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Archive Entries for November 2009

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Monday November 30, 2009

Books in November

This month I have been doing a lot of machine knitting - none of which worked out very well, and is due to be unraveled. However I worked to the accompaniment of a number of podcasts from the BBC, and a couple of light-weight talking books.

  • Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House and the Deadly Dance by M C Beaton
    [Read by Penelope Keith]
    HauntedHouse.jpg DeadlyDance.jpg
    Agatha finally opens her own detective agency, and realises that the opportunity for investigating murders on a professional basis is not what it's all about. In fact, it offers more in the line of finding lost cats. Despite this, she is soon embroiled in more "murders and mayhem" - and still trying to fight the signs of ageing whilst pursuing unworthy men.

Posted on November 30, 2009 at 10:31 AM. Category: Books of the Month.

Sunday November 22, 2009

mmm .... chocolate

Although it's always a good time for tea as far as I'm concerned, we keep the tradition of "tea-time" at weekends. So occasionally at the weekend I like to make a cake.
This is a very grown-up chocolate cake; it's very rich but not too sickly. It's very chocolatey, so you need to use a good quality chocolate for the cake and the icing. Below is the recipe for a small version of the cake.




For the cake:

  • 2½ oz plain chocolate
  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1½ oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 3 teaspoons rum
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • 2 teaspoons water

For the icing:

  • 1 generous tablespoon of apricot jam
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 3 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 oz plain chocolate


  1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C, or Gas Mark 3.
  2. Grease and line a 6 inch sandwich tin, (loose-bottomed, or springform is ideal).
  3. Melt the chocolate and allow to cool.
  4. Cream the softened butter with the caster sugar.
  5. Beat in the chocolate, and egg yolks.
  6. Sift the flour with the cocoa powder and fold into the mixture.
  7. Add the rum, almond essence and water.
  8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture.
  9. Turn into the tin, and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed with the fingertip.
    Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.
  10. When the cake has completely cooled, melt some apricot jam - sieve if necessary - and brush over the top and sides of the cake.
  11. Make the icing by dissolving the sugar in the boiling water and then breaking in chocolate. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth, then boil for 1-2 minutes more, stir again, and pour over the top and sides of the cake, spreading with a palette knife. Allow to cool and set.
  12. The cake can be stored for a day or two - if it lasts that long.

Posted on November 22, 2009 at 7:14 PM. Category: Kitchen and food.

Saturday November 21, 2009

Christmas Decorations


For about a year I have been collecting milk bottle tops to make a Christmas Tree decoration, based on one that I saw George's Mother had made a couple of years ago. My kitchen drawer is teeming with the things, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to get on with the project.

The tops are covered in fabric and sewn together to make the shape you want. [Someone suggested you "could make other shapes as decorations- not just for Christmas!" - and this is true - but only, I would venture to suggest, if you have very bad taste. Somehow all good taste is suspended for the Christmas period.].

I padded the tops with a little piece of fleece material, which I stuck to the top with a dot of glue, just enough to hold it in place during the construction. I then cut a circle of fabric 4 inches in diameter; which I sewed round the edge with a running stitch, using the thread doubled. You can then draw up the thread tightly, covering the top with the fabric, and enclosing the fleece padding. Secure the gathering thread with a couple of stitches on the back, take the thread to the edge and leave a long tail when you cut it off. You can use the tails to do the catch stitches on the back to hold the shape together. I did not put any finishing the on the backs of the tops as I thought the gathering looked quite neat, even with the raw edges of fabric.


You sew the tops together to make the tree shape, and then have fun embellishing the tree with beads or gliterring stones. I sewed a ribbon hanger on top to hang the decoration on the wall. You can make a larger tree by simply adding rows to the pyramid part, and you can enlarge the "pot" section in proportion, if necessary.

I took all my bits and pieces along to the Guild meeting last week (it was Christmas themed) and although I think this is quite old hat, many of them were very interested and have since made their own trees. I think a lot of people have a collection of tops intended for charities that have since refused to take them. Once you have made a collection it's hard to stop and discard them all.

When it came to it, I found I had only enough tops to make 2 trees. One for myself and one destined for my dear friend in California.

If this is all too late for this year, my helpful suggestion is that you make these little craft projects in the early part of January, when it's quieter. They can then be packed away in the Christmas boxes ready to leap out and surprise you with your own forethought next year, by which time you are too busy to think of anything else other than how to fit the over-sized turkey into the oven, and how to fit all your many relatives around your dining table such that they can still have enough mobility in their arms to eat said turkey, (or is it the other way around?).

Posted on November 21, 2009 at 8:26 PM. Category: Crafts.

Friday November 20, 2009

Mrs Warren's Profession


The last of my tickets for the year is this interesting wordy drama from Bernard Shaw, at the Richmond theatre. I always like his plays but this one seemed to have an unnecessarily sad conclusion It seems Edwardian Woman could not have her cake and eat it too. Clearly, I am the audience that made him rewrite the ending to Pygmalion.

The play transfers to the West End in 2010

Posted on November 20, 2009 at 11:13 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Wednesday November 18, 2009

Inherit the Wind


Rob did not pass on a ticket for this Old Vic production starring Kevin Spacey and David Troughton, and directed by Trevor Nunn. The 1955 play is based on the true story of the Scopes Monkey Trial - the play, again, made famous by a film, in which a school teacher is prosecuted for teaching of Darwin's theories of evolution. The great lawyer Clarence Darrrow acted for the defence; a hugely popular Democrat politician, William Jennings Bryan was prosecutor. The trial became a worldwide sensation.

I enjoyed the performances of all the actors. David Troughton was surprisingly (only in that he is English) convincing as a populist American politician. Spacey produced his one of his favoured character roles, though I did feel that his playing to the audience in the final moments of the play was not warranted. During the trial scenes we, the audience were in the position of the jury, so both legal teams were "playing" to us. When it was all over, the character was alone on stage and his mimed summary should have been expressed more privately without the awareness of an audience.

I had no particular deep knowledge about this trial prior to seeing the play, but was interested to read in the programme that the real-life trial was a "put up job". Scopes "agreed" to admit he had been teaching evolution (which he may not have done in fact as he was a sports teacher) to enable the American Civil Liberties Union to defend a test case. I also did not realise that the defense did not succeed in this trial, and that the overall point on the teaching of evolution was not finally decided until 1968.

Posted on November 18, 2009 at 11:33 PM. Category: Art and Culture.

Saturday November 7, 2009

Dial M for Murder


A month of theatre visits began with this innovative production of the 1952 play, made famous by the Hitchcock film of the same name. I thought it was really well done, and the actors were terrifyingly wonderful.

I was particularly smitten by the set, designed by Mike Britton. At first I was unsure - it was a brilliant blood red throughout (walls, floor, carpet), and the whole stage area rotated very slowly as the plot progressed. This sounds very distracting but in fact it took me some time to notice the movement, which says something for the strength of the acting as well as the staging adding to, rather than distracting from, the play. The overall effect was to emphasise the feeling that we were observing the characters as if they were in a goldfish bowl - the dark action played out with the villain and his plan known from the start. I thought it was excellent.

The final key action of the play is carried out off stage - in the previous production, only sound effects are heard, which can add to the tension. In this setting, the back wall of the apartment was a gauze cloth enabling us to see the hallway and directly observe the villain give himself away. My only comment on this is that producing it in this way makes the Scotland Yard detective's commentary on the action in the hallway redundant, and it could have been dropped. The curtain falls on brilliantly silent actors as the villain makes his final doomed entrance.

Robert refused the role of my companion in this outing, which was a shame, as I think he would have enjoyed it. However, he was permanently scarred by the memory of a production I "made him go to" in Worthing many years ago - I have wiped this episode from my memory, but it remains clear to him ("lots of stuff with the telephone" which he remembers as a shortcoming of the staging rather than a key element of the plot...).

Posted on November 7, 2009 at 9:12 AM. Category: Art and Culture.