Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Eve

And I'd like to wish everyone a very happy, joyous, prosperous and generous New Year.

We've had a nice 'Make Your Own' pizza session. The breadmaker produced a nice dough and the choices were fairly ordinary - tomato/onion sauce, mushroom, red and yellow peppers, baby corn, ham, spiced chicken, mozzarella and grated cheddar. Oh, and green olives.
Everyone had a dough base and created their own, selecting from what was on offer - and I shared everyone's! It was jolly nice and there's enough left over for DG to take home tomorrow which always pleases him.

That's it really. I doubt I will stay away long enough to see in the New Year. But have a good'un, wherever you are and whoever you are with.
And tomorrow the New Year challenge starts . . . with a trip to my parents to hand over mum's share of the turkey and stock - weather permitting.

See you all next year!

Thursday morning

This is a view of frosted tiles, taken from my bedroom window last week . . .

And this is the same photo, edited, using Essentials 6. I thought it looked interesting.

I had a very pleasant surprise yesterday afternoon. I was in Morrisons getting stuff for the pizzas today when who should I meet but a very old friend who I haven't seen for quite a while now. We had a good chat (in the wind and rain) before parting and I'm hoping to go round hers next Friday after school.

In the Food and Drink Conference on FirstClass (the OU conferencing site), some people set themselves foody challenges at the start of this year. One lady, Maggie, set herself the challenge of cooking every recipe in a cookbook by Nigel Slater, something she has just achieved a few days before the end of the year. What a phenomenal achievement! She's kept a blog about it, which I've only just started reading, I'm ashamed to admit. It's well worth a visit.

I was umming and ahing about some kind of cooking challenge but what?
I couldn't do what Maggie has done in a million years but I could do something less intense perhaps. I take a number of foody mags which I read with great pleasure - the likes of BBC Good Food, Delicious, Olive, etc, plus supermarket mags from Sainsburys and Tescos. I always see recipes that appeal , even getting as far as cutting them out sometimes, but I rarely get round to making them.

I thought - suppose I set a target to make one new recipe from one of the various foody mags every week - so 52 new recipes each year. I think I could manage that. Most recipes are for four or more and there's just me, so there would be some restrictions - they'd have to be either cut down-able or freezable, for example. They'd have to be reasonably economical most of the time. They could, however, be a main dish, a dessert, a cake . . . I would not set limits on the type of recipe.
Also, most foody mag recipes appear online, so I could post links here.
I shall think about this one - it sounds good to me.

As today is New Year's Eve, I will be having DD and DG, together with a friend, round to stay the night. Home made pizzas is the name of the game and I've cheated by buying some sun dried tomato pasta sauce to use on them. The rest will be a sort of 'make your own' thing with everyone choosing what they want from a range of toppings.

And I am absolutely sure that I, for one, will never manage to stay awake to see in the new year!

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A pleasant surprise

My garden is a right mess. It needs a good shake up and sort out and it's not likely to get it in the next few months.

While moving from house to shed to put the Stilton butter in the freezer, a patch of colour in a pot caught my eye and, on looking, I remembered that in the summer I had planted some carrots in said pot. I rather forgot about them (ooops) so they were thoroughly neglected through most of the summer and autumn. It doesn't seem to have done them any harm though, as you can see in the photo - messy, but plenty of carrots growing there, side by side, very cramped.

I pulled one and here it is. I've just scrubbed it and eaten it raw and it's really tasty . . . so I'm well chuffed. So what do I do - leave them a while longer, pull them a few at a time or empty the whole pot, par boil them and freeze them? Decisions, decisions.

Stilton butter

I had a fair sized wedge of Stilton left over from Christmas. I wasn't too keen on freezing it just as it was, but didn't want to throw it away either. I concocted this, which can be used as a pate, a sauce or to stir into vegetables to add some flavour. It seems to taste pretty good.

Butter (about half the volume of the Stilton)
double cream (amount depends on how much of the above - it slackens the mixture and adds flavour)
and, to taste
freshly grated nutmeg
black pepper
lemon juice

Soften the butter, crumble the Stilton and place both in a small blender and zizz until they are combined.
Stir in the remaining ingredients to taste, remembering that freezing and thawing does seem to intensify flavours.

I've frozen it in little pots/single portions.

Wednesday morning

. . . and it looks as if it is still raining outside. Has it actually stopped at all overnight, I wonder? I think I'd rather have the snow - at least that brightens things up for a while.

So, on to today! DD and DG almost always spend New Year's Eve over here and we have home-made pizza. I know we do seem to eat a lot of pizza but for ages it was one of the few things DG would eat happily and so traditions were established. She's asked if a good friend can come round and share in it as well, to which I agreed, of course. So today there's three beds to make up, two bedrooms to dust and sweep and a downstairs to get back into a reasonably clean state.
I will go shopping, I think, to get stuff in to make fresh pizza toppings as well as other bits and bobs; the bread makes will make the dough for me so that's no hassle.
Apart from that, I must get some planning done. I've been very good at ignoring the fact that it wasn't finished by the end of last term but time is now getting very short and I must do something about it.
No kitchen stuff today, unless I find post-Christmas bargains in Morrison's. You never know! I've spent quite a long time in the kitchen, one way and another, over the last week or so. A day out of it would be quite nice really.

Better get going - I have to put out the wheelie bin!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tuesday morning later on

And here is the proof of this morning's industry - lots of really very delicious soup which will provide me with some warming and filling lunches at school during the next few months.

I chopped onions, carrots, parsnips, potato, sweet potato and celery and simmered it all in butter until softening. Then I added boiling water and marigold low sodium vegetable bouillon, nutmeg, lots of freshly milled black pepper, a little salt (which I adjusted later), some dried mixed herbs and a good portion of dried red lentils. I left the whole lot to simmer gently for about half an hour.

Then I strained out about half of the vegetables and zizzed what remained into the liquid, tasted the results and did a bit of re-seasoning and diluting with more veg stock because it was very thick and I know from experience that it thickens more after freezing and thawing. Then I put the non-zizzed vegetables back and stirred them in. Usually I zizz the lot, but I thought it would be nice to have some chunks this time.
I'm going to freeze in single portions and to some I will add what remains of the ham and/or a little of the turkey retrieved from boiling the bones. Must remember to label carefully, as DD can't have any with meat added.

It'll be nice re-heated with a little milk or cream added. That's today's lunch sorted anyway!

Tuesday morning

Christmas is really over now, bank holiday and all. The tree stays up until around Twelfth Night because I'm boringly traditional, but what I call the Christmas buzz has gone into hibernation until next December.

The bubble and squeak cakes, which I finally got round to eating yesterday, were very tasty. They were made from left over sprouts, carrot, parsnip, roasties and roast onion, all roughly mashed together with some seasonings, including nutmeg, and a little beaten egg. I formed the mixture into patties, floured-egged-and-breadcrumbed them, using fresh breadcrumbs, and then gently fried them in some turkey dripping until they were golden and crunchy on the outside. Served with some turkey gravy, they were scrummy and just about all made from leftovers. Even the breadcrumbs were from a loaf that had gone rather stale and would otherwise have been thrown away.

Today's breakfast will be pretty unhealthy - toast and dripping. That takes me right back to childhood days when we always had dripping after Christmas, spread on hot buttered toast (I know, double fat, terribly unhealthy) with salt sprinkled over. Just this once, I will enjoy it and not worry about the health issues. The rest of the fat will probably be thrown out and the remaining stock used for gravy. There's not much left now.

Having dealt with the turkey leftovers, all I need to do today is sort out the Christmas cake and freeze, wrapped well, in single portions. A bit fiddly, but worth doing. And then it's making soup from any tired vegetables and that's about it!

I do have to have a serious washing, drying and ironing day as well. There's not as many sheets, etc, as there could be, but my lovely white tablecloths need a good, long, hot wash, as do the napkins, before they are tucked away until the next big occasion. I wonder if there's anything worth watching on the telly - it helps the ironing to go with more of a swing if I can watch telly at the same time!

Photo: Sage leaves Impressionised, using Elements 6 - first go, so very - er - click-and-hope-for-the-best!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Monday afternoon

Phew - it's been a busy morning in the kitchen but well worth it.
I now have:
  • four ham, turkey and Stilton pies (single size
  • four Christmas crumbles (a savoury crumble - single size)
  • five good sized portions of turkey and ham savoury rice
  • four portions of turkey in gravy
There might be enough to make some turkey curry too, except that I will use a jar of curry sauce. I will have to see how much turkey there is left, as some of it is for Mum and Dad!

Thank goodness for the dishwasher!

I am pleased with the Christmas crumble. The bottom is onion, leek, sweetcorn, mushrooms, turkey, ham and chopped chestnuts, simmered in turkey stock and then thickened. No added salt but plenty of pepper and some nutmeg. The topping is wholemeal flour, butter, oats, nutmeg, pepper and finely grated cheddar. I also added a few chopped hazelnuts, left over from DD's nut roast. I can't give amounts as it is one of those 'see how it goes' type recipes but there was a bit left over for another time, so that will also go in the freezer.

Now I need to tidy up the kitchen

Photo: Christmas crumble. It doesn't look much but it tastes a lot better than it looks and a zillion times better than the quality of the photo!

Monday morning

. . . and, as someone on FC pointed out, it's a Bank Holiday. Bank holidays don't impact much on teachers as they almost always fall during a break (no complaints from me). Sometimes I only realise that it's a Bank Holiday when the rubbish doesn't get collected or when I go to put my bin out and find that no-one else in the cul-de-sac has done so. The council web site says collection this week is Wednesday. Good - that gives me time to get a goodly tip for them. They do a grand job do our wheelie men, out in all weathers, collecting all the extra stuff that wouldn't go in the bin. Definitely some of the world's unsung heroes.

Yesterday was supposed to be turkey day. That was my firm intention, my resolution for the day . . . etc.
Yeah, sure . . . I ended up sleeping most of the afternoon away.

However, today culinary resolution is burning more brightly and the remains of the turkey are now boiling away in two pots (even my biggest pot wasn't large enough), having been thoroughly picked over first. There's an awful lot of meat left on the bones which is just as well, as I'm sharing it with Mum and Dad and will be popping up to Letchworth at some point in the near future to hand over their share of the booty.

How far I get with the rest of it is in the lap of the gods at present. Picking through the boiled up remains is not the most pleasant job in the world and I may not feel much like creating pies, etc once that's all done. We shall see!

The other think I want to try today, if possible, is to cook some sprouts the bacon and chestnut way. I've read about it, seen it done on the telly, heard it's jolly tasty, etc, but never tried it. As I understand it, you cook your sprouts until they are just done. Then you fry some bacon until crisp, with some chopped chestnuts (I have some in the freezer so that's OK) and toss the ingredients together in some butter, bacon fat or whatever. As I said, it sounds nice . . .

Photo: During the Christmas cooking, I made great use of my sage bushes. Great flavour and they look nice too.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Sunday a bit later on

Mum and Dad have just left and all around is very quiet and perhaps a little bit lonely. The feeling won't last long; I'm used to being on my own and like it most of the time. It's just the sudden contrast, plus the fact that I dearly love my parents and we get on so very well. It has been lovely having them here for a little bit longer than they usually stay.

Looking at what I have in the fridge and pondering on lunch, I think I will make a sort of bubble and squeak thingy. I have potatoes, sprouts, parsnips, onion and carrot, all cooked. Mash them together with some nutmeg and black pepper and fry in a little turkey dripping. The red cabbage (which is simply gorgeous, thank you, Delia) can be heated and go on the side and the turkey can heat up in yesterday's little bit of left over gravy. Simply delicious.

Then, this afternoon, it's serious work dismantling the remains of the bird.

And this evening it's Doctor Who, which I wasn't able to watch on Christmas Day. Can't wait - I hear it was very. very good. There's also a programme about Torvill and Dean and the creation of Bolero. It must be quite old, but then so am I and I'm also looking forward to that. I think it's a measure of the impact those two young skaters had that I am quite confident to just mention their names and the dance and expect that most readers will know exactly what I mean.
If the two programmes clash, one will be recorded.
See - already I am feeling more positive - I can watch what I like, when I like. The fact that mostly I don't is neither here nor there! I am once again the master of my own viewing!

Sunday morning

Today the last of the Christmas visitors are leaving as Mum and Dad drive home to Letchworth. Sad.

After the success of the potted turkey yesterday, I've been searching for some recipes for potted ham.
Most of them say more or less the same thing: use ham, butter, mustard, mace or nutmeg and blend it all together. The covering of the finished pate with butter stops the air from getting to the meat and therefore is a way of preserving it in the shorter term. That's also why it has to be packed down hard in the pot - it eliminates air bubbles.
I reckon that if I use small, individual pots for the potted ham and cover the surface with 'easy-leave' before freezing, there's no need for the extra butter to seal the top.
Yesterday's potted turkey will need slicing, wrapping and freezing in single portions too. Thank goodness for freezers!

The other main task, apart from catching up on sleep, is to deal with the turkey carcass. That will involve taking off all the remaining meat and then boiling the remains up with some herbs to create a delicious stock which can then be used for turkey hotpot and similar. Mum and Dad will take a good portion of sliced turkey home with them, of course, plus some ham, some cake, some pork pie, some pudding . . . and, if they will take it, a carton of cream. I grossly overestimated how much cream we would be using.

Looking at what's left, I can't see that I'm going to need to do any food shopping for weeks - which will be great for cancelling out the cost of Christmas! Helping to, anyway.

AND there's another week of holiday before the new term starts. Bliss!

Edited to add a photo: the potted turkey made yesterday

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day evening and a recipe

This is really nice. I can recommend it.

Potted Turkey

225g/8oz leftover turkey, brown and white meat

80g/3oz softened butter
quarter tsp cayenne pepper
nutmeg, grated
quarter lemon, juice only
extra butter for melting

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend, leaving a bit of texture.
Pour the mixture into ramekins, packing down firmly and put in the fridge to chill.
When turkey mixture is firm, melt extra butter and pour over top of each ramekin to seal and return to the fridge to set.
This dish should be served at room temperature so take it out of the fridge shortly before serving.

Delicious and so very easy too.

Boxing Day

It's a comparatively mild morning here in Essex and we have obviously had some rain overnight. Just about all the snow and ice has gone and it's safe walking again. Good news all round.

John left earlier for his long drive back to Jedburgh. He left laden with all sorts of goodies - turkey, one of the frozen drumsticks, ham slices, Christmas pudding, mince pies, some of Mum's home-made biscuits, the top of DD's Christmas cake, a carton of cream, some beer and a bag of salad. If he did get trapped in a snowdrift, he wouldn't starve, that's for sure!

Today is going to be a restful day, I hope. I will drive off to Tesco or Sainsbury to feed the bottle bank and pick up a paper for Dad. Even if Morrisons was open today (which is isn't), it would be no use as they removed the bottle banks when it changed from Somerfield to Morrisons and didn't replace them. There's just about enough food left over from yesterday that I don't have to cook very much. I have some frozen roasties and will probably do some more carrots, but apart from that it's all left-overs. Excellent.

I have to decide what to do with the turkey. There's a lot of meat left over but I don't want a lot of single roast meals in the freezer. I will do some savoury turkey rice which freezes well and make some hotpots and I read a nice recipe for potted turkey which ought to freeze well in little pots. As well as that I'll trawl the internet, I think, for some ideas for interesting leftover recipes.

Happy Boxing Day to everyone!

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas evening

It's been a lovely day but my goodness, I'm tired now.

I was pleased that all the preliminary work paid off and The Dinner went smoothly. There wasn't an awful lot left over either, which was very satisfying. Well - I say not a lot, but I'm not counting the turkey in that. There's loads and loads and loads of turkey left and, my goodness, it was delicious. One thinks of turkey as a somewhat tasteless meat but this had both taste and texture in abundance. Three cheers for the Kelly clan!

Cutting off the drumsticks made a big difference to the cooking time - I think I will do that from now on as a matter of course. Not only was it easier to handle and quicker to cook, the carving was correspondingly quicker too. It all helps when one is trying to juggle a number of different cooking techniques at the same time.

I do hope all my readers have had as satisfying a day as I have had, however they have spent it.

Photo: The Christmas cake, baked and iced by DD. It's now in three pieces, the top one for my brother John to take back to Scotland tomorrow, the middle one for her and the bottom one for me and my parents to share. It's a delicious fruit cake with exotic dried fruits such as pineapple, as well as the usual vine fruits. Thanks, love, it's a triumph!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve morning

Brother John is travelling down from Scotland today. I hope he will be OK.

The coffee is ready to make, the table has been laid, all is ready for breakfast. After that it's some kitchen work - preparing the sprouts (yum, love them) and getting the turkey (poor mangled thing) ready for the oven, after which it can go out in the shed where it's pretty cool, freeing up some fridge space. Just about everything else is ready, apart from the parsnips and carrots, which I will do tomorrow morning.
Lunch is leek and potato soup which has already been made and frozen. It just needs re-heating, seasoning and milk and cream adding. There will be some grated cheese to sprinkle over, if wanted, and croutons and bread. Fresh fruit for dessert.
Dinner will be what has become a Christmas Tradition. DS and his partner make us pizzas - delicious home-made pizzas, and we have a buffet with some salad and garlic bread. We always try not to eat too much and usually fail dismally!

Apart from that, I'm still feeling quite tired as I continue to fight off this cold virus thing, so will hopefully be able to take some time to snooze.

Yesterday, Dad emailed to say that they were setting off at a certain time and popping into Tescos before leaving Baldock. I gave them a short list of things I still needed. Neither of us remembered that 'popping into Tesco's' is not an option the day before Christmas Eve. So there was Dad, driving around the car park for ages, looking for a parking slot before they pushed their way through the crowds to get the few items they wanted. I think maybe if it had just been their things, they'd have thought 'blow it' and not bothered, but because they had a list of things for me, they felt they needed to persist. I bet today will be an absolute nightmare! There have been times when I have thought working in a shop would be infinitely preferable to teaching (especially around report times) but definitely not at Christmas. I'm very glad our Morrison's is not opening on Boxing Day and I hope that's the same for all supermarkets.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The turkey

I ordered a 7kg turkey. They have delivered a 10.6kg one. Double eeek!

And the proof of the pudding (pie) is in the . . .

. . . eating.

I've just cut the two pies I made yesterday preparatory to freezing them. Maybe they're not the disaster I thought they were. The jelly hasn't filled to the very top (I knew it hadn't) but it does seem to have filled up the sides, despite the leaks. I had a wee nibble and I think they taste pretty good and not too dry either. So that's a great relief all round.
Photo: Not the one that jumped onto the floor, the other one with cracks all around. You can see the gap at the top, but never mind!

And here we are

Not a leak in sight. The taste, of course, is quite a different matter. I have no idea about that until we eat the thing!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

More pie news

I'm sure my gentle readers must be totally and utterly fed up with the pie saga by now, but this is my blog and is rapidly becoming a way of thinking out loud for me.

So, anyway, I got some good sausages from Morrison's (that is NOT a contradiction in terms) which were pork and apple. Lovely big chunks of apple too. So I mixed the contents of a few sausages with what was left of the mixture from yesterday, added more lemon zest (yum) and some mixed herbs and mixed it all well. Then I made a half load of hot crust pastry and, instead of making the base, rolling the side and joining the two together (which is where I get a lot of leaks), I moulded it up the inside of the tin, so no joins until the top. The main problem with that is that it's all too easy to get rather thick pastry which I know my parents aren't fond of, but I'm hoping that this way there will be no leaks. It's now in the oven for its first baking so fingers crossed.

Jackie and I had a lovely time at the Magic Mushroom and then looking around the farm shops. Thank goodness the roads were all clear apart from my road and hers, so all was well. I managed a lovely skid on the way home, down my road though, as everything was freezing again by then. Thankfully, no other cars were about and it was controlled.
If you get the chance, do have a meal at the M M. Not cheap, but delicious and great service.

Tuesday evening

The turkey has been delivered. With it there was an interesting looking cookbook and a message which read as follows:

Dear Customer,
The turkeys have grown exceptionally well this year, so we have given you a larger bird than you ordered. This extra weight is, of course, free of charge,

Very nice indeed but oh, lor', haven't we already got more than enough food? I haven't dared weigh it yet!

Photo: Icicles from the other day.

Oh, dear

I was quite right; adding the jellied stock turned out to be rather a disaster. The dropped one took it better than the other but neither can I completely fill.
I have a little more filling left over from yesterday and I'm thinking of getting some good sausage meat to bulk it out, maybe add some apple and spice for taste and having a go at another, more experimental one. Or maybe I should play safe and just use sausage meat and more bacon.
What a shame.

Tuesday morning

I'm about to make the jellied stock to go into the pies. Not an easy job and the one I didn't drop has some cracks and the one I did drop isn't in any fit state to receive stock, I suspect, although the top received more damage than the body of the pie.

Anyway, I shall try the trick of smearing butter over the cracks in the first one - it seems to work and doesn't change the flavour as the pastry already has butter in it. The dropped one - well, I don't know. I will have to think creatively.

The apple and cranberry chutney I made yesterday was very good. It was actually good straight away and I had some with Cheshire cheese and a soft roll for my dinner, although I'm sure that with time it will improve, as chutneys do. It made ten pots which look really nice with their Christmas hats and rustic labels.

Recipe for Apple and Cranberry Chutney
You need:
450g chopped onion
1k cooking apples (I used Bramleys). These have to be cores, peeled and chopped finely.
500g eating apples (I used Granny Smiths), cored peeled and chopped more roughly.
50g fresh ginger, grated
a good grinding of black pepper (the black specks look nice in the finished chutney)
500g granulated sugar
250ml cider vinegar
500g cranberries
one star anise

Bung everything into a large, heavy based saucepan except for the cranberries. Heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer gently, stirring now and again, until the mixture has thickened and there's no watery juice.
Remove the star anise.
Add the cranberries and simmer, stirring, for about ten to 15 mins, until the cranberries have softened but are only just starting to burst. The apple mixture will go a gentle shade of pink.
Jar and store in the usual way. it keeps for six months, the recipe says, but I reckon it would keep for longer, although it's not one of those very long lasting chutneys.

Later on I'm off to Billericay with a friend to go out for lunch with another friend. We're going to the Magic Mushroom, at Barleylands Farm. I've never been to the restaurant before, but I've been to Barleylands several times and can thoroughly recommend it as a place to take the children to, as well as somewhere to do some interesting shopping.
There's a link to the Magic Mushroom from the above.
After stuffing our faces - sorry, I mean enjoying the superior cuisine - there, we'll probably do a bit of late Christmas shopping around the centre before coming home. I do have a few things still to get so that will be ideal!

Photo: the chutney, more Christmas hat than anything else!

Monday, 21 December 2009

And again

I was just raising the crust on the Christmas pork pie when I got a phone call. It was DD - broken down on Chignall Road (not far from here), waiting for the AA (who were totally inundated with breakdown calls and didn't know when they could be there) and she and DG were getting cold. Well, they would, I suppose, given that it couldn't have been much about freezing point, if at all.

So out I went, picked up DG, talked to DD, came back home, made some cheese rolls and a flask of coffee, got some books for her to read plus an old duvet and took it all round to her.
DG was as good as gold and let me get on with all my cooking stuff while he played on the PC.
Two hours or so later DG phoned from Quikfit - there was a problem with tyres, nothing too terminal in fact.

So today I have:
Saved a neighbour's car (grin)
Spent more than I can afford but got just about everything in for Christmas. I just have to get the soft drinks and I thought I would get them from Morrison's.
Made two pork pies, thrown one on the floor and dusted it down.
Made nine jars of apple and cranberry chutney for pressies.
Made some lemon and ginger refresher (a superb cordial that should help everything to settle well!)
Been a good samaritan to DD and DG!

I have NOT:
sorted out the bedrooms.

Quite a good day all found, I reckon, though. Just a shame about the mess in the kitchen.

The best laid plans . . .

6:00: get dressed Tick
6:15: Get rubbish out for collection Tick
6:30-ish: de-ice car and set off for Sainsbury's. Drop off key for plumber on the way.
See neighbour from over the cul de sac de-icing car. Neighbour gets into car, reverses out of his drive and attempts the slope up to the end of our cul de sac. Tyres skid on ice, not helped by some furious revving of engine. I go to help to no avail. Oh, for some sand or grit.
Fifteen minutes later I remember that I have a water softener and therefore some granular salt. Fair amount of granular salt is spread up the slops and around neighbour's car. Tyres are able to hold and off he goes. Off I go with no problems.
7:00: Sainsbury's opens.
I'm sure it did but I wasn't there until about 7:15. However, it wasn't at all crowded and I managed to spend a simply horrific amount of money on 'necessities' for Christmas. Now I have to unpack it all.

Monday morning . . .

Today I brave the shop! This is my early morning schedule
6:00: get dressed
6:15: Get rubbish out for collection
6:30-ish: de-ice car and set off for Sainsbury's. Drop off key for plumber on the way.
7:00: Sainsbury's opens.
All good fun, isn't it?

A blogger friend gave me the idea of making my Christmas gravy in advance. As it happens, I have a couple of jars of really good chicken stock which I can use, with some white wine, seasonings, etc. Then it can be frozen, like the other stuff. Anything to save me trouble on Christmas morning.

The other big task for today is to get the bedrooms ready. My darling parents have said they will bring their sheets with them which reduces the work load for me (and makes more for them, bless them). Poor brother, John, will be in the green room, the little room over the stairs, and is very understanding about the work I have to do to clear a route from the door to the bed for him!

Getting there!!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sunday late afternoon

It's nearly dark and I doubt one flake of snow has thawed today. It's got to have been colder during the day than it was last night when some of the the snow did disappear. Wonder if we'll get more snow tomorrow. I know it's very selfish but I do love the stuff and never feel we get enough of it. Maybe it's a throwback to my childhood in Derbyshire.

Photo: snow on the fence.

later on

. . . and DG and I have worked hard to get the Christmas tree decorated. Very nice it looks too.

I have a set of wooden nativity figures which DG likes to play with. He turns them into actors in a play.

Just overheard:
Wise Man: Hello, Joseph, what are you doing here?
Joseph: Mary has got one of the shepherds back at the stable and she thinks the shepherd is me.

Crumbs - that's a new slant on an old story.
Looks like DG and I do not agree on which figure is Joseph then!

DD is still fast asleep. She is sensible!

Sunday morning

We've had a little snow overnight but not enough to make any significant difference. In fact, everything looks wet rather than frozen, a lot of snow has vanished from the fences and leaves and I'm wondering if the thaw will come today. I must hasten to take a photograph of a row of icicles hanging from my shed which I only noticed yesterday after dark.

Yesterday evening was very pleasant. DD and DG were over and we had takeaway pizza. The Christmas tree is now assembled and the lights are on and very nice it looks too, even before the baubles are put in place.
We had a lazy evening watching Merlin (wonderful escapism and I'm so glad there will be another series) and then the final Strictly programme of this series. Some wonderful dancing, lots and lots of fun, glitter and sparkle, but what a shame the better dancer ended up in second place. Personality triumphed over sheer dancing brilliance this time, which I was afraid would happen after Ali was eliminated last week. Ah, well, it's supposed to entertain and that it does extremely well indeed!

So now it's a new day. The second day of the holidays, I suppose, although I always feel that Monday is when the holiday starts. My Christmas shopping list is getting longer and longer and I have decided to do it in two sessions. I think I will get to Sainsbury's very early tomorrow morning (it opens at seven) and get as much as I can, given sell by/use by dates, etc, then to a top up at Morrison's at some point, if necessary - it might not be necessary of course.

I've decided rather late in the day to make some apple and cranberry chutney. I braved the cold half an hour ago to ensure I had enough jars with fitting lids and will get the ingredients tomorrow. It's a bit heavy on the old cranberries, which are not the cheapest things in the world at the moment, but it will make a lovely family gift for everyone and maybe there will be a bit left over for me too. The recipe I'd like to use only has ginger and peppercorns so I'm thinking a star anise or two might give it a very nice ooomph. I'll try it anyway and see!

Today it's getting the bedrooms ready and finishing off the tree. I might also brave Morrison's for a paper and spoil myself!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Saturday evening

Done some ironing
Done some bed making
Done some wrapping
Done a lot of sleeping!

Now waiting for DD and DG to come round, pizza is being delivered at 6:00.
Just time for a little nap!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Friday evening

All the other local schools closed today.

We decided to remain open as long as we could and see how many teaching staff managed to get in. Although three teachers were late and one didn't manage to get in at all, everyone else turned up on time and we had a full school day. OK, so Liz and I didn't get our PPA, but there was nothing urgent to do so it was hardly a disaster. Faith was shifted around a bit, which she accepted with her customary good humour. A lot of the children were late as their parents thought the school would be closed, didn't check the usual sources, and only realised when the secretary phoned to find out why they weren't at school. And everywhere you looked there were rows and rows of wellies, joined into pairs with welly pegs.

And what a lovely day it turned out to be. By playtime the sun was shining with a few lazy flakes drifting by now and again. The snow was dry and powdery, no slushing whatsoever, so we all piled out onto the school field and had the time of our collective life. Irene and I were officially on duty but we were joined by all of the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 staff, plus a teacher from Key Stage 2, and the smooth, virgin stretches of snow were thoroughly violated (in the nicest possible way, of course). It didn't even feel all that cold as the wind had died down.
Christmas by Candlelight this afternoon was just fantastic too.

In some ways it has been a difficult half term, with our head being away for just about all of the time with acute bronchitis that turned into pneumonia. Natalie had to step up and become acting head, which I think she did amazingly well. I do wonder how much longer we are going to be able to keep her - she's going to make some lucky school a brilliant head in the fairly near future.
Everyone's been pulling together and there's been a great feeling among the staff generally (there's always going to be a few exceptions) which has created a cohesion and strength which I think is to be envied.

And today was the nicest end to the Autumn Term I can remember in all my years of teaching. I'm happy.

Friday morning

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter . . .
not so long ago!!
(with apologies to Christina Rossetti)

Ooooh, it does make me feel cold, looking out of the window. We haven't had much, we never do round here, so I'm guessing it's pretty dire elsewhere. It's cold and bleak and, with the wind, must feel extremely cold. I guess playground duty is going to be a bit of an ordeal today.

Another thing that happened yesterday is that the younger children had a surprise visit from Santa. A few of mine were struck by a slight resemblance to Mr Wood, a dad who comes into our class once a week for Reading Revelry.

Two little girls: Mrs Clark - is Santa really Mr Wood?
Me: What makes you think that?
T L Gs Well, he looks like Mr Wood.
Me: Oh - does Mr Wood wear glasses and have a long white beard and wear a red coat?
T L Gs No (with much giggling from them both)
Me: What do you think then? (I wasn't going to give anything away)
T L Gs It can't be Mr Wood, can it? Maybe it's Mr Wood's brother.
And off they went, looking very satisfied and happy.
However, some mini-cynics were less than convinced and, I suspect, muttered about it for the rest of the day!

I love infants.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Thursday evening

To mis-quote the start of a book by one of my favourite authors, Miss Read (Farewell To Fairacre), the last few days of the Autumn Term have a flavour that is all their own. There is a peculiar paradoxical tension between the inexorable slowing down of working pace and thinking speed by pupils and teachers alike and the almost manic rush to fit in as many celebratory events as possible.

Today was no exception. Key Stage 1 and Foundation Stage parties. All day!! This was the year 1 agenda:
9:00 to 9:30 - in the hall for games (and it certainly adds to the general interest when one of them is sick all over the hall floor!)
9:30 to 10:00 - back in the classroom continuing with games
10:00 to 10:15 - assembly (an oasis of calm)
10:15 to 10:45 - sorting out Christmas bits and bobs into named carrier bags to take home
10:45 to 11:10 (yes, way too long!) - playtime
11:10 to 12:00 - Christmas Quiz
12:00 to 1:15 - lunch time
1:14 - 1:45 - DVD
1:45 to 2:15 ish - cakes and drinks
2:15 to 2:45 - extra playtime (and it was so-o-o-o cold)
2:45 to hometime - DVD
And, worst of all - NO UNIFORM! ALL DAY!!!

Tomorrow has to be a lot calmer. There's a Christmas sing song with 'acts' by each year group in the afternoon but apart from that it's all in class, hopefully pretty calm. As KS 1 coordinator, I have issued a decree that wellies and welly pegs must be brought in tomorrow so we can all go out and play in the snow at playtime!
Mind you, the way it's snowing at the moment, there might be no school tomorrow. That would be a great shame.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Wednesday evening

And we got it!! Snow falling for much of the day. Very wet snow, of the non-settling variety, but enough to send the children into raptures of delight.
Happy Little Girl expressed the views of many of them.

H L G I'm going to make a snowman at sunset, just like our show, Mrs Clark.
Me: How lovely. er - do you think there's enough snow to make a snowman?
H L G (looking thoughtful) Maybe they'll let us go on the field. Then there will be.
I love the eternal optimism of children - there's nothing like it.

This afternoon it suddenly started snowing pretty hard. There was an awed silence and then one little voice started singing the snowflake song from our show and others took it up - just for a short time before they got on with what they were doing, but it brought tears to my eyes. It's moments like that that make me very glad I'm a teacher.

Look at the snowflakes falling down
Falling, falling,
Look at the snowflakes falling down,
From heaven to the ground.

And now I have a potato baking in the oven and a mound of grated cheese waiting to meet it on the plate. Comfort food for a cold day. Absolutely perfect.

Wednesday morning

It's very early but I did go to bed at nine, went straight to sleep and slept all the way through till four, which hasn't been happening over the last few weeks. I woke up feeling really not too bad as well. Yes, I've taken some meds, but I felt nothing like as bad as yesterday night and morning. Definitely on the mend!

Hopefully, today will be an easy day.
On the planning today is phonics, finishing of the Christmas story book, several one off Christmas sheets, a practice with the other year 1 class, a DVD, calendars to make and an extra playtime this afternoon. All I can say is I hope they behave themselves OK!
And then we have to wrap up the pass the parcels after school, by which time I suspect both Liz and I will be ready to drop!
That's the end of the Christmas term for you!!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Later on

. . . and it's very boring being unwell. However, with the help of ibuprofen, I know I don't have flu - if I did, I wouldn't have the energy to be bored.
I decided to do something I had intended to do on Sunday but didn't have the time - try out Nigella's version of roasties. I peeled one potato and cut it into wedges and parboiled the bits for about five minutes, no more. I think it was Nigel Slater who said that each bit should be about two bites-worth. I think mine were a little bit bigger than that but not too large.

While they were boiling I preheated the oil (sunflower oil) in a hot oven. After five minutes I strained the potatoes and let them air dry, then popped them back in the pan and gave them a little shake to ruffle the edges, I then tossed in a little semolina, sea salt and pepper, before placing them in the hot oil, spooning some oil over and placing the roasting dish in the oven.
And, you know, they were delicious! They tasted even better than the photo looks. That's definitely how I am going to do them at Christmas. I'll get them as far as the air drying stage beforehand and open freeze them so that they don't stick together. The semolina and seasoning bit I will do when I thaw them on Christmas morning.

However, I am now utterly exhausted and will have to sleep! I sincerely hope things pick up tomorrow - I can't take another day off with such a lot to do!

Tuesday morning

. . . and I am at home for the day after a rotten night. Aches, shivering and sweating, cough, very sore throat - you name it!
It's a right pain in another way too as I was due to go to our local nursery school for a meeting about a child who is joining us in January. I won't be able to now and I hardly think they would welcome my germs anyway. A day out of operation that I can't really afford, but there you go!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Monday eveing

. . . and what a day. Whatever I have got, it is miserable. I left school early and just dropped when I got home. Took some ibuprofen and slept for an hour or so. Now I feel better but very weak and lacking in any 'ooomph'.

The Christmas roasties and parsnips are going to have to wait for another day!

Monday morning

. . . and I think I will be getting through the day on ibuprofen and the like. It was not a good night until I dragged myself out of bed and took some; half an hour after that I was sleeping soundly, thank goodness.

Today is going to be a gentle day. A few bits of work and lots of art. I wonder how many children I will have in today. There were five away at the end of last week and several others looked a bit on the fragile side. We will see!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sunday evening

. . . and it's been an extremely busy day, but pleasingly productive.

Made and in the freezer:
DD's nut roast
DD's sage and onion stuffing
Leek and potato soup for Christmas eve
bread sauce
Delia's spiced red cabbage with apple and onion (utterly yum)

Made and in jars in the fridge:
Cranberry sauce with port and clementine

I still have to do the roasties and the parsnips, the pork and turkey pie and the vegetarian 'pork' pie. The latter two will take some time.

Unfortunately, as the day has progressed, so have the aches, the headache, the sore throat and the temperature. I hope a good night's sleep will see it off! I can't be poorly now, there's no time.

Sunday morning

Well, yesterday was supposed to be a hive of industry and Festive Production. Morrison's, preparation and freezing for The Day was supposed to be in order. What did I achieve. Absolutely nothing - I kept falling asleep instead!
So all the plans have been deferred to today which are all based around preparation:
cranberry sauce
bread sauce
DD's sage and onion stuffing
mince pies
leek and potato soup

I was watching Nigella Lawson's Christmas programme yesterday (in between falling asleeps) and she dredges her roasties in semolina, not flour. She says it makes them lovely and crunchy. I might try that today, with some for lunch, just to see, and if I like them that way, that's how I will prepare them.

When I was little we had some very specific and comforting rituals leading up to and during Christmas. As we got bigger, they disappeared and there seemed to be a sort of gap. But since I started being the hostess for the family in recent years, a whole new load of 'traditions' has crept into the season. All of the above - the preparations beforehand - have their own magic and pleasure; the tradition of putting up the tree as near as possible to The Day and no earlier -I'd like it to be a part of Christmas Eve, but DG helps and he and DD come over on Sundays - and getting all the familiar decorations up; the cleaning and tidying of the house in order to make room for all my guests and the whole school ritual thing. It all creates a familiar and welcomed pattern to December and is a great pleasure and comfort for me. We all need some predictability and routine and it compensates for all the hard work and worry!

Must work out how many more sleeps I have (as my littlies say).

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Saturday morning and Christmas is coming

Now that most of the school responsibilities are over and done, I have the time to think ahead a little more than I usually do. Consequently I've been having a very enjoyable time this morning working out my Christmas menus, finding good looking recipes and generally getting things thoroughly organised. Delia's braised red cabbage and apple is always a firm fave, of course, and this year I'm doing honey and mustard glazed parsnips (plus a few ordinarily roasted ones), plus all the other usuals. Most will be frozen in advance, even the roasties. If you par boil them, ruffle the surface, then dredge them in seasoned flour before freezing, they roast up beautifully and come out all fluffy and crunchy. Then, of course, there's the bread sauce and the cranberry sauce - I've found a lovely looking recipe in the Cottage Smallholder blog which is easy and keeps well. The writer advises that it's also gorgeous with cheeses like brie so I will definitely try it. I've found a vegetarian raised pie recipe so DD can have her pie as well as us with our pork and chicken pie as described in an earlier blog entry.
All I need to find now is a nice sage and onion stuffing as ours will contain meat! That shouldn't take too long.

Most of the residual clutter from last night is now sorted; all I really have to do is move some furniture and eat the leftovers, neither of which is going to be too difficult. So I can get to Morrison's and start preparing some Christmas food as well as having a good rest.

Should be a nice day!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Friday evening, not far off Saturday morning

. . . and I'm unwinding after the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 Social, held here this evening, with Chinese takeaway and a special appearance by Secret Santa. It has been a lovely evening. I didn't order way too much food, everyone brought a bottle of something so there's plenty left over either for Christmas or the next social (guess which - grin) and the house is now reasonably clean and tidy ready for Christmas and an invasion by my beloved family. What more could a hard working teacher ask for, eh?

So now I'm gradually unwinding. I can feel the tiredness creeping ever closer, slowly and silently.
And if I wake up at four, I will scweam and scweam . . so there!

Night everyone! Sleep as well as I know I will.

Friday morning

I'm supposed to be dashing around tidying the house. It's a total tip and needs a good clear out, especially as 19 colleagues are due to descend on me this evening for a take away Chinese.

The shows are all over. Wednesday's performance went like a dream - smooth with no mini crises and the children sang their hearts out. I was so proud of them all. Well done!!

Better go and do some work, I suppose!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wednesday evening

All over - for this year anyway. The last of the two KS1 and FS Christmas Shows was earlier this evening and it went brilliantly. I was just so proud of each and every child, a few of whom have fought their own mini-battles regarding this show. They were all absolute stars and I felt pretty tearful by the end. It's hard playing the piano when you can see neither the music nor the keys!!

I have, of course, toasted them with something chilled, dry and white, so please excuse any resulting typos.

And that, as far as I know, is the last of my Key Stage responsibilities for this term. I can now relax!
Although - well, maybe not, thinking about it, given the state of my house and the fact that most of the KS1 staff (20 of them) will be coming round here for a takeaway on Friday evening. Secret Santa is NOT optional! A reasonably tidy house is also not optional, sadly!

I'm feeling a bit reflective. I've done this KS1 co-ordinating for almost a year now and I do think maybe I've made a little bit of a difference. I have some ongoing ideas which I now need to discuss at my performance management meeting, whenever that will be. Right now, it feels pretty satisfying but I don't quite have the courage to ask my colleagues whether they agree.

And finally - please spare a thought for P. She has had breast cancer and went back to her doctor with more chest pains on Monday. They got her a fast track appointment for some X-rays and tests today. I haven't heard anything but am seriously concerned. If you believe in the power of prayer, please do. If not, please send off some positive thoughts. P is a very lovely lady.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I know I'm getting old!

One of my little darlings said something ever so funny this afternoon and I thought 'that's a good one for my blog'. However, can I remember it now? That's right - I can't! So annoying. The little grey cells are definitely on the long slippery downward slope now.

One Christmas Show down, one to go! I will sleep very well tomorrow night! Tonight's performance was not without its mishaps, frustrating to us teachers but undoubtedly hugely appreciated by the parental audience. It's what makes a show memorable, I guess - so tonight's should be pretty memorable!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Sunday late afternoon

. . . and finally, with the help of my DD, I have started on the pre-Christmas sort out. The place has to be moderately presentable for Friday (KS1 social) and spotless for two weeks after that! In between tidying, etc, DD and I had fun watching some china she has posted on eBay sell. She did jolly well out of it too! I'm not an eBay seller so I've never seen it from the other side. and it was fascinating, especially when she clicked refresh and up went the total by some incredible amount.

Two more weeks, ten school days, before the end of term. Where on earth has this half term gone? It seems no time since half term and here we are, another sixth of the school year past and done. It's going way, way, way too quickly. Slow down, please, brake . . . woah!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Merry and festive

Well, I've just spent about two and a half hours in my bay, taking down the Sound and Light display and getting the place more fitting for the last two weeks of the Christmas Term. It's looking very festive now and should give the children a lovely surprise when they arrive on Monday morning! Best of all, I found my lovely felt advent calender, for which I have been hunting high and low so it's off to Morrisons to get some little choccy thingies to put in each pocket. I'm sure the children won't mind playing catch up a little bit.

Saturday morning

I am so glad I forced myself into town early this morning . . . the shops I needed were open early, I got a good parking slot and by the time I had finished there were queues way back for the car parks.

Each year at school we do Santa Mail. The children bring in their internal cards to post and Santa's Little Helpers sort them out and deliver them around the bays.
Each year the KS coordinators have panicked around looking for a suitable posting box which will not collapse under the wear and tear it gets.
So this year we've bought a couple of swing top plastic bins which can be used from year to year - that was one of the things I went in to get. And guess what - in Wilkinson's they have lovely Christmas red bins, so I don't even need to cover them! Excellent!!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Friday evening

Phew. It's been quite a week one way and another and I am so glad it's the weekend. Yes, I do have to go into town (no joke so close to Christmas) and yes, there's a heap of things to do, but I can be at home (mostly) and I can do it in my time.

Liz's class dance is just starting to take shape - I think we could do with another week but, seeing as the dress rehearsal is on Monday, we actually don't have another week!! I had two practices with them today and by the end of the second one they were remembering and starting to get it together.

The children, bless them, are visibly slowing down now. Colouring in, cutting out and sticking satisfies whereas two weeks ago they wanted and needed so much more. Bless them, they really try to give what I ask of them. This week they have been so messed about, what with me swapping with Liz's supply to take dance practises, plus all the other unusual and usual interruptions - and they still remain good tempered and eager to please. I am just SO very lucky this year. I wonder if I will get a class quite as lovely as this one ever again. I'm making the most of it . . .

And now only ten more days now until the end of term. Where has the time gone? One third of the way through this school year - absolutely incredible! Slow down - stop racing away from me . . .

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Thursday morning

. . . and I missed a message yesterday - so sorry.
Things are ticking along reasonably well, although there's an awful lot to do (which is what I get paid for so I shouldn't complain, even if I do occasionally has a grumble). The good news is that our head is expected back today after being away since half term with pneumonia. The deputy has done an absolutely fantastic job, but it will be so nice to have S back again.
We had great fun yesterday afternoon, making hand and foot reindeer. Draw round a shoe for the head, round two outstretched hands for the antlers, a red nose and two black eyes, stick them all together and hey presto! They look jolly nice blue tacked up on a cupboard door too. And I was very impressed with how well the children all listened, went back and followed my instructions more or less independently. There were a few cutting out problems, but apart from that it was all their own work. My goodness, they have come on!
Maths today is repeating patterns, so they are going to decide on a colour pattern involving red, yellow, green, blue and orange, record it on a drawing and then use that colour sequence to make paper chains. Great fun again.
And if it rains this afternoon, they can carry on with their chains!

'Tis the season to be jolly!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tuesday evening

I'm so desperately tired.
Yesterday evening I was all set for a reasonable bedtime and then something blew up on FirstClass which needed dealing with. Once that had sorted I went up, to find my brain whizzing around at full speed, worrying not only about FC but also about the Christmas Show, Liz being away ill and her dance, the first rehearsal today and so on. I've been involved in loads of KS1 shows in my time but this is the first one I've been responsible for and it's just a tad nerve racking. Anyway, I couldn't sleep so I came back down again. I finally got up around midnight and went to sleep at about 1-ish. I was awake at five. No wonder I'm tired.

However - the first 'stagger through' went very well indeed, Liz's supply teacher is a dance specialist so gave me some ideas, we got the backcloth made and the ticket-programmes sorted after school, Alison (blessings be upon Alison, TA extrordinaire) offered to do the reindeer food, my class' dance went really rather well and I even managed to produce a compilation CD that just runs through all the music one item after another. All in all, a good day's work, but oh, I am so very, very tired now. And now I MUST try to stay awake until about nine or I will be up way too early again tomorrow.

What a lovely change in the weather though - cold and sunny, thank goodness . . .