A ‘Two Imposters’ Sort Of Day

I left you positively hungering for news. Here you go.

(You must excuse the many photos; I am mildly stymied by the paucity of permitted subject matter.)

Mum’s Dahlias earned a creditable third in a large class.

mums dahlias

My Christmas… thing… also made it to third, but against weaker competition.

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My bottle bag came second, which puzzled me. I thought the judge would either love it to leopardskin-bits or abhor it utterly. For what it’s worth, it was an absolutely functional bag, although I had stitched it together a tad too tightly, so insertion of bottle was disturbingly akin to reverse midwifery; the bra straps were Actual Working Handles, after a fashion. (Pun alert! Do I need to highlight puns? I’m not sure who I’m writing to anymore. I am bad at deliberate puns, btw. Mine are mostly accidental. I am capable, like Edmund Bertram, of blundering on the borders of a repartee for half an hour together without striking it out.)

bottle bag

My jelly – batch number bloody seven, remember: the comically puny result of untold hours of work, and shocking amounts of wasted fruit – stormed in at first place. Small, but mighty. *crows immodestly*

jelly 1st

My faith in the intrinsic justice of the universe was naturally instantly restored, although honesty compels me to add that, when I finally examined the jar for myself, I thought it a tiny tad over-set.

Everything else I entered came no-where; with the sole exception of the brownies – which tasted simply bloody divine – I thought deservedly so, as they met stiff competition. A 1st, 2nd and 3rd was, although satisfactory, nowhere near putting me in amongst the silverware. I had failed, damnit.

However! Harry had cruised to victory in both of his classes.

sock puppet

I was too excited to take a close-up of the hedgehog avec certificate – also, most of his bristles had fallen brittle victims to a day of small-fingered inquisitiveness by pick-up time.

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We didn’t mind. Because (the movie of this post would feature a suspense-crescendo on the score just around… here), unbeknownst to me, there was a trophy for most points scored in the children’s section.

So! Last, littlest, but not, to my mind, least, Harry intrepidly beetled up to be presented with his silverware from *ta-dah* The Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne.

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Harry & PA

I’m not sure Presentation quite covers it, because what he ACTUALLY did was reach out very promptly on arrival and make a determined effort to pluck it neatly from her mildly startled hands – but the ensuing hilarity was entirely good natured.

Harry & Princess Anne

I briefly debated telling her that we HAD considered encouraging Harry to attempt a badger wearing a gas mask instead of a hedgehog, but discretion triumphed. And I’m fairly sure she’d’ve felt unauthorised to find it funny in public, although the midst of an Agricultural Society gathering was surely the place, if any. (If none of this makes sense to you… never mind. Rural joke. Pass on by.)

I have dutifully stumped up the £16 to have the blingy thing engraved. It’s never been won twice, I note, so we will give it another bash next year, although the 2015 dignitary is almost certain to be less exalted and hence have a tough gig; it’s taken the secretary over 20 years of trying in order to bag a Royal. I am quietly thrilled to bits that Harry won THIS year, naturally.

All in all: a good day. I like those.

Notes from a Crowded Kitchen

A word in your ear: try not to be Spectrummy over Preserves. You know, if you possibly can. By Wednesday morning, with a busy day of baking ahead, I had gone through six batches of fruit-simmering-and-straining-and-boiling, and still had nothing I didn’t think would embarrass me. So, having stripped the hedgerows within 100 yards of my house, I was forced to walk – uphill! – an entire 5 minutes to Blackberry Eldorado. When I got there, given that the weather was perfect, the view was magnificent, and I was clearly going to be spending the remainder of the day like a demented Bumblebee with too many flowers to visit, I decided it was worth the time. And worth the walk. The uphill walk. (Note to self: go to the bloody gym.)

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The inevitable thorn-woundings to my hands made the prospect of the lemon-squeezings scheduled later in the day more exciting (but I got off with less skin marmalisation than during batch 6, when I was collecting a pitiful few blackberries from my garden hedge at 10pm, clutching a million-watt torch and an earwig-collecting tub under one arm and ineffectually fending off menacing snaggle-toothed tentacle-fronds with the other). I collected half a kilo of blackberries, and returned to the house, with a To-Do list in the 20-somethings.

By 11am I had lemon drizzle cake, pate sucree for treacle tart, and chocolate brownies on the go. Simultaneously. Which went as well as spreading your attention load too thinly usually does.

The pate sucree was terribly overdone, and I put entirely too much lemon in the treacle, with the natural end result of Brown Lemony Stodge, of a solidity to fell armies at the knee, wielded correctly. Quelle horreur, etc.

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The Chocolate Brownies tasted fab, (I used Betty’s suggested recipe, thank you!) but I overdid them very slightly – and had lined the correct-flat-dimensions-but-far-too-deep cake tin thoughtlessly, so I half-destroyed them lifting them out. The Lemon drizzle went well to begin with; I took it out of the oven at exactly the right moment, and crowed gleefully that This One Looked A Winner. I turned my attention to other things for 30 minutes – at which point I remembered I had completely forgotten to actually drizzle the bloody thing with lemon juice. Gah! I attempted to belatedly drown the thing, but it was stubborn, and having none of it.

Home-made Christmas decorations: I had bought some small glass bottles, and tinkered about with A) glass paint, B) printing little Bethlehem maps & camels for a sand-with-stuff-in bottle, and C) shoving sugar crystals around a fir tree sprig. I sieved some of the cleaner-looking sand from Harry’s playpit, both for the map bottle, and to weight the tin down. Ivy branches – which I successfully used as an entire Christmas Tree substitute at home last year

tree

– provided Green Stuff.

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I lectured myself firmly, around about teatime, to be relaxed, non-finickety and, above all, rapid constructing the Pew End. Harry and I spent several tense minutes measuring it: I had a dark suspicion that, when they stated 18 inches, they MEANT 18 inches; not 19, which mine seemed to want to end up at. I was reasonably pleased with it in the end, although the only close-up I have is before I’d finished being finickety and shifting it all about, which was… well, it was dark by then.

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Darkness is evidently when my Inner Preserve Monster comes out to play. I boiled up the mighty 500ml of liquid that had emerged, sulkily, over the course of the day from an entire kilo of berries (500g of blackberries and 500g of assorted strawberries, raspberries and blueberries) with some jam sugar and stood over it like a neurotic hawk. Tutored somewhat by the many, many things that had gone wrong previously (7th batch, remember), I managed to withdraw it from the heat and insert it into a jar – a bloody small jar, with not much left over – around 11pm.

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I had drawn a cow the previous evening. I should say, in truth, copied a cow. I simply trawled the net until I found a painting I liked the look of:

Hereford 12x12 811

and then tried to reproduce it in pencil.

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You will be happy to hear that this attempt at abject cheating was doomed to failure, as it turned out I had read the schedule a little too literally, and had not understood that this was a children’s class. This saved me from mild embarrassment, as the other entries were all from budding Michaelangelos.

I interpreted ‘animal’ photograph loosely.

monkey

Harry had, unenthusiastically to begin with, then with increased gusto, set about decorating a cupcake after tea. I over-ruled all the skittery ideas he had (I am THAT type of parent. You may judge me) and instructed him exactly what to make, and how to go about it. I then pretty much stood back while he got on with it. Nothing caught on fire during this activity, which was reassuring, despite him wielding the garlic press with wild abandon.

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So! By midnight, I had assembled:

  • 1 overdone, stodgy treacle tart
  • 5 delicious but cosmetically impaired chocolate brownies
  • 1 lemon drizzle, effectively, sans the drizzle.
  • 1 sock puppet giraffe
  • 1 hedgehog cupcake: fragile, and a bugger to transport
  • 1 bottle bag, ditto
  • 1 Christmas Decoration, ditto
  • 1 pew end flower arrangement, ditto
  • 1 13 inch runner bean
  • 1 jar of egg plum jam
  • 1 jar of chutney
  • 1 jar of lemon & lime marmalade
  • 1 jar – small – of berry jelly
  • 1 bottle (small) of raspberry and vanilla vodka
  • 1 drawing, cribbed, of a cow
  • 1 photograph of a monkey

In addition to this, I collected 5 white dahlias, a rose, and a pot plant from my parents at sparrowfart the following morning, before returning home, loading up the car, and driving – carefully – down the road, and – worriedly – across a field. Staging this bloody lot took some time, which was mildly stressful, as I had a major SEN meeting at school scheduled for 11.15.

And… the standard. Has improved. It appears this is the show to enter, these days, if you want the prestige. I was a little taken aback at the sheer size of some of the classes, blithely assuming it would be me, three of my friends, and a handful of the local WI, contributing entries.

My preserves were lost in what seemed like a monstrous assembly of jars.

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I shuffled my tart surreptitiously into the midst of lovely-looking pastries, safe in the knowledge that only the names of the winners are revealed, and that my contributing link to the item in question was thus altogether undiscoverable if only I could bribe John to stay schtum.

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I was expecting my interpretation of ‘decorated bottle bag’ to be a little out of left field, and so it proved.

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Ditto the Christmas Decoration.

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Monkey was clearly outclassed by many, although I felt he was an improvement on some.

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My runner bean – far left – had immediate, and expected, inferiority issues.

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My sole ambition with the pew end had been to appear broadly within my depth alongside the competition. Mine is far left, at the top. I was aching to whip a tape measure out on a couple of ’em, as mine was 17.5 inches precisely, but… no, Ann. No.

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The children’s entries were fabulous, although I thought his giraffe stood a fairish chance

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cupcakes

And… I am fed up with uploading photos.

I will leave you, pro tem, to wonder how we got on.

Try not to let the edge of your chair dig in too much.

*insert customary foot-shufflings over prolonged absence here*

Blogging. Difficult to perform with a reluctant-to-be-named-in-print husband. Not rendered any easier by a child (Seven. SEVEN, FFS!)

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who, not merely content with acquiring reading skills, is also pathologically inquisitive (a result of Aspergers-meets-genetics perfect storm) and was recently heard to enquire ‘what’s a blog?’

He has also taken to reading my Facebook posts, and, like his father, having OPINIONS on them.

So. When Subj. to be trodden around carefully include, for everyone’s sanity, family, work, politics, and religion, all I am left with is cake. Lovely caaaaaaaake.

I thought I would share with you my determined attempts this week, to get in amongst the silverware at our tiny local agricultural society show on Thursday. I have shared this event with you before, notably 2011, the year I cruised to exultant victory, winning the Novice Victoria Sponge class. (NB: Novice: never won 1st before.) That year, I received a certificate, £5 prize money, and the Society’s congratulations. This year… THIS year… they have instituted a perpetual trophy for the class, as well as importing Princess Anne from the Cotswolds in order to distribute the silverware.

I could cope with missing out on either the silverware OR the royal handshake, but I am, frankly, cheesed-off at missing out on both.

No trophy for Ann this year! But…

No.

There is another.

Presented to the competitor gaining the most points in all sections.

Schedule

It’s ON. I have entered 14 of the 28 adult classes, costing me a mighty £7. I fought desperately with my conscience about the possibility of ravaging my parents’ garden – who are away, and thence can do nooothing to stop me wielding the secateurs indiscriminately – and thereby entering a further 3 flower classes too, but I have restrained myself. I have still entered the classes, mind you, but on my mother’s behalf. She steps off the red-eye from New York at 7am Thursday morning, so I expect she’ll thank me for sorting the paperwork out for her, ready for her to gallop cheerfully outside and start slicing stems and cleaning vases.

I have stepped outside my comfort zone in terms of scope and scheduling here. Plus I have a slightly buggered, recently-out-of-serious-spasm back, which isn’t helping. I am always short of time; I am chaotic, ludicrously distractible, and generally over-committed. I am also taking part in classes I would not normally attempt. There is only one cake class – lemon drizzle – and further classes for chocolate brownies and treacle tart. Lemon drizzle is not a speciality of mine, although I have turned out many edible ones. Treacle tart I stand a chance with… providing my pastry goes ok. Brownies… well. I just don’t make ’em. I don’t know why: I’m always quite keen to get outside them; but the point here is that I lack experience and confidence making them. If you have a killer recipe, don’t keep the links to yourself; my confidence levels are already running low following a recent attempt to make gluten-free ones ahead of a visit from May. Unhappily, I had left it a bit late, and, upon realising that I had 40 minutes before needing to leave to meet her train, fully 15 of which would be required for baking, I moved up into a mental gear entirely unsuitable for reading internet recipes printed off in – I kid you not – 2 point font; as a result, I omitted the 5oz of butter.

We went to Waitrose on the way home.

I have already potted up chutney, jam and marmalade. I am on my 4th batch… and 7th boiling… of jelly, with nothing so far I can enter. The hedgerows by my house have been thoroughly denuded for Project Jelly: in vain. The Preserving Mojo: I have it not. I feel this to be a significant lack in a farmer’s spouse. But I DO have a tiny bottle of raspberry and vanilla vodka left over from Christmas: a happy oversight, as I siphoned up all the rest of it.

Flower arranging is something I have come to late in life, and I Faff For Bloody Hours Over It. I am currently allocated, on high days and holidays, the tiiiiny windows opposite the altar in our local church. In order to progress down the aisle to a Visible Opportunity, I must wait for one of the current window incumbents to die… whereupon, we will all move down one.

The bottle bag I have completed,

bottle bag

concurrently with barking gluing instructions to Harry over his sock puppet.

sock puppet copy

(*weeps for loss of two perfectly nice socks*) I was obliged to take over some of Harry’s gluing when A) it became apparent that Proper Superglue was required in places and B) the superglue reacted with either sock or pipe-cleaner – and caught slightly on fire. Which was… unexpected.

I have bought little glass bottles to do Something Festive with, horribly out of season. I have a plan. What I do not have is time.

I am about to Draw A Cow before I go to work at 12. I have drawn cows before, very badly. I am the only member of my family on my Dad’s side who cannot pick up a pencil and do impressive things. Having a 60 minute time window is unlikely to improve on my previous efforts, so I will be broadly content with anything recognisably bovine.

I will take a photo of an animal at some point this week. Whichever cow, sheep, dog or tortoise will agree to stand still long enough gets the gig.

So. Further updates will primarily be pictorial, and hurried. I am typing this in Word, and am about to attempt to not only remember my wordpress login, but also how to work the bloody thing.

I am feeling rusty in many areas, including the vertebrae.

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