Saturday, 8 March 2008

Today I Am Wearing....

….the most lovely skirt! A girl at work made it for herself, but it was too short for her, and seeing as I am not very tall it is perfect for me! It was once a pair of black courdroy jeans, and is now a long skirt that brushes the floor, with a fishtail bit at the back which makes me feel very glamorous! I am wearing it with a long sleeved purple top, with a v-neck in front, and the same v-neck in back. No heels for me today, as I have been running about a lot. This is the nearest I have come to wearing trousers in years!

Cup of Tea and a Catch Up

I feel a little like Mrs Bennett today, breathlessly declaring ‘Netherfield Park is let at last!’ It has been much longer since my last post than I ever intended it to be, and as a consequence I am full with things to tell you!

The most exciting first, then the most recent, and the rest I am afraid will be a delightful jumble! There is some celebratory news, so choose your nicest tea cup for your tea whilst you read this!

The most exciting news is that I received a telephone call at 8:00am this morning from one of my dearest friends, who is expecting her first baby on the 25th. ‘How fast can you crochet?’ she asked (I have been working on a matinee jacket for baby) ‘because baby is on the way!’ she continued! No more news as of yet, but oh, how exciting!

The most recent news is that today was the launch of the Essex Book Festival, and because the library I work in happens to be the Flagship library for Essex Libraries, the launch was held there. So we were all a-bustle with authors and the local radio show, and local dignitaries and senior managers, but I was in a little oasis of calm and utter scrumptiousness in the middle of it all. You see, Nicola Beauman, founder and publisher of Persephone Books was here! She had a stand where, if you wrote a book review or recommendation to go on our postcard wall, you could choose a Persephone Book to take home, free! And because I was not timetabled to be anywhere else, I was asked to help with her stall! I cannot tell you how excited I was, and it really hardly felt like work at all. She had 80 books to give away, and within two hours, they were all gone. I seem to do a lot of happy stumbling, and it was in such a way that I discovered Persephone Books. Jane at mentioned them a year or so, maybe even more on her blog, and they sounded so lovely I signed up for the Persephone Quarterly newsletter. Then I discovered one or two of their titles in the library, and fell quite, quite in love with them. They are delightful books, usually by women authors, and usually rediscovered. My favourite is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (which has been made into a film and was released today in America…can’t wait for it to come here!) but I am also really enjoying ‘The Making of a Marchioness’ which I have taken to bed each evening. I must borrow someone else’s words to give them the best description- they are books of the hot-water-bottle genre; you want to take them to bed with a hot water bottle and a cup of tea (or perhaps cocoa) and not emerge until you have finished them! It was so lovely being able to chat to Nicola, and I am resolved that on my week off at the beginning of April, I am going to take myself off to Lamb’s Conduit Street, and visit the shop. Do not take my word for it, visit and discover for yourself just how scrumptious they are.

Now for the jumbly bits and bobs that have been keeping me busy and away from my blog! I have been working on a matinee jacket for my friend’s baby. I searched high and low on Friday, my last day off, but I could not find a crochet pattern that I liked anywhere. There were very few to choose from, and were either very boxy or lacy christening-gown style things. I was going to go through my set of vintage Golden Hands magazines in search of inspiration, when my lovely friend who visits me on a Monday evening offered to lend me a pattern that she has, and it was just what I had been hoping to make. I have never crocheted clothes before (although baby clothes are so tiny, they hardly qualify as clothes!) and it has been so satisfying to start a pattern that seemed too complicated, and gradually unravel it. I think perhaps that is one reason why l like crochet so much- apart from the way it grows so quickly- each stitch builds upon another, and they way you group them changes the effect so much. What looks like incomprehensible instructions that I am sure I can not translate into my hook and wool unravel themselves and reveal themselves to be a simple soothing pattern. Now I am on the main part of the body, having done the difficult yoke and making arm-holes, I can do most of the row without having to refer to the pattern at all.

I have also been making Easter cards. I don’t normally make them, but there has been a particular stamp set that I have been coveting for the past eight months or so, and I realised that they would make beautiful Easter cards. There is a bunny, whose nose almost seems to quiver, who I have stamped using pinecone brown ink in the middle of a cream card. Then I took another stamp, which is of a fern-like plant, and stamped around it in green, quite randomly. Then I took another stamp, of a twig, and stamped some in the same green, and some more in pinecone brown. I finished by stamping some little clusters of flowers in deep violet. The different layers of stamps make a really pretty border around the rabbit. Of course, I will post a picture here of them soon!

I have been reading and reading just recently. My most recent book is The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and it is not what I thought it would be at all. For some reason I had half formed the idea that it might be a children’s book, but it is not at all. Emily Fox-Seton, the main character is poor, although well born, and lives in a little bed-sitting room, which she has made cheerful and bright with turkey-red curtains, and a tea set, and such little niceties. I wish I had the book at my side so I could give you the exact line, but there is one very early on, about how lovely it is, when you are a damp, exhausted lady with tired feet to return home to a cup of tea!

Last night, I made an apple pie. There was no particular reason, except that I suddenly took it in to my head that it would be really nice for Carl to come home to a nice apple pie! Once upon a time, and not so long ago really, I would feel that I had to have a recipe to follow in the kitchen. Gradually, I have started to find my own feet a bit, and to have a play and an experiment when cooking, and I have to say that I was rather pleased with how it turned out!

I turned the oven to 200 oC (it is a fan oven….how I long for a gas oven!) and rolled out a packet of ready made puff pastry into a large circle. I draped it into my pie plate, but did not trim it to fit the plate. Then I took a bag of bramley apples and peeled and cored them. Four of them were sliced, sprinkled with sugar, scattered with a few cloves and put in a saucepan on the hob to cook. The remaining two were chopped into little cubes, and put in a bowl of water so they didn’t brown. When the apples on the stove were pulpy, I mashed them up into apple sauce with a sprinkling of mixed spice, a shaking of cinnamon, and a grating of nutmeg. Then I mixed in the apple cubes, and turned the lot into the pastry-lined pie dish. Then I folded the excess pastry up and round the edges to make a kind of border, leaving the middle quite open. I baked it for twenty minutes, turning half way through.

Considering how I followed no plan but what I thought might be nice, I was ever so pleased with the result! Carl is having dinner in London tonight with his work friends, so I am planning on a hot bath with my Liberty bath oil, then tucking myself up with The Making of a Marchioness, and a slice of apple pie. Oh, and of course, a cup of tea!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Taking Tea At Claridge's

Carl is one of those lovely people who can say things like ‘take as long as you like’ and really mean it. Some people say ‘take as long as you like’ and it immediately makes you conscious of the clock ticking and minutes passing by. So when he said that on Claridge’s Day, I could do whatever I liked in London, it was lovely to know that I really, really could!

It was really hard to choose, and it is always so tempting to try and fit too much in, but in the end I settled for a trip to Borders, then Liberty before going on to Clardige’s and then the musical.

Oh, it was heaven! We found a Borders with four floors; it even had a tiny branch of Paperchase there, and a Starbucks which made it smell deliciously of coffee. Amy Winehouse was in the background singing ‘Valerie’ and whilst I have not been a huge fan of hers before, it was just the right music. We browsed and browsed and browsed, and in the end I came away with a large white velvet rabbit with a sparkly back from Paperchase (he is going to be on my Easter windowsill), Blueprint magazine, Romantic Homes magazine and Olive magazine. I was so excited to see Blueprint- I had not realised that it was available in this country! Sadly I could not find Victoria or Marie Claire Idees, but it is good to have something to search for.

Liberty was as wonderful as ever. I love the building, and Carl did too. He was fascinated by the carvings inside, and the space, and atmosphere. I came away with lots of little treasures- bottles of rosehip and clover bath oil for myself, Mum and Carl’s Mum, and a length of blue rick-rack trimming. I picked it up and thought it beautiful, and a perfect duck-egg blue. I turned the card over and behold! The shade was called ‘duck egg blue’ which made me smile. In one of the doorways into Liberty is a little Paula Pryke flower stand. Breathing in the all the heady scents is amazing. There were old fashioned roses, hyacinths, and best of all, tiny bunches of violets. Of course, I had to have a bunch of violets, and when I got home I put them into a tiny sherry glass next to the black-and-white photo that I bought a week or so ago. While we were wandering about, I found a little tea room, and I have put taking tea at Liberty on my list of things to do!

On to Claridge’s. What can I say? It was one of the most peaceful, delicious and enjoyable two hours I can remember. It is still ‘posh’ of course, but somehow more relaxed that the Ritz (which I loved, but in a different way) and less formal, whilst still being formal enough to be special. In the middle of the tea room is a huge silver urn, and it was filled with masses of pink tulips. I suspect it took someone rather a long time to arrange them to look like they hadn’t been arranged at all! We were in a room to the left of this main room, and sat a table for two under a photograph of Audrey Hepburn when she was at Claridge’s. There was a tall silver stand next to our table, which is where the teapots were to go. There was a heavy white cloth, and a lamp that seemed to cast a golden glow across the table. We each had a green-and-white striped plate and cup and saucer, with a monogrammed napkin. Then at the other end of the table to the lamp was a tiny silver vase with three red roses in it, and a small silver oblong box, and a pair of sugar tongs. Inside the silver box were three compartments- one filled with brown sugar lumps, one with white, and the third with sweeteners.

The waiter came over and asked if we would like to start with champagne. You can imagine how delighted I was when dear Carl said yes! The champagne came in monogrammed glasses, and as we sat and sipped, the strains of a violinist and pianist reached our ears.

There were thirty different teas to choose from! I am usually so indecisive about these things, but as they were offering the very first tea to be grown in England, from the Tregothnan estate in Cornwall. As I have Cornish ancestors, I had to choose that! Carl chose Russian Caravan, which is a delightful name, although it proved a little too smokey for my taste.

A long plate (again, striped with white and green) was brought to our table, upon which was a long line of crustless sandwiches. It is funny how when you are eating slowly, and sipping tea, that you become full up on what seems to be a small amount of food. The sandwiches were so dainty, and delicious too. There were two of each kind; smoked salmon, ham with mustard butter and redcurrant jam, chicken with rocket and mayonnaise, cucumber mint and cream cheese, and egg and tomato. I don’t like smoked salmon, (unless it is cooked in scrambled eggs!) so Carl kindly disposed of those for me, and then we shared the rest. It is hard to choose a favourite, but the egg and tomato was a really scrumptious combination. When we were enjoying yet another cup of tea, the waiter brought another plate to our table.

It was then that Carl whispered to me ‘look behind you!’ – but of course I couldn’t, not without being obvious. By that point I had drank rather a lot of tea, so I made a trip to the ladies room, and decided that on the way back I would have a look to see what he was trying to show me. I nearly forgot though, because the ladies room was so sumptuous! The tiles were mainly white, with some green, and then some had Rennie-Mackintosh style pink roses on them. When I came out, there was a sink filled with hot water for me to use, and the handwash was delicately scented with lemons. There were individual towels to use, and then lemon scented handcream too. I was in such a state of bliss that I nearly forgot to look at the table behind ours- but when I did I realised that I was sitting with my back to David Walliams! I have to say that he is really smart and quite handsome in the flesh, and he gave me a smile as I threaded my way through the other tables, which made me see why he has a reputation as a ladies man!

The waiters were attentive without being intrusive, and seemed to have instinct to appear just at the right time to fill up our teacups. Even better was when one arrived bringing our cakes! First came a plate with four little apple and raisin scones, a pot of clotted cream, and a pot of marco polo jelly. I had never heard of marco polo jelly before, but since then I have discovered that it is exclusive to Claridges. It was sweet, almost like strawberry, but quite floral at the same time. Very agreeable when spread upon a scone!

Another tray appeared, this time bearing four little delights. Each one was different, so we decided that rather than each pick two and never know what the other was like, we would have half each of each one. There was a tiny apple crumble served in a paper cupcake case, a shot glass filled with passionfruit puree and topped with tapioca (it doesn’t sound nice but ohhhhhh it was! So cold and creamy!), a confection made of layers of chocolate praline separated by balls of chocolate hazelnut cream, and finally a creamy strawberry slice. Each was more delicious than the last, and although both of us wished we had room for more, we really couldn’t have managed anything else.

Happily, we were not hurried after we finished our food. We were brought another pot of tea each, and we just sat and drank in our surroundings. There was a beautiful scent in the air, which reminded me of a pink fig candle I once had. At the table in front of us, there were seven or eight society ladies having a hen party. What a delightful place for a hen party! They reminded me of a little flock of butterflies. They all had such glossy brown hair, some were wearing pearls, others fascinators; two had black dresses spotted with white polka dots, and one had a beautiful red cardigan on. They looked as though they had stepped out of a Boden catalogue!

When our Waiter came to present the bill, I asked if it would be possible to buy some of the tea that we had enjoyed. To my surprise, he came back to the table with a black cardboard Claridge’s box, and told me that the two tins of tea inside were complimentary!

Really and truly the day was filled with as many delights as one day ought to be able to hold, but somehow there were more to come. We went on to the theatre, and although we thought we were sitting right up high and far from the stage, we were in fact rather near the front! Wicked was so enjoyable. A lot of work had gone into the set and the costumes, and the story was funny and clever. It was lovely to be whisked away into a fairy tale world for a while.

We didn’t get home till just after midnight, and as I closed my eyes, I felt I could still smell the pink fig, and hear the violinist playing.