Sunday, 22 February 2009

Snowdrop Sunday

It was a bittersweet walk through the snowdrops this afternoon....sweet because of their utter beauty and grace, and bitter because of the cold biting wind, and that The Gardens of Easton Lodge will be closing this year after the snowdrop season (next weekend is their last) because of a lack of funds.

The Gardens are one of my favourite places to visit. You can roam freely around the acres of gardens, wander and feel the restorative powers take hold of your soul. There are plans to apply for a lottery grant, and hopes to open again in a year or two- I really hope they make it.

But back to the sweet stuff. Although it was dry today, for which I am thankful, there was not the sunshine of yesterday. In a way it seemed more fitting to see snowdrops when the air is tinged with cold though! They are so breathtaking, seeing so many of them scattered about. The pin pricks of white seem to almost dance before your eyes. Mostly, the snowdrops were gathered around the roots of trees, or scattered across the Bosquet, and here and there the clouds of white were interrupted by flashes of golden aconites.

When we found a little rocky corner, hidden out of the way, we also discerned the smudgy purple of some crocuses that were keeping the snowdrops company. The Gardens are full of nooks and corners and hidden treasures. You are rewarded at every turn for peeping around a corner, or rounding a hedge...we ran into two regal peacocks, who stood still for a photo until the very moment we pressed the button! There is a low swing hanging from a giant tree, which swoops you across the grass in long lazy arcs; a ruined pavillion that would be such a romantic place to get married, adorned with candles. Ivy seems to creep over everything, especially the sunken Italian pool, which was sadly roped off as it is now too dangerous to walk in. It features a lily pond, and you can just imagine society ladies in the roaring twenties running to splash about in it. Somehow I Capture The Castle, and the Mitford Sisters came to mind!

We took a picnic of sausage rolls, apples, and homemade raspberry oat crumbly bars, along with a flask of coffee. The air is so clean (poor Carl remarked how very different the air is in London, and I felt sorry for him going to work there every day amongst all the smog) that it gives you a real appetite!

When we got back home, I made up a recipe for slow cooked venison, which even now is simmering away in the slow cooker. We have a friend coming for tea tomorrow night, who has never had venison before, so I decided a rich, winey stew with dumplings would be perfect February evening fare!

1) Tie on an apron, and put on The Puppini Sisters Panic, and Heart of Glass
2) Soften two chopped onions in a little oil, then put in the slow cooker.
3) Dust 500g diced venison in a little plain flour, then brown in a little oil, and add to the slow cooker.
4) Cut 3 or 4 medium carrots into thick coins, then add to the slow cooker, along with some green beans, snipped into short pieces.
5) Mix 500ml red wine with 500ml beef stock and stir into the slow cooker.
6) Sprinkle with dried herbs, put on the lid, and leave to cook.

Now I would have thought that 6 hours on high would have done it, but the carrots were still quite al dente when I checked just now (try to refrain from checking too often, as it lowers the temperature and means you have to extend the cooking time!). So I shall leave it a bit is also quite watery still, and winey, but that is ok, because I plan to reheat it tomorrow night, and let it bubble away for a bit, thus thickening it and evaporating some of the alcohol, before adding the dumplings.

I shall leave you with this snippet from Personifications, by Christina Rossetti who I believe is my favourite femail poet, and wishes to you all for the perfect Sunday evening.

Brother, joy to you!
I've brought some snowdrops; only just a few,
But quite enough to prove the world awake,
Cheerful and hopeful in the frosty dew
And for the pale sun's sake

Lifted Spirits

SIsn't it amazing and wonderful, the effect that a day of lovely sunshine can have on the spirits? Even having to work yesterday, the sun streamed in through one particular window by the counter, and was warm on my back. Although the library was quieter than usual, because people were out enjoying the sun, it was still a lovely place to be. It is peaceful in my little library, and it smells of books; there is a real community spirit there, and everyone knows each other and chats as they return their books.

Nice as it is to work there, I must confess to having one eye on the window for much of the day, just to look out and see the sunshine! And at lunch time, I had a special treat in store. You see, years and years ago, when I was a little girl, there used to be a jumble sale and book sale at the village hall a few doors down on a Saturday afternoon, and after we had been there, we used to go to the library to choose some books. Imagine how excited I was to see that there was going to be one held that very day, and my late lunch meant I could pop in for a few minutes.

It shows how long it has been since I have been to a jumble sale, and I must admit that from reading scrumptious books like India Knight's Thrift, I had this lovely vision of picking up crocheted blankets and flowery tea cups, perhaps finding a lovely vintage book or two....well there was a queue right back to the duck pond to get in, and when I got it, wow! It was a heaving mass of people, elbows out, scurry, hurry, squish! Perhaps I got special treatment as a child, because I do not remember being buffeted about like I was!

I don't especially like crowds, so I was rather pleased to escape, but not before I had been swept round the stalls by the crowd...and emerged with a set of four beautiful glass storage jars for 40p!

Happily the weather forecast is that the whole weekend shall be gorgeous, and today (Sunday) I have the perfect treat planned. At last, at last, dear Carl and I are going to take ourselves off to The Gardens of Easton Lodge so we can walk around and admire the snowdrops. I just adore snowdrops, I love their elegance and beauty, and the fact that they are the first little whisper that spring is on the way.

When I walked to work on Friday, it was a cool morning, and the trees were just undefined smudges against the sky, because it was that hazy early-morning air, and yet for all the winteryness, there was a tiny edge to the breeze, that seemed to whisper 'spring is coming, spring is coming!' There was a blackbird hopping about in a garden, he could almost have been dancing, when suddenly, he stopped, and cocked his head as if to listen to the 'spring is coming' whisper. In another garden, there was a row of daffodil shoots just starting to emerge, all green and spiky, and reminding me a little of that soft delicate hair that new babies have at the back of their heads. In another garden, there were tiny buds of yellow blossom emerging on a trellis. Before we know it, there will be pinpricks of yellow and purple crocus, and spring will be here!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Perfect Evening

I really wish there was room for you all on my sofa right now. I have my lamp on, which gives the room such a warm glow; there is a fresh pot of tea, the most scrumptious coffee cupcakes from the co-op fair trade selection, and masterchef on the television.

When Masterchef is over, I am going to have a nice hot bath, then go to bed with the neew (to me) Miss Marple mystery that I borrowed from work today...not that I expect to get very far with it, as I am tired enough from work to know that I will sleep really really well tonight!

Hope you are having a lovely evening too!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Baking and Knitting

My Wednesday off work today felt both indulgent and totally necessary. Indulgent because it is a day off work midweek, and beyond washing up, I decided to do no housework, not to go out, not to bustle, just to relax. And totally necessary because I am just so tired right now. Although I love my new job, the travelling and hours have left me more than a little sleepy of late.

Last night, we decided to watch a film over dinner. (Burn After Reading....I was so looking forward to it, and it was such a disappointment!) I saw the first part while I ate, but after that, I was sound asleep.

This morning, I had the utter luxury of being woken up just before 7:00 with a cup of tea, and dear Carl telling me that I didn't have to get up as he was going to sort out his own breakfast and lunch today. I lay back down, snuggled amongst the feather pillows and duvet, listening to radio 4, and gently drifted in and out of sleep for a while. When Carl came to kiss my goodbye I sat up and drank my tea, while reading Country Living Magazine.

After a while I decided that I needed another cup of tea and some breakfast. I decided to have boiled eggs in my vintage egg cups, as I really wanted to use my new felt egg cozies. They came from Tchibo, and look just like flowers, dropped over the top of the eggs! Boiled eggs, soldiers and steaming tea is one of my favourite February breakfasts, especially when taken in the peace and quiet with a vase of daffodils for company as it was today!

My day has passed very restfully. I sewed up the slippers I crocheted for myself on Sunday, and made pom-poms for the toes, and then sewed up the hot water bottle I knitted myself a few weeks ago. Then I sewed the buttons on, and went and found my hot water bottle to go in it, so I could see it all finished. I have been reading my new book 'Food To Come Home To: Wholefood For The Family' by Jude Blereau, and knitting a new hot water bottle cover (a friend at work asked if I would make her one).

I have also baked a batch of raspberry oat bars, which have the most heavenly fragrant raspberry scent which is wafting through the flat as I type. I already make most of our food from scratch, but recently have been wanting to concentrate more on wholefoods and making even more from scratch...these are such a good thing to make for lunchboxes, or nibbling on instead of a cereal bar. They are basically whole meal plain flour and regular plain flour stirred together with porridge oats, and some butter rubbed in. I pressed half into a square tin, scattered some frozen raspberries over, and then pressed the rest of the mixture on top, and baked for an hour in a medium oven. Bliss!

Only three days to go until another day off...and best of all, I get to share that one with Carl!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Catching Up

Today is a rare day off, and it has been a day of catching up, in many ways. Firstly, I had a trip into town and caught up with Mum, which was a wonderful way to spend the morning. We haven't had a Friday to share for a little while, and it does me so much good to spend some time with her, just talking and laughing...and doing a little shopping too! I came home with a Valentine's gift for my lovely husband, and a green mug for me, covered with tiny roses- it is very Cath Kidstony! Oh, and the new Country Living Magazine, which I can barely wait to read!

Now I am back at home, I have been catching up with some of my favourite blogs, something that I do not get to do as often as I would like. I have been playing about with the layout of my blog recently, and I think the next thing I would like to do is have a list of my favourite blogs and websites up, so I can share them all with you. That is a job for another day though, and until then, I must mention which is just the most scrumptious blog! It is full of embroidered-crocheted-vintage gorgeousness! Oh, and whilst catching up, I noticed that there is a new Cath Kidston catalogue out, which I have just ordered.

My next task is, alas, to catch up with my housework! I have book club tonight, and I do like our little flat to be all ship shape and sparkling for guests! Actually, I have to say that there is not a whole lot to be done...sometimes it is just the thought of doing it! I want to run the hoover round, throw out my daffodils, and put out my new bunch (I have been buying daffs from Marks and Sparks as they are on offer for 99p a bunch...but they are terrible quality. They go from bud to bloom overnight, and seem to wilt and wither as they open. So my next bunch has come from the market!)

Our little flat feels ever so cosy just now. Although I do have a little pile of magazines, books and crochet next to my end of the sofa, everything else is in good order, really. I have lots of tiny teeny tea lights scattered about the place, and once it is twilight, I light the room with these and my lamp, rather than the overhead lights, and the glow is so gentle and warm. I have all the windows open now, so I can give the place a good airing, and I must confess that my fingers are starting to turn blue with cold! So I think that I will run round and close all of the windows in a minute, and run a nice hot bath so I can have a dip when I have hoovered and pottered about. I used to hoard all my nicest bubble baths, but recently I think that I should use the special things every day, and enjoy them! So it may be my Cath Kidston lavender bubble bath, my Liberty Rosehip and Clover bath oil, or even my fizzy bath hearts! Whatever it is, I shall turn off the light, light up my candles, and lay back, thinking of all the lovely things to come...

...a rare steak for Valentine's dinner, staying at Carl's parents house over the weekend, and sitting by their fire...a long walk in the crisp cold countryside on Sunday, a cup of vanilla coffee from my new mug...catching up with my friends at work tomorrow...sitting in bed with my crochet tonight, when my bookclub have gone home....a cuddle with my gorgeous godson later....

Wherever you are, although it is cold out there, I hope that you are having a blissful time, and your hot chocolate has marshmallows on it!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Days of Ice and Snow

As I type this, my fingers are wrinkled with cold, and I can see my breath puffing out in front of me, it is so cold at home. Of course, it is my own fault, but you see, I do so love to give our little flat a really good airing, and the fact that it is 2 degress celcius outside wont stop me!

On Sunday evening, I was not to pleased about the snow, mainly because we were stuck on the M25 in it. We had been to Southampton to celebrate the 21st birthday of my lovely sister-in-law. The family enjoyed the most scrumptious Sunday lunch at a restaurant called Dock Gate 4, and got a great deal of amusement out of the packet of glittery '21's that were scattered across the table. Alas, when we came home, it started to snow, lightly at first, and then whirling flakes falling thickly. It took us four and a half hours to make our way home (it had taken just two to get there!), but there was something really scrumptious and cozy about getting home, making up hot water bottles, and getting into bed with cups of tea, to listen to Radio 4 and get warm. It also made me very glad that I had put all of my fluffy bedsocks in a little shallow basket by the side of my bed for easy access!

On Monday morning, I could not believe how thick the snow was. We could not hear any trains going past, and soon realised that dear Carl would be working from home that day. As for me, I wrapped a scarf around my head, and felt like Little Red Riding Hood, put on the only sensible footwear I could find (some pink trainers! all of my other shoes are high heels, or ballet pumps!)and set off in the snow for work. I love how everything seems softer, quieter, muted. I was one of the first out of my road, and so mine were the first footsteps. Such fun! It wasn't as cold as I thought, or perhaps I had made a good job of wrapping up, but when I got to work, I treated myself to a hot chocolate to warm myself through.

It got worse as the morning wore on, and suddenly, for the first time in my ten years of libraries, we were sent home! An unexpected snow day was such a lovely gift! I scurried home as quickly as I could, but found it slow going- where the snow had been walked upon, it had compacted and got very slippery! I sat on the sofa with dear Carl while he worked, and I crocheted a slipper, just to test out a new pattern. I shall certainly be buying the right sized crochet hook and making some properly! Then we dashed out into the back garden and made a snow man taller than both of us!

Tuesday we both set off for work, although it took me a long time. The buses were running very late indeed, and by the time I got to Danbury I was frozen through. Thankfully the library does not open until the afternoon, so I was not late opening up. The ice seemed even icier, slippier and more unforgiving, if that is possible. Once home, I was utterly exhausted, and after dinner, I snuggled in bed with a hot water bottle, and the most delicious book, which I finished this morning, and highly recommend- A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff.

When I left home this morning, I found that everywhere was hazy, almost misty with cold. The pavements are still sheets of ice, and seem to be getting slidier still! At least, so far, I have not fallen over. Happily today was my half day, and I treated myself to a delightfully silly film (Bride Wards!) and a cup of tea, before hurrying home for a lavender scented bath.

I am hoping very much to go on a snowdrop walk this weekend, and rather fancy making some bread, too. This evening will be another early night with a good book (What Would Audrey Do? by Pamela Keogh) and a hot water bottle.

Oh, someone asked what neeps and tatties are? They are really tasty- potatoes and swede, all mashed together roughly, with a nob of butter, a good grinding of black pepper, and a little grating of nutmeg. Oh, and swede are like turnips. Very tasty indeed. Actually, next time I make some, I think I will make extra, so I can have neeps-and-tatties-bubble-and-squeak the next night!

One last thing- there is a beautiful 'puzzle purse' Valentines card on that I want to try and master. I am going to be all about the handmade this Valentine's Day, and little token gifts. Sadly we do not have a good history to Valentine's Day...I guess it just matters more to me than to Carl. Still, I have lots of lovely little things planned for him. Persephone, my favourite publisher, is offering a wonderful thing, where they will giftwrap any of their books and post it to your valentine along with a note to say not to open it until February 14th. I am torn between sending 'They Knew Mr Knight' to myself, or trying to drop a hint to dear Carl....I suspect in the end I shall do neither, as I have bought too many books this month as it is, and I do hate dropping hints!

Adventures In My Underwear Drawer

Every now and again, I get the urge to make one tiny area of my life just as scrumptious as can be...and this time, prompted by the most awful noise coming from the washing machine, as an underwire from one of my bras had come lose, I decided that it was time my underwear drawer had a birthday!

First things, first, on went some music- and what better than the Puppini Sisters?! Next, I emptied the whole drawer out. Now I have this bad habit of being a hoarder. If I have bought a bra-and-knicker set, I am always loath to throw out the bra becuase the knickers are past their best, or the knickers because the underwire in the bra went. Result? A lot of non-matching underwear! I threw out all my half-a-sets, all of my tights that are laddered just a little bit, that I keep just in case of real emergencies (what kind of emergency would call for just-a-little-ladered-tights I don't know!) and anything that looked tired or faded. Now I know that this throwing out sounds rather extravagant, but I should say that about half of what I threw out, I wasn't actually wearing, because deep down I knew it was past its best. The other half, to my hoarding shame, was underwear that I have had not just since before I got married....but even before I left home!

Now that my shocking nature has been exposed, let me get on to putting things right! I looked over what was left, and made a note of what was missing. Then, I sallied forth to the shops, list in hand, to replenish my drawer. Now I know this is going to sound ever so old-married-ladyish, and shockingly unfrivolous, but I replenished the whole drawer for under £30! New knickers, tights, and bras! I went for servicable...I decided that I would rather have a good plain wardrobe of basics and then enjoy saving up for the special stuff, rather than splurge all at once!

But you know, although it is all rather plain, it is rather scrumptious to open a drawer to see everthing rolled up neatly, and an abundance of all the basics! To know that anything I pull out will be in pristine condition! I find it makes all the difference, knowing that everything I have on that is not seen, is as scrumptious as everything I have on that is seen.

And at one end of the drawer....I did keep a selection of silly, flouncy, frilly, pretty panties....just to raise my spirits every time I open the drawer!

I am so tired with my new job (although I love, love, love it!) that I am trying very hard not to do too much at once, so this making-one-little-bit-at-a-time-scrumptious approach is working well for me. My next plan, is to take the same approach to my wardrobe, in that I am going to throw out all that I have kept, but don't actually wear, and then make a list of things to replenish....although I imagine that the replenishing will take some time....