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31st Aug 2007

Trifle in a 'Trifle'

Tamsin: Trifle. I never thought it aptly named as it’s certainly not a trifle to make - at least until I discovered Alpro soya custard. Now I always keep a packet of this delicious stuff in my larder so I can whip up a wickedly pleasurable dessert for guests in two seconds flat. This trifle has that wow factor yet takes a few minutes to assemble. I always use a home-made sponge prepared in advance but a bought one will do just as well.

To assemble the trifle:

One 2-egg basic sponge cake

2 tins mandarin orange segments in their own juice
1 carton
Alpro soya custard
Half pint double cream

Cut the sponge into pieces and place at the bottom of a large glass bowl. Sprinkle the mandarins over letting the juice soak into the sponge.  Open the carton of custard and pour over. Whip the cream to a soft peak consistency and spread on top. I decorated with sugared violets but you can use hundreds and thousands for a more nostalgic effect.


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28th Aug 2007

Snake Pipe Fish

Tamsin: You never know what you might find on a beachcombing expedition…but this find was rather exciting. The day started off with a three-generational family swim. I was brought up to swim whenever an opportunity came my way but despite this I looked on nervously as some large waves crashed on to the shingle slopes. Reassured by my elderly but very sprightly parents who were leading the way into the sea that it was okay for swimming, Joe, Carla and I raced in after them. They were right of course, once past the breakers we bobbed about safely with no worries at all except that of timing our exit to miss the one in seven, much larger than the rest, wave.

To warm up after a dip, a jog along the beach usually does the trick but on a shingle beach that is not only hard work but painful, so we began to beachcomb along the high water line instead. My brother-in-law was first to spy the strange snakelike fish, camouflaged against some sticks and forming an ‘S’ shape. We were eager to find more and soon saw a second, much straighter one that looked even more like a dead twig. Held against the light they were beautiful and unsmelly, definitely something to take back in a bucket and adorn a shelf at home.

On our return we looked through our books to try and identify our find and decided that it was most aptly named a snake pipe fish, now becoming common in the North Sea and replacing the once common sand eel. This is confusing native seabirds that rely on sand eels as part of their diet. The trouble is that that the eels are soft and chewable while the pipe fish are related to sea horses and have a hard exo-skeleton, so are a bit of a mouthful. To see one of these poor birds trying to deal with its hard-shelled catch go to this BBC link. There’s also an interesting nature photo blog you can dip into with some amazing shots of creatures great and small.


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23rd Aug 2007

Take a Piece of Driftwood...

Tamsin: I’d booked the workshop for me and the kids several weeks ago but couldn’t quite remember what it was going to be about…except it had something to do with doors. Maybe it was the thought of creating his own door that suddenly made Mike decide to come as well (or maybe it was that I said we’d be home by noon). Only we weren’t. What I thought was a two-hour workshop turned out to be an all-day session with tea breaks – though it was great fun and easily filled the day.

Using driftwood, old planks and bits and pieces from the sea shore, we made house or door signs. We started off choosing a piece of wood and, using wire wool or sandpaper, distressed it even more. Then we painted on a number/name and arranged shells, stones, glass, or anything else we had (which wasn’t much since I’d also forgotten to bring beach scavenged treasures to use) decoratively around it. Any delicate shells were first filled with Polyfilla to make them stronger before gluing them down with ‘No more nails’ adhesive. To finish off we varnished the boards so that they could be hung outside. 

Joe spent his time hammering nails into his wood to create a skeletal fish and Mike made an Alfred Wallis-style boat to hang on the treehouse. Much enjoyment was had by all.

If you are wondering what to do with the buckets of shells and stones you’ve brought back from the beach, perhaps this could be the ideal family project…

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19th Aug 2007

Pears in Lemon Juice

Last week I sat down to lunch and the sight of a big bowl of sliced pears greeted me. Hungrily I took one and was amazed to find this was not just any old pear – it had been covered in lemon juice, an idea that was completely new to me. Upon discovering this brilliant taste sensation I (along with the help of everyone else) quickly wolfed down the rest of the pears, then hurried to make more –  until all the pears in the cupboard had gone. After this we made sure that we had an ample supply of pears and the dish appeared at almost every meal.

You’ll need:

3 to 4 sliced pears (unripe)
Half a lemon

Squeeze the lemon over the pears…simple!

Another good thing about the lemon juice as well as being delicious is that it stops the pears from going all brown and yukky.


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16th Aug 2007

Cuddly Carrots

Well, I had to put them in. It is the silly season...

... and even carrots... 

...can have a cuddle in their bed!


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11th Aug 2007

Beach Flower Pot Game

We’ve just been on the beach playing Beach Flower Pots, which was probably invented for ‘It’s a Knockout’. Form teams of two, choose the lightest and most poised member of your team to be the flower pot jockey and then race each other across the sand without touching it with your feet by stepping on buckets (or you can use heavy stones, but that’s much harder). You need three buckets per jockey – we just used cheap plastic ones we found in a shop on the way down to the beach.

First lay out a start line and a finish line of stones - ours was only about six metres apart but at times it felt like 100. Each jockey has three buckets on the start line, and on the shout of ‘go!’ each jumps on two buckets, while the flower pot mover bends down and moves the other bucket forward so the jockey can step on it and the back flower pot gets moved in front for the jockey to step on.

You need good balance and it helps if you wear beach shoes (yet another use for Crocs…). If a jockey falls off, they have to get back on the bucket before the fall and start from that spot again. Needless to say there was some dispute over what constituted a ‘fall’ and there were some long steps over the finish line without a bucket, but it was great, noisy fun.

Then the kids had a go doing it by themselves. They each had to pick up their own bucket and move it forward, bending down and almost sitting on their haunches on the buckets to reach forward. It was slower and needed lots of control. Everyone was cheering on the sidelines (in a strictly non-partisan manner, of course).

Then the adults paired up and had another go, this time utilising the radical two-pots moved-at-once technique. Surprisingly, the hardest job is moving the pots, partly because you’re bending down and whizzing back and forward in front of the jockey so fast you start placing the pots slightly askew or at the wrong distance for their step. Meanwhile the jockey has to stand and keep their balance – which should be much more dignified, but there were no Lester Piggotts out there today. The buckets took a bit of a battering from the adults’ weight and ended up rather squished but it didn’t matter. We declined the invites to race the kids. Wouldn’t be fair to them, would it?


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8th Aug 2007

Fairy Fantasy

We recently went to Wales to visit my grandparents, and our cousins aged five, two and one were also there. We brought them a big bag full of toys/games/books that we had grown out of and one of the things Gaia (five) got was a Daisy Meadows' fairy sticker book. She wanted me to help her match the stickers, and I read the sub categories to her which basically explained what the fairies' names are, if it was a pet fairy, what their pet's names are, and so on. She and her sister Ronni (two) liked playing fairies so much my Aunty Jo suggested I should write a story about them.

Immediately, there  were cries of: 'Oooh yes please!' and 'Can you write one now?!' so I agreed. I asked them which fairy they liked best, and which they'd like me to write about. Gaia's was 'Katie the kitten fairy' and Ronni's was 'India the moonstone fairy'. It took me three days to write 'Katie the kitten fairy'. I haven't yet started to write about India (though Edie's done the cover), but I'm sure I will soon.
The story came into my head one day when it was raining in Wales. At the start, it would be rainy and wet. And I knew somehow in my head, it would become sunny at the end. I got some characters from the actual books, like Jack Frost, and I created a new name for him, 'The Ice Man!' In the story, there are two girls, Lola and Sarah, and Katie the fairy arrives when one of them says the magic words - 'I wish something fun would happen'.  I put that bit in because I think magic makes a good story flow for little ones such as Gaia. Katie's cat Shimmer gets abducted by the Ice Man and Katie and her friend Lola have to save him from the Ice Man's palace in a hollow tree.
Edie illustrated the book very nicely. It was a magical process working my way through the story, and I hope Gaia enjoys reading it.

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5th Aug 2007

Biscuit Feet

I made Anna-Louise's Redcurrant Tart yesterday so that I could photograph it and following her suggestion of using the left over shortbread dough for biscuits we cut them into feet shapes. Using 'Writing Icing' tubes we turned them into sandals, flip-flops, devils, angels, hippy, stripy and spotty feet. Mike then suggested that we photographed them in different positions, this proved to be great fun and we came up with ...

Kissing Feet (Mike)

Ballet Feet (Tamsin)

Hopping (Carla)

Hop Scotch (Joe)

Pigeon Toed (Carla)

3 Legged Race (Tamsin)

Walking (Carla)

Fallen Out ...

Back together (Joe)

You put your left foot in ...

Your left foot out ... (Joe)

If you can think of any others I will make a fresh batch and add them to the list.

If you want to have a go yourself then I would make 1/2 the quantity of the shortbread dough from Anna-Louise's Redcurrant Tart recipe.


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4th Aug 2007

Tart with Redcurrant Pearls

This is a Roux brother’s recipe that was given to me by Anne Eatough – a friend from our days in Lampeter. It takes a while as the pastry needs some serious chilling and it is best made with homemade redcurrant jelly.

Anne is the original wonder-woman in my eyes – having a smallholding with sheep, chickens, bees and an immaculate potager with a row of redcurrant bushes. She summoned me to her garden the first summer we moved there (1990) and initiated me in the joys of redcurrants. I’ll never forget sitting on a stool under the huge branches and gathering the dangling rubies and I’ve had a minor love affair with redcurrants ever since.

This tart is delicious though the pastry needs a cheery approach as it can disintegrate very easily. But if you roll it out quickly and put it into the tin quite swiftly, you can get most of it in before it gets too soft and floppy. Then just patch up the rest with the remaining bits. You can find the recipe here.


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2nd Aug 2007

Chicken Chasing

Our holiday in Derbyshire was a great success, but one of the most fun things to do was… Well can you guess? Chasing chickens! The place we stayed in had the most ridiculous chickens. They were let out each day and we spent hours trying to chase them back into their pen at night. They were really daft, as soon as you got one in the pen, another ran out! Dad had to chase them round to Edie, who was wearing my jumper, hood up and all, who made loud noises to scare them into the fruit cage, where I was ready and waiting to chase them outside near to mum who would shoo them in through the open door of the pen. Sounds a pretty civilized plan, right? Wrong!

It was hard enough to chase them round a blackberry bush almost three times as big as me. But there was one really daft white chicken who just didn’t want to go in. It took me three minutes to chase him round to mum, but she didn’t have time to get him into the pen because he ran like lightning back to the place he’d started. So, we’d have to start the whole process again. He did this many more times, and we kept chasing him until Dad’s arms stung from stinging nettles, Edie’s throat hurt from shouting, my legs and arms were scratched from chasing him around the bush and Mum’s hands were red sore from clapping. In the end – guess what? We gave up and he stayed out all night. I’d advise you NEVER to get chickens – stick with a rabbit or a dog.


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