour isn't the extra 1/4 lb of flour then I don't actually know what that extra flour is for. Nor can I help with the extra oz of sugar!
 Flatten mixture with hands to 1 inch. Cut into scones and re-squish. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Martin used a midwife analogy: if you roll the belly of the scones and it moves, it is not ready. Hmm.
 I was convinced that our scones would be inedible. They were not. After disastrous amounts and very dubious tummy rolling, they came out perfectly. We were both delighted- as was everyone else. Our half mixture made a large tin full of scones that gave us supper on Friday, snack on Saturday morning and afternoon tea with friends on Saturday afternoon.
I think I'll make full dose next time and try the cinnamon scones with the rest: when the mixture is rolled flat to 1 inch, sprinkle 2/3 with cinnamon and brown sugar, currants and squares of melted (?) butter. Swiss roll it, cut into 1 inch chunks, lay flat in baking tray. Freeze after cooking if desired. Other variations were 4 oz grated cheese/ generous handful Christmas fruit/basil and sun-dried tomatoes added to original 3 minutes mixture.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

To autumn around Belfast

What if "autumn" was a verb as well as a noun? If I talked about "springing" around Belfast that would have all sorts of energetic, full of life connotations that would not be inappropriate at all.
Well, despite the much lamented by me lack of blogging,we have been autumning around the city since last I typed, and it has all generally been very nice. We manged to get to the David Hockney exhibition before it closed, although I think the (three) boys were most impressed by the view of St Anne's Square from inside the Mac. That is actually my favourite part too!

Hockney has very special significance for me. I'm afraid it's less to do with his undoubted genius and more to do with the weeks my aunt and godmother summered me round London and its exhibitions. It was also very, very lovely to see some of the iPad work that Catherine and I saw on our Utter Jolly to Biarritz and the Guggenheim, Bilbao a few years ago.

Is this Hockney's mother? I very much identified with the slightly slumped resignation. Maybe the good lady wasn't feeling a bit weary, but as the autumn pulls on the rope towards dark and cold, I am certainly starting to flag!
 Last week at Hookery we had a very special night, because of an on-going and hitherto top secret special project. I didn't get much further than the chaise longue!

And so to last weekend. Brisk and bracing walk along Belfast Lough. The engineer inspects the machinations of a new fountain installation.

The boys carried their penny boards (penny boards?) in between places of sufficiently smooth, flat surfaces for a decent whatever the word would be. Look at the height of those boys!

I wondered if Sandra will be able to spot her wind turbines on the other side of the Lough? It should certainly be a familiar sight to Kezzie! I'm afraid I've only ever sailed it on a car ferry, and not on one of the luxurious cruise liners that still make us smile wryly at the benefits of The Peace.

This is Hazelbank Park- which has a little avenue of fruit trees: apples and pears. The boys were most disgruntled at finding traces of fermenting fruit under their feet. I am sure that this attention to new shoes will not last.
Prince Charming did some foraging, and we'd need to get some stewing done before we have some fermenting of our own. Not that would necessarily be a bad thing either...

And that is probably the height of it- except of course that the main event has not yet been covered. I keep waiting for the perfect moment to overwhelm me, but it never comes. So, Sandra's wonderful, lovely jaunt North as part of her recent trip to Ireland will have to push its way through the domestic mire very soon. What a fabulous weekend it was!

And so there we go. Mise had a truly beautiful piece on how much less blogging there is around now. I wish I was still blogging lots and lots. There is just so very little of interest here to share. It's all two boys at Big School now and the homework that it entails, and it entails a lot. It's having to have a list to remind you of what laundry to do when, and what nights to think about PE kit, Games kit, violin, guitar, Drama. It's always knowing that there is so much more you could be doing for x and y and z. It's about never ever ever getting around to making more leaves for the autumn garland, tidying my room, or applying more moisturiser!

It's mundane and it's domestic and it's so non-photogenic! That's how I autumn just now! You'll have to imagine the gorgeous golden light in the gorgeous golden trees and the gorgeous golden heads of my boys busying away on the floor, because Mum is at the desk.

Happy October!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

1st September

 Well, here we go- or rather here we have gone. We're all back to school. New black shoes have veiled their pristine shine with grass. The alarm clock remembers what it is to ring in vain. Timetables are tacked to shelves filling nicely now with folders and books. The season has turned!
 Would somebody with agricultural authority tell my pear tree that the season has turned. A bit of mellow fruitfulness, please. The poor thing is definitely being rehoused soon in a much more sensible spot.
 Can you see the raindrops chatting to the daisy heads? If I was Pom Pom, they would be bathed in sunshine, despite the rain. End of summer in the Frozen North- chilly mornings and evenings, chilly afternoons now too.
 We love our chestnut tree. Look at all the conkers groaning. There will be a carpet of fun soon to cheer them up soon.

 While we worked with the silks on Monday, some Corrymeela volunteers looked after our children. They were so good at finding dreamy things for them to do too. Jo's dreamcatcher is going up to his bedroom soon- as he is rightly points out, that's where he does his dreaming.
We haven't quite decided where my dream is going. Kitchen or book room? Prince Charming says I should hang it where I do most of my dreaming. Tough choice!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Dreaming in silk

On Bank Holiday Monday, Catherine and I ran a creative retreat up at Corrymeela. Silk artist, Pauline Edmiston, who works with the Church of Scotland, used the silks to lead us through a reflection on our dreams and prayers in the morning, and then we made our own individual silk piece after lunch. It was an extraordinary day. Lots of photos below, but here is a link to our Hookery blog where Heather writes of her experiences on the day. I can't put it any better.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Crusty Lemon Butter Bake

Mags has asked me to guest blog here, so...

A couple of weeks ago I needed to bring a cake to a friend's. I fancied some lemon cake so I dug out my favourite drizzle recipe. It has to be one of the easiest cake recipes I have and was very kindly given to me 31 years ago by one of the grandmothers of my boyfriend at the time, Gran Caster.

Crusty Lemon Butter Bake was the title of the recipe and although it is a drizzle it will always be a Crusty Lemon Butter Bake to me.

The following week Mags visited and I whipped it up again, and you can tell from her comments in previous blog posts she quite enjoyed it. I'm not sure if Mary & Paul would have been happy to have this produced for the signature bake in this week's GBBO as it is so simple  - but I know they would have enjoyed eating it.

I'm considering a Gin & Lime topping, but haven't tried it yet.

So here is the recipe in all its simple glory:

Crusty Lemon Butter Bake – Gran Caster

6oz /170g  butter
6oz/ 170g caster sugar
2 eggs
6oz / 170g SR flour

4oz / 115g caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon 

  1. Preheat oven to 180⁰C/ 160⁰C  fan/ 350⁰F / GM4
  2. butter and line 14” x 9” tin (flatter with more crunchy topping) or 8” square (deeper cake)
  3. Melt butter in large bowl
  4. stir in sugar
  5. beat eggs in separate bowl
  6. stir eggs into butter/sugar mix with flour – don’t over mix
  7. tip into tin bake for 40 mins
  8. dissolve caster sugar in lemon juice
  9. spread lemon paste over top of hot sponge
  10. leave in tin til cold, cut into 16 squares

 Happy Baking

A promise of a recipe

The wonderful Niqi has agreed to do a guest post- and what a perfect time to talk about lemon drizzle cake, with that first episode of the new Great British Bake Off series kicking off with all those very extremely interesting drizzles.

Niqi is just as interested as me in the G & T version... She will be with you very soon!