The Rogues’ Gallery

Less than 36 hours to the PAO!  I have packed, I have seen my friends, I have been treated to insane amounts of delicious smelling lotions and potions from my family, and I have had all my last minute hip queries answered by the collective wisdom of the Hip Women Yahoo Group.  I can do this.  It will be fine.

One of the best things I have done in preparation is collect all my favourite family-and-friends photos onto my iPad to take into hospital.  Not the staid, boring ‘graduation’ style photos, but the photos of  us being dysfunctional, or doing happy, funny things.  The ones where we are cross-eyed, or have wardrobe disasters, or are muddy even by Devon standards.

When we moved into our house we had an idea that we could take all the photos that gave us the best memories and crowd them all together on the wall in our kitchen.  The frames don’t match, and they aren’t in neat rows.  But then nothing in our kitchen is neat!

The Rogues’ Gallery.

On this wall, a drawing from my 1 year old god-daughter shares some space with an incriminating picture of my best friends at a hen night, a photograph of Irish and the two girlies and me on the log flume at a theme park, my parents with cocktails in hand on a summer holiday, Irish making faces at the camera with his flying buddies, and of course a close-up of the shoes I wore to ‘go away’ on my honeymoon.

The shoes! Look at the shoes!

The breakfast room bit of our kitchen (that actually sounds a bit posh – it really isn’t) wasn’t really used before we added the Rogues’ Gallery.  Eating there felt a bit empty somehow.  Now, though, it’s the place where visitors gravitate, and the part of the kitchen I ‘hover’ in when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or for the toast to be ready.  Now, the kitchen is the happiest part of the house – although that could also be down to the fact that a) Irish does a mean Thai Green curry, and b) it’s where we keep the gin.

I have a feeling that before too long, an X-ray of my PAO’d hip will join the scan of Irish’s head injury on the wall, alongside all the cats and dogs we have ever owned and the most-loved photos of family members with a mouthful of chips / sticking their tongues out / falling over / hugging one another.  It’s a memory bank of the happiest, the funniest, the best of times.

Ever done anything embarrassing? It’s probably documented here.

Which brings me to this:  however much I write about knitting, or baking, or shopping helping to take my mind off the pain, it’s really the people that make me smile and give me reason to be optimistic – and isn’t that the whole point of this blog?  And on Tuesday when I count to ten and drift off, and when I wake up with a shiny new hip socket, it won’t be my latest blanket that I remember, or my latest handbag purchase.  It will be the photos on the wall, and the people, all my family and friends, who have been holding my hand.

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The wolf-whistle hypothesis: thoughts on sex appeal and disability.

Yesterday, I walked to my neighbour’s house.  I’d just reached the end of our driveway and turned to go up hers, when I heard a loud wolf whistle from across the village square.   I was sure it wouldn’t be for me.  I haven’t been wolf-whistled at since I started using walking sticks and crutches.  But when I looked around, I was the only person there and a man, standing opposite me, was staring at me.

Gosh, I thought.  This hasn’t happened for a while.  I’m out of practice. Should I be offended at this wolf-whistle?  Should I wave at this man and smile, or should I stick my nose in the air and carry on the ten metres to my friend’s house?  I started to walk on, and as I turned, I heard the man’s intake of breath and  I realised he’d only just clocked my walking stick.  ‘Oh god!’ he said.  ‘I’m really sorry.  I didn’t know you were..’ his voice trailed off, but he gestured at my limping and my walking stick, leaving the word ‘disabled’ hanging in the air instead.  ‘I wouldn’t have.. I mean, I didn’t want to.. Sorry’.

Clearly, the walking stick indicated to him that I am not quite the goddess he had first envisaged.  I ignored him and carried on to see my friend, but it got me thinking about how difficult it is for people to see beyond the crutches, or the walking stick, or the wheelchair, or whatever.  As soon as that man clocked the walking aid, I was no longer a sexual object, and became an object of – what?  Pity?  Repulsion? Irrelevance?

It reminds me of fellow hip blogger paper or dysplastic’s post about the way people infer different assumptions from the various mobility aids us ‘hippies’ use.  My experience has so much in common with hers.   At the moment, I’m lucky enough only to need my wheelchair for longer distances (around the supermarket for example, or at the airport or in a museum where lots of walking is involved).  So my wheelchair is currently languishing in a dilapidated barn in the grounds of our house.

Parked – for now..

Poor wheelchair, I should really take better care of it.  I will be needing it a lot more after my operation in (gasp) 9 days time.  But there have been times when I’ve been much more reliant on my spare wheels.  And the experience is never a fun one – although Irish is a great ‘pusher’ and does a mean wheelie!

If they see you in a wheelchair, people don’t wolf whistle.  In fact, they don’t look at you at all.  They try so hard not to look you in the eye.  In my experience, a wheelchair suggests more to observers than a physical disability.   They don’t even want to go there. If a carer is with me, people will talk to them instead (the ‘does she take sugar?’ paradox).  Some especially delightful people will point and snigger.  It’s not their fault.  They’re just lucky not to know any better.

Crutches are a different matter.  I am the owner of some rather lovely purple ergonomic crutches made by Kowsky.  They look quite cool.  It seems that ‘wearing’ crutches does not imply anything about my mental abilities.  Rather, crutches invite conversation. People at the bus stop / in work meetings will say ‘Oh dear! You poor thing! What have you done to yourself?’ and then look frightfully embarrassed when I say ‘Oh, I haven’t done anything, I was just born without proper hip sockets’.  They usually apologise – and I reassure them that they haven’t done anything wrong, that it’s fine, that I’ll be getting them fixed soon.

Why do my crutches say ‘temporary’?

So that leaves my walking stick.  A walking stick is in my view, the most useful mobility aid if you want people to notice you.  Old people use walking sticks.  That means that we associate walking sticks with infirmity, with degeneration.  People get out of my way if they see me using a walking stick (this can be very useful in crowded places actually).  When I use crutches, they assume it’s a temporary injury that doesn’t require quite so much consideration – a broken ankle, a torn hamstring, maybe.  But a stick means permanent physical impairment.  And permanence invites consideration – though not, as I realised yesterday, from wolf-whistlers (perhaps another bonus!).

Interestingly, this is different in the US.  Last year I visited Boston for a work conference, and strangers would come up to me in bookshops, in coffee shops, and openly express curiosity about my ‘cane’.  They wanted to know why I used it, and where I got it from.  They told me I didn’t look like I needed to use a walking aid because I was too young / slim / athletic looking.  I didn’t know how to take that at first.  I felt shy about discussing my mobility or lack thereof with total strangers.  But it felt quite nice not to be invisible.

Walking sticks (actually not ideal beach accessories)

There’s no getting away from the fact though, that walking sticks are excellent style crampers.  Nothing says ‘unsexy’ better.  And weirdly, so-called ‘sexy’ clothes look awful with a stick.  A fitted dress, a low cut top – completely canceled out by hospital issue metal with rubber feet.  It looks at best incongruous, and at worst like I’m trying too hard to be something I can’t be.

‘Don’t worry’ says Irish.  ‘I don’t care.  You’re as sexy as buggery’ (an unfortunate turn of phrase, has Irish).  Ah well. Irish is good at cheering me up.  It’s a good thing I don’t need a walking stick in bed.

Colour Scheme? What Colour Scheme?

I am a bit of a gardening whore.  That is, I find it hard to resist temptation and buy plants without thinking about where they will go in my garden, and whether they will ‘fit’.  Which means that when it comes to colour schemes, my garden is a little bit ‘eccentric’.

A good example is this red rose next to this pinky-lilac poppy – especially clash-ful against the pale yellow walls of our house.  I don’t think I’d win any Chelsea medals for this combo!

Pink, red and yellow. I’m not sure it works, either..

The pink-red-yellow-athon continues in this bed with pink sweet williams and orangey-red poppies, alongside purple monkshood.

Mmm, ‘blended colours’. Maybe not..

When it comes to outdoor colour choices, I have a rather chequered history.  When we moved in 2 years ago our lovely Devon house was painted white.  There are a lot of other white thatched cottages in our village, and we decided we would like something a little sunnier.  So we chose a gorgeous pale yell0w and were rather shocked when it seemed rather more, erm ‘luminous’ than the powdery lemon we had envisaged.  Eek. We toned it down with this grey on the woodwork, which we were really pleased with.

Luckily, the house has mellowed over time and the creamy yellow now looks gorgeous in the sunshine, and has met with the approval of other villagers (if you live in a village, you will know exactly how important this is).  Even more importantly, it always looks like a happy house, even in the rain – and we have had rather a lot of rain recently!

So the colour choices are not always intended – but I’m fine with that.  After all, the colours in wildflower meadows aren’t exactly planned by anyone.  What matters most, I think, is that the plants are happy growing in the place they’re in. That and the rigorous removal of slugs.

These beds contain the full spectrum of reds and pinks. What brings it all together, I think, is the inclusion of purple in the foxgloves and allium christophii.   More about purple flowers in an upcoming post.

Foxgloves, roses, clematis and allium – just don’t wear them all at once.

To me, cottage gardens are about masses of native species.  I love coming home after work, getting out of my car, and seeing it bloom all around me.  I don’t care if it matches!  The colour doesn’t matter.  It’s the pleasure of growing that counts.

Cake Fail. Meh.

Oh bugger it.  This one hasn’t worked out like I planned – at all!  This (see exhibit A) was my attempt at adapting a red velvet cake from the Hummingbird Bakery.  In fact, in this photo the worst bits have already been cut away (for which at least the chickens were very grateful)

Exhibit A. Red Velvet? Where?

It all started because I saw these delicious raspberries peeking out from under the leaves in our garden:

Raspberry Delight? Sadly, not.

Poor things, I should have left them alone.

We planted 70 canes in March, and I was delighted that they have fruited so quickly.  And they keep coming!  So I thought this recipe would be the perfect one to adapt.  If you haven’t seen a red velvet cake before, it’s supposed to look like this (from Alpine Berry – of course she gets it right, grrr):

Red Velvet Cake – Alpine Berry does it right

The bright red colour comes from a generous splash of red food colouring, mixed with cocoa powder.  And the texture comes from the buttermilk in the mix that gives it a slightly tacky, muffiny feel.  BUT.  No sign of red velvet in my cake.  Irish pointed out that ‘brown with reddish smears’ is not the most appetising cake colour.  However once I’d cut the burned bits off, and tidied it up with some cream cheese icing, it actually looked passable:

Phew! Raspberries make everything better..a bit..

I think the reason it went wrong was because I tried to make it with two deep layers instead of three shallow ones.  I used the leftover cake mix to make some cupcakes, which actually turned out quite well, although they too looked pretty appalling when they first came out of the oven.

Cupcakes to the rescue..

Luckily, both cake and cupcakes tasted a lot better than they looked.  The moistness of the cake works really well with the raspberries added on top, and given Irish’s alarm at its rather , erm, stained appearance, he did manage to eat half of that giant cake in just under 24 hours.

So I offer you the recipe and challenge you to tell me where I went wrong!

For the cake mixture will need:

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 600g caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red food colouring
  • 3 tablespoons best quality cocoa powder
  • 375g plain flour
  • 250ml buttermilk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, put a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into a measuring jug and top up with milk until the mixture reaches 250ml. Leave to stand, and after about 5 minutes you will magically have buttermilk!  I don’t know how it works (not really strong on science) but it does.  Trust me (despite the burnt cake).
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
For the Icing you will need
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 600g icing powder
  • 100g butter, softened
  • a handful of fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 170° and line three cake tins (I used two, and made cupcakes with the rest of the mixture).

Use a hand held mixer to cream the butter and sugar together.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, continuing to beat well.  Mix the cocoa and food colouring together and beat into the mix.  After that, you can add some flour, beat it into the mixture, and then add some buttermilk.  Repeat this until all the flour and buttermilk has been combined into the cake mix.

Mix the vinegar and bicarb together, and then add this gently to the cake mix – be careful not to beat it too much.

Put the mix into your cake tins, put them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  NB: Mine were still absolutely uncooked in this stage according to the skewer test – this could have been because I used only 2, deeper, cake tins.  It took about 40 minutes until mine were burned – ahem, I mean cooked.  When they’re ready, take the cakesout of the oven and leave them to cool in their tins before you tip them onto a wire rack.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar with the butter until combined, and then add in the cream cheese and mix together.  Don’t over mix or the icing will go runny!  Use the icing to sandwich the cake together (and if you’re me, to hide the scars where I had to hack off the burned bits), and to decorate the top of the cake.  Then decorate with raspberries.

So – I burned a cake, and I liked it!  I think there’s a moral in this story, but I can’t quite work out what it is..

Yummy – but best eaten with eyes closed.

Another blanket marathon.

When it comes to knitting, I appear to be a ‘big project’ girl.  My first ever knitting project was a gorgeous cardigan from Debbie Bliss’s Andes pattern book.   It would appear that a cardigan is not the easiest knitting project for a virgin knitter, and mine ended up looking a bit like the lab coat I used to wear in Physics lessons.

Since then I’ve migrated to blanket squares.  Now these I like, because

  1. They are portable.
  2. If it turns into a clusterf*ck you can rip the square up and start again with out ruining the entire project
  3. You get to practise lots of different kinds of stitches (see point 2).  I learned intarsia, cabling, bobbles and lace stitching methods this way.
  4. If you knit enough of them you can turn them into a really special ‘heirloom’ blanket

You can check out another of my efforts here, but this one (below) is for my mother.  I made the first square and slid it into a card for her on Mother’s Day.  I think I’m about half way there now. I probably  need about 20 more squares, plus more to add a ‘hem’ all around.

Mistakes? I’ve made a few..

As you can see it’s still a work in progress.  It looks scruffy – but so did my other one until I tidied the ends up and stitched them together.  I can’t wait to see the finished thing, but that might be a way off.    I am not a ‘natural knitter’!  At my village ‘knit and natter’ group, I do more nattering than knitting, and when I do knit, my elbows tend to get in the way of everyone else.  But hey, I don’t really go there for the knitting – I go there for the hilarious conversations (yes really).  And also for the swearing. It sounds  a bit American Pie (as in ‘this one time, at band camp..’), but the air in our village turns bluer than this blanket when us ‘yarn ho’s’ are having a coven meeting.

One or two ends to tidy up still..

The yarns I’m using are Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran and Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran.  They work interchangeably in this project as they knit up on the same needles and have a very similar feel.  I am hoping my mum will use this blanket in her garden summer house, which has gorgeous seaside views, so I chose sea blues, mixed in with neutrals.

Knitting – sometimes an outdoor sport.

All of the patterns from these squares were adapted from this book – truly a bible for knitters of squares. As a novice knitter I was stunned to find there are rather a lot of these books, but this is the best.  I know.  I knit a LOT of squares.

This is a Very Good Book.

And that’s it.  My latest work in progress, and proof that knitting blanket squares is NOT just for grannies.  Anyone with wanky hips can do it!

Is this the Ultimate Comfort Food Cake?

Well?  Is it?  I think so.  It is Nigella’s Butterscottch layer cake.

Comfort Food?

Don’t let the butterscotch title put you off.  I don’t think it tastes of butterscotch at all. I passionately dislike butterscotch – it reminds me of Angel Delight (seventies flower children might remember this).

This cake is sweet, because of the fudgey drizzle over the top, but importantly, not too sweet because of the cream-cheese frosting.  The sponge is substantial, but moist and fluffy.  It is possibly the Queen of Cakes (although I will be blogging about another contender for that title later).

Here’s how to make it.

Don’t mind if I do…

For the Icing and Drizzle, you will need

  • 300g caster sugar
  • 300g cold water
  • 250ml double cream
  • 400g cream cheese.

For the sponge, you will need

  • 225g unsalted butter, soft
  • 125g light muscovado (or brown) sugar
  • 100g golden caster sugar (you can use ordinary)
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2-4 tbsp thickened cream

Preheat the oven to 190° and line two cake tins with greaseproof paper.  Then get on with making the icing.

Add the sugar to the cold water and heat gently until all the granules have dissolved.  Then turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Do not stir! This is the trickiest part – if only because you have to watch the mixture, without stirring, until it turns golden (perhaps 10 – 15 minutes).  Take the pan off the heat and slowly whisk in the cream.  Keep whisking until the mixture is  smooth, then put back on the heat for a minute and then leave to one side.

Whilst the icing is cooling, make the cake.  This is shockingly easy.  Just put all your cake ingredients, except the cream, into a food processor (I used a Magimix 4200) and whizz it all together until fully combined.  Then add the cream, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches a dropping consistency (you know, when the mixture isn’t quite liquid but would happily ‘drop off’ your mixing spoon in lumps).

Then spoon the mixture into your two tins and put them into the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes. Use the ‘skewer in the middle’ test to see if it’s ready, and when they’re done, remove the sponges from the oven and leave in their tins to cool for about 10 minutes.

While they’re cooling, beat the cream cheese until soft and smooth, and then whisk in half of your caramel icing mixture. Use this cream-cheese caramel mixture to sandwich your two sponges together, and then to ice the top layer.  Drizzle the remaining caramel icing over the top of the cake using a teaspoon.

Final instructions:  Feel extremely smug.  Try not to eat before anyone has an opportunity to comment on your domestic prowess.

Like a hug, but tastes nicer. Cup of tea optional.

The Wildflower Takeover..

I don’t need to tell you how rainy it’s been for the last, ooh, forever.  This has meant I haven’t been out in the garden as much as I like.  I’m gutted!  All those plans I had for barbecues, picnics, lounging around drinking Pimms and G and Ts…have obviously still gone ahead, but indoor Pimms just isn’t the same, is it? Meh.

So the garden is in a bit of a state and my weeding hasn’t been as dedicated as it might have been.  In fact, I haven’t weeded at all for rather a long time.  And in that time, the garden has been taken over by some truly beautiful wildflowers.  I’m delighted!

Campanula

This campanula looks stunning growing up into the ivy hedge.  It runs all the way along a Devon bank, and has put on a fantastic display this year.  I know lots of people aren’t fond of campanula because it’s really hard to eradicate and so vigorous that it overtakes a lot of other plants.  But to be honest, there’s so much space to cover in our garden, that I’m just glad it’s there to compete with the Ivy!

Welsh Poppies

Welsh Poppies are springing up everywhere too – which is rather intriguing as last year, we didn’t have any at all.  Perhaps the wet weather has really helped them thrive.  I’m pleased because it’s quite difficult to get these dainty little plants to establish, but once they do, they seed themselves quite happily year after year.  Note the foxglove growing in between the rocks in the background – I think this will make a lovely pairing and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all comes together!

Herb Robert or ‘Stinkbob’

Herb Robert is a ‘marmite’ wildflower, I think.  You can recognise it by the dark red stems and musky, herby smell that people either love or hate!  No wonder the nickname for this plant is ‘stink bob’.  I love the smell – it’s fresh and reminds me of walks in the woods.  I bought a couple of tiny plants from Rosemoor Garden, just up the road from us, and planted them into one of our Devon banks.  Since then, the plants have exploded and covered a tremendous amount of ground with frothy leaves and dainty pink flowers.  They look so pretty mixed in with other woodland or hedgerow plants like white or pink campion.

Ferns and Foxgloves make a lovely pairing

This is another lovely pairing that is working well in soggy, shady weather.  Ferns and foxgloves don’t need huge amounts of light and work well in our Devon banks, hedgerows and under trees.  The fronds of the ferns really complement the tall spires of the foxgloves, and together give some great height and interest to borders.

I love how ferns unfurl their fuzzy leaves slowly in springtime, like furry caterpillars – it’s unlike anything else in our garden.

Ferns unfurling their leaves

So despite my fears, it seems that the garden is thriving.  It might even be a good excuse never to weed again!  I’ll definitely be sowing some wildflower seeds and encouraging more native planting in my garden in future.

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