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Monday, 24 September 2012

The Happiness Cheesecake

I have always made birthday cakes for my husband and the family, but sometimes I do get a bit behind... The trouble is that all our birthdays are squashed up together!

We start with Holly at the end of October; her birthday is the same as Grandads, so I sometimes make two...then on to Phil in November, with James just two days later...then mum in mid December; we have an agreement these days, we buy each other a bottle-of-champagne birthday cake! Mine is a week later on Christmas Eve, then Matt at the beginning of January.

I do feel for Matt-and all of you with birthdays in January. After the excesses of the holiday season, we are trying to get our heads around the new year, there's hardly anything left in the shops for a decent gift (I buy his well in advance), and as for a party, well, we are all partied out...

So I get behind with my cakes.

We also have an unspoken rule that nobody can have a cake, unless the previous person(s) have had theirs. A couple of years ago I was so behind we had to have a cake fest!

This year, I was sort of ok...but Matt had not had his (again). I had promised a cheesecake, one of my special ones, the ones with many thousands of calories in, (I am including the recipe at the bottom of the page) and time had rolled on a bit since January...six months on.

As we had guests coming for dinner, I decided to make a really big one; I've got a large glass dish that is really meant to be used as a fruit bowl, or perhaps to display crudites and cold meats; it's really really big!

A large packet of McVitie's chocolate digestives went in the food processor and were then mixed with butter before being spread and flattened into the curved bottom of the dish, then 2 pounds of full fat Philedelphia was whisked up with a generous amount of caster sugar until really thick.

It MUST be FULL FAT soft cheese or it will NOT whip up!

Add a decent splodge of Vanilla Bean Paste and 2 pints of Double Cream and whisk until really thick. Chuck in two whole pots of Muller Light in Banana Custard flavour and whisk again. Pile it all up on the biscuit base and smooth with a knife. The banana flavour is only a hint, but it makes it really creamy tasting.

Before serving I sprinkle on lots of chocolate; crushed flakes, or twirl bites.

If you prefer, you can put individual portions into posh glasses, but we like to cut big slabs of the whole thing.

Matt had his first slice and went around grinning like the Cheshire Cat; apparently it makes him happy, so that's it, a 'Happiness Cheesecake'!

Since making that one, I then had to make several others, to catch up on all the birthdays, and even add in one for Tom, Matt's best mate. I'm doing one for Tom's girlfriend Georgie too, when her birthday comes around in January.

Of course, now I have a challenge on my hands; the birthday season is upon us; a mere few weeks until Holly's comes around again.

I think had better stock up.

Yum ๐Ÿ˜Š

Happiness Cheesecake Recipe

1/2 pack Crushed chocolate digestives
1 tablespoon melted butter

200g Full Fat Philedelphia
1/2 pint Double Cream (not extra thick)
Vanilla to taste
Approx 3 tablespoons Caster Sugar
Banana Yoghurt
Chocolate to sprinkle on top

Mix the crushed biscuits and melted butter and spread in the base of a flan dish.

Whisk cheese and sugar until thick
Add Cream and Vanilla and whisk until REALLY thick
Add yoghurt and whisk again

Spread the mixture on the biscuit base and chill thoroughly. Add choccy before serving. Smile whilst consuming!

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Location:My kitchen

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Back to the Green

I was delighted to find that one of my favourite albums was available on iTunes; I had been trying to buy it on cd since the compact disc first appeared in the 1980's, but alas, to no avail. My vinyl album wore out...and was distorted by being left out of the sleeve and slung on top of my GEC Music Centre...I hadn't heard it in years.

The album is 'Free Ride' by Marshall Hain; the only track of theirs you probably remember is 'Dancing in the City' which was a hit (oh god) 34 years ago in 1978! It is a great song, but the one I was desperate to hear was 'Back to the Green'. The orchestral arrangement, wistful lyrics and haunting melody have stayed with me all this time and you know what? I remembered all the words, first time!

Now I'm not sure of the copyright issues in reproducing the lyrics, and I apologise if I'm breaching or offending anyone, but I want you to go over to iTunes and listen to it; (buy it!) it seems to perfectly illustrate how we all need to get back in tune with nature.

It's an easy thing to do...all you need is fresh air. Obviously an open space helps, maybe a tree or two-and if you can, if it is feasible for you to do so, get yourself off out of that city and into the incredible countryside that is just a short distance from your front door.
Take great lungfuls of air and feel your energy levels rise, listen to the sounds of nature, whether it is the wind in the leaves and grasses, birds singing, insects buzzing, or rain on the treetops, or hillsides, or beaches.

We talk about 'blowing the cobwebs out' after a walk on a windy day, or of needing to go for a walk to allow ourselves to think clearly, but it is so easy to just get on with life and forget about the power of nature to help us to...
Just. Feel. Better.

The weather we have been experiencing in England this 'summer' also seems rather appropriate...although of course by the time I decided to write this, the sun has finally come out!

When it is is sunny and warm, there may be more encouragement for us to get outside, but don't forget about the power of the grey days, the windy days, the rainy days and the stormy days; go outside and feel it...

That's probably enough waffling from me, so here's the lyrics. Tell me what you think.

'Back to the Green' by Marshall Hain from the album 'Free Ride'

Here in the city everything's bright, sucked in by the neon lights
Living on main street must be someone else's dream
There's plenty of cars out on the road
And there's plenty of others to share your load
And time to lose in this constant steady stream
Steady stream that keeps you there
Ready to flow, and ready to wonder where

Here in the city ...the day, carries you on in the same old way
The package is different but there's little room for change
It's a timely friend, a world apart,
It's another end, but I've nowhere to start
I'm a city stray leaving for the country again
Leaving for the country, keep me there
To breathe in fresher air

And the day that you awake and know
There's nowhere else now worth your going to
After all the grey you've seen
It's time to head on back to the green

Here in the city, everything's cold, the flags of summer are heavy and old
And rain on the sidewalks reflects the angry crowds
We can hide out well, and keep ourselves warm
But that ain't no way to feel the storms
Give me open places where there's space to see the clouds
See the clouds through fresher air
Be the way you only can be there

And the day that you awake and know
There's nowhere else now worth you going to
After all the grey you've seen
It's time to head on back to the green

And today, I awoke and knew,
There's nowhere else now
Worth my going to...






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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Where There's Life




My grandma was an amazing gardener; she could encourage anything to grow-but I must admit that my faith in her knowledge and ability was shaken by this rose.

I also love gardening, and we had discussed my attempting to grow roses on several occasions over the years, but I had never somehow got around to it.

Until, that is, late summer 2010; grandma decided she was giving me one of her roses and that was that! By then she was in her nineties; very frail, almost blind, very deaf... She needed help to hobble down the garden and dig it up; as she handed it over, I smiled and thanked her and promised to plant it as soon as I got home....

...there was no way it was going to survive though, let alone grow. The plant was a hollow stick about 2 feet in length, with no roots at all!

I still planted it of course; I'm a great believer in giving things a chance, and I kept an eye on it, as the months passed by.

It survived...

In 2011, the rose shot out two long runners, proving that it was a rambler (which is what we had hoped); I let them go where they wanted and waited...

Over the winter of 2011/12, grandma became increasingly ill and she passed away in April 2012, but her rose flourished.
It grew like a weed; long runners that had to be trained against the wall, covered in the spikiest thorns! Despite the rain, despite the winds, it has been covered in scented pale pink blooms, in heavy floribunda clusters. The runners for next year are now growing at a frightening speed and need training and securing; I'll need to buy some thicker gloves for that!

The idea is to train it over the gap where my brick arch used to be...I had been hoping for some man-help with putting up the arch, but have been asking since March now...lol...so will do it myself.

Everything you see against the wall in the foreground is growing from that hollow stick-with-no-roots...proving that where there us life, there is always hope.

I'm sorry I doubted you grandma, and I miss you...


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Monday, 9 July 2012

Andy Murray is a hero


Andy Murray is a hero; I long ago forgave him for any brash youthful comments, long ago realised that some of those comments had been hideously misreported by a press keen to build on the myth of the Brit-phobic young Scot. Let's just take one of those supposed comments and put it firmly to bed. He is on the record as saying he would 'support any football team, as long as it wasn't England'...and yes, he did say that-but not in the way you think. He had just been asked by a hack if he supported Scotland in that years World Cup qualifiers, and as he rushed past on his way, he looked back and laughed that of course he would-as long as it wasn't England! It was a joke, a joke shared between two men; the sort of joke passed between friends up and down the land...especially if one of them comes from a different part of Great Britain to the other!

I repeat, Andy Murray is a hero; he has put up with the public sniping and sneering behind his back-and yet still expecting him to come out and win for them. He did not thrust the mike back at Sue Barker (the insensitivity of it!) and did his level best to talk, despite being engulfed by a tidal wave of emotion; we have all been there, at some point in our lives, desperate to talk, but overcome...very few of us will ever have to face that whilst being watched by millions. Andy rightly deserves every success that is coming his way; his commitment, his drive, his sheer talent will see him succeed...and now, finally...so will the love and admiration of everyone in Great Britain who witnessed what I believe will go down as one of the greatest finals in Wimbledon history.





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Location:At home

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Greetings on this Summer Solstice! The Bun Dance of Abundance approacheth!

In the semi-darkness of the approaching dawn, the watchers patiently waited; the slight breeze tugging at their clothes.

The stones surrounded them; towering monoliths carefully arranged by an ancient people in the distant past. The tension was palpable; the sun would soon rise, light rushing across the land from the horizon to the stones, warming the faces of the watchers and filling their hearts with fierce joy.

Thousands had gathered to witness the spectacle; they arrived in cars, coaches, camper vans, motorcycles, all eager to be a part of something that felt deeply spiritual, all wanting to be changed somehow by the experience. Some came wearing elaborate robes, carrying ritual tools to praise the old gods and goddesses of the land; some came armed with beer cans and loud music, there were dancers and drummers, every race, every creed, men, women, and children.

The sky was becoming lighter by the second, the sun on its endless journey around our solar system, keeping its promise to arrive at the appointed time.

Silence fell, all eyes now firmly fixed on the eastern horizon.

Silence was broken by the unnatural shrill of a mobile; harsh tones breaking the spell of ancient magic.

'Oh hi Ben, yes, I'm at Stonehenge; no, the sun hasn't risen yet, but it won't be long-I'll tell you what, can you Facetime me, I can show you as it happens. What? Wireless? Oh yeah, we need wireless for Facetime...surely there must be wireless here; it's famous enough!'

The girl with the phone turned to her companion 'Kate, have they got wireless here?' 'NO!' Her companion was sharp 'Now turn that bloody thing off! Some of us are trying to tune in...'

'No need to be shirty...Hi Ben, no it seems there's no wireless, and I think people want me to end the call, so I'd better go. No, I don't understand either, it's not like this doesn't happen everyday!' Sulkily, she put the mobile back in her handbag and fumbled for a tissue. 'How much longer do we have to stand here? I'm desperate for a wee!'

Her companion sighed 'It won't be long Emma, a few minutes, I have waited to be here to see this all my life, surely you can hang on for a few minutes more without completely ruining it for me!'
Kate turned away and faced the east once more. She breathed deeply, trying to ignore the musty smell coming from the man stood just behind her; she had not anticipated the reality of being stood in a crowd of thousands for this moment, in her dreams it had always been a solitary thing, just her and the sun communing at the stones...I mean, of course she knew that loads of others came, but she didn't realise it would be so crowded, such a crush, bodies jostling each other for position, necks craning to try and be the first to see the suns rays spill across the landscape.

A few more minutes passed; Emma rustled in her handbag for some sweets, 'D'you want a mint Kate?' she asked, smiling brightly, obviously trying to make up. 'Ok, pass them over.' Kate took one of the mints and popped it in her mouth; as she did so, a shout went up from those at the front, followed by a mighty cheer 'Is the sun rising now?' Kate jumped up and down trying to see over the heads of the people in front; one of them turned to her and smiled sadly; 'No, it's clouding over up ahead, the sun won't be making an appearance after all...'

Give or take 30 years, this is more or less what happened to me... I went to Stonehenge in 1981, with a friend from work. I was young and naive, thought it would be just me (and my friend of course), and maybe a few druids on the fringes. I was absolutely convinced it would be truly magical, connect me to the ancestors (whoever they might be) to the ancient gods and goddesses of this land and of course give me magical powers just by being there. After all, who wouldn't fancy being able to shoot green fire from their fingertips at the woman who pushed in front of you at the checkout! ...Especially if they were loading pricey top of the range goodies onto the conveyor belt whilst staring snootily at your supermarket own label stuff...

Anyway, there I was standing in the crush, reasonably near the front on a cold summer morning. You were not allowed access inside the stones in those days, but the Druids were. There were certainly Druids aplenty, clad in their white robes, weaving in and out of the stones in serpentine patterns, muttering under their breath. Their was something slightly sheepish about them, as though they were trying not to be recognised individually.
This approach however was blown out of the water by a couple of tabloid photographers who asked (shouted) if they could have a 'Team Photograph'.

The Druids agreeably complied; forming into three lines right in front of where we were standing; the photographers arranged them like a football team...one row sat cross legged at the front, the row behind on one knee and the back row standing. There was a bit of good natured banter concerning their ability to replace the current England team and play for Ron Greenwood, who was the England Manager at the time. The photo's were taken and all would have continued to be well, had not someone shouted from the crowd; 'Got any virgins to spare!' The Druids went off in a distinct huff and stood before the stones, facing east.

It all went quiet, the tension mounted and then-just as the sun was about to rise-a cry went up from the back; 'Bloody hell, look at that!'

As one, we all turned round...the biggest, blackest, cloud you have ever seen was hurtling toward us at a frightening speed! In moments we were all drenched, running helter skelter for the shelter of our cars-including the druids! It seems their robes were not showerproof, the gods had spoken and declared that nobody would be seeing the sun rise that year!

We slept in a layby; I arrived back home in the early afternoon, feeling a bit flat and disappointed. I have not been to a solstice at Stonehenge since, although I expect things are a little different these days. Just as crowded of course, but with access to the stones, and of course, mobile phones.

I still feel that the Solstices are special times, but I celebrate them in my own way, with those whom I love as opposed to a horde of strangers.

One of our favourite ways to celebrate is with the 'Bun Dance of Abundance'; it's quite simple and is a great way of doing something spiritual without a loincloth in sight! All you need in the way of ritual items is a bun. Of course you can add as many other things as you like; candles, incense, long flowery paragraphs of purple prose, crystals, wine...the list is endless, but this is the (really) important thing; You Make It Up As You Go Along.

Got that? I'll say it again; You Make It Up As You Go Along.

You want to talk to your god? Go ahead. You want to take all your clothes off and hang free in the breeze? Fine. I'll stay fully clothed, thank you-inflicting my flabby bits on the universe is not my cup of tea!

We celebrate with our closest friends; it's a closed ceremony, you can't come, I'm sorry. We do our thing, say thanks for the blessings in our lives, remember those who have passed, and then we perform the central, solemn ritual, The Bun Dance of Abundance.

No, i'm joking, it's most definitely not solemn!

In fact, it's likely to have you gasping for breath due to laughing...just dance around in a circle, clutching your bun of choice, get faster and faster if you wish, but whatever you do, don't be solemn. Laugh! Positive energy attracts positive energy, and believe me, this is positive energy. It blows the dusty cobwebs out of your head, and fills you with good, clean, shining positivity.

The longer you perform the dance, the more positive energy you take in...and then you fall exhausted on the floor and eat your bun, or someone else's bun, if theirs looks better than yours. Or you can share buns! Try not to choke on the crumbs, take some water with you...

Dogs really like this too...cats are a bit stand offish, ours tend to run screaming, but dogs love it! The best place to perform the Bun Dance of Abundance is outside, mainly due to there being less you can break or trip over outside, but inside is fine-just remember the creators of the dance will accept no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of it, whether directly or indirectly. It's all down to you...

Happy Summer Solstice!
Michelle x








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Location:At home...looking out on a grey day...