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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fresh Tarts

About 35 years ago there was a fuel crisis because the price of oil rocketed. This was caused by the OPEC countries limiting oil production and controlling world prices. England went into "home rule" and there was a standard 50mph limit so that we all drove at optimum fuel use. There were shortages and long queues at petrol stations and you were lucky to get served before it ran out.
During this time my sister owned a Triumph Herald and on a visit home from Australia we embarked in her trusty vehicle on a 50mph journey north to my Granny's in Durham. A journey of nearly 250 miles. We stopped overnight at "The Angel" in Hull and had a lovely B&B at the pub with a shower cubicle in the room and a dinner in the Snug. HALIBUT. Real halibut steaks with a fresh prawn sauce. I can still taste it. On arrival at Granny's we were welcomed by the roaring fire and a cuppa. Granny never had coffee and in her cupboard was the small jar you had left behind last time. It had usually congealed. So Trish and I arrived with eggs, milk, bread, bacon and stuff like that .
That particular visit, we went to Seaham Harbour. There was a second hand shop and I bought a fancy dinner plate. It was a pound. I have had it ever since. It has been to Oz and back and here it is showing off my mini mince pies.
Laura at Amongst the Oaks makes the most wonderful biscuits and I was so moved by her efforts that I have tried to improve my own. I made a batch of these the other day but they weren't worthy of posting. Today I made some more and am more pleased with them but they still rank as quite rustic. You may also notice that there are only eleven.
Yes, Dear Reader, one had to be dug out of the teflon tray and eaten by me with a teaspoon. It was yummy.
Cheers Gillian

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Cooks

I've always been a "Delia" fan. I have a 1976 edition paperback of her "How to Cheat at Cooking" and treasure it more than any first edition 1971...(well not really). But I have used it for many decades. I should have "short cut" as my middle name.
I'm watching Nigella tonight. She is good but not my favourite. I adore Rick Stein, Nick Cairn and many other British cooks, but I miss Kylie Kwong, Stephanie Alexander and other Aussie Cooks.
I certainly feel that my foodie ability has been enhanced by my time in Oz. Let's face it, there aren't many countries which can offer foods from tropical to sub-arctic origins at a full range of time spans/seasons.
I miss the availability of produce and ingredients that was available in Australia all year round and not dragged in from Africa but I never cease to be amazed by the "Ready Meal" varieties available here in the UK. BUT I have discovered that you can keep the next spare milk on the doorstep because it will be fresh when you want it even though it doesn't fit in the fridge.
Thanks DJ
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow Shenanigans

At last the bengal "Princess Meeka Silver Glitz" has put herself to bed. Oh how precious she is about the snow! Three solid hours of manic behaviour preceded these ablutions.
I must admit she has a right to be mistrustful of the catflap since it froze shut a couple of nights ago while she was out hunting for non-dormant rodents. When DJ got up to make an early cuppa she was outside, leaning on it with both front paws and wailing like a banshee at him.

We have now sprayed it with de-icer and it seems to be swinging freely. It is regularly checked by her humble servants. She gingerly accepted an exit through the front door instead, first thing this morning, into the virgin snow from last night and tip-toed around the garden a bit, but decided she didn't like it and beat a hasty retreat indoors to continue demolishing the windowsill decorations.

She usually sits on the windowsills to keep an eye on the jackdaws which tease her from the overhead wires. She decided the tinsel was in the way and selected the mini crackers as well worth destroying.Almost too fast for the camera, she systematically culled half a dozen from two windowsills and the bookcase the little tree is on, and then tossed them about the sitting room, doing death leaps onto them from behind various bits of furniture.

At last she decided to give the catflap a go. She went in and out a few times, probably to test it and ran towards the end shed where her litter tray is and then back again to make sure it STILL worked and then....
again and....
Until there was quite a worn path and then she ignored her litter tray and dug a little hole in the snow. Greatly relieved she eventually returned to catch up on her sleep.
Tigger's favourite method of drinking is to sit at the kitchen sink and catch the dribbles as they fall from the tap. In order to improve hygiene I bought her a pet-drinking-fountain for Christmas. It has been ignored. Okay, so maybe it resembles the toilet but she has been known to drink from that too. Maybe she'll get desperate enough to use it soon. It hums a bit but I'd happily put up with that if she adopted it. Otherwise it has been an expensive and ugly addition to her corner of the kitchen.

I made mince pies last night and was pleased with my pastry which I haven't made for years. I have got lazy and purchase the readymade stuff, but the homemade was lovely enough to make the effort. I shall make more for Christmas because I'll need to after scoffing last night's batch. I mixed some marmalade into the mince and am enjoying the flavour so much it shall become a regular thing. It seems to take the slightly metallic taste out of the readymade mincemeat. I have made my own mincemeat before but it is meant to mature for a few weeks so I resorted to Asda's luxury blend. Great all round. Pics next time when I take more care with the tops and dust them with newly bought icing sugar.

Cheers Gillian

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


If you want to embellish your handmade cards with bells, think again.
In the first place they are so "dead tasteful" that I should have thought better of it. But I had already started with stick-on rhinestones (actually, I like them and may use them again) which lift the paintings from poor attempts at art to true seasonal crafts.
But then, when you get to the post office, they try to slip them through the "letter gauge". Oops, they don't fit and you have to pay small packet rate for your shoddy homemade cards.
I'll be surprised if the bells stay on all the way to their destinations.
The very first christmas cake ever cooked by me, is in the oven. According to Delia, the Goddess of Cooking, I'm not allowed to open the oven door until 5pm....even for a teeny peep. It's like cooking a yorkshire but costs more.
The washing up was horrendous....three large bowls, two small ones, electric beaters, whisks, measuring spoons and more. All for a 6inch square cake.

A buzzer has it early? shall I peep?

Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 13 December 2009


I had christmas-baubles as a theme for this Christmas and so I post on that theme........
I bought some bits and pieces which "finished" the cards I was assembling. I painted some vignettes and then bought some card blanks, trimmings and glue and put it all together. I painted little pics and made them look like tree-baubles. I stuck on peel-off greetings
I added little bells and ribbons at the top and then I pressed on stick-on rhinestones

I painted some of them in my landscape "style" and others were not any notable style so they got stick-on diamonds and stars and other gold stuff.

IT worked. I'm thrilled with the results and will send them off soon . If I know your address you might get one.

Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Christmas Decorations

I know some people manage to keep their poinsettias going from one Christmas to the next but I don't have a great deal of success with indoor plants. Poinsettias show their disdain for their new home by fading and shedding their green and red leaves as soon as my back is turned. I water them and it happens. I don't water them and it happens. I realise it is something to do with the temperature of the house but I do like to be warm, so the poinsettias lose out. Anyway, at the moment there are more poinsettias at the supermarket than litres of milk and they cost the same so I bought a few more!!! They seem to like to be in huddles of hundreds but it was three for £5, so three more came home to replace the two, fast-fading ones. Unfortunately, they don't fit in the fridge like the milk does even though they would probably prefer that sort of environment.

This is one of the old survivors and oops! a leaf fell off as I wrote this!!! Perhaps they don't like exclamation marks!!!!!

It would be tragic to allow me to treat real Christmas trees to the same central heating temperature, so I invested in a tinsel tree. I'm fond of Wilkos at the moment. It seems to have replaced Woolworths for many items and is easy to use and the staff are really friendly. I came home from Wilkos with this little GOLD tinsel job (not much point having a faux GREEN one) which has LED fibre-optic ends to the branches and they change colours beautifully. I tried to take pics of the different colours but they blur, so the blue will have to do. It looks really lovely in the sitting room and has been much admired by DJ and me, in fact, nearly as much as the new telly.

At WI a few weeks ago we got to paint ceramic blanks, which the tutor took away to glaze and fire. This much improved the overall look of the item but my "snowman" xmas-tree bauble still has an alarmingly grizzly look about him. I've secreted him amongst the lower branches where he is dazzled by the fibre-optics. The other two..."xmas tree bauble" and "holly bauble" are buried more deeply into the tinsel "foliage" for good reasons. If I had a child who came home from kinder with them I would have been proud. Me...I'm 61 and should be able to do better!

Aaaargh!!!The front door has been a bit breezy lately and so a door-curtain has been hung to exclude the cold wafts of air. DJ did the pole and I did the sewing. It only took a couple of hours. It's great to have that teamwork. It is simply whisked across a pole as the evening draws in (or is it "on"). It is so successful that the doors to the kitchen and sitting room have now been removed by DJ and stored in the shed. The whole downstairs is now a lovely warm open space.

My foot is doing really own non-medical opinion...and the stitches will come out on Friday. I have been obliged to keep the same dressing on all that time. I bath with the left leg dangling over the side of the bath. Tis fine and well and easy to do. I can see the bruising changing colours as the other toes peep out, but the big toe is well wrapped and out of bounds. I can move it up and down without pain. So..., I want to be able to drive again... VERY SOON. Maybe Saturday 19th

Cheers Gillian

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Yard For Yard

There has been some work done on the garden since moving in. The overgrowth, which looked endearing at a distance, was in fact pulling the facade of the house and the gutters off. A couple of devil-may-care lads with long ladders took that away in a couple of days. Here it is in progress. One of the lads did dreadful damage to the fingers of his left hand the next week, being reckless with a chainsaw in someone else's garden.Many months and 65tons of excavation later; the correct garden levels were exposed along with two manhole covers, the underfloor ventilation, the damp course and the previously permanently blocked grey-water drain. The drain was so badly blocked, it could not be rodded like the rest of the drain system and so had to be replaced. Water now drains away before I go shopping rather than later ...much later...when I have returned.
The first part of the paving is shown above. It is decorative and should not be used to carry the weight of a car but...
this area will be covered with blocks in sand and cars will be able to be driven in and parked.

In fact here comes D to park his car even though there is still work to be done on the gates!

This is now the view from where the gates will be. It is a bit bare but will soon benefit from next year's spring growth and new planters. In fact , I'm already planning for more plants than I have space but we will see how it goes.
Cheers Gillian

Striding Off

I show off the new TV which I shall watch a lot in the next few weeks, while my toe rests. Striding about is off the agenda for a while. I had a bony accumulation on my left big toe and it hurt when I walk, strode the fells or used the clutch a lot. Sometimes it justs hurt. So, last month, I went to the doctor to get put on the waiting list for a new toe.
Yesterday, no less, I was admitted to Shotley Bridge Hospital for day surgery to re-condition what I have, because they haven't perfected replacement toe joints yet. It is called a Cheilectomy and you can google gory videos of the procedure. So I did, as you do. It told me a lot more than the doctor did.
It's all over now and I have a splendid new shoe for a few weeks so that no pressure is put on my toe while I walk around. WALK!!! its more of a limping hobble, what with the left shoe two inches higher than my normal right shoe, and having to walk with the foot pointed outwards. AND I can't drive till the stitches are out, dressing off and I can do an emergency stop.
I hope the lead up to xmas doesn't get too much. D is wonderful and took me to the Hospital and fetched me and I will go and stay with him for a while and watch telly, read and knit and cook!
The front yard is lovely but google wouldn't let me load more pics so I have to do two separate posts.
Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Historic Buildings

Across the road is one of the last working gasometers in the country. Two days ago only the white bit showed above the base. Now it is fully erect and filled with gas for the winter.
Just in front of it is the coal depot and to the right of the picture is the sand and grit store for gritting the roads so we are well prepared in Bishop Auckland for what may come this winter!
Cheers Gillian

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Here it is, about to go into the steaming pot. I used the recipe from "Stephanie's Orange Bible". That is an Australian cookbook, which is probably my all time favourite. I halved the quantities to make this one, fairly, large pudding and I went to Tracy at the farm shop to get real suet to grate. Gosh! what a mess that is. It then got mixed and left to stand for a day and then taste-tested for spiciness and into the pot it went. It is cooking for six hours!!! and therefore still needs two and a half more. The sitting room has been painted and I had fancy bits done, like the gilding on the fireplace and the ceiling rose and four colours used for the walls, ceiling and woodwork. It all looks lovely and today Alison came to hang the curtains on the "road" window and a roman blind on the "garden" window.
This is one of those Living Flame gas fires so all I have to do is press a button and it leaps into life and looks for all the world like a real coal fire. I have been cleaning up the marble and D has had a serious go at the copper sheet in front of the grate.
You can see a bit of the blind reflected in the mirror. It's all greener than it looks and the carpet is too. The front yard is progressing. The edging blocks have been laid and lots of bits of brick-laying have been done with old bricks to match the rest. The blocked main grey water drain has been dug up and thrown away cos it was impossible to unblock it and a new one has been laid. Sadly the new bathroom soil pipe will have to go across the front of the house to the old one, but to compensate, lots of smaller pipes can be removed.
But this lunchtime the Staindrop Women's Institute Committee went for lunch at the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been doing the calendar of events for the next year and we had a look at my first drafts. Tomorrow I shall visit another committee member to pick her brains for transforming CLUEDO into a Staindrop version to be tried out at the AGM. If they can transpose Monopoly, why not Cluedo. Just put a map of the village on a board with nine sites, make up six names that sort of ring a bell, develop six methods of dying at the hands of another and play on.
I am well, I am happy, I am busy and the house is turning into a real beauty. Hope all is well with all of you.
Cheers Gillian

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

When It Rains It Pours

The front garden is being transformed from a gravel and grass space into a brick-paved area with pots. The digging machine is sleeping here while the work progresses. A gradual accumulation of soil and stuff over the years had brought the level up too high in the small enclosed space, and vast quantities are being removed. The two manhole covers were found about six inches down and a trench will be dug to one of them for the pipes for the new toilet and bathroom. It was easy to get the digger in and the stuff out once the brick wall at the end had been knocked down. The guys closed the space for the night, with the skip (nearly full to the brim so that the neighbours can't share too much unwanted stuff with us).
Then just after they went home, it rained. It is still raining. It will probably rain all night. The cat has been out for a swim and brought lots of mud back in through the catflap, over the back of the sofa, across the carpet and up onto the table to explore a new cardboard box for size.

It fitted. I had just brought it home from Sainsbury's to pack an ebay item in. I'm still selling things. Lace bobbins will go on for a week or two more at least. This phone came from an auction lot and so did the Davidson glass spill jar which will now wing its way to a new home in Oz. The brass unicorn came from the rubbish skips in Daventry where D's neighbour works. He polished it up and it is now off to Biggleswade.
I have been a bit busy lately and have realised that I can only handle one blog at the moment so RedUmbrella is on hold. It was the last art lesson of the course today but I shall sign up again for next year. I enjoy it so much. This was one of my efforts at painting snow...or not painting it.
Cheers Gillian

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Things You Like Keep Happening

There are still quite a few lace bobbins to sell on ebay. The whole thing has gone well from auction-purchase to ebay-sales. People who collect lace bobbins are kind, polite, honest and appreciative and I have had sales to Sweden, Denmark, Massuchusetts, Tokyo and all over England. The whole thing has been a pleasure. The remains are shown below and will be on line before christmas. It encouraged me to sell some left over stuff from the garden and that has gone well too. A woman just came and paid £5.70 for a small garden ornament that I was going to take down to the tip. The other thing occupying my leisure is my art classes. Paul Dillon at the Darlo Arts Centre does watercolour classes and I have done a couple of courses with him but this year he was offering a more-mixed media course using resist to portray things like shine, frost etc.
Resist is applied before you paint. You can use special rubber pens or oil-crayons. This pic shows the original photo we used as a guide. On the left is my interpretation on smooth paper and on the right is the same approach, colours, resists etc but used on rough but regularly textured paper.Paul had used rough paper and was demonstrating the effect shown in the top-right-hand quarter of this pic. I was so dismayed. I had set up my lesson on SMOOTH paper. I rushed back to my area and peeled a sheet of very textured paper off and carried on with two sheets at once.
This is the application of the same resists, paints and effort for each image. The first pic below is done on the rough textured paper and follows what was done in the class. There were fifteen of us and none of them were the same. The next pic is the "mistake one" done on the smooth paper. It was admired all round, and even by Paul. It does have a more dramatic look, and as many people commented a bit like batik. That was probably because I over-applied the resist but who cares. It was admired, even by the teacher!!!
On my way to art class I popped in to Watsons to put a bid on "Fridtjof of Nansen" (yes it was two volumes 1st, and folded maps were intact) which they had listed at £20-£40 est. Well I examined them and they were really good and generally in good nick. So I left a bid of £75, making the mistake that others often do, that no-one else would know what they were really worth. They sold for £80 to the other person who knew.
I'm still a bit sore about my own parsimonious approach. I must be willing to make 20% profit. I am still hooked on doubling my money.
In the meantime I'm knitting scarves and shawls from the Tunisian wool and mixing it with other stuff and I'm getting my craft space sorted.
Cheers Gillian

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Gosh Still More News...and I Nearly Forgot

After visiting Durham (a couple of weeks ago!) we went on to Beamish Museum, a few miles to the north but still in County Durham and had a great day. It is an enormous open air museum with a farm, colliery, High Street with shops and trams, buses and trains. In fact it is difficult to describe how good it is and these photos only show a glimpse. We were there for hours and haven't finished seeing it at all. The little dogs got carried when we approached buildings and managed to get away with peeping into the indoor exhibits although normally dogs must stay outside. It was not crowded....the north-east of England is not crowded. Beamish is not cheap but is it worth every penny. Go early, stay late, take a picnic.
Mick took this pic of us celebrating a ride on a steam train. One of the earliest with no roof or seats. It was towed by a replica of "The Rocket" and coal was the fuel that got us up to 15 miles an hour. We went forward for a quarter of a mile and then came home backwards. Not sure whether the driver/engineer came to work in these really sooty clothes every day or whether he actually got that dirty in the first half hour. There are lots of people dressed-up and wandering around in costumes. In the buildings there are schoolmasters, postmistresses, farmer's wives, grocers, dentists and music teachers and outside there are farmers, labourers, wood workers/charcoal makers and transport controllers. All of them are full of information about their role and their general history. They bake bread in the coal ovens in the cottages and make clippy rugs. One of the tram conductors told some young teenagers to go and line up properly...and they did!
Yes, Di was lurking in the bottom right-hand corner of the last shot. The blokes were in the "garage" drooling over the old cars etc and we had been into the sweet shop and bought some fabulous fudge. The dear dogs had spent the day trudging along coal-dust pathways and were black up to their skirt edges, and quite weary. In fact we all were and headed off on one of the last trams to the car park.
We had a lovely picnic at lunchtime on the tables at the farm with the geese cackling loudly nearby waiting for our cast offs, and I tried to load those pics as well but the system went into meltdown
Cheers Gillian

Monday, 19 October 2009

Rain Frogs and Toads!

In this picture I hold a toad between my thumb and forefinger to show you how small a toad can be.In the north of England we have always called such small amphibia "rain frogs or rain toads" because they hatch very quickly after a bit of wet weather and seem to have come down with the rain. They don't last long.

Here he is again trying to get away. I believe they have them in Scotland too. I have even come across them in Australia.
This little one is only an inch long. Cute and harmless when small as this.
Cheers Gillian

Saturday, 17 October 2009


Bill Bryson exhorted everybody to visit Durham in his "Notes from a Small Island". He is now Chancellor of the University and I don't think my blog post will usurp him but it is a beautiful city and well worth a visit even if you have to go out of your way.
We went, on the way to Beamish, with our visitors and didn't have enough time there but here are some views to show you what it looks like on an ordinary day. This first view is from Milburngate Bridge looking over the Wear river towards Prebends Bridge.

It was not very early in the morning but the day was calm and a mist still lingered over the river. The next view is looking through Elvet Bridge from the bank where the rowing boats are lined up for hire.

We climbed up to the Palace Green to admire the Cathedral, the Castle and the grand selection of buildings; all using the same stone and demonstrating a full range of architectural styles through the ages.

Cheers Gillian

Friday, 16 October 2009


We journeyed north through Corbridge and Hexham to The Wall.
The grandeur of Hadrian's Wall persists in all weathers. The general haziness seems to be part of the "mists of time". Our guests were thrilled to be there and experience "the wall" even if it wasn't as enormous as they had expected from their childhood memories of pictures in school textbooks. This impressive stretch is at Cawfields a few miles north of Haltwhistle. This is about halfway along its route from Newcastle to Carlisle.


We were expecting guests so I ordered a large chicken from the local farm shop. We have always bought wonderful meat from there and were looking forward to a roast-dinner-feast. Clarissa weighed in at 3.3 kilos.Whether she was a retired athlete or whether my inexperience in cooking such large birds was at fault, I don't know but after the reasonably tender and very tasty breast meat was devoured, the rest of the meat refused to leave the carcass and fought valiantly against the attack of a very sharp knife.
The yorkshires were assisted with an extra spell in a very hot oven and ended up too black. The sprouts were overdone because they had to wait for the yorkshires. The parsnips could sole shoes because they had been in too long and the cauliflower cheese sauce had congealed because I had made it the day before to save time and used cheeses sauce granules. And we cannot for the life of us explain the green colour of the inner meat of the chicken. No!!! it wasn't grotty, it was a pretty pistacchio green confined to two small muscle areas. We didn't even give that to the cat.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Oh Dear!

I ordered a mincer. My fantasy included making all my own, preservative-free mince from identifiable cuts of meat. I had dreams too, of making fine sausages and having acclaimed sausage sizzles on a BBQ in the garden. The aromas would cause passers-by to beg for a taste and offer me large sums of money for the recipe.
Tigger and I studied the instructions. They were very simple and she was very confident and encouraging.

But it didn't do anything that I expected it to. I went through half a loaf of bread and a pork chop (boneless!!!) and all I got was a large blockage. I took it out and reversed bits and re-assembled it in case something really simple had gone knife blade on back to front. The result was the same.
Usually when things don't work I press on determinedly until I resolve it, but this got taken apart, washed and re-boxed for another go another time. The pork chop got binned. And I am still disappointed.

Not as disappointed as the driver of this Wagon and Drag which took the roundabout at the end of the road with a bit too much gusto, today. He can't put this back together and have another go. The wagon is still almost upright but the second trailer is right over and they are still joined together. They had to unload all the contents onto other vehicles and then two cranes lifted the useless bits onto enormous flatbed trucks to get taken away.
I wasn't the only one there with a camera. An interested audience gathered for most of the afternoon. Enormous machines and enormous mistakes are always fascinating to watch.

Cheers Gillian