Fiction Friday

Late again.

But this has been an unexpectedly, and unremittingly, grim week.

The snow we woke up to this morning seemed most apt.

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The silence. The sense of waiting.

The meditation has been put on hold.

Too much stuff in my head for now.

And given that my zaku meditation cushion seems to have morphed into a PS4 gaming chair

And is now a bit sticky

That may be a Good Thing

This Week I Have Mostly Been Reading

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.

The tale of Peter, sent as a missionary to a newly colonised world, to bring the Word of God to the original inhabitants of the new world. Also the tale of his wife Bea, left behind on Earth to carry on with normal life whilst Peter follows his vocation.

Only “normal” quickly disappears in the wake of environmental and economic disasters and subsequent societal breakdown.

It is a fascinating portrayal of the difficulties and vicissitudes of a long distance relationship.

The selfishness that (otherwise caring, loving) people can exhibit when focused on their own goals.

Or beliefs.

At times (many times), this is a somewhat bleak treatment on the nature of faith.
How much of that faith is dependent on believing it is part of a reciprocal arrangement. “I’ll believe in you, if you’ll give me x,y and z in return”.
And how quickly that faith can crumble when the rewards aren’t forthcoming.

I loved the portrayal of the indigenous people. How they changed from an amorphous collective, into loveable individuals as Peter came to know them, live and work with them.
How in many ways their childlike faith was stronger, more uncompromising, than Peter and Beas.

The writing is excellent.

Next Week I Shall Mostly be Reading

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The tale of a kick-ass librarian, sent to alternate realities to retrieve rare books and manuscripts.

How could I not read this?

Lara Croft, tome raider.

Ha!

(Sorry) 🙂

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Ay Caramba

Youngest child has a new topic to research for school.

Mexico and the Aztecs.

Unfortunately, the opportunities for field trips to bring this particular topic alive are somewhat limited here in the depths of the Midlands.

And after spending several hours with her doing ‘research’ on Google, -which seemed to involve looking at countless pictures of guinea pigs wearing sombreros (yes, really), something a bit more hands-on and rewarding was needed.

If only to stop me prising my own eyeballs out…

So what is Mexico famous for?

Chocolate

And what better educational thing to attempt on a blustery January Sunday afternoon that Mexican hot chocolate?

Pour 500ml of milk into a pan and add 100g of grated plain chocolate, 2 tsp of vanilla essence and 1 tsp of honey.

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Heat the chocolatey, milky mixture – but do not boil.

Mix 1 tbsp of corn flour with 4tbsp cold water.

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When the chocolate has melted into the milk add the cornflour mixture to the pan and stir vigorously

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Once the chocolate has started to thicken, pour into mugs, sprinkle cinnamon on top and serve.

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And if you happen to have a Flake handy to dunk in the thick, hot, chocolatey gloop, well then, even better 🙂

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Yummy and educational.

Well the Aztecs did believe that chocolate was a gift from the god of knowledge, and who are we to argue?

🙂

Oop north again

Another weekend away.

This time visiting Averil ( of the Calendar Customs web site fame) and John. (Hi Averil and John 🙂 )

The journey up north, on a Friday, is always horrendous.

This time was no exception – nose to tail traffic, roadworks, fog. Lovely.

But we do have something en route to look forward to.

It’s a tradition.

We stop at the Heston Blumenthaled Little Chef on the A1 and visit the moo-ing loos.

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The loo ceiling is painted to look like a sunny day. And the toilets gently moo and baa at you as you relax to the sound of a stream gurgling in the background.

It really should be a tourist destination in its own right.

Saturday the boys stayed home for a mammoth board gaming session whilst Averil, Youngest Child and I caught the bus into Newcastle to try and wrestle up a bit of festive spirit.

Fenwicks Christmas window.

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You cannot see this and not feel like Christmas is just around the corner.

Youngest Child then attempted to eat her way around the world with Sushi for lunch followed by a Freshly cooked crepe from the French creperie in the Grainger market, followed by macarons from the French artisan baker, followed by bubble tea in Newcastles China town

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By the time we’d also gone down to see the revamped Quayside (not a dodgy nightclub in sight)

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St Nicholas cathedral

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And the disturbing vampire rabbit

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We were just about able to stagger back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Corbridge.

And I even heard a “bobby dazzler” and an “oh la la” during our wanderings

Perfect 🙂

Remember

It’s funny how the things right on your doorstep are the things you cease to notice.

Youngest child had a homework assignment to find out about Warwick, our County town and right next door to Leamington.

I can’t remember the last time I actually visited Warwick as opposed to driving through it to get somewhere else.

It was a beautiful day yesterday.

The sky was blue

The sun was shining

The air was crisp and cool.

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We arrived just in time to watch the Remembrance Sunday service at the War Memorial near St Mary’s Church

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Beautiful and moving.

The gun shots scared a flock of birds that had been roosting in the church tower, and they swirled overhead throughout the service

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I tried to explain freemasonry to youngest child as we passed the Warwick Lodge

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But the more I explained the less it actually made sense 🙂

The veterans from The Lord Leycester Hospital were at the Remembrance Day service in their finery, so we went to admire the Hospital

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And then warm up in their tea room

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Damn fine coffee 🙂

Our tour finished with a trip to St Mary’s to admire the Beauchamp chapel with it’s superb monuments, possibly amongst my favourite group of dead people in the country

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And a final view over the river to Warwick Castle

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History, pageantry, memory and memorials.

A perfect winter Sunday.

Boo

Happy Dia de Los Muertos, happy Halloween. Samhain greetings.

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There were a few surprised faces when I answered the door yesterday.

And that was before I applied the make up (ba boom)

Five hyped up 8/9 year old girls.

And three trying to be cool but also actually quite hyped up nearly teenage boys.

I was ready for bed by 9.30.

But they were still going at 1am.

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A bowl of eyeballs

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Apple bobbing

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Red velvet blood cakes ready for decorating

And

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Death by chocolate cake.

The streets were packed with trick or treaters.

But I think the noise levels from our small group of girls outdid the rest of them put together.

Ears were bleeding 🙂

May your Winter to come be a snug and cosy one.

Chilly

Woke up to a very excited older child who was keen to show me this

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Frost on his bathroom window.

And I realised that, with the seemingly universal use of central heating nowadays, I couldn’t remember the last time Jack Frost had been busy on our (or anyone else’s) windows.

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You forget how beautiful it can be.

But I do vividly remember the horror of stepping out of bed on a cold winters morning when the only heating was the coal fire downstairs.

Brrrrr.

Crisis

In my pantry I have 5 different types of herbal tea.

Not counting the green chai tea which barely counts as an edible foodstuff.

I’ve started yoga.

And on Tuesday I bought Cat Stevens greatest hits.

Which only brings me to conclude that in a metamorphosis on a par with Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, I am turning into Neil from The Young Ones.

Man.

Ooop North

A long overdue trip to see friends.

We met half way at a pretty little Peak District town called Crompton, site of the revolutionary Arkwright Mills. The Mills are picturesque now, with a very nice tea shop 🙂

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This photo was taken a couple of seconds before the sky darkened in a threatening and frankly slightly scary way, a few more seconds before lightning split the heavens, and a further few moments before hail stones the size of frogs sent us shrieking to the car.

Gives a whole new meaning to the “dark, satanic” imagery.

We took shelter in Scarthin Books, which is a fabulous bookshop (new books! Second hand books! Coffee shop!) also in Cromford, before heading up to Sheffield where our friends live.

We ate lots, drank lots and talked lots.

Quite the perfect weekend 🙂

We also tracked down this place

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This used to be Cherrytree Orphanage.

When my maternal grandmother died and my maternal grandfather enlisted, the children were placed in this orphanage as there were no other family members willing or able to look after them. My Mum used to talk about how happy she was there and how nice the staff were. It is also the place where she got her first and only doll.

I hope that seeing a photo of this place will help touch some deeply stored memories….

Streuth

First day back at work after the Christmas holidays.

Waaaaahhhh.

The feeling of dread the night before.

The painful peeling open of the eyes after nearly three weeks of (comparative) lie-ins.

Another day of rain.

It was not good. Not good at all.

The slough of despond threatened to take over this evening as well, but I thought, “NO! begone ye curmudgeonly beast, I will not surrender to your glumness and gloom”.

We need Nuts.

And chocolate

And a little bit of sour cream.

And suddenly…

It was a bright, bright sunshiny day.

Well, not quite, but you get the idea.

White Chocolate and Nut Streusel Cake

A bit more involved, this recipe, but I find that helps when you’re looking for a distraction

Preheat your oven to Gas 4.

For the crumble combine 175g brown sugar (I used a mix of light brown and light muscovado as that’s all I had in the pantry), 2tsp ground cinnamon, and 50g of butter. Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs then add 115g chopped nuts -I used a combination of pecans and walnuts as, again, that’s what was in the cupboard.
In a separate bowl cream 115g butter with 150g granulated sugar then add 3 eggs and beat well.
In yet another bowl sift together 175g plain flour with 1tsp bicarbonate of soda and 1tsp baking powder. Sift from a height to get maximum air into the mix.
Fold 1/3 of the flour mix into the butter mix,

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then add 85ml sour cream and fold in

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followed by 20g grated white chocolate. Repeat these steps twice more until all the ingredients are mixed together.

Line a square cake tin with grease proof paper and then grease the grease proof paper.

Pour half of the batter into the tin and then put half of the crumble on top. Add the other half of the batter

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and then top with the other half of the crumble.

Bake for about an hour.

Let it stand until nearly cooled then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Slice into squares.

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Beat the children off with a big stick to stop them snaffling the whole lot.

Have a long sit down to recover from the shock of baking something that both children want to eat.

An Epiphany

Epiphany. And so it’s all over with for another year. I hope you and yours had a lovely Christmas and New Year 🙂

January is traditionally a time to take stock and reflect on what has been and where you want your life to go in the future.

On reflection:

1: I don’t think I’ll make Figgy Pudding again. 8 hours to steam first time around. Plus 2 hours to steam to eat it on the day. It was fine if a little, um, wholesome.

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Lets just say that with all those figs it can certainly kick start the post Christmas weight loss regime…….

2: Getting a Kindle for my birthday? It’s like taking an alcoholic on a booze cruise.

Happy New Year!