Friday, 5 March 2010

I've never been much of a practical joker....

I baked a banana and chocolate chip cake today for my neighbour, in an effort to show our appreciation for them regularly taking in our packages. We often don't hear the pathetically quiet doorbell, and it seems delivery men are incredibly impatient anyways. Take the other night for example. My grandma kindly paid for M&S to deliver a rather lovely basket arrangement of flowers to me. The doorbell went and the delivery guy just left the box on the doorstep and drove off! At £40 for the arrangement, this is really shoddy service and it was a good job we were in.

Anyhow, I digress. Kim and Martin regularly take in deliveries when we aren't here, then often bring them round the same evening. Since we don't have a car, this is very nice of them indeed as we would have great difficulty getting to the most local Royal Mail depot in Gillingham, especially if the said package was particularly large.

So I bake this cake, and when I take it out the oven, I see some has overflowed and left a sizeable mound on the bottom shelf. Whilst incredibly childish, this immediately amuses me as it looks like one of those joke shop rubber poos. Now, as I've already said, I'm not much of a practical joker, in fact I am not a practical joker at all. However, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Every now and then one of the cats hoofs down their biscuits way too fast and end up 'bringing them back up again' and leaving one of us a little present to clean up. Nice. So, I left the cake mound on the step to the attic - the room Will spends most of his time in. Stifling laughter I ran off downstairs to fold the washing and pose innocence. About half an hour later I hear this 'Er, hun, there is some cat mess or puke, or something er on the step'. So I go upstairs and feign ignorance in form of 'Oh no! That's gross'. I do laugh at this point, but amazingly I'm still not given away. Then I assure Will that I will clear up the mess, which I confirm definitely looks like a poo rather than up-chuck. I reach out my bare hand and clean pick it up.

The look of utter disgust and amazement was priceless! I couldn't stop laughing for about 10 minutes, it's still making me snigger now. They say laughter is good for the soul, if that's true than I think a few more practical jokes may be in order.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Nice one Nestle

You may recall from my first post that I am going through something of a recovery period. This follows suit from the last two by way that I want to consume my entire body weight in chocolate and all things sweet. Today for example I have eaten two Jaffa cakes, 2 pieces of Toblerone (all that was left in the packet and it wasn't one of those super big sized packets either god dammit), and a third of an apple pie. Then when Will came home, I had to be sensible and eat corned beef hash and cabbage for tea.

For someone who usually eats very little chocolate - this is a shock to the system. Personally I think it has something to do with not boozing. Whilst I'm by no means usually a gin swilling dilly, I do like a decent glass of vino several nights a week. 10 days off the red stuff means my blood sugars are dangerously low. Or something.

Apart from not having to cook or prepare chocolate in any way (meaning it falls into my favourite category of food - 'grab 'n' go' food......also noteworthy here are hot cross buns, satsumas and bourbons), it seems by eating nearly all of the box of Quality Streets Will's mum brought us when she came to visit several weekends ago, I am also helping to save the planet. You see Nestle have been busy designing environmentally green packaging. Not only can you recycle the tinfoil from the sweets, er, covered in tinfoil - but you can also now put the plastic cellophane wrappers on the compost heap! Apparently they won first prize in the Best Marketing Initiative category in the European Bioplastics Awards 2008, and rightly so by the sounds of it. Take a look for yourselves, whilst I go and grab a slice of the chocolate toffee cheesecake I defrosted earlier......

Monday, 1 March 2010

Something about dianthus caryophyllus

Or Carnations as they're more commonly known.

Carnations have taken some stick over the years haven't they? Carnations had a well respected status in the flora-o-meter before they were scrupulously positioned on unsuspecting 7 year old taffeta-clad bridesmaids in the 80's. Mullett-sporting jocks with their suit sleeves rolled up, begrudgingly fixed them to their lapels following the barkish orders of the Main Meringue's Mother-in-law to be.

They are the national flower of Spain, and contrastly are used for funerals and deemed misfortunate in France. In the U.S.A they are used to denote fraternities and sororities, where here in the U.K, Oxford students pin them to their lapels during periods of examination, wearing a white flower to the first, pink to all following exams bar the final when a red carnation is adorned. Historically, Christian legend says that pink carnations appeared from the ground where Jesus's mother Mary cried at his carrying the cross. In an unrelated effort, carnations became the flower most associated with Mothering Sunday after founder, Anna Jarvis, honoured her mother's favourite flower and claimed that white carnations represented the 'pure love of a Mother'.

In comparison to their more popular counterparts, they are cheap. A dozen roses will likely set you back around £5 in a supermarket, whereas a bunch of carnations will probably be less than half that. But surely gone are the days when buying cheap meant you had bought something to be ashamed of?

Charlotte from Sex and the City referred to them as the 'filler flower'; only to be used to help bump out far superior and more dominant flowers in arrangements or bouquets. On the contrary, Carrie proclaimed pink ones as her favourite - and stated they were making a comeback. I happen to agree.

Recently featured on Channel 4's 'My Dream Farm', eco-friendly Kent based cut flower farm, Blooming Green, is all for only growing British flowers. Personally my favourite flower is the tulip, and we all know where the majority of those are imported from. Whilst they will always be my absolute favourite, they are flaky and last barely a week before giving up and drooping clean out of their vase. Enter the carnation. These are of course easily grown in Britain, which, if we are ever to become more aware and responsible about what we buy and where it comes from, then anything from 'home' is surely a jolly good place to start.

Speaking of home, my sister bought me the carnations you see in the picture. These are still looking as fresh as ever, and 16 days on, I think this is pretty good going. Cost effective, quintessentially gorgeous and with barely any sort of a print left behind after their purchase, let alone a foot-shaped one; dianthus caryophyllus certainly gets my vote.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hello, my name is Hayley, and I am addicted to Farmville.

It's true, I love Farmville. For those of you lucky enough not to be addicted (or should that be interested?), Farmville is a virtual farming game which is accessed through the online social networking phenomenon - Facebook.

In short - it's the biggest time waster I have ever been caught up with. Forget teenage trysts with drink, drugs and no good boys, never before in my life have I wasted as much time on something so unproductive and pointless as Farmville. I can play it for hours and hours and bizarrely feel satisfaction from it, as if I really have done good for the day by milking my cows, harvesting my crops, plowing my land and collecting my hen's eggs. I can even perform more than one good deed for the day by helping as many of my Farmville neighbours as I have time for by fertilising their crops, banishing pesky crop-munching gophers, and ridding their land of weeds.

Community spirit is high, and there is respect amongst fellow-Farmvillers. You get to know who sends the gifts, and therefore who to send them back to. It sounds very 'give to receive' and it kind of is, but in a good way (after all why would I waste even more of my time by sending chickens and elephant-shaped topiaries to Level 1'ers who set up a Farm by accident?). It seems I'm not alone. At last count there were 82,848,181 active monthly users of the application, and 44 of them are my real life friends!

Community spirit aside, there is a corporate element to the game. Just through game play, you will earn Farmville coins and cash. This sounds like the same thing, but coins are easy and quick to earn, for example by collecting bananas from a banana tree you can add 75 coins to the kitty. Farmville cash however is accumulated much more slowly, and items in the 'Farmville Market' which can only be purchased with Farmville cash are normally priced highly, making it near impossable to earn a notable cash amount through even very regular game play. Creators - Zynga obviously want to make a buck or two if they can - which I suppose is fair enough (though nigglingly irksome nonetheless). I'm pleased to say that I draw the line at using my real life credit/debit card to buy virtual money to buy virtual 'things'. Well done me.

I am however quite embarrassed to admit that the 217,215 currently in my Farmville Farmer's bank account does make me happy. I have little disposable income in real life, so the idea that I can grow something and harvest it at a tidy profit thus building a sum of virtual money which I can spend willy nilly on some slightly bonkers things at the Market, is a fine one indeed.

The more experience accumulated means the more levels you unlock. This allows you to purchase new seeds and gifts for your neighbours. The last vegetable seed to unlock is asparagus, and you can only buy and sow that once you reach level 37. There appear to be no other levels after this point, which worries me. It worries me because I am a level 35'er, and my addiction is so that the mere thought of a Farmville rut is a depressing one. Nothing new to unlock, nowhere to go - the equivalent of a farming Groundhog Day. This may be the push I need, the clean break from the virtual farming community which forces me to go and tend to my very own 65 foot 'farm'. This will be anything but a bad thing, though a one time gardening budget of £217,215 would sure be nice.

Here goes...

I'm so bored it's unbelievable even to me - one of the world's most gullible people.

I am recovering from a relatively minor op - but not so minor that I can much get out of bed and do the things I would normally do. That on a Sunday would include faffing around in the kitchen with a glass of red and cooking chutney, cakes/cookies, or most likely - an enormous roast dinner for just me and my boyfriend. This would usually last us until at least Wednesday, when we would be sick of the sight of cold roast potatoes and shrivelled up parsnips.

Today is different however, and I'm in the guest room (which has an en-suite so I don't have to hobble off downstairs), with my laptop trying to stifle a pressing urge to buy 'stuff' from Ebay which would no doubt get me into trouble with the mortgage people. 'Sorry Mr Santander - I spent this month's payment on an original pine and marble Victorian washstand - it's going to look amazing in my newly decorated bathroom.' Even if no one reads my ranting rubbish, I am hoping the act of blogging will steer me away from a lifetime of financial embarrassment and woe.

I do not consider myself to be a 'normal' near-28 year old. I like baking; chintz; sewing (even though I'm appalling bad at it); all things Beatrix Potter; flowers and pouring through over-priced Homes and Interiors magazines for inspiration. Above all these things though, I like gardening. This baffles my friends, and I am regularly the butt of many an 'old lady' joke. Unlike most of them, I chose to get on the property ladder in Kent - and not London where I'm from. Kent is considered by them to be 'in the sticks', and although my stock standard response to the inevitable questions of 'Why why why Kent?!' has always been 'more space for my £, and a garden no less', this has fallen on deaf ears. I find this funny. At 27 I have bagged myself a 3 bedroom, 4 storey Victorian Terrace with a 65 foot garden. Hardly your average starter home. I am proud of this achievement, and whilst the garden was originally on the must have spec list in order to accommodate my cat and rabbit and to host the occasional BBQ for those brave enough to venture over the Dartford Crossing (for a reason other than to assault their credit cards at Bluewater) - it has since become so much more.

2009 was the year of first tries at tomatoes; sprouts; cabbage; broccoli; cauliflower; potatoes; spring onions; chillies; basil; lettuce; carrots; courgettes and peas. I left mentioning the peas until last, not because they were best, but quite the opposite and almost not worth mentioning at all. They sprouted alright, and then some beastly worms ate them from the inside out, and that was that. All those finished loo rolls I foolishly hoarded to 'train' the pea shoots upwards, were swiftly dumped in the recycling box.

I used to like butterflies before I tried growing brassicas - clearly a tasty favourite of the 'cabbage white butterfly' - much loathed by gardeners all over. Despite many military-esque pursuits to inflict caterpillar genocide (this involved going out twice daily on weekdays, and almost on the hour at weekends, and physically picking caterpillars off leaves and flinging them down the lawn), my sprouts, caulis, cabbages and broccoli's were devastated. Many lessons learned and I will definitely be investing in some good quality netting this year.

The success stories were in the lettuces, and tomatoes. I grew round lettuce upon round lettuce right the way through to November. I finally conceded and dug the remaining crop up, giving half to a neighbour, when frost was threatening to teach them a lesson or two. The 'Tumbling Tom' toms were delicious and plentiful. I hate waste, so the bumper crop of green tomatoes left over were readily boiled to death in vinegar to make several jars of chutney: double result.

As I sit in bed, I am thinking about the oodles of seeds I have waiting in the trug downstairs by the back door. I am very aware of the garlic bulbs which need to be planted by the end of February, which is of course today. I could ask my nurse/boyfriend to do this for me, but I don't want to. I am selfish and I want to hurry up and get better so I can do it all myself. I joke with him that I should have a bell to ring when I need something. I'm not sure an order to go out into the pouring rain and plant garlic bulbs would go down so well.

The last few months have been incredibly dull and dormant. I doubt I am alone in thinking this, but I cannot wait for to get back out in the garden. Muddied hands, aching joints, blisters and even hoards of ruddy caterpillars. There is nothing quite like it, and I think it's the best feeling in the world.