Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Rainy Bank Holiday

It occurred to me this morning, while I was reshelving some returned books from Booktalk Groups that I had an extra day off this weekend because of the Bank Holiday- a day away from work. Away from shelving books. And what did I do?

As part of my Great Spring Clean, I took every book off of my bookshelves, sorted out some to give away, dusted the shelves, and rearranged the books...

Although I rather suspect that all of us were splashing about like little ducks, I hope you all had a scrumptious bank holiday!

7 Things...

Oooh!I have been tagged by lovely Tash at www.vintagepretty.org, so here are seven weird/random things about me that you probably don't know! Lets hope you don't think I am too weird by the end of them!

1) If you were to offer me a peppermint I would probably say no, because although I love them, peppermints make me sneeze! Achoo!

2) I cannot, cannot have a bath or take a shower without cleaning my teeth first. Not even when I am planning on sipping a nice cup of tea while in the bath.

3) Where I had a few operations on one ear, I have a tear in the eardrum. Which means if I pinch my nose and breathe out gently, I can breathe out through my ear…

4) Ok so I think it is time to move from ‘strange and odd’ to more ‘quirky or random’ I believe! My Great Great Grandfather Greep captained the Hispania, a yacht for the King of Spain.

5) I find fans blowing on me annoying. Especially ones that sweep as they blow. I have to be really hot before I will switch a fan on!

6) I have never been on an aeroplane before, nor even to an airport. Which could make the eight hour honeymoon flight this August interesting!

7) If you don’t count my pyjamas, which only come out in the depths of winter or when I am feeling poorly (I am a nightie girl!) I do not own a single pair of trousers. And the last time I wore trousers was four years ago, when I did the Moonwalk Marathon, and it was deemed that a skirt would not be suitable. Carl is desperate to get me into a pair of jeans. I think it is one of his plans for after we are married!

Scrumptious Alison from www.brocantehome.typepad.com are spookily similar in some things- so I will tag her to tell all, and see if we share any quirks!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

A Clean Sweep

It has come upon me all of a sudden. Slowly at first, but now it is all I can think about…

…it is de-clutter, throw-out, recycle and seasonal scrub time!

Usually I like to take two or three days off of work to go through each and every room in our little flat, turning out cupboards and drawers and scrubbing everything in sight, but with the wedding this year I just don’t have the holiday left to take.

So I have made a list of what needs doing in each room, and every evening after dinner, I am going to do a little bit. But oh, how I want to tie my apron on, roll up my sleeves and get stuck in!

Last night I had more fun than you would think possible making the cupboard under the sink scrumptious. I had everything out, threw away my dregs, stocked up with lovely Ecover products, refilled my glass sweetie jar with tealight candles and have rechristened it ‘The Housemaids Cupboard’ after re-reading the gorgeous book that is Domestic Bliss (Rita Konig).

What next? Well a cull (oh the thought alone makes me shudder) of my books and magazines. And then the survivors will be nicely arranged. I have decided to keep all of my Martha Stewart Weddings and Victoria Magazines, but just the Valentines/Easter/Halloween and Christmas editions of Martha Stewart Living. And all the others? I am going to go through and clip out the articles, pictures and recipes I want to keep and recycle the rest. My ultimate aim is, once I have cleared the accumulated masses, to do this each month as my new fresh magazines arrive. Then I can have lovely inspiration books like lovely Posy http://posy.typepad.com/posy/2006/08/index.html and never again will I have towering stacks of magazines threatening to knock my precious cup of tea over!

So it is going to be a busy few evenings for me, but I have to say that I am really looking forward to it. Along with all my tasks, I have jotted down some ideas for puttery treats for each room. My favourites are going to be buying some more jars and containers to decant things like breakfast cereal into for the kitchen, and also making tiny heart-button wreaths for the door handles.

If you want me, I will be up to my ears in soap bubbles, scrubbing away!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

I spy with my little eye....something beginning with s!

I was sitting on the bus on the way in to work this morning when suddenly, something caught my eye!

What can only be described as a pair of the most perfect shoes in the world, utterly whimsical and gorgeous!

They were black ballet pumps, with cream stitching-the embroidery was of grass, and the curly twisty line to show the flight of a brilliant red butterly who had been appliqu├ęd on as though he had just that moment landed amongst the red poppies on the shoe!

Surely when the owner of those shoes got off of the bus she must have skipped her way to wherever she was going, so lovely are they.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Pitter Patter Rain Drops

It is an overcast drizzly Monday morning here, but really, it is quite a scrumptious day. It is not wet enough to be a real nuisance, but just enough to make a hot cup of tea and a scone at my tea break a necessity, and enough to get out my polka dotted umbrella, and splish splash though the puddles to work.

When it snows, I find that there are two kinds of people- those who stride through it barely noticing it, tiptoe through it timidly, or shrug it off impatiently, and then there are those who are busy gazing about in wonder, making the first footsteps in the fresh snow, and planning their first snow man! So it is with rain...

On my way in to work, I saw business men with sensible golfing umbrellas to keep them dry, and also a multitude of gorgeous brollys- a navy blue one with a profusion of roses scattered across it, a bright pink-and-blue striped one, and a lilac one with a gorgeous ruffle all around the edge. There were also people tugging hoods up a little further, or doing those little scurrying-not-quite-running steps to get in out of the rain before they got any wetter. There were some people huddled in the bus shelter, reminding me for all the world of the way ducks huddle together when it rains. I love that it takes a little bit of rain to make the garden flourish and bloom, to make us all chatter together about it when we get to work, and bring out little facets of our personalities.

The other thing I love about rainy days is how they are perfect for puttering and cozying. I love the bliss of summer too, but for me there is nothing as comforting as being tucked up in bed with a good book and a cup of tea, listening to the rain pattering away on the window panes. Tonight, my lovely friend Lisa is going to brave the rain to come and visit me, so when I get home from the library, I am going to do a spot of baking so I have something nice to welcome her with. And also, baking something is a perfect rainy day activity- the warmth of the kitchen, the delicious baking smells, and that wonderful Domestic Goddess feeling, even if the recipe is as simple as this…

…First tie on your apron, and make it a pretty one. It always makes such a difference, I think. Then turn on your oven to 175oC if you have a fan oven, a bit higher if you don’t, and I am afraid it has been such a long time since I had a gas oven that I have quite forgotten the equivalent!

If you have a 20cm flan tin with a removable bottom, lightly oil it, or if you don’t have one (like me) line and oil a 20cm Victoria sponge tin. Take a packet of ready-rolled short crust pastry if your pastry making skills are anything like mine, or if you are one of those lucky people blessed with cool hands and pastry that does not resemble cardboard, whip up a batch of short crust pastry, and use it to line the cake tin (or flan tin).

Scatter a tablespoon or so of ground almonds over the base, and then spoon in half to two thirds of a jar of cherry jam, depending on how generous you are, and of course, how much is left in your jar. I love the Tesco Fair Trade Morello Cherry Jam, as you get weeny cherry halves in abundance.

Next, my fabulous multiquick food processor comes in to play- toss in 5oz each of ground almonds, caster sugar and soft butter, and blitz. Then crack in three eggs, and blitz again. Pour this thick batter over the jam, scraping out most of the mixture from the blender bowl, but leaving enough left for a satisfying taste for yourself!

Pop the tin in the oven for 30-45 minutes. Last time mine browned a bit more than I would have liked, so it might be worth laying a loose piece of greaseproof paper over the top by way of protection. Not that it matters too much, as once it has cooked and cooled, make up some glace icing using icing sugar and water, and pour over the sponge. As a finishing touch you could sit a glace cherry in the centre, but they are not my favourite thing.

The lovely thing about this Bakewell Tart recipe is that apart from the pastry, it uses store cupboard ingredients, and is so quick to make. Oh, and it lasts well too, although once the first slice has been cut to go with a steaming cup of tea, there always seems to be an excuse for just one more slice…to tidy it up, you understand?!

Wherever you are, if you enjoy the rain or not, surely it is time for a nice cup of tea and a little slice of cake?

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Marvellous Mint

There is the most divine green grocer in the little town that I come from- it makes you feel hungry just to look in the window. As well as fruit and vegetables, they sell Tiptree Jam from just down the road, Tillingham Eggs, and divine local ice cream.

They charge 10p for a reusable bag which I like, and small things come in brown paper bags twisted over at the top. Somehow all the fruit and veg just looks tastier than that at the supermarket. Perhaps because it is not all drowned in plastic, and the peppers are nobbly and the bananas bendy? Really I think that when it comes to fruit and vegetables, the uglier the better!

I was in town as I had to visit the doctors with an earache, and on the way back to the bus stop, I really fancied a treat to cheer myself up. So in I went, and was immediately captivated by some pebbley Cornish new potatoes. Now to me, one of the joys of cooking is having nutmeg for your rice pudding, a pinch of cinnamon in your cocoa and so on, so I asked, on the offchance if they had any mint. Well they did, a poor wilted bunch- but I have decided that it was quite the best buy of the day.

When I got it home, I sat it in a glass of cool water so it could have a good long drink, and then plunged it in some icy water for a few minutes before spinning it dry in my salad spinner, and then sat it in a glass of water again. It perked up remarkably well, and is still sitting like a glorious bouquet on my windowsill.

Now, aprons on please, and off to the kitchen, bunch of mint in hand, if you will, to make the most delectable sandwich imaginable!

Two slices of bread, granary is my preference, but please, squishy soft real bread, no dry plastic stuff! Spread each slice with cool cream cheese, not as thin as butter, but not too thick either. Rip five or six mint leaves, and scatter over one slice of bread-and-cream-cheese. Thinly slice some cucumber to lay over the other slice, then press the two together, cut into dainty triangles, serve on your favourite vintage plate (mine has love-in-a-mist round the border!) and enjoy….

Perhaps next time I post I will share my recipe for a minty fresh mojito- my favourite drink in the world! (Apart from tea, of course)!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Putting On The Ritz!

This Friday, it was slightly overcast. This was pretty perfect for me, as it happens. You see, for my birthday, dear lovely Carl booked us in to have afternoon tea at the Ritz! And Friday was the appointed day. I have been looking forward to it for ages, which really just made it more enjoyable.

I usually feel pretty overwhelmed, country girl in the city when I go to London. But today was just fine. Perhaps because we just went straight to the Ritz, had a short wander down the road, and then home again, and I didn’t have time to get exhausted like I usually do?

From the moment we walked up the steps and into the revolving door, we knew we were going to have a scrumptious afternoon. As we emerged from the revolving door, there was a huge urn of the most spectacular roses, white in the centre, blushing to pink on the outer petals. We were directed through a heavy glass door and along a corridor to reach the Palm Court for afternoon tea. We were slightly early, and I wanted a chance to take it all in, so I went down the stairs to the Powder Room. Even the toilet is spectacular! The softest paper, and, each sink had Floris hand wash and Floris hand cream to use! And individual soft white little towels (almost like face flannels) to dry your hands on, and then throw into a wicker laundry hamper. There was a sofa, and a table with magazines and the Daily Telegraph which you could sit at. But why sit down there when you could be in the Palm Court taking tea?!

The Palm Court was smaller than I had imagined, but in a really good way. More intimate and special, and I didn’t feel like they had maximised the use of the space to fit as many in as possible. We gave our names to a waiter who was wearing a fresh red rose in his buttonhole, and he led us up the steps, and to our table. I was seated facing the wall, and Carl outwards. But, bliss, the whole of the back wall is a huge mirror, so I could take in all the delights of the room! The first thing you notice is the pink and the gold that is everywhere. Somehow it creates the most gorgeous (and flattering!) light. Then, the potted palms. And then another enormous display of flowers, right in the middle of the room. Masses of stargazer lilies, to take your breath away. Turning my attention to our table- oh, bliss. A heavy white tablecloth and matching napkins that were placed in our laps by our waiter. Teacups awaiting pots of our choice of tea (Afternoon blend for me, Earl Grey for Carl), a sugar bowl with tongs, and lidded silver pots of jam and clotted cream. Best of all, a three-tiered cake stand, with finger sandwiches on the bottom, and empty middle plate, and the top adorned with a mass of tiny work-of-art-fancy-cakes.

I should warn you now that I fully intend recounting nearly every bite and sip, so I think now would be a good time to slip away for your own fresh pot of tea. And perhaps a scone or a little cake, as you cannot be expected to read about such food and not feel hungry!

The tea was delivered in heavy silver teapots, with a matching jug of milk. I was fascinated to pour the tea through the heavy silver tea-strainer, and watch it bubble almost like a fountain, such a rich golden brown into the cup. Then, setting the strainer in its little dish, I poured in the milk, and watched the colours dance and change. Then a stir, and a sip- and oh, such refreshing tea! I must confess that I stopped counting after my fifth cup, and also that I was pleased in an odd way that my teapot was afflicted by a slight dribble!

The sandwiches first- such soft bread! Slightly larger than I imagined they would be, but that is no complaint! My favourites were the cucumber, which was done with cream cheese, and mint leaves, which were a delicious addition. Something I will do at home, I believe. Oh yes, and the chicken- the bread and the meat were both so soft! As we ate them and sipped our tea, a waiter came round and refreshed our plate. I was enjoying them so much that I quite forgot I should think about leaving some room, until another waiter appeared, took away our empty middle plate, and replaced it with one filled with apple and raisin scones, and two wafer thin slices of fruit cake. I had the fruit cake first, and it was so rich that it was positively bursting with flavours, and was well complemented by the tea that I washed it down with. Then, on to the scones. They bought us four, which I thought we would never manage, but somehow two slipped down before I knew it!

Finally, the little cakes. They were quite amazing, works of art really. My first was a circle of what I thought was pastry, but was really melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, topped with a ring of raspberries surrounding a blob of cream, topped with another wafer thin shortbread circle, and dusted with icing sugar. Each mouthful transports you off into raptures! The buttery richness of the shortbread, the raspberries so ripe and delicious, almost like wine! And then another cake, a rich chocolate mousse on a thin layer of sponge base. So rich that each mouthful made you sigh with pleasure and fullness!

I wish we could have managed more of the little cakes, but I came to the realization that I was utterly full, and that we had been taking tea for nearly two hours! It was so delightful to hear the chink of teaspoons against cups, the gentle hum of chatter, the pianist in the background (he played The Wonder of You, one of my favourites) the whole ambiance.

If you ever get a chance to go, do, do! And when you have paid your bill and left, your head quite full of tea and bliss, your eyes still bathed in the pink-and-gold light, do what we did, and walk hand-in-hand to Patisserie Valerie, and buy yet another cake to take home on the train for your tea!

A Comment Upon Comments

When I first started blogging, it was partly because I wanted to write. But also, if I admit it, I wanted to be read. I had happily stumbled across several lovely blogs that I felt connected with, and through those blogs found others, and have made some lovely friends. When I was very new, it felt scary, sending my little words off into the ether. Out there.

I didn’t get many comments at first, but then I remembered that I read a lot of blogs without commenting. Does it sound odd to say that there are some blogs that I didn’t comment on? That I don’t? That it is enough just to visit. I quietly hoped that someone was reading me, and not commenting.

And then, one day, a comment! And another! And sometimes, if I am ever so very lucky, an email! Some of the comments just recently, well, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for reading me, and taking the time to leave such kind words. And websites that you think I might like. And conversation. It really does mean a lot to me. I don’t quite know what the etiquette is- do I reply to your comments in my comments? Do I visited your blog and leave a comment saying thank you for your comment on my comments?!

Well I decided to do this instead- to post a thank you, and to let you all know that if I could, I would be sitting down with you now, in my little garden, handing cups of tea and freshly baked madeleines out of the window to you, every one of you.