Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A Blanket and a Brooch, Or What I Did On My Wednesday Off

I love my Wednesdays off work. Please don't misunderstand me, I do love my work, and look at it as my joy rather than my job, but equally I love my home and my life here, and loving one does not seem to diminish the other! I know I have been writing a lot recently about the stresses of work and the pleasures of home, but I just wanted to be fair, and say I do still love my job!

But a Wednesday off work now, that is a real treat. Especially a Wednesday off work when my diary pages shows no appointments, just a lovely free day! It was almost a lovely spring day this morning, but all of a sudden, as though it were too much effort, it seemed that the day gave a sigh and gave up, and without warning, it was a cool February day again. I am glad that I did not go out as I had been tempted to, but instead threw open all the windows, and enjoyed the day at home.

I have had a pile of 40 crocheted squares for some time now. Half are granny squares, and the remainder are fancy squares, and if only I had the time to put them all together, they would be a blanket. I started this task last weekend, and today I settled down to finish it. To begin with, my progress was sloooow, because I thought I would watch a film at the same time. However, 8 Women turned out to be in French with subtitles, so it made for rather slow progress! It was a gorgeous film, very French, with beautiful colours and cinematography. It is true though, that once it was over, my crochet speed increased somewhat! I am pleased to say that as I type, I have my new blanket over my knees. I am really pleased with it, and felt a real surge of satisfaction at having completed it. I already have plans forming for my next blanket, this time to be a ripple stitch blanket inspired by the grey-blues-creams of a walk along the Cobb at Lyme Regis a few years ago!

While I still had my crochet hook in hand, I spent a happy half hour crocheting a cherry brooch, which I just need to buy a brooch back for. It was meant to be done in 4ply, but I used scraps of dk instead. I would like to make another to wear in my hair, but I think I must get some 4ply to do that with, as the cherries made from dk are rather on the large side!

Towards the end of the day, I flicked the tv on for company, a bad habit I know, but sometimes I like to hear another voice when I have spent the day alone. Tamasin Day Lewis came on, with a programme about Classic British dishes. I love her cookery and her writing, and the programme was a real treat. In some ways, superficially, she reminds me of Nigella, but where as Nigella is polished and smooth and her hair is always neat, Tamasin is...well, its like you have just wandered into her kitchen. I like them both in different ways and for different qualities, but Tamasin just fit my mood today.

Inspired, if I have time tomorrow after my trip to a craft show with some friends, I plan to turn out my dry goods cupboard, make a list of spices and herbs and the like that need replenishing, and make out a menu plan for the week. To go back to my earlier comment, I do love my working life, but sometimes I wish I was a housewife, and had more time to devote to running my house, checking my stores, planning my cooking! That I could I have a routine of work, Monday wash day, Tuesday ironing day, Wednesday baking day, and the like. Sometimes, it is hard to fit it all in, and fit it in mindfully, so I can really enjoy it all. (Yes, I know that sounds utterly demented, but really, in the summer I love pegging a fresh wash out on the line to dry!)

Wherever you are, I hope you have had a wonderful Wednesday, and enjoy the rest of your week!

The Kissing Gate by Mackenzie Ford

One of my tasks is to come up with new books for one of my book groups to read. Sometimes this is a joyous task, other times more onerous. It is worth it though for the occasions when I find a real gem of a book that I know would have otherwise remained a stranger to me.

The Kissing Gate is such a book. I started to read it because I thought I should, so I could finish it before the meeting. By the time I realised I was not going to be at the meeting because I had a day off, I was well and truly hooked! It is set in the First World War, and starts more or less with the Christmas Truce, and a meeting between a German soldier, and Hal, an English solider. They exchange token gifts, and Wilhelm, the German, asks Hal to find his English Fiancee, and tell her that he is having to fight in the war, that he still loves her. He shows Hal a photograph of her, and gives him a photograph of himself in uniform for Hal to give her.

In time, Hal is wounded and invalided back to England, and sets out, undertaking to complete the task...but falls utterly in love with Sam himself. He faces a terrible problem...does he complete his task and risk losing her, or pretend their meeting is a coincidence and hope she never finds out the truth?

It is quite a thick novel, but it whisks you along, so it is really quite a quick read, although not a light read. It gives you plenty to think about, and I would recommend it to anyone.

To The Rose Upon The Rood Of Time

Oh, how I love Yeats! I have had the good fortune to have studied him at school, and to have retained my affection for him. Alas, Eliot did not have the same fate! I love so many of his poems, and his phrasing. I find it spine-tingling that I can listen to him reading his own poems on youtube, although in my mind he is eternally young, rather than the old man he is in the recordings!

But back to roses...I love simple, flower scents. My favourite of all is violet, but I do not often come across it. I also love lavender and rose, in that order, although lately I have been drawn to rose slightly more. I was in Holland and Barrett the other day, looking for something entirely different, and stumbled across their organic and nasty-free (no parabens, sodium laurel sulphate and the like) range. It is called Dr Organic, and comes in a myriad of scents, including lavender and rose. Normally I would be drawn right to the lavender, but I tried the rose instead, and was pleasantly surprised by how much like actual roses it smelt like. I started with their shampoo and conditioner, which is heavenly, and have also bought the bath oil and body lotion. Several evenings now, I have enjoyed a rose-scented bath, by the flickering light of a rose scented candle. I love the way the scent clings to me, and now my hair is longer (my profile picture is somewhat old now, my hair has grown a lot!) when it swishes, I can smell the memory of the rose scent upon it.

I wish very much that violet was a more easily attainable scent, but for now I am happy to be enveloped in a cloud of roses. Although, it does concern me slightly that one sweet friend leaned over, sniffed my hair, and then announced that he thought I smelt like he could eat me...apparently I smell like Turkish Delight!

Spring Is In The Air

Time seems to be swirling around me at the moment, as though I am a pebble in a stream, and the hours and minutes eddie and flow about me, bubbling and flowing. I want to talk about the glorious day that was last Tuesday, but somehow it feels years away already...and today, it seems to have skipped by in the blink of an eye, but I have got so much done! Sometimes it feels as though I live at work, and yet today, on my first day of a rare two-days-together-off, it seems as though work was a lifetime away. Edison explained relativity as 'when a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it's longer than any hour. That's relativity!' I know of course that time is a constant, but there does seem to be a strong sprinkling of relativity going on these days!

Now, back to last Tuesday. I can't even begin to tell you what a glorious day it was. Not for any unusual happening or special event, just because when I opened the curtains, the sun was shining! The birds were singing! My hair sat just so, and my new (from the thrift shop) cardigan was the perfect match for the silk flower in my hair. I had the whole day at my little library on the hill, and as I got off the bus, I noticed that in the grass bank opposite the library, there were tiny pin-pricks of gold. On closer inspection, the crocuses are not yet out, but are definitely on their way! I think that the cold weather we have had this year has delayed the spring flowers, because I have not seen daffodil shoots yet. The air was fresh and sweet, and the breeze almost warm. When it got to lunch time, I walked across the grass by the duckpond to the tea shop, and did not need a coat! I know it is February, and it is entirely possible that we may still have snow, but I feel as though I have just seen the smallest peek of her petticoats, and those petticoats are spring!

The beautiful weather had brought out a great many people from the village, so there was nearly no room for me to have my lunch. Happily a pair of ladies let me share their table, and I sat with my pot of tea, pate and toast, and read another Patricia Wentworth novel for a happy hour.

When I got back home that evening, I felt slightly tired, as I often do from my day up on the hill, but also as though all my cobwebs have been blown away. I feel like I can face the rest of the cold, dark days, now I have had a reminder that spring is on her way!

(And true to form, dearest readers, the very next morning when I opened my windows, it was to the pitter patter of rain drops!)

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Coming to my Scentses

Sitting here in the half-light of a Sunday evening, I feel at home. Even if I had my eyes closed, I would know I am here. I would be able to feel the sofa that seems to recognise me as I lean back into it, and the softness of the purple velvet throw we have over it. I would be able to hear the little noises of our flat, the odd train running past, the churning of the washing machine, and know.

Most of all though, it is the scents of the evening that tell me I am home. In the bedroom, I have a small bud vase filled with sol narcissi, and the merry little bunch perfumes the whole room. Here in the living room are a jug of lemon-curd-creamy daffodils, whose scent just whipsers 'February' to me, gently. I can smell the Battenburg cake that I baked earlier, cooling in the kitchen, awaiting its robe of apricot jam and marzipan. I can smell my perfume, warm from my skin, and smell the candle that has just burnt itself out, the wick smoldering. It smells of heat and always reminds me of church. If I breathe hard and concentrate, then I can just about smell the lingering steam of a bath from earlier, fragrant with hyacinth scented soap roses.

Home...the best place to be.

I feel contented this evening. I want to read some more of my book, and some more of Myrtle Reed's writings online. I want to knit some more on my lacy bedjacket, and if there is time, paint my nails bright red to make me smile in the morning. I have a lot to smile about today. Yes I still have my work worries and the rest of it, but I am so lucky to open my blog and find such kind words from lovely people. Even when I sit, just me and my laptop, I am not alone, because of all of you. What a gift! Thank you, every one!

Appetite For Reduction

One of my goals over the past few years has been to eat less meat and more vegetables, and eat seasonally. I can't quite remember how I came across Appetite For Reduction, but I do remember the review saying that it was worth buying for a particular salad dressing recipe alone, which includes tomatoes which are pulverised in a food processor. It is actually a vegan book, which is what made me think it would help with the less-meat-more-veg thing, and I have a vegan friend, so I was hoping it would give me plenty of inspiration for cooking for her.

Other things that appealed about it include the beautifully designed cover, and from the preview on amazon, the conversational tone of the writing. I also like that she does not use quorn and 'fake' meat products, but the focus instead is on vegetables, beans, lentils, etc.

So far I have only made the eggplant (aubergine!) and lentil mole chilli, but was really pleased with it. I can barely wait for summer so I can start making the salad recipes- they really are a million miles away from 'lettuce cucumber tomato' and look so luscious and abundant, not depriving or dietetic at all.

While I was taking a wander with Carl the other day, we were talking about food and cooking. I have quite a few Rose Elliott cook books, and really enjoy her recipes. Something that we were wondering though, is how long before people in general start to turn to vegetarian recipes and lentils and beans more often, as meat gets more and more expensive. To us, it is important that meat we eat has been produced ethically, which raises the cost even more. We don't like to eat meat every day, partly because of the expense, and partly because we don't need to. My lentil dahl curry is one of my favourite comfort foods, and happens to be vegetarian. The thing with lentils and beans is that they can be incredibly tasty, they are nutritious, and they are so purse friendly. I know they have a bad reputation from the 70's, but I wonder if they are due a comeback, a bit of a makeover, and will become the star of our kitchens? In the same way that yoghurt was once upon a time not so long ago an odd thing that came from health food shops and slightly odd people ate, it is now a huge industry. Ok so a cheesecake flavoured mullerlight is a long way away from home made organic yoghurt, but it is still yoghurt, and so many people don't think twice before putting it into their shopping baskets. It has become mainstream. I hope that for the good of our planet, and our tummies, as well as our purses that lentils and beans soon become mainstream too.

But back to my book review! We are not vegetarian or vegan, but have no objection eating that way some of the time, so I am not offering my thoughts from a vegan point of view. I really like this book and would recommend it. It has a large variety of recipes in it, and so far, I have not found any ingredients that would be hard to get hold of. When I cooked by chilli recipe from the book, I found myself feeling really enthused for all the lovely fresh veggies that I was throwing into the pot. Definitely a book to make you feel hungry...and I do mean this in a complimentary way, but a book of delicious recipes that happen to be vegan, rather than a book of Vegan Food!

The Myrtle Reed Society

Perhaps it is because I was never in the Girl Guides or the Brownies or any other club like that, but Societies have always appealed to me, particularly when I read about them in books when I was younger. Reading about the meetings of the Society for the Suppression of Unladylike Conduct, or SSUC, in What Katy Did At School made me long for membership of a society of some kind. The mysteries of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Five Find Outers called for secret passwords and badges. But beyond my book club, I am not a member of any clubs or socities, unless matrimony counts!

This weekend, I discovered a marvellous book, The Spinster Book by Myrtle Reed. The copy I was looking at was from 1901, but it is available to read online, if you click on the title of this post. It makes me smile so much...a lot of her advice and observations are true today, so little has changed over the last century! One of her gems is 'men are as impervious to tears and pleading as a good mackintosh to mist, but at the touch of indifference, they melt like wax!' and my own favourite 'marriage appears to be somewhat like a grape. People swallow a great deal of indifferent good for the sake of the lurking bit of sweetness and never know until it is too late whether the venture was wise.' Not my own view, I hasten to add, but I love her way with words!

A little research revealed that she was an incredibly prolific writer, and had written another gem, The Myrtle Reed Cookbook, in which she tells us that breakfast is not dinner, and the table should accordingly, be laid differently! She warns us not to choose to 'loud' a breakfast service, and in another book offers 1000 ways to cook fish!

I immediately began to wonder who this wonderful woman was, how she came to be writing such a book in such a time (she mentions the ridiculousness of men, in 1901!) and how she managed to poke gentle fun at men without seeming bitter or cynical. Did she die a spinster, I wondered. Does she have any descendents? What was her life like?

Sadly, I found out. She had a very unsuccessful marriage, and took an overdose of sleeping powders and died at the young age of 36. What a sad waste, and to think that had she lived now, she could have left her husband, and been treated for her depression. She did not have the life I wish she had. She must have given so much joy through her books and novels, and yet had so little joy herself. When she was a child, she was chubby, and was teased so badly by the other children that she stayed inside and would not go out, preferring to read and write indoors instead.

Just before I made that sad discovery, a few of us at work were exclaiming about her lovely book and idly talking about forming The Myrtle Reed society. Perhaps we would wear little myrtle sprig brooches to identify ourselves. What would our purpose be? Why to discover copies of her books, to appreciate her works, and to quote her as often as possible!

We were not entirely serious, but I do love to think out little things like that, to let my imagination take flight. I read in the newspapers a while ago about Prunella Stack who was head of the Women's League of Health and Beauty in the 30's. They had a uniform of shorts and shirts, and I believe there was a little silver pin as well. I like the idea of being a member of that kind of league! I like to spend quiet moments on the bus or waiting in lines thinking about what kind of vintage clubs and societies I could revive, what our symbol would be, what our meetings would be like!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Blowing Away The Cobwebs

Yesterday I was really very glum about my work situation, and today I did not expect to feel a lot better. Yesterday I needed not to wallow, but to feel bad and understand how I was feeling. I was so upset that someone close to me was trying to solve the problems...they were trying to help but it made me feel like my feelings were just being brushed away, under the carpet. I know that really he was just doing what men do which is solve problems, while I was doing what women do, which is just want to be heard and acknowledged. I was still slightly disappointed though...and then today he quietly put a parcel on my desk at work, and smiled. The hip flask that I gave him for Christmas! I told him that it was part of the gift (I had given them out filled with fruits of the forest rum) and he smiled again and said he knew, and there was something in it for me. Imagine my delight to find it not only filled with brandy, but finest armagnac! What a sweet thought, medicinal brandy!

From there on, today has got better. I still have my worries, but I feel better able to cope with them. It was my half day, and when I left work I was buffeted and blown about by the wind. Sometimes I find the wind tiring, but walking into it with my hair streaming out behind me and my coat flapping, I found it really invigorating, and felt my cobwebs being blown away. My afternoon proved to be a real tonic.

I hurried to the market first, where I bought a little bag of green lentils for an aubergine and lentil chilli mole (from my new cook book, Appetite For Reduction), a bunch of daffodils for the living room, sol narcissus for the bedroom, and from there to the grocers stall in the high street where I bought a bunch of pink baby rhubarb, and a single, huge, juicy globe of an orange. With my bag of parcels under my arm, I decided to have some lunch before I went home, and walked to Marks and Spencer.

Lunch was a little box of their selection of sandwiches and a pot of tea. The tea was perfect; steaming hot and fragrant. The teapot was a tiny bit dribbly but kept the tea hot while I sipped one cup, so the second was just as warm. As I sat and ate, I finished reading 'The Case Is Closed' by Patricia Wentworth. Just before work, I had got to the point where the heroine was hiding in a wardrobe as the villain threatened to murder his wife if she did not write a false confession to another murder! I was pleased for the chance to finish it off, and I will definitley be reading more Patricia Wentworth. If you like Agatha Christie, give her a try!

When I got home i threw open all the windows, and they were nearly rattled off their catches by the wind, but it was so lovely to fill the flat with fresh air. After a cup of tea, I baked a Battenburg cake. I have wanted to for a while, and with it being Dad's birthday tea tomorrow night, and having a spare afternoon, it seemed the perfect time. I am really pleased with it, although when I make it again, I am going to try very hard not to make it so lopsided, and whilst the instructions said to add plenty of red food colouring to make the cake very pink, I think I added a bit too much!

Puttering in the kitchen and baking put me in the mood to cook, so I set a pot of the aforementioned aubergine and lentil chilli mole to bubble away (it has cocoa powder in it!!) and then baked a loaf of bread too. Phew! Lots of cooking but I really enjoyed it. There is something really soothing about kneading and stirring and brushing with jam.

After that, I decided to put clean sheets on our bed, and although the duvet was terribly heavy I am really glad I did it. Whilst I was in Marks and Spencer, I bought myself a new duck feather pillow which I have put on the bed. I do like a nice fluffy pillow, and mine have been feeling rather flat of late. Carl loves a flat pillow, and doesnt get on with feather pillows, so I did not get one for him, which feels very odd!

Then an afternoon bath, one of my favourite things to do. Water scented with Johnson's Baby Bath and little tea light candles twinkling around the edge of the bath, and a new magazine to read. A happy hour spent amongst the bubbles, then just time for a cup of tea before dear Carl came home.

All in all, a pretty blissful afternoon, and restorative to the spirits. This evening holds a little bit of knitting, and a chapter or two of my new book, which I may not persevere with. I ordered a Denis Mackail, but it has made me worry about money, which I don't like at all. It is about a brother and sister who are forever borrowing from their father, and although that isn't me at all, it just set me to worrying. If I get the same feeling after another chapter or two, I will take it back to the library tomorrow, and get another Patricia Wentworth out!

I hope that wherever you are, you have had a similarly lovely afternoon, and have a weekend of happiness to come!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Aubergines and Union Jacks

A much looked forward to day off today. I have been struggling against a the latest bug that is doing the rounds at work, and have had a headached that has settled in my sinuses and feels like a giant bear is biting my head for three days now. So you can imagine what bliss it was to wake up at half past six and then realise I could happily go back to sleep again!

Lovely Carl brought me a cup of tea but I must confess that it was cold when I woke up again. I listened to radio 4 while I boiled some eggs for breakfast, and then played with some designs for greetings cards. I have got an idea for decorating some hot water bottle covers made from old jumpers, so I also made 2 Union Jacks out of felt. One was was the traditional covers, and the other in shades of pinks and purples. There is something really satisfying about snipping into felt with really sharp scissors!

After that it was time for a walk, so I wandered around to the local shop where I bought the makings of a moussaka. I have never, ever liked aubergines so had not even thought about making this before...but recently I have come to like them, and as I had time to spare, I really wanted something to cook that would let me potter about the kitchen, so moussaka it was!

Firstly I sauteed some lamb mince, and after it was brown I drained the fat off, and threw in a diced red onion and some grated courgette, cumin, coriander and oregano. I topped it up with some stock, and while it bubbled away, peeled and sliced some potatoes and put them on to par-boil. With two saucepans bubbling away, I sliced my aubergine and griddled them until soft, then put to one side. I put the lamb mixture in an ovenproof dish, topped with the aubergine and then the potato. Next I made a white sauce flavoured with plenty of nutmeg and some grated parmesan. On top of this I layed slices of tomato, and finished with a thin grating of cheese. It all went into the oven to cook while I got stuck into the washing up.

Certainly not the quickest of dishes to make, and it did seem to create and awful lot of washing up, but there was time to get it all done while the moussaka baked, and I did take a lot of pleasure from assembling it and then presenting the finished beast to Carl for tea. Even better, there are leftovers that we can have for a speedy dinner before book club on Friday!

I have spent a happy few hours going through cook books from the library, slipping little bookmarks into pages that I would like to copy from. I have also had a few books arrive from the amazon fairy recently...Nourish by Jane Clarke (although I keep wanting to call it Nurture), Appetite For Reduction (a fabulous vegan cook book which is said to be worth the price for the tomato salad dressing alone!) and last but not least More Veg Less Meat. I love cook books and often read them like novels, but just opening the pages of these let me know that they would not just be read, but used, and often. The best kind of book!

I have not given up on my library project, and plan an update this weekend. Although I do treat myself to books on amazon I am a great believer in the library service and would not be able to feed my reading habit without it! Sadly there are a great many libraries under threat of closure at the moment, although I am happy to say none in my county are in danger. However, wherever you are, if you do one thing this week, find your local library and make it your own! However small there must be something there for you. Cilip has a great 'save public libraries' campaign on at the moment, where they encourage you to twitter about why you love libraries, write to your MP, download an ebook, tell your friends and family to join, and to get down there and use your library yourself. You already pay for this service through your council tax, and the core service is free. Of course you can pay a few pounds to borrow extra things like cds and dvds, but the thought of all those books just there, waiting for you...what bliss!