Tuesday, 31 October 2006

Autumn is here!

It’s a funny thing, blogging, or not blogging. I have been at home sick, struck down by a horrible bug that was stalking the library stacks, waiting for me. My first few days of not blogging (not that they would have been interesting posts- oh, my sinuses hurt! Oh, my head hurts!) were spent thinking- what if people kindly come to visit my blog, and I am not posting? Then I spent a week or so planning out lovely posts, where I could tell you all about the little grey squirrel who scurries along the fence at the end of our garden, as if tightrope walking. I was going to post all about my adventures in Christmas cake making, and about the books I have read, and about soo much.

And then I spent a few days thinking- what if- I post a ‘here I am, back again!’ entry, and no one realises I was gone! And then- then, I thought, what if they have noticed I have gone, and then I post all of these things, well, they will be sat reading this for far too long, and their tea will grow cold.

So I have culled much of what I was going to post. But there are one or two matters requiring my attention, and one or two I am determined to muse upon, so…

Thank you to my two lovely swap partners. I have had a marvellous chocolate swap parcel from lovely Thea in Australia- which quite delighted me. Did you know that as we have Freddo chocolate frogs, they have Caramel Koalas?! There was even chocolate cookie dough scented lip balm and hand cream, a delightful Christmas ornament, and flock covered notecards that I sit and stroke while I decide who to write to with them!

And then, lovely Wendy! A Vintage Book Swap parcel that proves great minds think alike, and that vintage swap parcel pals are just lovely people. Imagine opening presents all done up with tissue, and also a peacock feather. Imagine feeling all poorly and snuffly on your sofa, and having a vintage copy of the Wind in the Willows to read, while sipping hot tea out of a wonderful delicate mug all covered with butterflies, and nibbling on squares of Green and Blacks milk chocolate!

Such bliss, so thank you both, so much.

Onwards- this year I made my Christmas cake to the Good Housekeeping recipe in the issue with Jamie Oliver on the front- only I used cointreau to soak my dried fruits, and I baked it for only two hours. It has never crossed my mind to buy a cake- I love the ritual of seeking out the ingredients, soaking the fruit, wishing on my stir of the mix, and then feeding the cake over the weeks, before finally marzipanning and icing it. I love the squirreled-away-hoarding-good-things-for-the-winter feel that it gives me, as well as the glorious smell of cake that pervades the house. I always make sure I need to go out after I have baked it, so I can come back in again to really appreciate the smell! Oh, and I always listen to Christmas music while I bake it, too. This years favourite- as last years- Santa Baby!

Last night we carved pumpkins- I have a lovely friend who always comes to visit on a Monday night, and so we made our Halloween lanterns a night early. It was quite meditative, sitting and scooping and carving and creating together. She very sweetly bought a bag of walnuts for us from her cousins tree- there are enough in the bag to crack and eat as many as we want, and experiment with some walnut recipes.

Today is the first day of proper cooler, darker autumn so far. And I love it. I walked to work under a heavy grey sky, against which were acidy green trees, and the wind was gusting and blowing golden leaves everywhere. I feel really invigorated by windy days. Tonight it is dark outside already, and I still have an hour and a quarter at work. When I get home, my skin will be all tingly, and I am going to bake a pumpkin with cream and gruyere inside by the light of my jack o lantern.

Friday, 6 October 2006

My Magazine Obsession Pays Off!

Oh I am so excited! My magazine habit has paid off- I went out to buy She magazine at lunch time (it is a rainy friday, it is my day off tomorrow- everyone is grumpy at work as the computers are broken...oh yes, I forgot- I don't need excuses here!) ...I opened it....and saw....I am this months start letter! And I have won (apparently!) a bunch of Fairtrade flowers!

I am so excited...I can barely wait to get home and see if my flowers have come- or to find casual ways to let my work friends know I am in print!

(So far my casual way has been to rush up to them saying 'look, look! It's me!' and giggle away.

Happy Fridays everyone!

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble...

I passed a most enjoyable evening last night, with my friend Lisa. We banished dear Carl to the bedroom, and took over the kitchen to make Elderberry Cordial, or as I think of it, Elderberry Rob.

I can heartily recommend making this healing drink (take as a preventative to avoid a cold, or if you have one, as a restorative) but if you do – be advised that a pair of gloves would have been a very good idea.

Lisa picked around about a pound of elderberries from the bushes near her allotment. We stripped them from the stalks (this takes longer than you would imagine) and put them into a large saucepan (the one I use for boiling pasta in- that large!). We then poured in a pound of brown sugar (we opted for dark but I cannot imagine light would make much difference) and sort of mushed it into the berries with our hands. It felt so funny, and we burst as many of the berries as we could manage at the same time. It gave off a marvellous alcoholly mince pie smell, and when we decided we had done the squishing enough, we realised that we should have worn gloves.

Off to the bathroom we merrily tripped to ‘rinse off the elderberries’. Let me tell you, they do not rinse off! Or face scrub off! My hands are just about respectable today because I kept at them with salt and lemon juice, but I have had to paint my nails to hide the stains! Although it must be said that I believe elderberries would make a marvellous dye- a wonderful winey red-purple glossy colour.

We then heated and stirred the mixture until it boiled, boiled it for ten minutes or so, and then simmered it while we watched the first part of Spooks- about five minutes I suppose. Then we let it cool, strained it (mash at the berries with the back of a wooden spoon to get the most cordial out), and I bottled it. I suppose we got about 600ml of cordial out of the berries, and you take it a tablespoon or two in hot water at a time.

It felt very satisfying to have gleaming bottles of elderberry cordial sitting on the windowsill thinking ‘we made that!’

If you want to make it, here is the short version of the recipe, without all my meanderings:

Strip 1lb of elderberries from their stems, and wash them. Crush with 1lb of brown sugar, heat stirring until it boils, then simmer until it reaches a thick syrupy consistency. Pass through a sieve: in sterilized bottles it will keep for up to four years. To take, stir 1-2 tbsp into a mug of hot water, and drink.


Monday, 2 October 2006

Upon a Box of Books, Ginger Cake, and Knitting

I am feeling a bit better now, about the wedding thing. I read a quote on Friday, in a craft shop, that is going to become my mantra.

‘My fiance asked me what the wedding day was that I wished for, and I said an elegant day with friends, family and music. I asked him, and he said the one that would make me his wife’

On the same day, I went to see Mum and Dad, and they had found an old box of books that were mine, in the garage- we had all forgotten they were there. It was like finding a box of treasure! I have let most of them go onto new homes via Oxfam, but I did find and keep a Good Housekeeping Cookbook from the 50’s, a vintage copy of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and a copy of Gone With The Wind with the thinnest paper, from the mid forties.

Mum and I went on to go to a craft shop (I bought a marvellously clever gold leafing pen- just brush it on, like a marker) and a little nursery, where we stood in a greenhouse full of cyclamen that looked like a field of butterflies, while rain hammered down on the roof.

I have been working on my knitting this weekend, when I have not been at work or doing other things. I love knitting with this wool (rown polar)- it is thick, so soft, and a wonderful colour- like blackberries that have been stirred into cream. I am making a hot water bottle cover for a Christmas present- to be given along with a mug and some hot chocolate, or cocoa. Hot water bottles make me think of cocoa and cozy nights in. I found a post on the blog of yarnstorm


that is just what I mean, and has lovely knitting pictures too.

Yesterday, it rained so tremendously hard, that the water could not get down the drain pipes fast enough, and was making a fountain at the top. The lighting But I was tucked up inside, listening to the radio, knitting, and drinking tea.

And today, today the library staffroom smells like a tea-shop. We wanted to have a coffee morning for Macmillan Cancer Support, but several of us have Friday (the official coffee morning day) off, so we did it today instead. The smell is marvellous. I bought in my coffee pot from home, so there is the scent of fresh brewed coffee mingling with spiced apple cake, cherry bakewell loaf cake, cappuccino cake, chocolate chip cake, spiced fruit buns, and the most amazing ginger cake. I will post the ginger cake recipe as soon as I have appropriated it from the wonderful man who baked it. As soon as he showed it to us, you could see it would be good- all moist and gooey and somehow crumbly at the same time. He bought in greek yoghurt to serve with it, and it was really quite marvellous. Gingery enough to be properly ginger cake, but not so hot as to burn or make you thirsty- with crunchy bits of sugar like you get on top of a lemon drizzle cake, and nuts, and…well, it has made everyone who tasted it smile, and I fear he is getting quite embarrassed by all of us ladies going into raptures every time we see him!

As long as my elderberry cordial making goes well tonight, I shall post the recipe for that tomorrow.