Monday, 31 January 2011

Orange, carrot and raisin spiced muffins

I made these today.  Screwed up a bit because I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t put the topping on before cooking.  Doh!  Luckily I have made them properly before and I’ve also omitted the topping and they’re very tasty.  Luckily, even when I dragged the muffins out with 3 minutes cooking time left and belatedly added the topping and bunged them back in oven, they were fine (according to Hannah and Ethan).

This recipe makes 12 muffins


  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp soda bicarbonate
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 85g granulated sugar (I use golden granulated)
  • finely grated rind of one large orange (easiest with a big juicy fresh orange)
  • juice of the orange you’ve already used topped up with orange juice to make a total of 180ml
  • 110g finely grated carrot (about one biggish carrot and I used the big side of the grater tonight although I think I’ve done more finely grated in the past)
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 85g raisins

Topping (optional and these measurements are a rough guide because I don’t know what weight of butter produces two tablespoons)

  • 3 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp melted butter


  • I usually turn the oven on just before I combine the wet and the dry ingredients otherwise I find that the oven has got to temperature ages before I’m ready (I don’t like to be rushed).  If you want to turn the oven then it’s 160°C for a fan oven.
  • Put muffin cases into your muffin tin(s).
  • In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder, soda bicarb, salt and spices, or if you’re lazy like me just stir these ingredients together.
  • In a separate bowl combine the beaten egg (beaten with a fork is fine), sugar, orange rind, orange juice, carrot and oil.
  • Pour wet ingredients into the dry and stir, with a spoon.  You do not need to use a mixer or food processor.  In fact I’m convinced that using anything other than a spoon is a big mistake….so don’t get tempted.  Just as you’ve almost mixed it so no flour is visible, add the raisins and stir them in (with the same spoon).
  • Spoon into muffin cases and if you are doing the topping thing, then combine topping ingredients and spoon on top of the uncooked muffins and then bung in the oven for 20 mins.  If you’re not doing the topping bit then omit that and bung in the oven for 20 mins.
  • Leave in for an extra couple of minutes if they aren’t a lovely golden brown colour.
  • You can eat these straight away or you can freeze these very successfully.  I’m taking this batch (minus one for Hannah and one for Ethan) into the office.  If you want to bake ahead and freeze then you need to allow about three hours defrost time or you can take them out the night before and keep in the fridge overnight.  If you want to take them out of the freezer when you fancy a snack, then a 30 second blast in the microwave from frozen gives you a lovely warm, tasty muffin to accompany a mug of tea or coffee.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Your call is important to us…

I would hazard a guess that you have experienced the frustration of phoning a poorly managed call centre.

I’m pretty sure you will recognise at least one of these phrases:

  • “Your call is important to us”
  • “We are currently experiencing unusually high call volumes”
  • “Calls are answered in strict rotation”
  • “Your call will be answered as soon as an advisor is available”
  • “Dum dum de dum de dum dum de dum, de dum dum de dum de dum dum de dum..”
  • “Press star to hear the menu again”
  • “Sorry, we didn’t recognise that response, please try again”

I have an inkling that just raising this subject is probably raising your blood pressure, which is why I’ve come up with a genius new business idea.

A new company, for a flat fee per call, will make the call to resolve whatever needs resolving on your behalf.

  • Pissed off with Virgin Media?  We’ll call the bastards for you and sort them out.
  • Had a ding dong with Sky?  We’ll ring their bell until it ding-a-ling lings.
  • Screwed over by British Gas?  We’ll make them so sorry it’ll hurt.
  • Is Santander driving you nuts?  We’ll get them begging you for mercy.

It’s your problem, but we’ll sort it.”

What do you think?  Are you in?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Market research

Santander have been conducting market research.  I received a call yesterday from a woman working for a research agency.

She was very pleasant and I was happy to spend 15 minutes answering her questions.  If a company wants feedback to understand the service that they are delivering with a view to improving, then I’m usually happy to help.  Whether that was Santander’s intent or not I don’t know.

I did have a current and savings account with Santander but after a series of poor customer experiences I walked and moved my current account.  Moving a current account was easy as I didn’t even need to step into a branch.  The savings account proved more tricky. 

When I went to close the account the cashier wanted me to talk to the manager.  They kept me waiting for the manager who wasn’t even in the branch.  They then told me they wanted me to talk to someone else and kept me waiting again.  When I finally did get to talk to someone they just told me they wanted me to talk to the manager.  We arranged a mutually convenient time and the manager promised to try and resolve the issues I had outlined.  It took over a week and I received a letter apologising and promising that in the future they would try to provide improved customer satisfaction.  The letter was accompanied by the offer of financial compensation for inconvenience I’d encountered.

I resolved to continue with the account closure.  There had still been no evidence that anything had been done to resolve the issues I’d experienced which is actually what I’d requested.  The financial compensation was insignificant and wasn’t what I’d asked for.

The market research call reminded me I needed to close the remaining account and I remembered to thank the market researcher for the reminder.

She finished by asking if I was happy for Santander to listen to a recording of our call.  Absolutely!

She asked me whether I would be willing to be contacted to clarify any of the detail in the call.  Of course!

She asked me whether I would reconsider Santander for my banking if Santander addressed the issues I raised.  Unlikely!

They have had plenty of opportunity to fix the issues and they have failed consistently and spectacularly.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

…and in my bag I put…

I have a bag that lives under the stairs.  It contains:

  • six photo frames containing pictures of my children
  • a lint remover
  • a nail file
  • a Lemsip sachet
  • a plant pot
  • a stress toy (from a Google event)
  • a pen

and this:


Silly isn’t it?

These are the things I packed up from my last desk almost a year ago.  When I moved into my new job I was told my desk was only temporary and I would be moving desks soon.  So I didn’t make myself comfortable, except of course for taking in some tea bags, a mug or two, drugs (Paracetamol and Ibuprofen) and USB fairy lights. 

I think the bag might go into work on my first anniversary at the temporary desk.  Unless of course I’ve moved desks by then.

Monday, 24 January 2011

One born

I like the Channel 4 show One Born Every Minute. It's a bit like hypnosis. I remember things I'd completely forgotten about labour.

It also puts my own experiences into context. I see other people with the same anxieties, the same issues, the same reactions. It's reassuring to know my experiences were normal, as normal as any birth can be.

I also like it because it's wonderful to see babies being born. It's amazing to be allowed to share in such a private experience and to see the emotions people experience.

I invariably cry but that's a good thing.

And I invented a medical condition tonight. One of the mums was shaking terribly after the birth of her gorgeous daughter and it reminded me that I had postnatal shakes too. At the time I thought it was post traumatic stress or ( cue invented medical condition) impending early onset death.

I didn't die, clearly.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

To endure or not

Ethan has recently started singing with the church choir and today, for the first time, he sang during a service.

He's joined the choir because I saw they were recruiting and I asked Ethan whether he was interested, and he was.

So I dropped him off for pre-service practise and picked him up after the service.

The Director of Music said I should have joined everyone whilst someone else noted that they "didn't normally see me at the church."

I winced. You see I don't enjoy going to church and never have.

As a child I remember the village vicar detesting children. We were clearly an inconvenience.

And then of course the state educated me and gave me the tools to evaluate religions, and so I did. My conclusions made me uncomfortable in church situations.

I don't mind the singing, although I find hymns difficult with my limited range and "poor ear." It's all the other stuff I don't enjoy. I feel very hypocritical saying things I don't believe and, for that reason, I try and avoid such situations.

But my boy is in the choir. Should I endure discomfort and support him from the congregation or should I treat it like his gymnastics class and drop him off and pick him up and support by praising achievements?

I've clearly opted for the latter, but am I right?

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Dave and I are on a mission to digitise the old photos we have, but we have quite different goals.

I want to keep the memory.  If I’m scanning a picture and there’s a mark on the negative I’ll let it go.  I can see past any imperfections because I remember being there.  I’m storing the digital versions on the PC and online.

Dave wants to create photo books to replace the large unwieldy and fading photo albums we have.  For this he wants perfection and any speck of dust must be eliminated either when the negative is scanned or afterwards using Photoshop.

I’ve already scanned a lot, although there is a lot more still to do, and Dave is monitoring my work.  He knows that the quality of each image is less important to me than getting the job done.  He’s already told me that it’s important that whilst we’re doing this we need to do a good job.  By this he means that he wants me to a perfectionist like him to save him work.

My concession has been to try and get the negative scanner to be as dust free as possible, but that is the extent of my effort.

If he really wants to do things to his standards then I think it’s fair for him to spend the time doing it.  I do wonder whether he realises I know exactly what he’d doing.

But here’s one of my imperfect images of one of my favourite places: Crater Lake.


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Death and passwords

Maybe it’s just my natural morose demeanour or maybe it’s just an idle curiosity but the combination of death and passwords has been playing on my mind.

I’ve set myself the task of digitising old photos.  You’ll realise that because I’ve been polluting your Facebook feed with numerous albums. (If you think that’s bad you should see Flickr.)

I’m scanning negatives where I have them and scanning photos where I don’t.  I’m storing them on the hard drive, the external drive, on Flickr and some on Facebook.

The main reason for storing on Flickr is as a backup and a legacy.  Hard drives and external hard drives can fail.  Houses can burn down and computers can be fried by a lightening strike.  And, negatives, slides and photo prints deteriorate over time.

I’m trying to make life easy for me and my children.  If photos are scanned and organised online then hopefully there will be some details attached to each image, rather like the biro print on the back of your great aunt’s photos.  Only computer fonts are easier to read than your great aunt’s handwriting when she’s 85 (in the shade) and trying to preserve her youth for the people she’ll leave behind when she dies.

I only know this because I have tried to read elderly aunt’s handwriting written on the reverse of photos of her youth.  It’s a challenge, especially if she’d consumed her daily medicinal brandy prior to attempted remembering and writing.

But it occurred to me that I have a user id and password to access my Flickr account.  I pay an annual membership fee that allows me to upload in bulk and sort into multiple sets.  When this membership lapses my photos aren’t visible until the membership is renewed.

When I die, the membership will lapse and nobody will have access to the account and the photos won’t be visible.  Come to that if I suffer from dementia (very likely) then the same will apply.

What happens to my Flickr account when I die?  Can I bequeath it to my children?  Does Power of Attorney give someone access to things like Flickr accounts and, if so, how?

I know that if I’m dead or suffering from dementia then I won’t care about this, so I’m worrying about it now, just in case.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Hugh’s Fish Fight

If you haven’t seen Hugh’s Fish Fight on Channel 4 you’ve probably heard someone talking about it.

I’m always curious about how that kind of programme makes it from concept to broadcast.  I have no idea whether this was the brainchild of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or a bright researcher at Channel 4 or an independent production company.

You can find more about it here.

The video that explains that half of the fish caught in the North Sea are discarded overboard is here:

I would encourage you to sign the petition on the campaign site.  The only issue I have with the whole campaign are the privacy statements next to the petition sign up.

The first asks that you have accepted the sites terms and conditions.  I don’t know what these are but I’m sure they’re reasonable.

The second asks if you if you’d like to be kept up to date with the campaign via e-mail.  This sounds fair enough.

The last statement is the one with which I have an issue.  It asks whether you would want to receive River Cottage e-mails and this is what takes some of the credibility away from the campaign.

Up to this point everything looks very unselfish, but to link one’s commercial enterprise to an environmental campaign seems utterly self-serving.  It leaves a fishy taste in the mouth and one is left wondering whether this was initiated to change policy of whether it was just a plan to enhance a career.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The good news

I’m not the easiest of customers to please.  In the last few weeks I’ve had a number of issues with several different companies and I’ve shared some of those with you.  I apologise for dragging you through my pain.

But it isn’t all bad.  Here’s a roll call of companies that seem to get it right, even if they get it wrong (in my opinion):

  • John Lewis
  • Bravissimo
  • Amazon
  • Ocado
  • The Little Florist (Brentwood)
  • T-Mobile
  • Meyer
  • eSpares
  • 2020 Flowers (Newton Abbot)

It’s not a very long list, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A company needs to be tested in order to be judged.  Customer satisfaction can often be higher when something goes wrong but it is fixed quickly, efficiently and with the minimum of fuss.  Similarly if the demand on the company or the product is out of the ordinary and the demand is met, then customer satisfaction is enhanced.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Dear Online Supermarket

Our wonderful and illustrious government has increased the VAT rate by 2.5% to a whopping 20%, bless the politicians well-meaning hearts.

We are actually quite fortunate to have a system in this country whereby VAT is only charged on luxury goods.  You and I may disagree about what constitutes a luxury, but the list of what attracts VAT and what doesn’t isn’t always obvious.

When I buy something I don’t usually know whether it includes VAT or not.  I quite like the idea of denying the government some income, just for laughs.

When I do my weekly shopping online I’d like to click a button and go VAT free.  I’d like the option to see only the non “luxury” items.  I’d like to see how much I can avoid VAT.

So Tesco, Sainsbury, Ocado, Asda, Waitrose Online, Morrisons and any others I haven’t heard of, what do you think?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Beckham baby

I said to my husband "I'm telling you this because I know you'll want to know. David and Victoria Beckham are expecting their fourth child"
"I know" he said.
"How do you know?" I asked.
"They sent me a text."

We’re all in it together

TIME is running out for churches to claim a refund of the VAT on the cost of repairs to items such as organs and bells, which they are entitled to do under the Listed Places of Worship Grant Scheme (LPWGS).

From 4 January, it will no longer be possible to claim the VAT for repairs to organs, pews, bells, and clocks, or for fees paid to architects and other professional advisers. Work that is done to the fabric of the church building, however, such as the roof, floor, and walls, will continue to be eligible for a refund under the scheme.

Church Times 31 December 2010

You might wonder why I care about this.  Well up until this last week I didn’t.  To be fair I didn’t know about it.

Last week was Ethan’s first proper week attending choir practise and we received information about a Sponsored Silence being held later in the month.  Ethan was being invited to take part.

The following paragraph grabbed my attention:

You may know that we are in the final stages of raising funds for the renovation of our organ which will begin in April 2011.  Until recently the fundraising was running more or less on schedule.  However, as part of the government’s recent Spending Review, the scheme whereby we can reclaim VAT comes to an end from 1st January.  Indications are that we now need to raise in the order of an additional £20,000.  The sum will also include the increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20% from January.  So, we have been hit twice!

Having read this, you still might not care, but if you do care and fancy sponsoring Ethan, then please get in touch.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Bread Superstitions

I found these and thought I’d share.  My favourite is the first one.

  • Who ever eats the last piece of bread has to kiss the cook
  • It is bad luck to turn a loaf of bread upside down or cut an unbaked loaf
  • If you burn bread it means your sweetheart is angry with you
  • To prevent ghosts from calling, leave bread and coffee under a house
  • Eating bread baked by a woman whose maiden name is the same as her married name is a cure for many illnesses
  • If all the bread is eaten, the next day will be good
  • If you put a piece of bread in a baby's cradle, it will keep away disease
  • Murphy's Law dictates that buttered bread will always land buttered-side down
  • Cutting bread in an uneven manner is a sign that you have been telling lies
  • When a couple is walking down the street holding hands and an obstacle comes between them, say "bread and butter" to keep the union until the hands meet again
  • A loaf of bread should never be turned upside down after a slice has been cut from it

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Ethan’s been going to a few test choir sessions at the church.  He’s enjoyed it enough that we think he’s going to go every week.

So there was a note asking if Ethan could turn up half an hour early for his first proper choir practise.

We got Ethan there and I discovered that Ethan was early so he could “complete a few tests.”  Ethan was the only boy there.  I handed him over to the choir teacher checking that he needed to picked up an hour and a quarter later.

I then noticed that the choir teacher’s son (our postman) is also there, and he and his father are in choir robes.

As I leave, Ethan is being led into a side room to find a chorister's outfit that he can wear.

Now what’s going through your mind?

There are times when you have to trust people you don’t know well to look after your children, and this was one of those times.

Ethan passed several tests and the remaining choir boys turned up about half an hour after I left for the regular choir practise.  Ethan had fun and wants to go again.

It was all OK. 

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Simple childhood food

I needed this food today. It's something my mum used to cook for me, not often but enough that my brother and I remember it fondly.
I inherited all of my mum's cookery books and I haven't found this recipe, even in the Katie Stewart Winnie the Pooh recipe book which is where I thought it was.
It's a simple, healthy supper.
a sardine sandwich, crusts cut off.
an egg, beaten
some butter and or oil in a frying pan
The sardine sandwich can be made with any bread from a loaf. The sardines should be extracted from their tin and mashed. If you're fussy you can extract any fins and spine before mashing but this is just healthy calcium and I don't bother. You can just use plain sardines but mum used to make it with sardines in tomato. If you like the idea of tomato but only have plain sardines then you can add ketchup.
Once sandwiches are made and cut to size and crusts cut off then they need to be dunked in the beaten egg on all sides.
Fry the sandwiches in heated oil or butter on both sides and eat.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Sticky toffee pudding

Cooked my first ever sticky toffee pudding over Christmas and, just for a laugh, I made it gluten free.  It doesn’t have to be gluten free.  During the preparation I did have my doubts but the end result was delicious.


  • 200g dried dates, stoned and chopped.  Buy Medjool if you can.  Only place I could find Medjool was the farm shop but they are delicious.
  • 250ml black tea (not too strong).  I used Yorkshire tea but I’m pretty sure any tea is fine, except peppermint or something which would just be weird.
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 85g unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g self-raising flour – if you want this to be a gluten free recipe use Doves Farm SR gluten free flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 175g golden caster sugar (I used granulated)
  • 2 eggs beaten

Toffee sauce

  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 142ml carton double cream


Pre-heat oven to 160 °C (fan oven) and grease and line a baking tin.  The recipe says to use a brownie tin or ovenproof dish which isn’t overly helpful.  The brownie tin I use is 25cm sq. which I think is a little bigger than ideal.  The recipe still worked but I think the pudding would be better deeper.

Put the tea and dates into a saucepan.  Bring to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes to soften the dates.  Stir in the bicarbonate of soda.  It will go frothy and a bit weird.  Don’t panic, this is normal.

Beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy and then beat in the egg, flour, and mixed spice.  Fold in the tea and date mixture and then pour into buttered dish/brownie tin.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is just firm to the touch.

While the pudding is baking make the sauce.  Put the sugar, butter and cream into a pan over a low heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved.  Cook until it turns a lovely toffee colour..

Serve pudding by cutting into squares and serve with warm sauce and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Easy to make and even easier to eat.