From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Ma’s Delight (or Mars Delight)

I just watched a YouTube video (don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the recipe) of a young man demonstrating his method of tracing sewing patterns onto thin polythene sheeting, meaning that the same pattern can be re-used as many times as you want and you can make it in all the different sizes it has to offer.

It was a very clear and useful video – some people are just natural explainers/ entertainers aren’t they? – but I spent most of it wondering what this ‘sharpie’ thing was he kept referring to. It sounded like something a surgeon might use to take out someone’s appendix yet he seemed to be wielding nothing more dangerous than a fine-tipped permanent marker. Reading the comments below the video it was clear that other viewers had had to research this object too. I looked it up on Amazon and voilà (or possibly voilá) – more Sharpies than you could shake a stick at.

So it is with Mars Bars. Every Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman, Welshman (Cornishman?) knows what a Mars Bar is. Mars Bars are part of our culture. But it occurs to me that there may be parts of the globe where they do have computers but do not have Mars Bars or where there is a Mars-type chocolate bar but it goes under a different name.

I do not have the secret recipe for Mars Bars but basically it’s squidgy, caramel-y toffee thickly coated with milk chocolate. A lifetime of consuming Mars Bars is one reason for my feminine curves today. However, I’m sure any similar chocolate bar (or rather three chocolate bars!) would do as well. Perhaps best to avoid ones with peanuts in as that might alter the taste and some people are allergic.

Finally, she gets round to it

Ma’s Delight, or Mars Delight

3 cups Rice Crispies (I use 3 mugs) (3 oz – ounces)

3 oz butter or marge (margarine)

1 slab of milk cooking chocolate

3 Mars Bars (large) – 200 grams is about right, ie approx 7 oz)

Put a thick bottomed pan on low heat and melt the butter in bottom. Cut the Mars Bars into slices and add. Keep on a low heat until all is melted into a gungy mess, stir it all up with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the Krispies, stirring until all is coated with the mixture. Spread in a swiss roll tin, lightly packing it all down. Break the chocolate into pieces and either melt in a microwave on high for a couple of minutes, or, melt in a bowl placed in a saucepan of hot water. CARE if you do the latter, don’t let any water get into it or let it get too hot, else it goes solid and you can’t reconstitute it.

Spread it over the flat Krispies and leave to go solid.

Mum used tin 11″ x 7″.

From Mum’s Old Recipe Book: Carrot and Banana Bread

10 oz (ounces) wholemeal flour

1 level tsp (teaspoon) baking powder

1/4 level tsp salt

1/4 level tsp mixed spice

4 oz marge (margarine)

6 oz brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

4 oz banana, mashed

4 oz carrot, grated

Set oven at 350°F (175°C)

Lightly grease 2 lb (pound) loaf tin

Put the flour, baking powder, salt & spice into bowl. Cream the marge and sugar together until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs. Stir in the banana and carrot. Add the flour and fold in. Place mixture in the tin & smooth over. Cook for 1 hr 15 mins or until firm.

Turn out when cold. Slice and butter.

Enjoy 🙂

Short Little Span Of Attention

Raindrops keep falling on my head…

I feel as if I should be riding round in circles on a bicycle, typing this. Alas, my bicycle-riding days are over.

This one is about how to keep dry at bus stops. Since being forced into the realms of Public Transport I have only been drenched at a bus stop once, but that was enough. The thing with bus stops is that you may have to wait up to an hour at one, and that’s an awful lot of getting wet to endure when all you want is to be already at home with your lunchtime sandwich, swilling back cups of tea.

I thought I had made provision for this by including in my bag the light duty green festival rain cape. Remember, in a previous post I mentioned a heavy duty green festival rain cape? This is now permanently installed on my bed to protect it from senile cats wanting to wee on it.

The light duty green festival rain cape was no good at all. I wrestled it over my head, spectacles and pony-tail, and the head tore off. I deposited the head in the bus-stop-side refuse bin in disgust and sat for the next half an hour in the remaining three-quarters of the rain cape. It seemed not quite long enough to cover the sit-upon problem either, and the bench was damp.

I have been stewing on this problem ever since. I mean, in the middle of summer you don’t always want to be carting around your winter coat just in case. Bulk and weight are the enemy of the traveller on Public Transport – or any traveller. On the other hand, in Britain you can never say it isn’t going to rain. It nearly always is going to, and if you fail one day to take a rainwear of some sort with you, it’s definitely going to.

This morning whilst washing up in my dressing gown the solution came to me – clear plastic bin bags. Our local Council insists on these for excess recyclable waste, because they suspect that we will otherwise be attempting to sneak out our excess vegetable peelings and general filth. They don’t provide them, of course, you have to buy them.

So, what you do: you take two of the clear plastic bin sacks and just leave them folded exactly as they are. This saves having to squeeze the air out, which is a pain. Then you take another two and slit them up one side, and you nest one of the slit-up-the-side bags inside the other. You fold them up like this and squeeze out the air. The whole lot fits inside something the size of a pencil case.

The idea is this. You arrive at the bus stop just as it starts to rain. You observe the bus you ought to have caught disappearing into the distance, so you’ve got an hour to wait. Black clouds loom overhead, the rain is going to get heavier and you do not have a mac. So, you whip out your clear plastic bags. You fold one into four and place it on the damp bench, to sit on. You take the two operated on bags and place them over your head like a monk’s cowl. This will keep you dry(ish) from head to hip, and the bags are light enough that you can push them out of the way to check if the bus is coming, even if you can’t see through them. You sit down on your folded bin sack and place the remaining sack over your knees like an invalid rug.

I haven’t tried this yet, but promise I will as soon as it rains. I imagine it won’t work well in a gale, in which case I suppose the answer is to find a shop doorway or walk to the nearest bus stop with a shelter. Amazing how many bus stops do not have shelter, or only overhanging trees to drip down your neck or expose you to lightning-strike.

One of the few benefits of having a creative turn of mind plus a short little span of attention.

Mote-Mote, Montreal and Marmalade Bread Pudding…Mountains of Things

Well, little mote-mote has had to be sold because I could not afford to drive her any more – for a sum equivalent to the Biblical thirty pieces of silver. By a kind of divine retribution for my Betrayal of my Beloved she has been bought by the Brother-in-Law of the man over the road who, for some reason that he did explain but I was too upset to understand, is keeping her on the driveway of the man over the road and seems in no hurry to take her away. So – there sits my little blue car for an unknown, indefinite spell, no longer mine and not even invisible.

In the odd, sinuous way my mind works, particularly when in distress, this reminds me of Canada and some lines from a famous poem:

My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr Spurgeon

O God! O Montreal!

Of course there is plenty to be getting on with, to take my mind off it. There are cats to be fed, there’s divan beds to be manoeuvred downstairs, there are bathroom sinks to be cleaned, there are two lawns to be mown, there’s an empty bird table, there’s a monster pile of ironing. Stuff to do, people to see…

The world is full of stuff, isn’t it? There’s no getting away from what singer Tracy Chapman once referred to, tunefully but irritatingly, as Mountains O’ Thangs and which Zen Buddhists tend to refer to as ‘The Ten Thousand Things’:

“All things are one and have no life apart from it; the One is all things and is incomplete without the least of them. Yet the parts are parts within the whole, not merged in it; they are interfused with Reality while retaining the full identity of the part, and the One is no less One for the fact that it is a million-million parts.”

(Yes, I read D T Suzuki too; and no, I didn’t understand most of it either.)

This, owing to the aforementioned sinuous way my mind works, reminds me of a little motto my sister once recited to me over the phone: Your in-tray will never be empty, which was the singular most depressing piece of advice anyone ever gave me. The thought of an endless in-tray, endlessly refilled… O God! (O Montreal!) it’s like that bloke having to push the boulder up the mountain day after day and it rolling down again at night, or Penelope at her loom, weaving her husband’s burial shroud by day, unweaving it by night…

Canadians seem to be fond of little mottoes, or maybe it’s just my sister: mottoes, ice hockey, children and crafts. Innocent, homely, Little House on the Prairie type things. I rather wish I was there now: how much nicer to be collecting little mottoes and entranced by the manufacture of braided coasters and the knitting of dishcloths than a barrage of Brexit, Bombs and Burning Buildings. O God! O British Isles!

But this reminds me – homely things – I promised to share with you one or two of Mum’s recipes from the recipe book I rescued the other day. Here is the first one. I’m afraid I don’t know what the equivalent quantities are in other systems, but I have put the abbreviations in full in brackets, to assist:

MARMALADE BREAD PUDDING

Makes 16 slices

1 lb (pound) stale bread, with crusts removed

Grated rind and juice of 1 orange

½ pint milk

8 oz (ounces) mixed dried fruit

4 oz dark brown sugar

3 oz soft magarine

2 level tsp (teaspoons) mixed spice

4 level tbsp (tablespoons) marmalade

1 level tbsp granulated sugar

7 x 11 x 1-inch tin, greased

Set oven to moderately hot, Gas Mark 5 or 375F/190C

Cut the bread into small pieces, place in a large bowl with the orange rind and juice and milk. Leave to soak for 15 minutes. Mash with a fork and break up the pieces.

Add the dried fruit, brown sugar, margarine, mixed spice and marmalade to the soaked bread. Mix well together.

Turn into the tin, level out the surface and bake for 1 ¼ hours until firm. Leave in the tin to cool, turn out on to a wire rack and dredge (dredge? does that mean dust?) the top with sugar. Cut into 16 slices.

To freeze: Wrap in foil or polythene bags. Will keep well for 3 months.

Listen With Mother

It had sat in that same corner all my life – beside the window chair in the living room – my mother’s sewing box – and yet I had forgotten about it.

When I was a child she often gave me the sewing box to tidy, and I genuinely believed I was helping rather than – as seems more likely now – being kept amused. I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by cotton reels and cards of press-studs and hooks and eyes and being full of my own importance. I was helping. This goes back to the time before things went wrong, before Mum started lying on the sofa and crying for most of the morning instead of dusting. The time before Nan started coming along to help, and Mum started taking two aspirins every four hours for most of many days.

In those days we would listen to Listen With Mother together on the radio. She would sit me on her lap and I would start twiddling a lock of my hair in sheer anticipation. What would it be today? See-saw Marjorie Daw or the one about the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie? We had to have teddy with us. The radio lady always asked us if we had our teddies with us, and whether we were sitting comfortably.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

But back to the sewing box. I think I took it all rather seriously. I not only sorted out the cotton reels but wound in every loose end and secured it in the little notch at the top. I not only tidied the button box but threaded the buttons into a long string using one of Mum’s darning needles – little buttons at one end, all the way up to giant coat-type buttons at the other. Duffle-coat toggles were a bit of a worry…

I had to go back there about a week ago – I think I wrote about it – to remove Ex’s paintings as the house is now being sold to pay Mum’s fees. I was dreading it, and it was pretty dreadful, in some ways. Arriving half an hour before the removal firm man, I sat on the doorstep for ten minutes unable to go inside on my own. When he arrives, I thought, I’ll usher him in first and he can confront the ghosties! But then the neighbours started making casual passes back and forth. I realised they didn’t know who I was and assumed some sort of Bag Lady. Maybe they were about to call the police and have me removed… so I plucked up my courage and went in.

I busied myself packing Nan’s blue half-a-tea-service, which I had promised Mum I would save, and which nobody else seemed to want. I remembered the tea service from Sundays with Nan and Grandad. When first Nan and then Grandad died the half-a-tea-service (presumably my uncle had the other half) moved along the road and took up residence on a Welsh dresser in Mum’s living room. I had brought newspapers with me, and carrier bags.

Take anything you like, my sister said. The house clearance man was coming to take the lot. Probably been and gone by now.

I found a little album with a few random photos in it, of Mum and Dad and me maybe fifteen years ago, exploring the local chalk-pit that had been turned into a tourist attraction (or that was the idea) by the addition of wooden walkways and stairs. I have no photos of Mum and Dad – indeed, no photos at all of any part of my life – somebody else seems to have had them all at each step of the way, so I put that in the bag. I found a grubby old “Knitting Patterns” album containing not knitting patterns but recipes – all Mum’s favourite recipes in her familiar handwriting, recipes torn out of women’s magazines and annotated. Little interjections, mostly with her favourite exclamation marks

Delicious!

I substitute sultanas for mixed fruit!

360F, middle shelf!!

I thought I might share a few of the recipes with you, in occasional future posts. A way of Mum living on and in a small way contributing to the future, if you see what I mean.

And then I spotted it – the sewing basket. It was very, very heavy but I brought that home too. It sat at my feet high up in the removal man’s van. You need to be a veritable mountaineer to get into one of those things, and I all but landed in a heap trying to climb down out of it at the other end.

And then there was the dilemma. That evening I sat with Mum’s sewing basket on my knees and shed the few tears I ought to have shed a year earlier, at the thought of Mum to all intents and purposes gone. Mum in that home. Mum not at home. The house I grew up in not my home now. Everything off with the house clearance man to be distributed, no doubt, among charity shops.

But what should I do with the basket? Part of me wanted to sit on the floor, take out a whole lifetime of bits and bobs, half-cards of bias binding, folds of orange ribbon, samples of hessian (whatever did she use that for?) and of course the button box which, when I was a child had seemed a huge and magical container and now seemed to have shrunk to a hexagonal toffee tin with pictures of rabbits and 1950s postmen on the front.

Part of me wanted to leave it exactly as it was, so that the muddle inside should be Mum’s muddle, her memorial, a little bit of her practical, creative mind. In a way I wanted to keep her boxed, rather than bottled.

The dilemma continued for some time. Should I use the sewing box – as she would probably have wanted – or leave it undisturbed? After all, they were not really magic, the rusty tin of pins, the darning needles rusted into the tartan pincushion… I remember her teaching me to make a version of that pincushion for my Brownie sewing badge. They were just old things.

And then today I decided to design something to sew. Now, don’t laugh. There is a reason for it but I haven’t got time to go into it right now. I designed a Sad Cat Hat, taking the pattern from a sunhat I bought at a market stall on a recent visit to Canterbury, cutting out paper pattern pieces from the front cover of the Radio Times and pinning them onto an old pillow case for my “trial version” of this unlikely object. And then I thought, I no longer have any dressmaker’s shears and the kitchen scissors are too blunt. Maybe Mum has some?

In the bottom of Mum’s sewing box was a perfect pair of dressmaker’s scissors and – and this is the strange thing – left handed ones. Now, how does that happen? Mum was right handed. I’m left-handed.

And it seems to me that Mum – wherever she hides, inside that poor old grey head – was trying to get a message to me. Take the middle way. Use what you need but only when you need it, leave the muddle mostly, but not entirely, undisturbed.

My life is so complicated…

The old ginger cat just peed in my hairdryer. Oh joy.

I now have not one but two ancient, toothless cats, far gone into senility. One is over a hundred in human terms, the other, who knows? Combined, these two make my domestic life a nightmare.

One is deaf and, I suspect, very nearly blind. She wakes me up at all hour of the night with a chorus of bellowings and screechings. Nothing can console her, neither little tins of extra-special-and-very-expensive food nor consolatory pats-and-strokes nor witty conversation. She stands, gazing at where she senses I probably am and lets rip at full volume. If the new neighbours were not so noisy and party-prone themselves I would probably feel guilty about this.

The other is incontinent. By this I mean that he spends his entire day inventing ever more exotic places in which to pee voluminously, which are not a dirt box. He pees on boxes of cat-food, he pees against sacks of cat litter; he spray paperback books on the lower shelves of bookcases, he leaves deposits in dark corners, he waters the front doormat. Worst of all, now, he has taken to peeing in my bed.

A couple of weeks ago somewhere around midnight I entered the bedroom and observed (why am I talking like a policeman all of a sudden?) that the bed seemed eccentrically rearranged. Fearing the worst I pulled back the covers and there, behold, a spreading circle of wetness. It had gone through two duvets – the summer one, but also the winter one which, for want of anywhere else too keep it, I ‘store’ on the bed itself, underneath the bottom sheets. It had gone through the sheets. It had gone through the counterpane. It had gone through absolutely everything. And naturally this was on the side I would usually sleep on.

So of course I stripped it all off and washed it all. It was a damp and drizzly week, not a glimpse of the sun, and it took me a full five days to dry everything out. I had duvets draped over the stair rails and sheets hanging from coat-hangers in doorways; it was a chamber of horrors. In the meantime, night after night I slept on a naked mattress, awkwardly rolled in a child-size duvet. Every so often a cat playfully pounced up one or other of my naked feet, and savaged it.

And I had only just been telling GE today of my ingenious solution to this problem. Every morning I make the bed and immediately spread over it one of those heavy duty green ‘festival’ rain-capes – the sort that opens out and doubles as a groundsheet. This makes the bedroom smell rather rubbery, but since then the bed has not been peed on. He must have got the message, I thought.

But this evening I briefly but foolishly left my hairdryer on top of the green heavy duty festival rain-cape. When I picked it up, cat pee cascaded from it in veritable torrents onto the bedroom carpet. Where I had picked it up from, a golden pool of wee.

At least the bed’s still dry but I daren’t use that hairdryer. It wouldn’t be worth the risk of electrocution – or would it? No, it wouldn’t!

Unfortunately I’ve got long, long hair like some ancient hippie, mainly because I can’t afford to have it cut – I just wash it and dry it and snip a bit off the fringe at intervals. I don’t go out with it inappropriately flowing, though. It does get tied up a variety of buns, pony tails and plaits. But without the hairdryer…

Luckily… I have a spare hairdryer. Spare for everything, that’s me.

But now I suppose I ought to buy a spare for the spare, just in case.

My life is so complicated.

Bluebird ober de white cliff of Dober…

Life gets ever more bizarre, but in ever tinier and ever more domestic ways.

Today Godmother Elect and I went once again to visit Mum in the Home. We find her sitting in the day room with many others, classical music playing loud enough to drown out any vestige of thought. Catching sight of us she raises her arms and reaches out to us in what looks like terror or despair.

My legs don’t work, she says. I try, but they just won’t. (Later the carer tells us that Mum’s mobility is improving and that when she thinks no one is looking she can now shuffle herself unaided and, more importantly, un-hoisted from one chair to the next.)

I’m dead, she says. I’m dead. And though it’s a ghastly thing to hear, she’s telling us the truth. I wonder whether there really is some in-between place like Purgatory where the dead and the living walk side by side for a spell, and know not which they are.

Soon it’s time for lunch. They start wheeling the oldies into the dining room and since we have only just arrived we wheel ourselves in too.

A man on the other side of the room cries out joyfully –

Another lovely lady. Come in, come in, lovely lady and sit upon my knee!

He is referring to GE, not me. GE is even older than my mother.

His wife is at his side. It’s because you look a bit like me, she tells GE apologetically. Certainly they both have short white hair. All the same, I’m slightly miffed.

While they are dishing up we read the menu out to Mum. Plaice and chips! That sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Or ham, eggs and chips inserts one of the carers. Irrelevant, I think. Pedantic.

Mum seems terrified of the thought of chips whether with plaice or with ham and just then the man sharing ‘our’ table begins to wave his hands gently as if conducting an invisible orchestra. Someone has turned on the radio and some of the would-be diners start singing along.

One of the carers is a bit of a puzzle. We have never been able work out where she is from but she has an accent so thick it is not always possible to tell whether she is speaking English or her own language – sort of Mexican. But would someone travel all the way from Mexico to wear a brightly-coloured tee-shirt with Carer printed on it in nursery letters?

But she raises her voice and sings along to Vera Lynn and it is a sound so pure and perfectly pitched it brings tears to my eyes –

Dere be bluebird ober de white cliff of Dober… doo murrow jus’ you wade an see….

And it doesn’t matter if she even understands what she is singing, what a powerful resonance those words still have for this room full of the lost and bewildered.

She’s wasted here, GE observes.

But I think maybe not.