Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Cooking

When I was in London earlier this month, a friend of mine proffered a cake after our dinner at her digs. But this was no ordinary cake; it was a deliciously zesty, damp clementine cake. I came to know that it was one of Nigella’s recipes, precisely this one. So the other day I set to boil my clementines for two hours solid and ended up with my very own cake, one that I dusted with icing sugar and which I am currently enjoying one slice at a time. The good thing about this, and uncharacteristically for Nigella, is that there is no flour and, horror of all horrors, no butter in it. It’s the almonds that make it so moreish and damn tasty and if that makes you feel a tad more virtuous as you tuck in it, all the better.

Next, and seeing that Rick is extremely fond of Costa’s own caramel shortbread, which, quite frankly, I find about as appealing as a slab of polystyrene with a whack of melted sugar on top, I digged out Nigella’s own version from How To Be A Domestic Goddess (which appears right here), and ended up with absolutely delightful shortcakes with perfect caramel and nice, thick dark choco set on top. The recipe is microwave-centric, which means that, not only are you supposed to melt the chocolate in it (still, my double-boiler is no great hardship), but you’re also expected to make the caramel in seven minutes flat.

Well, I live in the middle ages dear friends. I own no microwave. So I proceeded to melt the butter in a saucepan on low heat, then added the can of condensed milk and the four tablespoons of Golden Syrup. Then I tended to the pan which started simmering, barely, half an hour or so later. I then continued to stir very gently and on the lowest heat possible, for another hour and a half. Yes, that’s right, if you haven’t got a microwave oven, it will take two hours to caramelise this concoction of butter, condensed milk and Golden Syrup, but it’s so worth it in the end. Proceed unafraid but know that, although it does start browning after an hour, it won’t be ready until it has thickened considerably, reduced in volume and has cooked for a long time.

As I await to uncork the Cliquot, I’ve been sustaining myself with lots of sugary goodness, from pandoro to chocolate panettone, from caramel shortbreads to clementine cake, from brownies to chocolate biscuits and then some. I fear that, come tomorrow, not even my hairband will fit me any longer. But what the hell, happy 2011 anyway!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turning The Leaf

Frosty morning

I’ve never been more skimpy in keeping track of everyday ongoings than this year. Then again, I also run another site about writing where I posted almost two hundred times since February, so I guess that I’ve been writing as normal, really. But, deep down, I do know that I refrained from updating my online diary too often because I didn’t want a permanent memory of what happened in 2010. It was my annus horribilis, no contest, so much so that I threw away the calendars over a week ago and I shall also consign my diary to the recycling bin, something I’ve never done in my entire life.

Fortnum cappuccino with tiny ice-cream

Fortnum Christmas window 2010

Feeding seagulls in Knutsford on Boxing Day

December itself, however, was a pretty good month, as it brought about the changes I had been chasing for a long time and because I was in London for a while, made some new friends, and cooked quite a bit also. In fact, this afternoon I was in the kitchen for four hours solid, during which I produced carrots trifolate, white cabbage in tomato sauce and a rather mouth-watering caramel shortbread that is currently setting in the fridge. Oh and the other day I made a clementine cake that is to die for, as most of Nigella’s recipes are.

At the Natural History Museum, London

Nativity in Beauchamp Place

Harrods Christmas window 2010

Christmas was subdued but on Boxing Day, which also happens to be my nameday, as it is St Stephen’s Day, I went to Knutsford and fed the birds at the moor. How fantastic to see them swarm above my head (and at my feet), hankering after some bread! It was all frozen and they needed food desperately. Talking of frozen, the weather was completely fabulous up until a few days ago when the air turned, the temperature soared way above zero and now it is all foggy and damp and nothing special. I miss the sharp, blue mornings immensely, but I can live in hope that winter will bring more arctic days in the very near future. And I guess that tomorrow I shall post some of the recipes I’ve been doing...

A Crimbo cappuccino

My upside-down Christmas tree

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nigella Signing in Knutsford

Last Thursday I went to meet Nigella. At least, that's what the in-store poster said, 'Meet Nigella Lawson', except it wasn't so much of a meeting but more of a 'jump on this treadmill and wave at Nigella as you speed by really fast'.

I wasn't born yesterday and I do know that high-profile authors attract a greater following and that each person cannot possibly spend ten minutes chatting away as if they were alone in the room. Yet, having been to such events before, this signing was disappointing. Many people ahead of me merely put their book on the table to have it signed and left with a meek smile, Nigella herself hardly making an effort to engage.

This is what surprised me the most; had I wanted laughter, fun, games and a pat on the back I would have attended a Jamie Oliver signing, I agree, but this isn't just about the character of the person. It is as much about the involvement and the effort that an extremely well-known, busy author should make in order to engage with readers, even if, bah humbug, there are five hundred of them. What a chore!

Who knows, the management at Waterstone's may like to organise things differently at some other time, so that we don't end up feeling like filing morons and more like readers invited to an actual event. How about a quick greeting from the author to those already queuing in store? A few words delivered to the masses would do better than this. Personally, I did engage with Nigella and she was as graceful as I expected. However, I'll remember the day as a huge anti-climax.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Of Golden Autumn

Since the inception of my online diary I've been really, really disciplined with my updates. When 2010 came, I thought that things would be no different, except I could not know that it was going to be one of the greatest tests of my life. And perhaps it hasn't been the most horrible year since records began (it surely is competing with 1995), but there is something about it that makes me wonder whether it will take the prize in the end.

But as I said many times in recent weeks, and certainly since summer, I knew that things were afoot, I knew that things were changing. What I really meant was not merely 'morphing into more of the same' but changing for the better. And now they have. For real. And hopefully, from now on, it won't be just onwards but upwards too.

October has been predominantly golden, which doesn't happen often here. Many days were mild and sunny and last Monday I was up very early, enjoying the frosty garden and half an inch of ice to scrape off my windscreen. Then something happened mid-week; autumn turned from mellow to deep. When I returned home on Friday evening, my garden had turned into something else. The last few pears had fallen to the ground and the oak at the bottom fence had turned yellow. I'm always a bit surprised when this happens, much as I am taken aback by the morning, usually in late April, when I suddenly find leaves everywhere. I swear there were none only the day before.

I surveyed the remains this afternoon and even found the carcass of a bird at the very back (poor thing, I couldn't quite tell what it was, nor how its life ended). Meanwhile, the plants I had cut off in the spring have now composted, the roses are bent over themselves, the cherry tree is canary yellow and the high winds are battering whatever is left. Yellow, yellow, yellow, it's everywhere. Gosh my friends, I love it. I love it all.

Tomorrow I shall wear a thick black skirt with sewn jewels and a soft cashmere cardie. I am sooooo in my element my heart is skipping in my chest. On Saturday I am going to the fireworks and then, very soon, the Christmas Markets will arrive as well. For the first time in a very, very long time, I am going to enjoy myself. I am so happy.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Off The Record

Today the sky was blue and it was cold. It was the first crisp autumn day we’ve had this year and the first time I’ve actually noticed the leaves changing. I’ve resisted the impulse to write in my online diary this month because I do not wish to leave a permanent record of latest happenings. Not that I worry about re-reading any of these entries, for I never do, but there is something quite off-putting about writing about feeling down when we are in the middle of it. It somehow makes it more real and, consequently, more painful still. Last time I wrote about flux. It’s still all in flux, not just for me but for Rick as well. I hope that my next entry on here will bring conclusion to a period that, quite frankly, I cannot wait to draw a thick, fat line over.

Monday, September 20, 2010


A couple of weeks ago one of my clients wrote to me with a quick update regarding everything being in flux. Yes, in flux. This word, flux, really stuck to my mind as I considered my year up until that point. Then someone else wrote and told me that, hey, the planets are shifting, everything’s changing! And do you know something? Yes, it’s true. I think that much is afoot and that would be great because I have to tell you that I need some novelty in order to stop and think.

The year has swooshed by me. I just cannot believe that I last updated this place almost three weeks ago. In fact, I cannot quite believe how slack I’ve been over the summer, when I concentrated on other things and decided, quite, quite consciously I should tell you, not to keep a record of non-happenings. But now... everything’s different. I’m on the cusp of something, even though the everyday is still the same: squinting dogs, sleeping dogs and cakes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


There is something really, really weird about reading other sites and blogs and looking at pics of people on beaches, in gardens in swimming costumes, walking around in plastic flip-flops. Of course I am not referring to the people of Oz or thereabouts, they are always wearing flip-flops down there, aren't they, but in North America and in many other parts of Europe it is still decidedly summer.

Here meanwhile, despite the pleasant weather, mornings are nippy to say the least, and when I was out with my dogs earlier I could just smell autumn. Hence I felt slightly odd that my most unexpected birthday gifts are so summer-like that I don't know what to do with them. A pair of glorious satin Prada wedges and a Tom Ford nude lipstick. I may just soldier on at 13C and pretend I'm in California anyway.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tepid Birthday

Considering how low-key, weather-wise, July and August have been (not that I am complaining), today was a pleasant surprise or, as I often like to say, everything looked weird under the sunshine. It is the first birthday in many years that I've spent at home, by which I mean, in the house. Yes, that's right, I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do anything. Well, nothing other than beginning the day with a breakkie of chocolates and tea and spent the rest of it munching on my Irish coffee chocolate truffle cake. In fact, shouldn't I be posting that recipe around about now?

I'll tell you what, I'll do that another day. So while I lounged in the garden surrounded by dogs, I thought of how odd this year has been. I just cannot believe it is already September. Sorry, I just can't. I am deliriously happy that it is, mind you, but the year has morphed into one day that started sometime back, with the snow on the ground and now the leaves are about to turn again. One day. One... Groundhog Day actually. And that isn't necessarily a very good thing, is it?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Unexpected Guest – Part II

Sometimes last year I told you about this unexpected guest. Yesterday, another one showed up. As I was watering my plants, I noticed a bird I never see in my garden, a duck. So I rushed outside to investigate, as I was pretty sure she had flown in but I couldn't quite figure out why she wouldn't return to where she came from, although it ain't unusual for young ones to lag behind and need some assistance later.

After some running around, she did end up in my porch, and that's where I succeeded in getting hold of her and inspecting feet and wings. She was absolutely fine, apart from a bit of a heart attack, as I could feel her little heart pounding in my hands as I opened the door back to the garden and threw her in the air to check on flight abilities.

She was in good spirits after that, as she wasn't injured, and continued to plod around the garden, drinking from the pond, unearthing worms and picking crickets and spiders in the high grass. So I left her to it, ensuring that both William and Victoria stayed inside. I could see them with their mouths wide open, spit smeared all over the treble-glazing, and figured that Duckie may not have been able to fly after all if I let them out too.

She was still around when I took them for a spin of the garden after dinner, both on lead obviously, but she was clearly setting up for the night as she was calm and cozy in the grass. I checked on her again at nine and I saw that she was surveying the scene from the high-rise of the steps outside the patio doors, probably wondering where on earth the rest of the posse was and whether it would be safe to stop here overnight.

That's what she must have done as I didn't hear a thing since and this morning she was gone. Good luck Duckie, it was good to have you!

Monday, August 9, 2010


Last Thursday I was in London for a meeting. The day before I went, I wrote in my paper diary: 'Tomorrow's meeting is going to Change Everything'. And as it turns out, I may have to say that, yes, it did change things in unexpected ways. I have another meeting tonight and it all looks set to solve one rack of important issues insofar as what I do is concerned.

I took the opportunity to have a spin around my favourite places and had lunch at Ladurée at Harrods, coming away with a large box of macaroons (because it would be criminal to visit without bringing some home) and three boxes of their fantastic tea. Such a difference from the supermarket rusk, I am telling you (that includes you, Twinings).

Rick and I have been talking about moving to London for a while. In fact, we've been talking and thinking about moving for ages and ages, we've just never done anything specific to make this happen. Now we are. The thing is, I miss London terribly. I love where I am now, but it cannot be compared to London. In fact, few places can, and they usually are other vessels of creativity (New York is one). I'll tell you more; I've bought a little pretty notebook which I am calling My London Move Notebook. In it, I am listing all interesting things I see around, houses for sale, new shops that crop up and so on and so forth. Actually, I highly recommend this sort of activity for anything you may wish to achieve. Show intention and things will begin to happen, you'll see.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's Coming Home

I was out in the garden super-early this morning and I was thrilled. Yes, thrilled. Do you know when the weather is turning, usually for the worse, and you feel and smell new air? I swear I caught a first whiff of, dare I say it, autumn. But it isn't a first sign actually, as the other day I was driving through some trees and I noted many little yellow leaves wafting in the wind and landing on the road. My heart skipped a beat; could this be it?! It has begun already, hurrah!

The result of this slow-but-steady seasonal change is two-fold: I've proceeded really nicely on the work I am doing, after a June which turned out to be pretty much a total write-off, and I have paused to consider how incredibly fast this year has zoomed past me. I know that it ain't over yet for a really good stretch, but there is something of an enormous shift within oneself when certain dates are coming up and one realises that, yet again, life is skipping along at a million miles an hour as we pant and shout in its wake: 'Wait! Wait for me! I am coming too!'.

I know why I feel this way. My birthday is coming up in September, in fact, at the very beginning, on the very first day, and there is nothing I like more than it (well, Christmas, but if we discount Christmas then there really is nothing I like more than my birthday). And the very odd realisation, when I look at pics from birthdays past, is that I haven't changed that much at all. Reasons to rejoice you will think? I guess so and yet it seems to me that, not having changed that much, makes me feel stuck and muddled in The Same, whatever I perceive that to be, with all the dangers inherent to that thought.

Today the Dyson doctor is coming. On Friday the cable detached itself from the machine as I was using it and a Mighty Pow at full 240v force left a burn in the floor as I picked it up, surveyed the sizzling end and realised that I got really lucky. I may not have died (wouldn't want to try it, mind you), but I could have ended up with a zinged foot. So why telling you this? Because the last time the Dyson doctor came over was two years ago. Two years. And, no kidding, it feels like five minutes ago.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Rick doesn't like coffee very much. He particularly dislikes coffee puddings and coffee ice-cream, which is the reason why I very, very rarely make tiramisù, as I explained to you here. But then on Friday I thought that perhaps I could make a hybrid version of it, a nice, cold, no-bake pudding that would be just as nice but contain no coffee.

Hence I followed my own recipe, as linked to above, but substituted vanilla Rooibos tea for coffee. One word of caution if you try this one out (maybe you want to feed a tiramisù-looking thing to the kids, minus the coffee): you need to dip the savoiardi in the tea twice as fast. I have found that their tendency was to suck up more liquid and to become disgustingly soggy, something that you really do not want to have when covered in that beautiful whipped cream that you make with eggs, sugar and mascarpone.

So it may not quite pick you right up when made with tea, but it's a very acceptable sweet all the same.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I consider myself remakably bad at getting things done. Yes, that’s exactly what I said. I am aware that this may seem an odd thing to say, especially for one who brags about writing, cooking, knitting, sewing, walking in parks and whatnot, but the sad truth is, I never feel on top of things. I am in constant catch-up mode. I’ve been in catch-up mode since I finished my first degree, when days stretched empty and sweet ahead of me. Oh if only they could have stayed that way. Life, real life, is hideous.

I’ve never felt so disastrously behind as I have over the past four weeks. I know exactly what stopped my progress which, at the time, was chugging along quite smoothly, if only ever slightly super-slow on the occasional bend; the weather did. See? I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sit here and update this diary without mentioning the weather. So, the weather did. It was only on Sunday that my bedroom started feeling like a bedroom again and not the stifling greenhouse that it had been up until then.

But yesterday morning, when I sat down detrmined to list all that needs doing, all that needs catching up on and all of the missed deadlines, I felt tears pricking my eyes. God I want this stuggle to be over so badly. Not life itself, no, just these never-ending pressures that have squashed me to the ground and then stuck a fork in my back ever since I took my first steps into the world of work.

I haven’t been serene for a very long time and I just cannot wait for the day when I won’t have to write yet another meaningless list which, in fact, is not an organised step-by-step solution but a monument to failure, there, in black or white (or blue and white, as is the case with me). But there is a plus point today: as it’s cloudy and only +15C outside, it means that I can start making cakes again. Or at least, I would if I had bought the eggs which, I am sure, I must have written down in some other damn list I have yet to work through.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hello July

At the beginning of last week the weather changed, by which I mean the temperature dropped enough for my bedroom to shift from furnace to open plan pottery studio in the country. Slowly, very, very slowly, I started to return to normality even though I still find this seemingly never-ending stretch of dry weather fascinating. As you can see, I mention it every time I write.

When I got up yesterday morning, however, not only was it sensibly cooler than the previous week, it was also very windy and I just adore windy days, be these by the sea, in the country or in the city. Within five minutes my room smelt clean and fresh and ready to start the day and I myself felt just like that. Except I attempted a home-made coffee which, as per usual, ended up down the sink accompanied by plentiful curses.

Have I ever told you that going out for a decent cup of coffee annoys me immensely? I have three stove-top coffee makers (make that four if we include the Bialetti’s Mukka) and not one, not one, makes one half-decent cup of coffee. Still, I persist. Still, I disgust myself. Still, I try time after time. Narky and pissed off, I got into the Shaguar at 1 pm and went to Starbucks.

I spent today planning because, try as I did try, the past three weeks have been shockingly un-profitable. I have progressed at less than snail’s pace and this morning I found myself with a list of stuff that run over two pages. Odd as it sounded when I used to work as a management consultant, this morning I really did feel there is some merit in planning the plan, especially when everything is completely, for lack of a better description, out of control.

I have short stories to critique and edit, I have one proposal to finish, one 20,000-word piece to write, 300 poems to edit and turn into proofs, three writing appraisals to write and, for fuck’s sake, I’ll stop right here. And of course, July has just started and the World Cup is coming to an end. Gosh, I already miss it. There is something rather reassuring about the flock of early-stage games that fill up our screens for the first two weeks. Ah, yes, who is playing today? Now we’re down to the last four matches and then it’s over for another four years. But you know how it goes... it’s July already... in five minutes’ time it will be 2014.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lemon Cupcakes with Cheesecake Frosting

I did, after all, proceed to some cupcakes the other day and I am glad I did because there is no chance in hell that I would turn the oven on today or in the foreseeable future. I am very pleased with how properly cupcake-like they have turned out, as I went as far as plonking an extra large cherry on top of each one of them. They are light and exquisite and another very successful experiment.

You'll need:

225g caster sugar
170g flour
2 lemons, juice and grated rind
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
100ml of skimmed milk
110g unsalted butter (for the cakes)
110g soft cream cheese
200ml double cream
450g sieved icing sugar

a 12-hole muffin tin and 12 paper cases

You'll do them like so:

1- Pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare your muffin tin with the paper cases. Melt the butter and then remove from the heat and set aside.

2- Whisk the caster sugar with the eggs for five minutes or so, then add the juice of the lemons, the grated rind and the melted butter. Give it a quick (and slow) whisk.

3- Measure the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl and add to the egg mixture you've whisked in 2 above. Whisk it well, then add the skimmed milk and vanilla extract. Whisk away until everything is combined and looks just a tad too wet and sloppy. As I always say, don't stress, they will bake just fine.

4- Divide this mixture in the 12 paper cases. You've got enough to fill them by 3/4 or so. Now stick the tin in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

5- Get the cupcakes out after 20 minutes and use a cake tester, just to make sure they are well cooked inside.

7- Leave them in the tin to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack for one hour. As they cool, get the cream cheese for the icing out of the fridge, so that it comes to room temperature while you do something else.

8- When you're ready, and when the cakes are cool, prepare the icing. Add the sieved icing sugar to the cream cheese, then pour the double cream and whisk it all by hand. Make sure you allow no lumps; they will form as you whisk but they are very easy to obliterate by flicking your whisk and working the mixture for a little while.

9- Prepare your sac à poche with an icing tip of your choice, fill it with the frosting and work from the outside in, as I always do. Place cherries on top if you must and then take outside for a nice pic! Store low in the fridge.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I spent last week in Nottingham, cataloguing thousands of books, editing poetry and existing on a healthy combination of coffee, Maltesers and bready things. Then I returned home on Friday evening to enjoy a weekend of chips, ice-cream, fizzy drinks and Pringles.

Today I’ve limited myself to non-fat yogurt and a salad because, boy, do I need to rein in. Considering that the working day exhausted itself by 12.30, when Portugal began its lambasting of North Korea and now I am catching up with Roger being beaten up on Centre Court (what the fuck happened while I was watching the football?!), I now need to stay focused and forget about the two tubs of ice-cream at the bottom of the freezer, something I could really do with around about now.

The weather is marvellous, the garden is tidy and I have a moutain of things to catch up on and a number of emails that need replying to. Yet, all I want to do is to zone out and forget that I’ve been awake since five. I don’t think I could have had a longer and less productive day if I had tried, but, finally, the summer solstice is here, which means that from tomorrow days will very slowly shorten themselves. By the time my birthday comes around, I will be able to sleep again.

Rick requested a tray of cupcakes earlier today, but I am not sure I can be asked to faff in the kitchen, especially considering that I cleaned it right down to the floor this morning. On second thoughts though, if I do make them, I can take a few snaps and share my new recipe on here, lemon cupcakes with cheesecake topping. For the time being though, I need to keep an eye on Roger hanging by a thread.

Monday, June 7, 2010

August in October

At 2.30 pm the heavens opened and stayed that way for almost two hours. I was sitting on my bed, writing, but felt rather distracted by the persistant humming of the rain. See this?

That’s my deckchair with about two pounds of water in it. Now the window is open and that delicious smell of wet grass and soil is wafting through the house.

June started last week and it was cold, still and miserable. It looked a bit like October minus the red leaves and the bonfire smells. Then it turned crazy blue and delicious, like a freak version of our August, and I spent nights sleeping on top of my duvet, because 23C degrees in my bedroom qualifies as warm. By the time I had decided to wear a silk dress to Eva’s baptism, it all returned to a Mancunian normality of low-level clouds and, if not rain, at least the promise of it.

Today has been a painful day, as days often are when I wake up and my back isn’t quite ok and my arm, following my shoulder injury, isn’t quite ok either. I don’t think I’ve ever taken my mobility for granted, but I must admit that, dipping into and out of, acute painful phases due to my discs and, more recently, my shoulder, has made me very short-fused and angry with my body.

Yesterday I didn’t mean to take funny little steps, almost stooped as a big weight was pressing on my shoulders, but the truth is, I had no choice. Today I tried to do as much work as possible, and God only knows how much I need to be present in this sense, but it was extremely hard going. Funny how painkillers are supposed to help you ‘get on with things’ except they stone you into a light-headed stupor. Sometimes I wish I could access my spine by pulling down a zipper on my back, and then I would be able to slide out what remains of my poorly discs to be replaced with fresh, soft ones. Yes, imagine that, it would be like a vertical CD player, minus the tunes.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Abject Stupor

I am sitting cross-legged on my bed, with my usual thick cushion on my lap and my laptop on my cushion. I am in a state of abject stupor, as I’ve just turned the page of my calendar ready for tomorrow and I’ve noted that, yes, it really is going to be June 1. This means that it’s only three months to my birthday, just over four to Rick’s birthday, just under five to Halloween, just over five to Bonfire Night and just over six to Crimbo.

And, my friends, I am typing all of that with a grin stretched across my face because you know how much I love the September-to-February stretch of the year. Heck, I spend the rest of the year hankering after those months. Some of my friends say that I am wishing my life away, and I suppose that’s a way of looking at it (that’s a negative way of looking at it, I say), but in reality this Sacred Call to the time of year when I feel most like me is just damn irresistible.

I spent the long weekend de-weeding my garden (more like, my gardens, front and back actually) and as I was janking the bastards off (they never ever ever ever ever ever die), I was smirking to myself, thinking about the falling leaves of October and the frost that will soon after burn everything in sight. Ah mega-glorious-bliss. It won’t be long and all of this pulling and pushing and planting and shoving won’t be necessary any longer and there will be burnt colours and crackling leaves everywhere.

Other than this, and despite my recently reported shoulder-related incident, I had a great end-of-month, with my writing workshop run more than successfully, and with very happy participants enthusiastically emailing me even before I had made it home. Too bad tomorrow is Tuesday, Rick is back at work and I will have to implement all of the planning we did over the past two days (when not de-weeding the gardens, that is). I may even have to cave in and deface my beautiful red journal with PLANS. And God help me but... how I hate plans! But then, I love outcomes of good plans and so I guess they can be useful sometimes.

In non-related news, I am cupcake-free. My electric beaters leapt off the shelf the other day and landed head-on the floor, quite possibly injuring themselves beyond repair. But at least for this week that’s ok, as I have to go to a christening on Sunday and want to look good in my silk green dress. And we all know that a carbs-and-sugar abstinence, however short-lived, does wonders for one’s figure.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Out Of Body

It’s almost Sunday evening and I am sitting in the garden under the pear tree. Someone is having a barbecue. I am just glad I return to writing after a break that felt bloody eternal.

The past ten days have been very good and very bad. My work has been consistent and very focused and my glorious baking has reached stupendous nigellean heights; but then a shoulder incident stopped all of this. Out of the window went the book launch I was due to attend on Thursday and the concert whose tickets I had won. Right now I am just grateful that both my arms work again without excruciating pain and that, not only can I type away with minimum effort, but I can also dress myself unaided, I can scratch my head with my left hand and I can hold a book with both.

On Thursday evening, as I slowly made my way out of the local Sainsbo where I stopped to collect my multiple prescriptions, I went through an out of body experience as Rick and I walked through the double doors and stepped back into carpark. It was +20C exactly and yet I felt like I was in Cannes, years ago, existing the late-night supermarket with a tub of ice-cream and a stick of bread and feeling the air sucked out of my very lungs as outside it was still +32C, the humidity as suffocating as it had been all day. On Thursday evening it was nothing like this, and yet, it reminded me of it. It felt Summer even though I am certain that the past three days are nothing other than a freak occurrence, as warm weather always is in England, especially if at the end of May.

Ah, wouldn’t you know it? Could I possibly be outside having a good time? On Friday it was pure agony. Saturday felt mildly better. 15 tabs and a bucketful of tears later, I should be able to return to normality, whatever that is, on Tuesday.

The funny thing is, when I was little, I did mind being ill. I detested missing school days, as that translated into the huge burden of catching-up, something that I never liked to do, especially when I hit college and missing a week of philosophy meant doing Aristotle on one’s own, and I don’t recommend that to any fifteen-year old. These days I can be ill all I like, no fear of falling behind and yet, it felt truly awful this time.

Truly damn awful because I lost the use of a limb and even going to the bathroom or brushing my teeth or sticking my head into a hairband required a mega-massive-painful effort that made me question whether I really needed a wee after all. I am relieved the very worst is over and today I managed to take some pics of things I like. After all, you only really need one hand to use the iP anyway.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I have pretty much fallen off the radar. In truth I had been feeling terrible since before Bank Holiday, as I had already mentioned, and for the past week things hadn't much improved. I soldiered on, because I like to think that everything will feel better if I act like nothing is wrong, but I ended up spending all Monday afternoon in bed as I felt like death.

Still, despite all of this, I successfully undertook another baking experiment which yielded toffee cupcakes. They looked and tasted gorgeous, but I am still in the process of tweaking the recipe, so come back soon for an update.

Other than this, I've got nothing else to report, if not that I hope to be able to drag myself out of the house tomorrow in order to enjoy the rather brisk weather and maybe I'll try my hand at some really dark chocolate cupcakes this time...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Success Cupcakes

I am a day later on this one, but, yes, I made it after all! The cupcakes passed the quality control and I am now ready to give you the recipe. I cannot even explain how thrilled I am that they turned out not only normal but, actually, amazing. It is vital that I crystallise the recipe on here, else I will most certainly forget it, and I am happy to share it for your enjoyment as these are particularly soft and moist without having a ton of butter in them, which always guarantees immense culinary delights and very, very hard slogs at the gym.

You'll need:

225g golden caster sugar
2 tablespoons of Golden Syrup
170g flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
100ml of skimmed milk
110g unsalted butter (for the cakes)
110g soft, unsalted butter (for the icing)
110g cream cheese
450g sieved icing sugar
colouring pastes and sprinkles

a 12-hole muffin tin and 12 paper cases

You'll do them like so:

1- Pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare your muffin tin with the paper cases. Melt the butter and then remove from the heat and set aside.

2- Whisk the golden caster sugar with the eggs for a good five minutes, then add the melted butter and give it a quick (and slow) whisk.

3- Measure the flour, ground cinnamon, salt and baking powder into a bowl and add to the egg mixture you've whisked in 2 above. Whisk it well, then add the skimmed milk, Golden Syrup and vanilla extract. Whisk away until everything is nicely combined and feels soft and, admittedly, just a tad too wet and sloppy. Don't stress though, they will bake just fine.

4- Divide this mixture in the 12 paper cases. You've got enough to fill them by 3/4 or so. Now stick the tin in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

5- You may want to lick the empty bowl and marvel at the very subtle mix of toffee, spice and caramel at this point.

6- Get the cupcakes out after 20 minutes and use a cake tester, just to make sure they are well cooked inside. They will be a dark golden brown on top (golden, not chargrilled).

7- Leave them in the tin to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack for one hour. As they cool, get the butter and cream cheese for the icing out of the fridge, so that they both come to room temperature while you do something else.

8- Now prepare the icing. Cream the butter with the cheese (use a normal spoon or even the electric whisks) and then add the sieved icing sugar little by little. I must tell you that I hate doing this. I hate sieving and I hate mixing this stuff because I am always afraid that it will be either too hard or too soft and I will end up with a ton of inedible icing. I can tell you, however, that this mixture just works. And if it works for me, it will for you too.

9- As you are finishing adding the sieved icing sugar, get your food colouring (unless you like a creamy whiteness) and add a tiny splash (I prefer liquid colouring when I work with this sort of icing because it makes it infinitely more pliable, something you will appreciate when it goes into the sac à poche). If you taste the icing at this point, and it would be criminal not to, don't get disheartened by its polyfilla-like texture (and, quite frankly, taste, not that I have ever eaten polyfilla but...). It does work very well on the cakes, so spearhead to completion below.

10- Now choose an icing tip of your liking, assemble your kit, stick some of the icing in it and enjoy yourself. I iced from the outside in and then randomly scattered sugar sprinkles and sanding sugar. Naturally, I've used pink liquid colouring. Store these at the bottom of the fridge and don't worry about sticking them in a tin for freshness. They won't last that long.

None Of The Above

As I dropped off my car for the MOT earlier this morning, I found myself killing time on the bus, scrolling through Twitter and actually reading what people had to say, which makes a change. I was amused by the election fever, mostly because I wish there was something in life I felt so utterly and moronically strong about, for not even grammar and violence to the English language would ever prompt me to plant a stick in my garden with It's and its are not the same thing you suckers! After all, we cannot all be David Crystals; I've accepted that a long time ago.

But what struck me was something else, this call to the vote because people before us died in order to give it to us. Wait a second, people died to have the opportunity, the choice, to vote or not to vote. They did not sacrifice themselves in order to oblige later generations to pick a candidate at all costs. I was also reading rabid comments of Labourists who really do hate Conservatives and vice-versa, and of Liberal Democrat supporters who hate both Labourists and Conservatives, naturellement. This is, to me, even more odd. I've got red friends and blue friends and yellow friends and I find them level-headed, intelligent, well-educated, decent people. What's with all of this political hate? Are these people for real?

Yes, there are annoying traits to all of these; I do not believe that helping the vulnerable should equal helping the slacker and the leech (and it always does according to a leftie government), neither do I believe that a privileged birth makes individuals better than others by default (and it always does according to a right-wing government), but I am also annoyed by the people in the middle who, while picking and choosing from within the best of the rest, end up leaving me under the distinct impression of a lack of decisional backbone. Thus I could not bring myself to vote for these alternatives, for they don't feel to me as such.

On the run up to this day I was extremely amused by Bigotgate; my God, a politician said one thing and thought another one? Who knew those things happened? I was shocked I am telling you, shocked. A few days later I met George Osborne, local Tory representative, and while he blabbed away to the masses, I must confess not to have heard a single thing, so distracted was I by his otherworldly placca face. I don't know about you but I am highly, highly, highly suspicious of a man who goes for the syringe, unless he is Brad Pitt (in fact, I wish Brad reached for it, as he is quickly becoming painful to look at, not something I would have expected of him). But in Cameron's (and Osborne's) case I have to say that just because you can do Botox, it really doesn't mean you should.

I also heard that Britain could descend into anarchy and revolution and, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn. I cannot imagine Britain as Gotham City gripped by the Joker-esque agent of chaos, 'I'll show you, when the chips are down, these people will eat each other'. Can you? Our explosive mix of apathy and calm upper-stiffness should ensure a smooth enough transition into more of the same, as it always does. We ain't Greeks bearing gifts.

Talks of a hung parliament always make think of other 'well hung' things, and then, of course, I also heard that if you don't vote you ain't entitled to complain when things aren't hunky-dory, which is like saying that unless you have kids yourself, you ain't allowed to pass an opinion on others' kids, or if you don't drink coffee, you ain't allowed to voice your views on Starbucks and Costa, or if you don't eat meat, you can't to discuss supermarkets' farming policies, or if you don't reek like a goat, you cannot complain about other people's body odour. How will I live without this wisdom thrown left, right and centre, twenty-four hours a day, every day, my friends? Blimey, I wish there was an election every week! The entertainment would never end.

So did I vote? Sure I did! I always feel important about voting you know, a bit like being able to pay a stack of bills by cheque instead of credit card, a sentiment that hasn't really gone away despite my growing into a spiteful resident who resents Council Tax as much as fly-tipping and egg-throwing. And so I voted as I always vote my friends, none of the above. And if you have voted for anyone else, that's ok by me.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Recipe Of My Own

I am a slave to the recipe. When I bake cakes, cookies and brownies I never ever improvise, for baking is an exact science and one cannot add, increase or remove ingredients and just hope for the best. So today I surprised myself when I started thinking of cupcakes and had a good look at my sugar pantry, where all sorts linger. I wanted to use a pack of golden caster sugar and figured that I may have ended up with a slightly toffee-y cupcake if I tried hard enough. Now they are ready, resplendent in their icing and waiting for quality control. And if it has worked, I am going to tell you how to make them.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Well, I must admit that these three days off haven't been what I had hoped for. Granted, it didn't rain, unlike many other places in England, but it wasn't just all a bit blah because of the cold weather really. I've been feeling under the weather for a couple of days and, wouldn't you know it, those couple of days just happened to be the long weekend. Well, I guess there's another one at the end of May, right?

Yesterday, however, I didn't limit myself to the risotto, for I also made some lemon biscuits which I then turned into small cream cheese bites. These are lethal, for they are very much like shortbread, except for a deceptive lightness. They did not last long but as it is already evening and I must confess to be really tired and deflated, the recipe will have to wait.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pepper Risotto

If I were to choose my favourite risotto it would be a toss up between saffron and tomato. There is something about primary colours and risotto you see... But this evening I tried something I had in mind for a while, that is a variation of the classic red risotto, for the base was not just celery and onion but pepper too. It was lovely, especially as I did the mantecatura with a nice red yolk, a teaspoon of mascarpone and one of crème fraîche. A great culinary end to an otherwise non descript Bank Holiday Sunday, with clouds low in a sky and a really nippy wind wafting from the north.

You’ll need:

Serves 3-4 or maybe just 2 if very hungry

350g Arborio rice
a fistful of basil leaves
a small red pepper
200g of chopped tomatoes (tinned or in a carton... that sort of thing)
one egg yolk
a teaspoon of mascarpone
a teaspoon of crème fraîche
a small stick of celery
a small onion
sea salt

You’ll do it like so:

Chop the pepper, stick of celery and small onion into tiny pieces and then attack it with the mezzaluna for as long as you can bear. Remember that this is supposed to be the base of your risotto; you ain’t supposed to find big chunks of pepper in it so weild the mezzaluna for a good while. Now add a glug of oil to your pan set on high heat and fry the basil leaves in it.

Soon after, add the celery, pepper and onion (which at this point is called the soffritto, if you care to know) and stir with a wooden spoon for a scant minute or so. Add the dry rice, stir quickly, add half a carton of chopped tomatoes and stir again.

Now lower the heat to low (but not so low that it stops simmering...) and add some boiling water. I know that ‘some boiling water’ is hardly descriptive but, really, bear in mind that the rice is supposed to cook slowly for about 20 to 25 minutes. I keep my kettle ready for action as I am stirring and see that the pan is drying out. The point here is, don’t let it dry out, but continue adding boiling water (and check for salt too) every time the rice absorbs it.

After a good 20 minutes the rice will be just about ready. Get your egg yolk into a glass and add the mascarpone and crème fraîche to it. Stir quickly and pour it into the risotto, stirring well and giving it a last blast of heat on the stove. Now serve it in bowls with a dusting of Parmesan and two leaves of basil for a little decorative flair. Done to death, I know, but I love the green-on-red all the same...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pick Me Right Up!

It will come as a surprise to read that, before today, I had yet to make a tiramisù. It’s a bit of an oddity because I am extremely well-versed with cakes, sweets, puddings, desserts and even truffles and tiramisù is such a basic super-classic that one would think I have made countless. In truth, I had to resist its appeal for two reasons: Rich doesn’t like coffee and the prospect of eating an entire slab of this dessert, while appealing in principle, would do my waistline no good, and, of course, tiramisù is so simple, so child’s play to make that it has always seemed slightly pointless to be wasting my time on it while I could be trying something complicated and of greater effect.

But then... how can I call this most fabulous dessert pointless? I love tiramisù, because I love coffee and because of the quaint affection for its name. It means ‘pick me up’ not as in ‘a pick me up’ but as in ‘pick me up!’ and there is something so appealing about a dessert that guarantees you an immediate mood lift that finally, today, I caved in and thought, sod it, I’ll eat it all myself.

Before I give you the recipe, let me spare a few words on the sponge fingers you should use. These are no ordinary sponge fingers, they are savoiardi, a very specific type of biscuit that is soft below and sugary and crackly on top. Now the problem with savoiardi here in England is that we can only find them at the supermarket, unlike in Italy, where patisseries make them daily. Of course, you can also buy them at the supermarket there, but you’d be a fool to do so when they are baked fresh every morning. This means that the savoiardi we must make do are stiff and, compared to the fresh variety, stale.

When I indicate below that you should dip them in tepid coffee and arrange them in your serving dish, I mean do so in double-quick time. A second too long and they will become so soggy as to lumber you with a watery tiramisù and you so don’t want that. Equally, dip them too quickly, and you’ll end up with a base that you cannot cut into with a fork, as, in fact, you should be able to do. Therefore proceed swiftly at the dipping stage, but not too swiftly.

You’ll need:

3 large eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
250g mascarpone (which is a cream cheese sold in tubs)
2 packs of savoiardi (the sponge fingers)
500ml of coffee
cocoa for dusting
a serving dish about 30 cm x 23 cm, nicer with glass, although I made do with a baking tray, pah!

You’ll do it like so:

Begin by making the coffee. I use a medium moka, which means I put it on twice in order to yield about 500ml of coffee. Once this is ready, pour it into a shallow dish or bowl or whatever container will make the dipping of the savoiardi easy for you and leave it to cool.

Whip the three egg whites in a bowl until very stiff, then leave aside.

Now whip the three egg yolks with the sugar in another bowl (no need to wash the beaters, yay!) until they have at least tripled in volume and are huge and soft and white and just delicious-looking.

Add the mascarpone to the whipped egg yolks and give it a quick beating. Now leave the beaters aside and fold in the egg whites with a spoon, trying to maintain the volume as much as possible.

Once you’re done with that, spoon some of this cream on the bottom of your dish and then begin dipping the savoiardi one by one in the cooled coffee (yes, quickly but not too quickly!). Arrange on the bottom side by side and fill your dish. Once the first layer is done, spoon more of the cream on top, level it, then continue the dipping of the savoiardi and the layering. Once you’re done with the second layer, spoon the rest of the cream on top, level it nicely, grab a tea strainer and dust with cocoa generously.

Place the dish in the fridge for a good two hours and then enjoy with an espresso or, failing that, a good old cup of tea. Dead easy and it’s taken me longer to type this up than to make it!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Me Evening

I love Wednesday evenings. That’s because I love Wednesdays in general, maybe because I was born on a Wednesday (yes, and I definitely am mercurial), but especially when Rick goes out pooling. He believes that I don’t like him going out in the evening without me, but the reality is, I love it. I love it because I love time to myself, and even if I spend my days to myself, I also love the weekly evening when I get to do exactly what I want.

Usually, this is writing which, really, give you an idea of how bloody dangerously I live these days, but no matter, because on Wednesday evenings, I also get to re-do my nails, to watch Hugh Grant movies (not that Rick doesn’t like them mind you, but I am sure that, deep down, I love Hugh more than he does) or maybe You’ve Got Mail and I get the bed all to myself. That’s where I am now and with all of the books on it, proofs, journals and an empty plate there would certainly not be space for a man.

Wednesday evenings are peculiar times also because it’s the only time of the week when I feel really utterly at peace. No matter how much I stress during the day, when I lit a stick of incense, sit back with the laptop and sip the tea, everything that aggravates me feels unimportant and irrelevant as I tell myself, what the fuck, tomorrow’s another day. There should be more Wednesdays in the week. Yes, definitely.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

At The Park

What I said yesterday was prophetic. William and Victoria went to bed at 8 pm and did not stir until 8.20 am. William especially looked particularly wooden, but I guess he seems to forget that he is pushing eleven and that he should give signs of some sorts when he wants to stop instead of cranking up the pace and scuttling ahead of the rest of us. In any case, he was pliable enough to hop into the car at 10 for a trip to Tatton Park. Tatton is flat and only gently hilly; I am sure both he and Victoria were grateful I didn’t think that another stop at Styal would have bettered their fitness. We had a really nice walk and then went around Knutsford too, where I took some pics of one of my favourite spots, the cemetery and the church. And now it is evening and I cannot believe that it’s Monday again tomorrow. Another five days to pretend I am working...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

In The Woods

Today I went back to Styal but instead of walking around the mill or the manicured gardens, I took William and Victoria around the so-called Northern Woods. We had been around before on a couple of occasions, but this time we pounded the stones steps, the slopes, the uphill inclines and absolutely everything in between for a good two hours. We were, eventually, all panting, even though I am pretty certain that tomorrow I will be the only one without wooden paws (thank you Tracy).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Miracle

Yes, a miracle, I am witnessing a miracle-in-the-making, I'm telling you. Three weeks ago I started doing the Tracy Anderson Mat Workout, something I had been hankering after for a while as I was getting all nice and flexi with my yoga. I started yoga almost a year ago, doing it religiously most days and can now bend over backwards which, for someone with a spinal injury, is one heck of a big deal. But, you know, I am no different from the vast majority of women out there who aren't really after flexibility but the body of a goddess. I cannot expect ever to Look That Good, as not even sixteen hours worth of weekly gym turned me into the fleshy version of the Venus de Milo, but I think that thirty is a bit too early to jack it in and a wardrobe filled with clothes that cost more than an Aga is worth working (hard and out) for.

And now, I am witnessing a miracle: my body is changing and very rapidly to boot. I know that this Tracy Anderson has a reputation for knowing how to chisel a body, but I've often thought that it isn't her association with Gwyneth that makes her worthy of my stamp of approval, for Gwyneth has always been a weed and toning up as a weed is infinitely easier than toning up as a watermelon. The real poster girls for the Tracy Anderson Method are the women whom she puts through their paces on the lesser-viewed YouTube videos she's got and not the professional actresses or singers who are underweight by two stones as a matter of course.

I've done the whole programme fifteen times and, I kid you not, I can see side grooves running lengthwise by my tummy (never seen such a thing). My humongous bottom is being lifted from the middle, the top of my thighs is reducing in size by the day and I've even developed little biceps. I've never seen anything like this this fast. I need to warn you though: this isn't for wimps. For the first week, the gasps of agony (during and after) stirred my dogs, which is really quite something. They did not move from their beds but did look up at me on a few occasions looking more than slightly concerned. And with reason, I'd say, as walking around, getting in and out of bed, picking up my arms to reach the keyboard were tasks that brought grimaces to my face and little gasps of pain into the open. After a week it got better. After two weeks the agony disappeared. Now I work through it without making a sound, only leaving a small puddle of sweat at my feet.

But, dear friends, the results are outstanding. I cannot wait to see what I will look like by my birthday. You know what the say... lots of pain, lots of gain.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Porcini Sauce

Gosh I am slacking in tracking my modest life. I must confess that when my day is spent writing or editing, all I want to do in the evening is to flop in front of a DVD (and hopefully I'll flop on something soft like my bed, and not the floor). So that's my excuse today. Indeed it ain't an excuse at all but I hope that a little recipe will redeem me.

I've recently acquired a very generous stash of dried porcini (mushrooms) and I put that between brackets because porcini are mushrooms and that's it, there are no porcini apples or porcini pears and so it goes without saying that they are, indeed, mushrooms. Sorry, I digress all the time. So this stack of dried porcini makes one heck of a fabulous sauce which you can use for pasta or for polenta or even if you fancy a teaspoon on a chargrilled piece of toast (as I like mine... very, very toasted...!).

Today I am going to give you the recipe which is extremely easy in its execution provided you hover by the pan for two hours. Yes, that's right. Don't put this sauce on and go soak in the tub because you'll return to a pan which will require a pick to clean up. I put my phone on 10-minute alarm intervals and returned to check and add a little bit of water as the porcini were simmering. This is the method you should use and one that will guarantee a sauce with a delicate, subtle taste and a pan that you can wash off straight afterwards. And also, don't be fooled by the look of the porcini: they really are going to be ready after two hours and not before.

You'll need:

60g dried porcini
a fistful of flat-leafed parsley
a tiny garlic clove
a glug of olive oil
sea salt

You'll do it like so:

1- Weight your porcini and then put them to soak in tepid water for 10 minutes. During this time they will swell and will begin to look like slugs. Don't be put off (although I know you won't if you're French)! Keep calm and carry on! As soon as the 10 minutes have elapsed, rinse the porcini really, really well. This is vital because they can taste sandy if you don't wash and rinse well. Squeeze the extra water through a sieve, then plonk your porcini, the garlic clove and the parsley on a chopping board.

2- Grab your mezzaluna and attack the mushrooms and the parsley until you are left with very small pieces of the former and the latter has pretty much disintegrated under your weapon (NB: wonder why my mushrooms above look whole? Because I always leave a few).

3- Now coat lightly a small frying pan with oil, warm it up, add the mushrooms and swish around the pan for a little while, until the heady aroma of parsley (lovely) and garlic (yuk) hits you. Lower the heat to medium-low, add some hot water and a little bit of sea salt and be vigilant as I described above. The sauce must simmer gently for a couple of hours, during which you will check for salt. After the time is up, use it straight away or decant it in whatever container to be stored in the fridge for use within a week.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

After The Holiday

Ah to return to work after a holiday, however brief! When I used to hate my job, the Tuesday after was always traumatic. To wheel my computer bag through a carpark or up and down the Tube escalators was the epitome of failure. Here I am, returning to the same old crap, while I could have a parallel life, a happy working life. How well I remember. Now I am sitting here grinning ear-to-ear, as it is way past midday, I am still in my bed pants and I've ticked more tasks off my list in the past ninety minutes than I used to when I had to turn up on the job at 7 am for the ubiquitous, and much hated, conference call with the colleagues from Hong Kong.

Over the past few days, I've felt inanely serene. Yes, serene. I cannot say often to feel serene because I believe that a Virgo (or is it Virgoan? I don't know) is always a little anxious by nature. These days though, my anxiety is rooted in possibility, in creativity, in connecting and in The New. Isn't that what spring is all about, The New? I think this is the reason why I hanker after new clothes so badly, because I want to project this feeling of New to the outer world as well. Easter encapsulated The New like no other day of the year; the new life, the redemption, the novelty, the beginning, the rising from the ashes like a phoenix or from the dead like Jesus. It is a really fabulous message even when outside my pear tree is struggling to sprout the bare minimum as the sky stays white and low and promises all but blue, at least for today.

Still, the past four days weren't as ghastly as predicted by the Met Office, as you can see above, and I personally basked in a glory of chocolate, a bit of work, a bit of cooking and having Rick around all the time.

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