Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Family Favourites

One thing I love about books is that they can be so personal, especially if you have known them all your life.

Those books that have been lovingly read to you, night after night, as you and your little wiggly toes grew. Those books that you greeted as old friends at bedtimes, that held a special place in your world, that you weren't even aware of. They were just there, always.

For me, one of these books is 'Susie at Home' by Joan G Robinson. It is a dear old friend.


Despite the fact it is about a little girl with the same name as me, and appealed more to me than my brother, and was read countless times to just me, I have never considered it MY book. It was part of home. It lived on a particular section of a white-painted bookcase at the top of our stairs, always there ready to slide out for story time. It was so much a part of the house I grew up in that I was delightfully and incredibly surprised when my darling Mum handed it to me the other day, and said, almost casually, "Oh, do you want this Susie?" It was like being given an incredibly precious piece of jewellery.

I almost couldn't believe it. But now, this wonderful, slim, little brown book sits upon my bookshelf. And I am so very glad to be able to see it whenever I like.

Susie at Home is a collection of a few short stories, a chapter for each little happening, about a sweet little Susie. She lives with her Mummy and her Daddy in a world that no longer exists, in the 1950s. Our copy is a first edition of 1953. Susie's dearest, most special, doll is named Semolina and she has a lovely collection of teddies and other baby dolls for whom she makes mud pie tea parties and takes them all out in her little hooded pram all at once. I love the fact that the old and worn Semolina steals Susie's heart, even over her posh, impressive doll Margaret, because she is soft and comfy.

It is hard to fully convey the charm that pervades all of these stories. They are full of goodness and every small thing is done just so; very properly, and with good manners, and   with pure delight.  From buying new shoes, to clearing out the attic and making a costume out of an old lampshade and a faded curtain, Susie has such fun and makes everything an adventure. One of my favourite stories is about Daddy being left in charge, which, in this era, is a far bigger deal than nowadays.

While her Mummy is out helping Granny put up new curtains, Susie spends the whole afternoon with her Daddy; painting a gate and picking and arranging flowers in vases. Daddy gives Susie her tea and, as a special surprise for Mummy, Susie has her bath early and gets into her pyjamas before Daddy buttons her clothes back on over the top. When Mummy returns home, tired, ready to put Susie to bed she is pleasantly surprised to find everything done, leaving time for a bit of quality cuddling and a puddingy treat she has brought home with her. 

The word "nice" does crop up very frequently but what's wrong with that, honestly? It's a lovely word!
The book contains some lovely line drawings, which are very similar in style to the current  Belle and Boo illustrations.  I love Susie's dinky little nose and hair-clip and big buckle-shoes. There is no colour but at some moment which I do not recall I seem to have amended this and coloured in several little details in bright red. I think it looks quite stylish.  Also, Susie spells her name the way I consider to be correct, like mine, with an "S-I-E", which as a child, always made me very glad. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Cullompton's New Cafe, The Bakehouse.

I was very excited to head out this morning to a brand new cafe that opened in Cullompton, this very day. I arrived at The Bakehouse just after 9am and saw through the big bay windows that that a couple of customers were already enjoying a coffee, and sunny yellow daffodils and tulips were placed upon each table.

I stepped in to the gorgeous cafe that I have been eyeing up for weeks, full of anticipation, as I have passed by on my way to and from the library.
When my husband, Andy, walked by the other day, (earnest coffee appreciator that he is), he looked through the window to see if he could spy what type of coffee they would be serving. He was intrigued to see that it is Owens, a high quality Arabica coffee that's hand roasted in small batches in Modbury, South Devon. Whoop.

Plump packets of this sat happily along a shelf on one side wall of the cafe, above a marble bar, lined with little white stools and comfy cushions.

The other side has been renovated with much care and love, to expose an ancient-looking, worn, brick wall with integral wooden beams criss-crossing it's entire length. A large counter displayed Tea Pig teabags and an enticing array of cakes and other yumminess, while a large blackboard on the wall listed the Specials, which included, (I am pleased to announce) American PANCAKES with bacon and syrup. How sensible and correct is that! 

The lunches sound really very delicious and tempting, such as the Hereford Pie; cheesy leeks and potatoes in a cider and mustard sauce, wrapped in filo pastry and served with salads. The whole menu sounded very good. They have a heap of good ideas that break the mould of many regular cafes, including cheese on crumpets.

Each unique table is inviting in its own way; whether it's the tiny window table for two, or the larger window for four, the tables nestling along the cosy old wall, the stools at the bar, or the central, square table painted in teal surrounded by a delightful gathering of different chairs, any of which would be a joy to sit upon. I chose this one as it was not busy and I sat comfortably while the very welcoming waitresses brought me a pot of Earl Grey tea, with a DENBY pot of hot water and a good big teacup. I felt it was my duty to sample their coffee cake and was rather appalled by the enormousness of the slice I was presented with. I soon got over it however and spent a merry half hour or more writing some emails and having a think and enjoying my surroundings. 

Refreshingly, there is not a hint of Cath Kidston or ditsy, flowery pinkness at the Bakehouse. I do like pink and it can be very pleasant to be surrounded by it, but it's so popular these days, that sometimes it can seem a little obvious and overdone, and I have to say, it is not everyone's cup of tea. The Bakehouse has found its own style, rooted in tradition and history, with large monochrome photos of Cullompton from decades ago, when the streets were filled with ladies in hats and tightly buttoned dresses, and shiny black cars that all looked the same. A gorgeous shade of tealy jade is painted over the shop front and some of the surfaces inside.

They have kept the lovely golden writing above the shop window from the Bakery that preceeded it and added their own neat, modern sign alongside. It is a beautiful space; fresh and smart yet cosy and homely, full of interesting things to look at.

I was delighted that, while I sat there, people gradually started trickling in until every table was full and a lovely hum of chatter filled the air. I was pleased to be able to share my large table with a couple who I had not seen in years, who were passing some time in town before an appointment. While we nattered I observed that their bacon and sausage baps looked very good indeed. When they had left and I sat with another pot of tea, mulling some ideas, an old lady joined me. She was waiting to catch a bus from the stop across the road and we had a lengthy discussion before I had to wend my way towards my dental appointment. 

I was reluctant to leave, I feel I could happily have remained there all day but it sounded like they had quite a few lunches booked and people were still arriving. The Bakehouse has Wifi, and is open from 9-5.30 from Monday to Saturday. You can reach them on 35222 and www.thebakehousecullompton.co.uk

I know I will have to work hard at resisting this lovely place, but it is a local business that is well worth supporting and I hope the community will do so. I love our town and this is just the sort of venture we need to convince people to visit, spend money here and spread the word. Maybe it's just the start of new lease of life for Cullompton's High Street, maybe there'll be room one day for the little arty gift shop I would so love to run ....

Monday, 11 February 2013

Yummy Plums

This is not a recipe blog. I just happen to want to share this recipe because I just made it up and think I might not be the
only one who loves it so much I almost cried. 

It has four ingredients: Plums, blackberries, brown sugar and BUTTER. Yes, I know, butter can be a little bit naughty. But it is not evil or wrong. It is very natural and very nice, just don't have it every day. 

We do not usually have pudding unless we have guests or we have had a small dinner and need a bit of extra something. But tonight we had pudding, on a normal Monday night when we really didn't need it at all and the person I am going to blame is the Co-op.

They reduced loads of their fresh produce this evening, just as I was passing after work, and I was rather delighted by their lovely golden yellow plums and their huge dark blackberrries. Both were hugely reduced and I knew

there was a frying-pan back home waiting to get bubbling with something yummy. 

After dinner, which I ate quite fast because I was itching to get back to the hob, I heated the frying pan, added a big knob of butter, about a rounded desert spoonful, and let it melt gently. 

I then shook in a goodly pile of light brown sugar, by eye, about two serving spoons, and turned up the heat ...

... stirring until the sugar had mostly dissolved and the mixture had darkened slightly.

I then threw in four halved plums. These were nice firm plums that I just cut in half, pulled out the small stones, and let them sit flesh-side down in the now toffee-ish sauce, still on a high heat.

After a few seconds I stirred them to coat them in the sticky, thicker sauce then threw in the blackberries (half the punnet, which was about 14) and stirred them well.

At this point I didn't know how this would all turn out, but you already know this has a happy ending because I've told you. I thought it would remain just lightly poached fruit in a toffee sauce but the blackberries really transformed everything.

As they heated through, they released their deep dark juices, turning my golden brown sauce to gorgeous wine red and thinned it somewhat. Turns out this is a good thing 'cos the toffee sauce could have just been a lumpy mess otherwise. 

I let it cook on for another minute or so then decided it was finished and turned off the heat.
 Now what would really go well with this is a bit of vanilla icecream or Creme Fraiche but we had no icecream and our Creme Fraiche was an ancient embarassment so we used some reasonable double cream which was lovely too. (When I made this again to photograph I served it with plain Greek Yoghurt and a swizzle of maple-flavoured golden syrup to cut through the tang.)

I got a small bowl each, spooned in the plums, which was four halves each, then the blackberries, which was about 8 each (they are whoppers) and drizzled over ALL the deep red toffee sauce, of which there was plenty. Then I drizzled just a little bit of cream on, so as not to be toooooo naughty and had a little taste. I really almost melted into a pile of cosy happy warmth but there was more pudding to be enjoyed, so I did. 

I do hope you'll give this one a go. It is so quick, about five minutes from start to finish and pretty cheap. You don't need much of it to feel like you've had a real treat and it is just so completely delicious. You can use any plum you fancy but I do recommend the blackberries as their juice gives something extra special to this pudding. Really, any fruit poached lightly in butter and brown sugar is going to be edible though isn't it! Enjoy!