Tuesday, 20 November 2007

No Good At November

You know, I love autumn, and winter too, which is why I find it so strange that I am just no good at November. I have posted before about how my mind seems to drift and I just struggle slightly this month. Today it was dark at two o’clock, and has drizzled ever since. It is not even this, really, that makes it hard. After all, when it rains you get to put up your brolly and splash through the puddles, and, it is easier to cosy up at home when you have something to cosy up from. I find it hard to put my finger on what it is about this month, but I was thinking of this poem, when I discovered that lovely Vintage Pretty has already posted it, here:
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!

Typical Autumn Days of Light and Shade

Every morning this last week or so, I have awoken to a typical autumn day, and yet each has been so very different. Still, as I step out of my door into the hazy half-light and world of muted colours, I think ‘what a gorgeous, typical autumn day!’. As I step out and put up my brolly quickly to avoid the mist-like rain, and the leaves lay sodden at my feet, I think ‘gosh, how damp- what a typical autumn day!’. As I walk into work with the cold wind stinging my cheeks and crisp leaves whipped around my ankles, I think how nice it will be to come in out of the cold to a nice cup of tea…and that it is another typical autumn day.

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.

Favourite Words

There are some words that are lovely to use; they convey your meaning exactly, and they feel good as you say them. I was reading an article from the Independent at the weekend, about how the use of some words is changing….in that they are misused, and some words are dropping out of favour. Then I watched Cranford (and adored it! Oh, the bliss of having four more episodes to savour!) Sunday evening, and was aware of the language they were using. It was so rich. Far less ‘foreign’ compared with today’s speech than Shakespeare, it made me think of special china that is kept for ‘best’. Let us work delicious words into our every day language!

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

The Brocante Home Puttery Treats Challenge

Before you start, may I invite you to pour a fresh cup of your favourite tea, and arrange a few biscuits on a pretty plate? Join me as I post about Brocante Home http://www.brocantehome.typepad.com - my favourite place on the internet. I don’t like to call it a website because really it is a kitchen table around which we Vintage Housekeepers gather to sip tea, chatter, and read the scrumptious writings of Alison. Amongst her writings, she tells us to ‘put order before beauty, but make beauty your raison d’etre’ and for me this is what Puttery Treats are all about. I find myself whisking my little flat in to order a little quicker, mopping my kitchen floor a little cheerier, because I know that once I have prepared my canvas, the Puttery Treats await me like so many tubes of beautiful oil colours, to paint a picture of delight for the senses.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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?

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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

Amongst the autumn leaves

It has been longer than I meant it to be since I posted last. I put it down to the autumn leaves. As they twist and fall from the trees and gather in a thick luscious carpet on the ground, my mind seems to flutter and flit also. The thing with autumn leaves are that they are beautiful, individually….watching just one float down on the breeze, examining just one, admiring its colours and shape. They are beautiful en masse, too, when you scrunch through them or let your eye dance over a pile of them. But start to pay too much attention and they almost hypnotise you. There is just too much variety of colour and shape; your eye cannot rest on just one, and neither can your mind.

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.

2-3 leeks
2-4 medium carrots,
3 parsnips
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

Playing Hooky

Pssst! Want to know a secret? I have taken an hours leave, so I am skipping home at 3.30 today (I started early this morning so I get to go home a bit earlier than my usual 5:00 finish). I have great plans! I am going to retire to bed with a cup of tea and some hot buttery toast, my pile of Christmas magazines, my pumpkin tea cosie knitting (am I the slowest knitter in the world?!) and listen to 'I Capture The Castle' on tape.

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!