Wednesday 31 December 2008

On Treacle Tart and Other Matters

Treacle Tart is a recipe that I associate with my mother.
It is not a complicated recipe
but my mother makes wonderful pastry
and the combination of crisp pastry
and slightly sticky, sweet filling is perfect.
Eat it slightly warm and with lashings of cream
after roast beef and horseradish sauce
and then you have had a real English Sunday Lunch.
Just the sort of cooking that should remind you of home.

I have lost my way with cooking recently.
It used to come so naturally that I hardly thought about it
but I struggle to find the enthusiasm after a day at work.

I must find a way to reincorporate it into my life
because I don't want my family to associate me
with the taste of a ready meal.

I have a shelf of wonderful cookbooks
and access to a fruit and vegetable market;
farmers shops and excellent supermarkets
and so I have no excuse.

This will be my most important New Years Resolution:
to rediscover my pleasure in cooking
and practice until it becomes second nature again.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Through the Trees

MrsM and MissM walk through the pine woods

to the silent, silvery lake.

It is not far to walk

but they have not been there for a while.

Every turn of the path holds happy memories.

Monday 29 December 2008

Cherry Tomatoes

Sunday afternoon:

MrM is replacing fence panels with the next door neighbour;
MasterM has arrived home from last night's party;
MissM is still discovering features on her iPod Touch

and I am briefly distracted
by cherry tomatoes in a green glass bowl
while I make Lasagne for supper.

This is the first meal that I have cooked
for days and it feels good
to be looking after my family again.

Saturday 27 December 2008

MasterM and the Sugar Mice

MasterM entertains us with tales from the shop floor.

"So...on Christmas Eve
I went down to the store room
and brought up three boxes of sugar mice.
I am telling you I felt just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

When I got back to the Confectionery Island
there was a little girl there with her father.
She really wanted to buy some Aniseed balls ...
but you know, they are really hard
and her father didn't want her to buy them.

So I said
"I am afraid that if you eat aniseed balls
you will never be a ballerina"

At this point MasterM does a passable imitation
of a little girl looking at him with big sad eyes.

So then I said
"What about a pink sugar mouse?

Shall I tell you a secret?
Do you know why the cheese counter has to be downstairs?
It is because if it was upstairs
all the sugar mice would get too excited"

Apparently, she bought the sugar mice.

Pictures from The Pied Piper of Hamelin
by Robert Browning
Illustrated by Kate Greenaway
London: Frederick Warne and Co., Ltd., 1888
Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Friday 26 December 2008

I had a dream...

I have had 'flu this Christmas.
I don't recommend it.
This was the real deal
where you look and feel as though
you have done 10 rounds in a heavyweight boxing match.

On Christmas night I slept feverishly,
floating on a sea of Lemsip Max.
In the middle of the night
I had a moment of terrifying clarity:

I had forgotten to buy any presents for little Joshua.

I saw his trusting, jolly seven year old face
and I knew that this experience would scar him for life.
He would remember going down stairs on Christmas morning
and finding an empty stocking
until he was an old man.

He would sit in therapy as an adult
and agree with the therapist
that this moment defined him
and separated him from people who were
loved by their parents.

How could it have happened?
How could I have been so busy that I forgot
to buy any presents for my own child?

I lay there and racked my brain for emergency presents;
a spare calendar with pictures of Geisha,
a box of chocolates from work
a pound coin,
a tangerine.

In the end it was all too much for me
and I fell asleep.

When I woke on Christmas morning
my first thought was of little Joshua.

The overpowering sense of relief when I realised
that I did not have a seven year old called Joshua
who would be going downstairs to discover an empty stocking
was possibly the best gift of all.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Christmas Cards

One of my quiet pleasures at Christmas
is arranging the cards as they arrive.

I stick them to our door frames
and they make the house look instantly festive.
I love to make the arrangement pleasing to the eye
and so I try to balance colour, size and theme.

Every year we get a few cards that are extra special:

This was from one of the Little Girl Cousins.

This was from a friend who has just become a grandmother.

Sometimes I keep very special ones from previous years.

I love this image of a house...
it captures the dream of the perfect Christmas home.

I bought this one because the design appealed to me.
I would have used it for my own cards
if there had been more than one box left in the shop.

Instead, it is my virtual card to you

I wish you all a peaceful Christmas
full of quiet pleasures and happy memories

Saturday 20 December 2008

Christmas Shopping

Why are MrsM and MissM and Kristina
loitering around the bookstall on the South Bank?

Don't they know it is Christmas!
There is so much to do!

Food! Decorations! Presents! Wrapping!
Have they no sense of their responsibilities?

MrsM sees the ideal Christmas present...

but Kristina is not convinced.

MissM starts arranging the books
so that the covers match.

We could be here a little while.

It must be time for tea.


p.s. look what came home with us...
thank you, Kristina, they were delicious!

Thursday 18 December 2008

Checking off the list.

MissM and MrsM spend a companionable evening
writing Christmas cards.
This year, for the first time,
the envelopes will be addressed in
MissM's small, neat handwriting.
MrsM explains the subtleties of addressing envelopes
to take account of all
the combinations of family circumstances.

MissM is impressed.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Just for the Record

A black cat sits and waits for me to walk past
and then slowly and deliberately walks in front of me.
I feel lucky today.

The chocolate tart at the Department Christmas Lunch
is the lightest of mousse
on top of a thin layer of Florentine.

A small granddaughter arrives for
the Children's Christmas Party.
She sparkles with sequins and smiles.

Why is this student is wearing a long black coat.
And black sunglasses.
And a white, furry hood with earflaps and bobbles?
Think Mafia meets Bugs Bunny.

There is a man outside my office doing T'ai Chi.
It is extraordinary how much he can do
balanced on one leg.

I receive an apology for a missed meeting
"I was queuing at the Libyan Embassy.
They had run out of stickers"

Colleagues email from Venice.
It is flooded and they need a boat
to take them to a restaurant.
Poor things.

What is the correct way to address a student
dressed as a Father Christmas Dog?

I am told that the office doorstop which I inherited
is a chunk of Volcanic Lava from Iceland.
It is, apparently, 'very mobile'.

The December page of the Student Naked Calendar
is slightly too fresh for the Reception
and is covered with strategic Post-It notes.

MrM wins £50 in the Premium Bonds.
He generously agrees to go 'halfy/halfy' with me...
(on the basis that if I win £1 million he wants a share)

Somehow I have made it
to end of the first term
in my new job.
I am exhausted.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Look Away Now...


I went back to the shop


And tried on The Gilet.

(insert primal scream here)

It made me look like a grubby snowman.

(scream again...go on...share my pain)


Oh No!!

I realised that MissM KNEW how bad I would look
and because she is so kind and sweet natured
she decided not to undermine my confidence.


The HUMILIATION is so great,
so all-encompassing,
that I may not go shopping for clothes again


Monday 15 December 2008

(before blogging)

Two years ago my world was very different.

I did not wrap cookies in cellophane
and tie with a recycled ribbon.
(please note my first tentative steps into 'thrifting')

I did not own a set of red cross stitch Christmas napkins
(what do you mean - did I sew them myself - are you mad?)

I would not have considered stringing cranberries
to make garlands for my wreath.
(I am not saying that I have actually DONE this)

I would not have taken photos of my Sunday dinner.
(just in case you were wondering
we had a choice of chocolates for dessert)

I did not know Ali
and would not have stopped to have tea
in her wonderfully festive house.

Such are the unexpected gifts that blogging brings.

Sunday 14 December 2008

MasterM, Chocolatier

Why is MrsM photographing this small
(but very expensive)
box of chocolates?

Why is she enchanted by
the beautifully tied bow?

Why is she impressed by
the immaculate placement of the sticky label?

Why is she thrilled by
the careful packing of the chocolates?

Could it be...

because she knows the person who sold the chocolate?

Saturday 13 December 2008

Advent Carols by Candlelight

It is perishing cold.

Behind us an Archbishop waits for Eternity,
magnificent in his marble robes.
Around us the medieval splendour of the Cathedral:
columns, arches, gilding, fretwork.
For a moment this icy space is dark and silent
and the draught from the oak door
curls around our necks, freezing the warm skin.
Then the first candles are lit
and the light passes from one person to the next.
Two and a half thousand candles create a warm amber glow
and the voices of the choir rise
out of that light into the darkness.

There is a flower sprung of a tree
The root thereof is called Jesse
A flower of price:
There is none such in paradise.

This flower is fair and fresh of hue,
It fadeth never, but ever is new;
The blessed branch this flower on grew
Was Mary mild that bare Jesu;
A flower of grace:
Against all sorrow it is solace.

"There is a Flower" by John Rutter

Christmas has begun.

Thursday 11 December 2008

The Benefits of a Classical Education

MasterM and his pals are enjoying a beverage or two
in their favourite hostelry which we shall call
'The Hopping Elephant'.

They decide to text the young Latin teacher
who is known to live nearby and invite him for a drink.

Imagine the scene:
5 young lads clustered around a mobile phone
composing a suitable text message in Latin.
Sadly, the young Latin teacher could not join them
because he was writing school reports "ut semper*".

(It is good to know that MasterM's education was not wasted.)

*as always

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Satin Blue Sky

Each morning I stand at the open door
and breathe the bright, cold air
and look eastwards towards the satin blue sky

and pause.

I never, ever forget
how fortunate I am
to see the sun rise.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Signs of Temptation

I am not normally rebellious
but sometimes the urge overcomes me.

I would normally close a door quietly
but presented with a choice I might change my mind...

No prizes for guessing what I am thinking
as I walk past this...

And here is my ultimate temptation...

It is the only time in my life that I have considered smoking.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Happy Birthday, MasterM

This year MasterM has learned:

That his sister really appreciates a phone call
because she misses him a lot.

That his father will drive to London
in the middle of the night to collect him.

That he can open beer bottles with his eye socket
which is good for impressing girls...
unless they are ophthalmologists.

That if he insists on wearing a copper bangle
through metal detectors he can expect to get
undivided attention from the security guards.

That it is possible to read 37 post-1945 plays in 12 days.

That hard work brings good results.

That it is possible to look handsome
in tights and knee breeches.

That his mother will still be cross six weeks later
if he takes the top of her toothpaste tube to South Africa
and leaves his bunged up lid in exchange.

That dirty laundry does not walk downstairs by itself.

That it is better to use a sharp razor
when shaving for a job interview.

That his dog adores him.
(Actually, he knew that anyway)

That his mother will look shocked if he says
that he does not want a Birthday Cake.

We are going out to a South African restaurant instead.

Monday 1 December 2008

A Lot of Fuss

When I woke up I thought:

Today I will make flapjacks

because it is cold
because MasterM likes them
because I have not made them for a long time.

And I thought about it all day

But I kept putting it off
because I thought I didn't have enough time
and there were more important things to do

And when I finally made them
at 9.45pm it took 5 minutes.

Flapjacks are No Big Deal.

And I cut them into bar shapes
because that is what my mother does.