Blog & News

BRIAN

BRIAN

So...pumpkin picking. It sounded fun. Facebook was full of pictures of how fun it was last year. The weather was great, although I did pack some waterproofs and wellies just in case, and into the car we all got. We knew it was an hour away and was going to be hard to find, but who needs to worry about that these days, we all have sat nav. Or do we...turned out the Bee had posted an acorn into the cigarette lighter the day before. Grizzly removed the acorn, but we no longer have a working socket for sat nav...the ramifications of this are yet to sink in, frankly.

Anyway, I found the road atlas, and the village in Kent we were heading for (which, needless to say, was situated exactly where two pages with a huge gap and spiral binding met), and started navigating like it was 1985 again.

Happily the radio has yet to be screwed over by the kids, so we were able to listen to the ten songs Heart FM play on repeat, interspersed with severe weather warnings and suggestions that perhaps it might be safer not to drive in Kent if it could be avoided, as Storm Brian had made landfall.

Finding remote places without sat nav is actually very hard, particularly as there is an assumption every vehicle has one that is working, and proper directions are no longer necessary. Our first attempt to leave the main road was a disaster. I tried turning sat nav on to see if we could use the residual battery power long enough to at least work out which direction we should be facing. It was unable to locate any satellites. Eventually Grizzly decided to take a tiny road that clearly only went to a church, and was very clearly signposted 'Church'. I started seething from the back seat and was mid-rant about him wasting our time and fuel when, against all the odds, en route to said church was a sign for the pumpkin field. They're quite a sight, it has to be said, and the Bee announced pumpkin picking was her best thing ever.

The skies had started to darken, and I thought it would be prudent for everyone to wear their waterproofs. By the time we were ready, it was hailing sideways and the Bear had been blown over twice while standing next to the car. In the extraordinarily long time it took us to get the 50m from the car to the field, he'd been blown over again. In fact a large teenage girl was also blown over, landing right at our feet. I think it was being whipped with icy rain whilst unable to stand that really did for him though.

We got to the field, chucked 4 pumpkins into the wheelbarrow, then battled our way to a disabled Portaloo I spotted by a distant hedge. Once we'd managed to prise the door open against the wind, we all sheltered. For a few seconds it was silent. Then the Bee declared 'Mummy, I never want to come pumpkin picking again'. I began to wonder if the five of us were enough to keep the Portaloo on the ground if a gust suddenly caught it. And I also began to wonder whether I had truly ever been soaked to the skin before, because now I really properly was. Grizzly and I made a plan that I would try and get back to the car with the kids, while he paid for the s@dding pumpkins, which I was assuming by now they would just give us out of pity. They didn't.

By the time we had all thawed out enough to stop crying and put our seatbelts on, I suddenly noticed the sun was out, and there was the merest hint of a breeze.

In case anyone is wondering, pumpkins are available in all major supermarkets.
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TIGERS & STARS

TIGERS & STARS

This week I've discovered how fun making tiny puddings really is. They only need 6 hours in the Aga, as opposed to 8 for the other sizes. 8 hours sleep is a decent stretch, so I can put the others in to steam overnight, then hoik them out again when the Bee trots in the next morning around 5.30am...but tiny puddings is a different game. Now most people would put them in first thing in the morning, and get them out early afternoon. But in fairness most people haven't been breeding at quite such an epic rate for the last few years, and don't have three pre-school aged children to get up, feed, dress and cajole out of the door to wherever we're going that day. So after several attempts at getting this right, my new preferred method is to put the tiny puddings in early evening, set my alarm for 2am, and get them out then. It's much easier to go back to sleep knowing I have a decent amount of time left, rather than lying awake from 4am wondering if the Baby is actually stirring, or just turning over. Happily they're so cute I can forgive them (the puddings, I mean).

I also had my first parents evening this week, to discuss how the Bee and the Bear were getting on at Nursery - which made me feel like a proper grown-up, although clearly I'm not...I had two 15 minute slots booked, and somehow managed to talk for nearly an hour. To be honest, there was wine and pretzels, and I was definitely on the verge of viewing it as a night out. Which I accept is rather tragic. Eventually I was evicted, and came home at 10pm, able to report to Grizzly that the Bear needs to work on using his hands to put his wellies on, and the Bee has more stars than anyone else (she and I have a silent understanding of the star system...every morning she picks something off the floor between the car and the pre-prep door, knowing it will be rewarded with a star because the current theme is 'Autumn', and there are shed loads of acorns and conkers and brown leaves knocking about...).

Right, I peaked earlier than normal this evening so I'm off to set my alarm for 1.30am. Happy days! I shall leave you with a picture of some Wellingtonia cones we found this weekend at Bedgebury Pinetum - I'm hoping if the Bee can regurgitate 'Wellingtonia' when she rocks up tomorrow morning she might be on for a double star! #tigermotherextraordinaire

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MINIATURES

MINIATURES

Christmas pudding production has slowed somewhat over the last ten days due to me spending around 9 hours at our local hospital on three different occasions with two different children (they're both fine now - the Bear broke his finger and the Baby dented his head on the hearth). I did A&E twice, fracture clinic and the paediatric assessment unit, often with all three in tow, and often for hours at a stretch. It's been epic. This week I also discovered the gin section in Booker.

But back to puddings. These tiny ones are properly cute - and while one might not fill a family of four after Christmas dinner, I've come up with some occasions on which a mini Christmas pudding would be excellent (they are also something interesting and aromatic to carry around in your bag, as I'm demonstrating here):
1) Wedding favours - personalised with the name of the couple and the date of marriage
2) Dinner party - a festive alternative to the obligatory Gu pots
3) Gifts for staff and colleagues - how great would it be to arrive at work on Christmas Eve and discover one of these on your desk
4) Gifts for clients - fab in a Bee & Bear box with some festive brownies and a couple of muffins
5) Teacher thank you gifts - with a personalised message from your offspring

So there you go!

And as well as on-line, you can also purchase aforementioned puds from British Design: British Made in Battle from mid-November onwards, or at the following Christmas Fairs:
11 November - Vinehall School
25 November - King John's Nursery
2 December - Poppinghole

Larger sizes are available.

I'm hoping for a quieter week, and to spend less on hospital parking.
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PUTTONYOS & PUDDING

PUTTONYOS & PUDDING

Last night we were visited by a great friend of mine, Emma, who I used to work with in a former life. She brought many gifts with her, and had gone to great lengths to find drinks that were the perfect match for Christmas pudding, and chocolate brownies! She brought Madeira for the brownies, and Tokaji dessert wine for the puddings. Here is the Tokaji Aszu.

I know - I'd never heard of it either, but here are some facts I unearthed, courtesy of Berry Bros.

The Tokaj wine region is found in Hungary, 240 kms north-east of Budapest. The wines were so well regarded by the end of the 17th century that Prince Rakoczi was encouraged to classify the vineyards surrounding the 28 villages of the region, and it therefore has the distinction of being the first classified wine region in Europe.

If you look closely at the label you will notice it has 5 ‘Puttonyos’ – this refers to the sweetness, 2 being the driest, 6 the sweetest. In the very best years they are able to produce wines of 7 Puttonyos, known as Aszu Essencia, deemed to be one of the best dessert wines found anywhere in the world. So there we are, knowledge which could stand you in good stead ahead of a family round of Trivial Pursuit come Boxing Day! We will be quaffing this on Christmas Day with our own pudding, and I will be sure to report back on how it goes down. I’m also conscious I post pictures of bottles of alcohol with alarming regularity in my blogs...however in my defence two have been Christmas pudding related – I’m just keen no-one ends up with a glass of Rioja, or worse, Blue Nun, in front of them come 3pm on 25th December. Think ahead, people.

This week I made the difficult decision to stop doing my regular monthly markets for the time being. I’m still all over the Christmas ones, but it’s become too taxing trying to make muffins into the early hours with 3 very small children, who would love nothing better than to join me at said markets, but in reality are completely feral and not good for business.

Puddings are available to order on the web-site – and they can be sent as presents with a hand-written gift-note for no extra charge. I sent lots last year, and the feedback was great. So be more Emma - if you’ve hit the Christmas jackpot and have an invitation to visit someone else, take the pudding, and something decent to drink with it.

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HARVEYS & HORSES

HARVEYS & HORSES

So it's the 17th September, and I've made 70 Christmas puddings... I started at the end of August. Even by my own fairly ridiculous standards, it's been an epic few weeks of soaking, grating, zesting, mixing, simmering and steaming. I've launched mini puddings as wedding favours, and offered up own branding for corporate gifts. Parts of our house are no longer recognisable, as every cool and dark corner is filled with hermetically sealed puddings, maturing before their market debuts. It's exciting, but frankly also exhausting. And so this afternoon I took a welcome break from the kitchen to go and work a Sunday lunch shift at the pub. I've been moonlighting there sporadically for a couple of months now - I soon realised that what was initially a temporary stint covering a friend on maternity leave was actually a few hours of adult conversation, watching someone else do the cooking, and a chance to relive my student days of pint pulling in Edinburgh (although I did get fired from that job due an unfortunate mix-up involving changing my flights and forgetting I'd told them I couldn't work that weekend...I was young...and very drunk when I rocked up demanding long vodkas from my boss who thought I was overseas).

The Volvo still regularly refuses to start, so I took Grizzly's car instead. Ancient, but reliable. I had to park against a hedge, so could only get out of the passenger side, which involved a lot of clambering over things and generally unladylike behaviour. After four hours of roast dinners and pints of Harveys I skipped back to the car, recharged and ready to face the pudding basins and children again, delighted with myself for choosing the car that never fails to deliver. Except it wouldn't start. Because I'd gone out of the passenger door the alarm telling me the lights were on didn't sound, and because I normally drive a Volvo I never have to turn them on, let alone off again. After a brief sob into the steering wheel, wondering whether any other driver has had so many disappointments when turning a car key, I stomped back to the pub to announce what an utter cretin I am. Happily Lovely Bob came to my rescue with jump leads.

And as another week of baking dawns, I pause to reflect on how long it will be before the Volvo next leaves me high and dry. Happy times. Horse and carts all round, I say. Here's me in ten years time.
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THE AU PAIR IS BACK

THE AU PAIR IS BACK

This week has seen the Bear starting in Nursery and the Bee moving into Kindergarten (if she hadn't been so lazy in utero she'd have been starting school proper, but there we are, only another 12 months of being told how best to run my own home, day in, day out...). Despite having 8 weeks to sew on name-tapes and buy white ankle socks, I decided it would be much more fun to leave it until there was less than 24 hours to go. There's nothing like cranking up the adrenaline the day before term starts. Obviously there are now no white ankle socks left in Sussex, so the Bear has been doing gym in his grey school ones, and the Bee is wearing ones I bought when she was 2...this week I am going to cave in and buy the ridiculously over-priced ones from the school shop and set myself a reminder to do all this in July next year. What's been really great about the start of term though, has been the much anticipated cold they have all come down with, less than a day after returning. The Baby is utterly miserable about life.

Sadly the start of term for the kids means the same for Grizzly, and I've been subjected to Booker with three kids on my own more than once already. Despite only just turning 4, the Bee has been doubling as the au pair for some time now, and relishes the power and control the merest hint of responsibility gives her. However she is very good at negotiating the aisles whilst pushing a Maclaren with the Bear strapped into it, and warning him what the consequences will be if he grabs anything off the shelves. If only the Baby understood...I spent a good five minutes emptying out the back of the Phil & Teds on Saturday afternoon - in the time it took the nice lady in the local craft shop to take the Bee's passport photo, he'd emptied a shelf I'd parked him next to of small wooden letters and stowed them all under his feet.

Anyway, enough about the ferals...Rafa is on court....
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LITTLE RED ROOSTER

LITTLE RED ROOSTER

The Bee turned 4 today, so we had a family excursion to a farm near us. We're lucky to have a few open farms nearby, but this one has pony grooming, sheep racing, and vast amounts of cider and perry (the National Collection no less). I sent Grizzly off to buy some during the picnic, and he returned with a large plastic bottle of Little Red Rooster. Obviously we had nothing to drink it from, short of emptying out the Baby's breadstick pot, or beaker, so he returned for some taster glasses. They were minute, so my dream of relaxing with a glass of cider during our picnic turned into what must have looked to the casual observer like a student drinking game of endless urine-coloured shots.

Quick reminder for anyone who missed it - my Christmas pudding order book is now open, and until midnight you can pre-order one with 10% discount. I've been stirring and steaming all week. It did occur to me that if I make the same wish every time I stir a bowl with pudding mixture in, that's a lot of wishes. If you see me posting about my new Aston Martin come the New Year you'll know it worked.

I came across this tipple in the Farm Shop - seems I'm not the only one thinking of the Festive season already.
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WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?

WHO'S BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?

Today we had an invitation to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of a furniture and interior showroom near us. On face value there is perhaps nothing remarkable about that. However, anyone looking for an inspirational business story should look no further than the Country Furniture Barn in Flimwell.

When we moved to our new house just over 2 years ago, we discovered this gem, and commissioned a larder cupboard, dresser and kitchen unit from them. I didn't think anything of the fact there were half a dozen large metal shipping containers in the yard, acting as mini showrooms. It was only when I googled them I discovered the back story.

One Friday evening in October 2012 a fire started at their business. 50 firefighters spent more than 12 hours tackling the blaze, but it was razed to the ground. It was a family business, started by the father of the brother and sister then, and now, running the firm. Surveying the ashes the following Monday morning, the father announced they would be up and running again by the end of the week. The rest of the family gave up the different businesses they were running or involved in to help, and within days they were trading again. They converted a stone store-shed into the shop, and I assume soon after that the shipping containers arrived. Four years later, with the business still thriving, the new showroom was erected.

And today was fab - they had laid on a barbecue, hog roast and glasses of champagne, and the new building is incredible. Minor blip when The Bee announced loudly she'd had a lovely 'sleep' in one of the beds...I was sipping champagne on a straw bale entirely oblivious, while Grizzly was supposedly in charge.

Nevertheless, theirs is a hugely uplifting lesson in never giving up, and what people pulling together can achieve. Oh, and here's a close-up of the larder cupboard - I'm very proud of it! Country Furniture Barn Ltd
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Ricard & Revelry

Ricard & Revelry

Week two of our summer holiday with Granny and Grandpa (the kids', not mine) has seen us eating Christmas pudding mid-August. Some of the fairs I'm doing this year have asked for marketing images, so I decided to bring a pudding with me from Sussex, in order to take some amazing and Pinterest-worthy pictures. I had a very clear idea in my head about how they were going to look - and all I needed was a matt gold plate, an antique candelabra, and some holly. In reality a rummage through the crockery cupboard, linen drawer and wine rack produced different props entirely. And the pictures looked nothing like the ones in my head.

During the best part of an hour I tried 47 different ways to arrange the table, and got more and more depressed about it. Meanwhile the Bee and the Bear were 'going to sleep' in the room directly above me. This involved feral behaviour on a new level - screaming, and bouncing, and hysterical laughter. I broke off from swearing at the pudding to go and talk calmly to the children about their behaviour...the Bear had morphed into a very small Pete Townshend, and was throwing everything he could get his hands on out of his cot...they had also become inexplicably deaf, almost certainly due to their own noise levels, and completely ignored me. So I went back to my pop-up photo shoot. Grandpa asked if there was anything else I needed, and I put in an order for a G&T. Grandpa said he thought sherry or whisky might look more festive - I explained it was for me not the photo.

By the time I'd finished, the children were still going strong. But I'd polished off the gin and started on the Ricard by then so didn't care and could pass it off as important and really rather special bonding time for them both. I'd also managed to smear Christmas pudding over Granny's carefully laundered napkins and table-cloth I'd secretly borrowed... The children eventually passed out about 9pm. I admitted defeat and set about consuming large amounts of the Christmas pudding. It was made from the fruit which had been soaking in brandy since last October. I passed out myself shortly afterwards.
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Clucking Pigs

Clucking Pigs

We made it to Yorkshire!

Yesterday was our 12th wedding anniversary, so I suggested we celebrated by going to a food fair nearby in Filey. I love nosing at what other people are selling, charging, and how they display their wares. Had it not been raining and freezing, the oyster and Prosecco bar might have been the highlight. As it was, The Clucking Pig was more appropriate for the weather, and frankly the best company name I have come across in a long-time - they sell scotch eggs, genius. And then in the evening we went out for dinner to celebrate. Here is a gratuitous close-up of my mussels, and Grizzly using his finger bowl. This was a replacement finger bowl, the first ended up in his lap as the waitress was setting up the table.
Today we had a beach day. Acres of sand, very few people, and unlimited choices of where to pitch ourselves. I suggested to Grizzly we could pretend we were on a Neilson holiday from days of yore - the sun was shining, and there was windsurfing and sailing.


Then we realised after 5 minutes we had picked the spot littered with broken glass and next to a dead dolphin. The lovely Lifeguards came along to remove the dolphin, which judging by their reactions had begun to 'peak'. Happily the wind was blowing other way and we were spared the stench ourselves.


And we still have another 10 days of beaches, and hopefully fewer cagoules!

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