Eleven Questions..

Yesterday I had the pleasure of a visit to UCLH for my pre-operative assessment.  I’m heading up there in July for a PAO (peri-acetabular osteotomy), which is quite major orthopaedic surgery with the aim of correcting my hip dysplasia.  My surgeon’s website has lots of good information – you can find it here.

This entailed a 5 hour car journey to London and back, with plenty of hospital waiting time in between blood tests, CT scans, MRSA nose swabs (nice) and occupational therapy assessments.  For those of you who are reading this to hear about my PAO story, my message is PLEASE don’t worry about the pre-op assessment.  If you don’t need a scan, they can sort it out over the phone and via your GP’s office.  And if you do need to attend in person, it’s good because you can familiarise yourself with the hospital, ask as many questions as you like, and so on.

Which brings me to the issue of questions.  I was tagged  in a meme the other day by Recipe Junkie, with a set of 11 questions for me to answer.  I’ve had plenty of time (see 5 hour car journeys) to think about these, so here goes!

Wham! or  Frankie Goes to Hollywood?  It’s got to be Wham! It reminds me of childhood roller discos *sigh*

Dog or Cat? That’s harder.. I love dogs, but I don’t think I could live without a cat.   Here’s another gratuitous one of my gorgeous Harry ‘owning’ our front drive..

Kid Got Swagger…

Nigella or Delia?  Eek, this is harder than I thought!  I do love Nigella’s recipes, and Delia’s TV presenting style makes me wince a bit.  She looks so….uncomfortable.  Can’t beat her chocolate fudge cake topping though, way better than Nigella’s. Which reminds me to blog about it very soon..

Silent Witness or CSI?  Silent Witness, every time.

Thomas Cook or Internet?  Thomas Cook, ever since a terrible holiday we booked via Lastminute.com which resulted in Irish swearing never to book the ‘cheap option’ ever again.  Irish swears quite a lot, but this was extreme.

TV or Radio?  TV!  I disagree with the notion that it addles your brain.  I have it on in the background ALL THE TIME, and I have a PhD.  Harrumph.

London or Paris?  It’s been ages since I visited either properly.  Irish and I have decided that when I can walk again after my PAO ops, we’ll make sure we do both of them justice.  Until then, I think I’ll have to reserve judgement..

If you could choose any 6 people to come for dinner with you (living or dead) who would you choose and why?

Miranda Hart – because she’s so lovely

Mark Watson – saw him on his last tour at a really small venue in north Devon, and he was lovely.  He had a pint with the audience before the gig got started.

Professor Mary Beard – hooray for Mary!  I loved her TV show on the Romans and I want to ask her lots of questions.

Jilly Cooper – I am fascinated by her.  Also Irish is hoping that one day I’ll come up with a million-pound selling bonkbuster, so I could do with the tips.

Buck Brannaman – renowned horse whisperer.  I’ve been having riding lessons for the past few months and I love it.   I love the freedom it gives me when I’m using my ‘spare legs’!  And even more thrillingly, I’ve turned out to be quite good at it, and horses seem to just ‘like me’.  I’d love to get some tips and listen to some stories from an expert.

Stephen Fry – I like his voice, and I really respect his ability to swear and still seem polite.

So nobody dead (corpses would put me off my food) and nobody contentious (I don’t like arguments).  I suspect they’d all get on rather well, don’t you?

What would you cook? Hmm.. maybe a tomato and mozzarella salad to start, followed by Beef Bourgignon and Irish’s delicious gratin dauphinoise, followed by Key Lime Pie.  I am the queen of Key Lime Pies.

Favourite Book as a Child?  There are so many. I was – am – a total bookworm.  I’ll put Tom’s Midnight Garden for now – I love how gardens are places of magic and strangeness when you are a child.  I’ve never grown out of watching a garden come alive.

Foxgloves – quite tasty actually, if you’re a bee.

Earliest Memory? My parents took me on holiday to a hotel in Brittany when I was 18 months old.  I remember being fascinated by the cage of canaries in the reception area.  On the last day, my parents were checking out at the reception desk, and turned around just in time to see me open the door of the cage and let the canaries fly out.  They never managed to catch any of them. Two years later, my uncle visited the same hotel and the cage was empty.  The staff were still talking about ‘the little English girl who set the canaries free’..

And that, is the end of my questions..and it’s over to you!

Here are my 11 questions…

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
  2. What skill, talent, or ability would you most like to have?
  3. Where is your favourite place in the world?
  4. What is the strangest thing you have eaten?
  5. What are you wearing RIGHT NOW?
  6. Who was the last person you told  ‘I love you’?
  7. What is your favourite opening line of a novel?                   
  8. What does the last text message you received say?
  9. Town or Country?
  10. Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe?
  11. Cinema or Theatre?

I don’t want to impose the meme on anyone but if any bloggers would like to join in, please comment below and I’ll link your blog to this post!

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Guess who’s coming to live with us?

Some happy and exciting news today to take my mind off the pre-operative assessment for my Peri-Acetabular Osteotomy (PAO) this week.  We are getting a gorgeous Italian Greyhound puppy!

This is Juno – she is currently 4 weeks old and living with her mum and breeder in Yorkshire.  She will be arriving with us in mid-August after both vaccinations have kicked in and we are all very excited.

We have been debating getting a pup for a while  – good company for Irish (people with head injuries often have ‘support’ or ‘companion’ dogs), but also for our Bengal cat who by far prefers dogs to cats.

We chose an Italian greyhound because we wanted a ‘velcro dog’ which would stick to Irish like glue and give him companionship when he’s suffering with his head injury.  Italian Greyhounds are speedy, but gentle and loving dogs, so perfect for us! We have plenty of enclosed space to exercise her and are looking forward to giving her lots of cuddles and to having her as part of our family.

Lots of people with head injuries find that dogs are tremendous companions and support – some dogs can even provided as ‘assistance’ dogs in the same vein as guide dogs for the blind.  You can find more out about this via Canine Partners or Dogs for the Disabled.

The breeder is giving us weekly updates on Juno’s progress, and she seems to be turning into a happy, sociable and very loving dog who has How cute?!already learned to give kisses! To give you an idea of size, here she is fast asleep on her breeder’s wrist. She really is tiny!

When Juno arrives in August, I’ll be a few weeks past my operation but still on crutches – so house training will be interesting! We have tried to tell (or perhaps warn) Harry, our cat, but the wood burner is still the focus of all his attention.  Here he is worshipping at the altar of lovely woody burny goodness.  I must confess that with all this awful wet weather, I can’t really blame him!

Life’s hard when you’re a Bengal cat..

‘I need a PRIVATE wee’…

At your convenience..

…announced my gorgeous stepdaughter (aged 8) the other day.  And quite right too – every girl needs to maintain her mystique, after all.  Unfortunately chez HipOptimist, this is not as easy as it sounds.  Locks do not fit easily onto 300 year old cottage doors.   On top of which, bathroom doors which lock are not really do-able since Irish sustained his head injury doing ‘military things’ in the desert.  Having a blackout in the bath or shower could be really dangerous so we need to ensure we can get easy access to the bathroom in an emergency.

Hmm – what to do? Visitors always look rather nervous, when they ask how they will know if the bathroom is occupied, and the response ‘just knock’ doesn’t seem to reassure them. Our littlest has always been sensitive about her privacy, and now that her lovely older sister is fast approaching her 13th birthday, the House is in dire need of, if not locks, then at least some kind of system.

I stole the idea for ‘door hangers’ from our visit to Southernhay House in Exeter for a dirty weekend. Instead of ‘Do Not Disturb’ door hangers, the hotel rooms had wooden baubles dangling from the doorknobs for you to put on the front of the door at night – that is, if you want the dirtiness to continue in the morning (we did).

The hanger on the left appropriately says ‘laugh often, talk much, sit long’. It costs £4.50 from Designs on Pine.

Enter at your own risk..

I picked this fish-shaped one (right) up from King’s Garden Centre in Exmouth for a similar price.

And this one (below) is the best value of all – just 99p from Country Bumpkins Gifts..

Translation: Watch out! Private wees taking place inside..

So far, the system has worked really well.  A hanger on the outside of the door means somebody is
inside. If there’s no hanger on the door, the bathroom is empty.  Our eight year old has cracked it – and remembers to put the hanger back on the inside of the door again when she leaves.  But whether it stands up to the ‘nervous visitor’ test is uncertain.  It’s looking like the in-laws (due for a trip to Devon soon) will be the first guinea pigs! Time for nervous hosts, rather than visitors, perhaps..

Recovering from the 50 year storm…

The sun is out – hooray!

Like the rest of the House, our garden is a bit of a project.  When we bought the House, the garden was completely overgrown and full of weeds and non-native trees that didn’t fit with the conservation zone we live in.   We are in the process of landscaping the gardens, and this year we hope to build some raised beds to improve our self-sufficiency.  Part of this blog will be about the journey of the House and its garden, because watching it change and develop is one of my happiest pursuits.

After a vicious storm last night, the sun finally made an appearance in Darkest Devon today!  The first thing I did was check the garden to see which of my beloved plants had suffered the most.  It turns out that the bigger you are, the harder it is to survive stormy weather.  The worst hit was our beautiful copper beach tree – which is about 300 years old, the same age as our house.  I lay awake last night wondering if it was going to collapse on us through the roof as we were in bed.

Lots of branches were caught in the thatch of the house, and many others are  spread over the lawn. Luckily it seems to take more than a ’50 year storm ‘ to worry this tree, and when the sky finally turned blue, the dark purple hue of its leaves really stand out.  Strangely, the leaves usually turn green before they go purple, but the old tree was late coming into leaf this year, and when they finally came through, the leaves were the most vibrant purple that they have ever been.

Lupins

The plants that survived the best, were those that had been delayed by the all the rain.  Most of my lupins and foxgloves are  at right angles, which looks rather strange although the bees don’t seem to mind too much.  This lupin bed (left) has survived though, phew!

My favourite of the day is the bank of tiny purple and white flowers that are spreading vigourously under this blue hydrangea bush (see below).  Sadly I have no idea what this plant is called – it just miraculously appeared  over the last couple of weeks, but these tiny flowers seem to have flourished in the storms.  I love the contrast  between the enormous flower heads of the hydrangea and the tiny pinpricks of this flower.  If anyone can enlighten me as to what it is, I’d be so grateful as ‘the House’ has  plenty of ancient Devon banks that would really suit this pretty plant…

What I’m discovering about living in an old house is that you never really feel like you own it.  It feels like we’re looking after it for the next generation.  So in that sense I suppose it’s no wonder I feel a bit anxious when I hear the House creaking and shuddering in the storm.  But the pay-off is the sense of history.  The House is in the centre of our village and the residents have countless stories about its previous occupants.  The other day I found out that a couple of hundred years ago, it used to be a house for ‘fallen women’.  And seeing as I fall over at least once a day due to my rubbish hips, it’s nice to know that some things will never change!

Is there such a thing as a ‘grown up’ cupcake?

Not your average cupcake!

Normally I don’t watch the ‘One Show’.  In my house it’s commonly referred to as the ‘Nothing On Show’.  But this evening there was a piece about ‘clandestine cake clubs‘ springing up all over Britain, and I was most intrigued.    I love the idea that a date and time is given out over the internet, and anyone who wants to can turn up, on the condition that they bring a cake.  A bit like dogging, perhaps, but for people who like to eat cake instead of each other – and of course, dogging would never make it onto Prime Time BBC television, yah*.

The CCC however, are rather discriminating.  No tarts, brownies, or cookies for these ladies (I suspect they are mostly ladies).  Even the frosted cupcakes popularised by the Magnolia Bakery in Sex and the City are banned.  And I can see their point:  I rarely eat a cupcake that isn’t a let-down. Too much sickly buttercream, too vanilla, even for the CCC  who clearly prefer a bit of subversive chocolate (why else would it be a clandestine cake club?)

The delightful morsels I made yesterday break all the rules.  They are dainty enough to be served with an espresso after dinner, and not a swirl of buttercream in sight.  Instead, a lashing (the Famous Five kind, or the S&M kind? You decide!) of dark bitter chocolate ganache drips seductively over a mound of sinful chocolate sponge.

Here’s how to make them.  I’ve adapted the cupcake recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcake recipe, and doubled the quantities because why would anyone make just 12 of these babies?  Make 24, take some to work, and you’ll have your colleagues eating out of the palm of your hand.

200g plain flour

40g cocoa powder

280g caster sugar

two pinches of salt

80g unsalted butter, at room temperature (stick it in the microwave for 20 seconds if you get it out of the fridge)

2 eggs

3 tsp baking powder

240ml milk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (did you really expect a cupcake recipe to be entirely vanilla-free?)

Preheat oven to 170C

Whirr all the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, baking powder) plus butter together in a large bowl using a hand-held electric mixer, until it’s the consistency of sand and all buttery lumps have disappeared.  Then whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla together, and add this slowly to the sandy mixture, whirring on a slow setting at first before adding more liquid and upping the speed.

When it’s all combined spoon it into paper cupcake cases and bake in the oven for about 20 – 25 minutes.  When I used this recipe it made 36 cupcakes.

Glossy Chocolate Ganache

The chocolate ganache is incredibly glossy. I adapted it from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess‘.  Now there is a woman who can make a cake sexy!

All you need is:

150ml double cream

1tsp vanilla extract

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

150g dark chocolate (good quality makes a big difference)

All you have to do is put everything in a non-stick saucepan and heat gently until the chocolate is melted. Keep stirring to make the mixture glossy! Turn up the heat slightly, still stirring, and bring the mixture to the boil.  Take the saucepan away from the heat and whisk until the mixture is thicker and smooth and glossy.  Pour into a glass bowl and leave to cool for a little (half an hour is plenty).

To decorate: Spoon the mixture over your cupcakes, but don’t try and make it too perfect – the cupcakes look better when the sponge is not perfectly covered and the ganache is allowed to drip down over the sides.

The Clandestine Cake Club members may not allow cupcakes – but there is nothing ‘fairy-cake-like’ about these!

* Can I please just point out that I can’t actually confirm any similarity between dogging and clandestine food-oriented clubs, having never attended a clandestine meeting of any kind.  There are other blogs about those hobbies, I’m sure!

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