“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ....Oscar Wilde

Friday 29 November 2013

Introducing my new best friend...The Aga

I've been asked by many people recently "what is it like to be an Aga owner"? 
Well, until I owned one I never quite understood what all the fuss and stigma was about and why generally Aga owners always seem to be so ecstatic about a cooker! 
Now I totally understand and am devoted to my new best friend. 
I had a terrible week when she had to be switched off to wait for a new burner. 
But then she is over twenty years old after all. 
I think in Aga terms that's positively a baby, but still her burner needed updating. 
I know the feeling...???
(not sure why she's a she but she is...okay I know that's a little sad but at least I haven't named her yet...I say YET!)

There's nothing better than feeling the warmth radiating from the solid chuck of metal at any time of the day or night.
 It's like the heartbeat of the home...always giving out its warmth to anyone who needs it. It's always comforting whenever you pass by, or if you stand leaning against it as I often do...gather my thoughts whilst sipping my cuppa. 
It's perfect for all sorts of things like airing cloths on the top of the simmering oven cover, or drying out newly washed trainers...or drying soggy wet dogs after their walk for that matter. (see photo below)
And that's before we even get to the cooking part! 

If you live in the UK, then you'll know all about the Mary Berry storm that's taking over the UK baking fraternity. 
For those of you that don't know Mary (which is unthinkable but possible I suppose) she is the Queen of Cakes and currently at the tender young age of 78 years old, co-hosting with Paul Hollywood, the incredibly popular TV programme 'The Great British Bake Off
If you like to bake...you'll love this programme, although sadly it's just finished for this season.

Sorry I'm getting a little side-tracked here Emoji

But there is a tenuous link between Mary Berry and my Aga because I found amongst my gigantic, huge, large recipe book collection an old Aga recipe book written by Mary herself, back in 80's (there's no date written in the book, so I can't be sure but I know I've had it since then) You can imagine my delight when I found it. 
It explains how to maximize the benefits of having an Aga and has wonderful recipes plus beautiful watercolour illustrations by David Westwood. 

I thought you might like to see a page out of the book that explains this unique cooker.  
Here's an illustration with a few details. 

She seems to have limitless depths to her ovens and fantastic space of her big Boiling and Simmering Plates, after the confines of an ordinary cooker. 

And here's the real thing...Da dah! 
Isn't she a thing of beauty?

But as I mentioned she did need a little tweak when we returned to the house from our travels. I think she may have gone into shock when we turned up her dial. 
The holiday was over....it was time to get busy. 
She knew I was serious and was going to put her to work! 
So we had to switch her off and let the Engineer do his stuff...unfortunately we had to wait for a whole week for the new part and oh boy did we miss her.
It didn't help that that week we experienced an arctic blast! 

I'm not sure whether she would like to show everyone this intimate photo of her innards! 

It was a tense time and as often the case...hot sweet tea was on hand! 
But she was okay and we fired her up once again.
So on with the cooking...soups, casseroles and baking up a storm. 

(stock on the boil)
I'll hopefully be getting back to posting recipes at some stage...remember the good old days when I used to have time? 
Just to keep you going...here's the first Sunday roast that I produced from the Aga.

Mmmm....that makes me realise it's getting near to dinner time and I'm hungry.

I know that I've posted this photo of McMufftypup warming herself before,o but it just seemed right that she should be included in this post...showing you yet another benefit of having an Aga. 

So as the saying goes..."Does it make toast?" 
The answer is basically "Yes it makes great toast, literally!" 
Amongst a gazillion other things too!
If you'd like to know a little more about the Aga and it's history then click here

Let me know if you think of a good name for her? 
I'd love to hear your suggestions and ideas. 

Have a great weekend everyone. 
Keep cosy and if you're lucky enough, stay near to the Aga!

Monday 18 November 2013

Happy Blue Monday...London weekend break

Morning! (Oops it's not anymore)
I'm a little late today, but what can you expect when you've had a hectic weekend away in London. 
I must admit taking a break from all the renovations, mess and army of workmen coming in and out of the house was a brilliant and much appreciated idea. It must have been mine!
We only had a limited time for a short break, but never the less, we sure packed in a lot of things...so much so that I was limping at the end of the weekend (contrary to my hubby's constant comments about inappropriate shoes, my shoes were fine Emoji
In order to get around the city we used the underground rail system. It is the oldest and one of the busiest underground railway networks in the world!
I didn't really realise what was in store...travelling to Covent Gardens on a Saturday night was madness as far as I'm concerned! 
I don't like crowds and people in my personal space, but let's just say I didn't have much choice. I've never been pushed and poked so much in all of my life. I'm sure at one stage my feet lifted off the ground, as I was swept along with the tide. 
I'm sure my physical examination wasn't as up close and personal.
 I thought it was just me...but I did hear a young girl frantically telling her boyfriend that she didn't like it...NOT ONE BIT! She looked like a bunny caught in the headlights! 
It was quite reassuring that I wasn't the only one feeling like I was a piece of meat off packed off to market! 
I could have taken a photo to show you the madness, but there again I had no idea where my arms where, never mind my camera! 
If you prefer the era of the steam trains then you might like to take a peek at one of my earlier post ~ click here 
I like this photo because I think it gives the impression of London, it's exactly what was happening...everything whooshing past at incredible speed and you just have to hang on and go with the flow. 
(I know...don't I sound an old fuddy duddy?)
Unfortunately, I didn't take many photos over the weekend...namely because I forgot to take my camera out with me! Not only an old fuddy duddy...a forgetful one too Emoji
I felt like I'd lost a limb and there was no way I could return to the Hotel to collect it because we had dinner and a show to see.

However, I did manage to capture these cool Bowler Hat light shades in the Hotel lobby.
(The first bowler hat was originaly created for Edward Coke, the younger brother of the 2nd Earl of Leicester in 1849. It was designed by London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowlers for hatters Lock & Co of St. James's. The brief was to create a piece of headgear that could be worn by gamekeepers when they were out riding to protect their heads from low-hanging branches. It is thought that before accepting the hat Coke arrived at the shop in London and stamped on the crown twice to check its robustness. He paid 12 shillings for it. The Bowler went on to be associated with businessmen in the City of London. During the 1950's and 60s men wore the Bowler as part of the City uniform but the practice died out during the seventies...
...info courtesy of Laura Roberts, The Telegraph)

 I think they're really cool...what do you think?
If you ask anyone to name a London icon along with the Bowler Hat there's a good chance that they will say......the London Red Bus! 
I quite like the fact that this red bus now has my blog advertised on its side (hehe) 
This particular bus is a vintage model and used for weddings. 

And so on to Convent Gardens. 
Now this was a treat. 
What a fantastic place and as you can see incredibly popular. 
Street acts, fantastic restaurants, beautiful architecture and so much more.  
There's definitely a buzz about the area too. 
We actually had difficulty finding a restaurant that didn't have at least an hours waiting time for a table. This was a little stressful because we had tickets for a show.
I needed to eat otherwise my stomach may have out rumbled and roared Mufasa 
(we were going to see The Lion King hence the reference) 
But finally we did manage to eat and arrived at the theatre by the skin of our teeth...running up the stairs and virtually crowd surfing to our seat as the opening bars of the show resonated and reverberated throughout the theatre. 
From those opening bars we were spellbound. 
The costumes, music, choreography and incredible voices cast their spell. 

Here's a brief clip and each time I hear it...I get goose bumps! 
What an amazing spectacle and that voice!!!!

I think if you are able to see this show then you should because you will not be disappointed. 
It would be a fantastic Christmas treat for the children because it keeps very true to the Disney film. UK booking and various venue details here
(By the way, just to clarify I'm not receiving any form of payment for this promotion...this is just my view)

I'm not sure when it happened but I'm beginning to think that I'm now an old country bumpkin. The frenetic pace of the big city was a little much at times and I must admit I gave a sigh as we left. London is fantastic to visit and stay for a brief time but for me personally, I like to get back to open spaces with room to breath!   

I know that there is a fair amount of red in my post today, but there's also flashes of blue. 
I'm hoping that Sally who hosts Blue Monday will forgive me and allow me to link up today. 
If you look at the video clip you will see Rafiki has fantastic blue makeup Emoji

I'll wish you all a Happy Blue Monday.
Don't forget to pop across to see more of the Blue Monday posts at Smiling Sally's blog.

Thursday 14 November 2013

An Arctic Blast...and McMuffy isn't happy!

That's it winter has come to grab hold of us and by the feel of it, it means business and won't let go!
There's an arctic blast whipping through, which has reduced me to a fire magnet. 
But I'm not the only one...McMufftypup isn't very impressed either ^..^
I know we shouldn't laugh, but that's exactly what we did do over the weekend.

Picture the scene...Muffy went out for her morning ablutions early on Sunday morning, only to stop dead in her tracks virtually as soon as she'd walked out of the door. 
The grass had a white, crisp covering of frost, that came as a complete surprise shock to her.

For those of you that may not know McMuffy was born in Qatar, in the Middle East 
(yep heat, deserts, virtually no rain and generally temperatures which can range from the mid 20's to 50+...Celsius that is!) 
So when she arrived in Melbourne Australia, she had a little awakening to cooler weather with seasons for the first time. During the winter months it could be quite wet and cold...well to her standard it was cold).
But then her cruel owners whisked her away once again, to an even colder place...Scotland! 
(If you'd like to read the tale of her journey from Qatar to Melbourne click here)

You can imagine the toilet break that frosty morning was the quickest on record. 
She was like a greyhound out of the traps.
Immediately as I opened the door to let her come back in...she dashed past me and straight into her bed (which is next to the wood burner...see we're not that cruel) 
Frantically, she tried to fluff up her blankets but then the penny must have dropped because she remembered she'd been sleeping at the bottom of my daughter's bed and that she'd been cosy there. So like a herd of elephant's she ran through the house and up the stairs. 
I think if her legs had been a little longer, she'd have jumped up two at a time if she could have. Nah what am I thinking? She's a mini shuh-tzu for goodness sake!
She'd never manage that...bless...she's like me...vertically challenged!
After reaching my daughter room, she somehow managed to launch herself up unaided (which is a miracle in itself because she always gruffs and asks to be lifted because it's far too high for her (yeah right m'lady...you're busted now)
Without asking permission she burrowed under the sheets and didn't move for the next 45 minutes! 
Here she is later emerging when she thought it was safe and warm enough.

 (Yawns...lip smacking...and where's my brekkie look?)

I haven't broken it to her yet, but she's booked into the groomers for next week! EEK!
I think she'll probably decide to hibernate after that! 

She'll probably never forgive me, but she'll dry out far quicker if she's clipped. 
We've got jumpers and jackets at the ready to ensure she doesn't freeze. 
She's a little madame though and will milk it for all she's worth...shivering whenever anyone looks at her. 
It seems chicken always helps to keep her warm! 
I know it's a mystery to me too. 

Stay cosy if winter has come to call...but if you're lucky and you're on your way to summer ~ ENJOY! 
(I'm not jealous in the least Emoji)

Monday 11 November 2013

Crathes Castle...Blue Monday

When the dawn breaks to a beautiful crisp autumnal day, you can do nothing but head outdoors to appreciate it. And that's exactly what my daughter and I did.
Wrapped in our winter woolies, hats, gloves and boots plus of course our camera we headed along the River Dee towards Banchory. 
Our destination is my favourite local castle. 
Crathes Castle has fairytale turrets, gargoyles and the ancient Horn of Leys given in 1313 by Robert the Bruce are just a few of the features of this historic castle. 
The gardens of Crathes and estate are ideal for walks, picnics, or just to relax and enjoy. There are six separate trails to explore. 
A delight at any time of year, the famous gardens feature great yew hedges which never cease to amaze me. There are also colourful herbaceous borders. 
So are you ready for a walk? 

The Crathes Gate House appears in the background.

This photo is for everyone who visited yesterday for Silent Sunday and wanted to take a further peek through that gate...don't worry I'm going to revisit in the spring, when there will be so much more to see. I hope you don't mind me just showing a fraction of it today. 
Here's another gateway...which has 'Rebuilt in 1810' engraved over the top. 
You can also see the castle in the background. 
It was a perfect day to appreciate the autumn colours.
Still waters...
The metal structure on the right-hand side in the photo below is a fish ladder. This allows salmon to continue swimming upstream to their spawning grounds where they themselves were born. Salmon are capable of swimming against extremely strong currents and leaping up large waterfalls. Autumn is when the salmon are most prolific but unfortunately we didn't see any this time.

And so onto the castle...
Okay, so I've teased you enough... here is the majestic Crathes Castle.
I adore the ancient topiary hedges of Irish yew dating from 1702 which separate the garden's eight themed areas. 
They remind me of Walt Disney's 'Alice in Wonderland' don't you think? 
I wouldn't be surprised to see them dance around. 

Because we were wanting to stay outside, we didn't go into the castle but don't worry I will take you in soon. 
But we did stop for a much needed cuppa and a scone of course
(as one does after walking the forest trails
plus a visit into the art and craft wee shops and gallery.

Here's my daughter perusing all of the fabulous artwork...
(Don't worry the boys were having a great time too...in the pub watching their football team win).  
Just look at that blue sky!
 Wow, it was such a fantastic day and who would think that we're in the middle of November.

Which is why I'll wish you all a Happy Blue Monday.
Don't forget to pop across to see more of the Blue Monday posts at Smiling Sally's blog.
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