Thursday, 30 May 2013

Guest Post: Spicy Masala Tea Cake

Yep, it's that time again. The time where I pinch Mrs Im's facebook statuses because they are awesome. And also, because this recipe sounds absolutely amazing. (This is an adaptation of a traditional fruit cake recipe smooshed with a recipe from the Green & Blacks cookbook. Im used golden raisins and chopped tangerine with the skin, but you can use any dried fruit.)

Spicy masala teacake, with chocolate and molasses and three different types of booze, to be precise

1) realise you have been soaking the fruit in masala tea/ spices/ booze since the weekend and decide to bake even though it's the middle of the night.

2) try to cream together a standard block of baking butter with 300g of molasses and 50g of caster sugar, find it impossible, swear and then use the electric whisk, which will over heat.

3) one at a time, whisk in 3 eggs. Get distracted. End up accidentally turning the elec whisk to max instead of off and find yourself wearing the batter.

4) sift together 350g spelt flour, 1 tsp bicarb, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp each powdered ginger, cinnamon, and chilli flakes, and mix into the batter in parts, fucking up the whisk again and powdering the kitchen.

5) beat in a shot of tia maria, a shot of rum, and a shot of brandy (one for me, one for the cake.... hic), the pre-soaked fruit, a bar of Green & Black's Indian Spice chocolate (chopped).

6) realise the bowl you used int quiiiiiite fucking big enough for 125g walnuts. Arse.

7) beat in walnuts very slooowly, still spill some, quickly dispense into 2 x pre-greased 9 x 5 loaf tins, bung in a 160 degree oven for 1 hr 15 mins. Cool before attempting to eat.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Jive Night: the Doggone Honkabillies

After a couple of weeks break, I got back into the swing of things on Wednesday at Jive class. Red and I worked on a couple of new moves - Phil tends to teach us pretty solid moves (usually ones you can do at varying degrees of drunkeness), Red likes a few of the more flashy ones. One of the moves is the 'Hip Hop' where I have a little jump - I was quite scared by it, but it's actually quite fun to do... though I really need some practice! (It's the third move in the clip below.... and can I say that rockabilly jive is much easier than the swing moves in the video!)

It was UCA Jive's 1st birthday bash on Friday - naturally I made cake for the occasion. (Carrot with cream cheese icing, since you asked.) The only thing that Phil specified was that it had to have a mustache on it, so with some help from Doc I duly stenciled one on with blue glitter. Then just as I was getting my stuff together to meet Miss Mac I dropped the cake! The cake was in tin foil so it was fine, just a little battered, but the 'tache just didn't make it through. Cake carnage! Glitter everywhere! So there I was all dolled up desperately trying to clean up loads of edible glitter and put right the icing before I dashed out the door. Phil said that it went down a storm so it must have tasted alright - which is the main thing. Shame that I didn't even get a photo of the magnificent mustache, on the plus side, everyone who remotely came into contact with the cake got glitter all over the place, and who doesn't like glitter?!

So Miss Mac, the cake and I finally made it through the pouring rain to get to the gig. This month Phil had booked in the Doggone Honkabillies. They are a four piece from Essex (a dad on vocals and his son on guitar) who actually are more country than rockabilly - probably the first time that I've ever wished I knew a bit more line dancing! Red and I got some good jiving in, and I danced with a few other people. One gentleman was quite clearly a lindy hopper so I didn't really know the moves but he did a good job of guiding me so it was a really lovely dance. The band were great, they mostly did covers but they did a few of their own songs as well. They did a couple of Johnny Cash songs, some Hank Williams and a few other classics, but they also did a really twangy, country version of Fever. There was definitely some rockabilly influences to their style - they did have a double bass after all, but they also had a slider which gave the songs that slippery, western feel to them. Some of the more upbeat songs were great for bopping, some of the songs were pretty slow so we all got to sit down and listen. They chatted a bit in between songs which was nice and dedicated 'Hey Good Lookin' to the bar staff, which was lovely.

I didn't stick around too long after the band finished their second set, long enough to have a couple more dances with Red and then away into the cold, rainy night. Hopefully by next Jive Night, I will have mastered those flashy moves. Rock it!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Curiouser and curiouser...

I have no idea what the weather was doing today - it was warm in the morning and then randomly started hailing and then cleared up a bit only to rain again on and off all day. Despite the weather, Middle B and I made it to the private view of Curiosity: Art and the Pleasure of Knowing at the Turner Contemporary. There was a talk at 6pm that we missed because of the combination of work and train times, so we had chips by the seaside and then went in to see the exhibit.

I am fascinated by the Victorian idea of Cabinets of Curiosities. In the Renaissance, they were originally whole rooms of interesting bits and pieces, usually rarities collected on travels or various animals that were taxidermied or other such novelties. (Hence the German term Wunderkammer). By the Victorian age they had been trimmed down to cabinets, but some of those were incredibly intricate, the cabinet being a wonder in itself, with lots of tiny compartments often with amazing carving and inlaid with mother of pearl and gemstones.

A Victorian Cabinet of Curiosities

The collection was rather like a Curiosity Cabinet in that it had lots of sections to it, all of which were very different, but had an overarching theme. There were some sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci, there were some amazing charcoal rubbings of plates for science books, and many photos and paintings of beautiful curious things.

One of the biggest highlights for me were some extraordinary glass sculptures of sea life. They were made by a father and son team Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka at the end of the 19th C starting with illustrations in biology books and eventually going to aquariums and using real sea life as models. Each piece was a couple of inches, if that, and they were almost completely biologically accurate, even down to the colour. Many people have tried to figure out the method they used to make the sculptures but it remains a mystery.

A glass jellyfish, circa 1890

There was also some interesting taxidermy by Thomas Grunfeld called 'Misfits'. One of them was the body of a dog (possibly a golden retriever) with the face of a sheep, and the other was a penguin body with the neck and head of a peacock. I am not usually squeamish about ethically taxidermied things, but for some reason the idea of a combining two species did make me somewhat uncomfy. Luckily on the opposite wall was a long strip of animal pictures called 'a Continuum of Cute'.

'Misfits' by Thomas Grunfeld

And then we gradually made our way out towards the museum shop - because who doesn't adore a good museum shop? As we made our way out, we got told no less than 7 times that the gallery was closing and we needed to leave.. that's got to be a record. Needless to say, we did make it out of there in our own good time and there were still plenty of people milling about drinking wine so we didn't feel too bad.

Obviously, since it was a private view there were many people around, so it wasn't the best day to sit and look at all the curiosities presented. I really enjoyed it though and I think it would definitely be worth another look when I have more time and space to absorb the different pieces. It was a shame that we missed the opening talk, but it was beautifully curated and well worth braving the rain for.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Slight Epiphany

I had acupuncture this week - I still go along for a tune up every three months. I noticed that a few people had been giving me advice and 'trying to be helpful' about my single status and I also noticed that I had been thinking about my relationships with men quite a lot recently so I decided to explore that a little bit.

Since there is a mind body element to acupuncture, we do work on the emotional states that manifest in my body. I have had many miscommunications with men, because it's one area of life that just appears to go completely over my head. I don't just mean in a romantic sense, but also in terms of the power balance with all the men have known or worked with. Since that is a huge area, the thing I came to her with was this: I want to know that I'm not getting into relationships because I am genuinely happy being single, and/or the people I'm meeting really honestly aren't going to make me happier than I already am (which is the point, surely?) rather than pretending to myself that this is the case when really I'm just very sacred and insecure and I don't even realise. I also want to be able to balance the feminine and masculine inside of me, that I feel comfy in my own skin, so if I choose to get into a relationship or I choose to stay single I'm doing so because that is really where I want to be and not out some external pressure or out of fear.

She gave me a really strong treatment. The current that she tapped into was not so much personal to me, but a much wider scope that involved our whole culture - all the signals we are sent about what is acceptable for women and for men, all of the socialisation that occurs around gender, attraction, relationships and power. In particular, there is a strong undercurrent of shame and repression (especially in the context of sexuality) that comes with being a woman in our society in this era and she picked up on this during the treatment. I always have things come up in the next few days after a session - things come to the surface and clear away or show themselves so that I can resolve them, though this being a really strong one she suggested that it might take a while, a few days, maybe even some weeks. She said that she would not be surprised if shame is a big issue that comes up.

In the few days since the treatment I've been taking it easy, tried to get some rest, not to think about anything heavy and just let things come up in their own time. When I say I take it easy, what I really mean is drinking coffee, re-reading Stardust and trying on some beautiful dresses. I noticed when I was looking at clothes was that I was choosing dresses that were much more patterned and colourful than I would normally go for. I got really adventurous. I was trying on dresses all on my own, twirling around in front of a huge mirror in a changing room and I realised that I like my legs! And that actually, maybe I could wear dresses that are above knee length! And they would look lovely! And that all the people in my life who had told me I have lovely legs weren't lying! For the first time ever I tried on a dress that reached to about mid-thigh length, and I was genuinely happy with how I looked. And while this was a pretty novel sensation for me, it felt really comfortable and natural: this is the way that things should be. It wasn't a melodramatic epiphany particularly, more like a subtle shift, something clicking into place and working better than it did before. If I really love my body, that also means that I will stop being obsessed by it, bitching about it, and worrying about it and just get on with life, I'll clothe it in delightful things and then move on and spend time thinking about all the other beautiful things there are in the world. And while that's not really a revelation for anyone else, I think that it will change aspects of my relationship with men, with other women and with myself - or maybe only my dress sense, I'll have to wait and see.

An amazingly inspiring article that I think every woman should read is here: 'Things No-one Will Tell Fat Girls...' by The Militant Baker

Friday, 17 May 2013

Book Club: 'Surfacing'

This month we read Surfacing by Margaret Atwood. It was a pretty short book, but so much is packed into it! The characters are complex and there is a great deal of subtext so I think it is the type of book that would get better on a second or even third reading. I liked the main character; she starts off fairly pragmatic, but towards the end of the book there is more symbolism and more of an exploration of mental states which is really interesting. I did find that I got lost somewhat towards the final chapters, I wasn't exactly sure what had happened and that made me a little confused about what feelings the character was trying to express.

The thing that most interested me was the relationship between the two couples and how that changes as they spend more and more time in isolation. There is increasing paranoia, vanity, pettiness and other strong emotions all come to the surface, deeper characters and fears are shown than might ever be exposed in the city dwelling routine that the couples normally belong to.

I have to say, I have read quite a few works by Margaret Atwood before and this was a good read but it wasn't my favourite.

After we finished our discussion of the book we grabbed some pizza and settled down to watch The Impossible, a film about the tsunami in Thailand. I love both Ewan MacGregor and Naomi Watts. I thought that it was an incredibly emotional and a bit overblown and hammy in places, but there were definitely things I appreciated. The acting was fantastic, particularly the kids. It managed to portray just how fast everything happened and how much pain and insecurity and fear there was. Some of the scenes of the ocean wave coming in and engulfing the resort were literally awe inspiring, as was the contrast between the tranquil Christmas day and then the carnage afterwards. None of us cried it must be said, but there was definitely a bit of squealing and hiding behind clutched pillows as the suspense mounted. I enjoyed it (if you can say that about that type of film!).

This month we are reading (and probably watching) The Hobbit which I have never read. I know, I'm about to remedy this situation poste haste. To the bookery! Without a moment to lose!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


It's my birthday! So just a little post to tell you what I got up to: I got dressed up and had breakfast with G and Miss V at a new cafe that has just opened in town called Mrs Jones Kitchen. I adore going out for breakfast! This was followed up by cake and coffee naturally. Then we went to browse a bookshop and bought some childrens' books and had a stroll around town. In the evening, I went off to teach meditation - some of my students got me flowers and chocolates! It's been a lovely day all in all.

I've been told there is more in the post and things being made by various people but so far I got a book, a Thelonius Monk CD and quite a lot of chocolate. Many of the cards people gave me had beautiful fonts. I got to wear a skirt and a cardie with cute pockets. All of this has made me very happy.

There will be official celebrations in June when various people are back from holidays so you'll hear more about birthdayness from me, but today has been delightful!

*Update: I got a massive box in the post from my dad containing: Modest Mouse and Madeleine Peyroux and Through the Wormhole and Evolutionaries and Evolutionary Enlightenment! I love getting packages in the post! I also got a handmade birthday card left outside my door from G which was very exciting. So now I have loads of things to play with - that should keep me out of trouble for a while at least....

Friday, 10 May 2013

It's a Small World

I can't believe it's already May! The sun is shining and a soft breeze is wafting through work. By soft breeze, I mean howling gale, but it could be worse - it could be raining. Nothing much has happened recently, which makes a nice change to be honest. I do however have quite a few birthdays in May so there will be much discussion of presents and parties (or lack thereof). I will kick that off now: I remembered that G's birthday is sometime at the beginning of May not once suspecting that it would be on May 1st itself - which gave me all of 1 day to find a present! As it was she was away with her family, so I had a few days grace. This time of year is a little bit tight for me, so I was thinking about what I could construct from what I had at home. I was quite inspired by Kim Welling's Instant Comfort Pocket Boxes, so I decided to have a play around with some matchboxes myself. This was the end result:

It's a small world....

She's pretty earthy and deep, so I decided to try and fit a whole world in there. I cut out some butterflies and some celestial bodies and put some bits and pieces in like gemstones, a shell and some fabric flowers. It was fun finding things to go in.

The Box of Wonder and Delight

Not bad for a couple of days work! I think there are ways for me to get more adventurous with the construction, maybe add a bit of texture or layering, but I was pretty happy with this. I ended up wrapping it in tissue paper, putting it in a box (surrounded by packing peanuts), wrapping it in parcel paper and some string round it so it really was like pass the parcel! Fun times. The next birthday is my Mum's, and I suspect that I'll be a little bit more conventional with that present.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

End of an Era

This week saw the official demise of my car - she went to the scrappers and is now in car heaven, which I assume means that she's up in the sky, parked looking at lovely sunsets and listening to whatever she likes on the radio for all eternity. I know it's only a car, and it's not really that big a deal, but she was my first car and I'll always think of her fondly. Bye bye Tabitha!

Another goodbye this week was for Miss H who moved out of the house yesterday. We've shared a house for nearly three years, so it really is the end of an era! She's only moved down the road for now, but in September she and her Mr. will be headed to the big city where she will take up a job in the very wonderful and swanky London Library. I believe this calls for lots of amazing pencil skirts and looking at people over her specs and maybe even telling people to 'Shhhh!'. Hopefully we'll see each other a fair bit before she goes, not least because we have plans for her to teach me how to use a sewing machine - actually I suspect that we will see each other more this summer than we have the last few months anyway. No more will we able to squeal 'I live with you','I live with you tooooo!' at each other at random intervals! I am very proud of her finishing her degree and getting a fabulous job, but I will miss her muchly.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

In which some Musings are Mumbled and the Nature of Time is Speculated Upon

It appears that Spring has decided to grace us briefly and with it a lovely flurry of sunshine and conversation with various housemates. As I've gotten to know him, I have discovered that as Doc gets more tired, he also gets more random - here are few gems that popped up in conversation this week:

'Wouldn't it be the worst thing in the world if you were made of cornflakes and it started raining milk and you really had to go outside?'

(I honestly have no idea how we get into these conversations.)

'If we were ever in a plane crash in the middle of nowhere and we were getting really desperate, I would definitely eat you, let's not have any qualms about this - yum yum yum yum, Nat steak, fillet of Nat, Nat sausages with mash, Triple Big Nat with Cheese...I mean don't get me wrong, it would be awful, I'd be sobbing while I did it, of course, and because you're culinarily inclined I would definitely find something to marinade you in, like coconuts and pineapple chunks or something, some good seasoning as a tribute to your life..... Although thinking about it if we ended up somewhere with coconuts, I would just go and get us both some coconuts....'

Speaking of The Doctor, this is ridiculously fantastic:

So time does appear to be a ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff after all. Gosh.