Friday, 30 November 2012

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

I have just stopped work for a quick cup of tea, before settling back down to the rest of my tasks before I can go home this evening. I find a proper pause from work refreshes me no end, and I can zip through the rest of my to-do list.

Whilst I was sipping my tea, I took a look at the BBC news website, and was so horrified by a story I had to pop over here to share my outrage with you!

I cannot for the life of me understand how making processed bread even more processed is good for anyone at all, or how bread can possibly be such a 'problem' that it needs such a 'solution'.

Something I would dearly like to do is to work baking my own bread into my routine, but utnil I have the time to do that, I will continue to do as I do currently - to buy good quality bread, and treat it well. After the first day, I put my bread in the freezer, then defrost individual slices as I need them. I never have stale or mouldy bread as a result.

I whizz the crust-ends to breadcrumbs to use in all manner of dishes. And if I were to find myself with some slices to use up, well there is bread and butter pudding, both savoury and sweet, bread pudding, and apple charlotte, pain perdu (or French toast) and that is just off the top of my head.

I have read several articles which suggest that many people who find themselves intolerant to bread may in fact be intolerant to the pesticides used on the wheat, or find the bread indigestible because of the way it has been processed.

There is not only more nutrition to be found in a loaf of artisan baked-by-hand bread than a white sliced 'stay fresh' supermarket bread, but it will fill you up for longer, and be more sustaining - for body and soul. There is so much more pleasure to be found in good bread.

In percentage terms, good bread may cost quite a bit more in terms of time or money, whichever it is you spend to procure yours. But becuase the sums we are talking about is so small to begin with, it is an investment I hope most of us would try to afford at least once or twice, to taste the difference.

I remember my step-brother expressing surprise at how deliciouss the bread is when he goes to lunch with my Mum - a world away from his 'stayfresh' bread. But that is because it is proper bread.

I remember when I was a little girl, walking down to the bakery with my grandad to buy the bread for lunch. The crust would be almost sharp as it was so crunchy, and the inside so soft doughy, it was almost sweet. Some of the fresh bread smell would transfer to the paper bag we carried it home in, and my hands.

I remember buying the bread at a bakers with my Mum, when I came out of playgroup, standing with my nose pressed to the counter watching it go into the slicing machine. A big long handle with a black knob on the hand would be p-u-l-l-e-d down, and then it would wobble and judder back up as the blades sliced the bread.

I can't imagine having such happy memory associations with a 60-day-fresh loaf of bread.

Incidentally, who needs to keep bread for 60 days anyway? If you ate just one slice a day for toast, you would zip through it much faster, and if you made sandwiches for lunch...

Anyway, that is my gasp of horror over...I just had to share! I feel like I have been on my soapbox a lot this week, with my thoughts on voting and now bread. But it is a lovely feeling to set the world to rights. And now, back to my work, before I can go home.

It is ever so cold out there today, so wherever you are, wrap up warm!

Love Mimi xxx

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Day In London

I have a very exciting weekend away planned for December. We are going to Paris, to the Christmas markets, and I just can't wait. I have been to Paris for a single evening, ten years ago, and Carl has been, but we have never been together. We are going with a group of friends, and our hotel will have a view of the Eiffel Tower!

There was only one small problem - having said we would love to go, I realised that my passport had expired five years ago, just after we got married! When I looked into renewing my passport, I realised that there was only just enough time to do it in the usual fashion, and there was still a chance that it would not come in time. There is a special service you can pay for, where you go up to London to the passport office, and take your forms and documents with you, and they fast-track your application and deliver your passport within a week.

Although it does cost extra to do that, and the cost of the train ticket as well, I decided the peace of mind would be worth it, and made the appointment. Then I decided that if I was going all the way up to London then it was sensible to take myself up early and make the most of it. So, I set off with my envelope of passport documents safely in my handbag, and my new purple snood-scarf wrapped around my neck, and sallied forth into a cold, wet day.

It is very rare that I am in London on my own, so I made my first port of call the book shop at Liverpool Street and bought myself a tiny A-Z of London. Then I caught the underground to Temple station, and got off. The lovely thing about being in London on your own with a whole afternoon to fill is that you can meander off as the mood takes you, so when I spotted some lovely public gardens, I took a stroll through them before heading to my first destination - the Twinings Tea Shop.

If you are ever in London, do pay it a visit. It is the original shop and has been there since 1706. It is on the Strand, and very narrow, but it goes back a long way. They do 'pick and mix' individually wrapped sachets of tea, as well as boxes and all sorts of other lovely tea things. There is a lovely display at the back of old caddies and tins and boxes and labels, and even a tea bar where you can taste some tea.

I took myself off for some lunch, and decided I would walk until I saw somewhere I had never been before. I walked in the direction of St Paul's Cathedral, and popped into a little French place for a Croque Madame and quite the nicest coffee I have ever had. I was then moving onto Soho to visit another tea shop, but stopped in at Waterstones on the way to buy a book in case I had a long wait at the Passport Office. I picked up Angel by Elizabeth Taylor. I have never read her before, but certainly will again. Although it was published by Virago, it has put me in mind that I would like to start a project of reading all the Persephone Books, in the order they have been published. I have already read quite a few, so I suspect there will be a fair few I will be re-reading, but they are so heavenly, I look forward to it.

I discovered The Algerian Coffee Store when I was in London several weeks ago to hear Prue Leith speak. It is like an old fashioned sweet shop, and inside has shelves lined with jar upon jar of coffee beans and tea leaves. The window has tiny saucepans with long handles, for making coffee over a flame, and all sorts of other such things. I went in with a list, as I have decided to make up a tea and coffee hamper for my parents-in-law for Christmas.

I hailed a London Cab for the first time ever, crossed London, and made it to my appointment at the Passport Office. Having concluded my business there, I met my lovely husband from his work, and we enjoyed dinner together before going home. It felt lovely having a day for myself in London, having time to do the little things, look at statues, peep into shop windows, and find my way on my own with my little A-Z.

All in all, it was a lovely day - and now I just have to wait for my passport to arrive! What has worked out very well is that I can use my payment for poll-clerking to put towards my passport, so the extra I had to pay for the special service will be mitigated somewhat!

Have you been abroad lately? Or to London? Where is your favourite place to go?

Love Mimi xxx

A Day's Pause For Thought

Somehow on Thursday it will have been two weeks since I did my day's Poll Clerking duty. I cannot believe how quickly days are slipping away. In many ways it was a lovely day, a day to step outside of ordinary routine, and as I have remarked upon in the past, as you sit there with your ruler and pencil and copy of the electoral role in a little church hall, you really do feel connected to all the people going back generations who have done this before. Technology has moved on in so many ways, but when it comes to voting, nothing changes, which I like. I can imagine in the future text voting or on-line voting, but I hope that is a long way off.

Although, having said that, perhaps more people would vote if it was to be done using modern technology, as they might perceive it as being easier to vote. Not that it is hard at all, but I am surprised so much by how little people know about voting. We had a very low turnout - 10% exactly for my polling station and not much more than that nationally. Ok, we were not electing a new Prime Minister, but there were some candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioner post who hold what I think are really quite dangerous views. The thing is that minority parties like that tend to have a very active and mobile voting support base, and the danger is if that if everyone does nothing, then people who hold views we may find abhorrent could be legitimately elected into power.

I have had some conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances about why they didn't vote, as I am curious, genuinely, why when women died to give us the vote, they would not use their vote. Why in some countries people die for the fight for democracy, why you wouldn't vote. And I came to the conclusion that people just do not know enough about voting in this country. I don't know whose 'fault' that is, but I do know that if we want to see the fabulous turn outs and voting as in America, then we need to change something.

I heard a lot of 'but I didn't have time'. Polling stations are open from 7:00am in the morning until 10:00pm at night, so there is plenty of time to try and fit it into your day. If you are really busy, and it does happen, then you can register for a postal vote, and simply pop the form into the post.

Some people told me that they had not voted as they had lost their polling cards. I can understand that to some extent, but the polling card does have it printed on it that you do not need it to vote; it tells you your polling station and your voter number, but all you really need to know is where you have to vote and on what day.

The saddest thing I heard was too many people telling me they didn't vote because 'they didn't know anything about it'. Not that they didn't know the election was happening, but they had not received printed information through their door about the election and the candidates. Now I can't help but think this would have been useful, but at the same time, so many of us have access to the internet. We do not have printed information put through our doors about the train times, but most of us manage to catch one. We do not have printed information put through our doors with the film times, but we manage to get to the cinema and see the film we want to.

Having said all that, I realise that we all have a lot going on in our lives, that sometimes it just isn't possible to vote. The train that gets in late, the family member who goes into hospital, the day that just goes awry. But we had several frail elderly ladies who turned out despite having hideous heavy colds, because they wanted to exercise their right to vote. I felt proud of them, and proud to be part of the process.

When you are a poll clerk, you have to be at the station for 6:30am to help set it up ready for opening at 7:00am. You do not leave until just after 10:00pm when the station closes, having helped put things away. It is a long day, and there is something rather nice about planning ahead, packing a little basket with things to do when it gets quiet, another basket with food and plenty of tea things for the day. A day so outside of normal routine. And with such a small turnout, it gave me plenty of time to think about Christmas, think about things I want to do next year. Just time to pause, and think, and feel connected to so many generations who have gone before.

If you do one thing as you sip your morning cup of tea today, please decide that next time there is an election, you will vote, if you possibly can.

Love Mimi xxx

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

When I was eighteen, I had long, long hair, almost down to my waist. I have red in my hair, but mainly when the sun shines on it. I remember having about a foot chopped off it once, and spending three hours in the hairdresser getting highlights, only for my boyfriend du jour to enquire if I had been sitting in the sun a lot, because my hair looked a bit lighter.

I have flirted with shorter hair, but never short hair since then. I have had chin length bobs which grew down to shoulder length, and one memorable cut where it flicked out at the bottom, which I never could get another hairdresser to recreate.

And then there was the disastrous spur-of-the-moment trim a few months before I got married, which left me looking like I had been hacked about with shears, was much much shorter than I wanted, and put paid to my long time dream of wearing my hair pinned up with flowers in it on my wedding day.

Since then I have been very wary of hairdressers, and although I have had a few different hairstyles, the emphasis has been on growing it long. A few months ago, I suddenly realised, I have hair that I can class as long again. (I questioned poor Carl from time to time about how he would describe me to the police if he had to!)

I think I was the last one to realise my hair had got long - although several people had commented, I realised that at the back, it is about an inch short of waist length again! I have been worried the last few months that the ends are starting to feel really dry, and was worried about having to get them cut off. So I have interrogated a hairdresser and booked an appointment for a trim in December (my second or third haircut of the year!) and in the meantime was looking for a really good conditioning treatment.

When I was in Boots the other day, I noticed a new haircare stand - Bumble and Bumble on one side, and Ojan, who I had not heard of before on the other size. The products were pricey, but promised to do amazing things to my hair. Happily they had some samples, so I took a sachet of deep conditioning treatment home. At first I thought it was an old sample, as it felt kind of solid in the sachet, but when I read the back it explained that it comes as a solid and you warm it in your hands to turn it to oil. You massage it into dry hair and scalp, wait 20 minutes and wash it out.

The scent is a little unusual, it somehow reminds me of chocolate and cigarettes, but not in a bad way, even though I hate the smell of smoking. It washes right out though, so isn't really a problem. I have to say I was amazed at the difference it has made to my hair with one application. I know nothing can mend split ends but they didn't have that bushy look any more, and my hair was smooth and slippery and bouncy and swishy. I found myself running my hands through it most of the day.

I would love to invest in the full size product, or perhaps some of their serum, but I will have to save up for that. In the meantime, I have a few more sample sachets to use, that the lady running the stand kindly gave me. If you have an outlet near you, I definitely recommend trying it!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Busy Few Weeks

I can't believe we are already getting to the burnt-out-candle ends of November, where all the days seem to smoulder like a candle that has just gone out. The mornings start damp and misty, and never seem to really brighten, before the light dims, and the day fades away.

Somehow time just seems to be racing away. I love these days though, the scent of the leaves which were crisp just a few weeks ago, and now smell slightly sweet as they damped and stick to the floor as though decoupaged. Days like yesterday, where mist hides the top of the buildings, as though the day was pulling a woolly hat down over its ears. Mornings where the cool of the air pinches your cheeks and makes them rosy, even in the five minutes it takes to walk to work.

Days which sadly haven't left much time for blogging, but I have so much to tell you. About my day poll clerking on Thursday, about my trip to London yesterday, to get a passport, the reason I need a passport, all the things I have been busy making and doing.

But that will be for tomorrow. For today I need to go to market and buy the spices for Christmas Pudding Vodka, and wool to knit a tea cosy for a Christmas present.

I just wanted to drop in and say hello, to make sure that you know I have not forgotten here, that all is well, just busy.

But also, to tell you about the newest and most lovely blog, written by one of my closest friends. The lovely Angela, who I have known for ten years now, has started blogging at (if you can't guess from the name of her blog, she loves tea just as much as I do!) So please, pop by and say hello, and take a look at the amazing vintage teacup candles she has been making for our charity afternoon tea next weekend.

Love Mimi xxx

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Happy Halloween

When we were little, living at home, we celebrated Halloween simply. We had stretchy black witches dresses that Mum sewed and seemed to grow with us, and she always did a special tea. In fact, one year, she made it look so gruesome that none of us would eat it! We never went out trick-or-treating as I don't think it was so popular back then, but would have a lovely time at home. Mum had a ceramic cauldron which really was a casserole dish which she would fill with pick and mix size sweeties, and stick plastic bugs to the outside. We always had a carved pumpkin alight as well. In later years, when we were too old to dress up, she always made some kind of Halloween display, and we had the cauldron ready for trick-or-treaters.

A few weeks ago, I was telling her how much I would like to have trick or treaters visit, btu we never do. Our old flat was tucked around a corner, so unless you knew it was there, you would never find it. Our new flat is upstairs and you have to buzz to get entry, which I suspect is offputting to trick or treaters. So, Mum said, why didn't I go to hers this year? I don't know why I haven't thought of it sooner, as I did, and it was the most lovely day I have had in a long time.

I spent the morning with one of the girls I used to work with in my little library on the hill. We haven't seen each other for ages, so it was really good to catch up. We drank several pots of tea, and watched the sky become sharp with sunlight and then cloud over, the wind whipping dried leaves and branches against the windowpane. From there I met Mum from her work, as she was on a half day, and we shared a pot of tea in the most delightful teashop, Truly Scrumptious. It is the kind of teashop with flowery tablecloths and mismatched vintage china - in other words, the best kind! Upstairs they had rooms full of vintage clothes and china and all sorts of vintage bric-a-brac for sale, and we had a lovely time browsing.

On the way home, we stopped to buy a large tub of marshmallows for the trick-or-treaters. Our plan was to make up little tissue paper pouches of sweets. We had to form a little production line in the end. Mum cut squares of orange, black, and orange-with-black-spider tissue paper, and I filled them with a few wrapped sweeties and a pair of marshmallows, then Dad cut a length of raffia for me to tie them with. We made lots, and filled a little wicker basket with them.

I loved how Mum had decorated the front porch for the evening - there was a Halloween wreath on the door, a pile of pumpkins (not carved, just heaped in the corner, looking beautiful) and a spiders web with a glowing spider in it. In the window burnt the carved pumpkin. It looked very Country Living. I was so excited when we had the first knock on the door! We had so many trick-or-treaterss that we ran out of pouches and had to make more, twice!

I have to say that I know a lot of people don't like trick-or-treat and think the children are all rude and horrible and will throw eggs everywhere...but my experience couldn't be more different. Our youngest visitor was a four month old baby called Grace dressed as a pumpkin in her mother's arms, visiting with her big sister, and our oldest were some teenage witches. Without exception they had all made the effort to dress up beautifully, they all said thank you, they all said halloween, and were perfectly delightful. There was no silly string, no eggs, no toilet paper, just fun. Their eyes were so wide when we offered them the basket of tissue paper bundles, and it was so nice to see something so simple bringing so much pleasure.

Mum cooked a delicious chicken casserole for dinner. I really miss her cooking, living away from home. She is very kind with sharing her recipes, but there is definitely something special about your Mum's cooking.

Carl came over after he had finished work, and knocked on the door with a 'trick or treat' as I had promised him some sweeties if he did! I hope that your Halloween was as lovely as mine.

Love Mimi xxx