Posts Tagged ‘milk’

A thing I used to do

When I was 17, I suddenly developed this preoccupation with the idea of being sophisticated. I thought it would be fantastic if I were like one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters. Charming and intelligent and educated and most of all, sophisticated. I read anything I could lay my hands on, got myself a complete works of Shakespeare and, after reading Hamlet, actually really loved it. I tried to accumulate as many facts as possible. My friend, Alison, (who will appear again in a minute), and I would go to the theatre almost every week and discuss the play at length afterward. We learned to eat our soup by scooping our spoons away from us, rather than toward us, like commoners. We presumed that any minute now, we would suddenly wake up and realise that we had become….. sophisticated.

There was a bookshop near school which had lots of university books in it, textbooks about things in medicine that I’d never heard of and huge anthologies of this, that and the other. The literature section was fabulous though, I understood what was going on there.

Upstairs in this bookshop, there was a cafe. Alison and I often used to go to the cafe if we had a free moment in our day. We liked to sit there because we figured that, with all the intelligence and learning floating around in there, some of it must surely stick on us? We would sit amongst the university students discussing intellectual things and try to appear sophisticated. We used to order tea and it would come in little teapots.

I am going to blame what happened next on the cafe. I mean, what kind of cafe has teapots that hold almost exactly the amount of liquid that fits in the cups?

We would pour out our tea into our cups. I think I remember, actually, that the first cup was fine. We would pour out, add milk and drink up. The second cup, however, was where the problem lay. We would pour out the tea and, as there was only a little bit left, we’d pour until the pot was empty. The problem then became clear – there was no space for milk. Black tea was not tasty, especially if it was the second cup so slightly overbrewed.

What to do? A full cup of tea with no space for milk? One cannot pour one’s tea from one’s cup back into one’s teapot, can one? That is, like, sooooo not sophisticated.

But never fear, Alison and I knew how to be sophisticated. We would rescue this situation. We took the lids off our teapots and pulled them close to our cups. Then we took our teaspoons and, scooping our spoons away from us, we transported our tea back to our teapots in little teaspoon amounts. It took a while but at least we were sophisticated about it.

This happened a few times, I remember, and yet we didn’t seem to learn. Perhaps that’s why I’m still so good at scooping away now. And being sophisticated….. I am sophisticated, aren’t I? Aren’t I?

Things I learned at Waltham Place

1. Chickens lay eggs when it’s sunny. They’re like solar panels. They only work with sunshine. In the winter, they don’t lay because there is no sun. They are designed to have a break for a few months of the year. Battery farmed chickens are kept indoors with the lights on so that they will lay all year round. That is why they die sooner. They are not being given a break while it is winter. That’s also why the yolks in battery farmed eggs are all pale and yellowy, cause the chickens are quite weak and their diet isn’t very natural. The farmers give them commercially produced feed so their eggs are not as good quality.

2. During the time when it is sunny, chickens lay eggs all the time, regardless of the presence of a male to fertilise. That is the difference between just eggs and potential baby chickens. When there’s a potential baby chicken in an egg, after being laid, the chicken has to ‘go broody’ and sit on it for 24 days, turning it every day. If the chicken lays the egg but then potters off outside and leaves the egg, it will not become a chicken. At Waltham Place, these are the eggs they then take for cooking with. This eases any guilt I may have felt about eating scrambled baby chickens on toast for breakfast.

3. Buttermilk is not the liquid that gets squeezed out of the butter once you have finished churning it. As a butter-maker myself, I had it on good authority that this was buttermilk and so used it in recipes which asked me for it. Who looks stupid now, hey?

4. My Living Responsibly project looks so feeble in comparison to the self-sufficiency at Waltham Place. The air miles on the food I usually buy are ridiculous! I shall make an effort, at least a couple of times after April when the farm shop opens, to go over there and buy things. That way I know the food miles are minuscule, compared with my fruit and vegetables flown in from different continents. I will also make an effort to look on the packets and buy as locally as possible.

5. I want a chicken in my garden.

6. A cow would be good too, for the milk. Milk from the shop will feel like a poor compromise now.

7. Cows from different regions have different personalities! It’s true. The Jersey cows which are new to Waltham Place are apparently a lot more ‘protective’ of their young than the local ones.

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A day at Waltham Place (or: I want to live on a farm too!)

Yesterday, I had the most fabulous day out. Someone had got me an early birthday present, which was a place on a course about preserving fruit. The course was on a farm called Waltham Place just outside Maidenhead.

The journey there was quite eventful, after coming out of the station, seeing a bus already at the bus stop, leaping on and being what I can only describe as ‘adopted’ by two ladies on the bus. After I had asked if the bus went in the direction I needed, the ladies said it didn’t but I could get off near an airfield and take a short walk to get to the farm. I got out my purse to pay and the driver reminded me I needed the exact money. After scraping around among my change, the ladies almost got into a fight offering me the 20p that I was short of!

The journey to the farm then was smooth, after another man getting off at the same stop, pointed me down the right road. As I approached the main entrance, there didn’t seem to be any signs of where I should be…

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I was once again thrust on the mercy of the locals as I helplessly ran after a man I saw in the distance and asked where the course was being held. He pointed me up the road to the Ormandy Centre which, of course, I now remembered reading about in my notes before coming.

I found the centre eventually and was greeted by Adrian, the chef, and Nicki, his ‘gopher’ (her own words) and three of the other women on the course, for of course it was all women! The other women arrived and we started the day with chitchat, tea and biscuits.

Everything they gave us was made (and often grown too) on the farm. Adrian does all the cooking there. And that means everything. Absolutely everything. No help. He’s surprisingly calm and good-natured for a man who’s responsible for the feeding of a family and entire staff of such a big estate.

So our teas and coffees contained milk from the cows in the next door fields and the only non-farm ingredient in our macaroons and Viennese whirls was the sugar. The flour is milled on the farm, the milk from the cows is turned into cream, butter and cheese, and the eggs are harvested daily from the chickens who live in the next field to the cows. It was like taking a trip into the past, all the things we were offered to eat were homemade with produce from the surrounding fields. I started planning what my own small garden might be capable of and, so long as I don’t mind living on tomatoes, chillis and herbs, I could totally do this self-sufficient thing too. Maybe.

After tea and biscuits, we got stuck into a bit of teaching. Adrian gave us notes and talked us through the process of jam-making, the essential components and what does and doesn’t work. It wasn’t quite as ordered as that though. There were regular delightful tangents off into the obscure – long discussions about what goes into commercially produced jam, whether to keep one’s jam in the fridge, what fruits work and how long to keep jam for (a jar of Adrian’s, made in 1996, is still going strong today).

We were then given aprons and invited into the kitchen. We approached cautiously and told that this morning, the jam tasks were: raspberry jam, three fruit marmalade, lemon curd and blackcurrant jam.

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The other women piped up, excited about one of the other of the jams. They were paired up and given lemon curd, marmalade and raspberry jam. Finally there was just me and the blackcurrant, which Adrian said he’d help me with.

I was presented with a pot of blackcurrants which I went off to a corner with and put on a hob to heat.

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I heated my blackcurrants for quite a long time as they needed to reduce down by quite a lot before I could add the sugar. While the others were lemon zesting, butter melting or draining their fruit out….

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… I stood next to my blackcurrant pan and watched. I started to feel like the slow kid at the back of the class, still trying to work out times tables while the others progressed onto long division….

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It boiled for quite a while before Adrian gave me the ok to add the sugar and mash the blackcurrants a little bit. By the time I was pouring out my jam, even the slower lemon curd lot were long finished and on their second round of tea and biscuits. They do say, though, that good things come to those who wait, and my pot of blackcurrants yielded the most jars. Check out my harvest!

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We then stopped and had lunch, made by Adrian, of course. It was leek and potato soup and bread, fresh from the oven, spread with tasty yellow butter from the farm.

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After a long chat about recycling with the other ladies and me digging in to the bread, again and again, Nicki finally cleared away lunch, thank goodness, and Adrian talked us through different ways to preserve fruit.

So the afternoon tasks were ketchup, tomato chutney and bottled fruit. I ended up on the bottled fruit but had someone with me this time. We chopped and peeled the fruit and packed it into the jars to wait for our syrup, which was just a basic mixture of sugar and water. This we poured over the plums and rhubarbs. For the pears, though, we did white wine, sugar and cinnamon. Once all the fruit and syrups were in the jars, we put the lids on loosely and baked them on a very low heat for an hour.

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In this hour, we all donned wellies and coats for a walk around the farm. We saw the chickens who provide the eggs…

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…the cows who’s milk was in our tea….

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…and the gardens which are beautiful and colourful in summer…

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By the time we got back to the kitchen, our fruit was ready, the chutney was thick enough to go in jars and our day’s work was put on the table for admiring.

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By this time, there was nothing else to do but to have another round of tea, accompanied by two gorgeous homemade cakes (a tea brack and a Victoria sponge)….

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….and to chatter about what a brilliant day it had been and what other courses were they running and could we come on all of them please and how I wish I could become a lady of leisure and just spend all day homemaking everything I wanted to eat and not have any processed food in the house and o, if only! If only! Get thee behind me, Heinz, for I shall consume only homemade ketchup from this day forth!… Maybe… If I get the time to make some tomorrow after work… If I’m not busy practising piano and trying to become a world famous concert pianist.

A lovely Irish lady who was rushing off a little early to pick up her son from school had heard the story of my arrival and offered me a lift to the station. So all of sudden, in a bit of a rush, I was accepting her kind offer, grabbing my bag and running off. The journey home was fuss free and Danda looked very pleased when I arrived home with my crop from the day….

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We then spend an evening, nibbling some of each, especially the beautiful beautiful lemon curd, which is thick and spreadable and divine on bread.

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I honestly can’t think of anything about this day that I didn’t enjoy. If you are anywhere near Waltham Place Farm, I can fully recommend their day courses, for the experience itself, even if you’re not actually going to become the best jam maker the world has ever seen!

Allerdale goat’s cheese

Another follow-up, of sorts, to the last two weeks of Liverpool walks by my guest blogger, Rambler5319.

 

Following last week’s Walk in Woolton (Part 2) and my visit to The Liverpool Cheese Company this week I decided to buy a piece of one of the cheeses I gave as an example – Allerdale Goat’s Cheese (AGC from now on). So it was another walk and back to the shop. Now I’d never heard of or had AGC or in fact any goat’s cheese before so this was a bit of a leap into the unknown. I hoped, as the cash register closed, that I would not regret the purchase. As soon as I got home the wrapping was off and I sampled my first ever piece of AGC.
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Yep I forgot to take the pic before I started eating so this just what was left by the time I remembered. No, I didn’t regret the purchase – it was all about a new experience. It tasted fine but I’ll have to see if it grows on me sufficiently to push Shropshire Blue off the no.1 spot in my “Cheese Charts”.

Anyway the name got me thinking along the lines of what’s Allerdale Goat’s Cheese all about. Much has been made in the UK media over recent years about how kids don’t know where their food comes from; some don’t know what meat comes from cows, sheep & pigs; some didn’t even know meat came from any animals at all. I guess it’s city living and busy parenting (little time for the kids) that has something to answer for. So, with my AGC I was curious: where is the place it comes from, how’s it made, how did it get to the shop, etc?

Let’s start with the place where it is made – Thornby Moor Dairy in Thursby. Here’s where the dairy is:

http://www.visitcumbria.com/simon/croftonhall-9200b.jpg

You might have to click on the visitcumbria Thursby website search results if your browser doesn’t go directly to the image. (once you’re there, it’s 4th pic on the site.)

The dairy was started in 1979 by Carolyn Fairburn and it moved to the present site in Thursby in 1994. The dairy is in Allerdale which is not a single place but an area that was formed back in the 1970s by merging the districts of Workington, Maryport, Cockermouth, Keswick & Wigton. All these places, as you look at a map of England, are in the far north-west and to the south-west of Carlisle (which is about 10 miles south of the Scottish border).

Here’s a map showing the Allerdale area highlighted: http://www.flickr.com/places/info/12695900

Now, in common with blogs earlier this year (21.8.12 & 19.9.12), I decided to start with a check on the coat of arms. These usually give lots of info about how a town/city sees itself in terms of historical and current associations using heraldic symbols to represent those various characteristics. Here’s the one for the Borough of Allerdale:
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Let’s have a look at this somewhat cluttered image. Starting with the motto, in Latin of course: Ex Unitate Curaque Fortior. It means, according to the Heraldry of the World website, “Strength through caring and working together” although the borough’s own website is not as exact in its translation. Anyway it’s a good motto isn’t it? Something that I’m sure they hope will instil a sense of both commitment & community. Now there is a lot going on in their coat of arms picture; much of the imagery relates to characteristics, history and geography of the area which they want to represent. A quick run down starting at the top reveals some interesting info and some dodgy explanations from a site which should know better:

The weather vane (supposedly ship-shaped?) represents maritime connections, shipbuilding and more recently wind power technology in the district. This sits on top of a howdah – a seat fixed on an elephant. The howdah has 3 blue ovals representing thrushes’ eggs that refer to the town of Wigton where the council meetings were held originally. The elephant represents integrity & unity and the colours the towns of Egremont, Senhouse and others. Its trunk is holding a pick-axe to represent mining in the district. The green crown under the elephant represents civic authority. Heraldic terminology keeps the Latin words for left & right sinister & dexter. I did a bit of Latin at school so recognised these. However, I must point out that the Heraldry of the World website has got the part about the creatures supporting the shield completely wrong! We read there that “the sinister supporter (of the shield) is a centaur”. Now just look at the picture – the centaur, which is half man half horse, is clearly on the right (therefore dexter). It symbolises the Roman past of the area but also hospitality & wisdom. (I’m struggling a bit with that as centaurs, as far as I remember, were not noted for the last two qualities but maybe I’ve got it wrong.) Note also around the centaur’s neck the two medallions depicting drama: one for tragedy and one for comedy. Now given they got the sinister (left) bit wrong it follows they also got the dexter (right) bit wrong; they quote, “the dexter supporter is a sea dog” – no it isn’t! So let’s be clear – on the left (sinister) is a sea dog and on the right (dexter) is the centaur. (The Borough’s own website also has it incorrectly so someone copied from someone and it highlights the dangers of copying info without checking the verbiage; I have emailed the council and will report back next week if I get a reply from them. I’m not holding my breath.) Next is the sea-dog on the left (dog with mermaid-like tail) symbolising the marine activities of the area. The collar & chains refer to shipbuilding & mercantile marine activities. The name sea-dog refers to Fletcher Christian (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) and the colours used reflect those in his coat of arms. Pitcairn Island is only 2 miles (3.2km) long by 1 mile (1.6km) wide and currently has a population of around 50. Its administrative headquarters are in Auckland (New Zealand) 3300 miles (5310km) away. With an ageing population the Island is looking for immigrants – short or long term – who are crucially self-supporting. If you fancy it get going folks as 2013 will see some possible employment opportunities opening up there. (Check out the website: http://www.visitpitcairn.pn/) Daily accommodation rates are in the region of $70-$120 and can include full board, meals & laundry. (Again check out what’s on offer: http://www.visitpitcairn.pn/visitpitcairn/accommodation/index.html) but don’t forget to add on the cost of getting there!

In 2005 Fletcher Christian’s great-great-great grandson, Tom Christian, left his home in the Pitcairn Islands and visited Fletcher’s birthplace, Moorland Close Farm in Cockermouth. (Interestingly, the Government of the Pitcairn Islands Website: http://www.government.pn/Pitcairnshistory.htm tells us that Fletcher Christian went to school with William Wordsworth. Now this could be slightly misleading with you imagining them running round the playground together. The truth is that Christian attended the same school – Cockermouth Free School, founded in the reign of Charles II – but was 6 years older than WW so it’s unlikely they played together. Anyway I bet you didn’t know that!) Here’s a pic of the plaque from the school: http://www.flickr.com/photos/up70mm/5064975794/ Sadly they got the year wrong – the Mutiny was 1789. At FC’s birthplace you can see they got it right – check the pic on Flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/up70mm/5071478465/in/set-72157625126119032/

Back to the coat of arms, the crook the sea dog is holding represents sheep-rearing and rambling. Finally the shield and what’s inside it. In the centre is Pegasus representing inspiration, swift communication, and rivers and lakes. Pegasus is said to be the inspirer of poets, engineers & inventors. The three horns are called cornucopias and out of them grow wheat, corn, bluebells, daffodils etc. The keen-eyed among you might have noticed this Pegasus has a unicorn. Why? Well it’s to represent yet more qualities of the area – purity & healing. So you can see they managed to cram an awful lot into that image.

A slight digression here as the town of Caldbeck (in Allerdale), lying just 7½ miles south of the place where my cheese is made, was home to the eponymous hero of the old English folk song D’ye ken John Peel; (for D’ye read “Do you” or “Do ye”). A number of versions of the lyrics arose initially due to oral transmission. Here’s the opening verse which I and many others learnt at (primary) school:

D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay?

D’ye ken John Peel at the break o’ day?

D’ye ken John Peel when he’s far, far a-way.

With his hounds and his horn in the morning?

 

One version of the 3rd verse goes like this:

 

Yes, I ken John Peel and his Ruby, too!

Ranter and Ringwood, Bellman so true!

From a find to a check, from a check to a view,

From a view to a kill in the morning.

 

Did you spot the James Bond film in there?

 

Caldbeck is also the place where the well-known UK haulage firm, Eddie Stobart, began life as an agricultural contractor in the 1940s threshing corn and later (in the 1950s) spreading slag for fertiliser. Today the company’s general haulage operation, with its origins in 1970, has over 2,500 trucks (tractor units), thousands of trailers and a number of specialised divisions: rail, container, biomass, logging, car transporters & 2 airports. There have been three television series on a national network about different aspects of the company’s business and its employees. Some people spot trains, some aeroplanes but this haulage company has a fan club whose members are regular “Eddie spotters”: they collect the names that appear on the trucks – each truck has a female name and the first one was Twiggy named after the 1960s model. The firm’s official fan club has around 25,000 members and given that there will be spotters not in the fan club it’s possible there are thousands more out there checking the names of the trucks as they go by.

 

Anyway, back to the cheese. It’s made from raw milk produced by the owner’s herd of goats. Perhaps I ought to visit some day and thank the goats. It does, though, have to be matured for 5 months. Goat’s milk is believed to be one of the oldest sources of dairy produce in the world and more similar to human milk than cow’s milk.

 

And all that from my little piece of cheese!

On chocolate

More Nanny Rhino today…

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I’m not one of those girls who’s mad on chocolate. I like it, don’t get me wrong. But whenever I think of chocolate lovers, I think of a girl I went to secondary school with, Gwen, who would go around the common room in sixth form, asking if anyone had chocolate with them and could she buy it from them. She’d be brandishing a fifty pence piece to back up her request and asking around desperately. At the time, I was a bit young to wonder why she had such a thing for chocolate. I just thought it was a little strange.

 

Alternately, a girl I went to junior school with, Louise, was allergic to chocolate! Allergic! It’d be a pretty sad existence if you couldn’t give in to the odd chocolate moment.

 

When my brother and I were younger, I distinctly remember being a massive fan of Yorkie bars. It was always my favourite. If we got given 50p by a generous relative, we would scuttle off to the sweet shop around the corner and giggle excitedly, while we looked at all the sherbet sticks and flying saucer sweets and fried egg sweets and Mr Freezy flavoured ice sticks. A lot of the time, though, I’d get a Yorkie. Now I think about it, I fear I may have been wasting a fantastic opportunity for potential sweetie-induced happiness. I just wanted a big bar of solid chocolate. Then Yorkie brought out these adverts on TV which said, “Yorkie! Not for girls!” So I had a little-girl-tiff and stopped buying them. I switched my allegiance to Dime bars, which were about half the price anyway, and shook my proverbial fist at the the Yorkie makers, knowing they’d notice my missing custom and regret their silly no-girls advert.

 

Speaking of chocolate, actually, there are lots of new weird and wacky things happening with chocolate, which take inspiration from it’s original use as a savoury drink, mixed with chilli, when first discovered and drunk in South America. So chilli chocolate bars abound the shelves of high end delicatessens or your local Whole Foods. I like the idea of liking chilli and chocolate together. I have tried, and failed, to get myself to like it. I just cannot stand the prickly heat in the back of my throat after I have swallowed a lovely mouthful of sweet melty chocolate. My senses scream at me to stop. It is just wrong, I’m sorry for those of you who love this combination.

 

Another thing which doesn’t work for me is chocolate pasta. I had originally thought that it would be great with something savoury. A friend told me he had it with a veal dish. Great, I thought, let me be gourmet and get into this chocolate pasta scene! Then someone told me that I had it all wrong. Chocolate pasta was a dessert and I must warm some cream up, add walnuts, cook my pasta and then add it to my warm cream and walnuts, mix around and then serve up, as my dessert. Ok, I thought, that sounds interesting, I can do that.

 

And I did it.

 

And it tasted like…. pasta with cream and walnuts. Normal regular pasta with cream and walnuts. In all honesty, cream and walnuts are not my usual accompaniment to pasta so I put it aside, disappointed. All that anticipation, all that planning… and it just tasted like regular pasta. Maybe I got it from the wrong company. Maybe I should have looked around for a really great quality one or asked for recommendations. Anyway, that’s the end of the road for my chocolate pasta journey, I think.

 

Now, another chocolate thing that I have reached the end of the road with is chocolate mousse. Not eating it! No, I am of course still eating it. Making it myself at home though, no more! In the early days of cooking in my kitchen, I didn’t have an electric whisk so I whisked my egg whites by hand. I would get severe arm ache and give up before it had quite finished being whisked. I’d just keep on with the recipe, in blind hope that it would be fine. It wasn’t. It would come out to dense and hard, instead of soft and fluffy. I tried it a second time, having convinced myself that the eggs must have been rubbish or something. The same thing happened. So I stopped making chocolate mousse. Maybe that’s silly, because now I have an electric whisk so I could try it again. I think I have a mental block with chocolate mousse now though.

 

I did go through a stage of drinking unsweetened hot chocolate not too long ago. It was an unexpected pleasure which grew on me. I used Bournville cocoa powder, steamed milk and vanilla or almond extract. I occasionally used orange oil but it tended to overwhelm the whole thing. Peppermint did the same and almost tasted toothpaste-ish. So I stuck to vanilla or almond. Because it’s bitter, it takes a few times to get used to it but I started really looking forward to my evening vanilla hot chocolate after a while.

 

Another of my favourite things to do with chocolate when I have guests over is a kind of help-yourself thing. I grate a load of dark chocolate, finely chop some mint, mix them together and put it in a small dish. I grate some more and zest an orange in with it and put that into a dish. Sometimes I do one of plain dark chocolate grated. You can play around with what flavours you want to add. Then I get loads of those mini pots of icecream and tell everyone to pick a pot and top it with whatever they want from the dishes of chocolate. Or you could go even simpler, get a huge bowl, half some strawberries and throw in some cherries, then get some dark chocolate and break it roughly into pieces and throw in aswell and get get nibbling.

 

With Christmas approaching, I am guessing my chocolate intake will increase drastically. Not because there is far better chocolate around at Christmas and I will be unable to control myself. It’s more because it will be there, freely available and right in front of my face (of course, I could choose not to stand directly in front of the Christmas chocolate and sweeties aisle at the supermarket but I like it there, ok?). So I will eat it. Because I can see it. Advent calendars, not a favourite or any special memories but a nice reason to eat chocolate first thing every morning. A selection box, again no amazing memories, just that my grandfather used to get us one every year, without fail. But if I bought all those individual chocolate bars in a shop and ate them all in one day, people would judge me, quite harshly I should think. Wrap it in a plastic packet with a fun Christmas picture on the front and call it a ‘selection box’ and it’s suddenly fine! Eat them all, no problem!

 

In Namibia, my friend Lucy and I, used to get a chocolate bar called Top Deck, if we had any spare money. This was an exciting time for us, when it happened. It was white chocolate on the bottom and milk chocolate on the top. It looked beautiful and we loved it, although I’ve no memory of how it tasted.

 

Nanny Rhino and the law of tea

Yes, that’s right. I’m fobbing you off with something from my Nanny Rhino, rather than writing a proper blog for you. Again. Apologies. I have been busy (for ‘busy,’ read: lazy).

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Tea. What a wonderful wonderful beverage. Not much beats a tea. As a non-drinker (of the alcoholic variety, I of course, do drink other things), tea is as wacky as it gets in my world. Well, apart from when I occasionally drink coffee.

 

I do get quite wacky with my tea sometimes. When I first moved to university and happened to have a peppermint tea at someone’s house, a whole new world opened up in front of me. And it was very exciting indeed. I used to have a small travel kettle in my room which just brewed enough for one cup. I also had a rubbishy student job at a coffee place inside a train station. They would open at the crack of dawn to get the early commuters and close late at night to get the drunken husbands desperately trying to sober up with espressos before returning home to their wives.

 

I was often on the early shifts, which meant arriving at 5.30am. Whether cycling or taking the bus, I needed to leave myself about twenty minutes. So my alarm would go off at 4.15am and I would grumpily throw back the duvet and force myself over to the desk to put the kettle on. A mug with a tea bag would be waiting, having been placed there the night before. The kettle would boil, the water would go in and while it brewed, I would gripe about early starts and it surely being against the Human Rights Act and I could possibly sue my employers. Then the tea would finish brewing, I’d ditch the bag and, depending on which tea it was, I’d add milk and have a sip.

 

Things slowly seemed kind of nice then. I could hear the birds singing and see the sun rising. I would put in headphones and listen to I Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones (always the same song, because of the line “I waited till I saw the sun.”) and write. I was doing a joint honours degree and one of my subjects was Creative Writing. The lecturers had advised us to write for twenty minutes every morning. I realised what I always realise at that time of day, when my grumpiness has slid off and down under the floorboards some place and all the nice things about being awake in an empty world while everyone else sleeps become obvious. There’s just me. Me and my cup of tea. My day feels nicer when I start it that way.

 

Yesterday morning, for example, even though I didn’t have time to have tea at home, I managed an earl grey and a scone in between all the breakfast and coffee orders at work. It helped.

 

I have been known to branch out quite spectacularly when making tea. I went for milk-less tea for a long time, which led to forays into the world of fresh mint tea (plucked from my own garden), cardamom concoctions and licorice infusions. When living abroad in Namibia, my friend, Lucy, and I, in our poverty, drank a lot of rooibos tea, to keep our tummies full! It was dirt cheap for a box of fifty and every evening, we would stand at our window in our kitchen and watch the sun set over the water. We were living on the coast, our little house looking out over the Atlantic ocean, and got the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. Colours I didn’t think belonged in a sky – greys, oranges, pinks, reds, blues, purples. Rooibos tea will always mean beautiful African sunsets to me.

 

Careless brewers, who throw the bag in walk away from it, then return later in the day to add milk, should be publicly reprimanded for killing tea. Teabag squeezers also need the same level of punishment.

 

Don’t just leave it there for ten minutes! It shows you don’t care. It comes out like black coffee and is far too bitter. And don’t go the opposite direction and try to brew it too quickly by taking a teaspoon and squeezing your bag against the side of the cup! What’s wrong with you? You’re suffocating it. Let it brew gently. Unless you have so little respect for yourself that you don’t mind drinking tannin, then please do not squeeze. 

Laura’s top tips

A few days ago, I was reading Chat and I came across some top tips that were madness. For example, eat your kiwi fruit out of an egg cup. That was it. That was the whole tip and it won £25. So I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, I can do this too.” So now, especially for you, I present Laura’s Top Tips! Enjoy.

Got short hair and want it longer? Stand next to a horse’s tail and drape it over your shoulder. Everyone will think it is your hair!

Running out of milk and bread at home? Take £3 and go to the shop and get some more!

Hair too curly all the time? Buy straighteners and straighten it.

Jumper got a hole in it? Fill it in with paper machier. No-one will be able to tell the difference.

Feeling ill? Take some medicine! You will be better in no time.

Got floorboards on your floor and fed up of hoovering all the time? Just sweep the dirt into a pile and brush it down the gaps in between the floorboards.

Getting cold in the evenings? Keep a Downstairs Duvet next to the sofa and snuggle under it when it starts getting chilly.

Worried about what to cook for dinner? Use a cookbook!

Ever wonder why your clothes take ages to dry when they’re in a pile on the ground? Put them over a clothes horse individually and wait until dry.

Bored? Read a book!

That’s it for today. I don’t want to overload your brain with my amazing tips so I’ll do some more another day. Good luck with the tips, I hope they help you.