Attempting to make it as a writer

Archive for January, 2013

Déjà Vu

I would never class myself as well off in monetary terms, it is an aspiration yet to be reached.  However outside the world of filthy lucre I feel I have been richly rewarded; my ever enduring Sexy Sporty Dad, three brave and beautiful boys, five loquacious siblings and two enterprising parents not to mention a strong network of faithful friends and relatives.

Many years ago my royal marine father decided to escape the world of regimented rules to bring up his burgeoning brood; I was just four years of age.   Taking an enormous risk he mortgaged his life and bought a very run down village rectory. “Lawrence of Clyst st Lawrence” had resonance that money could not purchase. With no income coming in to speak of, he went to teacher training college and obtained a civvy qualification as numbers five and six of his children made their appearance on the world.

updated and modern but still housing the ghosts of the past

updated and modern but still housing the ghosts of the past

 

The cold, dark, haunted historic house became the most beloved childhood home anyone could wish for.  From the word go, the house had to pay its own way and so developed a long list of enterprising endeavours for my mother.  Initially taking in lodgers in one wing of the house kept us from poverty while my father trained. Later homing a small number of foreign students during the holidays led to a sustained period of the house become a locally renowned international school with pupils as young as 6 being left with us to avoid kidnap or worse at home.  It was not an unusual site to arrive home to a diplomatic limousine parked in our drive; the body guards with bulging lapels ready to shoot at any perceived threat.    My mother would receive a brown envelope with thousands of pounds in Stirling, American dollars or other untraceable cash to cover their board, lodgings and education for the year to come before a parent might spare the time to see these poor children again.

The school funded the construction of a small but well used swimming pool which led to years of fun filled frolics along with a hand painted tennis court.   Finally there was enough money in the pot to revolutionise part of the house with an antiquated central heating system.  With the numbers of growing children requiring food, sustainability became a necessity and we acquired the beautiful big eyed Susie; a jersey milking cow who provided us with milk, cream and often butter a plenty.  A series of runt piglets passed through our garden saved from an early death; brought up on rich jersey milk and copious peelings to develop a flavour uniquely ours when their time finally came.  Chickens too provided eggs and Sunday lunch and most of our summer vegetables together with the copious strawberries all came from the walled kitchen garden, bigger and better kept than most modern day allotments.

There were not many things that came into the house that did not pay their way in some form,and Tiggy was no exception.  A pedigree golden Labrador arrived; no more than a puppy saved from a dubious existence,  who became my father’s constant companion, not only did he sire two offspring which we kept he also sired 90% of the puppies born in a 10 mile radius of the house.   He also became known as a ferocious guard dog protecting the house and all children who played within, as the postman and other tradesmen found out on more than one occasion.   Now long since buried in the rose garden of the house he called home he gave me my pen name and will live on in my writing forever.

The school came to an end as less and less foreign children were requiring an education from such a young age so the house became a bed, breakfast and evening meal accommodation.   The clientele were executives wanting a particularly luxurious weekly accommodation with quality home cooked food and stimulating conversation as they were parted from their loved ones.   Regular clients became lifelong friends as they returned time and time again long after the house became a base for growing teenagers and a mother who ventured into the retail business creating one of the first co-operative craft centres with cream teas on tap in the market town of Exeter.

My parents were renowned hosts and the house was always filled with laughter and fun times. Parties were well attended and remembered long after the event.  Unfortunately times change and we grew up and my parents reluctantly sold our childhood home.  They moved several times in the intervening years prior to my father’s death.  So too has the home we all loved metamorphosed through yet another happy family home with the addition of a stable block before now becoming a luxury self-catering holiday home; Old Rectory

Birthdays come and go and every now and again we celebrate a significant one; some we look forward to but more and more now we dread.  My mother has just reached the grand age of 80.  It is difficult to find a suitable present to celebrate such a milestone.  She was never going to learn to paraglide or parachute over the Wiltshire countryside.   Sending her on a cruise or the Orient Express without my father would not have given her the pleasure we would have wanted to gift her. It turned out to be the other way round; she presented us all with an invitation some months back.

For a similar price to what my father had paid in 1967 she was able to hire our home for her birthday weekend.  Calling back her six children now with partners and children of their own the house once again rang with children laughing and playing.  The rooms housed clothes strewn about them while mattresses moved and children slept altogether in the snug that had overseen many a sleeping child in the past.   Saturday night the house rang with champagne and drinks as old friends and relatives again made the trip out for a party.   Memories flooded back as every guest savoured their own sweet reminiscence.  I suspect a few Sunday morning heads were also recalling past parties. The ghosts of the past hiding in every secret cupboard as the modern children re-created our own hiding places.

With a labour saving change to our original living conditions we used the opportunity to bring in caterers to feed us all; our contribution to the weekend’s celebration.  Kate and her lovely staff from Kennford Kitchen laid on the most wonderful meals all weekend.  She was there for a wonderful three course meal on Friday as we all arrived and she provided a fitting array of dishes for Saturday’s party.  She sent our partners and most offspring off on Sunday following a scrumptious roast dinner with sumptuous side dishes and perfect puddings to keep even the hungriest teenager full.    She arrived early each morning and breakfast was cooked and laid out before most people even woke.

It was sentimental stepping out into the driveway that I once had known so well. A turbulent turmoil of emotions collided as I walked to the door.   Slipping the latch and

unchanged over all those years

unchanged over all those years

holding the unchanged dated key in my now grown up hand catapulted a cacophony of conflicting feelings. The house now very luxurious with additional current touches had changed and modernised immensely but the presences of a previous period still pervaded each room.   Laughter lingered from a lost youth while a new generation created their own memories as happiness and hilarity radiated from the hot tub and the soft play room. Enough cousins to make a competition on the multi-games court I once began my non-existent Wimbledon career.  Watching my 17 year old son driving in and around my old haunting ground replicating my own initiation to the world of driving in the same make of car left me with a blow to the solar plexus of emotions.

We raised a large toast to missing friends and relations who had not been able to make the party; some through snow, some because of their own fragile health and some whose mortality had moved on.  Absent they may have been in physicality but omni-present among the ghosts of the past.

my father - in his rightful place

my father – in his rightful place 

Overseeing the whole affair was my father, still in pride of place in front of the fire where I remember him pontificating, presiding and saluting friends and relatives over the years as he hosted many a party.    His story of our childhood was immortalised when his book was published, copies of which are still available through Amazon or requestable at the library; Our Grass Was Greener by Peter G Lawrence.

Returning home to the present day and making my own memories for my children I continue to carry the past not only in my mind but through who I am and what I write.  One day my book Memories will be published and sit alongside my father’s on the bookshelf; maybe!  I of course wish my mother a very happy birthday and hope the memories of the past colliding headlong into the present give her the stamina and strength to embrace the future.  Who knows when we will make it back there again, her 100th?

Tiggy

Check out my cooking blog at Teatime Treats with Tiggy

 

 

 

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Braised Ginger Beef


This is not a quick simple dish.   You need to think about it at least the day before and as I made it in the slow cooker it needs all day to cook slowly and succulently.   A great dish for a Sunday dinner instead of roast or for a warming meal on Saturday evening after a day out in the cold and wet.   

After marinading overnight and then all day cooking the meat just melts in the mouth and the vegetable all fell to bits.  I served it with roasted skins,  caramelised carrots with caraway cabbage.  

Ingredients 
Braising or Stewing Steak cut to bite sized pieces
Carrots sliced
Celery sliced 
Onion  chopped
A bottle of red wine – I used a cheap one which worked very well (the experts say use the most expensive you can afford but I served that in a wine glass along side – delicious)
Thyme – good handful of sprigs
Bay leaves – one or two
Ginger peeled and cut into small bite sized chunks 
Olive oil 

Put the meat into a large basin and cover with the whole bottle of wine.

Leave overnight in the fridge.  

In the morning 

Chop the vegetables and lay them on a small slug of olive oil in a warmed slow cooker pot.




Drain the meat but reserve the juices.   Fry the meat in a separate pan to seal it.  The meat will already be deep in colour having taking in the flavour of the wine.




When browned add to the pot on top of the vegetables 



In the same pan add the remainder of the marinaded wine and and bring to the boil.   


Once boiling a scum will form so remove this and use the rest of the liquid to cover the meat mix.

Add the Thyme and Bay leaves.    Cover and leave cooking for several hours.   

At this point if I was cooking the meat in a conventional stewpot in the oven I would add a quantity of stock,  (beef, chicken or vegetable) to stop it drying out at all, it can be cooked off later but better to keep it moist whilst stewing.

I left it cooking on a low heat for 6 hours and it was heavenly, but you know your cooker best and you know your lifestyle and when you will need to eat.  You could add a few potatoes (new would work best and not mush up).  Leave them to cook in the juices so you could just come in and serve.

This went down so well and had lots of subtle rushes of flavouring.   I had planned to have it again for lunch the next day but it all disappeared that night.

Enjoy and let me know if you can come up with a variation.

For the caramelised carrots I used baby whole carrots (it is good to use whole ones anyway rather than sliced, I chose baby ones).  Place these in boiling water with a good handful of butter and sugar together with a  star anise.  Let the carrots boil away till the water has all gone and they just glaze over.  Serve them without the star anise.

The cabbage was the last minute preparation sliced then cooked in just a knob of butter with a handful of pre-roasted caraway seeds added just before serving.   

The inspiration for this meal came from the lovely Tom Kerridge at The Hand and Flowers   

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Tiggy

Find out what I am up to in my other blog  Tiggy Hayes

Learning to Lose Control

I am sure it was not that long ago I was struggling with the complexities of pregnancy, birth and sudden motherhood. An alien inside me was making me feel unwell and unable to depend on my usual choice of medication.  It was growing independently of me yet deep within my burgeoning belly. Organised and planned as I was, it was this independent entity who chose to come into the world 10 days early with no adherement to my carefully orchestrated birth plan.  Gone were all my plans and routines, my social life curtailed once and for all as this tiny blob of humanity took over my whole world.

Following his arrival there were only a fleetingly short few months where this wonderful creation and I were so entirely wrapped up with each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. He was so dependent upon me for everything.  A tiny cry amid the cacophony of daily sounds to tell me he was hungry, craved cuddles or needed a nappy change.  I could tell them all, instinctively I could sense his every requirement.    This miracle of mine would stay where I laid him, the soft gurgle of his baby’s giggle would be my answer to the myriad of questions I would ask him, his young awe filled eyes would wander the room lighting up as they caught my reflected gaze.

No 1 Son grew up and has just recently had his 17th birthday.  He is never where I last saw him, the monosyllabic answers lack any mirth and the only gaze in my direction is followed by the exasperated glance heavenward.    Although still  my baby but we now had to find him a suitable birthday present.

A little bit of digging around and mixing together gave us the perfect shoe box of goodies.   We filled it with his provisional driving licence which I had managed to apply for online, a copy of the new insurance documentation allowing him to drive our car, a copy of the Highway Code changed and much updated from my ancient copy, a set of L plates and a gift voucher for 6 hours of driving lessons.  After that he would have to pay for his lessons himself.

The plates were attached instantly, and the eagerness untamed until he was permitted to drive.  Any driver will know it is not just a question of leaping in the car and going.  There are gears to get to grips with, the clutch to contemplate and the speedy reactions from the accelerator.  Decisions to be made as to when to use the brake pedal on the floor or the one beside you; why on earth do you need both.   Why on earth does Sexy Sporty Dad use kangaroo petrol in the car, because the vehicle jumps and stalls when you try to move away? And the road; full of other cars, pedestrians, lorries, bikes, parked cars, roundabouts and traffic lights.  How is anyone supposed to cope with all of those without multi-tasking?

No longer that tiny dependent baby, 17 year olds have an inherent inner belief, they are invincible, and they do know it all.   They learn through the osmosis of their friends.  Only a fellow 17 year old has the ability to interpret the correct grunt, the angle of the slumped shoulder or the glazed gaze.  Only another 17 year old has the right to impart his complete repertoire of experience in a ritual of nods, mumbles and snorts.  What do mine and Sexy Sporty Dad’s nearly 60 years experience of driving count; after all we learnt to drive before the wheel was even invented.

So my incredibly brave husband ventured out amid furious protests and drove the car to a thankfully deserted industrial estate where he was persuaded to vacate the driving seat.  No 1 Son took control of the car and spent a few hours kangarooing round the local roads.

The following night was my turn to be the willing passenger allowing him to drive me around town.  I still unable to quite relinquish my control totally retraced the route to the once again deserted industrial estate and left the safe security of the driving seat.   Sliding myself sluggishly into the passenger side, I pulled the seatbelt slowly across my trembling torso, holding my breath long enough to allow my shaky hands to plug it in.   We, and I use the word deliberately,  were ready and raring to go!

Into first gear we pulled away gently without jumping or stalling, the car speeded up fractionally and was moved to second gear.   My breath held; I could hear my heart pounding as I realised we were coming to a junction. My brain screamed slow down as I glanced at the speedometer, there must be a mistake we were nearly doing 12 miles an hour – reminder to oneself – get it checked out.   Even the feeling of slowing was not strong enough for my body not to brace its self and my right leg to force the imaginary brake pedal nearly through the floor.   We came to a stop.

We checked both ways for any other soul who might be drifting along these dark desultory drives before pulling out of the junction smooth and slickly.   Ignoring my consider learning to lose controlsqueaky advice to do a few more turns of the empty roads No 1 Son took me on a tour of the town.   He dipped his lights at the appropriate times not blinding the oncoming drivers.  He waited patiently as the red traffic light gave me a moment’s breathing space.  He allowed the other driver who had now idea which way he was coming off the roundabout to make his choice before following him round to our exit.   We made it home to the waiting arms of the rest of the family and the place I am in most control.

In the month he has been learning to drive I have been coerced into allowing him to drive me regularly interspersed with the lessons from the expert.  I have even permitted him to transport the whole family together; although Sexy Sporty Dad being so much calmer and relaxed is the passenger while I protect the unconcerned two in the back.  The roads round the Peak District during our Christmas holiday, so narrow with stone walls either side or deep ravines over the edge of the ditches provided a challenge for me in letting go, while the parking in the supermarket car park will forever be too much for my control to relinquish.  I don’t even like doing that!  In fact not even Sexy Sporty Dad parks safely enough for me.

So if you happen to be out and about and encounter the big red L emblazoned on the car in front or behind, spare a thought for the passenger;  it just could be me surrendering my authority.

 

Tiggy

Check out my cooking blog at Teatime Treats with Tiggy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bacon and Leek Bake


This is a very simple bake that we had as a main course but would work equally well as a side dish if you lessened the bacon,  I would probably use small lardons.   Very popular and deliciously rich.

Ingredients
Olive oil
Bacon cut into bite size pieces
Onion – chopped
Leeks – sliced
Garlic – chopped very finely
Cream – single is fine for this



Heat some of the olive oil and fry the bacon till it is well cooked




Remove from the pan into a roasting dish.  Add the onion to the now empty pan with the remainder of the olive oil.




As the onion softens add in the leeks on a low heat, continue to stir them and break up any bits still in rounds.

Sprinkle the garlic over this as you stir



Meanwhile cut the potatoes into chunky slices and add them tIo a pot of already boiling water.  You want them just softening so keep an eye on them, they can become mash very quickly.


When the leeks are cooked add them to the bacon and then drain the potatoes before adding them.  Cover the mixture with cream and stir well.

Pop in a hot oven for half an hour and serve piping hot with warm crunchy bread and a crisp salad or vegetables of your choice.



There is a slimmers version to this; Cook in the oven with chicken or vegetable stock instead of the cream, then just before serving add some fromage frais and stir well to give it that rich creaminess without the calories.

Other additions could be cheese grated over the top for added flavour although these flavours do blend very well together and don’t necessarily need the extra.  


Enjoy and let me know what other combinations you can come up with.

Tiggy

Find out what I am up to in my other blog  Tiggy Hayes



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