Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Badger's House

Trudging home from work today with the rain stinging my face and wind battering me back, Badger's home in 'The Wind In The Willows' sprang into my head, a hidden, cosy home in the middle of the Wild Wood in Winter. Could anything be cosier than this irresistible scene?

From chapter 4, a bit I've always loved, in Badger's kitchen:

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the wall, well out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed settles, facing each other on either side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodations for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger's plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment. The ruddy brick floor smiled up at the smoky ceiling; the oaken settles, shiny with long wear, exchanged cheerful glances with each other; plates on the dresser grinned at pots on the shelf, and the merry firelight flickered and played over everything without distinction.

The kindly Badger thrust them down on a settle to toast themselves at the fire, and bade them remove their wet coats and boots. Then he fetched them dressing-gowns and slippers, and himself bathed the Mole's shin with warm water and mended the cut with sticking-plaster till the whole thing was just as good as new, if not better. In the embracing light and warmth, warm and dry at last, with weary legs propped up in front of them, and a suggestive clink of plates being arranged on the table behind, it seemed to the storm-driven animals, now in safe anchorage, that the cold and trackless Wild Wood just left outside was miles and miles away, and all that they had suffered in it a half- forgotten dream.

Monday, 28 January 2013

A night at the opera

I unexpectedly ended up at the opera last Thursday night. I've got a friend who runs an excellent art and culture website called Art Fist  and he got given free tickets to Opera North's 'Otello' at the Leeds Grand Theater,  the operatic version of 'Othello'. I didn't know it was an opera until I got there and was a bit perturbed when I found out. I enjoy a lot of classical music but have never found opera engaging, so my first thought was "Oh god, this is going to be slow going". We were given a quick tour of the stage and met the singer who played the part of Iago, the terribly cunning villain of the play. We were part of a group of bloggers and local writers and most of us had never seen an opera before. The staff and everyone we met who was involved with the production were all very welcoming and keen to encourage new people to experience opera, which put me at my ease and got me excited about seeing what it was all about. 

So, we found our seats, settled down and it began. It was Italian but fortunately there were subtitles projected on either side of the stage so I was able to follow the dialogue. The singing was fantastic; the lack of any microphones meant that we were hearing the singers voices in their truest form, and it was very different to hearing singing through an amplifier. It took me awhile to get into it as I was trying to watch what was happening, listen to the singing and read the subtitles at the same time. Actually it was exhausting and really didn't know what to make of it until the final act. Maybe it was because I was tired or maybe because I'd got used to it, but I let it all flow over me - the music, the acting, the words - and it all seemed to come together and I found it very moving.

So, would I go to the opera again? I'm quite surprised to find that yes, I would. There were certainly some opera snobs in the audience who seemed put out that the rest of us didn't know the 'rules' - when to clap etc - but although that was annoying it certainly didn't put me off. I'm pleased that I had the opportunity to experience a medium that's totally new to me and am impressed that Opera North are trying to make the experience more accessible to a new audience, despite the evident dissaproval of a handful of snobs.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A whiff of Spring

I stuck my head out of my burrow today and caught a distinct whiff of distant Spring in the damp, breezy, slightly warmer air.  So I put down my book, snuffled about a little, made a loaf of bread and planted some herb seeds. Then that was quite enough activity for aoneWintery afternoon, so I snuggled back down again to wait for Spring.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

It Begins...

This is how it starts:

First you adopt a cat.

Then a second cat adopts you and starts living in your yard.

The second cat moves in.

Some cats move in across the road.

They become obsessed with gaining access to your home and spend every waking hour in your yard.

These two cats sit on the outside of your living room window sill and your two cats sit on the inside; they're all gazing out in the same direction.

You go outside one day and are surrounded by cats. Two from your house, two from across the road and a new comer who's fascinated by your home and sits in the garden watching it. You have the feeling that there's another watching from the bushes. But you can't be sure.

Congratulations! You now look like a mad old cat lady.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Recipe links

Here are a couple of links for recipes I've made and enjoyed today, that use almost entirely store cupboard ingredients. One's healthy and one's terrible for you but very yum! The first is for a very easy treacle sponge pudding made in the microwave in 3 1/2 minutes. You can find the recipe here. When it was cooked the sponge soaked up the syrup like a, er, sponge.

The second is for a very tasty, low fat lentil curry. The picture below is terrible (much more appealing pictures on the actually website!) but shows the big batch I made to freeze for work lunches - a dollop of curry and two tablespoons of rice. That recipe's found here.

Bread Maker Breakfast Bread

This is a spicy sweet loaf I often make in my bread maker. It's got mixed seeds, sultanas and spices and is altogether a good way to tempt yourself out of bed on a dark morning. I've based this recipe on measurements for my Morphy Richards Fast Bake bread maker so you may need to tweak it to make it work in yours. I used the 'Sweet' setting and set it for a 1.5 lb loaf although this one is actually a 1 lb loaf.

3/4 cup water
2tbsp sunflower oil
3 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup white flour
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp fast action yeast

When the machine beeped after it's first rising I added:

1/4 cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, linseed and sesame)
3/4 cup sultanas

Friday, 18 January 2013

Crafting update

Well I meant to do this a couple of weeks ago but anyway here's what I made for Christmas gifts - I can show them off now Christmas is out of the way. I made a Mario themed cross stitch picture for a friend's baby:

A double bedspread (shown on a kingsized bed so it looks smaller):

And a blanket for my dad, who slung it over his shoulders immediately and declared that it was a good fit: 

This year I'd like to learn to make enough things like chutney to make hampers next Christmas. But right now, in the middle of a cold January, even thinking about that makes me feel lazy! Back to the blanket and hot water bottle for me.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Free places; John Rylands Library, Manchester

Last night we stayed in Manchester so today we took the opportunity to visit some of the beautiful buildings in the city centre that are open to the public for FREE, though of course donations are requested to help keep these wonderful buildings going.

The John Rylands Library is on Deansgate and contains some very special and impressive collections. It was built and opened in 1900 by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands as a tribute to her dead husband, who was a textile manufactured and somewhat of a philanthropist  The building itself is stunning; you enter through a modern extension, go past the gift shop and cafe, up some stairs and suddenly you enter another world, a cathedral of books in an intricate gothic style, which looks like a large church from the outside. Carved red sandstone, wood panelling  wood carvings, statues and stained glass - you get the picture. Even before you get to the books and exhibits, you're marvelling at the splendid surroundings and trying to take it all in.

The library houses some very impressive documents. It's most famous is a papyrus fragment of the New Testament, dating from around 125AD. Many of the rare or unique books and documents on display relate to the history of Manchester or historical figures linked to the area, and it's interesting to get a glimpse of the city's lively and busy past in this way.
There are also regular changing exhibitions. At the moment there's a Clockwork Orange exhibition to mark the 50th anniversary of the Anthony Burgess novel and a display of very impressive entries in the 36th annual Designer Bookbinders Competition. Free tours of the library are also run on a regular basis where you can look around the parts of the building that aren't usually open to the public - definitely something I'm going to plan my next trip to Manchester around.

If you're ever in Manchester for a night or two I recommend having a look around and seeing it for yourself. You can find out more about it, including it's collections, forthcoming exhibitions and directions here.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Cheap as chips...and eggs

I really fancied egg and chips for tea and Mr CB made a very nice meal of it by poaching fresh free range eggs and making chips. I had mine with baked beans and he had his with mushy peas and it was heavenly, it really hit the spot. We were surprised afterwards when we worked out how little it had cost us. Also, because he used spray oil and baked the chips instead of frying them it was fairly healthy.

Eggs 80p (20p each)
Beans 14p (half a can)
Mushy peas 9p (half a can)
Potatoes 25p (approx)

Around £1.28, so it was 64p each plus gas for the hobs and electric for the oven. That's definitely going to become a regular with us, Mr Crafty Blueberry's Gormet Egg and Chips.

What are your favourite cheap meals? Have you ever surprised yourself by making something especially tasty out of cheap and simple ingredients?