Friday, 31 October 2008

Day Two From The Sofa

Today, my ear is banging and crackling a little less, but I still can't shake this headache. That is the one thing above all other I am hoping for. If I take all my antibiotics, wrap up warm, one morning soon I will wake up and my headache will be gone.

Until then, my sore-ear-gloom has been lifted a lot by the kind comments here...thank you everybody! I think blog friends are the sweetest people, and I wish I could let you know how much it means to me to go to write a post and find kind thoughts waiting for me.

It is another very cold, very bright day here. I have just finished sipping a chai latte, and am trying to map out the rest of my day. It is so easy for the hours to slip by in a haze of daytime tv and blogs and ebay! (I did just buy a vintage silver christmas tree, but it was such a bargain, and exactly what I was looking for!)

Another hot bath is in order I think, it is about the only thing that seems to ease my head at the moment. I want to bake a pineapple upside down cake (one of the coziest things in the world to do, to me) and read the October and November chapters from the wonderful Romancing The Ordinary. I have finished knitting my scarf, so that will go onto my list of things-to-take-photos-of. I was going to be at a Christmas Craft Fayre with a friend from work, but she has had some bad news and now I will be doing it alone, so I should really get cracking on making some things for that at some point.

I find it hard to just sit and rest, even though I know that is the best thing for me. I feel like I should be doing something...anything!

I can't believe that tomorrow it will be November. I finally get into autumn, and it is slowly changing to winter! I am looking forward to November- I am going to be taking part in NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) and although I don't think I can commit to that AND NaBloPoMo (most on your blog every day month!) I am going to be blogging more too.

In November, I have so much to look forward to- serving mulled wine with one of my best friends at a firework display, having Sunday lunch where we had our wedding reception, a walk through the woods, getting ready for Christmas, and so much more...

This is the first year I have not had my annual pumpkin carving party. Some of the people who come have had a baby and don't have so much time for that kind of thing any more...I have not been feeling great, and to be honest, time has escaped me a little bit. Now I have my autumnal windowsill set up, I wish I was doing it. I don't think I am going to carve my pumpkin because it is so beautiful as it is, but I thought that tomorrow I might make a roast chicken dinner, with apple cider to drink, and an autumny dessert- maybe apple crumble? I shall light lots of tea lights, and we shall snuggle with a scary film, and I shall plan a return to form next year!

Although it is lovely having our little flat tucked out of the way, it does mean, sadly, that we don't get Trick or Treaters. I really wish we did, and look forward to future years when we may live somewhere a little more visible. I hope that this Halloween brings you all treats, and no tricks!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Autumn Windowsill

I am really behind with posting photographs...I shall have to flutter my eyelashes at Carl and ask him to help me out! Until I can show you a photograph of my autumn windowsill, I will describe it for you. I have my footed glass cake stand in the centre, upon which is sitting a very warty and gnarled pumpkin. To one side is a square vase full of bronze chrysanthemums, and to the other, a small liqueur glass with just a few chrysanthemum heads. Scattered along the windowsill are some beautiful autumn leaves that I gathered this morning on the way home from the doctors. they are mainly sycamore leaves, but there are also some oak amongst them- they range from a brown-paper-parcel-brown to burning flame orange, with every variation in between.

Amongst the lot are scattered twinkly tea light candles burning brightly in the dusk. It makes me smile to think that when Carl comes home from work tonight, the first thing he will see will be our window shining brightly.

I am feeling a bit glum this evening, as my headache has not shifted yet, and my ear is crackling and banging away. I don't much like the idea of surgery on it, but neither do I want to continue like this. Sigh. I think I will have a hot bath before Little Dorrit, take another paracetamol, and curl up with my knitting.

An Autumn Thursday

It is chilly at home today because I have thrown open every window in our dear little flat to let in plenty of fresh air. When my fingers got too cold to type I closed the living room windows, but it is still cold in here. In a little while I shall close them again and put the heating on for a few minutes. From the living room window, I can see the most amazing colours. the sun is shining through the trees, making the leaves seem even brighter than they are, a riot of greens and acid yellows.

The kettle is on to boil, and I am curled up with my favourite, softest blanket. I have a small bouquet of autumn leaves which I am going to arrange in a vase next to my chyrsanthemums and pumpkin on the window sill. I gathered them on the way back from the doctors this morning. I have been feeling under the weather a bit lately, and finally gave in and went when I could not take another day of headaches, sinus pain and sore ears. Perhaps I should have been less stubborn and gone sooner, because it seems that my right ear is so infected that it has perforated my ear drum...and the (very lovely lady) doctor has said that she wants me to go back to the ENT clinic with the possibility of surgery. Sigh. It is probably the right thing to do, but really? For now I am going to snuggle and read and take my antibiotics, and day dream of snuggly autumn adventures to come...

To Market, To Market

Walking to work today, the air was cold enough so that every breath I took escaped as what I called ‘dragons breath’ when I was a little girl. I love days like this. I have had a lot happening over the past few weeks (a dear Aunt has had a stroke, I have been under the weather and Carl has been working late an awful lot), and had fallen into the habit of catching the bus to work, but lately I have started to walk again, and am getting so much pleasure out of it. I leave ten minutes earlier than I need to so I can really absorb it all, and have time to be diverted on the way. I love to scuffle through the leaves, which are really crunchy at the moment. I adore the sweet almost coffee scent that rises up from a path of freshly scuffled leaves.

The light has that wonderful quality of being somehow sharp and hazy at the same time, and the sunshine is brilliantly dazzling. This morning I had a particularly lovely walk into work, as it ended with a quick trip to the market. I love the feeling of having some pennies in my purse and a shopping list of lovely things. First of all I visited the cheese stall, to buy some goats cheese. Tonight I am cooking roasted peppers filled with goats cheese and lentils, and then for lunch tomorrow I am making my favourite goats cheese, roasted pepper and chicken salad. When I got there they only had 1kg logs, which (as much as I do love goats cheese!) was just way too much for me, so the lovely man cut me a smaller slice instead. Then I moved on to the flower stall, as at this time of year I get a yearning for what I think of as Mrs Miniver chrysanthemums. I was torn between a deeper brown, a bright firey orange, and a smaller-flowered bronze somewhere between the two. I chose the bronze, and enjoyed carrying them through the market in their heavy paper wrapping. My last port of call was at a stall that sells all manner of dry goods, where I bought a tub of hot chocolate for my sister.

I really wanted to buy a new pair of slippers, but the slipper man was not there today, and I would have loved to loiter at the wool stall for a little while, but the clock was ticking, and work was calling.

Mimi Makes Tartiflette

I have recently read the most wonderful book, Remedy by Anne Marsella. It was really quirky and reminded me a lot of Sophie Dahl’s Playing With The Grownups. Remedy is an American living in Paris, and in one passage, she mentions eating Tartiflette for lunch…it sounded divine, all potatoey, cheesey, bacony and comforting, and I decided right away that I had to have a go at making my own version. I have been making a similar dish for years (thinly sliced potatoes and onions, layered in an ovenproof dish, pour over a cup of Bovril, a tin of macaroni cheese – yes, really, but it makes all the difference – and bake for a couple of hours) but this sounded so much more luxurious.

Described variously as ‘this rich and luxurious potato dish straight out of the French Alps makes an indulgent supper for two’ and ‘Tartiflette is the perfect palliative supper dish for chilly autumn and winter evenings’ and ‘warming winter food at its very best’ how could I resist? Unbeknown to me, Carl’s train was delayed on his way home, so when he finally got home, he was cold and tired and hungry, and I am pleased to say he was greeted with the most heavenly comforting smell of dinner. I served it with some rare lamb and peas, and it is definitely something I will be making again. Here is how I made it…(I found several different recipes, and melded them together, so this probably isn’t traditional, but it is delicious!)

1kg waxy potatoes
2 large onions
3 rashers of bacon
Knob of butter
100g cheese (I used a combination of leerdammer for that sweet-nutty-meltyness, and cheddar for that sharp-tangyness)
250ml double cream (or nearest pot size to this)

1) Tie on pinny, preheat oven to 175 oC and flick radio 4 on in the background.
2) Peel and thinly slice the potatoes
3) Put them in a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer until tender.
4) Meanwhile, Peel and thinly slice the onions, and fry them in a knob of butter until soft. Put to one side.
5) Chop the bacon into small pieces, and fry until not quite crisp.
6) Drain the potatoes.
7) Grate the cheeses together.
8) Drain the potatoes, and layer half in an ovenproof dish.
9) Scatter over the bacon, the onion, and half the cheese.
10) Layer the rest of the potatoes over.
11) Pour over the double cream.
12) Sprinkle over the rest of the cheese, grind over some black pepper.
13) Bake for 20-40 minutes, until bubbling and golden.

This made enough for us both to have a large portion for dinner, with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day, when it tasted even better!

Unexpected Weather

1.45 this afternoon found me ensconced happily in our local noodle bar, with two dear friends and my Godson, merrily gossiping and enjoying chicken satay vermicelli. Suddenly, a movement outside caught my eye, and to my amazement, it was simply pelting down with hail! We tried to wait it out, but I was due back at work for 2:00 and ended up having to make a dash through the hail back to the library. Although it was cold, and I had not brought my umbrella with me today, I did not get too wet because it was hailing so hard a great many of the hailstones rebounded off of me rather than soaked in!

Now, as suddenly as it began, it has stopped, and the light has an almost golden quality to it. Just a small adventure in my day, but remarkable nonetheless- I can’t remember the last time we had a proper hail storm.

It has served to remind me that winter really is on its way, Summer is well and truly gone, and we are in the midst of a scrumptious Autumn. I can hardly believe it is going to be November at the weekend. I don’t feel like I have quite hit my stride yet this Autumn, and I am going to spend the next few days really snuggling into it.

Tonight when I get home, I will be heating apple juice to make mulled winter Pimms, and hanging my autumnal wreath on the front door. I have bought my pumpkin ready for Friday (the wartiest, ugliest one I could find, which is strangely beautiful!) and I am going to put it on a cake stand on my windowsill. I am going to scatter some candles about the living room, and look for a soft new throw for the sofa, order Mrs Miniver to read (again!) and bake a pumpkin cake with orange buttercream frosting. We are going to visit our farm shop at the weekend, and buy just one or two each of lots of varieties of apples and pears, drink apple juice and finally finish knitting my autumn scarf.

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a scrumptious, blissful autumn.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Reading, Baking, Listening, Making...

Over the last few weeks I have read Mister Pip, The Priory by Dorothy Whipple and The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory. I adored the Priory, Mister Pip was a lot better than I thought (although it did take a sudden sinister turn towards the end) and I am devouring The Queen's Fool. My happiest discovery this year so far has been Dorothy Whipple!

I have been baking a little, too, and planning to bake. The ever lovely Vintage Pretty has given me a recipe for pumpkin cake with orange buttercream frosting. I had to make a special trip to get a can of pumpkin puree, and this Sunday I am going to be tying on my pinny and baking up a storm.

I have been listening to Sex On Fire by The Kings of Leon. I am hardly ever, ever, ever up with 'current' music but this is really catchy. I have also been discovering and enjoying Hilary Hahn, who is an amazingly talented classical violinist. Bliss.

I have been making a scarf, and planning a tea cozy, and a hot water bottle cover. Also I have been planning some Halloween gifts for my work friends. I am going to cut squares of black tissue or crepe paper, fill them with spooky sweets, and tie with orange ribbon. Then I am going to make some little tags out of orange card, and stick a black button on them, and draw legs coming out, to make button spiders!

I also want to put up my autumn wreath on the front door, and am toying with the idea of making a halloween wreath too. I love to decorate our little flat!

Cobweb Weekend

It has been a simply beautiful weekend, one that I want to share with you even though it is already Wednesday evening, and time has flown by once again.

I was thrilled on Saturday morning to open the door to one of those wonderful autumnal mornings, where the air is fresh and crisp and hazy all at the same time, dry leaves are blown from the trees, and you are glad of a scarf. Everything was all a-shimmer and a-glitter, and I was fascinated to see a large spiders web on a brick wall, all beaded with drops of dew, and home to a large spider. I don't normally like spiders very much, but this one was so beautiful that I found myself feeling rather friendly towards him. He had a mottled pattern on his body (yes, he was that big that I could see a pattern!) that put me in mind of a smoking jacket!

Sunday morning we opened the front door to be confronted by the foggiest morning that we have seen in a long time. The roads were wreathed in rolling mist, and as we drove along, a cobweb on the wingmirror of the car, all beaded with dew that sparkled like diamonds in the bright sunlight, fluttered like a beautiful flag.

Just as both cobwebs were beaded with drops of dew that were like precious jewels, so was our weekend scattered with jewel-like moments. Steaming cups of coffee drank in shared quiet, whilst listening to the beeps on radio 4. Walking hand in hand through the town, while a gospel choir sang behind us. Dropping a glittery bath bomb into a steamy bath. Driving past where we had our wedding reception, remembering snatched moments of that day. The fields filled with rolling, swirling mist, with hazy sunshine breaking through.

All ordinary moments in one way, and yet extraordinary in another, because all of them were little moments to be saved and savoured, the ordinary moments that make up special memories of a perfect weekend.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A Dangerous Pursuit?

When most people hear the word library, they imagine a dusty place full of books, quiet, librarians shushing and such things. When you think of reading, you think of a quiet, solitary pleasure.

Perhaps the last thing that reading and books and libraries and such like make you think of is danger, but I had a train of thought over a cup of tea which led me to the conclusion that indeed, reading is very dangerous indeed, in the way that an adventure or an expedition is made exciting by the edge of danger that runs through it.

I think perhaps that this is going to be the kind of post which calls for a cup of tea and perhaps just a small slice of cake on the prettiest saucer that you own. I have my cup of tea at the ready here, and am going to try and explain what I mean.

You see, I think that every time you read a book (or indeed a poem, and even blog) you are changed by it in some way. There are some books that I have been reading at particularly eventful times in my life, which will forever more in my mind be tied up with memories of that time. There are books that have challenged or changed my thoughts on particular subjects, books which have taught me a new skill, or a new recipe, or word, which I have gone on to weave into the fabric of my life.

Whether you love a book, hate it, or even remain indifferent to it, to some extenct, I believe that every book stays with you in some way, your whole life. Some you feel more than others. Some have created a powerful feeling in me, or created an atmosphere of some kind, which has stayed with me. There are books who have made me fall in love with the author, and I have gone on to devour everything else they have written.

Let me pluck some examples from my mind- since reading 'The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Love' I whip up a recipe for something called 'chocolate stuff' in times of stress or need of something homemade and sweet. Since reading Mrs Miniver, I always think of her when I see a particular kind of chrysanthemum. Since Reading 'Someone At A Distance' I think of a particular French woman whenever I hear the name 'Louise'. (Perhaps I should have named this post 'a particularly dangerous pursuit, with all my uses of the word particular'!)

I was reading Nigella's new Christmas book, and in one recipe she describes the ends of french sticks as 'the elbow ends' and I knew right away that I shall always think of them as such.

Now all this, and I have not yet got to the danger. You see, given that what we read has the power to stay with us, to change us, how brave we are to read at all, for so often we do not know what we are getting until we are in the middle or have finished with it. Oh there are various authors we suspect we will like, because we know how they write, or what they write about, but how did we discover them to begin with? We took the chance. I find it fascinating how different people can read the same book, and yet have very different reactions to it. It must be strange, as an author, to write something, and then have people interpret it in so many different ways. I heard a quote recently, that there are as many ways to God as there are people; perhaps as well, there are as many different versions of a book as there are readers.

I don't know if I have explained myself very well here. I think that reading is a joyous thing, and I love libraries and books and poems, and I love that little edge of danger too. I just has not seen reading in this kind of light before, I had not realised how brave you have to be to open yourself to being changed in some way, to not know exactly what you are going to get, but to believe enough to take the risk.

There was an advert on tv a few years ago now, where librarians were going crazy in the staffroom on their teabreak, and then break over (and chocolate snack finished) they straightened their glasses, patted their buns into place, and filed back out into the library all staid and respectable again. On their break, they were very different to their stereotypical image; in the same way, in a sudden flash of light, I have come to see reading as very different to its traditional image.

Still on the theme of reading and poems (aren't you glad you had that slice of cake now?) I have been reading the Sunday Times today, and found a fascinating article about poetry. The article is about teaching the love of poetry, and suggests that children should be taught poems by heart whilst at school. While I do love poetry, there are not many poems that I can claim to know by heart, so I want to rememdy this. I have been talking about poems with a friend recently, and being able to share poems has been really pleasurable.

So, now it is October, and I still have that back-to-school-feeling from September (although I am now going to call it a turning-over-a-new-leaf feeling!) I have decided to try and learn one new poem by heart a week. Here is my first one....I hope you enjoy it.

Autumn Day

Lord, it is time. The long summer has gone by.
Now overlap the sundials with your shadows,
And on the meadows let the wind go free.

Command the fruit to swell on tree and vine;
Grant them a few more warm transparent days,
Urge them on to fulfillment and press
The final sweetness into the heavy wine.

Whoever has no huse now will never have one.
Whoever is alone will stay alone,
Will sit, read, write long letters into the evening
And wander along the boulevards, up and down
Restlessly, while the dry leaves are blowing.

Rainer Maria Rilke