Monthly Archives

February 2013


Lord bless Charlie Mopps*



I’m not usually a beer drinker.  I’ll blame it on a West Country heritage if it needs explanation, but my tipple of choice (back in the days when I could tipple; pregnancy and nursing having rather stemmed the flow of anything interesting on the grounds that the Health Visitors frown if you get the baby drunk by proxy) was a good scrumpy cider.

I do however appreciate a good real ale in either of the two places I consider to be its natural element; a pie or a hunk of bread.
This time, the bottle of Tribute (brewed in Cornwall but I won’t hold that against it) was destined for loaf #7, the imaginatively titled Beer Bread on page 28 (of 100 Great Breads if you’ve somehow avoided all the other bread round ups).
This bread is wonderful.  The Tribute has quite a lot to do with that, but I’m sure equally delicious results could be achieved with something else.  Warwickshire has quite a few local real ales so I shall have to repeat the experiment.
To be frank it tastes like a pub.  A proper pub, none of your swanky wine bars or chain superpubs with slightly sticky floors and a rather repetitive menu masquerading as classic British cuisine.  We’re talking dark beams, wooden furniture whose antiquity is only matched by the prevalence of odd knots and scrolls of carving to dig into the small of your back, with worn red plush upholstery, horse brasses if at all possible, a roaring fire in winter or the tang of the sea through open windows in summer, and it tastes as if droplets of the landlord’s finest (Otter, or Tribute at a pinch) have become suspended in a delicious beery fog around the bar.
It’s my childhood ‘local’ in a mouthful.  With added salty butter to fill in for the sea.  All I need is a gigantic portion of the best fish and chips and half a cider to go with it and I’m 18 again, tucked into a corner table with the family and whoever else had come to stay, with the smell of suntan lotion still rising from warm salt-tightened skin after a long day in the surf as the staff manoeuvred laden plates around a dining room and bar packed to the gunnels.
Unsurprisingly I’ve become rather addicted (and subscribed) to Simple Things magazine since its launch in the autumn; so full of beautiful pictures, pretty things and lovely recipes.  My participation in the suggested long walks or bike rides or other so very English adventures may be limited to wistful sighs as I turn the pages in the bath but that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment or hinder the memories of those kind of expeditions with my family or the anticipation of taking the girls exploring when they’re a bit older.
I think we might just manage a Simple Things style picnic or two when the weather’s a bit less like a perpetual version of the trudge back to school after you fell in the river in your rugby shirt during the ‘introduction to rowing’ session in the third form, and I know I’ve found the bread for it.  If the Milk Loaf was the bread of Enid Blyton’s heroes, this is the bread for all those cheerily pink cheeked welly wearers; Simple Things, in loaf format.  

* the man who invented beer

Family Kitty Motherhood

As to why I keep being plunged into darkness




Kitty is growing.  Figuratively as well as literally.  Not only has my chubby round little baby shot up and up and up and up, but she’s worked out that moving her chair over to the wall and standing on it on her very bestest tipeetoes gives her just enough leverage to flip the switches.  I blame ballet class for teaching her about tiptoes!

The first time she managed to reach she was so proud, she turned around to us with a beaming smile of accomplishment and waited for the praise to come raining down upon her. It took all of my self possession, honed over years of keeping a poker face in court and mediations to sit down with her and have a little chat about how whilst it was very wonderful that she could now turn the lights off and on, that didn’t necessarily mean that she should, and that as a sudden blanket of darkness falling upon our house usually means that the oven’s tripped the fuses again and requires her father to do battle with the legions of spiders that live in the same cupboard as the fuse box, perhaps she wouldn’t mind if we maintained his morale by keeping the lights on.
We’re still working on that one sinking in through the indefatigable layers of toddler cognitive reasoning.
She’s been able to reach the front door handle for a while, and will sprint for it shouting “Knock knock at the door!!” regardless of state of dress (or undress) or current occupation whenever she hears a tap on the knocker, surprising more than a few delivery drivers and the post lady as Elma and I follow at a more sedate pace.
Yesterday afternoon I got the surest proof that ever a mother could need.  We went up to the playpark to bask in an afternoon of glorious hot sunshine and while I perched on the corner of the baby landrover to nurse a wriggly Elma, Kit set off for the slide.  I’ve known she could climb up the ramp at the back of the slide for a while but she’s always needed a little helping hand to get over the stepping bars, suspended as they are at about my waist height with a nice big gap to the floor between each one.  And in the brief moment that I looked down at my baby, my big little girl trotted casually from one side to the other.  And then back again, just in case I’d missed it.
I don’t know what she’s going to do next but I strongly suspect that higher shelves may be the order of the day.
Elma Family Kitty

On hearts and cupids

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
There never was a bargain better driven.
(from Arcadia ~ Sir Philip Sidney)

Have you ever seen the preparation for marriage courses?  Many many moons ago, H and I spent our Tuesday evenings in the chilly and scantily lit meeting room of our then local church, eating CofE regulation biscuits (slightly soft, not too fancy) and chatting our way through the little blue book.
Part of the point of the course is to force you to sit down and discuss the things that no one likes to discuss, even with their nearest and dearest; money, family, in-laws; every topic your mother taught you not to bring up at polite dinner parties and all the things that you should know about your spouse before you promise to honour and obey.
But I think they’ve missed one off the list.  They might ask where you’re going to go for your first Christmas, whether you’re going to have a joint bank account and whether you think children are cute, cuddly, adorable and expensive or noisy, frustrating, expensive and more expensive, but it doesn’t ask what you think about Valentine’s Day.
Are you a committed devotee, themed with hearts and flowers at morning, noon and night, about to marry a girl who thinks pink is overrated and flowers belong in the garden? Or so completely unaware of the calendar in general that you think the abundance of red in the shops and a smattering of snow on the ground means it’s nearly Christmas, and gosh how fast that comes around again?
H and I tried giving cards for a few years, but if you’ll excuse the terrible terrible pun, our hearts weren’t in it.  I love to play with themes and will take up any opportunity for a bit of decorating and some fun crafting but I don’t need a card to know he loves me, and H would very much like not to be in that line of tired and rather worried looking husbands in business suits queuing up in Sainsbury’s at 9pm on the 13th, each clutching what they hope is a suitable burnt offering to their own household goddess (Elma and I stood out rather with our basket of nappies and baby wipes).
So, in what is now an affirmed family tradition (that means we’ve done it twice now and are therefore set for life), we skipped the cards.
Kitty and I spent our crafty time cutting big hearts out of all of the pink paper I could find in my papercraft stash, and threaded them on some leftover yarn to string between the lights and the curtain rails to make our little home even more pinkalicious than normal,



and Elma, themed for the day by the happy coincidence of cupid and the laundry fairy, lay on the floor and wiggled bug-covered toes at us.

We laid the table with “big camels” (candles for those who don’t speak Kitty), and our pretty china and glasses carefully out of the reach of both teeny tiny and tiny hands. When H came home we sat down as a family of four for our homemade feast; bruschetta on freshly baked Pain de Compagne (tomato for me, garlic mushroom for him), a glass or two of the cava left over from Elma’s baptism party (just the grown ups), and the biggest T-bone steak a cow ever waggled at a farmer, with just a smidgen of chocolate fondant pudding to round things off.
We might not have spent the evening whispering sweet nothings to each other, what with persuading Kit to stop trying to blow our the candles, nursing Elma, and chatting to H about the ups and downs of his day at work, but that’s OK.  We’re celebrating our here and now, and if that isn’t worth a T-bone steak I don’t know what is.


# what have I got to?

My memory is not what it was.  Actually, I’m not quite sure I can remember the last time it was what it was.  At work we dictate the vast majority of our documents and lots of them have numbered paragraphs or bullet points or ‘what have you’s in them.  I’ll start out quite confidently and then by the time I get to three or four I’ve completely lost track and my lovely secretary gets the joys of transcribing “number whatever we’ve got to” into some sort of coherent legalese.
Given that such antics clearly pre-date Elma’s arrival, if not Kitty’s, I’m not sure I can convincingly blame it on Mama-brain.  Perhaps, after all this time, a youth acquiring reams of useless information is catching up with me by means of a shortage of available space.
However, by the powers of deduction (a quick search through the archives) I declare that the Milk Loaf (page 23) is the sixth of the 100 Great Breads. 


It’s probably my favourite so far, a very English teatime kind of a loaf, but not the cucumber sandwiches and delicate china kind of tea,.  A nursery tea loaf, of the bread-and-butter kind, only to be served in slices thicker than your finger, with at least half an inch of jam slathered on top (or marmalade if your fancy takes you) .  I’m certain that if Enid Blyton had ever given out recipes, this is the bread that the Famous Five used to mop up all that ginger beer.
But perhaps this is an occasion where recollection is as strong as reality.  The bread has a slightly sweet taste, on the road to brioche, and under more dextrous hands than mine, I suspect it could be thinly sliced for an elegant presentation, but from the first mouthful I knew that this was in fact a concertina loaf.
My Mum had a concertina loaf tin which lived on the shelf of the bottom cupboard above the grapefruit squash from where it would wobble unceremoniously into the kneecaps of anyone who opened the door with unnecessary force, or who was unlucky enough to open the door after someone (probably usually me) had shut it rather too vigorously.
I don’t know whether it was ever meant to have a top half to produce a perfectly cylindrical loaf.  Ours didn’t, producing the rather curious effect of a traditional loaf shape on the top, and beautiful semi-circular ridges on the bottom.  Once the carving parent had pinned it to the bread board we would each be presented with a delicious thick ridge to smother in butter.  It rarely lasted long enough to get cool.
Mum didn’t make it very often, perhaps due to the challenge of keeping a semi-circular tin upright in the oven (I’ve no idea how she did it, there certainly weren’t any feet on the tin or anything clever like that), so it always felt like a treat.


This milk loaf is the second incarnation, after the first disappeared rapidly with the assistance of summer fruit jam, marmalade, and soup (though not all at once (at least, not by me)), and that I think says it all.
This one is going in the repeats list.