Monday, 21 February 2011

Please help...

Hello! Hope you're well?

This is just a quick message to ask for your help. You may have heard on the news that the government is thinking about closing some regional children's cardiac surgery units. One of them is based at Leeds General Infirmary and serves Yorkshire, Humberside and the North Midlands. As a GUCH (grown up congenital heart) patient this centre is very close to my heart (no pun intended) and I would hate to see it close, as would thousands of other people in the area.

I appreciate that other units are facing closure, and you may have one near you which you are fighting to keep open - we're all in the same boat really, and none of us want to lose such a valuable service.

But if you could just take a moment to read this and this, and then sign the petition, it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you

Sunday, 20 February 2011

It's Shortbread, Jim, But Not As We Know It...

So I was having a cup of coffee earlier and thinking, "I could just do with a nice bun or biscuit to eat with this", but we didn't have anything like that in the house. "I wonder if I could rustle something up?" I thought, so I started looking through my recipe books. Most of what I saw, we didn't have all the ingredients for, and I'm afraid I'm too lazy to go shopping for them just for the sake of a bit of baking. But then I found a recipe for Shortbread, and we had all the ingredients (all three of them) so I thought I'd have a go.

I've never made shortbread before. I measured everything properly, and followed the recipe, but I'm still not sure if I was doing it right, because when it said 'roll it out into a 7inch circle', well, there was no way it was going to roll out without breaking up. I know shortbread has a crumbly consistency though, so I kind of thought I must be still on the right track. In the end, I broke it into small balls and flattened them into little rounds, and then had a go at rolling out what was left, which was only semi-successful. After about 40 minutes in the oven, I tested one of the little ones (well, you've got to haven't you?) and although it was still very warm, the texture seemed to be just right, so out it all came to be sprinkled with caster sugar and then cool:


Not the perfectly round circle that I was aiming for, but I will say, the one I tried tasted yummy, so appearance be damned! There's nothing wrong with 'rustic'!!

If you're interested, the recipe was from a little book called '101 Cakes & Bakes' from Good Food Magazine, published by BBC books.

150g/6oz plain flour
100g/4oz slightly salted butter, cut into pieces and softened
50g/2oz golden caster sugar
caster sugar, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 150°C/Gas 2/fan 130°C. Put the flour in a mixing bowl, add the butter and rub together to make fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar.
2. Work the mixture together until it forms a ball. Turn out on to a work surface and knead briefly until smooth. Roll and pat out on a very lightly floured surface to an 18cm/7in round. Smooth the surface with your hands. Carefully slide the dough on to an ungreased baking sheet and flute the edges. Mark the circle into eight triangles with a knife, not cutting all the way through. Prick the surface all over with a fork.
3. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until cooked. The shortbread should be very pale. While still warm, cut through the markings and sprinkle with caster sugar. Cool before eating.

I hope I'm not breaching any copyright by posting that. I don't know if there are different ways of making shortbread, but if you have an alternative recipe, feel free to share it in the comments!

The annoying thing now is that I want to try another one, but CJ is out and I should really wait until he gets back so that we can have one each! Hurry up CJ!!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Not Again...

So, this is what we woke up to today:

and this:
 and this:
 and a bit more of this:

Lovely. Not. Have I mentioned that I'm fed up with winter now?? 'Cause I am.

It was possibly made more annoying by the fact that I had to go out in it. To the hairdressers, of all places. I still go to the same one that I used to go to when I lived at my parent's house, so it's not as if it's just down the street, it's about 15 miles away. I know that's nothing really, but you never know how much chaos a bit of snow is going to cause. I actually don't mind driving in it to be honest; in fact, I prefer driving to walking! I suppose snow makes a change though, because usually when you go to the hairdressers it's windy and rainy, isn't it?

I have long (middle of my back) brown hair, which is naturally curly, but which I straighten most days (thank god for GHD's!). I usually have highlights, but I've had a break for several months to try and let my last colour grow out, although I think it still had a few more inches to go. Anyway, I decided I'd go back to highlights again, and this is the result:

No it's not Cousin It from the Addam's Family, it's just me trying not to show my face! Not a great picture, hopefully it looks better than this really! I've just taken it this evening on my mobile, in the kitchen cos that's the brightest light! Basically, it's a mix of a quite vibrant coppery-red, violet and blonde. I'm happy with it anyway - the last few times I've been to the hairdressers, it hardly looked like I'd had anything done - at least I can see it this time!

I had another play with my macro extensions this morning, braving the snow (!) to try and get a few pics, but I didn't like my camera getting wet, so I wasn't out in it long:

And a couple more from inside - the leaf of a physalis plant that CJ has got on the kitchen windowsill:

and an apple, just because it was there:

Well, it's late and I need all the beauty sleep I can get! Bye for now!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Normal Service Has Resumed...

Wow, two weeks since my last post! I was on annual leave that day, and I'm on annual leave again today, which is why I finally feel like I've got time to blog again.

Anyway, I hope you are well. I'll be honest, I've had a strange couple of weeks. I still haven't shaken off the after-effects of my cold yet; still lots of nose-blowing and coughing which is really getting me down. I'm wondering when I'm ever going to feel better?! There was a report on the news recently about zinc being helpful in fending off the common cold - perhaps I should start taking that, unless it's too late now? I don't think this weather is helping either - I'm fed up of the cold days now, and having to scrape ice off my windscreen nearly every morning. Roll on summer!

I might've blogged last weekend, but I was in an awful mood, and the worst thing was - I didn't know why! I think Saturday started out ok - I got a few loads of washing done really early on, and even hung them out because we had a bit of sunshine (although it was probably still too cold to dry anything). As the day went on though, I started to feel really down and depressed, for no real reason. In the late afternoon I went to lie down on the bed for five minutes but of course ended up falling asleep for two or three hours! I woke up at about seven-ish and realised that I still had to bring the washing in, but when I looked out it wasn't there. I assumed CJ had brought it in, but I couldn't find it and on asking what he'd done with it, he'd shoved it all in the dryer. Some of the items though say they shouldn't be tumble-dried, so I got him to go and take them back out of the dryer so that I could sort them out. I knew he was only trying to help, but all this just added to my bad mood, which hung around for the rest of the evening. Sunday morning seemed to start off ok again; my mum came to visit and stayed for a couple of hours, and that was all good. After she left I had to get on with my ironing and a few other bits and bobs, and once again, the black mood descended (nothing to do with the ironing - it's not my favourite job in the world, but it doesn't usually depress me). I wasn't just feeling sorry for myself or being a bit mopey - at the risk of sounding melodramatic, this was like a feeling of overwhelming despair and sadness. I had a few tearful moments, but I daredn't let myself cry properly, because I felt like I wouldn't be able to stop! I kept asking myself why I was feeling like this, and I just didn't know, which was awful. It was as though I was upset because something terrible had happened - but it hadn't! There were only two things that I could think of, although neither one seemed serious enough to be making me feel so low. One was that I'm still not well, and I wondered if I was just really fed up of feeling poorly and run down. The other was the weather. Sunday especially was one of those days when it never really brightens up, and you feel like you've got to have the lights on in the house, otherwise you're walking around in the shadows all day. I didn't do any crochet, because the light wasn't good enough, and I didn't play with my camera (more on that later) for the same reason. I was probably a bit bored, and I was kind of blaming the weather. Another thing that didn't help was that CJ has just acquired an allotment, so he spent most of Sunday there, tidying it up. I'm not into gardening, so I wouldn't really have wanted to be there with him, but if I'm really honest with myself, I think I was a bit envious/jealous that he had something to do, whereas I was just sitting around feeling more and more depressed. I fell asleep again on the sofa on Sunday evening; at one point, Mischief came and snuggled up next to me but that just made me want to cry again, because he doesn't do that very often, and it's almost as though he was trying to make me feel better. I'm not kidding, I was a mess last weekend!!
Monday was Valentine's Day, and I was still in a foul mood all day, although not because of that. When I got home, CJ took me out for a romantic meal - well, we drove into North Yorkshire, got fish and chips and ate them in a lay-by at the side of the road!! Actually it was just what I needed, and by then I'd started to cheer up and feel a lot better, so whatever blackness had descended over me all weekend, it seemed to be lifting. (To be fair to CJ, he'd taken me for a 'proper' meal the week before, which was lovely - don't want anyone thinking he's mean and stingey!)
So on Tuesday I was in a better mood at work. Around lunchtime I happened to be speaking to someone who mentioned that they suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and they described how the current weather that we're having made them quite depressed, sometimes even tearful. I listened open-mouthed in shock as they basically described my whole weekend!! I've heard of SAD before, and as I said, it did cross my mind that it might be the weather that was making me feel down, but what this person was saying was so accurate it was uncanny. It's all to do with the amount of light hitting your retina and travelling to your brain, which then acts on certain hormones. When it's dark, your body releases a hormone which makes you want to shut down and go to sleep; when it's light, another hormone is released that wakes you up. Which kind of explains why I just wanted to sleep last weekend! There are other factors involved too which are closely related to your mood and even your diet, which is why we turn to 'comfort food' in winter.
I should just say that it really annoys me when people say they have 'flu, when actually all they've got is a really bad cold. So I'm not in any way saying that I've got SAD, after just one 'bad' weekend. But it's definitely given me something to think about. Probably the best thing I could've done last weekend is actually got out of the house, even if it was just for a walk down the street and back, because even though it was dull, there still would've been more light outside than in, and the fresh air would probably have helped too. It's certainly made me more aware of how something as simple as the weather can affect my mood! The good news is, I'm feeling a lot better now! I'm not usually prone to depression and although I may have the odd mood swing, the events of last weekend were definitely a one-off!

Whew, that was a long one! I hope you're not thoroughly depressed after reading that?!

Speaking of Valentine's Day, CJ and I swapped cards, but hopefully for the last time. I don't really like Valentine's Day, I think it's actually become the least romantic day of the year - everyone professing their love for each other just because the card shops tell you to! I asked CJ a couple of weeks before if we were going to give it a miss this year, but he'd already bought my card, so I had to buy him one too. But we've said that we won't bother next year, although whether we'll remember that remains to be seen (because I think we said the same last year). As I said, he did take me out for a meal a few days before, and then fish and chips on Monday night, which was also really nice.

I mentioned that I hadn't had any 'camera time' for a while. This refers to a late birthday present from CJ which arrived about two weeks after my birthday (he'd been waiting for it to arrive from China). He'd bought me some macro extensions. This isn't the same thing as a macro lens, but you attach them to your normal lens and they enable you to take macro photos. The ones I've got don't allow you to auto-focus, you have to do everything manually, and it helps if you know all about your shutter speeds, ISO-whatnots etc, which I don't, so I've got a lot to learn. I did have a play about with them when I got them though, taking some close-up pics of my tulips:

Not great, but you get the idea. I definitely need to play around with it more.

I'm still working on my crochet circle, in fact, I think I might finish it soon, as I'm getting to the end of my 'scrap yarn' and I don't really want to use any 'best' stuff for what is basically another cat blanket. It's not flat at all, so that will be the next challenge, and I still haven't decided how I'm going to do that. I also bought some buttons on ebay so I might finally get around to sewing them onto my granny square cushion cover (no, I still haven't done that yet). It's basically been a very slow couple of weeks in crochet-land.

Another thing which has greatly improved my mood this week and helped to cheer me up no end, is the news that my favourite band, Arcade Fire, won Best Album at the Grammy's and also Best International Group and Album at the Brits.

I absolutely adore this band, and I'm so happy that they've got the recognition that they deserve. Having said that, it was kind of cool being a fan of a band that not many people had heard of it - it felt like I was in on a big secret! Although, judging by all the comments on the internet, they're still pretty much unknown even after their wins, which is fine by me!

This is one of the tracks from their latest album, The Suburbs.

I can't put into words just how much I love this band!

Anyway, I think that's all for now. I'm sure there was something else I wanted to mention, but if there was, I've forgotten it. I hope you haven't been plunged into your own pit of despair after reading this post - I promise, I'm normally quite a happy person! 

Bye for now!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Lazy Days..

Hello again! I hope you're well?

I'm on annual leave today, which is just as well, because I feel crap! I think I've got a cold, but it's a bit of a weird one this time. I usually get a nasty head cold for about a week or more, and then if I'm really unlucky it all goes onto my chest and I end up with a chest infection which takes ages to shift. The last one I had was the end of October last year - I still had it when we went on holiday, and all that fresh Scottish Highland air seemed to cure me of it! That's a bit drastic though, I don't think I can just nip up to the West Coast at the moment! The reason it's a bit weird this time is that I seem to be getting all the symptoms in reverse - I've started with the chesty cough and had that for a few days, and then woke up this morning very stuffy and bunged up! I won't go into any more details but lets just say, I'm glad I'm not at work!

So I said that I'd try and take my monthly garden photos today, in daylight. It's been throwing it down all morning (although the sun's come out now) and it's very windy (as is most of the country, I think) so I'm afraid I'm being a wimp and not going outside! Instead, I threw open the bedroom window and took a few quick snaps, before Millie had time to realise what was happening and jump on the windowsill (Mischief would've been there in a shot, but luckily he was asleep elsewhere). And here they are:

Not much different to January, but I didn't really expect them to be. Hopefully March will look a bit more spring-like...

My flowers opened up the day after I bought them, and look lovely. I'd put them on the bookcase in the living room but they were kind of in a corner there, and not very noticeable, so after a couple of days I moved them onto the kitchen windowsill:

As you can see, that was taken earlier this morning when it was still bouncing down outside. They look more cheerful than they appear in this photo, honest!

I thought I should have a quick crochet update, although I haven't done any for a few days. I'm still doing the flat circle, but the trouble is, it's kind of refusing to lay flat at the moment! I don't know enough about crochet yet to know if there's a little trick to get it to lay flat again, I can't even work out whether it needs more stitches, or less, if you know what I mean. Or will I be able to get it flat if I block it when it's finished? If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them! I've decided to just carry on the way I'm going for now, and when I get to what I think is going to be last row or two, I might try something different, like changing the number of stitches, to see if that helps. In a way, it doesn't really matter because I think it's just going to hang over the back of the armchair, so it probably won't be obvious, but I'd still like to know how to get it flat, if possible. Anyway, here it is so far, just using up scrap yarn (plus a few of the freebies I've got with magazines, which I don't think I'd have used for much else):

I'm really happy with it, and I'm glad that I've learned a new stitch (it's all done in half-trebles).

Well, I think that's all for now. I might have some lunch and then watch this week's Silent Witness on iPlayer, as I completely forgot to watch it when it was on on Monday and Tuesday. I definitely feel like having a lazy day today!
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