Say hello to Corinna

She’s a bubbly blonde.

OK, she’s a sourdough starter, but she’s definitely got personality. She’s also the second of that name, Corinna #1 having been stored as dehydrated flakes too long before being reconstituted. I started Corinna #2 a week ago, with rye flour and filtered water in carefully measured proportions and left her to get to work in a cloth-covered glass jar. Why rye? Wholemeal, rye, spelt or other whole grain flours give your starter a better, well, start. After that initial boost, you feed her with ordinary plain/all-purpose flour (not bread flour) until she’s double her original size, very bubbly and ready to get to work.

Why Corinna you ask? (And even if you don’t, you’re going to be told, so there). I am a huge fan of Kerry Greenwood’s Earthly Delights series of books, about Corinna Chapman, bread baker extraordinaire and occasional sleuth, based in Melbourne. She is a woman of creative talent, dedication, compassion and comfortable build, and keeps a bucket of ‘mother of bread’ starter in her bakery, and I hope my (much blonder) Corinna is worthy of her example.

There are endless blogs out there on sourdough and how to make it, so that’s not happening here. Others have vastly more experience, better written posts and gorgeous photography. Here’s my favourite: Celia of Fig Jam & Lime Cordial has made the most amazing bread-baking resource available to us lesser mortals, and has enabled me to bypass some of the more common problems by taking her advice and following her recipes. She is a sourdough goddess!

Look what Corinna and I made today:

It’s leftover starter, flour, water, honey and salt. Alchemy! Or focaccia, as the rest of you know it, baked into a pizza base. I wanted to test how lively the starter was, and focaccia is quick and simple. And clearly, Corinna is more than ready for duty; the dough texture was perfect, and it was yummy and chewy except for the crispy outer crust, which was perfect and didn’t lacerate your mouth. There’s enough for dinner for us both, and lunch for us both tomorrow. Next step is a nice basic white loaf…

Now, out of my way! Fresh hot pizza calling!

Not so dusty

I’ve been baking again.

This time, it was an Australian classic which I’d never had until a few months ago: Lumberjack Cake. The version I tried was so absolutely lush and delicious that I determined I’d try it for myself. You may wonder why it’s called Lumberjack Cake. I wondered a little myself, but the most common explanation makes perfect sense. The topping of caramelised shredded coconut resembles  a crust of sawdust. But believe me when I say that there is nothing at all dusty about this cake.

The base is a tender, damp layer of dark cake filled with chopped dates and apple. This is topped with a crunchy-edged layer of caramelised shredded coconut. It’s simple but absolutely delicious, easy to make and with ingredients I already keep in the pantry.

Here we go then:

LUMBERJACK CAKE

Ingredients for cake
3 tart green apples, peeled and finely chopped
200g dried dates, finely chopped
1tsp bicarb soda
250ml boiling water
125g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
1 large egg
180g plain flour
½ tsp cinnamon

Ingredients for topping
60g salted butter
100ml whole milk
110g dark brown sugar
60g shredded (not desiccated) coconut

Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
Grease and line with baking paper a 23cm springform cake tin.
Put apples, dates and bicarb in a bowl with the boiling water, mix well and leave to steep until the water is at room temperature.
In a stand mixer, beat the butter, vanilla and caster sugar until thick and pale, scraping down the sides occasionally. Beat in the egg, then fold in the fruit mixture and liquid, and the flour. Pour into the lined cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes.
While the cake is baking, put all the topping ingredients into a small pan. Over a low heat, stir everything together until the butter and sugar have melted and dissolved. Set aside.
After 45 minutes, remove the cake from the oven and pour the topping over the cake, spreading out the coconut to form an even layer. Return to the oven and bake for a further 30 minutes, covering with foil if the topping gets too dark brown. Test at 25 minutes with a skewer; the cake is ready when it comes out clean.
Cool the cake in the tin on a rack. Once full cool, carefully remove the paper. Cut cake so each portion has some of the crispy edge.

This is based on the recipe by The Cake Mistress; I’ve made a few minor modifications, notably the addition of extra apple, the inclusion of cinnamon without which my Dutch blood will not allow me to make a cake containing apple, and using salted butter for the topping.

I hope you’ll try it, it’s really, really yummy.

The Power of Nine

Sometimes, you can get away with shortcuts and ‘cheats’.

Other times, you can’t, and it’s a matter of keeping an experience authentic, honest and true to heritage. I think everyone would agree that commercial foods and treats aren’t what they used to be. Quality, flavour and size are reduced from what we remember, like the Jamaican Ginger Cake I posted about recently, which is apparently now a shrunken, dry and disappointing shadow of its former self. I have a lot of family in Holland; my mother was Dutch and her cooking ‘set’ my tastes and preferences at an early age. One of the foods I’ve always loved is ontbijtkoek, Dutch ‘breakfast cake’. It’s a rich and heady blend of spices and honey in a sticky loaf form, most often enjoyed spread with butter and accompanied by a cup of coffee. I like it best without butter, so that I can appreciate the full spice flavour.

Like the ginger cake, you can buy a pale shadow of it here in Australia. Just… don’t. It is the size and shape and texture of a brick. It is dry and hard and the colour of baby poo. If you read the ingredient list, it contains exactly one spice and ‘honey flavouring’, as well as a whole load of things that don’t belong in a proper cake.

Instead, you can try the recipe below. I make no claim for originality, only for testing. It, and others very similar, is freely available on the internet in a variety of places if you Google ‘ontbijtkoek’. It contains no eggs or butter, and if you need to be dairy free, you could use unsweetened nut or rice milk. It needs a bit of preparation as it contains no less than nine spices: cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, cardamon, aniseed, pepper, coriander and vanilla. Together, they provide the authentic aroma and flavour, and a recipe that doesn’t contain the full set does not result in an authentic experience. Rye flour and molasses are also necessary. I do appreciate that not everyone has all that in the pantry, and indeed, I had to go shopping for the aniseed and the rye flour. But if you’re interested in trying this recipe, I’d urge you to at least try for the full set before you decide to modify.

Already half gone… I could eat this till the cows come home.

If you love spice, I think you’ll be glad you did. Ontbijtkoek exists in many regional formats, evolved over hundreds of years. It reached its spicy peak when Holland became a major spice trader, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or Dutch East India Company bringing to Europe a wealth of exotic flavours. It was a sign of wealth and prestige to incorporate them into your everyday food. We are so accustomed today to the availability of the world’s food wealth that the former heady novelty of tastes as everyday to us as pepper and vanilla is forgotten. Oh, and don’t be tempted to leave the pepper out of this recipe. It has its place among the nine, a gentle hum of heat and a fugitive aroma at the back of the nose.

Without further ado, then:

Ontbijtkoek

Ingredients
120g/4oz rye flour
120g/4oz all-purpose (plain) flour
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cardamon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground coriander seed
¼ tsp ground clove
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp freshly-ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground aniseed
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g/3½oz soft dark brown sugar
170g/6oz honey
75g/2½oz dark molasses or treacle
250ml/8floz warm whole milk

Note: all these spices are necessary for the authentic flavour, but you can reduce them to cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg as a minimum if you don’t have everything. If you’d prefer less sweetness, reduce the sugar, not the honey or molasses. I would recommend against substituting fennel seed for aniseed; the flavours are similar but fennel is more savoury and woody and it will change the taste. As already noted, you can use unsweetened nut or rice milks instead of the dairy version.

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line a large loaf pan with baking paper.
Mix rye flour, plain flour, baking powder, salt and ground spices in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix brown sugar, honey, molasses, vanilla extract and warm milk, until everything is mixed well.
Combine wet and dry ingredients into a smooth batter.
Pour into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 80 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cover the top with aluminum foil if it gets too dark: it should be deep brown but not burned-looking.
Leave to cool completely in the tin or wrapped in foil to get the traditional soft and chewy crust, or remove from the tin after 5 mins and cool on a rack for a more crispy crust.

If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear what you think!

A triumph of nostalgia over necessity

All expats miss something – or many somethings – about their homeland.

If they claim not to, they prevaricate. Certain things are so deeply embedded in the formation of one’s character, tastes and preferences that their absence can become disproportionate. Perhaps I’m over-dramatising, but….  I don’t miss much, myself, but those things I do miss are tied to remembered happiness and pleasure. It was necessary to leave behind some particular pleasures, but there are always niggles. Who knew, 50 years ago, how memorable a particular kind of cake was going to be to this nearly 60-year-old living so happily in her adopted sunny land?

I’m talking about the King of Sunday tea-times, more gorgeous and satisfying than any fruit cake, delicate Victoria sponge or buttery upside-down cake. McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake. Gingery, sticky, chewy, and that m-word that everyone hates. It was always a disaster when it was finished, but there was still the bliss of the paper-scraping, when you could ease up from the paper case all those super-sticky bits that had been left behind, and which were somehow the ultimate delight, the bonus of this cake.

You can’t buy them in Australia. Oh, that’s not strictly true… you can get them at British Food specialty shops, online, or from Amazon in Australia. But they’re stale and nasty. They’ve sat in containers for weeks, in warehouses for more weeks, and in the hands of Australia Post or couriers for still longer. They are a travesty.

So ultimately, the only solution was to make my own. Over the years, there have been lots of trials and errors, perfectly pleasant gingerbreads and nice-ish cakes, but none that fit the bill, that rang the bell of memory. Until now.

See that shiny, sticky crust on top? And mine is bigger, too!

Yesterday, I hit the jackpot. I’m giving the recipe below. Writing this post is proving to be a good way to prevent myself cutting a third thick slice… for now.

Jamaica Ginger Cake
300ml/10floz whole milk
120g/4oz packed soft dark brown sugar
120g/4oz treacle or molasses
120g/4oz golden syrup*
230g/8oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 tblsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
120g/4oz salted butter

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and grease and line a large, heavy loaf tin with baking paper.
Measure the milk in a glass measuring jug, add the sugar and warm in the microwave for about a minute. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and set aside to cool.
Melt the treacle, butter and golden syrup in another pan together over a low heat until runny but not hot.
Sift together the flour, bicarb, ginger, cinnamon and allspice
Pour first the milk and then the syrup mixtures into the flour and beat hard with a whisk until smooth – a wooden spoon will not get rid of all the lumps. The consistency should be of pancake batter. Add a little more milk if necessary.
Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool completely in the tin.
Once cooled, turn out and wrap with paper and foil. Leave the cake wrapped for at least 1 day before you tear into it. This is what makes the top deliciously sticky. Do not be tempted to unwrap earlier, or the top will be normal and boring, although still perfectly delicious.

Notes:
*Golden syrup is not the same as corn syrup. It is thicker, darker and has strong caramel overtones. You could substitute with dark corn syrup, but the flavour is not the same. There are recipes on the internet for a pretty good home made version using nothing more fancy than water, sugar and lemon juice.

You can obviously make substitutions if you want to, but this recipe is designed to mimic as closely as possible the cake of my childhood. It’d probably be really nice with chopped crystallised ginger in it, or maybe dark chocolate chips. I’m not going there, I don’t want to 🙂

This recipe is egg free. You could probably also make it dairy free by subbing unsweetened almond milk and dairy-free margarine, although flavour will be affected. I’m not sure how it’d go gluten free; it’s already pretty dense, so I’d recommend against using too much almond meal. Try a quality gluten-free brand (like White Wings Gluten Free in Australia, or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour in the US). Disclosure: I don’t get paid anything for mentioning these two, I just want your recipe to turn out well.

Now, excuse me. I have a date with a cake…

The Travels of Mouse: north to the sun #6

Well, it rained off and on all day yesterday. I can’t imagine what the Staff were thinking.

I mean, the point of the holiday was winter sunshine, so rain was very inconvenient and not well arranged. Still, we did manage some enjoyment. I got a few walkies in, although no big runs in a dog park on account of “not getting himself completely muddied up”. I was a Very Good Boy and held still while Mum got an ouchie out of my eye, which was all mucky. And as a reward, we went back to Vines and I got another puppaccino – and it wasn’t even my birthday!

The Staff made a huge sacrifice and forced down some coffee and cake whilst we sat in the shade area outside, surrounded by enormous tropical stuff. It’s all leaves to me, but Mum made a big song and dance about the flowers, ooh, aaah. The little trickling fountain was nice, though, even if I wasn’t allowed to have a drink there…

I did a lot of snoozing. Dad stuck on some headphones and pawed at his black plank thing. Mum messed about with fabric and took me for walkies. And then the final outrage: she baked and there was None For Me. Apparently, she’d been inspired by the cake she had at Vines. She made cupcakes with pineapple and banana and chocolate chips. I offered to help lick the bowl and the spoons – you know, the Mouse Pre-Wash Cycle – but my helpful offer was refused. I also didn’t get any bits once they were baked. I just don’t understand… They had banana in them. Obviously they were for Me!

(Note from Mum: I had to make do with what I have in the caravan pantry: 2 cup self raising flour, 2 eggs, 1 small very ripe mashed banana, 1 cup dark brown sugar, 1 x 445g/15 or 16oz can crushed pineapple with the juice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips. Mix it all just enough so there’s no visible flour left, dollop into a well-greased muffin pan – I use silicone in the caravan because you can roll it up to fit in a small space – and bake for 20 minutes at 160°C/325°C)

Mum says she’s assembled the two rows of hexies she committed to at the start of the trip, and now just has to sew them onto the main piece. Whatever. It all sounds like blah blah blah to me. OK, that’s mean, but sewing is time she could have spent stroking me… Anyway, she’s bustling about now opening and closing lockers, which can only mean one thing.

We’re on the move again.

The Travels of Mouse: north to the sun #5

Hello again. Today, the report is about the day off I gave the Staff yesterday. I’ll let Mum do the talking…

Mum: We knew at the start of the holiday that there would be a few things where our lord and master would not be able to join us, sadly. Ahem. I have joined an organisation called Mad Paws, which brings together pet sitters and pet, er, owners. This enabled us to find a lovely lady called Vivien in Cairns, one of several people who offer doggy daycare. She has a large and exceptionally dog-friendly house, a big back yard and several doggos in residence, either her own or on long term visits. We booked a day for Mouse and brought along his medical records, his lead, quilt, snacks and some tightly crossed fingers. This is the first visit he’s made without us along, so we hoped he’d be OK. He was, of course. After demonstrating his running skills and seeing off another dog who wanted to boss him about, he settled right down, to the point where she was texting us photos showing him asleep, all through the day.

So, what did we do on our Staff Outing? We wanted to have coffee and cake, to buy cheese and chocolate, to have a good lunch, and to revisit the 900m/3,000ft high Atherton Tableland, one of our favourite areas when in Far North Queensland.

On our upward journey, we travelled south out of Cairns and turning inland at Walsh’s Pyramid, taking the Gillies Range road, 19km of 263 bends offering spectacular views of the valley below. It passes from sea level through dry to wet rainforest on the upward climb and it’s amazing how suddenly the type of vegetation changes. First stop was Lake Eacham, one of the Tablelands’ Crater Lakes. The area is volcanic, and there are several deep, deep lakes in the area. Local legends say they’re bottomless; of course, they aren’t, but being so high up and deep they’re always cold and refreshing for swimming, and blessedly free of crocodiles, unlike the sea-level waterways in the area.

Mungalli Creek biodynamic dairy has been a very enjoyable pitstop on previous journeys. They have a viewing area for the dairy at work, and serve coffee, cakes and light lunches. We had very fond recollections of memorable Devonshire Teas with clotted cream and a particularly squidgy chocolate torte. Sadly, we were disappointed, so much so that we won’t be going back, and I’m not bothering to provide a link. There was no torte, and despite the fact that they make a range of lactose free milk, yoghurt, etc, they didn’t offer lactose free cream so I could have the scones, jam and cream instead. It was perhaps just as well, as the Husband’s scones were dry and hard in the middle and the cream was a bit scanty and aerated to stretch it further. I had a soggy cheesecake of which the less said the better. The one I make myself is distinctly superior. Our coffees were terrible; his was bitter and far too strong, and mine was so weak it was like drinking hot milk. And there was no cheese for sale. We were offered Covid-19 as the reason, but couldn’t see why that would affect cheesemaking. Oh well….

Moving swiftly on, we headed for Gallo Dairyland, another cheese destination. We arrived to find it closed; at present it’s only open for half the week and of course I hadn’t checked, being used to seeing it open every day. I was beginning to feel rather despondent; I’d hoped to buy some of their hand made chocolates as well as cheese, to make up for the cake disappointment. The chocolates are reliably fabulous, and I’ll know to ring and check next time we’re up here.

And then it was time for lunch. Our favourite is the Gateway Hotel in Mareeba; I’ve posted about it before, and despite being much less busy than usual (all the tables are much further spaced, there was no crowd at the bar, etc), the staff are still warm, welcoming and attentive, and the food was, as always, magnificent pub grub.

The beef is locally produced and the steak in front of the Husband was tender and perfectly cooked. I wanted something a bit different, and had a salad of pearl couscous, roasted red capsicum and pumpkin, toasted macadamias and grilled halloumi, dressed with grilled garlicky prawns and a honey mustard dressing. I scoffed the lot, and it was a big plateful!

We took the scenic route home, descending the Kuranda Range, 11.5km of more wiggly road, coming into Cairns from the north this time. After laying in vital supplies (a hot roast chicken, chocolate, etc), we went to fetch His Majesty. He was pleased to see us, but slightly grumpy at having been left out of the fun. However, walkies, belly tickles and rather a lot of chicken scraps later he recovered his normally sunny disposition…

And that will be quite enough of that, thank you, Mum. A little respect if you don’t mind!

The Travels of Mouse: north to the sun #3

Hello, peeps, Mouse here again.

Yesterday’s visit to Miss Nikki at GAP Queensland was lovely. I remembered her, and Miss Gail, and rushed up to say hello and dance about a bit, wagging my tail. Since I’m normally rather reserved, Mum was very pleased to see how happy I was. We stayed for quite a while, then headed back to the campsite because the Staffs’ friend Uncle Spanner was coming for a visit. I like Uncle Spanner, he knows exactly how to scratch behind my ears and rub my face. He can come again any time. Mum made cookies for the visit, human ones with chocolate and raisins, which I’m not allowed, and others made with peanut butter, almond meal and an egg, which I am! So that was another reason to be happy 🙂

Supervisory duties…

Well, Mum and Dad packed up this morning while I napped. Mum took me for a last circuit of the campsite, and then we were off, on our way north to Cairns.

The Staff are pretty good at trip logistics, but sometimes you just need to keep an eye on them to make sure that they have their priorities right. I take my supervisory role very seriously on these trips…

It wasn’t long before we were heading into Ingham, and time to fill up the coffee travel mugs. Mum and Dad aren’t precisely coffee snobs, but they do like good coffee, and it can be a bit varied on the road. We turned off the main drag and into Cartwright Street, where we found Fiori with Love, a combined café and florist. Mum took me for a quick walk while Dad ordered the coffees, and we got back to find he’d scored a slab of lumberjack cake too! For some reason it appears this is unsuitable for dogs, but Mum really appreciated the crispy caramel edges on the topping, to the point where she’d eaten the lot before she thought to take a photo.

Hinchinbrook Island beyond the Channel

On then to Cardwell, on the Hinchinbrook Channel, and the Staff’s traditional pie-stop at Jesse’s Pie Van in the park.

Mum says they’re still the second-best pies she’s eaten in Australia…

And yes, I did score some bits of the filling this time!

Correct social distancing was maintained….

We managed to get ours just before the lunchtime rush. Lunch out of the way, it was wagons roll again, and we got to Cairns mid-afternoon. It’s my first time here, and so far, it looks nice!

We are staying at a really lovely caravan park, filled with huge old shade trees, lush vegetation, birds and green, green grass. There are lots of people here, but it doesn’t feel crowded, and I have already been admired by lots of passers-by as I stretched out comfortably on my bed, in my roomy enclosure. This is definitely camping in style (it always helps to have Staff to wait on you – Mum).

The Staff say they’ll take more photos tomorrow so you can see what it’s like in Cairns. They have also promised to take me to the dog parks in the area so I can stretch my legs properly. I love going on holiday, but the only thing I miss about home is doing zoomies in the back yard. If we go to fenced dog parks I can go off-leash and really run!

More tomorrow. Right now, I have a lot of napping to catch up on.

Mouse

 

If life sends you limes…

…. make cheesecake.

Those are little flecks of lime zest, nothing more sinister. Not my most impressive food photography, but it was a total afterthought…

Our nearby farm shop sent out an appeal recently, asking local residents to do at least some of their fruit & veg shopping there to help keep it afloat. So I obliged. They had some very nice sugar bananas, beautiful pumpkins, and a basket of lovely limes. The first two are on permanent cycle through our kitchen, but I don’t normally keep citrus in the house, I tend to buy it when I need it. These were too nice to pass over, large and glossy and obviously full of juice.

I’ve made many no-bake cheesecakes over the years, mostly with mango or passionfruit, but it was Time for Lime. This cheesecake is light and airy and has just the right amount of zing : creamy. I also didn’t make the base too sweet. The gelatine gives it reliable set without the need for baking, and there’s comparatively little sugar. I also used lactose-free cream and Philadelphia cream cheese, but the Husband couldn’t tell the difference, and certainly the texture and performance are the same as the regular stuff.

Ingredients 

Base
150g/6oz plain tea biscuits/Graham crackers (I used Arnotts Milk Arrowroot)
100g/4oz unsalted butter, melted
1½ tablespoons raw/golden granulated sugar
1 pinch salt

Filling
500g/18oz cream cheese*, at room temperature, chopped into chunks
½ cup caster/superfine sugar
½ cup lime juice (approx 2 large limes)
Zest of 2 limes
4½ tsp powdered gelatine**
300ml/10oz whipping/heavy cream, very cold

Directions

Make the base:
Line a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Turn the base upside down before you do so, as this will make removing the cheesecake much easier. Process the biscuits into the texture of dry sand. (If you don’t have a food processor, put the biscuits in a resealable plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or heavy-bottomed pan.) Mix in the melted butter, sugar and salt until well combined, like wet sand. Pour into the lined cake tin and, with a ramekin, wine glass, or anything with a flat base, press and pack the crumbs into the bottom. Refrigerate until ready to fill.

Make the filling: Sprinkle the gelatine over the surface of the lime juice in a microwaveable bowl and stir to dissolve as much as possible. Allow to bloom and turn gelatinous. Microwave on high for 15 secs, stir and repeat. Stir until the gelatine is fully dissolved. Cool for 5 minutes. Put all ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on high for a couple of minutes till aerated and smooth. (You could also use a hand mixer, but it will take longer – and start on low speed or it will splatter.) Pour this filling onto the chilled base and smooth off the top. Refrigerate for 3 hours at least.

I barely lasted that long… certainly not long enough to remove the baking paper from underneath 😉

 

*Don’t use the whipped, dip-type, use the block, Philly-type.
**I used powdered because that’s what I have.

The Travels of Mouse, Part 5

We went to see my mate Diesel Dog!

Diesel Dog

Yesterday, Mum and Dad and Aunty Chippy and Uncle Jonathan and I all went over to Diesel’s. The humans talked and drank tea and coffee and ate cake, and Diesel and I explored his back yard, had good sniffs and then went for snoozes. The Dads went up the back yard to Uncle Wayne’s shed and talked about man stuff, and the Mums sat in the shade on the patio and talked about lady stuff, including Blogs, whatever they are (This is a blog, Mouse – Mum). I’m sure they should be talking about Dogs, not Blogs…. The Aunties are now ‘friending on FaceBook’ and ‘following on Instagram’ (more human noises, I dunno….).

Uncle Jonathan is taking the photo…

Then they had lunch. I didn’t have any, of course, but this is what I could smell: home made focaccia, butter, buffalo chorizo, three kinds of cheese, samosas, tamarind relish, mint relish, mushroom-stuffed red peppers, zucchini pickle with onion and mustard seed, rocket pesto, Japanese mayo with preserved lemon, honey, grapes, walnuts, pineapple cake and mascarpone.

I still prefer Diesel’s mat to my own comfy quilt…

They took photos, too. Aunty Dale showed the house and the back yard and the vegetable cage and her stained glass potting shed. Diesel got them to throw his toy so he could catch or retrieve it. I just lay about looking decorative. Aunty Dale had bought me a present! Dried duck liver treats!  Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to help myself, so most of them are still sitting in their bag on top of the wardrobe, out of my reach…. She gave Mum a kilo bucket of honey and a jar of tomato and chilli chutney, which Dad will steal for himself once he discovers it… Mum gave her the Woolly Thing and the teapot picture she made. I still think my present was best…

Aunty Dale has bought Diesel some really smart clothes! He has overalls, and a denim jacket, and a puffa jacket, and a Hawaiian shirt with pineapples on it… Mum told me not to get excited, it wasn’t going to happen, although she is still going to make me a hi-vis sweater for winter walks when it’s dark. It will be fluoro yellow fleece and have stripes of orange and reflective tape down the side, to make sure I can be seen. Sounds very nice, but I still have overall envy – they were dark blue denim and had a pocket on the bib on his back, and a hole for his tail… Aunty Dale says he loves them, and always gets very excited when it’s time to put them on.

Then we came home via the Lookout so Mum and Aunty could take photos. There were lots of black clouds on the way, and Mum had to cancel the dinner booking because the dog-friendly table is outside and we couldn’t all sit there in a downpour. But it was OK, because Aunty Chippy arranged takeaway, and we were warm and cosy and the Staff had curry and I had proper food. Mum said it was a record day – despite wearing a bright pink linen shirt all day, and eating lots of drippy things, she hadn’t spilled on herself once! I thought it was a good day too. Playtime with Diesel, a back yard to roam around in, lots of good things to sniff, and everyone said what a good dog I am.

Today, Mum and Aunty are going to sew and eat Mum’s banana cup-cakes. None for me, of course (I am apparently a Very Bad Boy where banana cup-cakes are concerned). I don’t know what they mean, I am only an innocent, much-maligned doggo who has never, ever stolen banana cup-cakes… And of course, I am a Lovely Boy and a Good Doggo (most of the time, we won’t mention cup-cakes, will we?). Mum says it’s for my own good, so I maintain my figure.

It’s raining again, so I shall stay with Dad while he reads, and supervise… with my eyes closed.