Category Archives: It’s the weekend

Baking, gardening, doing up the house, living and stuff

Gin and lemon drizzle cake


Pistaccio and lemon cake, with gin and lemon drizzle…

So, I woke up on Sunday morning and thought, apropos of nothing all that much: “I wonder if you can make the lemon drizzle on a lemon drizzle cake with gin…” And you can…

[Recipe: cake: 4oz butter and 4oz sugar, creamed, two eggs, beaten in, 40z flour, folded in, plus the zest of one lemon (optional) and 20z blitzed pistaccios: drizzle: juice of the lemon, plus enough water to make up to 100ml liquid, 100ml gin, 100g caster / icing sugar, reduced to a thick syrop and poured over the cake].


#adventrunning 2016

In the run up to Christmas, I’ve been #adventrunning. It’s an exercise streak – it started as ‘run every day of advent’ but this year relaxed the rules a little bit, to allow for other forms of exercise (as long as you did at least 30 minutes per day).

The rule change meant I could count in my pilates mat class and studio session (although, to be fair to myself, my mat class does the full classical mat at this time of year, which can be exhausting – why Joseph Pilates felt it necessary to include so many teaser variations will always be a mystery…)

A streak is interesting. You do get tired, quite quickly, as you don’t get the recovery days that you would following, say, a marathon training programme. On the other hand, the daily discipline is good.

It was particularly good for me this year, as I found myself leaving my job in December; and the running worked off some stressful meetings, got me out of the office and, latterly, out of the house.

Also, the body does adjust. First week, I did three mile runs in the week, with two six milers at the weekend. Second week I was up to four miles in the week (one of them substantially downhill to recover!) Third week, I was back on the four, six, four pattern.

In total, I did just over 80 miles on the #advent running, and I’m now determined to make it to 100 miles by the end of the month. This may or may not be enough to run off the Christmas cake that also got baked, marzipanned and iced over the four weekends… but it should kickstart 2017. Bring on the next challenge!

Yorkshire Parkin, for Halloween

Parkin is a Yorkshire tradition at this time of year: a treacly gingerbread with oatmeal. It’s generally made as a tray bake about a week before it’s needed, so it goes sticky, and eaten on bonfire night.

But I’ve updated the idea by making individual cakes, drizzled with lemon icing to represent cobwebs, so it works as a Halloween treat…

[Recipe, from the BBC website: 110g of butter, brown sugar, self raising flour, 220g of oatmeal, syrup (I recommend half and half golden syrup and ginger syrup from a stem ginger jar), pinch salt, teaspoon of ginger, mixed spice (or more, for a bigger punch).

Melt the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan, pour into the dry ingredients, add the eggs beaten with a tablespoon of milk, pour into a tin, and bake until just firm and golden. Leave for a week or until sticky, and ice if desired].

Brexit: getting harder by the day

There is no reason for this post, except that I haven’t written about Brexit, and I had some time this afternoon, and I’m still not feeling better about it…

On the day after the 2015 general election, my partner and I sat in the back garden and worked our way through half a bottle of gin (the most excellent, locally produced, Twisted Nose, as it happens).

It felt like a very bad election to lose. Lots of things have happened since to prove it. The election returned a Conservative government, unchecked even by the Lib Dems, which immediately doubled down on ‘austerity’.

Yet, despite his unexpected majority, and the licence it gave him to pursue policies to appeal to the nasty wing of his party, Prime Minister David Cameron decided he needed to deliver on the EU referendum. The one he had promised to try and appease those inclined towards UKIP.

Appeasement never works, and the campaign was terrible. Cameron tried to argue he had secured significant concessions from the EU before it got going, but these were barely mentioned once it did.

Amazingly, it was reported that “what is the EU” shot to the top of Google’s search terms the day after the vote – so the niceties of whether or not Cameron had secured anything significant with his opt-out from the requirement for ‘ever closer union’ could never have been a deciding factor.

Remain tried to fight on the economic benefits of membership, but was shouted down for ‘scaremongering.’ The Labour Party went missing in action, with its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, putting out half-hearted support messages hedged around with reasonable but untimely concerns about workers rights.

Then, there was the nasty undertow of anti-immigrant rhetoric. Yet, despite all this, I thought the EU referendum was a distraction. An annoying one, inflicted on the country by a weak PM with a PR’s instinct for selling a message over worrying about substance.

I didn’t think we’d leave. And then we did. On 23 June my partner and I were on holiday in Leeds, so we’d voted by post some time earlier.  In the afternoon, we went for a run along the Leeds and Liverpool canal, where we came across a number of Labour canvassers for ‘in’.

Beside a Victorian factory designed to look like an Italian palace, to show how cultured the builder was, they gave us the, in retrospect, less than reassuring message that “people are a lot less hostile” than they had been. I still went to bed thinking there would be a ‘remain’ vote.

At 2.30am, I woke up to find my partner sitting in bed following the declarations on his phone, reporting that “things are not looking good.” At 4.00am, I woke up to find him in the same position, reporting that “it looks like we’re out.” A bit later, we both gave up on sleep as the result was confirmed.

Then we spent the rest of the day in shock (actually, we eventually went to the Turkish baths in Harrogate, because it was the only place we couldn’t obsessively follow the reaction on news sites and social media).

That shock has not really gone away. It’s not just the economics. Ok, the pound has continued to fall, which makes it look as if we’re in for a nasty bout of price inflation as the impact feeds through into food, clothes, oil and other imported goods.

Financial services and manufacturing firms have seen their share prices fall and are indicating that they could leave the UK, if there is a ‘hard Brexit’. The new PM, Theresa May, made a hard Brexit more likely at the Conservative Party conference last week, by indicating that she would trade access to the single market for curbs on the free movement of people.

Her party cheered when ministers indicated those curbs might apply to “foreign” workers, students… and doctors; apparently unconcerned that the quid pro quo may be the re-imposition of visas to visit the continent, never mind work there.

No, even more than the economics, it’s the feeling that the UK, or England and Wales, or the poor bits outside their major cities, is cutting itself off from a wider community of nations. Nations committed to liberal ideas, rights-based legal systems, constitutional democracy and networks of academic endeavour.

Things those of us in ‘the 48%’ were brought up to believe in. There is no doubt that the EU imperfectly realised those ideals. Or that it could be bureaucratic. Or that it could have done more to stand up to the vested interests and global business that inflicted the hardship that the ‘out’ vote is now seen to be reacting against.

Or that the remaining 27 countries have some worryingly right-wing, anti-immigrant fringes. Yet Britain already feels like a smaller, narrower-minded place out of it.

The May government does not help. May reminds me of the Brown Owls who ran town councils in my childhood. Church minded ‘independents who weren’t even Tories because they couldn’t conceive of right thinking people thinking other than they did.

They got things done, but by making complex decisions simple and ordering people about. They even hankered after grammar schools; the inconvenient abolition of which my comprehensive got around by organising its classes into rigid ‘sets’.

Education, travel and hard work were the escape routes; and, unfortunately, they are the things a good chunk of my country has just decided it does not want. Meantime, Labour (and I’m a Labour Party member) has remained missing in action, with Corbyn alternately refighting the 1980s, acquiescing in the Momentum take-over of the party, and buying ex-blankets on Hadrian’s Wall.

And as for the Lib Dems… on the rare occasions they’re seen on in the media, it’s hard not to revive the old Wimbledon call of “come on Tim” [Henman/Farron]. May has now said she will incorporate EU law into English law, so the Tories can abolish the bits they don’t like at their leisure, and then trigger Article 50 by April 2017.

So more or less two years after the May 2015 general election, we will have just two years to leave; and apparently get back to the 1950s. It’s all incredibly depressing. I’m not nearly over the trauma. And we’re all going to need a LOT more gin.



Cassis and raspberry jam

raspberry jam crop

Cassis is the secret ingredient to my raspberry jam: and would could be nicer than to make a batch on a miserable September afternoon, when the canes are dripping with rain?

[Recipe (makes one and a half commercial jars): 1lb fresh raspberries; 0.5lb brown sugar; 0.5lb white caster sugar; 2tbs cassis. Use a jam pan to boil to set point (a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate wrinkles after five or six seconds) and pot up immediately.]

Catching up on some recent (non) developments

My local city has seen two big redevelopments collapse in recent months. The first concerned an area of Winchester called Silverhill, for which there have been planning proposals and counter proposals for years.

The latest set sparked a big protest march [blog post by me] and Tory group rebellion, after the putative developers tried to push through a lot of unwanted shops topped by expensive flats, while removing social housing, a bus station, and features such as the re-opening of the marsh-draining ‘brooks’ that run beneath the area.

For a while, it looked as if the pro-developer stance of the council’s officials, plus a lack of inclination to act by the Lib Dem opposition, would see the development go ahead by default [blog post by me]. Yet in the end, Winchester City Council cabinet decided to terminate its agreement with the developer, on the grounds that it had not started work as planned.

While everybody wondered what would happen next, the council launched another ambitious consultation and architects’ competition for two areas flanking the station. These, it wanted to revamp as a new ‘gateway’ for the city, with a mid size corporate HQ (presumed to be for local employer Denplan), further offices, and supporting services (cafes and sandwich shops).

This sounded like a good idea. One of the two areas, the old cattle market, is a low-level carpark with an ugly ‘villa’ that used to house the Conservative Club in the middle of it. And the other is another carpark, anchored by a rather nice ex-register office ex-pub opposite the station.

Both look ripe for a creative project; and there is a real need for modern offices and serviced meeting spaces in the area, which could also do with convenience stores, cafes and small business to support the existing population and a large number of students due to move into new halls of residence just up the road.

In the event, though, only two architects got as far as drawing up plans, and neither came up with anything very creative. The preferred ‘option b’ for the station approach, for example, was a set of uninspiring blocks, with car parking underneath, tarted up with a few ‘locally inspired features’ (zig zag roofs and bolted on overhangs).

Even the council could see these were not going to be popular, and a full council meeting stopped the project this spring. Again, what is likely to happen next is unclear.

The two failures have caused some debate about what went wrong, with letters to the local paper, the Hampshire Chronicle, tending to blame locals for disliking new ideas or the council for failing to take effective decisions, and architects moaning about the competition set-up.

But the bigger problem seems to be that nobody is quite sure what whole chunks of the city should be for or how to make them ‘future proof’. The plans for Silverhill, for example, were drawn up when ‘re-opening the old street grid’ developments of shops, chain restaurants and flats were in vogue.

Exeter and Bath have made these work; but Winchester isn’t as big a centre, and since these developments went ahead there has been a financial crash, the rise of internet shopping, and Brexit.

Winchester is lucky to have an attractive High Street, filled with mid-to-high-range chains, and flanked by the kind of restaurants, coffee shops, pubs, art shops, and studios that most towns are trying to attract to make themselves into shopping ‘destinations’ as the boring stuff goes online.

Even so there are gaps; while the disliked, 1990s, Brooks Centre podium development gets emptier by the day. So more shops, particularly in a development stripped of social benefit, stopped looking like ‘the answer’ – if they ever were.

At the station, meanwhile, the approach project ran into problems because the council demanded massive amounts of parking – despite the ample opportunities for people to get to the new offices by rail or bus – and paid only lip-service to the need to improve cycling and walking routes into the city proper.

On the ‘green’ front, the offices also ignored climate change. The blocks didn’t so much as nod towards ideas on natural insulation or ventilation, or consider how the mobile revolution might mean that staff may want to get outside, hot desk, or mix home and office working in the future.

At some point, both projects will no doubt be revived; but it seems unlikely they’ll get anywhere until someone comes up with an idea of what a small city like Winchester should be for, how new projects can fit into that, and how developers and councils can work together to fund them.

What the office needs after a bank holiday is buns (cheerful buns)…

Cupcakes for weekend blog post

After an on-again, off-again kind of bank holiday, weather wise, I think the office will need cheering up as we get back to work tomorrow. Hence: cupcakes.

Recipe (for 12 buns): Victoria sponge mix (cream 6oz butter or margarine with 60z caster sugar, beat in three eggs, then fold in 6oz self raising flour, and bake for 20 mins at 180 F). Raspberry jam (4oz raspberries, boiled to set point with 4oz sugar and a slug of lemon juice – or :0) casssis). Vanilla butter cream (1oz margarine or butter, 4oz icing sugar and one teaspoon vanilla essence). Traditional, but fun, in their lollipop coloured cases.