Reading in Heels, August 2018

I don’t know about you, but when I enter a bookshop these days, just longing to pick up a little something to indulge in, I become a little confused at all of the choice and often as not end up with another cookery/gardening/photography book to add to my collection, rather than the quick pick me up of a dreamy/funny/engaging,  piece of modern literary fiction with which to engross myself in.

I have in the past tried reading groups, which were often fully booked, meaning I didn’t get a place, or I became double booked that evening, next I contemplated a book subscription service from private book sellers in London, but became a little shocked at the price and the year long subscription and wondered if the books chosen might be a little highfaluting, when all I really want is something to immerse myself in, curl up with and enjoy.  So my desire for a helping hand to lead me through the myriad of new novelists has often been thwarted.

When Reading in Heels popped into view, Ooooh, a book subscription service, with modern fiction, for girlies, with added goodies, I may have become a little light headed at this point. I do love a subscription, I have a couple of beauty boxes and one food and they are always so much fun.  So I read a few reviews as you do, and they were all good,  I grasped the nettle and ordered my first book.  At that point I found I could order one month at a time, which is marvellous, no subscription to get tied into.  The price came to £10.00 plus p & p, which I believe was £12.40. The books cover price this month was £9.99 so I am happy enough with that.

It came this morning, so exciting, lets delve in shall we.

It was lovely packaging and I became quite giddy at this point. Did I mention it is their first birthday this month, which seemed to add to the frisson of excitement. Firstly you get a little index card to fill in and pop into your book. So cute.  And then a leaflet to tell you all about the book and what is in your box. Oooh its wrapped up in white tissue paper, the tension mounts.  So many pretty goodies. Firstly some real wine gums, with real wine! It is always nice to have a sweet treat while reading.Next a rather nice Coconut Lane marble notebook, A5, original cost £4.50 and a pencil from Night Navy on Etsy at just over £1.00  I’m always partial to a little stationary, one can never have too many notebooks. Flashpatch are new to me, I’m really looking forward to trying these, and these seem to have come in at just over £2.00 each. Just the perfect gift to oneself to relax and enjoy a little me time, while soothing gritty summer eyes. And then we have the book! I picked this up a couple of weeks ago and then put it back, not sure whether to buy it or not. I was so incredibly pleased to get it. Let me copy Reading in Heels review to give you a taster.

Long before Markle and Middleton, there was Margaret: a princess quite different from that pretty perfect protocol-ed pair. In fact, she was rather difficult. In Ma’am Darling, Craig Brown offers us ’99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret’ – and she’s nothing short of absolutely fascinating. Critically acclaimed and regularly referred to as ‘a masterpiece’ this has to be one of the funniest books we’ve read in some time. Banish any preconceptions of boring biographies stuffed with tedious dates and facts, Ma’am Darling is captivating, entertaining – and unputdownable.  #MaamDarling

Sounds absolutely perfect.

Oh and there is a digital book club to write a review and read others, along with the reviews of the last 12 books that I have missed, should I need a quick fix before next month.

thank you Reading in Heels.

July at the allotment.

Sorry to have been away for so long, we’ve been a bit busy and I haven’t found the time or energy for writing, which is a shame, but sometimes life does just get in the way. Firstly, oh its hot isn’t it? It is 28.5 degrees C in my kitchen and its 2.30 a.m., which is why you have me! I couldn’t sleep, its just too hot.

Well what have we been up to? The allotment is going great guns. Hubby has been up there at least once a day to water and because of this we are starting to get crops. We have fellow allotmenteers who have a weed free plot, but don’t water like we do, their crops are far behind ours. Our weeds and our crops really benefit from the daily watering. Sorry to witter on about weeds, but they play on my mind especially when its just too hot to play in the dust and weed.

But I can show you a few piccies, they are taken in mid sun, so they are not great.Beetroot, we should be able to take a light picking this week. Our new potatoes with a couple of plants that are ready, with the Charlottes having over taken our Jersey Royals, or should I say International Kidney as they should be known in this country. Runner beans and French beans. Always so pretty. Our peas are combatting the regular attention of pigeons, I think we are starting to win now. This is the courgette and butternut squash patch with sweetcorn at the rear. The courgettes are going great guns, I’ve had to ask hubby to slow down on the watering as this home cook is not keeping up with the glut. I could make chutneys etc, but its just too hot to enjoy making it.The brassicas, lots of variety here, with lettuces, brussels, various cabbages, spring, summer and winter, cauliflower, broccoli and black kale to name but a few. The fruit patch. Even with all the grass through it, its done very well for us this year. We were very lucky to take over mature bushes from the previous tenant. This is our bed of Crown Prince, the most delicious of all pumpkins and it stores really well until Christmas, they are grafted plants and are doing really well, fingers crossed.  We also have rows of garlic, shallots and onions. Then we walk into the greenhouse. My favourite place, being the only person I know that has to eat tomatoes nearly every day. And they are just starting to do well.  I’m loving my marigolds to try and keep the white fly at bay.

So what have we been eating?We are eating lots of this, and quite a bit of this. One morning we got up to the plot for 7.30 a.m. to pick all of our fruit before midday… which was a brilliant morning. Whilst at the plot I thought to myself, what we need is an ice cream maker… so I ordered one while I was sat having a lemonade and it came the next day! And now we are eating an unseemly amount of this, the most delicious blackcurrant ripple ice cream you ever did see.

Kenilworth Train Station – Reopened at last.

Kenilworth train station was closed in January 1965, the year before I was born and for the last fifty odd years Kenilworth townsfolk have fought a long and difficult battle to have it reopened. To be honest it became a standing joke about when the train station would reopen, but the fight went on and eventually after many delays on the 30th April 2018 Kenilworth had its train station fully restored and what a pretty station it is.
What a sign, a sign of triumph and courage. Well done to all those that fought long and hard to have our train station restored. A pretty little station. With a delightful coffee shop area. We only have one track at the moment, but there is room and plans afoot, eventually, for two. As we only have a link to Coventry on one side and Leamington on the other, literally that is how far we can go, we have a tiny little one carriage train, that is just so very, very cute.  Although looking at the amount of people that used the train this evening, people were standing as there were not enough seats, they might have to rethink that idea soon and put another carriage on.

The journey is so pretty, tootling along looking at banks of pretty wild flowers and ancient sandstone bridges, combined with views of allotments and previously unknown views of the memorial park,  what is not to love.

And of course we were able to change very easily to continue on our journey for a day out in Birmingham.We loved our little journey on this pretty little train and look forward to many more miles being travelled along these rails, just us two, enjoying our days together.


Oooh my muscles are sore, I thought by the second day it would be getting easier, but nope, i’m still in ouch, ouch, ouch as I go to sit down, which ends less gracefully with a flop. I’ve tried stretching out my long leg muscles but its not really helping.  Its going to take a while to get back into crouching for weeding and seed sowing.

On the plus side we have ordered some toms. Lots and lots of lovely toms, big plums, small plums, cherries along with french and italian style tomatoes.  I’d rather have less yield but more flavour, so no shirleys for me thank you very much. I’m also trying to grow a couple of seeds that I had saved from the heirloom varieties in Waitrose, we will see what happens with that.  We also ordered a couple of cucumber plants and a couple of Crown Prince pumpkins, which are delicious.  It is all hubbys fault, on year two of our allotment adventure many years ago, he decided to order some grafted tomatoes which were supposed to have a better yield and boy did they have a better yield. So although I try to squeeze in a few home grown from seed toms, he soon fills up the greenhouse with grafted plants.  Sadly we could not find any piccolo plants this year, we think they must all be going to the growers as piccolos seem to be the no.1 cherry tomato in all the major supermarkets – I love them, but I am trying a couple of new varieties which apparently have the sweetness and acidity I like, so you never know.

Nipping up to the plot today I notice that the rocket has lived up to its name and germinated first. Such a good salad leaf that is, it hardly required any work, keep watering let it grow. And a couple of cabbages look like they are on the move as well. The greenhouse is like a mini sauna at the moment and they seem to be loving it.

It looks like the weather is improving for a few days, hopefully we will get some more of the allotment done.

In other news Rupert is still improving, he still has to wear his cone of shame, but he gets stronger by the day. We even reintroduced a few toys back to him, where upon he went bananas and we had to quickly take most of them away and leave him with just one. Which really he was a bit too excitable about, but he was okay and seemed much happier.

April is a busy month at the plot.

April, traditionally in the midlands is a bit of a busy month at the plot, but normally one has managed to do a bit of sowing of seeds and digging in the month of March. But its been wet and cold and in some places snowy, which has set us back considerably.  I’ve heard that farmers are well behind on their wheat and corn planting, which will mean the profit because of the yield at the other end of the year will be much diminished, the cost of British flour and bread may well go up.

Seeing a bit of a gap in the rain we headed up to the plot after an early lunch and set to work. Firstly I decided to sow spring onions. In the past I have grabbed a packet of spring onions on passing them in the seed rack at the end of the season, sown them into a pot outside, forgot about them, the shoots then get mixed up with grass as they have taken a long time to germinate and I then have given up on them. Not very successful one might say.  I’ve been thinking about this problem as I am quite partial to spring onions, so this time I have sown them into individual modules.  One seed, one tiny module. On the packet it said there was 150 seeds in the packet, so I thought that would be okay… there will be a few failures, I’ll transplant them out.. 140 divide by the minimum of  8 we eat a week,  is  about 17 weeks worth.. yep sounds good.

Except, I sowed 120 modules, and had well over 300 seeds left, there was double the amount left than i’d sown, crazy. So I walloped them into a big seed tray, to prick out later when they appear and then wondered where I am going to put 450 spring onions.  I came upon a solution later in the day when I cleared a couple of raised beds of very old strawberries.. with the addition of good compost, i’ll be able to plant them all there and the scary thing is I know we will probably get through them all.

Next I sowed in trays for the greenhouse was butternut squash and more brassicas.. broccoli which was a failure once before, but the memory has faded so worth trying again, cauliflower of the pretty and small Romanesco variety, black kale which I love for italian dishes and a pointy spring cabbage for spring greens late in the autumn.

By this time hubby had rendered to a fine tilth an area big enough to sew carrots, parsnips of which there were two varieties, two rows of beetroot – we love beetroot, and turnips.

Hubby then planted a thornless blackberry and thornless loganberry while I cleared a raised bed and planted six strawberry plants.  Hubby then made a start on the raspberry canes while I made a start on the other raised beds, but after five hours, rain stopped play and home we came. A few strawberries planted. And a whole bed of root vegetables planted – see, I knew you would be impressed!!!

The planting of the potatoes and onions.

After a little bit of research I rediscovered that if I didn’t get my spuds in soon they might suffer from blight at the other end of the year.  And knowing this plot as we do, we know that there has never been a year on the site that has not had blight. Its a quandary, especially when we have had such a long, wet and cold spring. So we looked at the oracle, The Met Office and discovered that yes it would be raining all day tomorrow, but it would be 12 c rain, almost balmy one might say, and then the next few days were dry and there was talk of a heady high on one day of 14 c. The lows, which are not at this point exactly important, but will be in a few weeks, at night were 5 c, but with cloud, not much risk of a ground frost, which means game on I reckon,  its spud planting time.

I could be completely wrong of course, only time will tell. It will be easy to find out, I’ve planted 7 International Kidney, known to you and me as Jersey Royals and 7, 2nd early Charlottes, if there is not a nice tidy row of 7 a piece, I lost a few!  I would love to plant main crop potatoes, but it is impossible in the midlands, the high humidity guarantees blight well before the end of the growing season and even with 2nd earlies, one has fingers crossed, is on the blight watch app, which alerts you to blight and am checking the leaves at least once a day.

And along with that is the onion problem,  or should I say, onions, garlic and shallot problem. Garlic should have been planted late autumn, shallots are mid november to mid march and onions are mid march to mid april.  Nightmare, for someone that has only just taken over a plot.  So in the spirit of Yee Hawww, we planted two rows of strong garlic, we may well eat half of that as fresh shoots in a pesto, which will be gorgeous. Hopefully the shallots will do enough to give us that early roasted autumn glow of a well cooked shallot, and the onions, well I love the onions, they are cheap as chips, but straight from an allotment they are amazing, juicy, vibrant and gorgeous in a salad or cheese and onion sandwich, we planted three rows of a giant variety!

And while hubby was preparing the soil before I went to give him a hand I looked through my seeds and planted up, runner beans, more courgettes this time a yellow variety, little gem lettuce, a savoy and a primo (summer) cabbage and a lot of sweetcorn. I love sweetcorn, and one day it is going to do amazingly well on my allotment…

And just before we headed home for the day, I dug out the previous tenants leeks, before they go over.  I would have took them around to them if I’d known where they lived.  But unfortunately with the advent of the data protection act, even in allotments, I wasn’t able to do that. Hopefully I will be able to do them justice in a recipe tomorrow.
And hubby dug out a couple of beds, to plant some rosemary, chives, mint and thyme. And just before we went home, rather feeling the cold, we attached a bird box on a north facing wall of the shed. Our bird box at home has just been occupied by a blue tit, we live in hope for our new nest box.

Our new allotment.

Happy days are back in the mandycharlie household now we are back onto an allotment. Hubby has finished putting together our greenhouse, his 4th, he’s getting quite quick at putting them together now. It feels perfect as a retirement hobby, fresh air, exercise, fresh fruit and vegetables and somewhere that makes us happy to go. I think one of the problems in retirement is filling the days and I know we will never tire of trundling up to the plot to do the odd job or chat to some of the other allotment holders. Quite a community develops by the end of the gardening year before a biting wind and freezing temperatures often means one only sees the odd glimpse of a person in the distance when one is popping up to get some vegetables for Sunday lunch.

Our allotment is within less than a five minute walk, I think we live closer than anyone else on the site, which makes it a pleasure to walk up to do the watering once (or even twice, depending on the heat) a day during the height of the tomato growing season.  Those who have read my allotment blog before will remember my love of the humble tomato, and just how many I can cram into a greenhouse, for those that don’t know me as well, LOTS!

Today I started to plant seeds, while hubby got the paraffin heater going and started to weed out all of the fruit bushes that we have.

I planted,,,,Rocket, chives, coriander, salad bowl lettuce, tomatoes gardeners delight and san marzano which is a lovely big plum, chilli’s, cucumber, brussel sprouts, cauliflower,  courgettes, leeks, sunflowers, marigolds, nasturtium, alpine strawberries, sugar snaps, garden peas, climbing beans and more sugarsnaps.  I wrote it all down in my Hobonichi diary with all the varieties and recommendations as to when to resow to ensure a continuation of the crop and toddled off home in the pouring rain.. laughing,,  memories revived of just how often I walked home in the rain as I always want to stay just another five minutes. As you can see there is a fair bit of weeding to do, but apart from that the plot is in good nick. The soil is a lovely rich dark colour, it has been well looked after in the past. We have two areas ready to go, one perfect for the spuds which are now chitting on the kitchen window sill. Hubby seems happy enough. And my shed is a wonderful heath robinson affair, half brick, half wood. It is very mandycharlie and I love it.

I think we are going to be happy here.

Mondays in London.

I’ve been having a bit of a jolly on a Monday for the last ten weeks in London. It all started when I was mooching through the Royal Academy of Arts website just before Christmas and came upon their series of lecturers called From Plate to Palette: a history of food in art. Well of of course my interest was piqued and my lovely hubby suggested it could be my Christmas present. Happy days all round.

If I have to be honest and these are just my thoughts, a couple of lectures just didn’t hit the spot, but its a new course and that happens. But when they did, the stars sparkled brightly and eagles soared as we reached heady heights of new understandings. Then it was blissful and worth every single penny. I think the most enjoyable lecturer and what we had all come to see was beautiful pictures of food, was from Quentin Buvelot, Senior Curator, Mauritshuis, The Hague.  His enthusiasm and knowledge was captivating, I could have spent many hours listening to him as we explored the Dutch still life masters together. It was a memorable experience to have an expert highlight the hidden secrets in the grand masters of Clara Peeters and Osias Beert with such passion. One can only hope that he comes over and lectures in the UK again, he is not to be missed.

There were other lecturers that kept me spell bound, Georgina Gold who before starting her own company was a Senior Director in the Impressionist and Modern Art department of Sotheby’s in London – as well as long and illustrious career in Sotheby’s in Australia and many other posts.  Her talk on the impressionists was mesmerising to the point that at the end of the lecture I looked down at my notes and found I hadn’t made any. I think we all bounced out of the lecture that day, it was brilliant.

Katy Deepwell, Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism, Middlesex University gave me new insites into art and feminism.  It was at this point that I realised that I really know nothing about feminism and art, so managed to make enough notes to explore that area further.

And of course I enjoyed the photography in week 9, by Susan Bright, lots to think about photographically speaking. Susan Bright gave us a huge amount of photographers to explore, I shall be going through my notes for a long time to come from this lecture.

And I think that is the point of it, of coming to something like a lecture. On face value, its an hour or two and depending on the day,  your mood set or the lecturer will depend on how well you receive it. But if the lecturer can find a way of disseminating the information through to you,  (and it does help that the RA gave us full notes including photographs after the lecture)  it filters through for years to come. I know in the past I have been to lectures that have changed my outlook and my life completely, I see the world through different eyes, because of a lecture.

The amount of information given from the Plate to Palette lectures was huge, and now I am going to go through my notes for the next few months, probably much longer, taking my time, buying books, seeing art exhibitions, reading further.  Who knows where it will take me and thats the part I love the most.

Cake is in the house – Ginger and beetroot muesli cake.

This month we decided to try a Degustabox, I do enjoy a subscription box of makeup or food and have tried a fair few over the last few years. Degustabox had kept popping up on my Facebook feed so having just cancelled a foodie box I had tired of I decided to give these people a go and to be honest so far so good.  A subscription cost of £12.99 and we received nearly £25.00 worth of goodies to try.  Have a look at what you get for February on you tube, there is always someone doing an unboxing and sometimes they even snack on the items so you get a realistic review.

Moving on, there was a box of cereal called Primrose’s Kitchen, Raw Beetroot and Ginger Muesli which sounded quite interesting, although I was a bit hesitant as I have a funny relationship with ginger. I love fresh ginger and ginger cake is yum, yum, yum, but ginger which is covered in chocolate or graces cake or stored in syrup is a definite no, no, no. But hubby loves ginger in all forms so I thought he would be okay.  Except hubby didn’t like it because he found it too hard to chew, he’s having a bit of a problem with a tooth at the moment.

So it sat on the counter this morning as I debated what to do with this £5.00 box of incredibly good ingredients, healthy as they come, muesli. And then I thought, well I do like ginger cake and so an idea was born.

I weighed out the muesli and added some hot milk to it to start the process of softening it, melted butter and sugar and black treacle together and added the juice of a lemon along with 2 extra teaspoons of dried ginger just to pep up the gingery notes a little. Beat the eggs, added the muesli and milk which then turned it into the most glorious pink which disappeared when I added the treacly buttery syrup and then added the self raising flour with a teaspoon of baking powder added just for good measure before popping it into a moderate oven of 170 C for 50 minutes.

When it had cooled I made a thin icing of icing sugar and lemon juice.

I don’t know whether I would go out of my way to buy a box of this muesli to make a cake, but it made an interesting interlude on a snowy day as we watched the “Beast from the East” creep across the country. 

My ingredients were, should you find yourself with a box of muesli that is not to your taste.

4 oz of muesli

1/4 cup of milk

8 oz of butter or other fat or oil

4 oz caster sugar

4 oz black treacle

2 teaspoons of dried ginger

4 medium eggs

the juice of 1 lemon

6 oz of self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

then enough icing sugar and lemon juice to make a thin glaze to finish the cake with, put the kettle on, cut a slice and watch the snowflakes swirl whilst enjoying the gingery cake with lemon icing high notes along with a small addition of a nutty texture, it was quite interesting.