SoCS: The Icing on the Cake

The icing on the cake used to be the best part, but this year I’ve gone off it. The crunchy, superwhite icing of a Christmas cake lined with marzipan just doesn’t seem quite right anymore.

I started noticing this phenomenon earlier in the year; fondant icing lost its shine. The frosting on my Christmas cupcakes by M&S just wasn’t what I expected.

Still cute though!

My question is this: has something happened to icing, or has something happened to me?

Perhaps my tastebuds have finally grown up and rejected the sugar-laden gunk of my early years; perhaps I now enjoy dark chocolate and red wine and don’t know it yet. I will try red wine tomorrow night to be sure.

The other possibility is that the health brigade have secretly had some anti-icing legislation passed. Who’d be surprised? They already make children call fruit “dessert”, institutional gaslighting if ever there was such a thing.

I wrote a story recently that was nearly about icing, after it was nearly about cake, but ended up being about sauce. Maybe sauce is the new icing.


Stream of Consciousness Saturday is hosted by Linda G. Hill. This week’s prompt was ‘the icing on the cake’. Go here to read more takes on it.

Dreams Can Come True

My local Asda heard my prayers (it’s fairly unlikely they read my blog post, anyway) and have started stocking 5l bags of cat litter! The difference this makes to my life cannot be overstated. No more aching shoulders, bashed knees and cut-into palms.

In other news, an incident occurred while I was hotstepping it home with my so-light bag that made me reflect on how experience shapes our fears.

To get home, I have first to walk down a winding lonely alleyway, then cut through a forest. (Yeah, it’s crazy up here.) The forest is optional: I can walk a slightly less spooky way round if I’m prepared to take an extra 10 minutes, which I generally am in the dark. The lonely alleyway is not.

Now, if you were designing a pathway to be inviting to robbers, rapists and rogues you’d model it on this one. It’s got the kind of streetlights that only lengthen the shadows, and it’s lined by bushes on both sides for most of the way. I hate it. I avoid it as much as possible, but I had to go there tonight because I am an idiot who forgot to put cat litter in her online shopping order.

Just as I set foot on the creepy path, I heard someone breathing close behind me. FABULOUS. So I had to walk down this dark dark road with a strange man five steps behind the whole time. (I knew it was a man, because men breathe differently to women. It’s pitch or something; go listen if you don’t believe me.)

I was terrified. Irrationally, really: it was only about 7.30pm and the alleyway is not underused that passing people on it should be a surprise. Turning around would have been awkward and weird so I just kept moving at that fast-walk pace one adopts when trying to get away as quickly possible without looking like one is trying to get away as quickly as possible. I stopped hearing the breathing; I couldn’t figure out whether he had somehow gone somewhere else (through the bushes?!) or just dropped further back.

The whole time I was anticipating him grabbing my handbag, wrenching my bad shoulder or possibly hitting me, and legging it, leaving me in that peculiar state of nakedness: woman-without-a-bag. I made alternative plans in my mind for the eventuality. To fight back or not? (I really like my bag; it’s purple Harris Tweed.) To scream or not?

It was only when I was nearly at the main road, the end of this harrowing walk, that I realised there were way worse things a weird guy following you could do than snatching your bag. So why was that what I was scared of?

I could try to ascribe some faux-rationality to myself: mugging and bag-snatching are definitely way more common than rape and murder by strangers. The truth is that thinking about statistics didn’t even cross my mind. I think it was a remnant of the trauma of being mugged a few years ago. My lizard-brain thought it was about to happen again.

It didn’t; I got to the end of the path and stole a glance behind me. The man was still there but quite a way back.

Anyway, there’s no doubt the 5l bag of cat litter made a difference: I’m not sure whether carrying one double the size would have been better (slowing me down enough that SchrΓΆdinger’s assailant could have overtaken me) or worse (slowing me down so I would be even less able to escape). It would have been different, though. 😁

The York Report: Jorvik Viking Centre

Another day, another post gushing about York: I’m thinking of joining their tourist board.

Are you sick of walking around exhibits? Then you’ll love the Jorvik Viking Centre, where you get in a little train thing and ride through them!

The route is full of mechanical Vikings just doing their thing: buying, selling, arguing, playing games and – not kidding – using the toilet.

If, however, you enjoy the traditional gazing-into-glass-cases museum experience, you’ll be pleased to know there’s enough of that too, at the end. There are lots of enthusiastic staff who really seem to know their stuff. Either their training programme is absolutely fantastic, or they’re all History students.

The gift shop is great; it has everything from cheap as chips kids’ souvenirs to Viking style booze. I got some great blackberry wine, which was not Viking, as far as I know, but still local. It turned out to be delicious. If you like fruit wine, you will want to check out the makers, Lyme Bay Winery.

I also got a scratch-and-sniff postcard. If you can’t go to a place, smelling it is the next best thing, right?

Nothing here smells particularly good; history stinks.

The best and coolest thing about Jorvik Viking Centre is that you can visit again for free, as long as it’s within a year. If I lived in York I’d definitely go again.

Other posts about what I got up to in York:

If I Was/Were in Charge…

Why we should abolish the subjunctive mood

English has a long and, in my opinion, proud, history of streamlining grammar. When the collection of Germanic dialects destined to become the global language first staggered onto this island, they had three genders and grammatical case. Nowadays, we have no genders and only the tiniest vestiges of the case system.

After realizing just how easy it was to do without whole areas of grammar, the population was on a roll and bumped off the t/v distinction, leaving us addressing everyone and groups of his friends as ‘you’ (formerly polite and plural). This was arguably a bridge too far, given that many dialects have since felt the need to re-invent a plural second-person; but English has largely survived the loss unscathed.

And yet, I have today stumbled across an (old) internet thread in which dozens of people passionately defend the irregularity that is “If (any old person) were…”. Apparently, people who say “If I was in charge” do so because, horror of horrors, they have not attended a ‘decent school’. (This is British snob-code for “are from the wrong social class”, but I digress.)

People who say “If I was decently educated, I would still not be a prescriptivist scoundrel*.” do so because they are instinctively following the rules of the second conditional, and the usage perfectly suffices. Zero percent of people hearing the sentence will believe that the speaker went to Eton, even if that speaker is male (an essential requirement).

There is no need to hang onto this grammatical relic. If we lost it, we would lose less than we did when we got rid of case. It will make no difference to anyone except a) struggling English learners, who would have one less exception to trip them up and b) people who like to feel better than others on the internet. The latter group could just go back to going on about apostrophes, which at least serve a purpose.

What do you reckon? If anyone reading can think of any reason to hold onto “If I were…”, I’d be glad to hear it!

*There are many great insults in English which are not swear words, just saying.

The York Report: Teatime Misadventures

Please allow me to fulfill a British stereotype by announcing: I love an afternoon tea.

Me and my stereotypes at the weekend.

For those who have never been for one, the basic set-up is a tower of posh nibbles (it would be demeaning to call them snacks). There are sandwiches, scones and cakes. It is a greedy so-and-so like me’s idea of heaven.

Our afternoon tea, minus my shiny face.

Nowadays, you can indulge in a sparkling afternoon tea: all of the above, plus a glass of prosecco. You can even have a Christmas afternoon tea, with mulled wine, but do not ask me about it, because the one I was supposed to be going out for got cancelled because of you-know-what. 🀧πŸ˜ͺ

The best way to go for afternoon tea is nearly always to get a deal through Groupon or a similar website. That’s just what I did in York, getting a sparkling afternoon tea at Radisson York for the bargain price of Β£23.95 for two. (In fact, the deal’s still live, thought the price has gone up a teensy bit.)

The Radisson York is situated on one side of Bridge Street, which just goes to show that the people of York, while overall more original than those of Inverness when it comes to naming their bits, can still be a tad on the boring side when they are faced with a body of water. It has a view of the river which I am sure would be lovely in daylight, but this was 4.30pm in late November so we were too late for that.

Naturally, we were late; in fact, we managed the dubious distinction of not being on time for one thing during the whole time we were there, which is impressive even for me. Although ours was the last afternoon tea slot of the day, the lovely staff made no complaint about our delayed arrival. I paid them back by not saying anything when they forgot our prosecco and the afternoon tea became unsparkling.

Onto the most important part: triangle sandwiches! Thankfully, there was none of that regal cucumber and salmon malarkey: it was cheese and pickle, ham and, according to my taste-blind beloved, egg mayo. My longtime vegetarian self, happy to have two out of three varieties of sandwich available, bit eagerly into the latter, only to encounter the oddest, rubberiest eggs I had ever come across. Well. I persisted. Maybe that’s how posh people like their eggs!

It took about three chews for me to realise that it was, duh, chicken πŸ” and confirm my unsuitability for posh restaurants by undelicately spitting it into a napkin.

There was nothing to do but press on with the rest of the afternoon tea, and it was lovely. The cream for the scones was sweetened, and the cakes were all divine. We ran out of milk, which came in a tiny jug, pretty quickly, so I experimented with using some of the insane quantity of cream provided instead. (Well, you can put cream I coffee!) It made the tea frothy, which was interesting.

There were four cakes each; a little cherry bakewell, a chocolate mousse, a blueberry cheesecake and a chocolate cake. I rejected the mousse on the basis that it had a gelatine wobble to it, but risked all the others which were well worth it.

We left with that happy rosy-cheeked sense of wellbeing that can only be imbued by eating too many tiny things, washed down by tea.

Things Are Going to the Dogs Around Here

Post schedule? What post schedule?

Goodness knows what I’ve been doing these past few weeks, but it isn’t keeping this blog going, that’s for sure!

I’m blaming Christmas and New Year.

I’ve also been trying my hand at fiction writing.

My latest story, the World’s Best Caramel Sauce, is about what to do when your husband keeps comparing you to your mother-in-law. 😎 If you have time to give it a click – or even better a real read – I’d be very much obliged. Feedback also welcome! More stories can be found on my Fiction page.

I promise I’ll be back to my usual posting schedule around here – Tuesdays and Saturdays – by the second week of January. I may give the Scottish snacks a miss for the first couple of months, because I have got F.A.T. over December, and I can’t be trusted to have snacks in the house.

If you celebrated Christmas, I hope you had a lovely time, and HAPPY NEW YEAR! πŸŽ‰πŸ₯‚πŸŽ‰

Seasonal Snacks: Mackies Sticky Toffee Pudding Popcorn

I didn’t mean to become such an advocate of Mackies, but I also didn’t realise that sticky toffee pudding was seasonal. I’ve made it at any old time of year before now, so apparently I’ve been doing it wrong. Oops!

Anyhow, that means I have to write about this now, before it disappears from the shops for a year, at least.

The sticky truth is you can’t tell the difference between Mackies sticky toffee pudding popcorn and toffee popcorn. Unless perhaps you’re one of those supertasters who gets paid thousands to evaluate wine and dog food. (I’m not kidding.)

On the other hand, it is nicely generous with the sugar, Butterkist-style. Not for Mackies this popcorn-as-health-food lark; we can leave that nonsense till the New Year.

If the shops near you have sold out, you can still buy it online.

And if you’re looking for more last-minute snackspiration, check out my posts on Winter Whirls, Boxing Day Curry crisps and Jingly Bells.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Seasonal Snacks: Mackies Boxing Day Curry Flavour Crisps

I was positively excited when I saw these! Seasonal and Scottish, what more could we want?

Boxing Day, for those who don’t have it in their calendars, is the 26th of December. Legend has it that employers used to give their employees boxes of gifts 🎁 on the 26th. I’d rather have a day off than a pressie from my boss, and that’s what we (mostly) have now.

Boxing Day is not so much celebrated as eaten and drunk through, which makes it one of my favourite days of the year. People watch the last of the Christmas movies, eat endless turkey sandwiches or curries, hence these crisps, and generally do sod all. Unless you’re Bridget Jones, whose upper-middle-class parents force her out for the turkey curry. That might be what the chattering classes get up to, but most of us keep leaving the couch to a minimum.

I’m a vegetarian, so would not be able to partake of the turkey curry even if it was the done thing in my house, which it mostly isn’t. These fabulous Mackies Boxing Day Curry crisps, however, are suitable for both vegetarians and vegans. Score!

Yum!

The first thing that struck me on opening the packet was these crisps’ extreme yellowness. I don’t think the picture really captures it. Like, maximum turmeric. They smell delicious.

I wasn’t sure what the flavour difference between Boxing Day Curry and any other curry would be, and I’m still not sure that there is one. They’re curry flavour crisps, with snowflakes on the packet. They are limited edition, so snap them up now in a supermarket near you (hopefully). You can also buy them online from the Mackies shop, but only in bulk.

Previous 2021 seasonal snacks:

The York Report: Buses and Snacks

The first reason for my AWOL status these past two weeks was a visit to York, Viking city and shockingly popular tourist attraction. I mean, really amazingly packed with people. I didn’t realise anywhere in Britain would still be popular in late November, but I was both wrong and freezing.

The night we arrived, it was so cold it was like…Outer Hebrides cold. That wasn’t a York-centred phenomenon; I went to Liverpool in the morning and it was just as bad there. Rain blasted me in the face from every direction and I thought my fingers would fall off at any moment. The queue at the taxi rank was huge and the bus didn’t come. We were undoubtedly off to a bad start.

When the bus finally did show up, I was momentarily buoyed by the shockingly low fare; it cost Β£1. I am not even joking. It would have felt like a trip back in time, if there hadn’t been USB chargers on the bus. This was just exactly what I needed, because my phone had done exactly what all phones do just when you need to use them to find your way around a strange city: died. βž• 100 to York public transport!

Our accommodation was lovely, but getting in there was a nightmare. The directions given led us to a random (closed) office; the actual entrance was hidden away round the side of the building, behind a bush. It took ten minutes wandering around in the still-bitter rain to work it out. When we were finally in, there was a gift box waiting for us, including a couple of intriguing local products from York. That means, ta-dah, that this first blog post about York features my favourite subject: snacks!

Posh crisps!

There was a little tub of these exclusive-looking Yorkshire crisps. They were pretty delicious and I never complain about any potato product involving wine vinegar. They did hit the spot, but there’s a limit to how special crisps can be. They’ve taken a leaf out of the book of beauty brands everywhere and enhanced their packaging to claim “luxury” status, and they do feel expensive. Expensive, however, is not what I’m looking for in a crisp.

There is always an advantage to buying local, though, which is: ta-ra, carbon footprint! πŸ‘£ In that sense, Yorkshire crisps are definitely worth it if you’re in that region.

If you’re less bothered about your environmental impact and just want to scoff posh potatoes, you can buy them online. They’re vegetarian and gluten-free.

Definitely York’s sweetest thing.

The real standout was the Yummycomb chocolate. Can we say…cutest name ever?! Can we say adorable packaging? 😍 Yes, we can! These sweet little bees are presumably the honey-making variety, not my beloved solitary bees, but still – so cute!

We got the salted caramel version, as illustrated. It was really yummy; sweet, creamy chocolate and definitely worth a little more than your bog standard Cadbury’s. The only downside was that the honeycomb bits were so hard they nearly gave me another dental story.

They’re so full of plus-sides I would probably have forgiven them even if they had cracked my incisors. Yummycomb chocolate is gluten-free, and they make vegan varieties, but most importantly of all, the chocolate is fairly sourced from farmer’s co-operatives in partnership with Cocoa Horizons.

It might seem a little on the pricey side, but that partly reflects the fact that farmers are getting a decent price for their cocoa, so you can splash out on delicious chocolate with a clear conscience. πŸ˜‹ Buy it online here.

Seasonal Snacks: Jingly Bells Hazelnut Creme

Firstly, let me apologise for the complete radio silence on this blog for the last, what, three weeks? Shocking. Things have been happening, I assure you. There are reasons. I will explain them in Tuesday’s post.

On to our seasonal snack of the week – Cadbury’s Jingly Bells.

One jingly bell πŸ””

Astonishingly, these are on offer for as little as 75p in Tesco, which is ridiculous. They are worth at least Β£1.10.

They are amazing. I was genuinely shocked when I first tasted one. It’s a perfect little ball of chocolate filled with super-smooth hazelnut creme and gives Lindt a run for its money.

I’m considering starting a petition for them to be available all year round. This would have the bonus of making them change the only downside to these amazing little chocolates, the stupid name. I expect some focus group or other said they couldn’t call them Jingle Bells because of the song, but I also expect 100% of the public is doing just that anyway. It would have been a million times better to call them something else so everyone could easily remember the name of their new favourite chocolate.

Cadbury’s Jingly Bells Hazelnut Creme are suitable for vegetarians but regrettably not gluten-free.


The last seasonal snack I wrote about was Mr Kipling’s Winter Whirls. If you’re too scroogy to be bothered with Christmas snacks, you might want to check out my Scottish snacks posts instead.

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