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Cake.

February 8, 2018
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This is orange season, and particularly gorgeous are these juicy little blood oranges you can pick up in most green grocers or supermarkets.  Marmalade is next on my list but in the meantime it being one of my brother’s birthdays last week, and he coming over for a little weekday supper last night to celebrate in a Wednesday-ish sort of way, I thought I’d make a Persian orange cake.   Cake is the perfect way to celebrate pretty much anything, and also the answer to most of life’s problems I think, except perhaps if you are on a diet. Luckily none of us last night were on a diet.  This is such a lovely, fragrant cake (also gluten and fat free – yes, it is), and such an easy recipe I then thought I’d put it our there for you, gentle reader.

This based on a Claudia Roden recipe I have used for years.  She is a remarkable women and worth a diversion away from here should you be curious to know more.

Persian Orange Cake

2 large, or 3 small/medium oranges.  (Blood oranges are lovely for this but to be honest don’t make a lot of difference to the colour unless they are very dark red.  Any nice ripe oranges will do.)

6 eggs

250g ground almonds

200g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

Method.

In Advance

Put the oranges in pan of boiling water – enough so they bounce around a bit, not touching the bottom.  These need to simmer away for an hour or so, until really soft, so the water will need to be topped up every now and then.

When soft drain the water and let the oranges cool.

When cooled down cut them cross ways and scoop out any pips.  Then put the oranges, peel and all, into a food processor to whizz into a pulp.  If you don’t have one they will need thorough mashing with a potato masher, or chopped finely on a board (this could get messy).  You need to end up wth a lovely sloppy pulp.  Then put this to one side.

Ready to bake.

Pre heat the oven to about 200 degrees or gas 6.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. I use a round one because that’s what I have and I think round looks nice, but use what you like, just make sure you line it.  My tin is approx 10″ diameter which works well for these quantities.

Whisk the eggs throughly in a large bowl.  Add the almond, sugar & baking powder and combine well.  Add the pulp and stir vigorously.  If you like you can add a few drops of orange water here to give it a more perfumed aroma.

Scrape entire mix into the tin and put into the oven, middle shelf, for approximately one and half hours.  It needs to spring back very gently to the touch when it is ready, and not wobble.  Use a toothpick or skewer to double check if you’re not sure.  It won’t come out squeaky clean because of the way the cake is formed, but it should come out without raw sticky bits on it.

Options:

Sprinkle with icing sugar or drizzle with a marmalade syrup to serve.  Marmalade syrup is easy  – add a few tablespoons of water and one of sugar to one large one of marmalade and boil for 5 mins or so, until the sugar is dissolved.  The thicker you want it the longer you boil it.  You can leave the bits in or remove them, up to you, but it adds a lovely sharp extra marmaladey taste to the cake.

Serve warm or room temp with crème frâiche.  Stored in a sealed container this will last a week.  It won’t, because it tastes so good, but theoretically…

 

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It’s a living?

January 4, 2018

I read an article recently about the mental state of chefs in restaurant kitchens.  It highlighted some really important issues and problems with the way restaurants are run in this country, particularly the high end, Michelin star chasing variety.

The writer of this article is Jay Rayner, he of the large opinions and and enormous appetite, and it is quite good, sympathetic and no doubt has been fact checked etc.  However, it struck me forcibly that this article would not pass the Bechdel test, if that test was tweaked and applied to this kind of writing.  Jeremy King is “softening up the atmosphere by introducing older cooks and by employing more women”, as though old people and women are new types of aromatherapy oils.  I wasn’t aware until now that this was apparently the point of women in the catering industry.

So I began to think about all the women I had worked with and for over the years, and how many of them are still running successful kitchens and catering businesses without recourse to employing men to beef up the soft atmosphere, but perhaps employing them along side women as equals – now there’s a thought.

When I first started in the catering industry in 1980 I was a whipper snapper waitressing for vodka and lime money while at college, working for a woman called Tessa.  On leaving college, having ‘studied’ photography, I realised that since I was no Ansel Adams photography wasn’t for me and so I wandered into full time catering, as so many do.  Smiths Restaurant in Covent Garden was one of my first London jobs, as a cashier then waitress, alongside another job at the Covent Garden General Store, basket department (did you note that I had two jobs? good.).

Smith’s was owned by the redoubtable Christina Smith who owned half of Covent Garden at that time, with the Flower Smith, Smith’s Gallery, The Tea House & Neal Street East as her commercial outlets.  Ok, she wasn’t a chef, but she saved Covent Garden from demolition, had an incredible eye for art and beauty, great taste in food and awoke a love in me for seriously stylish restaurants, so a worthy female role model.

My last shift at Smith’s restaurant – hence irreverent pose on the piano and glass of bubbly (behind me are some of the art works that are being sold for charity by Christina).

Some of my colleagues at lunch, post shift at Smith’s – we were a serious and thoughtful lot.

Smith’s Restaurant was in the basement of the gallery, painted white throughout with large booths in between the enormous pillars and stunning art on the walls (it is now a Belgos, dark and dungeon like and smelling of stale mussels).  I didn’t have much to do with the kitchen in those days, apart from flirting occasionally over the pass in order to get an order out quicker, discovering the joys of celeriac match sticks in salads and learning how to fillet a dover sole.  While there I worked with David Eyre and Mike Belben who went on to start the Eagle, the world’s first* gastro pub, and also worked and lived with Graham Walker (now Norton) who was just as funny then as he is now, just with much cheaper clothes.  Anyway, I digress as usual.

*probably

Moving on – I worked at the Groucho Club where the full force of macho kitchen bollocks was on display quite a lot of the time, and it wasn’t just staff hoovering up the cocaine.  Despite the male dominated line up in the kitchen, my manager was Mary-Lou Sturridge, a force to be reckoned with and good laugh to boot.  Next was 192, a sister restaurant to the Groucho, mostly managed by women and where the head chef was Maddalena Bonino, who seems to have fallen of the face of google – a brilliant cook, sharp, with flaming red hair and scarlet lipstick.

Then on to the place where I really learned about food; presentation, aesthetics and ethics, the feel of working in good a team – the glamour of the clientele aside it was a very down to earth place.  It was, of course, run by women.  It still is.  Rose sadly died in 2010, and while she is clearly missed Ruth keeps the stoves lit and the line up of staff a good mix of the sexes.  Rose & Ruth were an education in themselves.  Rose tall, very English, slightly sardonic and pithy (and occasionally pissy) with a love of art and Patsy Kline that allowed me to finally admit my own secret love of country music.  Ruth was breathy, generous and flamboyant.  When you worked for her you were hers, lock stock.

Rose & Ruth

Most people who know about the River Cafe always comment on the staggeringly expensive menu.  And it is, and was, no question.  But I would like to suggest that perhaps this is what it is actually worth.  I don’t know what staff there are paid these days but I know that I was paid well and fairly back in 1991, more indeed, literally, than I earn now.  We were also fed extremely well, after service, all together.

The catering business is totally unbalanced.  As we all eat out more, as  matter of course now, and choose our eateries based on price, quality of the food, atmosphere and ethics (in that order – I did a survey) we push more and more places to compromise their standards or close.   We are not willing to pay what the food actually costs if you take into account decent wages, overheads, tax (don’t even get me started on the deep unfairness of the vat system in the industry), rising ingredient costs etc.  If we did, we probably wouldn’t be able to eat out so often.

It is telling that the most successful restaurants are those that are either chains or small, owner operated.  Anything in between is up against enormous odds, especially somewhere like Bristol where saturation point for coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and bars was hit a long time ago, and yet still they come (and go).

It is exciting to go and find the newest place, cast your vote and then move on to the next.  But sometimes I wish that the little neighbourhood bistro could exist in peace and just carry on doing what it does well, without having to instagram every meal or watch their neighbourhood get all up and coming, get eclipsed by the hipster cereal cafe next door and whither away, only for that to be eclipsed by a coffee emporium where you can make your own coffee at your table (I can do that in my kitchen surely?) or yet another incarnation of the burger joint selling, ooh let me think, burgers.

What to do about it all?  I have ideas.  I do feel that the world has reached a tipping point regarding it’s attitude to women, and the power that we hold but don’t exercise, yet – our time approaches I am sure of it.  It’s how we handle it that will count.  And the catering industry?  Perhaps as more women feel able to step up and take control we won’t be used simply as fragrant soft furnishings by men.  I think it may have started…   What do you think?

Three Sisters

November 3, 2017
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Three sisters, and vermouth – the same but different.

I have two sisters.  A lot of people don’t have any sisters, or siblings at all.  Families come in all shapes and configurations and sisters don’t necessarily have to be a part of that, or siblings of any kind come to that.  But, already, I digress.  I have two sisters.  And a sister from another family who is a very different sort of sister.  And friends who are like sisters, except that presumably not all sisters are the same so who knows if they are like that kind of sister or is they are just that kind of friend.

Anyway.   Due to the way my family is shaped, and because of its migration to Scotland from Yorkshire in 1974 which led to me going away to school, and of course our age differences,  I never really had the growing up with a sister thing, the shared clothes, the vileness/adoration back and forth, the shared boyfriends and makeup.  Although I do remember being mean to to Emma when she was about eight because she borrowed my yellow, imitation patent leather sling back platform shoes and trampled them through the mud and dust of the Scottish earth around our caravan.  Yes, I really spent money on those.

Things I do remember of living with my sisters are of my elder sister, Sue, simply being there, serious, helpful and kind, slightly distant, and then going away to boarding school.  Oh the glamour of it, the grown-upness of it.  Her room was left immaculate, with her giant rag dolls on the bed, with their eyelashes made of lace – the only immaculate room in the house.  She had a Venetian glass necklace, of tiny birds and flowers on her dressing table, that I would look at, hold and want with every fibre of my being.  And then the next thing I knew she was engaged, wearing a silver lurex mini dress to her party at the same time as our mother went into labour with my little sister, Emma.

We were still in Yorkshire then and Emma was brought home in a snowy white shawl, soft as a lamb.  Us older ones were ushered in to greet her on return from school, Nurse Thompson, the district nurse, standing over us to make sure we didn’t break her.  She was tiny, pink and sweet.  She stayed that way for many years, until finally her little dimpled knuckles filled out and her hands became capable and strong.

Sue and Emma book end the family.  They seem to have had different lives to the rest of us, again due to circumstance and age gaps more than anything intentional.  One day I will gather their memories and line them up along side mine – I expect they won’t match at all.  I was very much part of the rough and tumble of the boy’s lives, wearing their hand me downs as well as my girl cousin’s hand made smocks from Harrods.  I felt more of sister to them growing up.  Phil, Luke and me – we were the little ones.  We had supper together made by Eileen, our ‘Mother’s help’.  She wasn’t a very good cook.  The older ones had supper with our parents, proper, grown up food.  I don’t actually know what they ate but I know it wasn’t mince in gravy browning with lumpy mash.  We were a team of three who would fight constantly and messily.  But still, a team.  I was the only girl in that team.

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Emma, Sue, me – taken at a particularly poignant time.

But now the value I place on my relationship with my sisters cannot be measured.  We meet up, the three of us, at least once a year.  We usually plan something like a spa day with champagne and caviar vol-au-vents, but as the day approaches we hone it to a more manageable event.  It doesn’t really matter what we do because it’s just about being together.  The talk never stops, the constant flow of mutual support, more often than not one of us will cry, coo over each other’s achievements, children, new carpet, whatever.  We commiserate with the failures, the sadnesses, the shock of a disease or tricky life turn, and the gradual creep of age which, outrageously, is even beginning to show, just a tiny bit, on Emma.

I am a very lucky person.  I have some fabulous friends, a family I adore, a son who is a source of wonder and love, a husband who puts up with me and has my undying love.

I am aware that these posts of mine weave crazily through self loathing, self congratulating, counting blessings, fury at the world, soppy ones, heart felt and meandering ones, no real rhyme or reason to them, and there’s no special reason why I thought about my sisters today today, apart from someone posted this song on face book as a tribute to his sisters.  (Please listen).  But if you read these, and you know me at all, then you know this is kind of how my mind works.  I would apologise except I don’t want to – you can always stop reading.  My sisters are little bits of magic of my life, sparkly and special – I love them.

Onward?

September 13, 2017

Bombarded from all sides by bleakness, despair, anger and bafflement.  And that’s just my facebook feed.  I try to stay away, but it’s hard when my work involves a lot of social media action.  Also, does staying away from it, and from the news in general actually mean I’m opting out of taking action?  Letting the apathy reign?  I suspect so.   I know people who say they don’t watch/listen to/read the news as though this is some sort of higher achievement.  Perhaps it is, but from where I sit to ignore the news is to condone what is happening in the world.  And there is a lot happening in the world.  It makes me so mad that my auto correct gets overheated and I end up typing completely unreadable sentences.  Then I correct each word individually and you get the sentence above.  Nice and righty tighty.

Where to begin?  America & Trump?  Hurricanes (not the cocktail version)?  Floods?  Fires – forest or tower blocks? Brexit? Nazis? Refugees?  Human traffickers?  Ethnic cleansing?  Shall I go on?  Do I need to?  All these questions, I do apologise – be reassured they are rhetorical, for the purposes of this blog anyway.

Nitty gritty then.  Let’s begin with facebook.  That thing that brings old friends and new together in cyber space.  (What is cyber space?  Is it a cloud?  If so is it in Alaska? I heard THE cloud is in Alaska)  I wouldn’t be married if it wasn’t for facebook, at least, not to the person I am married to .  I have hooked up with old school pals, some not seen our leaver’s weekend 38 years ago – sometimes that proves to be very odd, sometimes it’s magic.  I see pictures of kittens, I posted pictures of kittens, I see things that make me laugh and make me cry, sometimes both.

But. But.  All this, the good and bad, feeds this hunger in us for connection without actually providing it.  It shows us pictures of other people, mostly friends or friends of friends or complete strangers that some how pop up on your feed, having a fabulous time, often with blue sky and the odd yacht in the back ground.  It can make me feel bad things; anger, envy,  f.o.m.o (fear-of-missing-out, if you didn’t know), inadequacy and sadness, because look at those lovely, jolly lives – why isn’t mine like that?  Forgetting of course that mine is, actually, like that, sometimes, and theirs isn’t, all the time.

Photos, those clever little reflections of non-reality create the illusion of of these perfect worlds where it’s always sunny, and Prosecco runs like amber streams through the lollipop country side.  Or something.  It used to be just magazines that you had to actively choose to buy, spend hard earned cash on and read that would make you feel so inadequate.  Now you can’t move for images designed to bring you to your miserable, baggy, unattractive and elderly (how very dare you?!) knees at the foot of the god of shiny stuff  mumbling ‘I am not worthy oh shiny one, please forgive me and take all my money’.

Facebook also streams political opinion from within one’s own political bubble – feeding the fury but offering no way to actually DO anything except sign another bloody petition and create feelings of impotence and despair.  (Are all the petitions stored in Alaska too?)

I am also presented with un-asked for visions of animals being skinned alive, brutalised by numb, inhuman humans.  Am I better off knowing about this?  I can’t un-know it, or un-see it.  Who is this person skinning a dog?  When, where and why was this done and why was this picture taken (and no, I am not going to put it on here)?  What do I do with that? Do I fact check it?  Do I write to the purported government?  If so, who within that government?  How do I follow that up?  And do I do this with every awful thing I see on this site? If so who will pay my bills while I do this, and who will look after me as I disintegrate into a frothing heap of wide eyed bafflement at the awfulness of the world?

Here’s some good stuff that is going on, you know, for a little balance.

One of my neighbours, and good friend, helped another much less fortunate neighbour to get his life if not actually back on track, then at the very least standing up and facing the track, fuelled by cheese on toast and tomatoes and some very practical help.  Cheese and tomatoes provided by me so I feel a tiny percentage of ownership .  Tiny.  Very proud of her.

Myself and another neighbour, and good friend (it’s a great street this, you should live here) are doing a sewing project together.  It’s an experiment which could lead to all sorts of exciting stuff, and at the very least will hopefully provide some much needed Christmas pennies and some laughs as we rediscover the ancient art of tacking, tailors chalking and how to remove blood from precious fabric while simultaneously holding up pricked finger to avoid spilling more.

My son offered to finance my next business project – best laugh I’ve had in weeks!  It was offered in jest but just the thought… and then again – you never know what the future holds.

Me and my man are heading across the pond to Trump land very soon for a holiday and family visit.  We and an unexpected and very welcome offer a bed for three nights in New York with a friend I don’t know awfully well but look forward to getting to know better.  Knowing she is there, and the other truly lovely and generous souls that we will see and celebrate the good stuff with balances out the dread in my heart of seeing this wonderful country in the grip of such a maniac.

My Mum and her partner Nancy had their 90th & 80th respectively birthday celebration. It was a fine family do, with all the great traditions of our family do’s and none of the drama.  And Yorkshire is just glorious.

I am walking my talk and making changes to my business structure that will allow me space to work on new plans and ideas.  Well done me.  Onward indeed.

 

 

Where did the joy go?

July 13, 2017
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Not so very long ago I felt filled with joy, in life, love, even work.  Now it all feels a bit, meh.  All a bit of a struggle.  All a bit boring.  So, where did it go?  Well, you know, joy comes and goes in life, troughs and peaks, ins and outs, positive and negative, blah and blah.  My last big peak of joy came around my 50th birthday, with the advent of a new love, and lasted a pretty long time all things considered.  My new love is now my old, married, comfortable love.  It has its share of issues but this is not the platform on which to share those.  This is about me.  Me and my work.  The new love thing distracted me from the same-old-same-old of my work life, and fooled me into thinking it was all just as it ought to be.

So, here I am.  I have love in my life, I have good friends, a nice house to live in, I eat extremely well and enjoy the fruits of the vine.  Who could want more?  Well, me.  I do.  I want more.

The joy started slipping away about three years ago I think, and my need to boost it resulted in taking on a new business, creating a new brand, and getting excited about making something out of nothing.  And I did it, and it was, briefly, quite exciting.  And now it isn’t.  It’s just a worry and fret, a VAT, payroll and how to fire someone nicely kind of irritation.  I wouldn’t mind but it pays very badly.  Also, it’s the same as my other business, which seemed to make sense at the time, but I clearly forgot one very important question – ‘do you want to keep doing the same thing Betty?’, to which the  answer is (altogether now) no.  First world problems I know, but I am done flagellating myself because I can’t fix the bloody third, second fourth or fifth worlds and frankly this country is looking less and less first world what with brexit, burning tower blocks and the death throes of the NHS.  I do what I can while attempting to remain healthy, happy and hopefully quite nice.

So, anyway.  I have now started looking for other things to bring back the buzz into my life.  I am beginning to recognise myself and my strengths, at the ripe old age of, you know, fifty something.  I like to create things.  I like collaboration.  Therein lies the crux – collaboration.  For the last twelve years my work has been just mine, all my control, ideas, plans, fuck ups, successes, gains and losses.  I have staff, suppliers, customers, all of with whom I interact on a fairly regular basis while my inner push-me-pull-you says this is good/I want go home and write*.  It is deeply unsatisfying.  And yet I am proud of what I have achieved.  My business is as ethical as I can make it, my staff are lovely people, loyal, kind and generous and creative and understand the concept of real hospitality.  The company makes very good food.  I use the ‘company’ intentionally because despite my lack of an equal partner in the business, the actual process of producing food to sell and then selling it is a very collaborative one, and a very positive one.  The VAT man gets most of the financial benefit of course, the tax man likewise (yes, they are men, I am quite sure, in brown shiny suits, with comb overs and damp, flaccid handshakes), the staff get some, not enough, and I get the warm fuzzy feeling of attempting and not quite managing to be satisfied by what we all produce and yet still living on the same amount of money I earned in 1988 as assistant manager at the River Cafe in London.  Bitter?  Yes, a little.

You don’t like it?  So fix it.  Yeah, yeah.

I have some small irons in some even smaller fires right now.  Creative fizzing is taking place in my brain.  I am making plans to free myself from the hum drum, while realising of course, because I’m a grown up, that some hum drum is a necessary part of life so what I really need to do is find balance, so don’t start with the lecture…  It’s a bit messy in there right now but you will be the first/last to know when it all happens and my joy returns.

brain

* Griselda hung on with her flexed claws digging into the cloth of an innocent coat, rigid, scared and indignant,  She was an elderly cat, grey with tabby streaks, grumpy by nature ever since she lost her playmate, a small Tibetan spaniel named Tensing, when she was still just a kitten. Tensing was run over the road that fronted Griselda’s old house.  The same road that had seen the untimely deaths of her two kittens Dustpan and Brush.  Griselda didn’t yet know that her old was house was her old house.  All she knew was that she had been bundled into the car with the family.  A car journey meant one thing to Griselda. Being a cat she hadn’t worked out that either the vet had moved very far away or that, after all, this journey was for another reason all together.

and on…

February 2, 2017

I have ring, made by the wonderful Diana Porter, that says on and on endlessly.  Or you can choose heaven on earth, or spirit.  Anyway, there it is, it’s a lovely ring but sometimes I think on and on can be a wearying thought.

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My doctor says I should practice mindfulness.  My doctor.  Does anyone actually say that anymore?  My gynaecologist.  My psychiatrist.  My doctor is actually a practice of several doctors, nurses and therapists.  The one I saw yesterday said my constant jaw clenching, forgetfulness and general stress and anxiety could be helped by mindfulness practice.  Weirdly I had just bought Ruby Wax’s book on that subject.  Reading it actually induced more stress so probably not a great place to start. She really needs a very firm editor.

I know some of my vast number of readers will be doing an ‘I told you so’ smug bust rustle right now, but these things must be reached in one’s own time.  I still have to discover precisely what mindfulness is and how to practice it, but I’m on the way and very much looking forward to a new, clear headed, articulate and efficient me.

I am on holiday today.  It’s a little, tiny holiday.  Two days, yesterday and today, at home, not looking at facebook (did a sideways glance at it by accident just now), trying actively not to think about work, getting my MOT at the doctors,  nearly finishing my tapestry, tracking down an old friend who I had been a bit worried about, going on a nordic walk and later today I will be sitting a sauna with a friend who likes to eat oranges in the sauna, and then for my finale I’m having a massage and a facial.

tapestry

Nearly finished tapestry.  Not quite sure what to do with it when it’s finished.  Any thoughts?

How very self indulgent, I hear you all say in mildly shocked tones, and on a Thursday as well.  Or is that me I hear muttering about self indulgence, and what about the refugees and the artisan cheese makers and my business and my son and the one who cannot be named and the price of eggs?   And there goes my jaw.  Clamp.

Why do I feel guilty about taking two days off work?  It’s my business, so surely it’s my choice?  No one has emitted shocked noises, or looked daggers at me for having such temerity.  No one.

A note on Nordic Walking.  I have taken it up of late, only managing one a week but it’s something.  I go out with a group of white topped ladies and the occasional gent, and we march around Clifton Downs, propelling ourselves along with what look very like ski sticks.   It’s a lovely thing to do.  It’s making me stronger.  Not thinner, but definitely stronger.  I get to see the seasons up close and personal because we go out what ever the weather.  I don’t so it for the social side, although some do.  People chat away if they want to.  I tend to mutter my little mantra to myself and march eyes down, but occasionally I get sucked into a conversation.  Like today.  Wind whipping various shades of white and grey hair around like ancient silk skeins, anoraks buttoned up tight the usual question of ‘have you been doing this long’ is directed at me, followed by the what do you do, and oh how interesting.  Obliged to ask in return the answer was “I cut people’s toe nails”.  That was a first I have to say.  A very worthy and necessary job.

snow-drops

Tiny, white heralds of the changing season, seen on this morning’s walk.

And so, on I go, so much to do, say, think, absorb but right now I am being mindful and not doing, saying, thinking or absorbing.  Tomorrow I will do all that.  I am now going to make a little pack of things to take to the Lido including oranges, a book, maybe some nail varnish for my toes should I manage to bend in the middle enough to reach them, an open mind and tired eyes.  I may absorb some steam and some scented oils.  But that is all.

 

 

 

 

 

First of all…

December 29, 2016

I’d just like to give the finger to 2016.  Bloody awful year.

There have been too many premature deaths, from celebrities to children in Syria, or should that be the other way round?  Politics has taken a bizarre and scary turn to the right.  Trump will be president of the USA.  A new word has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, post-truth.  It looks like two words to me, but since facts don’t matter and experts are the new unwashed, who cares?

So, anyway, I had a lovely Christmas, how was yours?  And before Christmas, in a daring move towards dammit, it’s my one and only life and the world has gone mad so better make hay etc, I went to Barcelona for four nights with my beloved.  It also helped that the flights there and back for two of us cost under £100.  The misery and guilt in helping tip the world toward it’s demise by flying on easyjet was balanced by the afore mentioned ‘dammit…’ (partially anyway).

Here are some photos for you to look at.

There are of course dozens more pictures, and I could go on and on about what a glorious city Barcelona is (it is), talk about their weird custom of having models of shepherds defecating in their Christmas nativity scenes, the ease with which you can eat for very little money, mostly good, sometimes seriously mediocre food, the entrancing beauty of the architecture, the obvious lack of funds for maintaining much of it, the poverty and the wealth, the bonkers and delightful hotel we stayed in, the little shops dedicated to just one thing (e.g. slippers), the charm of the people and the fact that Russell is now going to learn Spanish so we can go back there and all over Spain (and to visit Azahar of course!) with the ease of a native (kinda).

So, there was that.

Then Christmas spent in Somerset with a branch and some twigs of the extended family, about 15 all told.  I volunteered to cook (it’s my way of keeping focussed and in control of my control freakery), although it was definitely a 50/50 split in the end with my sister Sue (I was turkey, she was beef) and helped by many elves, tall and short.

oyster shuckers

oyster shuckers

Menu

Oysters (natch)

Prawn cocktail

Smoked salmon

Serrano ham

Roast rib of local, organic beef with mustard rub

Boned, rolled*  local organic turkey stuffed with sausage meat, parma ham and truffles

Tricoleur of carrots, sprouts & celeriac

Green salad

Roast potatoes 

Christmas pud, brandy butter, cream

Negroni jelly.

Yes, we are middle class and we do eat a lot, soz.  It was over about five hours though, with giggling concerts from small girls to aid digestion, some very damn fine wines brought by a non-family guest from the cellars of one of the colleges at Oxford University (don’t ask me which one or how he had access to them, Aunty Lizzie had been on the parsnip wine for most of the day, though not singing songs about bleeding hearts and death luckily) and by golly  it was delicious and one of the bottles had the date, 2004, embossed into the glass.

Boxing day brought us back to Bristol, with the lesser-spotted son and his kitten.  A more unlikely pairing would have been hard to think of a few months back, but Spooky, who does star jumps and loves sellotape, has become part of the family now, and he and his Person are a very good team.

Spooky, part of the family.

There I will leave it for now.  One of my new year resolutions will be to do more of this.  Writing.

May 2017 bring some peace and hope to this world,  mine, yours, theirs.  May Trump get lost at sea never to be found and Mike Pence put in the docks and have rotten cabbages thrown at him forever.  May Farage overdose on real ale and go and live in the gutter.  May May see sense and rescue the NHS and our trains.  May Syria find some peace and it’s people be allowed to return to their homes to live their lives and bury their dead.  May Putin fall off his horse, bang his head and wake realising what a complete arse he is and be very apologetic and make amends to everyone he has ever harmed.   May the Women’s March on Washington be without violence or negative incident.  May the Women’s March on London be likewise.  Who’s coming??

Over and out. xx