Monday, 30 December 2013

Thunder ~ and the cat harness comes in handy again ~

Cat harnesses are excellent things and I highly recommend them: here is my cat Bonnie, modelling hers.  She doesn't mind wearing it at all, although it's a case of her leading and me following.

My other cat, Louisa, is a different character altogether: I don't think she understands being on a leash, and with her tendency to run and then leap our (short) experimental sessions with the harness and leash could not be described as successful!  She is for the most part a confident and well-adjusted animal although terrritorial, readily commencing battle with any cat perceived to intrude on her world; but there is one thing that frightens her badly and that is sudden loud noise. 

Over the years I have helped her learn to stare down the terror of the rubbish trucks on their weekly missions past the gate, but fireworks and thunder still make her race for cover - usually under the bed - a sensible and safe hiding place.  

Today an unexpected downpour of rain brought with it a clap of thunder.  Wondering about lightening I glanced out the window, and with dismay and puzzlement saw Louisa shoot away across the road and into the grounds of the cottage opposite.  

Dear me, that was a dangerous direction, but must have felt like the safest one to her at that moment.  Wondering whether in moments of peril animals instinctively run downhill rather that up I pulled on my raincoat and set out after her.  Another and far more ferocious clap of thunder crashed through air.  As the rain pelted down I called and called but to no avail, and went home defeated.  What to do?  

The road is only moderately busy but I didn't want her taking the risk of crossing it after a fright like that.  I decided to go over again, this time with the cat harness.  I have two, one for each cat, and although I hardly ever use them I keep both hanging up where I put my handbag so that I can easily put my hand on them at any time.  Today I was glad of it.  I wasn't intending to let her walk back across the road even with it on, but I did want to be able to hold her safely and know that if she wriggled free I wouldn't lose her under the wheels of a car.    

Walking along the side of the cottage and calling her again I heard a faint meow, and after a pause she emerged from a hiding place.  I talked to her quietly as I clipped the harness on and picked her up, firmly entwining my hand in the straps.  So far, so good and both of us were calm, but as we got back to the road where the noise of traffic moving fast, tyres hissing on the wet road, was loudest, she struggled furiously.  I was able to hold her firmly clasped with the confidence of knowing that she couldn't fall.  I am sure one's confidence is very important to an animal in distress.  I didn't put her down until we got to the back door, let the two of us in, and shut the door and cat flap.  Then I unclipped the leash.  She was home and safe - phewf!  

I left the harness itself on in the hope that she would associate the feel of it with being home safely.  She didn't complain, and responded with pleasure to the treats I put out for her and all the special attention.  Then I took it off, leaving it on the floor where she could look at it later.  She didn't care, just went to her favourite spot on the divan, curled up and went to sleep.  I must have another go at teaching her to walk in it, but in the meantime it has once more served it's turn, and all's well that ends well!

The previous article I wrote about the value of cat harnesses can be found via the link below:
  • The manufacturers of cat harnesses instruct that a cat wearing a harness should not be left unattended - in case they get it hooked on something and so come to harm.
  • For the same reason a cat's collar should be sufficiently loose so that the cat can slip free of it.  Vets say that the fit of a cat's collar is right when it allows two fingers to be easily slipped between it and the cat's neck.  
I wish I had known about the correct fit of cat collars when we started caring for Bonnie, who came with the house we were renting at the time.  Her collar was a horrid hard plastic and too tight causing considerable discomfort, which unfortunately I didn't realise until later.  She had always hung her head, which I thought must be a reflection of low mood as she seemed a depressed animal.  But after the collar broke of its own accord and was discarded she started to improve.  She stretched her neck out a great deal and when I massaged it kept it stretched out seeming to want me to continue on and on.  Poor thing.  Her general demeanour continued to improve over time and she became the confident animal we have today.  The uncomfortable collar hadn't been her only difficulty, but it was a big one.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Lemon pudding ~ a festive treat at any time of year

This dessert has been a family favourite for as long as I can remember.  The recipe I share here is derived from one in New Zealand's historically most longstanding cookbook, in which is called 'Lemon cheese pudding'.  However, since the reference to cheese is entirely mysterious I have left it out of the name of my recipe.

It is basically a baked custard in which the eggs have been separated, the whites beaten until stiff, after which they are combined with other ingredients just before being placed in the oven, and of course it includes plenty of lemons.

Quantities given here make sufficient for 4 generous servings.  If you are making a dessert for two, halve it.  I assure you that everyone will want second helpings, so it's nice to have plenty!
Butter - 2 Tablespoons
Sugar - 1 cup
Flour - 4 Tablespoons
Lemons - the rind and juice of 4 of the small variety of lemons: when I last made this recipe these produced about a teaspoon of zest and 7 tablespoons of juice.
Milk - 2 cups
Eggs - 4
Salt - a pinch
Locate the baking dishes you will use: The casserole dish or dishes which hold the mixture are baked while standing in a large and probably enamel baking dish filled with water, so the enamel one needs to be big enough to hold the others.  When making suffient for four I use two glass dishes, one large and the other of medium size.

Set the oven to 160 degrees Celsius
Cream the butter and sugar
Grate the rind from the lemons and then juice them
Add the lemon and flour to the creamed butter and sugar
Separate the egg yolks from the whites
Beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until stiff and set aside
Beat the yolks with the milk and combine the liquid with creamed butter and sugar, etc.
The mixture should have a pleasant tang.  If your lemons do not seem to have been particularly flavoursome you could add a further teaspoon of lemon essence.   
Lastly fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites, taking care not to do so too thoroughly.
Next, put the empty baking dish into the oven at a medium height
Place your dish or dishes of mixture into the baking dish and push the rack into the oven
Finally, carefully fill the baking dish with a safe amount of tepid water - and close the door!

There are three vital element of success: 
  • The first is to fold the egg whites in only lightly, so that the mixture doesn't fully combine - the fluffiness then gravitates to the top and the more custardy part to the bottom. 
  • The second is that the water bath is filled with tepid water, which ensures that the bottom part of the pudding will remain nice and gooey whereas the rest of the pudding sets.  Strangely, the original recipe differs in this respect, an early edition states cold water and a later one, hot.  The hot water is definitely a mistake as the whole thing will set solid and the delicate balance of texure and flavour lost - you might as well toss it out.
  • The third is do not overcook it!  Check it after about 30 minutes by carefully tilting the glass dish.  You want the pudding to bulge slightly when you do so, indicating a degree of runniness in the bottom part.  The top is likely to be a little golden, but this may be dependent on the style of oven used.  And as with any baking, the results are always a little different each time.  

In the unlikely event of any pudding being left over after your meal it can sucessfully be stored in the fridge and served cold the following day and be similarly delicious.  It can also be spoooned into little pottles and frozen, to be taken out later as individual treats.

My other recipes can be found listed together on this page:

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Christmas can be a time to give ~ and for quiet reflection

In recent years I've become ambivilent about Christmas.  There are two ways in which Christmas is commonly celebrated, one of them being general jollification which may or may not involve the exchange of gifts, and the other which is the Christian religious observance, a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, teacher, healer and prophet. I'm no longer sure where I fit in relation to either of these.

I have had a think about what I actually do like and feel comfortable with.  I like the principle of generosity through charitable actions which is a central theme in Christian teachings, and an important one for me.  Lots of people have helped me throughout my life and I, in my turn, have helped lots of people.  It's good for everyone.

At Christmas time this can be expressed through gift-giving.  This is nice in its way but for me the giving of a whole lot of personal gifts at one time is a strain, so although I like the idea of it I prefer to confine that form of giving to birthdays, and at this time of year to focus on more general or directly charitable ways of giving, such as to charities. 

In considering this yesterday I realised that some time ago I had set aside a whole box of clothes to be given away which somehow hadn't made it into the car.  I got them out.  All of them are in good condition and are really nice:

Looking at each garment brought back particular memories.  I particularly loved the pale satin blouse with the rouched edging and pretty shell buttons: it used to have a contrasting skirt that went with it, but I really have finished it and indeed with all of them and it's time to let others enjoy them.  The fact that most of them came to me from second hand or charity shops in the first place makes it all the more appropriate to pass them on in this way.

Charity shops are veritable gold mines: there are things from charity shops in every room of my home.  This lovely cushion is a recent find.  Someone didn't want it any more and was throughtful enough to bring it to the shop so that someone else had the opportunity to enjoy it, and that lucky someone turned out to be me, so thanks a lot to whoever it was who made that effort!

This is all very well, but the question remains of what to do on Christmas Day itself.  I am not a church-goer, nor do I want to engage in hectic social gatherings, yet one has to 'do' something - ask anyone who opts out and, ten to one, they will tell you that for some reason or other doing so can very easily become A Rather Depressing Experience.  I don't know why this is, but so it is.

I have decided that a structured approach will probably be best.  I could have choosen to spend it with family and friends, but will probably spend it alone.  This is a choice.

I might see if I can make a more concerted effort at teaching myself how to string bead necklaces. As I have an abundance of beads that need re-stringing this is something I have been wanting to get to grips with for ages, so some weeks ago when I had an unexpected windfall I paid a visit to Spotlight, and bought the gear as a gift for myself:

I bought a handsome magnifying glass at the same time so that I can peer through it at tiny things, which will no doubt prove essential for the fiddlier parts of the work.  This is another thing I've been wanting for ages!  I love the cover and the little cleaning cloth which came with it.  I got all these at Spotlight, a great place to get craft gear.

Other than that I'd like to spend time reviewing where inspiration has come from in recent years and possible ways I'd like to make use of that.  I am always grateful for inspiration, whatever the source.  I may write some letters.  Letter writing can be important in this way, bringing to light some of what is most important to us, even if we then choose not to send them.

I'll probably chat on the phone or 'skype' with a few of my important people.  I've got used to Skype during the year, a wonderful way of reducing the sense of distance that comes from not seeing the faces of our loved ones.  I haven't seen my brothers for years and was aware that last time I skyped with one of them I couldn't stop smiling - what magic!

One of the reasons I find Christmas hard is that I still miss my dad, who died suddenly over 30 years ago.  If he were here this Christmas we would have fruit salad for breakfast, made the night before with the particular inclusion of tinned pineapple with ginger added to the syrup, bananas and chopped dates which went deliciously soggy overnight, and delectable tinned peaches (from the days when they were delectable).  We would probably go to church together, enjoy singing both hymns and carols, and exchange gifts.  His would be wrapped in the white paper patterned with the gold fleur-de-lis which was his especial favourite.  We might listen to a Haydn concerto or two, and go for a walk.  These are happy imaginings mingled with past family tradition.  It's bewildering that some relationships have such a vivid place in our lives even at such a distance in time.  I will think of him on Christmas Day and probably shed some tears, 'water for the dead', as Frank Herbert aptly termed it.

But time moves on, and my brothers and sisters and I are becoming the elders in our now extended families and must make our own way, as our parents did before us. 

This morning a reminder about the importance of giving came to me from Wikipedia, which I donate to from time to time.  Many of my articles include links to Wikipedia, which I regard as an important external source for factual references and further reading.  It is the world's fifth largest website and run by a very small staff who oversee contributions of the thousands of people who voluntarily write on their subjects of special interest and expertise so that others can benefit from them.  Anyone can contribute to writing and editing, so this is global co-operation and altruism at its best.  Knowledge brings freedom in so many ways.  Even though Wikipedia is a charitable foundation it still costs money to run: administrators have to live, and web servers and the like have to be paid for, so I am happy to donate small amounts from time to time.  Today I gave $5.  It all helps.  I encourage others to do the similarly.  Below is a video in which a number of contributors describe their involvement:

Those looking for ideas for simple, thrifty, ecologically sound gifts may find these two articles I wrote last year useful:

And here, also from previous Christmases, you can find some yummy food ideas:

~ I wish you all a peaceful Christmas. ~

My later article about what happened on Christmas Eve can be found by clicking on the link below: