28 August 2011

Green - cut pictures

I should have left it a tiny bit longer, because it was a touch soft to cut, but I just could not wait. I have a bit of a partial gel which is annoying but not disastrous and I have to practice my swirls. I am quite happy with the way this has turned out.

27 August 2011


I have been thinking of trying to create a masculine blend of essential oils for soap. The last time I tried, it did not turn out quite masculine enough - cedar and may chang - so tonight I tried again.

This time I took vetivert, known in India as "the oil of tranquility", smokey, green, earthy and woody and added may chang to lighten it a little. I have a bit of the blend on my hands and I really like it. At the moment, it has an almost aftershave quality to it, so I will have to see how the blend develops in the soap.

You may have noticed the intense green colour. This is from the spirulina I added to half the batter. Goodness knows what this will look like when it is de-moulded and whether the colour will last.

This is what I love about soap making. You never quite know what your creation will turn out like. Each batch is a step into the unknown.

21 August 2011

Thank you Nigella

I am not a fan of chutney, at least I never have been, but recently I have been converted. That ubiquitous brown pickle that you find on a pub ploughman's has always sprung to mind when chutney has been mentioned, but that could not be further from the real stuff.

For the last two years, I have been making a spiced apple chutney with apples from Mum's garden as a Christmas gift, adding extra chillies because the recipient likes hot. The apples are now ready, so it is time to get out the preserving pan again.

This morning, I went to Mum's and picked the apples, the branches of the trees are bowed under the weight of them. While I was at it, I picked some blackberries to make jam with.

I decided to add cassis to the blackberries, sugar and lemon juice in the pan. I know that cassis is made from blackcurrents, but still I thought it was worth adding a bit to the pan to give it a little bit extra.

As I had a couple of pineapples in the house, I also made a pineapple chutney which I have just sampled with a bit of strong cheddar. I think it is fair to say, it will not last very long. It is a lovely balance of sweet and sour with a hint of cinnamon and clove - delicious.

Jams, chutneys and preserves are incredibly simple to make and are a great way of using up a glut of fruit and vegetables. At a time when money is tight it is also a great way of storing what you grow to brighten the dark days of winter. All you do is pop the ingredients in a preserving pan (other large, open pans will do) and cook until everything has gone to mush and thickened. Pop into jars and it will keep for months.

You can use all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables, and you don't have to wait until the end of summer to do it. Use what is cheap and in season and you have something lovely to eat later in the year. Chutneys are great with cheese and cold cuts, and what could be better than hot buttered toast and homemade jam?

I used recipes from Nigella Lawson's "How to be a Domestic Goddess".


14 August 2011

Money Pit

I am certainly have had a run of things. Last month the kettle blew up, and the cat ate through the power cable of my phone. Cue opening of purse and parting with money.

A couple of weeks ago, my two ovens gave up the ghost. I spoke to the manufacturer, and the cost of getting it fixed is daylight robbery, assuming it can be fixed. If not, it will still cost me £50 for them to come and tell me there is no hope. Last weekend the fridge stopped working and was subsequently pronounced not worth repairing. More money was spent yesterday because I really cannot cope without a fridge and having proper food in the house. So, as of this morning all I had to do was sort out the oven, and as much of a pain as it is not having it, it is not the end of the world.

This afternoon my toilet had other ideas and became blocked. Actually, I don't think it is the toilet which is blocked, but something a bit further down. About six inches below where the toilet soil pipe meets the down pipe, there is a spot where a pipe (yes, I know so many pipes) connected to the central heating system has been inset. I had the new boiler last December and since then I have had blockages off and on, but did not really think too much about it - until now.

Have you ever tried to find a plumber on a Sunday? I rang a number and I am still waiting for a call back. Great! I don't need the toilet or anything do I? Hopefully, tomorrow Mum is going to go and get me a toilet snake and I will try to unblock it myself. It costs about £10 and is a damn site cheaper than calling out a professional. Watch this space, but don't listen, because I am sure that there will be some swearing.

07 August 2011

The Descriptive Word

Occasionally, a passage from a book I read not only stands out, but stays with me. This evening, "a sky the colour of old bruises," the opening of A Sparrow Falls by Wilbur Smith, comes to mind as I look out of the window. Dusk is falling, and with it comes slow, heavy rain. As I look at the sky grey, puce, yellow and brooding and see birds circling, I am reminded of that line.

For me, reading has always been a joy and a constant, and comforting when times are difficult. Although I read little fiction, I still find reading an escape whether in humour or more tangibly in books about other parts of the world. There is nothing nicer than than setting down, with a mug of hot coffee and a book and losing myself in other worlds, cultures and traditions or something I have to put down when my sides are too sore with laughter to carry on. There is so much to learn about the world past and present, and a good writer like William Dalrymple or Colin Thuberon will transport you. You can smell, hear and see what they describe. Although no comparison to visiting a place for yourself, these books are portals invaluable to our understanding of the world, and there seems to be precious little of that.

The more I read, the less I understand why people are not able to coexist peacefully, without throwing tantrums usually in the form of bullets or bombs. Is the human race really so stupid? Well, yes, history will confirm that it is and that was clearly a rhetorical question. The brat like actions of those in power, who are supposed to act in a way that benefits the county and the people over which they have power often beggars belief and their attitude to other countries is plain dumb. Perhaps they should read more!