Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My Favourite Finds v18

Not done one of these for a while! Not that I've been unable to find things - I've been to Camden's charity shops and have a few purchases lined up for when I get time and weather for photos - I don't have time to stand around taking pictures of myself anymore and even if I did it's been too cold for outdoor pictures! But photographing shoes is easy and these are lovely. I've been looking for a pair of sensible lace up shoes for a while. These are so comfy, even with my wide, buniony feet, and I could not resist! They're from Clarks, so really well made, too!


Clarks shoes, RSPCA shop, £7

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Saturday, 25 February 2012

Breakfast on the Go

I travel to and from London a lot and it's nice to have a proper breakfast but sometimes I am in a rush, and I hate buying things at the station - so expensive! So, I've started bringing a 'breakfast jar' filled with something healthy and tasty, made up the night before.

Yesterday morning's breakfast on the train:


greek yoghurt
banana slices


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Friday, 24 February 2012

River Cam - Gold Licences

When I posted about the licence fee changes coming to the Cam I suggested that Gold licence holders would probably have to pay additionally to visit the Cam, but I wanted to confirm this with the Conservancy.

Well, it seems that they will indeed be doing that, but not until 2013. So this year, your Gold licence will still be valid to visit the Cam. (see the Press Release). Hope to see some of you visiting before the additional fee comes in next year!

This issue is also featured on p92 of this month's edition of Towpath Talk, along with links to us, Pippin and Valerie!

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Thursday, 23 February 2012

London Adventure 2

Some more photos from our trip to London last week. It was a distinctly river themed day - we started with a wander round Shoreditch then headed London Bridge and walked along to the Design Musuem at Shad Thames, stopping to look at the moorings there on the way - they even have a bike barge! Then it was down to Greenwich for a picnic in the park. We took a Thames Clipper back, picking it up opposite Poplar Rowing Club (now there's a bunch of loonies, rowing on the Tidal Thames, out where the Clippers go so fast!). 

A great day out!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Cooking on the Solid Fuel Stove

One of the great things about living afloat is that most boats have a built-in slow cooker in the form of a solid (or diesel) fuelled stove. During the winter, if you want to stay warm, and you don't have central heating then it's pretty much on all the time so you can always slow cook soups, stews and casseroles when it's cold. 

I don't use this method of cooking often enough but when I do get around to planning a meal in advance, it's great. The other day I cooked a clootie dumpling on the stove, and at the weekend my friend was visiting in the evening so I had the afternoon to leave a stew cooking. 

At lunch time, I went out and bought the ingredients. I went to A Waller & Son, butchers on Victoria avenue for some beef skirt (perfect for casseroles and stews) and then to the Radmore Farm shop on Chesterton Road for the veg. Both shops are no more than 5 minutes from home - we consider ourselves very lucky to have such great local shops close by. 

beef skirt/stewing steak
red onion
butternut squash
beef stock
red wine
tomato puree
lemon zest

Fry the onions in a big pan, then add the beef to seal the meat. Fill pan with chopped veg then add stock, tomato puree and wine (I'm not giving quantities here because it depends on the size of the pan but I used roughly 1 part wine to 4 parts stock). Add a sprig of rosemary, put the lid on and leave on the top of a ticking over stove for 6 hours. Or use a slow cooker if you're not lucky enough to live afloat! When ready to serve add lemon zest, and more chopped fresh rosemary.

It was very nice - the meat was all soft and fell apart easily. We ate it washed down with cider from the big jar of Weston's Old Rosie that our friend brought over. Dangerous stuff at 7.5%, but very tasty!

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Sunday, 19 February 2012

London Adventure 1

James recently finished his first long school placement (he now has a few weeks back in lectures until the final one) and I finished writing a paper, so we decided to celebrate by staying over in London and having a day out together.

I was at UCL working until 5, when James took the train down to London. We dropped our things off at our hotel in Liverpool Street - we stayed at a great hotel, part of the expanding Tune chain. Their business plan is a really good quality, clean, compact room with no frills - so you don't pay for TV, wifi, soap, towels etc unless you want to. This means that you can stay in a stylish central London hotel for the price of a scruffy B&B.  Book in advance and you can stay for as little as £40 for a double room.

So, once we had checked in and dropped off the bags, we were free to wander about London and explore the East End to our heart's content. First, we stopped off in Brick Lane for a cheap and cheerful curry then wandered south towards the river. We emerged from residential Wapping onto the river just near the Hermitage moorings downstream of Tower Bridge. We sat on a bench just there for a while, dreaming of one day owning a historic sea-going barge, and how lovely it would be to moor on the Thames. They even get a residential address - 16 Wapping High Street! They sometime hold open days there, which might be interesting to visit. 

Next stop, a few minutes down the Thames Path, at Fish Wharf, are the stone benches designed by my friend Priscilla. We always stop there if we are in the area. Three years after their unveiling they still look wonderful, a tribute both to her design and the work of the apprentice stonemasons who made them. I had also been reading the book James bought me for Valentine's Day: Just My Type, about fonts, so I was on a bit of a font-hunt. Having learned that the City of London uses Albertus on all its signs I set out to photograph one.

Then we headed into central London to wander around Theatreland and Soho. We stopped to look in the window of Arthur Beale's incongruous chandlery on Shaftsbury Avenue, mostly frequented by those looking for ropes to use in theatre sets. We stopped to get some treats in Patisserie Valerie - an eclair for James and a cup of mandarin sorbet for me. After that, our feet were tired so it was back to the hotel to get some rest ready for another day of exploration.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Lyra Loves...

Something to make you smile today, no sappy hearts to be found here! 
Lyra eating spinach: one of her favourite foods.

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Monday, 13 February 2012


On Sunday, we decided to forgo a trip to the waterpoint, but our new neighbours on nb Silicis had to make the trip down there. Being the helpful sort that he is, James offered to go along and help them break the ice and moor up when they got there. They were the first boat to break through the ice and it made a fantastic sound! 

This photo pretty much sums up the rowing options over the last few days!

In the evening as temperatures dropped again, we were cosy indoors with pie and mash and Hustle on iPlayer.

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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Locked in the Ice

It's rare for the Cam to freeze over completely and even when it does, the flow keeps it from getting thick enough to remain throughout the day. But last night, temperatures in Cambridge dropped to -13.8 degrees below freezing and the river was properly frozen over, not just a little skim of ice but centimeters thick (for canal dwellers that probably sounds thin, but for us river dwellers, it's rare to see it this thick!). At 11am it was still bank to bank and not showing signs of melting!

The chunks on the surface are from some of the Blues rowers who were breaking up the chunks at the edge, and skimming them across the surface. the sound of the ice breaking, skimming over the surface and hitting the opposite bank (or boats) was so noisy! I don't think they realised that the noise traveled so well through the ice and to the hulls of the boats!

This morning, James went off to coach an erg session, leaving me snuggled up in bed with Lyra. He stopped back afterwards to pick up a hat and them went to help (big) James with some gardening. On the way out (I didn't realise at the time) but he locked me in! So I had to ring around my boater friends to find someone who was about and close enough to come and let me out - we have a combination padlock. Thankfully Charlotte on Felicity was close by and unlocked the door for me!

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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Snow Fun

Cambridge has been looking especially beautiful in the snow, and Midsummer Common has been a Mecca for snowman building fun. On Sunday evening we went to the waterpoint (it was getting a bit urgent!) and it was suprisingly not a problem at all. The snow was fluffy and sticky rather than slippery, but I did clear it off the steps as best I could to avoid them becoming dangerous.

But the cold weather has also brought more sadness, with another body being found in the river today, this time a woman.

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Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Off Grid Baking: Bakewell Tart

Visiting Sarah and Jim in their new floating home at the weekend, I simply had to make them a Bakewell Tart as a present. I suppose I could have made a Bakewell Pudding, the original dessert to come from the Derbyshire town, but I had memories of my mum making wonderful bakewell tarts and so decided to have a go. Sarah took a much better picture of it than me:

However, I am not the world's biggest fan of almonds, so I wanted to try something a little different, based on a recipe I saw on the TV show Jamie Oliver's Great Britain. He used ground hazelnuts and walnuts instead of almonds and cranberries instead of jam, finishing it off with a St Clement's (orange and lemon) icing. 

This is my version:

Shortcrust pastry -enough to line a 10-12' dish (the dish I used was smaller so I had some filling left over and made a 'spare' one!)

For the frangipane filling:
200g butter
200g nuts (I used a mixture of hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts)
250g caster sugar
zest of one lemon and one orange
3 eggs
60g plain flour

Bake the pastry case blind for about 15mins at gas mark 4

While that's cooking, if the nuts are not already powdered, grind them up. I found this particularly difficult with only my little hand blender, but it would be simple with an electric mixer!

Cream together the butter and sugar, add the zest, nuts, flour and eggs and stir well.

Once the pastry case is done, remove and spread the bottom with your favourite jam. I used the crab apple jam I made last September (remind me to blog about that!). Fill the case up with the frangipane, layered over the jam. 

Cook at gas mark 4 for 45-50 minutes.

While it's baking, make the St. Clements icing: mix icing sugar into the juice of the orange and the lemon you used for zest, until it's nicely thickened but still very pourable. Serve drizzled over slices of the tart.

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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Breaking Point

So after a lovely day out yesterday, we had a bit of a dreadful journey home. We had three connecting trains to catch, and the first two, Penkridge-Stafford and Stafford-Nuneaton went by with only slight delays, but as we had an hour to wait for our connection from Nuneaton to Cambridge a 15 minute delay wasn't a problem. So we decided to venture out and get something to eat in Nuneaton. The only place open on a Sunday night was a fried chicken and kebab shop, so we got some chips and some chicken wings. They were really quite nasty, and I only ate one! But our train was due to arrive in Cambridge at just gone 10pm, so I thought I'd stop at the Tesco which closes at 11 on the way home. 

Out Cross Country train to Cambridge departed Nuneaton 15 minutes late, and all seemed fine until we got to somewhere just beyond Stamford. The train stopped, and for 15 minutes there was no explanation of why. Then there was an announcement to say that there was a points failure ahead and we needed to wait until that was fixed. 25 minutes after we stopped, we were thankfully on the move again. However, outside March there were more problems, this time with the signalling. Slowly we trundled on, and had another explained wait just outside Ely. I expect there were also points problems there but we made it through. By the time we approached Cambridge the train was about an hour and a half behind schedule. We were almost with sight of the station (about half a mile away I think) when the train stopped again. Another points failure was announced, and we waited half an hour while it was fixed, within walking distance of home. By this time were were really hungry and also the toilets on the train were in such an appalling state that they were not fit to use. 

Finally, at midnight, nearly two hours late, the train arrived in Cambridge. A long queue of people waited at an empty taxi rank. Some of them had missed their last connection home and were facing even worse problems than us. At least we were just a walk away from warmth and bed! We walked home though the deep snow via a garage to get some much needed food and actually rather enjoyed it. People were out in the streets enjoying themselves and making snowmen, even at gone midnight and there was a party atmosphere. We collapsed into bed at 1am!

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Saturday, 4 February 2012

Chertsey and Bakewell

Today, we had the great pleasure of visiting Sarah and Jim, who now live on the Grand Union pair Chertsey and Bakewell near Stretton. We took a train from Cambridge at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning, arriving at Penkridge where Jim picked us up. We admired Chertsey's paintwork and cloths which we had not yet seen except in photos, before heading in for a cup of tea and to warm up inside. It was lovely to see them, and their new home, Bakewell, is just wonderful! The deep hold and wide shape of the butty make it perfect for a spacious home. I had made a Bakewell Tart (recipe coming up soon) and was surprised to learn that we were the first to bring such an obvious gift!
After a catch up, and having met the lovable Willow, their friendly cat, and scourge of the local rodent population, we headed out for a wander around the boatyard, which has quite a collection of historic boats, in various states of repair. We were particularly taken with Hampstead, as was Willow, who climbed in to visit it with us, even though it is out of the water! 

The famous Phyllis May of Narrow Dog fame, sadly gutted by fire.

Lunch was in a nice local pub, the Bridge in Brewood, and was quite delicious. While we were there it began to snow quite heavily, and by the time we returned to the boats, it was falling thick and fast! It was quite a lovely scene. Lots of the other boats at the yard are historic too, and became even more picturesque when covered in snow. 

By the time we reluctantly headed out, back to the station, we were beginning to wonder if the roads would still be OK. As we left, a very damp Willow rushed back into Bakewell. Later, we heard from Sarah that he'd been for an inadvertent swim in the icy cut! But he was fine, after a rub down with a towel in front of the stove. What a day to fall in for the first time!

Now we're on the train, heading home.  A wonderful day out! Thanks for having us! Sarah has also blogged about our visit.

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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Off-grid Baking: Clootie Dumpling

So, last week, for Burns Night, we spent the evening with some friends, and I decided that since the haggis was being provided, I should bring something homemade to share. I had heard about clootie dumplings, a type of steamed Scottish pudding (clootie means cloth). The dumpling is wrapped in cloth, tied with a string and submerged in boiling water) I thought that it would be fun to try and make one, and leave it to simmer on the solid fuel stove. 
I adapted a recipe from here, and it was surprisingly quite simple to make. The biggest challenge was finding something to fit in the bottom of my biggest saucepan for the dumpling to sit on while it simmered and leave space for the lid to still fit on! I left it on the Squirrel stove for most of three hours then finished it off with another hour on the gas hob. I don't think the water got quite hot enough on the Squirrel to cook it through. Served with clotted cream and a glass of whisky it was rather good, I thought.

Image from Good Food


225g (8oz) plain flour, plus 25g (1oz) for sprinkling
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
175g/6oz caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
100g/4oz shredded suet
350g/10oz dried fruit
1 apple coarsely grated (actually I used a pear)
1 tbsp golden syrup or treacle
1 medium farm-fresh egg
150ml/5fl oz milk


  1. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar, suet, dried fruit, and the grated  apple.
  2. Mix the syrup with the egg and some of the buttermilk and mix into the dry ingredients to give soft mixture with a cake-like dropping consistency.
  3. Dip a large piece of muslin, an old pillowcase, a pudding cloth or a tea towel into boiling water, remove it and squeeze out the excess water. Lay it out on a surface and sprinkle a 30cm/12in circle in the centre with the 25g/1oz of flour and the 1 tbsp of caster sugar. Spoon pudding mixture on top and tie securely with string, leaving a little room for the pudding to expand.
  4. Rest a large heatproof trivet or container in the base of a large pan so that the pudding is not in direct contact with the heat. Place the pudding on the trivet/container, knotted side up. Pour in enough water almost to cover the pudding, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer gently for 3-4 hours. Take a peek every now and then and then to check the water level and top it up if necessary.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Lift the pudding out of the pan and dip it briefly in a bowl of cold water (to ensure that the outside of the pudding does not stick to an ovenproof serving plate). Then remove remove the cloth and place the pudding on an ovenproof dish/plate. Slide it into the oven and leave it for 15 minutes until the outside of the pudding has dried off.

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