Monday, 31 December 2007
I love new year. I love the potential and promise, plans to be made, diaries to be filled first with appointments, and then with memories and thoughts. I like to see in the new year, preferably with a glass of something cold and bubbly, and with people I love about me. For a few years now, as with this year, we will go to visit some dear friends, have a delicious dinner, each play our song of the year, then write out our hopes and predictions for the new year, and read those we made last year.
I like to put on a party dress and spray on my new perfume, but I don’t like all the razzle dazzle of a big party. I think new year is personal, somehow. We all have reflections to make, people to think about- new friends, old friends, family, people we have lost, or are loosing, new friendships that are just beginning. Hopes and dreams realized or dashed, or sometimes just faded away.
Tomorrow, I shall be turning out my cupboards in the kitchen, always a good way to start the new year in my opinion. Then I shall go online and order all manner of nourishing and nurturing goodies to be delivered to restock them. I like the peaceful bliss of knowing I have good, healthy, wholesome…..soulsome…food in my cupboards. Ingredients, again, the potential for so much that is good.
If you find in your own cupboards
125 gms butter or margarine
175 gms castor sugar
2 large eggs
175 gms self-raising flour
2 lemons, preferably unwaxed
60 gms granulated sugar
then you have the ingredients to make the Luscious Lemon Drizzle Cake that I made for Carl’s birthday.
1) Tie on your prettiest apron, and put on some happy music.
2) Preheat the oven to Gas 4/180 oC and grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
3) Cream the butter and sugar together until they are soft and fluffy.
4) Beat in the eggs.
5) Fold in the flour.
6) Stir in the finely grated rind, and juice from one of the lemons.
7) Bake for about 30 minutes.
8) Whilst the cake is cooking, remove the peel from the other lemon with a zester, and mix with half of the granulated sugar.
9) Squeeze the juice from the lemon and put it in a small saucepan with the other half of the granulated sugar.
10) Simmer for about 3 minutes until syrupy.
11) Prick the top of the cake with a cocktail stick, then drizzle over the syrup.
12) Scatter the lemon zest and sugar over the top, and allow to cool.
13) If you have some in your cupboard, sprinkle over a little edible glitter. And if it is for a birthday, add a single cake-decoration-sparkler in the very middle.
In previous years, I have made targets for the new year, rather than resolutions. This year, I chose just one, to nurture myself. I think I have done well overall, but to be honest, I find having targets just a bit more fun. Also, they are easier to reflect upon.
I shall think of more tonight, no doubt, as I close my eyes and see a cloud of champagne bubbles, but for now, these are some of my targets for 2008:
Learn to mix a mojito
Use my new pasta machine
Write more letters
Keep a book journal
I must say goodbye now, because I am off to the hospital to visit Dad. It is strange, sitting there, not really knowing what to talk about. Wishing you could make it all better. I try to always make some kind of skin on skin contact, a hand squeeze here, there....because I think that if anything goes in, perhaps that will be it.
The difficult times have been made easier with your kind thoughts and wishes, and the good times have been a delight to share. May you all have a wonderful new year, and I look forward to sharing 2008 with you!
Wednesday, 26 December 2007
I have just typed a post about how Dad is, the ups, the downs, the confusion of feelings, and despite it all, the Christmas that we had, but it just doesn't flow well. Perhaps it is too soon? I have to go to work tomorrow. I am dreading it, because I will need to tell people. I am not ashamed, just worried, because when people are kind, and I am already feeling a litte fragile, it is too much to bare.
Although it was a little sad, visiting the hospital on Christmas day (too many people without visitors) it was lovely to see Dad, and we did have a day that had glimmers of loveliness in it. Hugs shared. Tree lights twinkling. A promise of afternoon tea at Claridges to come. Blinking awake and realising that it is Christmas Day. Cups of tea, and Mum's sage and onion stuffing.
I hope you all had scrumptious Christmasses. I will be back tomorrow, with a recipe for a lemon birthday cake that was just heavenly. A little thank you for your support and kind words. I just wish you could all be here now so I could offer you a slice still warm from my oven.
Saturday, 22 December 2007
The mist is appropriate at the moment. I have been thinking long and hard about posting this, but, I feel I want to share, perhaps need to, even, and you are all so kind and generous I feel comfortable sharing.
On Thursday, my Dad was admitted to the psychiatric ward of our local hospital. Happily he went voluntarily, but it was a choice of go or be made to go. Horrible words. But he needed to go, he is just too ill to be at home any more, and it has been taking such a toll on my poor Mum. You see he has always had his issues, but since a few weeks after the wedding he has been depressed. He has long periods where he is completely non-responsive to the world around him; he stands and stares into space because he cannot remember what else he should do. Then come times when he is gripped with an obsession, and cannot be reasoned with. He thinks he has an infection and everything he touches he will contaminate. He thinks he must sell the house to settle debts that do not exist.
I went to visit him yesterday, on my own. My dear Carl would come with me, but by the time he is home, visiting hours are after. Mum cannot visit for a day or two in case it makes him want to come home. So, it was me that went. My older brother has washed his hands of us as it is too hard for him to deal with. I am glad that I rang before I went, for although I knew he was bad, I had not realised how bad. I asked what he would like me to bring, and it was too much for him to cope with. After five minutes of other chat, he said he would like a comb, so I took him one. He ignored everything else I took, but held the comb and would not let it go.
It was hard to know what to talk about with him. I had to lead him by the hand to get him to a chair. It is a locked ward. I spoke to the most lovely nurse before I went, John, and he was very kind and reassuring. He said that for now they are just observing and monitoring, becasue although they believe what we have told them, they need to see it for themselves to know how to treat it.
I feel so powerless at the moment. We are pulling together though, and when Carl held me in his arms as I cried into the soup I was making, I did feel that yes, we can pull through this. But for now, this is why there are cards, addressed but not sent. Parcels wrapped, but not addressed. Things left unbought. Planning for a Christmas that will be unfamiliar, that we are stumbling through together, feeling for the way forward.
Now I promise to come back soon, and post on happier things, to give you a list of scrumptious music to listen to, to tell you about my handmade gifts, and to offer you a recipe or two. But for now, I will say Merry, Merry Christmas to you all. The moon shines through the mist, and one day soon, all will be well.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
Friday, 14 December 2007
I am wearing a black skirt and my favourite cardigan- chocolate brown, scoop necked, with a scattering of tiny brown sequins around the neckline. It looks prettier than it sounds, I promise! And because I have a big meeting today, and like to feel confident, I have added a pair of my Shoes From Under My Desk. I must have mentioned these before? Big high heels that are impractical to walk to work in, and are not something I would wear when I am with Carl because although we are both short, I am a little less short than he. Anyway, todays shoes are peep toes, high heels, leopard print! So bad they are glorious!
Before I go out this evening, I shall put on some gold eyeshadow, a flick of gold eyeliner and lots of mascara. I like having fluttery eyes.
As I was pondering what to wear today, I started thinking about styles and colours and signatures. A long time ago, over at the ever wonderful www.brocantehome.typepad.com I wrote a ‘Mimi Says’ piece about creating a signature style. And while I think it is important that we all have one, it does need to come about naturally and cannot be forced. It is something you evolve into, almost. Now a year or so ago, I went shopping with two dear friends who are both lovely, and have definite signature colours. One is drawn to (and looks fabulous in) shades of green, whilst the other is a blue girl. As for me, I felt a little lost. I had a strong sense of what I like (and still do) but there did not seem to be much theme or signature going on. I liked pinks, reds, lilacs, purples.
Recently it has started to click for me though. The last few things I have bought have been red, or red and black. I have painted my lips with red lipstick that makes me feel great and I get a lot of comments on. I have red shoes, and when I paint my nails red they make me smile. I am beginning to think that red is my thing, and for those quieter days, or days when I need a change, then it is brown. Brown seems to go with my colouring well. Today, as I mentioned, I have on my brown sparkly cardi, and leopard heels. It feels good to be growing into myself.
Christmas is only 11 days away, and I am going to be spending this weekend crafting presents for my work friends. I will share after the weekend, as some of them read this! Already my thoughts are drifting beyond Christmas to the new year, waiting fresh and crisp for us. I think it is because I have been filling in some appointments in my new diary. My mind is turning to new beginnings, and the most scrumptious year ever. I am starting to think of things that I shall have as my targets for the new year. I don’t like to make resolutions, as they always seem to be things like ‘I must not’ or ‘I will stop’. I would rather say I will eat an extra piece of fruit each day than loose weight, or better still, learn to mix a new cocktail, or something else equally lovely.
But no, Santa’s workshop must come first. And so I turn my mind to a weekend of crafting in my pyjamas, peppermint hot chocolate drank from Santa Mugs, and parcelling up goodies to send on their way.
Monday, 10 December 2007
And so it was this weekend in our little flat. We spent Sunday having a good turn out of books and magazines and the little piles of projects that build up; we scrubbed, we hovered, we polished and dusted. We threw open all our windows, and shivered as we aired out the flat and listened to the drizzle drizzle of the rain. Having got everything spick and span we were ready to decorate.
We drove to my favourite garden centre where we had delicious coffee and sat in the conservatory watching the clouds roll across the sky, and people scurrying through the rain to load trees into their cars. One of my favourite things is watching the cut trees being put through the big netting-up device. After that, we scrunched up against the rain and chose our own tree; I like to buy a potted one so that it has a chance of growing over the year, so we didn’t get to use the netter.
We have gone for a Scandinavian-style red and white theme this year. We have a red berry wreath on the front door, and I have hung little red-and-white felt hearts and stars from all of the door handles. We have started to stick our cards up on the doors, and have Christmas music on the cd player. The best room, as always is the living room. We have put our tree up in the corner of the room, and bedecked it with lots of tiny white lights, and little red baubles. There is a small gold fairy on top, and a red glittery robin nestled amongst the branches. Although it sounds sparse, it does work. I was going to bake gingerbread hearts and hang them from gingham ribbon, but the tree looks fine just as it is. We have run some lovely holly tinsel along the dado-rail. It doesn’t really sparkle, but it does have lovely berries that are so shiney they make up for it! The windowsill is the best part – in the middle is a red tin lantern, with a tealight candle in it. We have lots of white church candles of different heights, some small red candles and tall red taper candles there too, and a Poinsettia on either end. We also have our oil burner on there, with some ‘Christmas Spirit’ oil to scent the air.
I still have a few things I would like to do. I want to clear off the wide shelf on the bookcase that I use for displays, and put out a bowl of satsumas, a little bottle of blackberry brandy and a cake stand of little chocolates, amarettis and Turkish delight. I also want to make a ‘Merry Christmas’ banner to hang across one wall.
For now though, the main part is done. And sitting on the sofa, snuggled in the new red fleece throw, sipping tea and watching Cranford by the light of the Christmas tree, the silence and jollity was ringing in my ears.
Friday, 7 December 2007
I could not be more pleased, because as well as all the useul things like being able to order the groceries from home, I will be able to plug in our digital camera and share pictures with you!
I do try as hard as I can to paint with words here, but I do long to be able to share pictures too. I think it is something that has been missing from my blog. I can't wait to show you little corners of my home, such as my flower pot that holds my knitting needles, or my chamberstick that is all draped with beads. I can show you my red shoes and my little finds. All in glorious technicolour!
The first thing I will post is a photograph of my Christmas cake that I iced this afternoon with my Mum. I have it on my glass cake stand, and I have made the icing stand up in little peaks. I have sprinkled edible glitter over the surface so it shimmers and glimmers as it catches the light; there are two trees, and a deer. Finally I scattered about some little silver balls before declaring it 'done'.
I wish I could share a slice with you over a nice cup of tea while we talk of Christmasses past. I hope this weekend sees you caught up in some scrumptious piece of Christmas. I have done the work of writing out my cards, and have the decorating of the tree to look forward to. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, make time for a cup of tea and think about the happy memories that you want to create this year.
Thursday, 6 December 2007
But I have found a cure. The company of lovely friends who let you rage at them over people say they are looking for something, when they mean: look for me. And most delicious of all, a Hot Chocolate Milano from Café Nero, and a buttery jacket potato with prawns. And a new library book.
After that, my head is still pounding, but a little less. And I don’t feel quite so jangly now.
It was a whirl because we were so busy, but cinnamon as it was a good whirl, and because we were doing Christmassy things. Saturday, we went to London. The more I think about it, the luckier I feel I am living here. 40 minutes or so from Liverpool Street, but far enough away that London may as well be another country, when I want it to be. Far enough away for it to feel like a treat for me (even though poor Carl goes up every day!) when we visit. Our destination was to be Hyde Park, to visit the Winter Wonderland, but first we went to Selfridges.
Last time I went to Selfridges, we (a friend from the library and I, out in town together) stumbled across an enchanting Christmas section. We were heading for the books when we spied it, and resolved there and then to come back with our respective husbands and choose one perfect decoration each. So there we were, surrounded by an abundance of Christmas decorations, and it was so hard to choose! There was every kind of bauble you can imagine, including a delightful red one, that had a little window in it, trimmed with red tinsel, and in the window sat a little tiny robin. I knew I would regret leaving that one behind! There were Santas and Angels and Reindeer and Stockings, every colour you can imagine. I chose out a little box of tiny silver and gold sweet cases, and some red felt Poinsettia decorations as gifts. Choosing ‘our’ decoration was harder. Of course I am always drawn to vintage things, and this year our theme is red and white Scandinavian style, but we wanted something we could bring out every year and say ‘this is the decoration we bought the first year we were married’.
Eventually, we settled upon a beautiful clear glass bauble, with a slightly flat bottom so it can be hung from a tree or used as an ornament; inside sits a little tiny father Christmas, smiling merrily at us all.
The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park was lovely. There was a haunted house that had been decked out for Christmas that I thought was slightly out of place, but there was also an ice-skating rink, a 50m high observation wheel, a German market, and a café selling hot chocolate and Winter Pimms. We started with refreshments in the café tent – tea for me, of course, and then wandered along to the German market. It was lovely to see something so obviously different to what we have here. I wish I had bought more, but somehow it was enough just to look and know these things exist. There were delightful ornaments carved out of flat pieces of wood, and large gingerbread hearts, reindeer skins and more. We bought a bag of white granules of candle wax; you pour them into a dish or glass (or even your hand!) push a wick in, and it burns as though a normal candle.
We watched the skaters on the ice – oh, to be so graceful! As it turned colder, we made our way to the observation wheel, and rode high, looking out across the park, and the criss-crossing paths, and the Serpentine. This time our foray into the refreshments tent saw us partaking of the hot Winter Pimms (utterly scrumptious!) and thus fortified, we walked to the Science Museum for the rest of the afternoon.
I always find when I am in London that my energy suddenly leaves me. As we were waiting for yet another tube train to take us back to Liverpool Street, Angela’s husband suggested we have dinner, and moments later I found myself in a Wetherspoon, overlooking the Tower of London, which was quite beautiful.
That evening, we stayed with Angela and her husband, and I slept very soundly indeed.
Sunday was given over to the joy of brunch club. This time it was at the home of our lovely friend Annastasia, and the theme was Thanksgiving. There is nothing like sitting sharing a delicious meal and wine with friends on a rainy Sunday afternoon to make you really thankful for your friends. There was homemade tomato soup to start, with the most amazing warm rolls. I had not realised they too were homemade until she said, and she was sweet enough to share the source of her recipe
To follow there was roast turkey pretending to be a chicken, with really lovely stuffing and vegetables; as if this was not enough we were spoiled with homemade apple and cinnamon pie too.
The boys played in the attic with Scalextric, while we read papers at the kitchen table and chatted.
I really cannot think of a more lovely way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.
1) Automatic revolving doors flummox me. I always seem to get there just as there isn’t quite enough time to squeeze in, at which point they seem to slooow down, mocking me for not taking the risk, and causing the queue behind me to tut.
2) When I am not feeling well, the only food I want to eat is Heinz Tomato Soup, with a cottage-loaf roll (which I always think of as a ‘little red hen loaf’) and if I am not feeling too bad, little cubes of cheddar stirred into the soup so they go all melty melty.
3) When I am really tired, I talk gibberish before I go to sleep. Apparently. I have my husbands word on this! He says that we can be having a perfectly normal conversation, you know, the usual things- what have you got on tomorrow, what shall we have for dinner- when suddenly I will say something like ‘how many clovers are in the pie?’ ‘but it is the moon, the moon!’ or ‘have you seen them fly?’. Very random.
4) I need to have a book on the go or I just don’t feel right. It doesn’t have to be the all-absorbing-have-to-be-reading-it-right-NOW kind of book, just something that is there, waiting for me to read. I have been known to pace up and down in front of our three bookcases, waililng ‘but there is nothing to read!’
5) I have a very strange body. No, really. I get a certain kind of headache if there is going to be a thunder storm, and the elbow I broke aches if it is going to be very cold. I have a scar on my thumb, at the base of the metacarpal bone that looks like a tummy button to me. I have a rib that is really, really bendy. And my joints make me feel like a little old lady, clicking and snapping and being stiff a lot of the time. See, I really do have a very strange body!
6) Some days, I can sparkle. I seem to give out a little glow of energy, somehow. I feel good, I paint my lips red (the same red that Dita Von Teese wears!) I put on my high heeled red shoes and I just seem to shimmer through the day. The next day, I will wake up and my hair won’t sit right, and nothing seems to gel. I wish I could keep it up. I have dreams of being a lady who wears stockings. And is perfectly made up. Elegant, I think is the word that I aspire to.
7) In idle moments, I like to plan escape routes and hiding places. That way I am always prepared. See, if the lion did escape from the zoo, I would be ahead of the crowds because they would all be thinking ‘agh! Where shall I run?’ while I would already be halfway there. (To the lion enclosure of course, it would be the last place the lion would want to go!)
8) I love words. I love to discover new words, and to use words that have perhaps fallen out of use a little. They convey our meanings and thoughts, and it is so delicious to have exactly the right word. I read an article the other day about how the word ‘repel’ is falling out of use, and is being replaced with ‘repulse’, although they do not mean the same thing. They both come from the same Latin word ‘repellere’ which means to drive back, but repulse is what you use for when you are physically driven back, such as in a battle. However, you often hear people say on the news, or read in an interview ‘what a repulsive man!’. What they should say is ‘what a repellent man!’.
As I result I love programmes such as QI and books on archaic words. After reading a lot of Jane Austen I seem to find myself falling into her patterns of language when speaking, writing or thinking. Words are just bliss, really. They are there at our command. I like to think of it as learning to bake lots of different recipes rather than just the usual Victoria sponge!
Tuesday, 20 November 2007
and it’s funny, because this sums up how I feel about November, and yet at the same time I don’t feel like this at all.
So in the midst of this confusing tumble of feelings, and the gently drizzling rain, I am taking myself home to snuggle on the sofa and watch Spooks while eating
Chicken Comfort Pie
Tie on your brightest pinny, and put something cheery on the stereo. For me, that would be the Puppini sisters just now!
Peel as many potatoes as you need for two, and set them to boil. Preheat the oven to 175oC (mine is a fan electric).
Whilst they are bubbling away, heat a little oil in a frying pan, and throw in some diced chicken pieces and snipped up spring onions.
When the chicken is coloured on all sides, tip in a tin of Campbells Condensed soup in chicken, or chicken and white run, or even mushrooms if your tastes run this way. (I know, I know, but trust me, it tastes better than it sounds!)
Throw in a shake or two of whatever frozen veggies you have in your freezer.
Bubble away for ten minutes or so.
Divide between two ovenproof dishes. Drain the potatoes and mash well with some butter, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Use this to top the chicken mixture in the manner of Shepherds Pie.
Sprinkle over some grated cheese, and bake for ten to fifteen minutes until golden.
Snuggle on the sofa, and be prepared to be amazed at how something so simple can taste so scrumptious and comforting!
I was walking through the park to work on just such a typical autumn day- the kind where there has almost been a frost; the air is nippy, every roof has a pale shimmer to it, and the grass looks as though if you picked a blade to nibble on, it would taste of peppermint creams. The sunlight was almost dazzling in its brightness. All through the park, there were vast swathes of shadow, sliced into by vivid slashes of sunlight. Where the sun fell, the grass and bark and water was normal in colour, but where it could not reach, the ice had rendered the colours a subtle whisper of their usual hue. The light and shade and brilliant light made me wonder if, should you be able to stand far enough away, would you be able to see some beautiful pattern? And being here down on the ground and so tiny, you can see only a tiny part, that doesn’t make any sense? It reminded me of how sometimes, I lay a paper doily on a freshly baked sponge, and sift icing sugar over to make a pretty stencil. It is as though some large, unseen hand has laid a doily over the park and made their own lacy pattern from tree trunks and flower beds.
I love how autumn days can be so different and yet all so autumnal. On Sunday we wandered into town together. It was so cold that when we wandered, unawares, past a snow machine, it took us a moment to realise that it wasn’t actually snowing. We wandered until we were too cold to enjoy wandering anymore, whereupon we repaired to a pub and sat by a coal fire to eat roast beef and crunch roast potatoes. We were in a dark little corner, lit by candles, sitting in a wing-backed chair. I could see out of a tiny window, and watched the sky turn slate-grey, then night fall. Full and warm, we wandered home…another delicious autumn day, done.
One of my favourite words is ‘convivial’ because the very sound of the word speaks to me of lovely times and parties and agreeableness. For some reason it makes me think of Hobbits in their holes, feasting and singing.
Propitious. ‘of the Gods, the fates, etc. Disposed to be favourable, gracious, merciful, lenient.’ This is a word that was new to me today. I don’t remember where I saw it now, but it was probably a blog or on-line news article. What a lovely word though!
I must, must, must start a little notebook to keep track of words and phrases which I love, along with where I heard them. I keep meaning to. Perhaps if I try and post once a week of my little treasures I have found, that will prompt me to stick to it!
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
As you can see, http://brocantehome.typepad.com/brocante_home/puttery_treats.html there is an abundance of treats to choose from, like a treasure chest thrown open and heaped with jewels. I love how they live in little bundles together, like bundles of patchwork fabrics, waiting to be chosen. All the Autumn treats a pile of autumn leaves, all the winter treats a flurry of snowflakes, and a bagful of scrumptious ideas to dip into, to pretty up your handbag. Bliss!
* * *
One of the most delightful things for me about these treats is that while they are just for you, others benefit too. A visiting friend will enjoy your vanilla coffee in the autumn; you will make someone special smile with a note on a vintage postcard; everyone who comes into your home will adore the cosy scrumptiousness that these treats create, and, when you are all prinked up from arranging your little seasonal altar, or pasting bookplates into your favourite books, people will delight into come into contact with a sprauncier, happier, more scrumptious you.
* * *
I have woven several of the treats into my life, so it has been hard to choose which to blog about. It is like being asked to choose one favourite from a whole field of daffodils! Several mornings over the last week or two, I have sat in the dark in my living room, lit only by candles while I sip my favourite rose tea, meditating on which treat to choose. And then, I opened my eyes! I was living my favourite treat, or treats at that moment. For I have combined two…I hope that is allowed! But these two have gently blurred and melded together for me, to become one utterly scrumptious puttery treat:
Get up very, very early. Just you. Creep downstairs, light candles and drink coffee in the dark, melancholy silence of an early Winter morning.
Light candles everywhere you go. Add tealights to bookshelves. Resolve to eat breakfast in the glow of the fairylights for the rest of the week...
I need to gentle into the day; not for me flinging back the covers and springing out of bed! And this is the most scrumptious way of gentling yourself into the day. Because dear Carl works up in London, he has to go out much before me, and so I find myself alone, but rather than lonely, in solitude. Our little flat is quiet, except for the odd ripple of water as the fish glide silently about-except at this hour, they too, are often sleeping.
* * *
I wish I could garnish this little piece with some pictures so you could see what I do, but alas, I am without the necessary facilities, so I shall paint you some word pictures instead. I have no stairs to creep down, so instead, having waved dear Carl off, I steal quietly into the living room. There is no need to tiptoe, for there is no-one to disturb, but this early, it seems right to tiptoe. I take move quietly about the room, first to the book-cases, then to the windowsill, and finally to my little coffee table, lighting tea-lights and candles as I go. If it is near Christmas, I switch on the fairy lights instead. Sometimes I drip a single drop of violet oil into the wick of some of them, to scent the air.
My coffee table was inherited from some kindly neighbours when we moved into our little flat- it is dark wood, with elegant legs, and a heavy sheet of glass lies atop the surface. I always pull it a little closer to my sofa for my early morning treats. Sometimes I carefully drape my favourite embroidered vintage table cloth on it; other times, like today, I leave it bare, so I can watch the candle flames reflected in the glass, flickering and dancing away. Today I have my cream chamber stick holding an ivory candle, and a scattering of little tea lights. In a month or two, I will garnish my table with a potted hyacinth, in February ballet troupes of Daffodils; I have just had to retire a single creamy rose. I always leave room for my breakfast tray, but there is always a little pile, too. In my pile there may be a special letter that I have saved up to savour at this quiet time, or I particularly like a few pages of ‘The Enchanted April’ or ‘Mrs Miniver’ or ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’. Sometimes I keep the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice here, and watch just ten minutes at a time. A little notebook with pretty paper for jotting early morning thoughts, and a box of violet creams, waiting for later.
* * *
So, into the kitchen. It is delightful to breakfast alone; I can have just what I like and fear neither censure, or a greedy invading fork of another! Most mornings I like tea, usually breakfast tea, but sometimes rose scented tea. On colder mornings, I adore a cup of vanilla coffee. No matter which I choose, it must go into the pretty flowered mug that a lovely friend gave me, and whose twin she has in her own kitchen. I sit that upon my breakfast tray, to be joined by any of these, always served on my plate patterned with love-in-a-mist flowers:
A List of Scrumptious Breakfast Ideas, Good For Enjoying In Autumn and Winter
Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and snippets of chives stirred in.
Wholemeal toast with raspberry jam (I like Tiny Tip) – I read once that Audrey Hepburn breakfasted upon this, so I always think of her when I eat this.
A pretty bowl filled with porridge, sprinkled with cinnamon, with raisins stirred in.
A boiled egg and soldiers.
A bowl of muesli stirred together with grated apple and apple juice, topped with a dollop of greek yoghurt, and dusted with cinnamon.
A teeny tin of baked beans served on a single piece of toast.
Weetabix served with warmed milk and a chopped banana.
A baked apple done in the microwave – cheating I know, but nice and quick.
Toast topped with a spoonful or two of mincemeat; Christmas for breakfast.
A croissant or pain-au-chocolat, baked from frozen until warm and flaky.
And a little extra…an advent chocolate to let melt slowly on your tongue for those days when you cannot wait until later, or perhaps a violet cream if it is not advent…
* * *
And so, it is ready. I bare my tray off into the living room, and sit in the glow of my candles or fairy lights. I sip my from my mug, and nibble on something sumptuous whilst enjoying the quiet and the still. When I put my breakfast things to one side, I enjoy a few minutes just to absorb it all, before I decide whether I shall pick up my book today, or if it is a day for scribbling, or Pride-and-Prejudice-watching, or even a few lines of knitting.
In this dark, soft, quiet, stillness, I feel my mind unfurl from its rest. I stretch, and yawn, feel my way gently into the day. The clock ticks, and ideas begin to percolate in my mind. The day starts to become alive, and I can almost taste the possibilities, because I am feeling receptive to them. What sort of day are you? What will you be filled with? What flavour, what texture are you? What shall I make of you? What shall you make of me?
* * *
In case you are wondering where I find the time for all of this, and despair of ever finding so much time for yourself, it has taken longer to write this post (and probably read it too, the way I am rambling on!) than it does to 'do' my little morning puttery treat; I spend ten minutes or so in the kitchen, then twenty or so lingering in the early morning piece, so to have this treat for yourself is not beyond your reach. As I tiptoe around the room, putting my candles out, it occurs to me that in a way, taking time for this puttery treat is a way of lighting a candle in my day
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
Every November I seem to find myself cast a little adrift. Letters stay half-written, knitting is cast aside. Books, ordered from the library and eagerly waited for arrive all at once, are dipped into, and, too much, are put aside. The silence that I usually enjoy seems oppressive, sometimes. I sit and I wait, rather than sit and do. The only thing to do in times like this is let it pass, which is what I have been doing. To nurture and potter, and get through it. As Alison posted the other day, this too shall pass. http://brocantehome.typepad.com/brocante_home/2007/11/semi-detached.html Somehow it feels validating to know that someone else feels this too.
And so, on to the nurturing. Yourself first, then others. Just like on the aeroplane when they tell you that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others. So, long bubbly baths from which you crawl between clean sheets, flick through a magazine if you can, sip some herbal tea and close your eyes whilst listening to Radio 4. Even if it is only half past six in the evening. Bubbly pots of soup on the stove, and with every sip feel the rejuvenating begin within you. Just now, my favourite is vegetable soup – easy, economical, warming, and the chopping is soothing to me.
2-4 medium carrots,
1 medium potato
a shake of frozen peas, sweetcorn, or whatever else takes your fancy.
Tie on an apron, put on a song that lifts your spirits, find out a large saucepan, and put the kettle on to boil.
Heat a splash of oil in your pan, then slice your leeks. Throw them in, turn the heat low while you peel the rest of the veg. Slice them into tiny dice, small enough that if you got one in your spoon it would go in your mouth with ease. As you finish each veg, throw it in the pot.
When the kettle boils, pour enough water to cover the veg, and sprinkle over a crumbled vegetable stock cube. Simmer genly for 20 minutes or so, topping up with water if you fancy it.
Shake in some frozen peas or sweetcorn, bubble for another 5 minutes or so, then turn off the heat.
My stick-blender has a splash-proof mechanism, so I lightly blend most of the soup, leaving some lumps and bumps for variety.
This is very much a use-what-you-have-or-what-you-fancy soup, you don’t need to be very precise about anything. It keeps well in the fridge or freezer, and can be varied with the addition of a little chopped ham or chicken, a grating of cheese, or a whisper of nutmeg and pepper.
Indulge yourself in any little way that lifts your spirits. Don’t buy a bar of Dairy Milk, treat yourself to one sumptuous truffle instead. Pick up a bunch of flowers and a new magazine. Go and buy a jumper that is soft to snuggle in, or a brown angora cardigan with a smattering of sequins that make you smile when you see them gleam.
When you walk, leave yourself plenty of time to get where you are going so you can indulge in all the sights that wait to greet you. Make a bee-line for the leaves and scrunch through them. Sip a cinnamon latte, and let your mind drift and wander pleasantly.
Be kind to yourself, and remember that this, too, will pass, and before you know it you will be back on track, on an even keel, and feeling just….better. Myself, again.
Friday, 2 November 2007
I am also going to ponder and muse on a post I have been brewing for a few days, mulling over after I read a lovely post at http://prettylittleblog.blogspot.com which talked about friends as family. Isn't that a lovely thought? Not in a schmaltzy friends-are-the-family-you-pick-yourself way, but more in an isn't it great to have fab friends way. I am pondering upon some ideas for little ways to nurture friendships....
Then I am going to get up and go to bookclub and discuss 'My Sister's Keeper' before coming home for an early night before and adventure to London tomorrow. I am going with a dear friend, and we are going to the largest Waterstones in Europe, Boarders for American magazines, Selfridges for bright red M.A.C. lipstick, and somewhere nice for hot chocolate. Then Saturday night we are going to another dear friend's house for Shepherds pie and mulled wine after a firework display. Sunday I am off to Horsham for my God-son's birthday party. Phew!
I hope that you all have a scrumptious weekend too!
Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Recently, I feel like I am suffering from skitter-brain. Skitter-brain is when you can’t get your mind to rest gently on any one thing. You feel almost in a flurry the whole time, and like you need soothing. I blame the weather, mostly- my mind tells me it should be cold and frosty, and it just doesn’t seem able to decide what it wants to do. The bbc told me it would be warm today, so I abandoned my winter coat in favour of my flowery raincoat- and by lunchtime, I was freezing! Also, I find myself between books, almost. I have been reading The Gentle Art of Domesticity, which is just the most inspiring and beautiful book ever, but you can’t rush it. You need to take it in little doses to really appreciate it. While I have been reading this I have run out of fiction…I always like to have some fiction on the go. There is a bookclub book that I should be reading, but cannot drum up any enthusiasm for, and there is just too much choice on the shelves. There are lots of titles I have thought ‘ooh, I must read!’ but can I think of a single one when I need one? I have ‘I Capture The Castle’ waiting for me on tape, but I want something else, too. A book to tuck in my handbag and take on the bus with me, pull out in the post office queue, and be reassured by, because it is there.
Now if I am not careful I am sure I am going to sound discontent, when really, I am quite merry. But I was just wondering, if I described the symptoms of skitter-brain to you, if any of you know the cure?! I am hoping it might involve hot cups of rose tea drank sitting in a violet scented bath!
One of my dear work friends is expecting her first baby, and has been having soup for lunch a lot. I have been following suit, and finding it really filling and comforting. The benefits of buying some soup for lunch are that I don’t have to make it, transport it to work, or have a whole vat left to eat up. The negative things are that it is expensive (I worked it out to be £40 a month if I had soup and a roll every day!) and I don’t have a vat left to eat up! So I have decided to compromise. I will treat myself to soup and a roll out once a week or so, and buy a few tins from the supermarket for standby, and also experiment with making lots of different soups and breads.
I was chatting to my Monday-Night-Friend about my newfound passion for soups, and she told me about this lovely book… http://www.amazon.co.uk/Soup-Bible-Soups-Inspiring-Collection/dp/075480240X/ref=sr_1_1/026-0260340-2518074?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1193759671&sr=1-1 it makes me want to cook my way from cover to cover!
Now then, what else? Well I am still knitting my pumpkin tea cosy. I am halfway up the second side, then it just needs sewing together, and a stalk and some leaves knitting…or maybe crocheting! Pictures will follow!
I have been baking. I love to mark the seasons and days, and so last night I cooked batch after batch of Halloween Cupcakes. I wanted to make some for Carl to take into his work and share, and considerably more for my work friends (there are only 3 other people in his department, and there are lots of us)! The recipe said it would make 14 cakes per batch of mixture, but it was closer to 9. I am using a chocolate cupcake recipe, and baking them in gold foil cupcake cases. Tonight I am going to slice off the peaked tops, and ice with chocolate icing, and sit one of those pumpkin-foil-wrapped-chocolate-balls on top of each. Oh yes, it is chocolate all the way!
My other Halloween plans include the carving of a pumpkin, by the light of which we shall watch The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I am going to use the flesh of the pumpkin to make pumpkin fritters with, and I want to find a few quiet moments to tonight to make a little card for Carl. It is going to be very simple- a blue card, with a white circle for the moon, and a black bat stuck on top. Inside? ‘I’m Bats About You!’ and it will be slipped into his lunchbox.
I also want to enter the puttery treat challenge at http://brocantehome.typepad.com/brocante_home/the-puttery-treats-challe.html my main problem so far is choosing which treat to post about! I have incorporated so many into my daily life, and they are all so scrumptious!
I am really looking forward to Spooks tonight! Captain Wentworth....sigh...I mean Adam Carter! I don't think I would make a very good spy, but I like to think of the spy-gadgets I could have! Knitting needles as defensive weapons? My kettle could be a secret radio transmitter, and my cake tin could hold all my essential spy gear....as long as there was room for my cakes too, of course! My masterly disguise would be a slick of red lipstick and a pair of high heels. Actually, talking of spies, I was working on the enquiry desk the other day, when a customer asked me about the next level of Pimsleur french course on tape. Sadly for him, it emerged that he had borrowed everything published, but when I checked the Pimsleur website, it said that spies use these language courses to prepare for posting abroad, so they can merge in with the locals! How exciting! Sadly my customer did not seem quite so excited as I was about a beckoning career in spy-dom!
Now I find myself with so many letters to write (I haven’t forgotten you Tash!) and so many blogs to go visit that I shall say good evening for now, and wish you all the most scrumptious Halloween in the world!
Monday, 29 October 2007
Mostly I have just been run clean off of my feet in the library with half term busyness. My lovely friend Anna has had her baby boy, and all sorts of little things have been going on that seem to take up an inordinate amount of time.
So by way of making it up to you, here is my recipe for carrot and lentil soup, and I promise a proper cup of tea, sit down, catch up with cake tomorrow!
And for now, tie on your aprons, and prepare to make the most comforting (and healthy, bonus!) soup in the world...
Grate (or whizz in the blender chopper thing) about 600g of carrots, don't bother to peel them.
Toast 2tsp cumin seeds, and a pinch of dried chilli flakes in a large pan.
Throw in the carrot, 140g split red lentils, a litre of vegetable stock, and 125ml of milk. Use more liquid if you have used more carrotts, and simmer for about 15 minutes or so.
I like to add a bit more than a pinch of chilli, and to whizz it with a stick blender at the end, but it is a very adaptable recipe!
It reheats really well and is just scrumptious with sourdough bread or naan.
Oh, and one last thing, you know how I adore pumpkins? Go have some fun with this website! I will be carving mine for real on Wednesday while watching 'Sleepy Hollow'!
Monday, 22 October 2007
Jan 1943- Blackout material apron, bookends, slippers & more.
Mar 1943-Dig For Victory Belt, jumper, socks, baby clothes & more.
Nov 1942-Underwear, hot water bottle, stockings & more.
Jun-Jul 1944-Summer jumper, sunsuit, sandals & more
Feb-Mar 1945 (cover loose)Gloves, pinafore, tablemats & more.
They need loving homes as I am running out of space in my little flat! Would any of you care to take them off of my hands? Would £1.50 each be to much to ask?
If you fancy giving them some bookshelf space, leave me a comment with your email address and which magazine you fancy and I will email you!
But sometimes, it just isn’t going to go your way. There were lots of sensible bras that I liked, but only two in my size, so it was those two I had to have. There were others I liked more, and these will do….but it takes the fun out of the choice when the choice is ‘this…or nothing’! The shoes were successful…I managed to get exact replacements for the ones I was wearing. I like my play shoes to be varied, but once I find a comfortable pair for everyday, I want to stick with them! And the tights, alas, were a complete no-go. There is only one shop in town that sells tights that fit me (no sagging, wrinkling, or inching down during the day) and I like the shade ‘natural’ and take size 1. They had none on the shelves, and none in the stockroom. And, had no idea when they would get a new delivery. And no size 1 tights in thick black opaque to keep me warm under my jumper dresses.
I felt pretty vexed on the way back to work, until I remembered what I had waiting for me for lunch! Nothing soothes the soul quite like a bowl of home-made carrot, cumin and lentil soup, with home-made sourdough bread. The soup I can take credit for, and give you the recipe for, but the sourdough bread was made by a sweet friend who visited for brunch club yesterday. The soup and bread together were really quite delicious. Sourdough bread is something I am going to try my hand at one evening. Nestled in my handbag is one more culinary treat, waiting for afternoon tea break- a drum of peppermint hot chocolate powder from Whittards. Bliss!
The advantage of this is that when I sit down to post, I have something to post about, rather than logging on and thinking ‘ummmm’. It also means that I use my morning walk to work to good advantage. This is my time to mull things over, turn over thoughts that have gathered, spot things that inspire me, and test out flavours of ideas.
Sometimes I even find a sentence forming, which, if it pleases me, will be tucked away safe so I can post it here. But, there is a downside. You see, sometimes, because I have had a thought, and turned it over in my mind for a little while, and perhaps even found a few words to phrase it…somehow…I think I have posted it!
And although I read through my posts before I publish them, I don’t often read old posts. When I do, I sometimes find that I have forgotten to mention the very thing that sparked the idea for the whole post!
So it was with my post about my trip to the Knitting and Stitching exhibition. I was going to start by asking you to imagine: what if, when someone is staring at you, you KNEW it was because you look great, and not because you have a ladder in your tights or a stain on your top?! What if you just walked round as sure in the knowledge that you are lovely to look at as you are in the knowledge that you have blue eyes, brown hair and size seven feet?!
Because at K&S I saw a lady, and although I know it is rude, I could not stop staring at her because she was so lovely to look at! She was one of the exhibitors, and I really must go through my show guide to work out just who she was, but she was lovely. She was sitting in her booth, knitting. She was a young lady, I suspect in her twenties, but she could have been in her thirties, and she was wearing a tailored suit. The pencil skirt showed her knees, and the jacket was really nipped in at the waist, and it was made of dark material patterned with tiny cherries! Her hair dark hair was pulled back, and perched on top was a pert little black hat, with a veil! She had cherry red lips and nails, and was wearing nude fishnet tights. Fascinatingly, she had a large tattoo on one of her shins, but it looked very lady like. She looked like she had stepped out of a fashion plate from a 40’s magazine, and all I could think was that she must know the pleasure of having people stare at you, and knowing it is because she looks great!
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
I love how cool they are to the touch, and I find it so hard to choose which ones to take home. They all call to me, and they all seem to have their own personalities somehow.
Imagine my delight, when ahead of the shelves-crammed-with-pumpkins season, I discovered an unprepossessing box of petite pumpkins with dull orange mottled skins, rather than the bright crayon-orange that you usually see; the box was labelled ‘culinary pumpkins’.
For reasons I cannot quite put my finger on to explain, this tickled me immensely. And it got me thinking…although I do love a handful of pumpkin seeds to snack on, and I do make a nice pumpkin and sage risotto, I don’t really cook with pumpkin. And really, I should.
Perhaps it was serendipity then, that at the food fair at Cressing Temple this weekend, I walked into a little room all draped with black cloth, and filled with pumpkins, and tasters of delicious treats such as scones and muffins…there in the middle of all this pumpkin-ness was a table of pumpkin recipe books, and the author there to sign them!
Even better, the recipes were all in English measurements…perhaps it is unspeakably lazy of me, but I always find myself daunted when I have to convert from cups to ounces!
I snapped one up and the lovely lady signed it for me, then I took it home to dream of all the pumpkins I shall be cooking. Pumpkin scones are a must, I think, as well as Pumpkin Juice, straight from the pages of Harry Potter!
As I re-read this post, I feel that I have not properly described pumpkins. Smooth, but gnarled is perhaps one way of sketching them for you, but I feel sadly let down by the thesaurus when it comes to their colour. It suggests ‘apricot’ ‘coral’ ‘salmon’ and ‘tangerine’ as alternative words for orange. Not one of those is even close! Perhaps ‘pumpkiny’ is the best word of all?
In the continuing spirit of all things pumpkiny, I have nearly finished one side of my pumpkin tea cozy. When it is finished, I shall post pattern and pictures, and be sitting down to a nice hot pot of tea, and a plate of pumpkin scones.
Before I must say goodbye for the evening, I must tell you how utterly scrumptious it was to pop out at tea break time this afternoon, and scrunch and scuff my way through a whole pile of fallen leaves that were all dry and brittle and gloriously autumnal! The scuffling-scrunching reminded me of the sound the chocolate chips made as they were stirred into the cookie dough on last nights Nigella Express!
Saturday, 13 October 2007
Well, I will share a secret with you. It is one of my dearest dreams in the world to write a book. And since Flossy's comment, I have been mulling ideas over in my mind. I have an idea....for a book. A Bedside Book. A book of scrumptious ideas, recipes for hot milk and 'z' shaped biscuits (to send you to sleep, you see....zzzzz...get it?!) and pages for you to scribble your dreams, and short stories and so many things!
I just wanted to share this particular dream with you to say thank you for your kindness! I just wish I could sit with you all and share a nice afternoon tea to say thank you for visiting!
I often get a mild case of popcorn-brain when reading my favourite blogs, or reading comments left for me here. Tash at www.vintagepretty.org gave me a big ‘ping’ when she left me a comment to say that she makes two Christmas cakes- one to eat and one to slice up to give to visitors so they have a little bit of Christmas to take home with them.
Yesterday I had a case of extreme popcorn-brain. There is so much to see at the Knitting and Stitching Show. Not just the stalls and the exhibitions, but the people too. I saw so many examples of hand-knitted clothes, jewellery that had been made by the wearer, home-made clothes, or even shop bought things that had been put together beautifully. I also saw far more younger people there this year- although I usually go on Sunday, so I don’t know if the school girls are there every year and I miss seeing them, or if it is a newer thing. It is great to see though!
One of the best things is that you don’t have to like a particular craft or project or work to be inspired by it. There were so many things that Mum and I said that we wouldn’t want to make ourselves…or perhaps have it in our homes….but it had given us a great idea for something else using a similar technique, or colour, or almost anything!
The thing that made me smile most was a stall that was selling glitter. Rather than having it in tubs, it had giant plastic champagne glasses, and each glass was filled with a different colour of super fine glitter. Even better they had beautiful, unusual colours, and you could buy it by the scoop. I have found myself really being drawn towards orange recently, so I came away with a scrumptious little bag of pumpkin-coloured spangly treasure!
A stall selling hand-knitted tea cosies then made me think that if I were to knit one in orange, then crochet a stalk and some leaves in green, I could make a pumpkin tea-cosie! So I have been to the market today to procure some double knitting wool in different shades of orange, and I hope to cast on tonight when I am home from work and snuggled on my sofa in front of Strictly Come Dancing!
We had perhaps the most unusual picnic, but it really was utterly scrumptious! There were no seats at all, so we decided to go to the champagne bar, buy a glass of bubbles each, and eat there. Alas, although there was champagne a-plenty (don’t think us toooo decadent! We took our own lunch which paid for the champagne which was £5 a glass!) the seats were oh-so-high barstools, which is no good when you are little ladies like us, and your feet won’t reach the foot rest! We would have just slip-slithered off, so we took our glasses, and perched on the edge of some steps in the Palm Court, and sipped our drinks beneath some enormous Palms! Not very unusual so far? Well consider our sandwiches- cold liver and bacon! I am sure there must be plenty of nose-wrinkling going on now, but really it is our favourite! We finished off with slices of ripe pear, fig, and Satsuma segments, then headed back into the fray.
There was a truly amazing silk and velvet flower stall, where I splashed out on the most amazing bunch of violets, tied together with green ribbon just the same colour as their stalks. I adore violets, and these look so real that you just have to bury your nose in them in the hope you may catch the hint of their scent!
I also chose out a pattern book to make decorations out of red and white felt, with a little embroidery and blanket stitch, embellished with a button or too. That and some craft magazines were what filled my shopping bag, but my brain was overflowing with ideas that I had gathered!
When we got back to the coach, we made ourselves cups of tea! Mum had packed her thermos full of hot water, and a bottle of milk (in a cool bag!) and I had bought along the teabags, cups and a teaspoon! Never has tea been so reviving! We had one cup each while we were waiting for the others in our coach party to return, then another poured before we set out for home. Utter bliss!
I hope you are all having a really lovely weekend. I am looking forward to posting all about the food fair tomorrow, and hoping that I can say I have cast on my pumpkin tea-cosie! I am also hoping that my copy of ‘The Gentle Art of Domesticity’ will have finally arrived from amazon. A week overdue, and two phone calls….and they didn’t use Royal Mail! I really do need it, you see- it looks so divine! And Jane who wrote it, also writes one of my favourite blogs. Why not make yourself a nice pot of tea and pay a call to www.yarnstorm.blogs.com
Thursday, 11 October 2007
So this morning when I got up, my eyes were heavy, and I felt…muffled almost. Imagine my delight when the weather man said that it was misty outside…foggy even! How perfect that the weather should match my mood!
I love foggy mornings. I feel sorry for the commuters who will be stuck in traffic, but I love to watch it swirl about, see the silhouettes of trees blurred against the sky. That hazy sunshine, the scuffly leaves. Clouds of breath in the nippy air. Everything seems a little softer in the mist.
The weatherman also tells me that it is going to be turning chilly next week-perhaps we shall even have a visit from Jack Frost! Cool evenings mean snuggling up with a warm blanket, a good book and some comfort food. And what can be more comforting than utterly sweet and scrumptious Pineapple Upside Down Cake?
I love pineapple, partly for their beautiful knobbly exterior, partly for their heavenly scent and sweetness, but also because once upon a time, they would have been an exotic treat at the tea table. I like to think of the far away land where they have ripened to sweetness under a baking sun, even if I am just using a tin of pineapple rings! I first made this recipe when I was at school. The recipe says that the golden syrup and glace cherries are optional….but I think of them as rather a necessity!
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake- Perfect for a Snuggly Sunday Evening
First tie on your favourite apron, then put on a cd that makes you smile (the Puppini Sisters for me!)
Preheat your oven to 180oC, and lightly grease a 6-7 inch sandwich tin.
Arrange a small tin of pineapple rings prettily in the bottom, adorn with beautiful glace cherries (I usually buy the natural ones, but I find the brazen red of the dyed ones against the pineapple irresistible!) then drizzle over 2 tablespoons of golden syrup.
Cream 2oz of soft butter with 2oz of caster sugar, beat in an egg and then sift in 4oz of self raising flour.
Pour over the pineapple rings, then bake for 20-25 minutes.
Turn out upside down, and settle down to eat it with a steaming cup of tea and a jug full of custard…
I hope you all have some scrumptious things planned for the weekend. Tomorrow I am off to Alexandra Palace for the Knitting and Stitching Exhibition, Saturday I am working, and Sunday it is the Cressing Temple food fair, where I am hoping to buy some locally produced Calvados. A lot of recipes that have caught my eye recently seem to involve Calvados! And then of course, I shall be scurrying back home to make my pineapple upside down cake. Have a delicious weekend!
Friday, 5 October 2007
My walk into work this morning was half an hour earlier due to my early-friday-start, and it was the first real-and-proper-and-not-just-me-wishing-for-it-and-imagining-it-to-be-so autumn morning! It was cool, much cooler than it has been, and the light was bright and hazy, and all the colours slightly muted as it is when it is cooler. Quite beautiful. The light and shadows through the tree branches falling onto the leaves on the grass in the park made me wish I am better at painting. But at least it is all there to be breathed in, enjoyed, and framed in the mind forever.
Now I think this post is going to be one of those rummage-in-the-biscuit-tin jumbly sort of posts, but as long as you have a cup of tea to hand, I hope you will forgive me! I wish I had you here with me so I could offer you a biscuit, perhaps even a still-warm madeleine, to say thank you for the lovely comments you leave for me. To know that people out there choose to spend a few minutes of their day to visit me and read me, and enjoy it, that really makes my day. I don't think blogger has a way of counting how many of you visit me, so it is only when I read your kind comments that I know for sure I am not alone here! So really, thank you all!
I did manage to pick a Christmas Cake recipe the other evening. I was trying to choose between a Jamaican Rum Cake recipe I had found in a library book, Nigel Slaters cake from 'Kitchen Diaries', the new gingery recipe from this month's Good Food magazine, and Nigella's chocolate fruit cake that she made during her Christmas mini-series last year.
The gingery cake won! It sounded really nice- light and moist- and has a recipe for zesty orange marzipan to complement it. I got the dried fruit at lunch time, and I am going to steep it in ginger wine tomorrow, then make my cake on Sunday.
I love this time of year, the planning, the happy secrets, the mysterious parcels, the notebooks of lists, and pleasures anticipated.
I am really looking forward to a snuggly weekend. The plumber is coming (after three weeks!) to mend our shower. Although it has been wonderful to have so many scrumptious baths, washing my hair is so difficult as I just can't get water in my ears. He is to visit nice and early, leaving me plenty of time for puttering about, watching 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg' on dvd, steeping my Christmas cake fruits in ginger wine, and maybe doing a little light baking.
Dear Carl and I are hosting 'brunch club' for our friends in a few weeks. I am going to be thinking about my menu for that as well. Our theme is 'Autumn' and I am going to serve an oven baked sage and pumpkin risotto, pea and parmesan risotto, and carrot, red lentil and cumin soup. For dessert I am planning baked chocolate and frangelico pancakes. To drink there will be cider or apple juice, and I am thinking about making some marzipan and chocolate acorns to hand round with coffee. Oh, I just love having people visit!
Now, I am off for some visits of my own, to my favourite blogs!
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
I hurried into my pink flowery raincoat, put up my favourite purple umbrolly, and set off for the library. The first thing that took my breath away was a spiders web. It was just opposite what has been a builders site for the last year, and it was caught in the spokes of a bare twig. Where it had been raining, every strand of web was shimmering, alive, highlighted and glistening, and it looked like the most precious necklace imaginable.
Then, a few minutes and splashes further down the road, amongst a background of gloriously sludgy greenery were the most acidic orange berries possible. I could swear that they were not there yesterday, although they must have been, but tiny as they are, they just command your attention as you walk by.
The walk was paved with fallen leaves all so many hughes, but just past the school there were some that were the most beautiful yellow. They reminded me of a ripe pear, somehow.
Walking through the park was special too, all the trees were dripping, and all the colours were faintly hazy. Even the ducks thought it too wet, as one scurried across the path ahead of me looking most disgruntled!
It seems to have stopped now, so I am going to take home with me the most delicious library book that arrived for me this morning-'Christmas Crafts' isbn 9781905825332 it is Scandinavian, and utterly lovely. It has a whole chapter on Christmas cakes, so tonight I am going to settle into bed early with a steaming cup of tea, this book and my other Christmas recipe books, and choose which cake I shall make this year.
Monday, 1 October 2007
And what better to do tonight, than to crochet something lovely to snuggle in, while breathing in delicious baking smells coming from the kitchen? Here for you, just as I wrote them way back then (2004!) are my recipes for a scrumptious shawl, and a delicious iced banana loaf. Enjoy!
Saturday May 15 2004
Oh yes, and I made the most fabulous banana cake ever. This is going to be my whip-up-in-a-minute-use-up-the-elderly-bananas-cake!Iced Banana LoafCooking Time: 1 hour 10 minutesOven Temp: Gas 4, 180 C or 350 F200g/8oz Self Raising Flour1/2 tsp Salt1/4 tsp Mixed Spice100g/4oz Butter or Margarine400g/1lb Ripe Bananas150g/6oz Caster Sugar100g/4oz Chopped Mixed Peel50g/2oz Roughly Chopped Walnuts2 large eggs, beaten lightlyFor the Icing:100g/4oz icing sugarAbout 1tbsp hot water1) Grease a 600g or 1 1/2 lb loaf tin.2) Sieve the flour, salt and spice into a bowl.3) Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.4) Stir in the remaining dry ingrediants.5) Peel and mash the banans, and add to the bowl.6) Add the eggs.7) Stir well until all mixed. A fork is good for this.8) Pour into the tin.9) Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes. 10)Check by sticking a skewer into the middle, or a knife. If it comes outclean, the cake is done. If not, keep giving it ten minutes more untilit is.11)Allow to cool.12)Mix the icing sugar and water, pour over and allow to set.Yum! Give it a go, it is really nice, and it slices well. Had mine with a cup of tea and ER.
Friday May 21, 2004
By coincidence, Lisa who I salsa with, and I have both been looking for crochet patterns for shawls. We both decided we wanted a triangular lacey one, so we can not get sun burn but dont have to cover up too much. Well I discovered a pattern, and tried a few stitches, and before I knew it I had the beginnings of a shawl, which is growing ver quickly. I am using a pale blue sparkly yarn which I had bought for a scarf, but it did not look good as a scarf at all. It seems to be making a good shawl though- hope to finish it over the weekend so I can wear it to salsa Monday. I now have visions of all different coloured shawls, some beaded....Here is the pattern. You will need several balls...so make sure you can buy more if you dont get enough the first time. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I have enough!You need a 3.5mm or 4.5 mm hook.Start by chaining 8 stitches, and joining with a slip stitch to make a ring. Make 7 chain, double crochet into the ring. (The space in the ring) Make 3 chain, double crochet into the same ring space. Make another three chain, and this time treble crochet into the ring space. Now turn the work, so you are starting the next row from the right, working towards the left. At this point you should have a ring, with three rings along the top of it. You follow this pattern now, to make the shawl as big as you like. Each row:chain 7, double crochet into the first ring space. In each of the remaining ring spaces, chain 3, double crochet. Into the last chain space (the one you just double crocheted in) chain 3 then treble crochet.It grows really quickly, is nicely triangular, and looks like lots of little scalloped shells. It looks like it should be easy to add beading, fringing etc to.
Happy Rainy Monday!
Saturday, 29 September 2007
Because I am still tiring easily, I treated myself to the bus into town rather than my usual trot. When I got in, it was cold but dry, and I remembered that my Mum and Sister were probably going to be in town, and lo and behold, they were! So we shared coffee in Marks and Spencer, and then oohed and ahhed over the Christmas Wrapping paper! Yes, Christmas, I know! And I am torn. You see, for me, starting to organize now makes it so much more enjoyable for me come December. But, then I do make all my own Christmas cards, and quite a few of my gifts. And while I love to look at papers and craft items at this time of year but I HATE to see shelves PILED with mince pies and things that will go off before December! And really, do we need to buy Advent Calendars in September? And why are so many of the things in huge groaning big jumbo sizes? I would like to think it was for families getting together and visiting, but I wonder if it is just a little bit of seige mentality? But really, I am not a Christmas Scrooge, I am not. I am eagerly scanning the magazine stands for the Christmas issues....but only because they show us how to make things, and making things take time!)
But, I have digressed, I am afraid! After a lovely cup of coffee, I hopped on a bus through to Maldon, where it was warmer, but raining, ugh! Happily, Sally Greens, the most delightful greengrocer is just next door to the taxi rank, so I scurried in to buy a jar of blackberry jelly (to be enjoyed with scones for Michelmas!) and thenceforth into a taxi which took me off to visit my lovely friend, who lives in a scrumptious house in the middle of the countryside.
I wish, wish, wish, you could take a peek with me. Maybe one day you will get to see, as my lovely friend is thinking of maybe starting a blog too....but let us say that her home is a haven of vintage scrumptiousness, and her and her equally lovely husband have put so much work into rennovating the home, that they have really earned the scrumptiousness of it all! Really, you have to love anyone who will make you a cup of tea on their fabulous aga, and then offer you not one but two cakes, and not make you feel in the least bit guilty for accepting readily!
It was such a lovely way to spend a day, and time sped away all too quickly. When you have a friend who you are really in accord with, time does just seem to disappear. And oh, I must tell you about the goodies she gave me! Lovely wife that she is, she had gathered some 'new wife vintage housekeeper' goodies for me! All done up in pink rustling tissue paper....a clear spatula, with little red hearts! A fabulous washing up brush, all pink with a great big flower on it! A tea cozie and matching peg bag! A just-the-right-sized mixing bowl, in fabulous blue with cream insides! A floral mug that is the twin of hers, so we can have a cup of tea together when our housework is done, even when we are not together! Oh, and a jar of utterly gorgeous rose petal jam! I felt ever so spoiled, and I am looking forward to getting home tonight so I can spread my new treasures about our little flat.
You will be pleased to know that I did not arrive empty handed myself. I took a baby sock bouquet that I had made. Now I know it sounds a little strange, but really, it is rather fun. You take some baby socks, and fold and roll them so they look like (a rather stylized!) rose bud, insert a florists wire into the back of the rose bud, and cover with florist tape to secure. The idea is that new Mums often get given lots of flowers, but they die, and here are some flowers that wont die, and can be dismantled and put through the washer to yield half a dozen pairs of socks!
I hopped on a bus back from the countryside to Maldon, another one from Maldon back into town, and then the bus back from town to home again, and settled down with a nice cup of tea to think about what a lovely day it had been, before making some dinner. The more I think about it, the more I think that visting, and being at home to visitors is just a lovely, scrumptious thing!
...well I have been away so long I wonder if I am coming back to say hello to anyone! But that is the nature of blogging, I suppose. You post, you publish, you send your words out there, and hope, just hope that someone reads them. And when they do, and when you are left a kind comment, it makes you tingle all over thinking, wow, someone reads what I write!
But I cannot expect to have people visiting and reading if I am not here! It is like never being at home to visitors when they call. But I do have an excuse...I have been laid low, extremely low by a vicious virus. Which brings me to the 'nurture' part of my post. If your child was ill, if they had a cold, were coughing and spluttering and hot and cold, would you shovel them off to school? If your husband were suffering in this way, would you dispatch him to the supermarket, then expect him to cook dinner? I rather think not. But when it is ourselves who are afflicted, somehow we just keep pushing ourselves, and it is really not good for us. We must nurture ourselves. In the words of Jan Struther, if I cannot be a shining example, let me be a terrible warning!
I did not go to work Monday before last, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or even Thursday because I was just too poorly. Couldn't even knit, didn't want to read, and bah to a cup of tea! But Friday dawned, and it was my early start, and I felt a bit better, so I went in. And felt terrible. And was so, so tired by the end of the day. But I felt it was my duty! And then on Sunday, I had a sore throat which pricked at me all day long. I went to bed early, for to be ready and rested for work on Monday....but woke in the night with the most terrible pain in my ears, got out of bed for painkillers and promptly fainted. It was a horrible night, and in the morning I just barely made it from the car (my lovely mother-in-law drove me!) to the nurses room. Where I was told I had a virus, and that I really should not have gone back to work so soon. And this time to stay away until I was really better.
A hard lesson! And I am still learning, as I am 'better' in that I am not ill anymore, but I am so, so tired. My body is telling me that I must take care of myself. Isn't it funny how as women, we tend to nurture everyone else when we are sick? So this is my plea- I hope all you are enjoying the most scrumptious autumn possible, and none of you get sick at all- but if you do get a cold, then take to your bed! Make hot honey, lemon and ginger drinks! Rub a bit of violet salve around your nose so you don't get rudolph nose from too much wiping! Sleep! Take care of yourself, please!
Now, Bramble. Today is Michelmas Day, which is the day that the Devil was thrown out of Heaven by St Michael, and landed in a Blackberry bush, or so country legend tells us, which is why blackberries are no good to be eaten after this date! (We are not ever so very religious in our house, but we do love these little customs!) So at lunch time, my ONE mission (instead of my ususal five or six...I am nurturing, remember!) I am going to buy some scones from the delicious bakers stall in our food market, to go with the blackberry jelly that I got from the grocers yesterday. And for dinner tonight there will be steaming hot cups of tea, scones just warmed through with a little cream and blackberry jelly....and of course, Strictly Come Dancing.
Next, Nature. Where I have been out of action for the past two weeks, I have not been out of the house very much. And now that I am out and about again, I can really see how we are slowly but surely emerging into Autumn. It is like a beautiful dance, where every chilly breeze that casts a few more beautiful bronze leaves into the air to twirl to the floor is another step. I do love Autumn. I know I keep posting about it, but really, how scrumptious is it?! Utterly! My mission for next week is to do a little internet research, and find if there are any walks being organized near me, so we can go to the woods and see all the amazing colours of the turning leaves.
And now, the Ramble. Well a lot of this post has been ramble, but I am hoping you may be pleased to see me back, and have a lovely cup of tea to hand, so will forgive me! Now, I was rummaging in a drawer last night, when I happened upon some printouts. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I realised they were from a long ago blog that I had forgotten all about....I cannot find it online anymore, but it was a blog where I posted more about my crafty endeavours. So, next week I will be posting, in honour of this long ago blog, my super easy and super quick pattern for a crochet shawl to snuggle in, my recipe for a truly delicious banana cake that is very economical as it is best made using elderly bananas, and maybe one or two other little bits thrown in for fun as well!
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
Although I could happily live without the inconvenience of getting a plumber out, the unexpected break from my morning routine. Although I like the pattern and rhythm to my mornings, it is so easy to slip into automatic pilot and miss the details.
So this morning, I was to be found steaming away in a hot bath, which I have decided is a very pleasant way to start the day, particularly if you are feeling a little coldy, which I am. I whiled away a few minutes with my new Nigella Express book, and then sat in my dressing gown with a bowl of warm apple, plum and blackberry frangipane pudding for breakfast. At first glance, perhaps not the most healthy of breakfasts, but I really did put an awful lot of fruit into the pudding, so maybe it is not so bad after all! (If you fancy making it, and it really is scrumptious, go to http://www.countrykitchenmag.com/recipe3.html and then fetch your pinny!)
Oh, and I am pleased to say that Carl and I have been married for one month today! Hurrah!
And why? I have a delightful evening ahead! When I get home, I will be welcomed for the first time by the ‘Welcome Autumn’ wreath that I made and put up on my door at the weekend. (Pictures to follow once camera batteries recharged)! Then I am going to set my whistling kettle to boil for tea, whilst I tie on my Cath Kidston pinny and get to baking. I am making a blackberry, apple and plum frangipane pudding. I found the recipe last week, and we went blackberry picking on Sunday. Then I shall be curling up on my sofa this evening to watch the new episode of Nigella Express. My lovely friend Lisa may come to visit, in which case I shall feed her full of frangipane pudding, and if she doesn’t, I shall retreat into a hot bath for an hour or so.
Now, why can’t all Mondays be like this!?
We wandered into town on Saturday, met my Mum and Dad and had a cup of coffee. We had a look around an exhibition of local scenes by local artists, and then I wandered off on my own for a while. First, I spent some long-hoarded book tokens on the new Nigella book. I also had a £10 off voucher from the Times, so it was even more of a treat! Then I wandered in and out of some charity shops, but did not find anything that called to me. It was nice to have the time just to browse, even if I didn’t find treasure today! My next port of call was the craft shop, as I wanted a heat gun to do embossing with on my Christmas cards. (Which of course meant, when I got home, I had to try it out)!
I picked up a chocolate brownie from a stall at the farmers market, and phoned dear Carl to see if he would like to join me for lunch to celebrate four whole weeks of being married! He did, and we went to a place that I had thought was far too trendy for me…but served an excellent steak sandwich! And so to home, where a happy afternoon was spent embossing with my new heat gun, reading, and sipping lots of tea.
I also spent a little time knitting….I have not knitted for a while. Mum gave me a bag full of vintage knitting, crochet and sewing patterns, and I spotted one for coathanger covers. Laugh if you must, but recently I have found myself drawn to such things more and more! And they always seem to cost so much in the shops. Besides, I rather like the idea of working from a vintage pattern. I chose blue and cream wool, so I can do all blue, all cream, cream and blue stripes, and maybe even cream and blue spots! The pattern also shows how to crochet little flowers to decorate them with, or I may just break out my daisy-maker, or felt scraps. It is a happy business indeed, spending time making something so frivolous! Talking of happy fripperies….my next Autumn project is going to be little marzipan acorns, with melted chocolate and vermicelli for the acorn ‘cup’……